Various comments to my previous post prove how many of us appreciate not only butterflies’ beauty but also the idea that the beating of their wings has far-reaching consequences. While seeing them flutter from flower to flower is grounds for celebration, the relative scarcity of all insects is noticeable and has been commented on by professional and amateur entomologists for years.
Similar to other vanishing species, the reasons for their disappearance are multiple: a warming climate, loss or fragmentation of habitat, indiscriminate use of insecticides, etc. In other words, the human effect. But unlike the butterfly effect, the human effect isn’t as subtle. The sobering news about plummeting North American Monarch numbers owing to the widespread application of insecticides on vast agricultural fields has been well-documented and efforts are underway to undo at least some of the damage inflicted on these ephemeral beings.
While wandering through neighborhoods, fields, and forests in search of birds and butterflies during my most recent trip to Germany this past autumn, my attention was drawn to insect hotels of varying shapes and sizes time and again. Butterflies might or might not make use of the rooms provided in said hotels, but other insects, such as flies and bees, whose numbers have also been declining, certainly do. One may question if these finite artificial constructs can replace the myriad natural dwellings that were once available in abundance, but they are a step in the right direction.
To enlarge a photo, click on it.
I have a tendency to become cynical and hopeless in the face of environmental degradation and resultant threat to or loss of life humans have wrought. When looking at the global goings-on and challenges faced by all denizens of our planet, anxiety and depression often gain the upper hand and I worry that we are doing too little too late.
Various comments to some of my other posts also prove that many of us have been profoundly touched by Robin Wall Kimmerer’s poignant book “Braiding Sweetgrass,” which I just finished reading for the second time. She, too, struggles with fear and despair, but she doesn’t give in to those negative feelings. In the chapter entitled “The Sacred and the Superfund,” in which she describes the painstaking process by which one of the most polluted lakes in the world is slowly coming back to life, she has this to say:
The waste beds [of Onondaga Lake] are not unique. The cause and chemistry vary from my homeland to yours, but each of us can name these wounded places. We hold them in our minds and our hearts. The question is, what do we do in response?
We could take the path of fear and despair. We could document every scary scene of ecological destruction and never run out of material . . . What would such a vision create other than woe and tears?. . .
But it is not enough to weep for our lost landscapes; we have to put our hands in the earth to make ourselves whole again. Even a wounded world is feeding us. Even a wounded world holds us, giving us moments of wonder and joy. I CHOOSE JOY OVER DESPAIR. Not because I have my head in the sand, but because joy is what the earth gives me daily and I must return the gift.
We are deluged by information regarding our destruction of the world and hear almost nothing about how to nurture it. It is no surprise then that environmentalism becomes synonymous with dire predictions and powerless feelings. . . .
Despair is paralysis. It robs us of agency. It blinds us to our own power and the power of the earth.
Restoration is a powerful antidote to despair. Restoration offers concrete means by which humans can once again enter into the positive, creative relationship with the more-than-human world, meeting responsibilities that are simultaneously material and spiritual. It’s not enough to grieve. It’s not enough to just stop doing bad things.
So instead of despairing, let us resolve to restore. Let us welcome insects by putting up insect hotels. Let us plant milkweed for the Monarchs. Let us refrain from using insecticides. Let us feed the birds. Let us plant native wildflowers instead of Kentucky Bluegrass. Let us use less and recycle what we use. Let us compost. Let us pick up the trash that litters and mars our favorite destinations. Let us think of other ways to show our love and appreciation for Mother Earth.