Monday, February 15, 2010

Books, Frogs, and Turtles

I recently read Following the Water by David Carroll and Amphibian by Carla Gunn.

Amphibian is a novel about nine year old Phin Walsh. Phin is a geeky kid, too smart for his own good, frustrated with school and finding his teacher's mistakes. He watches the Green Channel on TV and is upset about the state of the environment. His mother sends him to a shrink and they end up banning him from watching the Green Channel. Of course, this does nothing to alleviate his anxiety. The problem is, the environment is in trouble, and this makes it hard to reassure him that everything is ok. I can't help but agree with Phin that he's the one that's in touch with reality and it's the rest of the world that has its head in the sand.

That probably sounds way too serious, but the book also has a lighter side and had me chuckling numerous times, for example, when Phin and his best friend "jail break" the school's pet frog.

Following the Water is non-fiction, the latest in his series of books about turtles and their habitat, including The Year of the Turtle, Swamp Walkers Journal, and Self Portrait With Turtles. I loved his other books and I loved this one. Of course, that's not too surprising considering I'm a turtle fan myself. You can get a glimpse of the author in a short piece of an interview on You Tube.

This book continues his fascinating real life observations and natural history, and his wonderful artwork. But I can't help but get a bit of a melancholy feeling from the book. He's concerned about the fate of the land where he has roamed for so many years. At the end of the book he learns that the land has been "protected" but this is not the good news you might think:
This landscape, an extensive mosaic of contiguous wetland, riparian, and upland elements, all embracing a lingering wildness and extraordinary biodiversity, possesses an ecological integrity that, in the face of the global loss and marginalization of habitats, becomes rarer by the hour. It seemed for a time that it could go differently here, that this place could be exempted even from the intrusion of "passive" recreation, which takes it own toll on wildness and brings pressures to bear on the functioning of a natural ecosystem. But I did see all the familiar signs pointing to this outcome. And now I see that this has become a marked place.

It is all but universally believed that if development rights are bought up and motorized vehicles excluded, if human presence is limited to foot traffic, dogs on leashes, mountain bikes, kayaks, and the like, a parcel of land is saved and its wildlife habitat protected. But in nearly every case, as will be true here, funding sources and the terms of easements mandate a level of access and recreational use that lays the foundation not for true habitat protection but for a playground for people, a human theme park.

A constant refrain of my advocacy for moving beyond stewardship and conservation to preservation is that I do support setting aside places where people can go, from relatively natural areas to city parks. One frequently hears that there are not enough places for people to go. But where do we not go? We are too many and we tread too heavily. (Perhaps the planet is to blame for being too small.) What tiny percentage of Earth is irrevocably dedicated to providing wildlife sanctuary, to preserving the biodiversity on which, as more people are coming to realize, the health of the planet and, ultimately, of the human condition utterly depends? We cannot seem to allow room for ecosystems to play out their destinies free from human intervention. A room of its own is biodiversity's only requirement.
All too often these days I feel the same anxiety as nine-year old Phin Walsh.

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