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.”
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.