Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Birds Tied to My Bed, and Other Nature Stories

•I couldn’t help noticing a large shrub tied to my old bed the last time I visited my parents’ house in Connecticut — a rope fastened to the frame of the bed and heading out the window was helping to prop up the shrub outside so that it wouldn’t fall over and damage the nest full of eggs that a mother bird was hatching (the shrub would otherwise have been precarious, since my parents had been in the process of chopping it down to remove it when the nest construction unexpectedly began).

Fittingly, when I spoke to my parents on Father’s Day, they said the baby birds appeared to be making their first foray outside the nest, temporarily turning the neighbors’ cat Snickers from beloved occasional visitor into looming, feared menace — but so far so good. (My parents’ own cats, Meow, Salty, and Pepper, mostly stay indoors.)

•The discovery of birds tied to my bed was less alarming than my friend Sarah Federman’s recent discovery that her family’s house upstate actually had an uninvited tree in it, the branches having punctured the roof when the tree fell over. Nice to be reminded once in a while that nature can still pack a punch, though.

•Iowans need no reminding, though, and my friend Debbie Colloton reports that she’s in Rome remaining admirably calm while her unattended house sits back in storm-ravaged Iowa — and it had just started filling with water when she had to make her scheduled departure from the country. It should be interesting to hear what she returns to.

•On another animal note, I found it ironic that there was news last week of a Midwest dog surviving a tornado-induced solo flight and news of that dog in the Bronx getting sucked up and killed by a street sweeper. Lesson: safer to be a tornado-dog than a sweeper-dog, surprisingly enough.

•Last week also saw economist Don Boudreaux drawing attention to this neat, funny quote from nineteenth-century historian Thomas Babington Macaulay, a reminder that even a century and a half ago, there were writers who were sick of hearing from back-to-nature activists:

Indeed, law and police, trade and industry, have done far more than people of romantic dispositions will readily admit, to develop in our minds a sense of the wilder beauties of nature. A traveller must be freed from all apprehension of being murdered or starved before he can be charmed by the bold outlines and rich tints of the hills. He is not likely to be thrown into ecstasies by the abruptness of a precipice from which he is in imminent danger of falling two thousand feet perpendicular; by the boiling waves of a torrent which
suddenly whirls away his baggage and forces him to run for his life; by the gloomy grandeur of a pass where he finds a corpse which marauders have just stripped and mangled; or by the screams of those eagles whose next meal may probably be on his own eyes…

It was not till roads had been cut out of the rocks, till bridges had been flung over the courses of the rivulets, till inns had succeeded to dens of robbers…that strangers could be enchanted by the blue dimples of lakes and by the rainbows which overhung the waterfalls, and could derive a solemn pleasure even from the clouds and tempests which lowered on the mountain tops.

Nature has gone from deadly menace to luxury item and now to ersatz religion, possibly the rationale that will be used to dismantle industrial civilization and return us to a state of being menaced.

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