I was speaking with a friend today about the nature of range management and the restoration of California grasslands. Thinking about what California used to be like when the land was stewarded by it's people. Thinking about the effects of non-native grasses or the loss of habitatfor our wild creatures. We got on the topic of the reintroduction of wolves in Yellowstone and how it helped to restore the land. How much we have forgotten. How much we have to learn again: the inherent wisdom of nature to create such an intricate system where apex predators are a necessary part of the ecology of a place. He said the wolves are not a mistake.
This is a straight forward statement, but in the wake of this week’s wildfire devastation the feeling of it caught it my throat. These fires may be natural, but the severity of them is most certainly a result of climate change and poor land management. Sometimes, no matter how optimistic I am, I look around at what we’ve done as humans and feel the overwhelm of the pain and destruction our species perpetuates on itself and all other living systems. If we are the dominant species on the planet how are we contributing to the ecology of place? Not very well at the moment. I’ve sat with this question all day of “Are we a mistake?”. I don’t believe a single thing in nature is a mistake, but here I am, turning the knife inward and asking that question of the human animal. What kind of salvation and duty lies in fully accepting that nothing in nature is a mistake including human kind? What then, is our role in the ecology of the planet? I am not new in asking this question, and I am not new in my answer. We are stewards. It is possible to lovingly coax a wild, living thing to thrive at it’s fullest expression. Ask any gardener who has that glint for the slightly untamed in their eye. There is a way to help the forests renew themselves with fire in a manner that benefits the human and non-human species dependent on them. Because we are dependent on them. Don’t let yourself be fooled by concrete and convenience. We need them more than they need us. Or maybe I’m wrong. Maybe we need each other equally. Maybe this attitude that the world would be better off without humans is part of the problem. Surely it’s time we move beyond such thoughts of manifest destiny, species privilege and the silly notion that the earth is ours for the taking. But perhaps for us all to survive, we must also move past the idea that we are a parasite, that we only take, that the living planet doesn’t need us.
All week I have come back to the simple truth of the human animal. Since the fires broke out Sunday, I have watched the human animal respond to trauma, grief, and natural disaster. I have watched in my own self and other, our animal body's need for safety, stillness, movement, shelter, food, water and love. I have never felt the grief for what we have done to our planet so acutely as watching human habitat and wild creature habitat burn to the ground. California you were the Eden once. Wildflowers for miles. Birdsong symphony. Rivers like veins to the heart. Help us remember how to take care of you. We are not a mistake.
We are guardians.
We are stewards.
We are animals.