Saturday, January 22, 2011

A Year in Review Part III: All the “Tiny Green Things”

I’ve always had a profound love for wild things—I’m a big kid really, having never lost that childish instinct to reach out and pet something. It’s like a biological imperative, this need and desire to touch an animal. Silly, I know! Dog, cat, horse, deer, hare, crow…I revel in how animals and birds feel. I love their fur, their feathers, their feet, their hooves, their ears and, most of all, their eyes.

But I seem to have plumbed new depths of awareness and gentleness this year, which has astonished even me. Kneeling on the ground, stretching out in the ticklish grass or on the cool brown earth, just getting down close to the tiniest inhabitants of the wetland has yielded the most extraordinary joy. They have faces! They wear their skeleton on the outside. They have so many intricate moving parts, like marvelous articulated toys.

Only insects are much more precious than any manmade thing because they are living, breathing organisms—right under our feet, near us every day, even though we might not always be aware of their presence. They are indeed the silent majority. We think of them only when they bite us, sting us or ruin our picnics. But they are so much more than pests and pains.

If you say you love wild things, you cannot just love the big, charismatic creatures, like lions and zebras and elephants. No! You’ve got to embrace them all—the small, the pesky, the ugly—the faces only a mother could love. The “bugs” we humans call pests are truly marvels of nature. Even the house fly up close is a wonder of creation. E.O. Wilson knows it. Walt Whitman knew it. Now we all need to acknowledge it. And soon. We have to start valuing every living organism from plankton to polar bears or else we stand to lose them all. Lesson for humanity: the mighty depend on the miniscule.

So now as the snow lays thick and deep all around us, my mind is turning to the coming of spring and summer. I am eagerly looking forward to meeting up with a whole host of new insect buddies, learning more about them and watching them go about their daily, important work. In the depths of winter, I’m dreaming of damselflies and dung beetles.

Yes, 2010 was a good year. I learned that lymantriidae—tussock moths and kin—are no less lovely than a lynx.

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