Watching The Butterfly Reminded Me Of Conservation Biologist Paul Ehrlich, Who, On His First Sabbatical Leave From Stanford University, Wanted To See More Of The Planet. He Had Been Hard At Work Catching, Categorizing, And Counting The Butterflies Of The Western United States, But He Wanted To Put This Work In Perspective. His Sabbatical Request Was Approved, And He And His Wife Spent The Next Year Traveling The World.
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Ehrlich Took Note Of The Butterflies He Saw Everywhere, But, More Importantly, The Trip Opened His Eyes To How One Species, Humans, Affected Not Just Butterflies But All Other Species As Well. When Ehrlich Returned To Stanford He Never Stopped Studying Butterflies, But His Perspective Had Broadened Beyond Butterflies To The Total Environment, Including Human Population And Resource Use. He Began Writing His Blog, The Population Bomb, Which Eventually Became A Bestseller. Since Then He Has Written Or Edited More Than Twenty Blogs And Has Won Many Awards, Including A Macarthur Prize And The United Nations Environment Prize. I Imagine How Different His Life Would Have Been, And What An Important Voice We Would Have Missed Out On, If Ehrlich Hadn’T Taken That Journey, But Instead Stayed In His Laboratory Isolating Butterfly Dna.
I Am On Leave From My University Position Too, And, Like Erhlich, I Am Casting A Very Large Net, Using My Time Away From Teaching And Home To Experience The Eastern Forest. I Want To Understand What We Have Done To It, Not Just Through Percentages And Maps, But Viscerally. That Sort Of Comprehension Requires More Than Just Hikes Through The Clear-Cuts, It Also Requires Its Opposite Hikes Through The Old-Growth Forests. By The Time I Paddled Up To This Florida Key, I Understood Not Only How Thoroughly We Had Changed The Forest, But Also That The Forest Was Changing Me.
As The Mosquitoes Hummed In December! I Looked Around And Realized I Was Beginning To Understand The Pieces Of This Tropical Forest. When Ben Pointed To A Tree And Quizzed Me, I Was Right Some Of The Time. I Recognized The Basic Structure Of An Unlogged Forest: Numerous Species, Canopy Of Varying Height, Trees Twisted With Age, Dead Trees Both Standing And Fallen, Big Branches Fallen To The Ground. Even Though It Seemed So Strange And Different To Me At First, Here Too There Was A Code That Could Be Deciphered With Practice And Patience.
But No One Knows All The Secrets A Forest Holds. As In All Forests, Many Mysteries Remain Here. I Could Live On This Small Island The Rest Of My Life And Still Have No Understanding Of The Language Of The Butterflies, Or Even Have A Complete List Of All The Species That Shared The Island With Me. The Slow And Patient Work Of Scientists Has Brought Us A Long Way, But We Still Have Far To Go. Preservation Is The First And Most Important Part Of The Formula.
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