earthwitness matters > Micro-Managing the Earth

Above a cienega in the Arizona desert there is a spring-fed pond that is home to an endangered species of fish. Black Phoebe Pond used to be a mysterious place. The water was inky black and the trees met overhead. Mountain lions inhabited the cliffs above the pond and when you were there alone, you could feel them looking at you.

One day, fish scientists came to monitor the fish population in the pond. They concluded that there was too much shade for the fish to thrive. So we cut down the Arizona ash that surrounded the pond.

Later, the frog scientists arrived to check on the leopard frog that also calls the pond home. These scientists were displeased at the change in the frogs’ habitat. The pond was no longer shaded by the trees whose branches hung out over the water. The water was clear now—you could see all the way to the bottom. The frogs, they determined, were threatened. Their hiding places in the shade had disappeared. So we transplanted grasses around the edge of the pond.

Both the fish people and the frog people are happy now. But I notice that the orange skimmer dragonflies no longer visit the pond, and with the dragonflies gone, the birds were fewer, too. No more Black Phoebes.

The pond has lost its mystery as well—it is now a cherry sunlit clearing and if the mountain lions are still there, you can’t feel them staring at the back of your neck any longer. This isn’t a bad change, mind you. Black Phoebe Pond is still a beautiful place. Nature has accepted the changes we wrought. Nature has its own deep wisdom and a fierce resiliency.

But it seems to me that our attempts at micro-managing things on this planet have done more harm than good. What’s needed is a deep respect for the wisdom of the earth itself—for its ability to right imbalances, fill voids, come to rightness. We need to move from our ethno-centric way of looking at the world in a human timeframe and accept our place here as just another creature. We want to live without taking more than we need. We want to live without denying the rights of other plants (the ones we call weeds) to live, without denying other animals (like wolves and cougars) their rightful place here too.

If we held the earth lovingly in our bodies and in our thoughts, we would tread lightly, think twice about the implications of everything we do. We would take a moment to think about how our actions might impact the planet. And things might come around faster.

Dec 8, 2009 at 02:29PM | Unregistered CommenterJanice Thorup

Thank you for this story, Janice! It’s a fine illustration of what goes wrong with well-intentioned human interventions in natural systems everywhere. For that matter, it’s a fine illustration of what goes wrong with well-intentioned human interventions, even in other matters.

I’m reminded of Aldo Leopold’s essay “Thinking Like a Mountain”, which is reprinted in his book A Sand County Almanac.

Dec 10, 2009 at 08:40AM | Registered CommenterMarshall Massey

Interesting, I not seeing how things are going wrong with what they are doing. It is important to keep science and religion or emotion separated, and to know there is no such thing as balance in natural systems,, just change.

Mar 27, 2011 at 10:35AM | Unregistered CommenterPaul Sieracki