Cull the Old. Sure. That’s a Great Idea. Would You Kill Your Mother?
What happens when we wipe out the old to make way for the new
My mother is long dead, but I have many other mothers to live and celebrate. Those of you who have mothers, are mothers, may well be celebrating Mother’s Day this weekend. If so, I might ask that we give some thought to another Mother. Bear with me here.
If you’re a fan of Avatar, this might be your article. We’ll see. I love the film except for how it centers an invading White Guy as savior in a distant world. Be that as it may, some of the underlying messages about connectivity of life are, for my part, not only true for me instinctively, but they are being proven without a doubt by science.
As someone who has traveled a great deal, who loves and works with animals and who grew up in forests, what we are now learning about what happens when we rip out old growth or kill off an elephant herd’s matriarch is pretty instructive. We are, just as we are doing with our own human elders, wiping out centuries of knowledge and wisdom, and in doing so, condemning those who follow to make do with what they know. Which in too many cases, isn’t enough.
Kill off the matriarch of an elephant herd and you wipe out decades of knowledge of where to find food and water. The herd is thrown into terrible emotional disarray, the younger elephants clueless about where to go, their Source now killed for her ivory or because some damned fool decided that because she was old, she was useless. Sound familiar?
When you wipe out old growth forests, you wipe out an awful lot more than the trees. Call me a tree-hugger, you’re goddamned right. Please see:
Finding the Mother Tree by Suzanne Simard review - a journey of passion and introspection
ur relationship with the natural world is balanced on a knife-edge, which means our own lives, too, are facing an…
From the Guardian article:
The author takes us through her career in the forests of North America, working on plantations to identify links between crop yields, herbicide use and species diversity. In carrying out these initial studies, she goes on to discover that trees communicate underground through a complex web of fungi, and at the centre of this web, an individual known as the “mother tree” helps to coordinate a powerful network that heals, feeds and sustains the other members of the forest.
For you non-tree huggers, that is straight out of Avatar. Not science fiction. This is real. Which is why I am sickened by the burning of rain forests, the thoughtless slashing of trees for crops. Unbridled “progress,” wiping out untold life forms and systems about which we are effectively clueless.
All of which could not only teach us about life, but about how to live better on the only bubble we currently have available to us. That is, before we merrily export our unique brand of abuse, destruction, trashing the environment in the name of money to Mars and beyond. Good for us.
Look, I know this is obvious to many if not most, but that doesn’t mean that seeing it has led to any kind of change in behavior.
The more I travel, read and explore, the more I question how human intervention in Nature (which kindly never needed us, and now if anything, needs us to back the fuck off) is any kind of helpful. If you read Dr. Carl Safina’s magnificent books about Nature, about what happened to the once-great forests of the Pacific Northwest, how the felling of those had horrific impacts on salmon, this might be familiar. Now, that loss of salmon has likely wiped out the orca population in that same area. You can see why I have strong opinions on the matter.
I kayaked the San Juans a while back to see those orcas. I may have witnessed the last ones. But wait, there’s more about orcas, as well as aging matriarchs:
Death of Granny, matriarch killer whale | EarthSky.org
This article is from Hakai Magazine, an online publication about science and society in coastal ecosystems. Read more…
From that piece:
Researchers believe it is the knowledge these long-lived individuals have acquired over a lifetime of experiences that enables them to lead their relatives through tough times. Today, for instance, the life skills of older whales are vital since the population of chinook salmon that makes up 80 percent of the diet of these endangered whales has dropped to 10 percent of historical numbers.
Not only are postmenopausal female killer whales important as leaders, their presence is essential to middle-aged males. In a 2012 paper published in the journal Science, a team of international researchers used survival analysis to show that when a mother whale dies, the risk of mortality for her son increases three- to fourteenfold, depending on the son’s age, in the year following her death. (She bolsters his survival in a number of ways, including assisting in foraging and providing support during conflict.) Granny had no living offspring, but she was often seen in the company of a motherless 25-year-old male named L87, leaving researchers to wonder how her death will affect him as well as those in the rest of the pod that relied on her century’s worth of knowledge.
You see what I mean, I’m sure. Whether or not that will help you get the point, I’ve no clue.
As I age, of course I have a vested interest in being treated with regard. Not only is that human, but a future in which my diminishing faculties make me less valuable simply because I may be perceived as a burden is terrifying. There are legitimate reasons any of us, especially as women, fear aging, for to be an old woman in today’s America is to be hated and reviled for the crime of having aged. Not everywhere or by everyone, but enough so that the fear of getting older is justifiably real. True for men as well, but particularly for women.
In far too many countries today still, older women are branded witches, banned and stripped of their goods. Religion is very good at finding ways to accuse older women (who just happen to have substantial holdings) of being witches as a way of appropriating property. A rich witch bitch is a problem, unless she’s burned or banned. Then, have at it. Handy. Still going on today.
The patriarchal view, especially in evangelical circles which centers the male as dominant, and domination, the single greatest virtue (of women, of nature, of every single goddamned thing, rather than learning to live in harmony, perish the thought) is anathema to life. Anathema to Mother Nature. Anathema to any kind of hope for our earth, if she is to sustain us.
What you dominate, you destroy.
In the early days of the pandemic, a number of politicians and Folks of Questionable Parentage were suggesting that our elders forfeit their lives to Covid. Folks like me, in other words. As if, as a military veteran who had already offered my life up for my country and paid one hell of a price for it, I was now expected to do it again for people with the IQ of a dead nematode.
Sure, Sparky, sign me up.
Ancient peoples revered aged members of their society. Nature does, too, and Her elders ensure the future of everything from seedlings of other species to the complex interactions of land and water to ensure future salmon populations. To state the obvious, we don’t know shit about Nature. We are so busy destroying her that what she could teach us is being lost in the building of more concrete palaces to stupidity.
This is where I see the analogy to Avatar. The arrogance of the military about “science pukes” whose respect for the Na’vi is in the way of corporations wanting to mine the mineral that was protected by the extraordinary ecosystem. Lot of us saw that, but I wonder if we were also able to make the connections to what is going on all around us all the time, every day, in the name of progress. I wonder if you and I would be willing to forgo many of our conveniences if that meant our ecosystem might recover.
In other words, would we love our Mother enough to protect her? So far, not so good.
To that, and yes it’s behind a pay wall but get over it, please see this by Safina and Paul Greenberg when the infrastructure bill came up:
Opinion | We Don't Need More Life-Crushing Steel and Concrete
The long-term needs of ecosystems should come before our knee-jerk expectations about infrastructure. Paul Greenberg…
The way this lay person sees it, the more I read and understand, and of course the older I get, the more I comprehend the immense value of old creatures, old forests, old anything. Not just because I am aging. But also because I better understand the extraordinary importance of learned wisdom, shared wisdom, knowledge and perspectives passed down by the only sources that could possibly embody them: the old.
To that, then, I offer this:
4 Life Lessons I Learned From Our Elders
A few years ago, purple splotches appeared on my fingers and toes. I assumed these painful spots were just bruises, and…
The writer states:
It seemed to me that if anyone had advice on how to live a good life, one full of purpose and meaning, it would probably be the folks who have lived the longest.
Awful hard to do that if we’re culling the herd of those very people.
The same thing is likely true for every living thing on earth. We don’t know that yet, but we’re learning. By the time we really have learned, I gotta wonder what’s going to be left for us to hold in wonder, as so many of us spend every waking moment worried about our jelly rolls and our stock portfolios or where we can score oxy.
When the answer to so much of what ails us is available if we would take a trail walk into the arms of our Mother. What’s left, anyway.
Our Mother is very old. She has a lot to teach us, but not if we keep killing her off. Returning to pre-Covid normal is no kind of way to sustain life, whether that’s us, or that of the fast-diminishing diversity of life on Earth.
I learn nothing about how to live a long life from the young. We do not learn how to live on Earth when we destroy the very creatures our Mother gave us as teachers, as partners.
This Mother’s Day, as we creep out from under quarantine, with what I hope is a greater respect for the awesome power of small things to wipe us out, I hope we also have a greater respect for the source of those small and large things. We are here by Mother’s good graces. We might wish to stay in them, protect her investment in us as one of billions of life forms, and not the dominant one, no matter how badly we wish to believe ourselves to be.
My mother joined our collective Mother, when several years ago I poured her ashes into a pond on Mt Evans, Colorado. We will all rejoin Her at some point. For my part, I hope she’ll be glad to see me coming, for however I chose to live on Her world. How I, as an aging life form, gave back, gave much, and did my best to benefit those who are looking for a little perspective.
Let’s make Mom proud.