Opinion | The Last Hummingbird – By Margaret Renkl – The New York Times

By 

Contributing Opinion Writer

CreditCreditLuisa Gonzalez/Reuters

“NASHVILLE — From inside my air-conditioned house, the light through my windows looks the way October light is supposed to look — mild, quiet, entirely unlike the thin light of winter or the sparkling light of spring or the unrelenting light of summer. In normal years, October is a month for open windows in Middle Tennessee. For cool, damp mornings. For colored leaves that quake in the wind before letting go and lifting away. For afternoon shadows so lovely they fill me with a longing I can’t even name.

Relief is on the way, the forecast tells us, but all we have had of autumn so far is the right slant of light, for this year the mild October light has not brought the usual mild temperatures. All over the Southeast, and much of the Midwest, October came in like August, breaking heat records. For all of September it was August in the South, and for all the first week of October, too — severe drought, temperatures near 100 degrees day after day.

My own yard is as drought-tolerant as I can make it, planted with native trees and shrubs that evolved for this growing zone. Hardly a blade of water-craving grass is left in what passes for a lawn here; to my delight, self-seeding wildflowers have gradually crowded out the grass over the years. But the wild ground cover is so dry now that it crackles when I walk on it, and little puffs of dust lift from the parched soil with my every step.

The once-fragrant piles of damp earth that moles turn up in the night are as dry as anthills, and the robins that like to pick through their leavings in the morning seem to have given up all hope of worms. I finally went to the hardware store to buy a sprinkler, partly to save the new berry-bearing trees and shrubs I planted last spring for the songbird migration, and partly because I take so much pleasure from watching all the neighborhood robins darting through the edges of the spray, catching insects desperate for moisture. I know their dance is nothing more than survival, but to me it looks exactly like joy.”

David Lindsay: I put this lovely piece into my category, Flora and Fauna, and then panicked. Are insects also considered Fauna. What is Fauna. It turns out it is the entire animal kingdom, which includes insects.

From http://www.quora.com:

Are fish, invertebrates and insects categorized as fauna?

2 Answers
Jonathan Jeffreys
Jonathan Jeffreys, Educator, Author, Creator of BiologyCoachOnline

Thank you for your interesting question. Many of my first-semester biology students are taken aback when they first hear me refer to fish, birds, and insects as animals (fauna). The fact is that there seems to be a stream of belief that only mammals–lions and tigers and bears and the like–are animals. The animal kingdom, however, is vast and varied.

There are nine major animal phyla. In order from simplest to most complex, then, they are the:

1. Porifera or the sponges;

2. Cnidaria which includes the jellyfish and corals;

3. Platyhelminthes, or the flatworms, includes tapeworms and flukes;

4. Nemotoda or the roundworms;

5. Annelida, or the segmented worms, includes earthworms and leeches;

6. Mullusca includes the terrestrial snails as well as marine bivalves, squids, and oysters;

7. Arthropoda, or the arthropods, are animals with external skeletons (or exoskeletons) and include both terrestrial and aquatic and marine forms including insects, spiders, crabs, and lobsters.

All of the aforementioned phyla include animals without backbones. In other words, invertebrates. So to answer one part of your question: yes, invertebrates (which includes insects) are animals.

The final two animal phyla are the vertebrates (or animals with endoskeletons). They are the:

8. Echinodermata, or echinoderms, are animals with “spiny” skin and include sea stars (or “starfish”), sand dollars, and sea urchins;

9. Chordates include the most complex animal forms; they have endoskeletons that protect internal organs while providing shape and structure, backbones that surround and protect spinal cords, and skulls that surround and protect brains; they have complete digestive systems, closed circulatory systems, and tails at some point in their development.

There are six classes of vertebrate chordates including the:

1. Chondrichthyes, or fish with skeletons made of cartilage like the sharks and stingrays;

2. Osteichthyes, or fish with skeletons made of bone, includes salmon, perch, trout, sea bass, catfish, etc;

3. Amphibians are semiaquatic vertebrates and include frogs, toads, and salamanders;

4. Reptiles are vertebrates with scaly skin and include snakes, lizards, and turtles;

5. Aves are the birds;

6. Mammalia are the mammals and include animals with hair and mammary glands; the mammals include those lions and tigers and bears mentioned in the very beginning. And oh yeah, humans are mammals as well.

https://www.quora.com/Are-fish-invertebrates-and-insects-categorized-as-fauna

Opinion | Three Billion Canaries in the Coal Mine – By Margaret Renkl – The New York Times

Margaret Renkl

By 

Contributing Opinion Writer

A Magnolia Warbler found recently on a suburban lawn in the northeast.

NASHVILLE — During the nearly quarter-century that my family has lived in this house, the changes in our neighborhood have become increasingly apparent: fewer trees and wildflowers, fewer bees and butterflies and grasshoppers, fewer tree frogs and songbirds. The vast majority of Tennessee is still rural, and for years I told myself that such changes were merely circumstantial, specific to a city undergoing rapid gentrification and explosive growth. I wasn’t trying to save the world by putting up nest boxes for the birds or letting the wildflowers in my yard bloom out before mowing. I was hoping only to provide a small way station for migrating wildlife, trusting they would be fine once they cleared the affluence zone that is the New Nashville.

I was wrong. A new study in the journal Science reports that nearly 3 billion North American birds have disappeared since 1970. That’s 29 percent of all birds on this continent. The data are both incontrovertible and shocking. “We were stunned by the result,” Cornell University’s Kenneth V. Rosenberg, the study’s lead author, told The Times.

This is not a report that projects future losses on the basis of current trends. It is not an update on the state of rare birds already in trouble. This study enumerates actual losses of familiar species — ordinary backyard birds like sparrows and swifts, swallows and blue jays. The anecdotal evidence from my own yard, it turns out, is everywhere.

You may have heard of the proverbial canary in the coal mine — caged birds whose sensitivity to lethal gasses served as an early-warning system to coal miners; if the canary died, they knew it was time to flee. This is what ornithologists John W. Fitzpatrick and Peter P. Marra meant when they wrote, in an opinion piece for The Times, that “Birds are indicator species, serving as acutely sensitive barometers of environmental health, and their mass declines signal that the earth’s biological systems are in trouble.”

Opinion | Harry Potter and the Poorly-Read Exorcists – By Margaret Renkl – The New York Times

Margaret Renkl

By 

Contributing Opinion Writer

CreditCreditDaniel Becerril/Reuters

“NASHVILLE — When the Rev. Dan Reehil, a Catholic priest, ordered the removal of all Harry Potter books from the parish school’s library, the St. Edward community demanded an explanation. Father Reehil responded by email, noting that he had “consulted several exorcists, both in the United States and in Rome,” and had been assured that the “curses and spells used in the books are actual curses and spells; which when read by a human being risk conjuring evil spirits into the presence of the person reading the text.”

I read all seven Harry Potter books aloud to all three of my children, one at a time, as they became old enough to understand the books’ complicated plots, so I understand why Father Reehil’s explanation assuaged no parental concerns. Exorcists? Real spells? No wonder the story became international news almost as soon as The Tennessean broke it. Articles about the incident have appeared in outlets as diverse as The Washington PostCBS NewsEntertainment WeeklyThe Independent in Britain, and Forbes, among many others.

Before I heard this story, I would not have thought it necessary to point out that Harry Potter is a fictional character and that these books are not spellbooks. They are novels, tales J.K. Rowling made up out of her prodigious imagination.

Harry Potter and his friends don’t exist in real life, but they wrestle with real-life challenges: bullies, rejection, loneliness, fear, grief — and, yes, with clueless adults whose behavior is patently ludicrous. Nashville’s St. Edward School might as well be Harry Potter’s Hogwarts, for the story of Father Rehill sounds very much like the story of Delores Umbridge, a Ministry of Magic bureaucrat-turned-school-inquisitor.”

Opinion | Tennessee Makes Way for the Monarchs – By Margaret Renkl – The New York Times

Margaret Renkl

By 

Contributing Opinion Writer

CreditCreditWilliam DeShazer for The New York Times

“NASHVILLE — A few years ago I started noticing wildflowers blooming beside the highway: ironweed and goldenrod and snakeroot and black-eyed Susan. The first time it happened the sun was in my eyes as I drove west toward Memphis, and a late summer drought was filling the air with dust motes. For a moment I thought I was imagining flowers where flowers had never been before. A daydream on a lonesome stretch of highway as twilight came on.

There was nothing unusual about the flowers themselves — they’re the plants that commonly bloom along Nashville’s greenways during late summer — but these flowers weren’t in a park or a nature preserve. They were growing right on the interstate median and on the side of the road. I figured the state’s Department of Transportation simply hadn’t gotten around to mowing yet.

Then I started to see the flowers in springtime, too, and all summer. The decision not to mow, it turns out, was deliberate. The Tennessee Department of Transportation — like many other state transportation departments across the country — now practices swath mowing, a strategy that allows wildflowers to bloom unmolested in rural areas till after the first frost. Instead of clearing the entire space between the road and the right-of-way fence, mowers clear only a 16-foot-wide area next to the road.

The mowed swath preserves clear sightlines for drivers while allowing wildflowers to grow in the deep margins between the mowed area and the fence. After the wildflowers have gone to seed, and the seeds have had time to ripen and drop, mowers clear the entire area again to keep trees from becoming established too close to the road. In Tennessee, this plan began as an experimental program in 2013 and now encompasses all rural highways managed by the state. That’s 13,807 miles of blooming flowers across Tennessee.”

Opinion | ICE Came to Take Their Neighbor. They Said No. – By Margaret Renkl – The New York Times

When ICE officials arrived, residents of a Nashville neighborhood formed a human chain to protect an undocumented man and his 12-year-old son.

Margaret Renkl

By 

Contributing Opinion Writer

CreditCreditUgc/Nashville Noticias, via Reuters

“NASHVILLE — Residents of a quiet working-class neighborhood in the Hermitage section of Nashville woke up very early on July 22 to find officials from Immigration and Customs Enforcement trying to arrest one of their own.

An unmarked pickup truck with flashing red and blue lights had pulled into the man’s driveway, blocking his van. Two ICE agents armed with an administrative warrant ordered the man and his 12-year-old son to step out of their vehicle. The man, who had lived in the neighborhood for some 14 years, did exactly what the Tennessee Immigrant Refugee and Rights Coalition urges immigrants to do in such cases: He stayed put.

An administrative warrant gives officials permission to detain a suspect but it does not allow them to enter his house or vehicle. The ICE officials in that Nashville driveway were apparently counting on the man not to know that. With an administrative warrant, “there’s no judicial review, no magistrate review, no probable cause,” Daniel Ayoade Yoon, a lawyer later summoned to the house by immigration activists, told The Nashville SceneHe told WTVF, “They were saying, ‘If you don’t come out, we’re going to arrest you, we’re going to arrest your 12-year-old son.’” The administrative warrant they held did not give them the authority to do either.

Neighbors witnessing the standoff were appalled. “We was like, ‘Oh my God, are you serious?’” Angela Glass told WPLN. “And that’s when everybody got mad and was like, ‘They don’t do nothing, they don’t bother nobody, you haven’t got no complaints from them. Police have never been called over there. All they do is work and take care of their family and take care of the community.’” “

David Lindsay:

To the Editor, NYT:

Regarding ICE Came to Take Their Neighbor. They Said No, By Margaret Renkl, I had several reactions. This was a strong and disturbing piece, and it is the first piece by Renkl I disapproved of.

I wonder if Reader comments were not welcome, because she sensed she was getting into murky waters. Is she arguing obliquely for open borders, and unlimited, illegal immigration? It appears she is decently cheering on humans acting for a cause greater than themselves.

My guess is that she dislikes the arbitrariness of picking on two lovely illegals, who are law abiding, accept for the fact that they broke the law to come and remain illegally in the US. Renkl is a writer, who was just praising the The Overstory, by Richard Powers, that laments the rapid extinction of thousands of non-human, tree and plant species, because we humans are over populated and we over pollute, while we cut down the forests of the world to plant things we can eat or sell. I am sorry the Margaret Renkl didn’t make any attempt to reconcile her two contradictory impulses, to protect the planet from humans, and to protect humans from suffering. I worry for her, and myself, and for all of us. A growing number of scientist suggest that humans should limit their numbers to about 4 billion, in order to survive in a sustainable and beautiful world that welcomes humans and other species together. We need to stop population growth, and illegal immigration, and the cutting down of all the forests in the world, and the burning of fossil fuels that emit carbon dioxide, a notorious green-house gas. I admit I would love an organized, and humane as possible set of immigration laws, but we have to also keep track of the the costs. If we are to applaud these neighbors, for helping two lovely illegals, we should also lament that ICE also has a job, that has to be well defined and managed, and supported.

Sincerely,

David Lindsay, Hamden CT

Opinion | The Trees Might Save Us Yet – by Margaret Renkl – The New York Times

“. . . .   It’s a conundrum. We love our trees, and our trees protect us as we love them, breathing in the greenhouse gasses that are warming the planet, cooling our city streets and reducing energy costs. Chernobyl had nothing on the climate calamity we face today, but instead of protecting our surviving forests — both the urban tree canopy and the remaining wilderness in our care — we allow the pace of deforestation to increase at a breathtaking rate. Instead of replanting forests that have been destroyed by industry, we issue new logging and mining permits in previously protected land.

A new study recently sought to quantity the benefits that could be derived from planting trees in the coming cataclysm. A Times summary of the new report noted that “the planet could support nearly 2.5 billion additional acres of forest without shrinking our cities and farms, and that those additional trees, when they mature, could store a whole lot of the extra carbon — 200 gigatons of carbon, to be precise — generated by industrial activity over the last 150 years.” Planting trees, in other words, could go a long way toward saving us from ourselves. Although ecosystem changes may complicate the planting in this new climate, we have to try.

In Richard Powers’s magnificent novel “The Overstory,” which won this year’s Pulitzer Prize for fiction, one character repeats a Chinese saying: “When is the best time to plant a tree? Twenty years ago.”

Then she continues: “When is the next best time? Now.”

Opinion | Praise Song for the Unloved Animals – The New York Times

Even the most maligned creatures of backyards and roadsides have a potent purpose in the world.

Margaret Renkl

By Margaret Renkl

Contributing Opinion Writer

An opossum in Lawrence, Mass., who was stuck on a fence until animal control officers helped it down.CreditSuzanne Kreiter/The Boston Globe, via Getty Images

 

“NASHVILLE — Sing, O muse, of the lumbering opossum, of the nearsighted, stumbling opossum, whose only defenses are a hiss, a hideous scowl and a rank scent emitted in terror. Let us rejoice in the pink-nosed, pink-fingered opossum, her silvery pouch full of babies, each no bigger than a honeybee.

May your young thrive to ride upon your back. May they fatten and grow large and stumble off on their own to devour cockroaches and carrion and venomous snakes. May their snuffling root out all the ticks in our yards and all the snails in our flower beds. When they faint in the face of marauding dogs, we call back our baying hounds and wait for them to wake. We cheer when they rise and shake themselves. We send them with our blessings as they blunder back into the night.

Let peals of gratitude ring out for the glossy vulture, soarer of air currents, eater of gore. We gaze in wonder at your distant perfection, mistaking you for creatures we thoughtlessly love much more: for eagles or hawks or ospreys. Stolid in our heavy human bones, we follow you with our eyes, watching as you barely shift the angle of your wings to bank and glide, to circle and circle again.”

Opinion | Surviving Despair in the Great Extinction – By Margaret Renkl – The New York Times

“. . .  Last week, the United Nations released the summary of an enormous report that broke my heart in more ways than any backyard-nature observations ever have. The Times article about the report, “Humans Are Speeding Extinction and Altering the Natural World at an ‘Unprecedented’ Pace,” called it “the most exhaustive look yet at the decline in biodiversity across the globe and the dangers that creates for human civilization.” The story opens with the picture of an olive ridley sea turtle washed up on an Indian beach. The turtle is dead, apparently strangled: Fishing rope is looped around its neck, cutting into its throat.

Image.

Fishing nets and ropes are a deadly hazard for olive ridley sea turtles.CreditSoren Andersson/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

If the photo is traumatizing, the story is worse. Because of human activity — both direct activity, like fishing and farming, and indirect activity, like the fossil fuels that accelerate climate change — up to one million species of plants and animals are headed for extinction if we don’t take immediate measures to halt the devastation.

That’s one million species. Every individual creature in a species — times one million. We can’t possibly conceive of such a thing. We can hold in mind, however uncomfortably, the image of a single animal who died a terrible death. Devastation on this scale is beyond the reach of imagination. How could we hold in mind a destruction so vast it would take not just one sea turtle but all that animal’s kind, as well as all the kind of 999,999 other species?

Whole expanses of the natural world are disappearing. It’s not just poster animals like polar bears, tigers and elephants; it’s life on earth as we know it.”

David Lindsay:

Thank you Margaret Renkl.  Here is one of several comments I admired. In this one, it is the quote of the Talmud that I value most.

Susan
Delaware, OH

In his iconic essay, The Starthrower, Loren Eiseley gives us reason to keep up the fight against impossible odds. Eiseley describes going to Costabel Spain and sees a figure on the beach repeatedly picking up starfish stranded on the beach by the receding tide and throwing them back into the water that they might live. The cynical Eiseley tries to explain to the starthrower that his task is hopeless. There are too many starfish to make a difference. But the starthrower proclaims “It makes a difference to this one.” as he returns it to the mother sea. In that moment, Eiseley realizes that it wasn’t starfish so much as men the thrower sought to save and there was something holy about reaching out a hand in pity across the gulf of evolution that separates mankind and starfish. The Talmud says: Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly now. Love mercy now. Walk humbly now. You are not obligated to complete the work but neither are you free to abandon it. Ms. Renkl’s essay is a good down payment on the task.

10 Replies306 Recommended

Opinion | Make America Graze Again – By Margaret Renkl – The New York Times

Margaret Renkl

By Margaret Renkl

Contributing Opinion Writer

Ewe lambs grazing.CreditWilliam DeShazer for The New York Times

“NASHVILLE — Just past the intersection of Highway 70 and Old Hickory Boulevard, in the Bellevue section of Nashville, stands a tiny patch of native wilderness. Four acres of pristine woodland tucked behind a condominium complex, the Belle Forest Cave Arboretum is a stone’s throw from restaurants, shops and big-box stores. I’ve passed it probably a hundred times over the years with no idea it was there.

Last week, on a drizzly spring afternoon, I found it. The pocket park provides the perfect habitat for a huge range of plant and animal life: In addition to the usual songbirds, mammals, turtles, and wildflowers that can make a home of even the tiniest wooded opportunity, Belle Forest boasts salamanders and tri-colored bats and at least 39 species of trees.

It is also home to a wide range of invasive plants: bush honeysuckle and Chinese privet and a host of others that pose a serious threat to native plants and the wildlife that depends on them. But clearing this densely woven environment of unwanted vegetation, especially without harming native plants, is a challenge: herbicides would poison the creeks, and heavy machinery would dislodge the trees and compact the soil — if machinery could make it up the steep terrain at all.”

Opinion | To Nurture Nature- Neglect Your Lawn – By Margaret Renkl – The New York Times

By Margaret Renkl
Contributing Opinion Writer

April 15, 2019

403
Wildflowers and weeds in lawns attract pollinators.
Credit
Getty Images

Image
Wildflowers and weeds in lawns attract pollinators.CreditCreditGetty Images
NASHVILLE — “Nothing is so beautiful as Spring,” the poet Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote, “When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush.” I say that poem to myself every day now because I can’t think of any place more beautiful than the American South in springtime. The flowering trees — dogwoods and redbuds and serviceberries, the crab apples and peaches and cherries — are in full glory, and the woody shrubs, cascading with blossoms, are like something out of a fairy tale: forsythia and quince and lilac and bridal veil spirea. Every time it rains here, the streets are paved with petals.

But the flowers I love best are the tiny ones, so tiny they’re mostly invisible from a car window. Exquisite little flowers, most of them smaller than my pinkie fingernail, are blooming all around my house right now, and they have wonderful names: woodland violet, spring beauty, daisy fleabane, pitcher’s stitchwort, bird’s eye speedwell, yellow wood sorrel, purple dead nettle, creeping Charlie, stickywilly, dandelion and a host of others I can’t name.

Most people call them weeds. Unlike Hopkins, most people don’t love them.

A few of these flowers aren’t native to Tennessee, and some of the non-natives can be invasive. Those I pull up or mow under, but the others are beneficial, early-blooming wildflowers that pollinators love. Long before my actual pollinator garden is lush with cultivated flowers, the flowers I didn’t plant are blooming, an ankle-high meadow growing in the place where most Americans grow grass — or try to grow grass. Wildflower seeds are carried on the wind, on the coats of wild animals and in the digestive tracts of birds. Anybody who’s paying attention would see them for the gifts they are: flowers that arrive, through no effort at all, to feed the bees and the butterflies.

But Americans generally aren’t paying attention. Too enraptured with the idea of a lawn that unrolls from the street to their very door, a carpet of green that remains green even when grass is supposed to be dormant, they see these homely little wildflowers as intruders, something to be eradicated.”