Photo by Paul Mayer
BY KIMBERLY MAYER
I am walking in the woods alongside the sea pondering these questions: what makes us human, and what makes us good? And the answer, it seems to me, is the extent to which we are connected to, and value, wildlife.
Consider the whales in the sea and the trees in the forest. Consider the elephants if you please.
Strong mother-child bonds characterize the Orcas whale as well as the elephant. Offspring often stay with their mothers for life. And upon death, Orcas keep vigil, actively mourning the passing of one of their own.
“They’re not killer whales, they’re lovers,” writes reporter Hayley Day in “Wired for Orcas Love,” published online, The Journal of the San Juan Islands, 2/14/17.
Ken Balcomb, Founder of the Center for Whale Research in Friday Harbor, San Juan Island, suggests, “They may be a superior species actually. They’ve certainly been around longer than us. They may think ‘those monkeys’ on the beach have almost whale-like intelligence.”
Turning now to the trees, I am realizing from the beautiful little book I am reading, The Hidden Life of Trees by Peter Wohlleben, that the forest is another remarkable social network. Trees too are social beings, and a solitary planted tree would be hard-pressed to enjoy the benefits of those in the forest. Growing near each other, like families, trees support each other, share nutrients, and care for their sick and elderly. They communicate through both roots and leaves, warn each other of dangers—such as insect infestations, and accommodate for one another’s growth rather than crowd each other out. Together in a forest, trees create a hospitable climate that one tree alone would be incapable of achieving.
My woods here is full of deer, but continents away from the Puget Sound elephants tell a remarkably similar story to the trees and the whales. Elephants also form close family bonds particularly between mother and offspring, and live in a complex, matriarchal, social structure. Elephants greet one another, work in teams, and exhibit emotions such as crying at birth and death. They grieve, bury their dead, and frequently return to revisit the body. Elephants care for each other’s orphaned offspring, sharing food when it is scarce. Capable of enormous empathy, elephants do not do well in isolation.
Whales, trees, or elephants, there is resistance in numbers. We must remember this.
Only four weeks into the Trump Administration and the future for wildlife—wild animals, fauna, flora, mammals, fish and birds–looks bleak. And with it, would go our humanity.
Climate change is locked in denial by the very man chosen now to lead The Environmental Protection Agency. As Attorney General of Oklahoma, Scott Pruitt fired off multiple lawsuits against the EPA on behalf of oil, gas, and coal industries. Long an adversary against regulation to control pollution, can’t you hear them all laughing in the fossil-fuel board rooms now?
What did the American people expect? A developer looks at a forest and sees a golf course, hotels, casinos. He sees trees for cutting down. To him, an ocean is for skimming his yacht across. His sons trophy hunt in Africa, like Colonialists out of the 19th century.
And we, the monkeys on the beach, are rendered less healthy, less humane, and less human for this.
7 responses to “What Makes Us Human, What Makes Us Good”
I love the notion of trees as social beings. And how much we humans can learn from the whales, the forests, the elephants.
I know, trees! It was astonishing to learn. And yet now I don’t know how I didn’t know it, because I think I always felt it. Didn’t we, as children in the woods?
Excellent! You might consider it as an Op Ed for the Seattle Times.
========== Alice B. Acheson, Book Marketing/Publishing Consultant P. O. Box 735 Friday Harbor, WA 98250 360/378-2815 http://sites.google.com/site/alicebacheson a little elbow room wrote on 2/21/2017 10:49 AM: > WordPress.com > a little elbow room posted: ” Photo by Paul Mayer BY KIMBERLY MAYER I > am walking in the woods alongside the sea pondering these questions: > what makes us human, and what makes us good? And the answer, it seems > to me, is the extent to which we are connected to, and v” >
I love how you keep saying that, Alice. First it’s going to appear in “The Journal of the San Juan Islands” in March, and we’ll see after that. How I would love for the article to have legs.
Lovely, as usual, Kim! And Baxter is also now reading the Hidden Life of Trees. Just finishing my Spanish classes and turning to Stephanie’s wedding (in June) and our trip west to see you before we move! Yeah! More soon. Deb
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Busy people! Can’t wait to have you both out here, to go boating and kayaking, and sitting around the campfire at night wrapped in wool throws. To go hiking on trails in the old growth forest that is our woods. My favorite line on the book Baxter and I are both reading, “A walk in the woods will never be the same again.”
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