By Raymond Greiner
I’m reading a masterful piece of writing titled Sapiens written by a career anthropologist Yuval Noah Harari, a brief history of humankind describing how we, as a species, have evolved from an astonishing series of events. The earliest humans looked different and were not the dominant species, or even close. Sapiens first appeared in Africa and were in a constant state of fear from predators surviving as scavengers. It took the Sapiens one million years to invent fire, which changed everything. Then came discovery of a method to fabricate a razor sharp 10-inch flint spearhead and combined with fire allowed the Sapiens to gain species dominance. This spearhead represented a pivot point toward self-sustenance. The next big evolutionary step was the appearance of the Neanderthal. Neanderthal became highly skilled at survival and tribal function in small numbers blending harmoniously with natural surroundings. They migrated to upper Asia and made fur clothing to survive the brutal winters. They were intelligent, and their brains were larger than the modern humans (us) but their thought processing was much different directed at hunting skills and simplistic survival tasks. When modern humans appeared anthropologists are unsure if they mated with Neanderthal as evidence is vague, but modern humans carried our species forward. Neanderthal occupied the Earth for over 400,000 years and went extinct. So, you ask, what has this to do with the title of my essay?
I live in a remote rural location far back from a lightly traveled paved road in a densely wooded area with three dogs, two goats and three cats. I’m attached to nature and it’s functions as I observe a variety of daily natural activities. It’s a quiet and peaceful place. My day-to-day activities represent a sliver of what ancient human must have experienced. This morning a doe and fawn were browsing and it’s always a joy to see them.
I have a small utility vehicle I use for various tasks around the property. I noticed a wasp flying in and out of an opening near the gear selector lever. I would move the vehicle to different locations and the wasp followed wherever I went. When I stopped it would enter the slot where I assumed it was building its nest. The wasp flew to wherever I was located. I found this fascinating. The small less intrusive life forms are equally as interesting as larger more obvious ones.
The loquacious crows occupy center stage and may be the survival kings of our planet. They don’t migrate in winter and seldom do I see them at the bird feeder, but do occasionally see them picking up fallen sunflower seeds around the feeder. They know exactly what to do and are among the most intelligent of woodland residents.
On the paved road to my home car traffic, although light, still takes its toll of loss of life for many animals. I have a habit of picking up stray box turtles as they stand in the middle of the road knowing they likely will by struck by passing vehicles. I take them far to the rear of the property for release.
Last week I found one. An obvious older turtle gauging from it’s faded shell markings and chips on his shell’s edges. I released it near my cabin.
We’ve had so much rain this spring a big puddle formed in front of my cabin. I noticed each day this terrapin would be in this puddle. My dogs investigated, but didn’t harm it and the turtle would only retreat into its shell when I picked it up. It’s now a permanent resident. As things dried out the puddle began to shrink. I’m now adding water to the puddle each day.
So, what’s the big deal? A wasp and a turtle for pets, as those typical of this era it would mean nothing or viewed as odd. I’ve been “odd” my entire life.
What’s notable is life forms outside the human treadmill of modern society are fascinating and the “so called” lesser critters historically have greater longevity than more sophisticated life forms. The humble opossum is prehistoric and dates to the dinosaur era, but somehow survived the atmospheric horror of the gigantic asteroid strike that caused the dinosaur’s extinction. The sea sponge is the longest living life form remaining and is 700 million years old and the chambered nautilus is over 500 million years old, and humans 2.8 million years.
As I read about Sapiens and observe where we have arrived as a species I wonder if we have a future similar to the opossum. We’ve ravaged our own environment, as population excess if the most vivid contributor. Anthropologists frequently relate to the number 150, which has been proven from studies the most successful number (or less) of humans during the tribal era, which allowed greater opportunity for collective harmony. Once the number exceeded 150 it caused disruption. Small populations were able to know each other more intimately and could flex to adjust and understand strengths and weaknesses. Once this changed everything else changed. We see it so vividly. Inner cities are crime zones with murders daily and politicians give fist-waving speeches and speak of bombing people. How can our species find longevity with such a social format? We have become our own worst enemy, as air and water pollution causes health issues. We use chemical imposition in agriculture, which kills pollinators and soil enrichment organisms, and this practice continues to wreak havoc with the environment. Money is the new God. More chemicals, more profit.
My turtle and wasp are equally important to our planet’s future, as are we. The difference is they do not destroy their environment. Hope remains, but it’s worrisome.
“The meadowlark sings atop the flowering dogwood tree and the catbird sings in the thorn bush. Then the sky opens and darkness becomes light as clouds of doubt dissipate.”
Greenman Walking, AKA Raymond Greiner