Well folks, the conclusion of another year is upon us and these shorter days have given me pause for thoughts about endings and beginnings and all the mixology that goes on in between . . .
For some time now, I have been battling the sinister encroachment of invasive plants onto our four plus acres. This little isle of land is surrounded by nasty stands of Privet, English Ivy clawing its way up neighboring trees, and sneaking masses of Liriope (a.k.a. “Monkey Grass”). All form fruit that is valued as food by many species of birds. In turn, our avian friends vote with their digestive systems in indiscriminate ways, spreading far and wide the progeny of what they’ve consumed. Not respecting property lines of course, those dastardly offspring methodically make their way onto ‘my’ land.
“So”, you might say, “what is wrong with plants that provide food for our beleagured feathered friends?” Well, on that basis alone, mostly nothing, but the dominating characteristics of all the aforementioned plants have a tendency to overwhelm existing natives, including many of our wildflowers. On ‘my’ plot, Yellow-root, Caseby Trilliums, Hepatica, Uvularia, Anemone are indigenous species who watch this encroachment with trepidation. (How do I know that plants have emotions and feelings? It’s easy, just ask one!). Thus, I conduct irregular missions of removal in a battle that I may win for some unknown amount of years. However, the eventual outcome of domination will be won by these illicit aliens once my presence here ceases to be a factor. Of course, these sorts of wars are going on all around the planet as (mostly) human activity has spread many life forms beyond their original geographic boundaries. Aside from Privet, many of you will be familiar with Ebola, for example.
Yet, I take some solace in the apparent fact that at least 97% of all organisms that have ever existed on our planet are now extinct. Given the rapaciousness of human progress (read that as a geometric population growth), I am dubious that we will fall into the skinny three percent or so of long term survivors. But that, dear reader, is fodder for another post. So while it does seem that the extended presence of those invasive plants appears to be finite, that thought caused me to wonder what the prospects are for Earth itself.
Googling the question revealed the fairly well known fact that our planet is, among several other possibilities, likely doomed to being burned to a crisp by the death throes of our solar system’s expanding red sun. It’s all just a matter of time. One of the sites that popped up proposed that, if humanity acts reasonably quickly (two decades or twenty million years, I don’t know), we can save ourselves by transplanting people to another compatible environment in an infinitely vast universe. Sounds plausible to me, but I do wonder if English Law will find a foothold on Planet Xanax.
But the point to which I am building is that I really like living here. In the movie ‘Michael’, John Travolta humorously plays a chain smoking, beer drinking, pot bellied version of the archangel, Michael. Sent back to earth to perform one more good deed before he must return to Heaven permanently, the movie ultimately reaches a sweet, romantic conclusion. However, I feel the penultimate scene is towards the middle where Travolta’s character is thoughtfully perched in a very pastoral setting somewhere in the American midwest. Lamenting his temporary status on Terra firma, ‘Michael’ looks longingly over the beauty before him and says, “God, I’m going to miss this place!” That monologue has stuck in my memory since as it resonates with my feelings for the beauty of the world we do live in. Boys and girls, I’m not referring to buildings, or planes, or the newest mega-superstore, all of which soar over “improved” real estate. Rather, that resonance lies in myriads of ways in the natural world including the migration of Sandhill Cranes, the asymmetrical beauty of the Spurred Violet, the ghost-like calls of the Barred Owl, or the thousand year old majesty of a Redwood Tree.
Aside from the damage we’ve done to our only home for now, it truly makes me sad to think of all this being burned to a crisp even if that event is a few million or billion years in the distance. Of course, just like what happens here on Earth, there is a beginning and end to everything (and then, other beginnings). All of us are composed of recycled dinosaur dung, carbon, and for now minute amounts of mercury. Then we are tossed into that DNA blender of life and rudely thrown out of the womb to begin to make our own way. (Of course, a diaper change or two along the onset is of significant assistance.) So, I suspect the elements of this current home will go into the construction of other places for life in ways and situations that seem unfathomable. I believe it arrogant to think otherwise. Regardless, it is essentially impossible for our minds to consider our surroundings being substantially different from how they exist now.
And for me, this beautiful Earth (despite all of her scars and wounds) is where I am from and where I want to remain. Given an opportunity for passage to another world, I’m certain I’ll elect to keep the seat that I have on this boat; anyway, it seems to be the only ship available. Do make every effort to enjoy the journey and treat our vessel well. Away from the smell of fine leather seats, perch on a moss covered stone and open your senses. Listen to the complexities of living things that exist in our Natural world. Watch for the subtle progress of flowers, the construction of bird’s nests, the slow, silent blanket of a developing snowfall. Smell the odors and fragrances that accompany the changing seasons. Accept weather as not an inconvenience, but rather a nudge from Nature to slow down and enjoy. There is truly more to life to appreciate than the quickest route to the mall.
6 thoughts on “Thinking of the Future”
A poignant reflection on life in general and encouraging us all to enjoy what we have – other than material assets – and to look after it. Well written!
Doug, reading this piece prompted me to pull out my copy of Bartram’s Living Legacy. I flipped through the anthology to find the essay you contributed titled A Universal View. You started the essay, “I know William Bartram.” I would say you ARE William Bartram. if he were alive today he would be shoulder to shoulder with you pulling up privet and ivy. You wrote in this essay that Atlanta “is an area that I want to be ‘from’.” What would Bartram think now if he rode his horse through the Southeast? Instead of drawings and discovery of flora and fauna, I expect he would note the make, model and number of vehicles on the highway. And now I shall breathe deeply, clear my thoughts, endeavor to be mindful and try not to curse the neighbors with their backyard full of English Ivy which is constantly threatening my sanctuary.
While I thoroughly enjoyed reading your current essay, much of it left me feeling guilty for not trying to do something about the English ivy that’s trying to eat my house and yard (though it’s considerably less expansive than your acreage). There are positives, however. It doesn’t require mowing, and when the leaves fall on it, they just disappear over time without the need for me to do any raking. Thanks for launching yet another tug ‘o war in my hindbrain. How will I ever get any writing done?
When it comes to organisms (whether plant, animal, bacteria, or virus) that are invasive, the cat is out of the bag in all of the world. Unless English Ivy is discovered to have hallucinogenic effects on the human mind, its presence here is not in jeopardy. Thus, just be aware, but don’t let it interfere with your writing. You are doing much good in that arena and may even help to overcome some of the earth’s problems.
Hallelujah and Amen, native son. The chord you touched is worthy of Michael.
An excellent reminder of the importance of not taking life for granted. For me there is nothing like walking or working in a garden to aid in the relief of stress and also aids in improving health.