Thursday, September 10, 2009

Visiting our Childhood Voice

In the silence he has heard
Talking bee and ladybird
And the butterfly has flown
O’er him as he lay alone.[1]

          Wherever we look these days animal and plant species are in decline, and the world is waking up to this and becoming alarmed as it should, and it proceeds, always with a calculator in hand, to explain with numbers the value of a species and to prove its decline: 80% of plants are pollinated; 1 of every 3 bites of food comes to us through animal pollinators; monarch butterfly populations have dropped 38%, and so it goes on, and species by species the great diversity of living things slowly decays before our eyes.  The figures are persuasive, but something is amiss, the magic is gone, and one has a vague feeling of discontent in trying to capture the beautiful world of nature with numbers, for the agents of pollination are not numbers, they are our fellow creatures that we have known since we were children, and when we think of them in this way, we see the reality that pesticides are death,  the decline of birds and butterflies is the illness of a dear friend, and their extinction unthinkable.   Our approach to conservation must be more than calculations and science; it must be an affair of the heart.  
            In Robert Louis Stevenson’s poem, part of which is quoted above, a little girl finds a toy soldier and buries it, and it lies there through season after season, seeing all but telling nothing: 
He has seen the starry hours
And the springing of the flowers;
And the fairy things that pass
In the forests of the grass.
And yet, 
Not a word will he disclose, 
Not a word of all he knows.

            We who look upon the world of nature and see it in such sad decline, we who know so much yet cannot speak of what we see except in numbers, are we like the dumb soldier unable to say what is in our hearts?  I do not belittle the scientists for they and their numbers are essential soldiers in this battle, nor do I doubt their passion, for I have met them.    Bees, butterflies, bats and birds, all have found their way into our poetry, our music, our art; yet when we speak of them in their time of extremity, we seem afraid to give voice to our sentiment, and we try to prove our case in a removed and dispassionate way with formulae. Something else is needed, another voice, perhaps an ancient one that we can find only if we revisit our childhood, perhaps in the verses of Stevenson writing of nature seen through the eyes of the child awakening in the morning:
There my garden grows again
Green and rosy painted,
As at eve behind the pane
From my eyes it fainted.
Just as it was shut away,
Toy-like, in the even,
Here I see it glow with day
Under glowing heaven
Every path and every plot
Every bush of roses,
Every blue forget-me-not
Where the dew reposes.[2]


[1] The Dumb Soldier, from A Child's Garden of Verses, by Robert Louis Stevenson
[2] ) Night and Day, from A Child's Garden of Verses, by Robert Louis Stevenson 

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