A friend who works for Solano County said that the Anna’s hummingbird nesting in her office courtyard was being harassed by county employees who’d been sticking their noses and cameras rather literally into the nest and even bending the branch it’s on down, for closer looks. The hummingbird has been tenacious but she’s clearly agitated, and diverting her even occasionally from feeding the newly hatched chicks endangers them.
The overeager bird botherers got indignant when the groundskeeper roped off the nest area.
That evening one of my sisters back East emailed a forwarded copy of a Chron story from a year or two ago: a humpback whale had been entangled on a string of crab pots, and a volunteer crew of divers, at serious personal risk, had cut her free. My sister asked: Was the story was for real?
Sure it was. So was the hummingbird story. So were the many stories that accumulated after the Cosco Busan oil spill. Joe and I played a very minor part in that rescue effort; you should have seen the outpouring of time and sweat and skill and, yes, love, by volunteers who spent long hard days at the rescue centers and on the beaches and in boats in the middle of Bay in the middle of the night.
Maybe you did. Maybe you were among them. If so, you know what I’m talking about.
Both the good and the bad stories there arise from something E. O. Wilson calls “biophilia,” something as basic to us as music or an oxygen-based metabolism. We’re alive, and we’re drawn to everything else alive. We’re part of something, and vice versa: it is what we’re made of. That’s Darwin’s most compelling idea, that we’re related to every other living being on the planet. You want family values? We got ’em.
But, like parents who’ve never learned child care, sometimes we stumble in ignorance. It’s appalling that anyone is allowed to grow up without a feel for, say, the requirements of breeding birds; the knowledge that they’re utterly different and still the same as us, that they’re not puppets or cartoons. We still crave their company after we’ve paved them half out of existence, but sometimes we hurt them further even in reaching out.
It’s not unusual to be ignorant. I’m still learning, and I’m nearly 60. The bit of work I did for the bird rescue gave me the organized guts to grab a sick barn owl in my spare shirt when we saw him as we strolled in a marsh a day later.
We took him to the Suisun wildlife center and he died in two days anyway.
Did I do him any good? Don’t know. Would I do it again? Yes, I’m a used nurse, and know about trying anyway. I also know the oath: First, do no harm. Funny, how we’re barely beginning to learn how to carry that one off.
We’re born with biophilia. It’s hard to kill it. Nurturing it will do more for us—whatever age we are—than banning Grand Theft Auto or requiring organized sports. We don’t need more regimentation; we need knowledge, access, and release.