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Book Excerpts: E.O. Wilson, Joan Maloof, Stewart Udall, Janisse Ray, Devra Davis
Excerpt from The Future of Life - by Alabama Native Edward O. Wilson
“I am a member of the other tribe – a lover of little things, a hunter also, but more the snuffling o’pposum than the questing panther. I think in millimeters and minutes, and am nowhere near patient as I prowl, having been spoiled forever by the richness of invertebrates and quick reward for little effort. Let me enter a tract of rich forest and I seldom walk more than a few hundred feet. I halt before the first promising rotten log I encounter. Kneeling, I roll it over, and always there is instant gratification from the little world hidden beneath. Rootlets and fungal strands pull apart, adhering flakes of bark fall back to the earth. The sweet damp musty scent of healthy soil rises like a perfume to the nostrils that love it.”
“Sycamore” – Excerpt from Teaching the Trees: Lessons from the Forest – by Joan Maloof
“I have been intimate with sycamore trees: my nose an inch from the bark, my arms wrapped around the trunk, my skinny schoolgirl legs stretching for the next branch. I am a climber of sycamore trees (Platanus occidentalis). The trees and I grew up together in the same suburban neighborhood. Standing atop a chain-link fence surrounding one of the half-acre lots was a good way to reach the first branch. After that it was all flexibility and daring until I dared to go no further and found a spot to rest … and look down. …
Years later, I was interested to read that another climber of sycamore trees is mentioned in the Bible. Luke 19 tells the story of Zaccheus, who climbed a sycamore tree because he was trying to “see who Jesus was.” It was the only way he could see over the throngs of people who had gathered to see Jesus as he passed through Jericho. When Jesus passed under the tree he looked up and saw Zaccheus there.
“Hurry and come down,” Jesus said, “for today I must stay at your house.”
Although the species of sycamore in America is not the same one that grew in Jericho, I still like the story – I like the idea that Jesus had a fondness for tree climbers.”
Excerpt from The Quiet Crisis and the Next Generation by Stewart Udall
“The turning point of the fight came when Muir and President Theodore Roosevelt crossed paths in 1903. The two outdoorsmen camped under the sequoias of Mariposa Grove, rode horseback on the long trail to Glacier Point overlook, and talked late into the night around the fire. For once the ebullient Roosevelt met his match in conversation. Like all others who encountered Muir, Roosevelt was spellbound by the eloquence and enthusiasm of this bearded zealot who preached a mountain gospel with John the Baptist fervor. The mountaineer did nearly all the talking and the President listened, fascinated, while Muir denounced the damage being done in the Sierra by the loggers and the stockmen and expounded at length about nature and wilderness.
One night the two men rolled up in their blankets and went to sleep on the ground. Next morning they found themselves covered with four inches of snow, and when they rode down to the valley, the President rejoined his party shouting, “This has been the grandest day of my life! ”
“The Keystone” – Excerpt from Ecology of a Cracker Childhood - by Janisse Ray
“Of plants and animals native to the longleaf pine barren, the gopher tortoise may be most critical, in the same way the keystone, or upper central stone in an arch, is thought to be most important in holding the other stones in place. The tortoise is central in holding the ecosystem together.
An ancient tortoise of great tolerance, it lives in a barrow in sandhills, flatwoods, and other upland habitat, sharing its hole with more than three hundred species of vertebrates and arthropods. Among these commensals (meaning organisms that live in close association, one benefited the relationship and the other – in this case the tortoise – unaffected) are the eastern diamondback rattlesnake, gopher frog, o’ppossum, rabbit, Florida mouse, skunk, armadillo, lizard, and gopher cricket. …
Logging, development, and conversion to agricultural lands also have spelled its doom by destroying and fragmenting natural landscapes. Tortoises have been called the most relocated reptile in America, since developers often covert lands they inhabit. Tortoises are killed crossing highways or buried alive by heavy machinery, although studies have found tortoises able to dig out of burrows collapsed by tractors even in soil with a high clay content.
A tortoise shares its humble dwelling with over three hundred species of fauna and is, increasingly homeless. Many of these three hundred may be doomed along with the gopher tortoise if we continue to wipe out its domain.”
Excerpt from When Smoke Ran Like Water by Devra Davis
“CFC molecules are combinations of chlorine, fluorine, carbon, and sometimes hydrogen atoms developed in the 1930s for use as coolants in refrigerators and as industrial solvents. In the lower atmosphere, CFCs are basically inert. Not much causes them to change composition, and for this reason CFCs were widely believed to be safe and practical. But when they float up to the stratosphere, where they are exposed to stronger ultraviolet rays, decomposing molecules of chloroflurocarbons release atoms of chlorine. Each chlorine atom can destroy tens of thousands of molecules of ozone. In work for which they would receive the Nobel Prize two decades later, F. Sherwood Rowland and Mario Molina in 1974 reasoned that these widely distributed compounds would directly attack the very material that kept the earth in balance – its critical layer of ozone that serves as a global sun shield. …
The idea that CFCs could threaten the planet was not accorded much seriousness by the chemical manufacturers. It was pretty easy for industry to paint Rowland and Molina as two hare-brained scientists out to deprive society of progress.
A large handsome bear of a man, nearly six feet five inches tall with a wry sense of humor, Rowland was unstoppable in his efforts to relay his findings to scientific and lay audiences. Molina was no less intense or determined.
If the earth’s ozone layer were to be destroyed, life as we know it could not go on. Epidemics of skin cancer and glaucoma would spread in humans. Tiny sea creatures called krill, which feed small fish, which feed larger fish and mammals, would perish from too much solar radiation. The immune systems of many living things would be compromised. The complicated ecology of our planet was in peril. …
Around this time, Rowland told me of coming home late one night in 1974 after spending hours running and rerunning his model to be sure what he was finding. He said to his wife, Joan, “The work is going very well.” But then he added, “It looks like the end of the world.”