I woke up this morning to a fierce windstorm, with blowing rain that turned to snow. It's March, that most variable of months. The view out my window at work has changed every day - heavy gray clouds to blue skies, bare hills to snowy white. Every week I think it's time to take off the winter studded tires, every week there's some day that I'm grateful I didn't get around to that chore.
As always with the heavy snow, I worry about the wildlife. This back and forth weather is so difficult for everyone from robins to bluebirds, elk to cottontails.
Elk here in the Grande Ronde valley have lost most of their low elevation winter and spring grazing and loafing grounds to development. On the Zumwalt Prairie, rifle shots keep the elk herds moving off pastures claimed for cattle and fields claimed for wheat, and the wolves, that would keep the elk moving along, are likewise chased away or shot. This morning under gray-white skies, it seems like wildlife is everywhere on the run.
I worry about the lack of red-wing blackbirds ... I've only heard one by the ponds on Cricket Flats, and only seen two in the Grande Ronde Valley one day - and none since then. The morning should be a cacophony of birdsong, and usually the red-wings would be mobbing the sunflower seed bird feeder. I know that populations of migratory birds can be wiped out by pesticide and herbicide poisoning on their long journeys and in their southern wintering grounds. I wonder if that is what has happened to our local red-wings. I have close friends who think that the cost of organically grown food is too high and not worth paying. What is the price of a red-wing blackbird's song in the spring?
I also miss the evening songs of the little spring peeper frogs. I've witnessed the decline of these little frogs over the past twelve years, and think we have made some pretty poor trades lately as a society.
Rachel Carson wrote "Silent Spring" back in the 1960's. We organized, marched, passed laws and regulations, banned some of the worst offenders like DDT. The bald eagles and ospreys began to return. It seemed like we had responded in time.
Now it seems spring has lost not only the frogs, but the red-wings. It's not quite silent yet, but much of the music is diminished. There is clearly more work to be done.
I remember reading that when we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe. It was one of those sayings quoted in the 60's. It is still true.
A resilient system, able to recover from damage and abuse, and the terrible challenges of climate change, needs all its pieces ... frogs and wolves, red-wings and elk, bluebirds and beaver ...
Here, this morning, with clouds so low I can't even see the hills, I re-commit myself to the work that needs to be done to protect and restore resilience: native species, linked travel corridors, protected habitat. Call it sustainability, call it ecology, call it good science - we know what needs to be done. This place, this ecosystem, is our "household" (the meaning of 'oikos') and it is falling apart. It needs our love, our care, and our commitment, more now than ever.
- Danae Yurgel