(This article was originally published at Examiner.com right after the tsunami hit Japan in March of 2011. Although it’s an older piece, I hope you will enjoy the read – the essay is still relevant today, and to keep it interesting you can easily choose another heartbreaking disaster to put in the place of “Japan” or “Tsunami” – perhaps Hurricane Sandy or the Sandy Hook shootings. The focus here isn’t any one particular tragedy, rather it is to remind ourselves of the fragility and beauty in this world we share. – Tauna)
Standing on my porch this morning with a cup of coffee, watching my yard wake up, I thought of Nature’s gentle, life-giving beauty and I thought of Nature’s harsh, heartbreaking disasters. I thought of Japan. I felt the pain of so many people’s life-changing loss and unrecoverable peace. I imagined the helplessness of collective souls. I sent my prayers up through the clouds that individually, one by one, this Nation of victims – of survivors – would be healed.
Then I heard it… tap-tap-tap-tap-tap. A loud hammering sound was coming from over my head, over my rooftop, up in the trees. Tap-tap-tap-tap-tap. I scanned the green branches in my young forest’s pine-flavored attempt at regeneration. No woodpeckers there – of course not. I was looking in the wrong place. Woodpeckers, like this illusive Pileated – that was busy looking for his beetle breakfast – find very little use of young, living trees. Their lives are fueled from death and decay – old, rotten, hollow snags are what provides these proud birds with their real estate and grocery needs.
Tap-tap-tap-tap-tap. And sure enough, clinging to the side of the oldest – and deadest – tree in my yard, was this large and magnificent insect-eating percussionist. I thought about how Nature provides life from death, and how critical this rhythm is.
Pileated woodpeckers are survivors. Two of its cousins, the Ivory Billed and Imperial Woodpeckers are, most likely, already extinct. This bird, drumming away on the old dead tree, has survived – despite hardship and despite losing much of his natural home – due only to his ability to adapt. Old-growth forest specialists, like my morning visitor and his dead cousins, have drastically declined as the forests themselves have declined. This bird is learning to adapt to younger, less diverse forests… thus he wins the title of the last remaining large-bodied woodpecker alive today.
As I watched the sunshine invite life to my yard, I thought of diversity. I saw how different species, all preoccupied with the same idea of their morning meal, complimented one another and respected the right of the others to also fill their stomachs. The cardinal in my tulip magnolia never fussed at the towhee on the invasive privet bush. There was a gray squirrel on a loblolly branch who didn’t mind sharing the view with the noisy mocking bird who sat in the cheap seats below.
With a heavy heart, sent to me from an Asian disaster, I was reminded of how very temporary we are. Individually – myself as well as all of these feathered little lives on my yard – we have a limited number of breaths we can take. Individually, you and I, are perishable goods. Life as a whole, however, continues. Obli Di Obli Da. Nature remains.
My plan for National Wildlife Week was to publish articles with interesting, and little known “wow factors” of the Wild Things we share our world with. As always, I wanted to encourage an interest in, and passion for, Nature and her creatures. All of the wildlife on our Earth are faced with the unimaginable consequences of our human actions – in a way that we don’t fully understand. Humans on our planet are faced with hardship and loss and death and hunger and disease, as are wild animals. However, most species of wildlife today are also faced with the very real possibility of outright extinction – being snatched from their right to life by choices that weren’t theirs to make.
Amidst the tragedy of our Asian brothers and sisters, today was not the right time for me to wrap my head around fun and happy little facts about the birds and the bees. However, although today I am filled with loss and mourning, I have also been reminded that life does go on and that right now, today, human kind has the unique power of choice to improve upon, or provide destruction of, other life forms that breathe our same air and drink from our same pond.
The blessing of life filled my yard this morning, as well as my lungs. Today let’s be thankful for the life we have, the world we share and all the wild things that are doing the jobs that Nature designed them to do. I was prepared today to offer you the inspiration to celebrate wildlife during their designated week of recognition. Instead I would like you to take the time and celebrate ALL of life today, we are all connected… through the birds and the bees, the flowers and the trees… and, yes – a little thing called love.