The future is plastic

Let’s first get this mea culpa out of the way. I drive too many miles, as the sole occupant of a fossil fuel-powered vehicle – electric or hybrid autos are not in my budget, yet – for someone who considers herself to be an environmental ethicist. Unfortunately, my job is 40 miles from my home, in a town that would take 7 hours (round trip) of each day to commute by bus. I checked. I’ve also checked RideShare listings; my commute is not a popular route. In addition, I drive to visit my parents who are, respectively, 2.25 hours and 4.5 hours from my home. So, yes, I drive a (fairly efficient, but nonetheless) fossil-fuel burning vehicle a lot of miles a year. Continue reading “The future is plastic”


“Where have all the birds gone?”

This post was originally titled “A Dearth of Birds,” but at first glance “dearth” looked like “death” on my home page. So I changed it, deliberately borrowing from John Terbough’s classic collection of essays (now 30 years old?!).

Robin in sumac (?), Tallmadge Meadow, January 2019. Photo by Marilyn Matevia

I have been trying not to panic about the absence of birds and bird sounds around my usual lunch-time walking trails since the descent of the Great Polar Vortex of 2019, but it unnerves me. Today I did hear a couple of jays, a handful of robins, one singing cardinal, a tufted titmouse, and – possibly – a pileated woodpecker. Then, at the very end of my short walk, I heard the soft, high-pitched whistles of cedar waxwings. I looked around and finally spotted almost a dozen of them, arrayed across the otherwise bare crown of a tree near the parking lot. I literally gasped with excitement, raised my camera… and they vanished; they took off across the meadow – followed by a second, smaller group I hadn’t seen – and settled at the other end. I had no time left to pursue them. Continue reading ““Where have all the birds gone?””

Birds, bees, butterflies, and bulldozers

Butterfly image (“queens” or “soldiers” – not sure – but not monarchs) used with the generous permission of Krista Schlyer.

The last entry I made on this blog before letting it go radio-silent for four long (complicated) years was a review of Continental Divide: Wildlife, People, and the Border Wall – a stunning collection of photographs and essays about the US southern borderlands – and an interview with its author and photographer, Krista Schlyer. Ms. Schlyer is a tireless advocate for the ecological and cultural diversity and integrity of the borderlands, and her work has perhaps never been more essential. The unique and critical habitat in those regions is under constant threat from construction and maintenance of the wall (for which the US government routinely waives and ignores environmental regulations, including the Endangered Species Act), but the current administration’s bizarre obsession with lengthening the unwanted wall means that even more habitat, more creatures, and more livelihoods are in imminent danger. Continue reading “Birds, bees, butterflies, and bulldozers”

Bluebirds (and waxwings) of happiness

72DB0C4B-F419-4C59-8995-71D3ECF91825It has been a cruddy few days from the mental health perspective… The persistent damp gray chill outside has begun to infiltrate my brain, as well, giving all my thoughts a heavy, murky, cheerless quality. Still, I decided it was better to go outside in that unpleasantness and take a short walk on my lunch break today than to stay holed up in the office the entire day. At least a brisk walk would move my blood around.

Because birds had made themselves scarce on most other days like this, I was resigned to trudging around my short park loop seeing nothing but dead or dormant meadow plants, bare trees, and the permanently leaden sky. But I carried my addled camera (its focusing mechanisms injured by several hard falls) as I always do, just in case.

Sometimes the universe seems to know when you need a surprise, and I got the first one just a few feet down the path. Bluebirds! I was so startled and delighted, I actually missed some good photo opportunities: I just stood watching them, worried that my movement might scare them off — they were THAT close to me. In the pictures I managed to get, the birds were silhouetted by the uniformly gray sky, so I tweaked the lighting levels when I viewed them in my photo editor. Here are two brightened pictures of one of my bluebirds of happiness. Continue reading “Bluebirds (and waxwings) of happiness”

“Continental Divide: Wildlife, People, and the Border Wall” – a short review and an interview with Krista Schlyer

The 700-mile long “fence” – the Border Wall – between the US and Mexico has not stopped illegal immigration, which is the purpose for which it was built by the US government.  But it is proving to be lethally effective at stopping the natural movement of wildlife along its length.  Continental Divide: Wildlife, People, and the Border Wall, by Krista Schlyer, is a beautifully written and photographed essay on the ecological and sociocultural impacts of this preposterous wall.  I’ve been showing the book to everyone who enters our house, and now I’m bringing the enlightenment campaign to you.

In Continental Divide, Ms. Schlyer first introduces readers to the biomes of the Borderlands – the desert and grasslands, and the lower Rio Grande valley – then takes them on a tour of the Border Wall itself, describing its inception and political history, and the devastation it is already wreaking on wildlife and human families.  Her intimate knowledge of the region is evident on every page.  The photographs are stunning, and often jarring.  In one, two javelinas are shown wandering away from the Wall, back toward where they started, after walking along the fence looking for a place to cross.   This particular section of the wall is especially devastating: “The stretch of wall in Arizona bisects the San Pedro River corridor, one of the last free-flowing rivers in the state and a haven for wildlife traveling north and south.” Continue reading ““Continental Divide: Wildlife, People, and the Border Wall” – a short review and an interview with Krista Schlyer”

A creaturely manifesto

Darkling beetle (photo by Whitney Cranshaw; used under Creative Commons license)

Recently we purchased two enormous book cases from a local bookstore when it (alas) went out of business.  The new real estate allowed me to open some cartons of stored books and bring them back into circulation.  I had been reading several of them (slowly) when I had to pack them away to move into our smaller habitat in 2009.  They stayed in Rubbermaid bins in the garage while I finished comprehensive exams and my dissertation and then started a new job.   It felt like Christmas last month when I opened those boxes.

One of the books was the marvelous Eating Stone: Imagination and the Loss of the Wild, by Ellen Meloy.  Last night I pulled it off the shelf to read before bed, hoping to de-electromagnetize my brain after hours on the computer.  One page into the chapter called “March,” I encountered a manifesto (p142): Continue reading “A creaturely manifesto”

What Marius represents

(Cross-posted at The Moral Mindfield.) (Photo attribution to be determined.)

An international internet uproar erupted late last week over news that the Copenhagen Zoo planned to euthanize a healthy, two-year old male giraffe (“Marius”) and use his body to feed other animals, because his genes were overrepresented in the captive giraffe population.

A petition was launched and other organizations offered to take him in, but the Copenhagen Zoo went through with its plans on Sunday morning. In fact, by the time I first read of the plan in Marc Bekoff’s Psychology Today column, the deed had already been done. Continue reading “What Marius represents”

Therapeutic links

We interrupt the seemingly relentless onslaught of depressing ecological news to bring you three happy links.

1) The Laysan Albatross nest cam.

(My “print screen” button is getting a lot of action.)

2) Truly happy cows.

3) Gorillas playing in leaves.  (The fun begins about 20 seconds in.)

Blog at

Up ↑