Channeling Fear

What happens when fear for a place you love moves you enough that you’re willing to give your life for it?

In 1979, Mark Dubois chained himself to a rock behind New Melones Dam in the USA’s Stanislaus River Canyon and threw away the key. His action focused national attention on a place and a cause in a way that hadn’t happened before. Mark and the community lost the Stanislaus River in the end, through a combination of big money from the agricultural lobby and the use of dishonest campaign tactics. But his action launched a movement and gave voice to wild rivers and the ecosystems they nourish.

Mark went on to co-found many environmental non-profit organizations, including International Rivers, dedicated to protecting rivers and defending the rights of the communities that depend on them. In his words, “Overall, the lesson I got from the river is, we’re one and the same. We’re connected. By trying to protect that place, I was helping protect me.”

Many of us are afraid for the planet these days, in the very same way that Mark feared for that river and its beautiful canyon. This short film raises the question of what we are willing to do about it.

In related vein, in a very different yet engaging voice and style, look for Plasticus Maritimus: An Invasive Species, by Ana Pêgo and Isabel Minhós Martins, a middle grade nonfiction title published in an North American edition by Greystone Books.

In 2015, marine biologist Ana Pêgo decided to name the plastic trash she’d collected along shorelines—she called it “plasticus maritimus.” There is much in this book to reflect upon and discuss, but its greatest strength lies in its clever, persuasive invitation to take action. Originally published in Portugal.

Reindeer, Red Riding Hood and the Nature of Decomposition

When lightning killed 323 reindeer in a remote region of Norway, the park left them in place where they’d fallen, allowed decomposition to set in, so scientists could study it and see how it might change the arctic tundra ecosystem. One element of the Guardian article surprised me, and that was the use of the term, “landscape of fear.” The researchers talked about how solemn it felt to approach a place where so many lives had been snuffed out all at once. 

Excerpt: 

Over the years scientists observed the bloated, fly-infested bodies turn into dry skeletons. The latest paper, published in the journal Royal Society Open Science in June, looked at the creation of a “landscape of fear”, as top predators such as wolverines, golden eagles and arctic foxes took advantage of the carrion.

But then, another surprise. Fear opened up to opportunity for other lives: first scavenger birds, then rodents, then insect-eaters–meadow pipit, northern wheatear, common reed bunting, bluethroat and lapland bunting.

And I loved the term they used for the insects, such as blowfly, that came to life on the carrion. A “bloom” of arthropods.

We don’t like to see rotting carcasses, do we? And yet, there are questions to be pondered in this event. What’s to be gained from letting nature take its course? What have we lost in a couple of centuries of hiding death away, refusing to see what we might learn from it?

In a way, this picture book about rewilding raises similar questions. It reverses the roles of humans and wild animals in a humorous fracturing of the Little Red Riding Hood fairy tale. As in the field of dead reindeer, there’s a very real moment of fear, and it’s equally well earned.

The delightful resolution lies, as it should, in human hands. Wouldn’t it be great if we humans could step up as the child in this story does? If we could only do what’s necessary? Too me, it’s particularly gratifying that the joy of Grey’s book lies in her deliberately “de-composing” an old fairy tale trope, and then re-composing it to create newly possible realities. Slender ones, but still, blooms of possibility.

There may be no new stories, but it’s past time to begin decomposing the old ones.