Setting An Example



When I was a child, I took it for granted that my world would always be surrounded by the beauty and wonder of many other species included in it. For example, I thought that it was normal to see many mourning doves flap out of a stand of trees next to my home while starting, shortly before dawn’s light, to make such a racket that they awoke me with their collective sing-song hooting sounds.

Afterwards I’d get ready for school. I’d eat breakfast, get dressed, put my homework into my school pack, brush my teeth and exit the house in which I lived.

Did I need an alarm clock to get awake at the right time? Nope. The birds did it. Their sound, a veritable symphony with all of them involved, was lovely!

I felt comfortable surrounded by crickets, butterflies, ladybugs, frogs, lizards, toads, chipmunks, squirrels, raccoons (who sometimes came to visit me with babies in tow), dragonflies, rainbow trout milling around my ankles in shallow water as I hand-fed and petted them, and so many more species that enriched my life through watching and interacting with them. Many were great playmates, even the slender, colorful, tiny snakes that slithered around my wrists with their tongues darting in and out so as to smell the air.

Since then, I’ve learned to curtail my visions of them. They simply don’t exist in great abundance any more if at all in some regions. For example, I will never expect to see the sky almost darken with a migration of birds in the chilly fall at sunset while playing a game of soccer with teammates as a child.

I won’t likely ever again hear them as they call out in such a great crowd all crushed together, nor hear the collective whir of so many wings above my head ever again. I will probably never see such an amazing sight of them streaming from one horizon to another in a huge dark mass of fluffy determined creatures composed of hundreds upon hundreds in a long thick stream.

That’s all gone. What is not gone is the occasional wonderment of watching one mated pair of some species or another near my home.

Yeah, humans are taking over everything. Here’s a perfect example.


Yes, humans tend to take over everything and crowd everything else out. (Imagine the way that Manhattan – NYC – looked in the 1400’s.)

How many types of birds and number of birds, for instance, can live in NYC now? What would be their food source?

What about other types of animals other than pets, and a wide variety of plants existing there? Can they survive in such an environment?

Meanwhile, I have one, only one, nesting pair of birds now in my area. They are mourning doves, the same kind that I knew as a child, and are easily seen through one of my windows since they are in a tree near the glass panes.

The male, much bigger than the female, seems old and seasoned. The female seems young and a bit frail.

Perhaps this is her first time in motherhood. She did have trouble delivering the last of three eggs into their twig nest until he stood on her back and did rapid squat thrusts to help push it out of her.

Then he maneuvered to get on top of the eggs and she stood on a nearby tree branch recovering after which she flew off to find food, I assume. She must have expended lots of energy in the effort and needed, it would seem, to replenish herself by resting and eating.

They now take turn sitting on the nest. It rains. It snows. Big gusts of winds almost toss one of them off. Yet they are tenacious. They maintain in their duty and it’s obvious that the task can’t be comfortable.

After all, imagine sitting still for hours on end with nest sticks poking at you while you have three lumps, the eggs, pressing into your belly. Imagine sitting there and its snowing or raining hard with a pummeling impact on top of you. Imagine being cold, hungry or thirsty and still sitting there until your mate returns. Imagine having to go to the bathroom, but still sitting there instead and just holding it.

In actuality the male does the brunt of the sitting. He seems much stronger and more capable than the female. So he just sits for hour after hour and through the night, too.

It’s good that the future father doesn’t have a job so as to amass money to buy a bigger, better home, a vacation home, a vacation or a luxury car. It’s good that he somehow understands his most important duty is to directly serve his mate and future offspring.

He’s, instead, simple like me in wants. Yet I’m not that simple since I want to engage them and be a part of them. I want it since they represent the little that I have left after the abundance that I had in childhood.

He’s not so sure that he likes the arrangement as I interject myself in their lives while I tap on my house window four feet from their nest and make bird sounds like his. We do, though, play a game wherein I blink and he duplicates and I, in turn, blink again my eyes to attempt to show some sort of connection.

The mommy bird and I have a better liaison going. I call bird songs and she tries to duplicate them. She leans towards the window, leans towards me, in the process. I watch her beak move as she stares directly at me. (It’s a fun game for us both, apparently.)

I wave with a hand and she rustles feathers in response while still staring at me. I guess that I’m not perceived as a threat – just as an oddity.

I’m so sad to lose so many wondrous species since I was young. So as a last ditch stand, I take my full heart to commune with the one single breeding pair of birds that I noted in my neighborhood.

They scare me as the parents take turns to sit on their eggs. Yes, they do as I watch a small family of squirrels climb up and down a different branch of the Ponderosa pine in which the doves are nested.

I get afraid that the squirrels might bother the doves. Perhaps they’d eat the eggs.

Meanwhile, I’ve had these squirrels for around twenty generations. They live in the attic of my home.

I like them there. No wires are up there for them to gnaw and create a fire, and I don’t use the attic.

Our species, humans, took so much away from them as we spread out and spread some more across the world. It’s the least that I can do, although I sometimes do yell at them to cut out the ruckus as they get too noisy late at night sometimes as they scamper about hither and yon while squeaking and playing with each other above the ceiling of my bedroom.

I’ve lost much as I’ve watched the natural world diminish since I was a child. Year after year, I watch forests torn down to become malls and housing developments around where I live.

I watch our human species grow and grow in numbers everywhere as the world is torn apart to accommodate our ever growing numbers.

I know about where it’s all going:

Holocene extinction – Wikipedia

The Holocene extinction, otherwise referred to as the Sixth extinction or Anthropocene extinction, is the ongoing extinction event of species during the present Holocene epoch, mainly due to human activity.

Yet, I still have my two little mourning doves dedicated to sitting in turn for twenty-four hours a day on their nest. I still have my three or so squirrels running up the pine tree with mouths full of leaves to enrich their nest in the attic.

The way that they and I stare at each other, and socialize is as funny as my interactions with the mourning birds despite that the bird father seems somewhat dismissive me and this is a father that smartly stood on the mother’s back and did rapid heavy squat thrusts to get the third egg out of her into their crude twig nest while she panted and fluttered her wings in the great effort. … Yeah, he knows what’s what.

I love them as crumbs, remnants and a curtailed version, very curtailed, of the world of expansive life that I once knew. Why should I not while simultaneously noting more humans filling our planet with ourselves while destroying so much else?

So I cherish with a depth of caring my doves and my squirrels. I want them to thrive and root for their successes even though so smaller in number than my recollection of their existences once were.

We’ll never go back to the fullness that I knew of them and it makes each mated pair become all that more important and special as people grab their world away.

You should see my neighborhood take on more and more housing developments and less and less spaces for other species. It reminds of this picture series that to me is frightful:

R. Crumb’s Short History of America, 1979 | WIRED


*Too bad things worked out as they did.


When I look at this pitiful scene, I treasure my birds and squirrels all the more as we face overpopulation of humans decimating the natural world around us while bringing on climate change effects, resource depletion and other ways to destroy the very biosphere on which we ALL depend for life. The alternative of not valuing these others is unacceptable.

My birds set an example in dedication to making life right. They ask for so little and throw themselves thoroughly into pushing life forward. Let’s try hard to be like them and my funny little squirrels with their mouths full of leaves as they climb to their attic home.

I’m trying really hard not to be sad for all of the current and coming losses. I’m trying really hard to just root for the successes for the little life – two nested birds with a tiny clutch of eggs and a small family of squirrels – as my neighborhood gets gradually overrun with ever more housing developments, shops and other forms of human development.

Yes, I’m trying to be positive. Yet it’s hard – quite the effort — as I watch the gradual demise of my nonhuman friends as more and more disappear year by year in my neighborhood and elsewhere located: Earth enters sixth mass extinction; scientists blame humans – NY Daily …. Over time, more and more people take, take and take more and more of the world for ourselves.

Meanwhile my animal friends show a good way to live simply without endless wants and presumed needs. They set a worthwhile example for us all!

Sally Dugman is a writer in MA, USA.


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