I carry this portrait in my heart beside the one of the Jamaican iguana that’s in my first post. It is from a series of photos Robin Moore took when the Goat Islands in Jamaica were under threat of development. Iguanas and people were under threat, but I only spoke about the iguanas.
I’m putting this photograph here because of the voice in my head that’s saying, Some people think you only care about reptiles. It’s not true. But I am on this earth to speak for them. Here is what my cousin Heidi wrote to me on Facebook:
“…I have a hard time coming up with the “right” words but here goes. I have memories of you as a child (8 maybe) at the lake devoting many of your waking hours searching the dark woods for life.
“I think we probably searched the nearby “cut” and Houghton Lake too. The point I want to make is I think you were born with a very specific purpose (gift) to observe and preserve reptilian life. I’m fascinated to read your blogs and learn what an advocate you have become in addition to the research you are doing. Keep up the great work!”
Heidi’s letter reminded me of something Jane Goodall said in THROUGH A WINDOW. (It is one of my favorite books.)
“Often I am asked whether I do not feel that it is unethical to devote time to the welfare of ‘animals’ when so many human beings are suffering. Would it not be more appropriate to help starving children, battered wives, the homeless?
“Fortunately, there are hundreds of people addressing their considerable talents, humanitarian principles and fund-raising abilities to such causes. My own particular energies are not needed there.”
It is a challenge to be an advocate for reptiles and wildlife in these times.
I ride my bike up River Road as often as I can. The prayer place is where I stop and give thanks. I look across the Delaware River at the trees and the water. When I took this photo, to my right I heard a kingfisher and to my left, a barred owl (they sometimes call during the day).
River Road, Callicoon, New York.
What I hope to get across is that saving lizards, snakes, wildlife, is saving ourselves. We can’t do without a biodiverse environment to live in that will sustain us while we continue to fight for justice, equality, and human rights.
What we need is Rights of Nature written into our constitution. Right now, I’m not going to speak to the sarcastic and pessimistic voices in my head –the ones saying, good luck with that, we haven’t even ratified the ERA.
Reptile and amphibian people, bird people, fish and bug people, mammal people –all of us are speaking for wildlife and the planet, since they have no voice.
These past days I go to be with friends and we console each other about who our new leader is. We want to regroup, put our heads together. The extinction of wildlife is almost a non-issue, a non-topic, though climate change does enter the discussion at some point. How could it be otherwise, since we fear for our lives and for loved ones. I am reminded of this:
“… I am fighting for my future… I am here to speak for all generations to come… I am here to speak for the countless animals dying across this planet because they have nowhere left to go…. I’m only a child yet I know we are all part of a family, five billion strong, in fact, 30 million species strong and we all share the same air, water and soil –borders and governments will never change that…”
–Severn Cullis-Suzuki, UN Earth Summit, Rio, Brazil 1992
“Living Planet Index shows vertebrate populations are set to decline by 67% on 1970 levels unless urgent action is taken to reduce humanity’s impact
…Marco Lambertini, director general of WWF, said: ‘The richness and diversity of life on Earth is fundamental to the complex life systems that underpin it. Life supports life itself and we are part of the same equation. Lose biodiversity and the natural world and the life support systems, as we know them today, will collapse.’
He said humanity was completely dependent on nature for clean air and water, food and materials, as well as inspiration and happiness. [italics mine]”
When I shared this article on Facebook I got shot down right away. Someone said, “don’t believe everything you read on the internet.” On another page I saw comments go up like, “Fear-mongering.”
Hmmm. All I know is that in the twenty-plus years snorkeling the reef in the Bahamas, I saw the decline in wildlife. I see it here in the Catskills. I never see green snakes anymore. Fewer wood turtles every summer, fewer spring peepers.
Our serpent predators are all but gone. Black snakes, milk snakes, and Timber rattlers are rare now, and we are having a real rodent problem. Rats and mice are out of control and most people I know have lyme, including me.
Here is what Ariana Gonzalez wrote. Find the complete piece on Facebook:
“I woke up yesterday with a heavy heart, full of deep sadness and fear. … People feel dehumanized, people feel devalued, people feel scared, people are literally fearing their lives and future… If you do not feel any of these feelings, consider yourself privileged.
“….If you are able to brush the feelings of sadness off quickly and move on with your day, and think others should do the same, consider yourself privileged. …If you do not support Donald Trump and know how dangerous he is, but also didn’t vote in a way that you knew would help defeat him out of spite or protest, consider yourself privileged… If you do not fear for your life, for your future, for your child’s future, for the future of your loved ones, consider yourself privileged.
“…If any of the above applies to you, I ask that you do not get angry. I ask that you reflect on it. It is ok to be at a place of privilege in society, but it is damaging if you deny this and do not work and fight for justice for those who are not… We are not safe until all are safe, we are not free until all are free.”
I want to add that we are not safe until our natural world –this world, the one we all live in– is safe, too. People first, one might say. But people cannot live without wildlife. I will strive to show this for the rest of my life.
what they did yesterday afternoon
by warsan shire
they set my aunts house on fire i cried the way women on tv do folding at the middle like a five pound note. i called the boy who use to love me tried to ‘okay’ my voice i said hello he said warsan, what’s wrong, what’s happened?
i’ve been praying, and these are what my prayers look like; dear god i come from two countries one is thirsty the other is on fire both need water.
later that night i held an atlas in my lap ran my fingers across the whole world and whispered where does it hurt?
This is Che’s tail –he’s in his hide box. He sleeps in there and goes in when he doesn’t like what’s going on. That could be whenever I forget he hates red and I have on a red shirt when I come in, or when my husband is running the skid steer or tractor, and he sees it out that window.
Che doesn’t mind the truck. He knows the difference between the F350 and the UPS truck. He learned that the F350 meant Mark was home and time for a treat vs. UPS guy –no treat.
Here he is! Che is a Cuban iguana, Cyclura nubila. Same genus as the Jamaican iguana. Che’s dormer is in my office, since it has a door –it’s actually the upstairs bathroom.
We live in a barn with open space. The stone-tiled floor has radiant heat. Che’s breakfast includes collard, spinach-mustard, tatsoi, dandelion. We’re in the autumn diet, when frost has killed most of his favorite weeds.
This is Luna, Che’s girlfriend. They are like the Bickersons, which is why Che lives upstairs in my office, and Luna is downstairs, in her own room (with a heated stone floor).
That white patch on her cheek? Che bit her –they were having an argument. So now, they get to see each other during warm weather, when both go out on the downstairs deck to their separate sunning cages. Once there, they nod heads and make faces at each other.
I’m starting my blog with some great news: The Goat Islands in Jamaica are saved!
When the battle for Goat Islands was hot I saw this beautiful portrait of the Jamaican iguana and burst into tears. Oh, please don’t let it happen. I see myself in that lizard and if he and his kind die, part of me dies.
I couldn’t do anything to save him, couldn’t make people care about a lizard. I was helpless and the despair made me want to hide and not have to watch the tragedy. But the iguanas and Goat Islands are safe for now.
Here’s a photo of Emo and me. Emo is a rhinoceros iguana, in the same genus as the Jamaican iguana:
The bad news is, the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department failed to pass a ban on using gasoline to flush rattlesnakes out of their dens for the horrific rattlesnake roundups. Here’s the Center for Biodiversity’s film about why we shouldn’t gas rattlesnake dens.
I heard about rattlesnake roundups in the 80s, and I still carry images of what happens to the snakes. Here’s a bit from an essay I was working on:
“…The first time I met a rattlesnake in the wild he was in a coil by a path, his pattern blending in with the rocks and sand. I stood just a few feet away, holding onto my excitement.
“Being so close to a live rattlesnake heightened my senses –I wanted to know about him and didn’t want to miss a thing. I saw his breath, saw his body move slightly with intake of air. I watched for his tongue to flick out to see if he was awake and after a moment, it did, cautiously tasting the air.
“Of course he was awake, with a giant like me thundering up the path, he was keeping still, trying not to be seen. I saw his cat’s eye pupil move. He didn’t rattle and I didn’t want to make him by frightening him.
“I kept still too, taking in his angular head and keeled scales that would surely feel like the worn wooden handle of a garden tool, warm and dry in my hand. Time slowed and there was only the snake and me and I felt like I could really breathe and be just plain happy.
“After a while I started up the path, trying to understand why people feared and hated rattlesnakes. Certainly people got bitten, certainly the venom could cause pain and tissue damage, but death from rattlesnake bite was rare.
“If I’d tried to catch the rattlesnake, he’d have rattled, then struck if I didn’t back off. More likely, he’d have uncoiled and fled into the bush.
“I imagined the snake sunning himself on a porch step, and a child coming out of the house and trying to pick him up. The child would be bitten and rushed to the hospital, and the snake hacked to death. This is the story that becomes headline news…”