Butterfly effect

A Boston Globe editorial entitled “Driving Out the Butterflies,” by Derrick Z. Jackson, concluded with my nomination for Quote of the Week:

Monarchs as a species are not endangered, but the migration is. The butterfly is losing its wintering mountains in Mexico, where millions of them famously cluster, to illegal logging. In its summer grounds of the United States and Canada, fragmentation happens in the form of sterilization. Suburban tracts and their asphalt and pesticide-protected lawns are wiping out meadows. On farms, herbicides meant to protect crops wipe out everything else….

“At some point, the fabric starts to unravel,” [biologist Lincoln] Brower said. “People ask me, What’s the difference whether we have a monarch migration or not? I say, Why do we care about the Mona Lisa or classical music? We care because it is a cultural treasure. We have to start viewing the natural world as a cultural treasure.”

This in turn reminded me of Pennsylvania poet Harry Humes’ poem “Butterfly Effect,” from his book of the same name. Humes riffs on the image from Complexity Theory, popularized by James Gleick in his 1988 bestseller Chaos, of a storm’s ultimate origin in something as minor as the flapping of a butterfly’s wings on other side of the earth.

Women turn away from sifting and measuring,
a man watches a deer stagger,

starving, across the frozen river.
The horizon hardly stirs,

and all the pianos are silent.
The bright wing of the sky

drifts so close you could raise a hand
to it, the air delicate

and your fingers itching a little,
as if something had landed there.

In another reminder of just how little we know about this planet against which we are busily committing ecocide, biologists announced this week that a species new to science, from what appears to be a previously unknown family of mammals, has been discovered in the mountains of Laos.

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