Tellus Mater, or, Mother Nature’s Lessons

Dragon flies swoop in front of me, their flitting a distraction from the Tarzan jungle in front of me. There’s something so primeval about the jungle, full of sharp-tipped leaves and wiggly snakes, thick roots struggling for traction in rotting humus and the spark of white when an ibis or an egret swoops down to snap up fish jumping from crystalline blue water.

A walk in the woods recalls, of course, the famous American author Henry David Thoreau, lionized for his thoughts on Nature: “For every walk is a sort of crusade, preached by some Peter the Hermit in us, to go forth and reconquer this Holy Land from the hands of the Infidels.” The infidels being those who would despoil the land for a wad of greenbacks in their wallet and a long line of zeros separated by commas in their bank account.

A walk in the Florida’s woods and unspoiled natural areas brings on bittersweet memories. And fears.

Today Florida’s natural habitats face destruction so severe that I wonder what will remain in twenty years. Or even what I will see in five years’ time when I drive along the Gulf Coast, when I walk out on the Anna Maria pier, when I step over gnarled cypress knees in the Big Cypress Natural Preserve. The riches, the flora and fauna, of the Everglades may well go the way of the ghost orchid. Industries such as cattle ranching and sugar cane farming threaten North Florida’s pristine springs. Rapacious developers seem to hug singer Joni Mitchell’s lyrics to their hearts:

They paved paradise
And put up a parking lot
With a pink hotel *, a boutique
And a swinging hot spot

And this, from author Annie Proulx’s National Book Awards speech:

The ferocious business of stripping the earth of its flora and fauna, of drowning the land in pesticides again may have brought us to a place where no technology can save us. I personally have found an amelioration in becoming involved in citizen science projects. This is something everyone can do. Every state has marvelous projects of all kinds, from working with fish, with plants, with animals, with landscapes, with shore erosion, with water situations.

The old deserted and abandoned places, towns and crossroads where once the men sat on porches and spit tobacco, told yarns, eyed strangers driving by, these places testify to losses wrought by development, by “progress.” In these places where strangers once bought bottles of Coca-Cola for 10 cents and watched as the grease monkey pumped their gas, the jungle now sends out tendrils, vines as thick as a circus strongman’s thigh, leaves as wide as an elephant’s ear. When left unmolested, Mother Nature reclaims what is hers.

Think for a moment of the Roman goddess of Nature, Tellus Mater.  My tongue in my cheek, taking liberties that no scholar would endorse, I deconstruct her name to “Tell us, Mother.”

And she is telling us. Fire, floods, winds, and scorching heat, those all emanate from her furious voice.

Mother Nature reclaims humankind’s follies. Like most mothers, she warns her reckless young of the consequences. And, when her voice goes unheeded, she takes away the toys, the playgrounds, and the pleasures of the misguided … .

I, for one, wish to see dragonflies darting forever over clean, bubbling springs, ibises scrunching along the banks, seeking insects in the muck below cypress knees.

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