As an enthusiastic amateur naturalist living in New York City, I grew fond of the hearty, adaptive species that populated the boroughs' streets, parks, and waterfronts: pigeons and gulls, rats and red-tailed hawks, starlings and squirrels. When I felt out of step with my urban friends and neighbors, as I occasionally did, I found that watching the animals helped. Chittering around the base of a corner garbage can, the sparrows and starlings chastised me for moping. The herring gull's shrill shout over the East River exhorted me to shake off my self-conscious alienation. All of these species were part of my urban wildlife support network. Watching them reminded me to get on with the business of grateful L-I-V-I-N', no matter where I might be. Now that I live in San Francisco, a town with greater biodiversity than NYC, I'm happy to have Steller's jays, Brewer's blackbirds, and ravens keeping me company, too.
Today, however, my girlfriend and I are visiting my parents on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. Dumped on by the latest "snowpocalypse," we've been locked in for most of our visit. Not that I mind. Yesterday morning, I trudged through the snow drifts around my home ground, eyes squinted in the dazzling winter light. In the space of an hour, I saw thousands of snow geese rise noisily from a partially exposed barley field; turkey vultures sweep across the sky, scenting for an unfortunate victim of the biting weather; a woodcock flush from a hedge; coyote tracks that skirted a small cemetery; mouse tracks that emerged from under a snow-covered plow and lightly skipped across the snowfall's surface to a patch of open grass; a yellow-rumped warbler and a Carolina wren vying for position atop a perch; two tundra (or whistling) swans flying low overhead; Canada geese and green-winged teal gathered in the open water of the estuary; a cottontail peer from a tangle of grasses. It occurred to me, as I contemplated such abundance and diversity, that my urban wildlife support network, whatever its personal value, is but a shadow of what I witnessed this December morning.
Last year, at this time, I wrote, "32 years on this Earth, and still I feel like I am opening my eyes for the first time." Now 33, that statement is no less true. Given my stubborn optimism, I presume that it will be true at 43, 53, or 83 (should I survive so long). Still, I wish that I could open my eyes to greater species diversity in the cities that I call home. We humans are an increasingly urban species, and we must take care not to forget about the world's collapsing biodiversity. It isn't just the country folks that benefit from it; we all do, whether we appreciate that fact or not.
All the same, I'm looking forward to hearing the belated birthday croaks from the ravens above the Inner Sunset.
Happy 2011, friends. May it be a rich, sweet, and happy year!
Photo credit: Hungry Hyaena, 2010