Just Another Species

Mule deer (Odocoileus hemionus) in Modoc Count...
Image via Wikipedia

It’s too easy to think we’re it, we homo sapiens. The wise, rational ones.

Which is why I hunger to be in nature as often as possible. Only out there, walking, canoeing, kayaking, riding, on my bike, do I quickly and indelibly remember we’re just one of millions of species inhabiting our shared blue ball of Earth.

I was lucky enough, in my late 20s, to take two safaris in East Africa, one in Tanzania and one in Kenya. I had never before fully understood how poorly equipped the human body is for some habitats — without the necessary protection of camouflaging colors or fur or  feathers, scales, thorns or poisoned stingers.

The Equatorial sun was brilliant and harsh; I once lay directly beneath a large fallen tree trunk, desperate for the tiniest sliver of shade. Insects whirred and bit. The water was filled with all sorts of dangerous things that could burrow into our flesh or bloodstream.

The landscape was full of large, silent stalkers — how would we ever hear the lion before he arrived at our tent door? In the mornings, we opened it to discover a pile of elephant dung the size of an 18-wheeler tire. Right beside our tent.

It was a life-changing experience to be reminded how fragile and vulnerable we really are. That we are but one piece of a large ecosystem, and often its most disrespectful and destructive.

From an interesting and smart essay in today’s New York Times:

So, the conundrum: More than ever, an urban nation plagued by obesity, sloth and a surfeit of digital entertainment should encourage people to experience the wild — but does that mean nature has to be tame and lawyer-vetted?

My experience, purely anecdotal, is that the more rangers try to bring the nanny state to public lands, the more careless, and dependent, people become. There will always be steep cliffs, deep water, and ornery and unpredictable animals in that messy part of the national habitat not crossed by climate-controlled malls and processed-food emporiums. If people expect a grizzly bear to be benign, or think a glacier is just another variant of a theme park slide, it’s not the fault of the government when something goes fatally wrong.

This year, Yosemite is experiencing a surge of visitors — 730,000 in July, a record for a single month, they say…

“Many of these people aren’t used to nature,” said Kari Cobb, a Yosemite park ranger. “They don’t fully understand it. We’ve got more than 800 trails and 3,000-foot cliffs in this park. You can’t put guardrails around the whole thing.”

On this week’s bike ride, a cardinal flashed before my eyes. A deer and her fawn ambled across the trail in front of me. Hawks and eagles soared overhead.

As I walked the bike up a hill, I saw a skeleton flattened in the wet grass. A deer.

Our suburban town, from which I can see the glittering towers of Manhattan 25 miles south like Oz, is filled with wildlife: raccoons, deer, crows, wild turkeys, groundhogs, skunks, rabbits.

I love hanging out in their neighborhood, whizzing through their world.

I wonder what they think of us.

When and where do you most enjoy being outdoors?

This Is The Hottest Summer Ever — Now What?

IN SPACE - JULY 21:  In this satellite image p...
Image by Getty Images via @daylife

You’re not imagining it — since records were kept in 1880, this is, globally, the world’s hottest summer.

From The Globe and Mail:

This week, the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration revealed that the Earth is on course for the hottest year since record-keeping began in 1880 – 0.7 degrees above the 20th-century average.

It is the sweltering outcome of a bizarre confluence of abnormal weather that has been swirling about the globe for months – in the process parching Thai crops, melting German roads, thwarting Canadian military operations and wreaking worldwide climatic havoc.

I left my home in suburban New York July 8 and flew to Toronto, where the heat was a brutal 90+ degrees for days. I was perpetually sweat-drenched, from 8:00 a.m. on and spent the entire day in a mall just to be somewhere light, cool and with seating and food.

I flew to Vancouver, hoping for relief. None. Now I am in Victoria, on Vancouver Island — and it is heaven. Ten degrees cooler with fresh breezes daily. It is ten degrees hotter back in New York.

My friend and T/S colleague Scott Bowen eschews A/C. God bless him, but there are days — no matter how hard I try — I cannot: my apartment is on the top floor with a flat roof that soaks up the sun and I face northwest. I work at home and, even when I close the curtains to shut out the heat and light, there are days I really feel I will faint or throw up while trying to perform intelligent paid work in an uncooled environment.

I don’t like AC: it’s noisy and claustrophobic and the electricity bills are insane. And, oh yeah, it stresses the power grid when we all crank it up.

How are you coping with this heat?

Have you changed your life in any way to accommodate it?