Pitt Lake, BC in the morning.
Pitt Lake, BC panorama ft. wetlands full of birds.
Tiny grains of sand from Maui, under a micrscope! More here.
It’s the culmination, your final burst of adrenaline, the last ounce of strength left in your body. You’ve spent the past month stalking, hunting, chasing the king of fish on their migration homeward to spawn. Your discarded wetsuit lies crumpled in the back of the truck, still chilled from your meagre and hypothermic attempts that week. The emotional rollercoaster of disappointment and hope has come to a screeching halt at a sweet mix of joy and fatigue, and you’re kneeling in a river. It’s pitch-black, save for the light of a dying headlamp and the glow of a small campfire downstream. You’ve been working for twenty hours now, running zigzags across a hatchery compound, stripping and spawning your precious, wild-caught broodstock. Now you’ve trekked their eggs deep into the brush, along the suggestion of a trail marked only by bright flags of fluttering orange. The sun has abandoned you to the stars as you wait for your team to bring you the next cherished egg box, to be plunged into the substrate. Your wader-clad knees protest the sharp river rocks until suddenly – she’s there.
Three feet long and silvery sleek, she whips from side to side barely a foot from your knee. She kicks up a cloud of watery dust and buries you with pebbles, carving out a nest. You are overcome with awe at this wild creature, this magnificent ocean beast that has chosen this moment, under these stars, in this shred of river to spawn. You alone have been given the honour of bearing witness to the culmination of her great migration, and you are humbled. But something jabs at your attention, prodding you back into reality. You are being repeatedly struck by a surly-jawed, thick-necked, and intensely focused grilse. He has no regard for your kidneys and every desire to mate. It is time to take your leave, and let nature run it’s course. Before tiptoeing downstream to find a new site for your egg box, you briefly consider singing a little Marvin Gaye…
He who opens his eyes to the possibilities of evolution in their endless variety will abhor fraud and violence and disdain prosperity at the expense of his fellow creatures.
Writing: 5/5, Research: 4.5/5, Scale: 4/5, Inspiration: 5/5
“The planet’s other life forms reveal so many ways of being that we could never imagine them if they didn’t already exist in reality. In this sense, other species don’t only have the capacity to inspire our imaginations, they are a form of imagination. They are the genius of life arrayed against an always uncertain future, and to allow that brilliance to wane out of negligence is to passively embrace the death of our own minds.”
I began reading this gem while I was attending a field course in Kananaskis Country. Surrounded by imposing mountains and a wilderness full of grizzlies and elk, it seemed like the perfect way to end a long day while curled up in a sleeping bag and reading by the light of my headlamp. I was so in awe of the wildness of the mountains that the thrust of this book came as a bit of a shock.
J.B. MacKinnon begins the book with a revealing and depressing examination of the ways in which humanity has changed the ecosystems of the world. He goes beyond the typical view of Europeans as disturbers, and instead synthesizes the growing body of literature on “historical ecology”. Demonstrating that the advent of humans (not Europeans) in North America completely altered the megafaunal assemblage, he changes the reader’s perspective on the popular notion that Aboriginal peoples lived in harmony with their surroundings. He discusses the buffalo hunt, the archaeological discovery of mammoth and sabre-tooth tiger bones in pre-historic trash piles, and other examples of humanity’s universal ability to alter nature.
Continuing with his examination of anthropogenic alterations, personal anecdotes and deeply emotional revelations pepper the science he reports. He presents the somewhat controversial idea of rewilding with such poetry and emotion that it captivates the reader for the rest of the book. The rewilding strategies he suggests are not complete reintroductions, and not returns to historical wildness (since complete Pleistocene rewilding would be virtually impossible at this point). Instead, he presents the recent plains bison reintroduction plan in Banff National Park as a prime example of responsible rewilding.
Additionally, he speaks with passion about the potential benefits of a wilder world. Humans long for a connection with nature, he argues, and bringing wildlife into the urban landscape through thoughtful architecture and urban planning will enhance the oft-barren urban experience while providing valuable habitat for struggling species. Though rewilded wilderness hikes would require a “an armed party of five or more”, MacKinnon argues that we may be able to find a harmonious way of living with nature, rather than fighting against it.
Finally, his most hopeful message is one of co-existence. He argues that even at our current population, sustainable harmony with nature may be possible. Citing the example of the secluded Hawaiians, he demonstrates that their relatively successful co-existence occurred at remarkably similar population densities to current global ones. Though our planet is not entirely made up of fertile, tropical habitat as Hawaii once was, he suggests that with cooperation and drastic change, it may be possible to achieve such a harmonious relationship with our surroundings.
After reading about our destructive abilities among what I had previously thought were “pristine” mountains in “wild” Kananaskis country, I might have taken a much more pessimistic look at our current situation. However upon finishing this book, I found that MacKinnon’s passion is infectious. The cover includes praise from The Globe and Mail: “One of those rare reading experiences that can change the way you see everything around you, recommended for anyone interested in anything that lives and breathes.” I wholeheartedly agree – this book has definitely enhanced and altered my view of so-called “wild” places, and given me inspiration to read further into how we can rewild our lives.
“…When we choose the kind of nature we will live with, we are also choosing the kind of human beings we will be. We shape the world, and it shapes us in return. We are the creator and the created, the maker and the made.”
I’ll end this post with a completely uninhibited recommendation of this book – it’s profoundly emotional and incredibly well-researched. MacKinnon’s writing style is impeccable and poetic, so be prepared to be completely absorbed until the epilogue. (Plus, his thoughtfully-chosen references give you more to read about, even after you’ve finished the book!)
I’ve amassed quite the collection of non-fiction books about nature, ecosystems, the earth, and environmental issues, however, I’ve never really committed to reading them. They’ve been consistently left on the shelf, staring down at me with disdain and judgement while I read meaningless Buzzfeed “articles” online and watch Netflix at all hours of the day.
So let’s change that, because reading up seems like an easy and rationalize-able way to relax at the end of long thesis-writing days (and in the middle of those days, and at the beginning of them too…). I’m going to start loosely reviewing my collection here (which, obviously, will require me to read my collection). Some titles you might hear about in the next months include:
The Once and Future World, by J.B. MacKinnon
Here On Earth, by Tim Flannery
Sea Sick, by Alanna Mitchell
Silent Spring, by Rachel Carson
Swimming with Piranhas at Feeding Time, by Richard Conniff
Wilderness Essays, by John Muir
The Ocean of Life, by Callum Roberts
Four Fish, by Paul Greenberg
The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman
Bringing Back the Dodo, by Wayne Grady
The Weather Makers, by Tim Flannery
This Changes Everything, by Naomi Klein
Looking forward to having a reason to read these, and looking forward to sharing my thoughts with you!
You’ll be able to find the whole procrastination-heavy series here or in the “Books” section at the top of the page.
P.S. I am aware that I still have a month’s-worth of adventures to write up. Don’t you worry. They’re coming. IN FOUR PARTS!
If competition is evolution’s motive force, then the cooperative world is its legacy. And legacies are important, for they can endure long after the force that created them ceases to be.