Posted tagged ‘Chekhov on nature’

Thinking of Wildlife As The Hurricane Nears

October 29, 2012

Let’s sit and talk and talk. It’s so nice, so warm and cozy here. Listen to the wind. There’s something in Turgenev – “On such a night, happy he who has a roof over his head and a warm corner of his own.” I’m a sea gull… No, that’s not what I mean. I’m sorry. What was I saying? Oh, yes, Turgenev. “And may the Lord help homeless wanderers.”

The Sea Gull by Anton Chekhov
(English Version by Jean-Claude Van Itallie)

Nina’s lines from Act Four of The Sea Gull often spring to my mind in the anticipatory hours before a big storm. Scientists say that most storms have relatively little effect on wildlife at the species level, meaning a bad storm, even if it destroys many individual animals, is unlikely to permanently affect populations of species. But thanks to anthropogenic climate change, we’re now seeing an increase in the number of “severe weather events,” from storms to droughts to seasonal changes that, taken together, are already affecting some species. Still my thoughts in a storm are not about the fate of a species, but about the suffering of individuals, animal and human.

Luckily for our local wildlife, Hurricane Sandy is arriving well past nesting season. Most of our young animals are on their own by now, and many birds have already migrated south. NYC’s resident wildlife will probably do pretty well, over all. The raccoons of Riverside Park should be safe in their retaining wall.

Songbirds will hunker down, lock their toes onto a protected branch, hold their feathers tight against their bodies, point themselves in the direction of the wind, and hold on for dear life as the wind blows past and the rain pelts down.

Feathers can effectively seal out water.

As long as the branch survives, the birds probably will, too. Cavity nesters, like owls and woodpeckers, are even better protected, tucked into natural holes in tree trunks. And squirrels, too, will find a hole in a tree or in the retaining wall, or they’ll burrow into their dreys, thick nests of leaves that they build high in the trees.

If their tree withstands the storm, these creatures will emerge when wind and rain abate to fluff their fur and feathers, and search for food.

Migrating birds are more vulnerable. Exhausted by their travels, their energy reserves depleted, they must find food and shelter wherever they may be. Migrating birds may be blown hundreds of miles off course. Songbirds may be blown out into open sea where they can find no shelter or rest, while pelagic birds may be blown inland.

What may be a disaster for birds – being blown far from their native habitat – offers thrills for birders, who rush out into the aftermath of a storm to search for rare vagrants they might otherwise never encounter.

Tonight in New York City, the wind is starting to gust, although the storm is still hours away. I look out at the strangely quiet streets from my cozy apartment, and hope that all creatures find shelter from tomorrow’s storm.

A Christmas Plea from Dr. Astrov (1897)

December 25, 2011

Out Walking the Dog wishes all readers a very merry Christmas, Chanukkah, Kwanza, Solstice and every other possible reason for celebrating Light-out-of-Darkness. We’re still posting from the coast of British Columbia, and will be returning to the wilds of New York City next week. Wherever we travel, we are deeply grateful for your interest in the world as we see it.

The forests here in British Columbia put me in mind of Chekhov’s nature-loving Dr. Astrov (Uncle Vanya, 1897):

Of course, we have to cut trees sometimes, but why whole forests?

Russian forests tremble under the axe – millions of trees are lost, animals and birds have to flee, rivers dry out, beautiful landscapes are gone forever.

And why? Because man is too lazy to pick up the fuel under his nose. … Aren’t we barbarians to burn beauty in a stove, to kill what we can’t recreate?

Our wit and vitality are given us to increase what there is. But what do we do? We destroy.

There are less forests, waters are polluted, wildlife disappears, the climate is harsher, and each day the world is poorer and uglier.

You’re looking at me sarcastically. You don’t believe a word I say. Well, perhaps I’m crazy.

But when I pass a peasant’s woods that I’ve saved from the axe, or hear leaves rustling in a tree that I’ve planted – I feel I’ve helped.

When I plant a birch, see its leaves sprout, see it sway in the wind – I’m proud, and I think …

But – time to go.

And who knows? Perhaps I’m crazy.

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