It was only last year that I learned of Imbolc. I would still hesitate to try to pronounce it in public today, but the significance of this mid-point doesn’t escape me. After months of turning inward (and maybe more so this past year) at sundown tonight the ancient Celtic holiday begins. Imbolc marks the halfway point between winter solstice and the spring equinox. Even if you’re buried in snow and the paths are frozen, tonight we will begin to feel the earliest, subtle hints of spring. Life is beginning to quietly stir after a long season of rest. We can feel our spirits rising.
There are hundreds of reasons to be outraged these days: The fall of common decency, the slipping away of truth in every corner of our politics and a disease that continues to thrive and mutate as some (recklessly) politicize this public health crisis. The divide seems wide and the abyss, deep. One could allow every inch of bandwith to be taken up with worry.
I suppose that’s why I try to get out in nature most every day. There is balance there and the arc bends toward amazement. I know I’ve written before about what it means to feel so connected to a place. Nothing I have ever seen on a screen can come close to the curious face of a weasel coming around a corner with a mouse in it’s teeth. Or the patience and body control of a great blue heron stalking it’s prey, poised for capture.
There is the brilliant color of civil twilight through the trees, fog spreading across the valley, dew on bare branches and tiny droplets collecting on an intricate web. Life is happening here all around me in the Nisqually Delta. There is a very distinct feeling of belonging to something real and tangible and much larger than myself. It is the immersion into that world where I feel most at peace.
As much as this deep division in the world feels new, there has always been disagreement when it comes to public health and well being. I have been reading, watching, listening … to everything I can about Rachel Carson. A marine biologist, author and conservationist, it was Rachel who sounded the alarm about the dangerous effects of chemicals (most prominently, DDT) being introduced into our homes, neighborhoods and natural sanctuaries back in the 1950’s. She is my new American hero.
Silent Spring was published at the end of my first summer, in late September 1962. Did my parents read that book ? Was there concern about the long term effects of weed killers, insect repellants or fertilizers ? Do they remember the city spraying chemicals into the air, across lawns and playgrounds ?
I grew up in the 60’s in a newly established suburban community. We rolled in the grass, picked tiny wild blackberries in the woods and hunted for frogs in the swampy ditches of undeveloped plots of land. We were sprayed with OFF at Lake Joy when we swam and fished for trout at our grandparent’s cabin. Did anyone worry in those times ? It all seemed innocent enough.
I’m just halfway through the book. I recently finished Chapter 8 and I am horrified. Every page I’ve read dives deeper into the dangers of this lethal intervention (with the goal of erradication of disease spread by insects) without proper regard for wildlife, the environment or humans.
Her data was met with the ferocity of an industry poised to make millions (eventually billions) on distribution of this chemical warfare. They did everything they could to try to discredit the data, but also to discredit the person. Business was in a vicious fight with science. How dare anyone let truth interfere with profit.
Chapter 8 is about the birds. Walking my gravel road to the twin barns most mornings, I pass dozens of wintering golden-crowned sparrows. I watch them foraging and I can’t get the picture out of my mind of what dangerous chemicals could do to these tiny creatures. Entire populations were wiped out in areas sprayed with DDT. These chemicals attack the nervous system and birds were found with beaks open, a milky film over their eyes and their tiny feet drawn up to their chests. Hundreds of thousands of birds.
When did we begin to believe that nature could be improved upon ? Who decided that elimination of a species (insect or otherwise) on a mass scale would be beneficial to the whole ? Who ultimately decided that the collateral damage, the unintended consequence of such things, was worth whatever benefit they sought ? Or is the more relevent question: DID anyone think of the whole ? And if so, did they care ?
I’ll keep reading and digesting with the hope of understanding. I’ll continue to treat these protected places as the sanctuaries they are. I marvel at everything in the natural world. The razor-sharp beak of a heron, the barred, flicking tail feathers of a wren, the patterns created in every layer of feathers on the back of a duck or a sparrow (or a common rock pigeon).
And the birdsong. Heart be still …
Even the twin barns at the refuge have a story. Built in 1932, the barns were used as an education center until they were closed permanently after the 2001 earthquake. They remain an iconic presence and the bald eagles building a nest nearby have brought something equally emblematic to this location.
There is a resident great-horned owl nesting near the back boardwalk as well as a flirtatious young coyote who roams the dike road near dawn and dusk. Yellow and ruby-crowned kinglets and chickadees are plentiful in the thickets near the boardwalk on the Twin Barns Loop. There is a small family of deer. And, on one rather serendipitous day, I met the Virginia rail.
I can’t imagine a world without the sights and sounds and smells of these wild places. It gets into your DNA, but unlike a poisonous chemical, it lays itself into the happiness gene and thrives through attention. Every step into the wild builds on this presence on a cellular level. Think of it as a bee pollinating a flower.
Be well. Stay safe. Get outside !