January 2018: Nature Makes Do—Well Sometimes

~by Virginia Rhys-Anson, OFS


Chickadees chirp merrily perched in a suburban maple despite the intrusive din of throughway traffic. Squirrels tightrope along powerlines despite the chance of a misstep into lethal voltage lines. Wolves hunt among a cattle herd despite the threat of being killed by an angry rancher.

Humanity has, for way too long and with way too little concern for wildlife welfare, encroached on nature’s space. Yet somehow, some way, much of nature has been able to alter its natural instincts, its natural inclinations so as to adapt to human intrusion. How does nature do it? How does she cope with our advances? Wildlife does, quite often, find alternatives to the natural features that it has lost to the human animal. Usually with surprising success. And sometimes, with devastating consequences as witnessed by the sight of a deer lying lifeless at road’s edge. Nature does, though, ofttimes adapt.

I have yet to figure out how cardinals, robins, and finches seem to have found ways to ignore the annoying roar of freeway traffic. I really wish I knew their secret. Canada geese forage for food and raise their young in a man-made pond smack in the middle of a business district. Chimneys become makeshift cliffs for hawks intent on finding prey. Robin adapts my home’s eve as a branch to build her nest and rear your younglings.

Suburban trees have become a pseudo forest for birds and squirrels. Sparrows and blue jays gladly sup on the delicacies in bird feeders and splash delightedly in bird baths left by thoughtful two-leggeds. Hummingbirds hover at liquid-filled feeders, imbibing its sweetness in anticipation of their fall migration. Barn owls thrive on mice that seem intent on making the farm their home. City dwellers know well that pigeons congregate on skyscraper ledges.

Raccoons have found a smorgasbord feast with human neighbors. The bane of suburban neighborhoods, they are quite adept at raiding garbage cans. They and black bears have become quite opportunistic. We have inadvertently made it all too easy for them to find a meal. Some have seemingly lost their fear of humans—a very detrimental attribute both for the creature and the human.

Deer in my suburban backyard? A fox visiting just outside my fence? What a total and pleasant thrill. Many times a small herd of nine does has wondered into my back yard. The bird feeder and my daylily blooms seemed to be the draw. I love their journey into my yard. But my daylilies? A time or two Mama let her fawn inch close. Such a treat to have forest wildlife in my [suburban] yard. Their wooded areas have depleted, so they made do in my yard. And I didn’t mind one bit—well, except for the daylily fiasco.

Humans love pavement. We have paved a vast surface of Earth’s crust. Yet plants find their way to the surface to reach Sun’s rays and grow to mature heights. Weeds find escape through cracks in the sidewalk and between the boards of the porch. Ivy climbs along/up the walls of buildings. Weeds peek through miniscule holes in the garden’s weed barrier.

Butterflies and a backyard garden—what a charming, adaptive pairing. Although a prairie adorned with purple prairie clover or field thistle—a mere sprinkling now found in nature–would provide a bountiful feast for butterflies, these delicately winged sweeties seem quite content with the pseudo prairie that suburban gardens provide. However, they do need greater expanses of their native nectar plants in order to keep their numbers from dwindling further.

Yes, nature usually adapts (SYN). In reality, nature has no choice but to adapt. We are giving her no alternatives—ego centric as we are. Flora and fauna either adapt and adjust to us, or they go extinct. How selfish we humans. We have invaded land that was their domain with no attempt on our part to coexist, yet it is they who must adapt to suit us. Sometimes they can. Other times they simply cannot.

Many insect species seem to fare quite well. Not so the firefly. The flickering of these delightful insects is such a joy. Regrettably, their numbers are waning. Light pollution the likely culprit. The lighting that we use to illuminate the human nocturnal environ interferes with firefly communique. They simply cannot see each others’ signals and, thus, don’t get the message. A mating dance may be obscured by that porch light or street lamp.

Bumble bees may hover above coneflowers drinking in their nectar, collecting pollen on segmented legs, but their numbers are, likewise, down–drastically. Only a pair visits my garden. Humanity needs the bumble and other bee species. Without them, some of our most loved foods would cease to be, as many crops reproduce through the cross pollination efforts of bees. Yet their population is alarmingly decreasing. Commercially reared bees are transmitting diseases to wild bees. As with so many animal and insect species, habitat loss and the widespread use of pesticides and herbicides are devastating to bee populations. We are squeezing them into tighter spaces and killing the very creatures that we need in order to grow our food.

The elegant, gentle giraffe. A largely placid giant of the African plains. Dubbed the silent extinction, the future existence of these patch spotted creatures that don muted horns is in grave jeopardy. Their numbers have decreased by about half in the last fifteen years. That is horrific. Once again, poaching and loss of habitat.

Migrating animals incur a huge challenge. Having evolved with the need to follow instinctual migration routes, too many species are finding our homes, highways, and shopping centers blocking their routes. The last of the passenger pigeons to migrate across our skies died out in 1914. Wolves, which follow migrating bison herds, were almost eradicated because their main prey was hunted almost to extinction. So they found the most logical substitute—cattle. What had now morphed from wildlife to “nuisance” animal was forced to adapt or die. Had it not been for last ditch efforts of conservationists, the great bisons would have migrated their last. Human development has reduced elk migratory routes by about 58% and pronghorn routes by an alarming 78% in the Greater Yellowstone ecosystem. Dams and logging have lead to the extinction of an entire species of salmon.

Sadly, some of nature cannot adapt, cannot reproduce quickly enough to overcome poaching and overhunting, cannot find alternatives to the migratory routes that we have closed off. Without human stewardship, human intervention, they will not survive, and we will have lost some of the greatest treasures of nature forever, never to be seen alive ever again. Again, one of the biggest culprits is habitat loss due to human encroachment. How arrogant is our species to only consider ourselves and not God’s wildlife creatures.

Yet, gladly/triumphantly, many animals and insect species seem to adjust quite well to human intrusion. They are able to coexist with us despite our lack of effort to coexist alongside them. They make do with the [pseudo] habitats and ecosystems that our civilization has provided. Nature is stubborn, determined. Much of nature has become opportunistic. Fortunately, much of nature will find a way to survive into the future. [Fortunately], also, many humans are assisting wildlife in its efforts to survive. There is hope. But we must be stewards, as God has commissioned us to be.

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Virginia Anson grew up in the shadows of Sandia Crest in New Mexico. Family camping trips may have sparked her passion for nature. She holds an A.S. in Electronics Technology, a B.A. in Writing, an M.F.A. in Creative Writing, and a certificate in Wildlife/Forestry Conservation. Her book, Mother Earth’s Caretakers, targets middle school youngsters and is published as an e-book for Kindle. Virginia is a Vietnam Era veteran of the U.S. Air Force, and her volunteer endeavors see her as a lector, Eucharistic minister, and sacristan in her parish and as a habitat steward for the National Wildlife Federation. She especially cherishes her life in the Secular Franciscan Order, following in the footsteps of St. Francis of Assisi.

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