I took this photo of a Yellow Crowned Night Heron appreciating that it happened to be standing in the middle of some lush greenery. I usually see it standing in muck and algae. While I am sure muck is a great place to find crayfish, tadpoles and minnows those hunting spots sometimes make for ugly photographs.
When I got home and took a closer look I was even happier with the shot. I noticed the picture came with a bonus. I think if you click the photo it will enlarge and you can see another pond creature in the bottom left corner.
When my husband saw the picture he wondered if the turtle and bird had a row about something. With backs turned, they look like they decided to stop speaking to each other. “Let’s just agree to disagree.” Maybe food was involved? “I can’t believe you just ate the fish you knew I was saving for lunch!”
They aren’t called Chicken Turtles for nothing. Apparently the meat tastes like … you guessed it … chicken. Maybe the heron has a penchant for eating baby turtles? I would turn my back on a baby eater, too.
The more I thought about it, the more I was struck by the miracle of the turtle — and a turtle of that size — even being there. This pond was constructed in 2008 in an area that used to be acres and acres of tarmac. In only six years the pond has become a fully functioning ecosystem. That positive change can happen so rapidly and thoroughly shows the power of land restoration. Our planet really is amazingly resilient.
But, how does something as delicate as a turtle, frog or crayfish find its way to a new pond? Explaining the presence of the heron is easy. Yellow crowned night herons have nested for years at the creek near my house. A newly airborne heron could easily fly over the area and see the pond’s potential to make a good home. But a short distance by air can be insurmountable by land. No turtle could safely cross the endlessly busy four lane boulevard that separates our creek from this pond. Even with the help of a stop light I sometimes fear for my life when I try to cross that road.
I wrote the development company to ask if they stocked the pond. Apparently not. Anyway, the diversity of creatures now living in the pond suggests some other source. They may have arrived through drainage tunnels. I never thought of drains as habitat corridors before but it now seems reasonable. Travel by drainage pipe is way more practical than an overland trip. A baby turtle striking off away from food and shelter across the drought stricken prairie or hard dry city streets with the hope of randomly coming across a new pond is not in a statistically good place. It is hard to imagine a more perilous and impossible journey.
The resilience of the land and the presence of this particular turtle is evidence of what a miracle life is. Our planet really is a colossal organism. I heard once that the human body is a home to billions of micro-organisms. They live their lives. Communicate with each other. Build colonies and probably have no understanding of our consciousness. Sometimes virulent ones decide conditions are right to blossom. Our bodies fight back with fevers and tiny armies of white body cells and other protective features. As long as they don’t get too numerous or dangerous our body harbours all kinds of life. Live and let live.
It seems to me to be the same with with the earth. Complicated and diverse lifeforms (humans included) build all kinds of connections and interact with each other. Mostly, we are oblivious of the larger being we inhabit. Lately, she has had fevers and floods indicating she is sick and feeling unwell. Let’s hope it is only a passing sickness and not a malignant cancer. Maybe we can be as smart as bacteria and know when it is in our best interest to slow down for a bit.
I heard a story once that the original Earth Day was powered by the image of our planet shared by NASA. The sight of our beautiful blue planet surrounded by darkness sparked a global understanding of our collective oneness and the fragility/uniqueness of life in this vast universe. (An understanding that other cultures fully grokked of course but coming late into awareness is better than remaining forever ignorant.)
That is what a paradigm shift looks like. Suddenly and completely everything changes. I read a report saying the American military is studying this subject. They would like to know how memes spread. Why do people suddenly all jump to the same conclusion? What are the mechanisms for change? How does it happen? I know what I would do with that kind of information. I dread to think what people with guns might do. Unfortunately, I’ve read enough scifi to have some ideas of what that might look like.
The American military is aware that our capacity for like-mindedness is awesome in its potential for creating lasting change. Howard Zinn pointed out in one of his essays that the history of the 20th century is filled with such examples. Think of Czechoslovakia and Eastern Europe. A couple of guys were just sick of the way things were being done and started pretending the world was the way they wanted it to be. A bunch of other people followed their example. Gandhi decided to take on the British Empire by ‘being the change.’ A lot of people in India thought he had a good idea. There are plenty of examples like this. Some of them kind of small. Seat belts. Quitting smoking. Deciding the N word is wrong.
Change happens not necessarily because some hero comes along to save us. MLK Jr might have been just another preacher if the civil rights movement wasn’t part of the picture. I think what happens is that people will suddenly reach a consensus and then react to a meaningful stimulus — like seeing someone gather his own salt, hearing a slogan like Perestroika! or imagining the silent darkness surrounding one small blue planet. And when people reach a consensus the results are good and lasting. When you force people to get somewhere too quickly the inevitable backlash will be too strong. Maybe that is why the Civil War failed and that the battle for social justice continues to be fought even today. You don’t change minds with violence. Change comes through consensus.
So the heron and the turtle have turned their backs on each other but what they don’t realize is the great privilege they share in even having that crayfish to fight over.