You know you’re driving through god’s country when you’ve got a mess of dead bugs on your windshield. You know you’ve gone through man’s land when there’s not a single bug on your car because of all the pesticides that have been spread on the houses, farms and fields you’ve passed by.
Over the years I’ve spent a lot of time on America’s roads. My recent experiences – from the Rocky Mountain west to the Atlantic coast – have just reinforced what I’ve seen before in too many places.
Our paved, gleaming and not-so-gleaming cities don’t harbor much food or habitat for our non-human cousins. And while suburbanites complain of deer eating their gardens and raccoons sorting through their garbage, they’re forgetting that the deer and raccoons were there first and humans are simply providing salad bars for them. A few years ago, living in-town, not a burb, I remember hearing clunky noises in my kitchen at dark-thirty one morning. I found two raccoons who’d politely opened my screen door to dine on my cat’s food. (They didn’t damage the screen at all). But that’s another story. When we get to non-urban America, we can drive for days or walk for months surrounded by nature genetically squeezed into specific shapes planted at right angles or symmetrical circles for mankind’s mechanical convenience. There’s no room for bugs here. Not much habitat for their buzzing, winged or four-, six- and eight-footed cousins, either.
Landscapes full of life are – by human terms – poor, poverty-stricken and desolate. Be it Appalachia, a southeastern swamp or a southwestern desert, the earth is hospitable to all forms of life, including those we ignore or dislike. Just because we don’t see that flying bug or burrowing critter doesn’t mean they don’t exist for a reason on our earth. Just because we don’t understand that reason doesn’t mean they don’t have a right to life. Years ago the North Carolina Coastal Federation had a slogan: No Wetlands, No Seafood. I referred to it as the mosquito preservation slogan. Since the fish we like to eat like to eat mosquitoes, it makes sense.
One more missing species may not seem like much when we never knew it existed in the first place. But think of it as that thread we’ve just pulled from our sweater. Is it the one that finally unravels everything else?
In our rush to be someplace other than where we are, we need to stop and smell the swamp gas. And the stinkbug, too. The American Midwest isn’t flyover or straight-as-an-arrow Autobahn/Interstate Highway country. Like suburban yards, this former countryside is ground zero in a chemical war against our planet. As with most other wars, it’s triggered by human ego, insecurity, greed and a perceived resource scarcity. There used to be more nonhumans on the planet than there were of us. Now there are more and more of us and fewer and fewer of them. Short of war, famine and pestilence, we have the ability to restore balance to life. [Yeah, I’ve been to a bunch of classes and workshops that say Malthus is obsolete. But I don’t think anyone’s told this to humans outside academia.] We humans are so intent our protecting and expanding our delicate egos that we ignore all that’s not us – all that’s “the other.”