Behind the pretty pictures

dewy butterfly

A butterfly outlined in dew: what could be more beautiful, right? Ah, but ignorance is bliss. A cabbage white on a common mullein stalk: what could be more emblematic of the simplified ecosystems bequeathed to us by five centuries of global trade and environmental exploitation? My blog buddy Pablo, of Roundrock Journal, goes so far as to remove every mullein he finds on his land, fighting what I fear is a hopeless battle against invasive species. Most of the time, I can’t bring myself to be quite so zealous. Are we not an invasive species as well? Where forest ecosystems are concerned, I am reduced to near-despair by the seeming impossibility of doing anything about the scourge of invasive earthworms, which are slowly but surely destroying forest humus and threatening everything that depends on it, from native wildflowers to trees, fungi, snails, salamanders and songbirds. And let’s not even talk about aquatic ecosystems.

Most of the time, when I write about nature here, I try to stay positive. I want to help people appreciate the natural world, not infect them with my cynicism and despair. But I do experience almost daily the truth of Aldo Leopold’s observation: “One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds.”

sun through fog (b&w )

It goes without saying that, even at its most degraded and impoverished, the world is still beautiful — often achingly so. To some, the loss of complexity and diversity may even seem like a blessing. But whatever the aesthetic pleasures afforded by simplicity or the efficiencies associated with organizational unity, complex systems are much stronger and more resilient than linear ones. More than that, our minds and bodies are themselves complex systems thoroughly enmeshed in the larger networks of relationships in which, and through which, they have evolved. Nature offers a model for mobility and flexibility that we can’t get any other way. Its health — its wholeness — is essential to our own. Touch one strand and the whole web trembles.

dewdrops in web

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Dave Bonta (bio) crowd-sources his problems by following his gut, which he shares with 100 trillion of his closest microbial friends — a close-knit, symbiotic community comprising several thousand species of bacteria, fungi, and protozoa. In a similarly collaborative fashion, all of Dave’s writing is available for reuse and creative remix under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License. For attribution in printed material, his name (Dave Bonta) will suffice, but for web use, please link back to the original. Contact him for permission to waive the “share alike” provision (e.g. for use in a conventionally copyrighted work).

15 Comments


  1. your photos are something else. thank-you

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  2. I don’t know. You can’t be upbeat all the time. This was a comforting post to me, actually.

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  3. Thanks, qrr.

    dale – Comforting in what way, exactly?

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  4. Well, the elegiac tone, the assertion that it’s beautiful anyway — I guess it chimes with the way I’ve come to hold this knowledge, and it’s nice to have company. God knows I understand the anger with which this understanding is usually held, but it’s an ongoing disaster so huge, and moving ahead with so much inertia, that anger feels inadequate to it, in a way. Or anyway an anger that would be adequate to it would also eat you alive.

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  5. “One of the penalties of an ecological education is that one lives alone in a world of wounds.�

    Indeed.

    As you are able to find beauty in nature despite living in a lonely wounded world, I find beauty in fine beer.

    With a Brooklyn Brewery (100% wind-powered) East India Pale Ale in hand, cheers! To you and the world. Keep up the pretty pictures.

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  6. Dale – Right on. Thanks for the explanation.

    B.A. – Would you believe i haven’t had a beer in over two months? Which could explain a lot, actually.

    Don’t get me started on wind plants.

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  7. Your photos are inspiring to me — you have a discerning eye indeed.

    I’ve always liked that Leopold quote.

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  8. I don’t think the mullein have anything to worry about from me. If i remove a dozen, there are still a dozen dozen I have missed.

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  9. Death might well up
    A torrential river
    Climbing into the mind
    Were one not to sling
    It off like so much dew
    From a snapped coat
    Resolving in a thousand drops.

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  10. Thanks, Larry.

    Pablo – Yeah, one stalk releases how many hundreds of seeds, each of which will remain viable for the next century?

    Here, mullein is just an occasional colonist of openings. It’s the Japanese stiltgrass and the garlic mustard that are really crowding out the native forbs.

    Bill – I like that! Thanks. As it happens, the post I’m currently working on has to do with coats, also.

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  11. Jackets are just so handy. Glad you don’t mind the grafitti on your box-car.

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  12. Man, Dave, I wish we could go for a long walk together. I’d love to spend time in the woods not saying a word, just both of us looking and listening and sensing, and seeing what we both notice. I love your morning dew cabbage butterfly photo.

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  13. butuki – Thanks. Yeah, going for a walk with a fellow shutterbug can be a great way to see more (and talk less), I’ve found. If you ever make it to this part of the world, be sure to look me up.

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