Nature's Notebook - Tim Abbott
April, 30, 2009
We have come to the second movement of the spring symphony. The main themes are now well established, but now the lead passes from the peeping piccolos to the deeper reptile tones of bog turtles and rattlesnake castanets. Now is the time of their emergence, when the heat of the day somehow penetrates their dark hibernacula and stirs cold blood toward the surface.
Most of us never note these arrivals, for the composer has hidden these species far from prying eyes. This is also to their advantage, for they are considered endangered in Connecticut, where the bog turtle is one of our few federally listed rare species. They are both vulnerable to collection — the timber rattlesnake to outright killing as well — which together with habitat destruction conspire to threaten their survival here. The loss of a single female of reproductive age each year is enough to doom a bog turtle population, and it is thought that Connecticut is on the verge of becoming the next state to lose its bog turtles entirely.
What grace notes are lost if they leave us? Do our woodlands remember the chestnut snows of summer that crowned their canopies with creamy white flowers? Is the drumming ground of the extinct heath hen, or the river without Atlantic salmon, diminished by their absence? Or is this symphony played on a scale far beyond our span of years? With no one left to hear the sound, to whom will it matter when a tree falls in some future forest?
We are not the only species to foul our nest, but we are the only one to have done so on a planetary scale. Aldo Leopold said that “the first rule of intelligent tinkering is to save all the pieces” and I believe that is good advice, even if we do not know how they fit together. Better a full orchestra than an ensemble that is missing important sections. Nor should we forget that we are also part of the music, and participants in its creation even as we learn to stay in tune.
There is no better time than spring to join the chorus, when all around us thrums with new life. The floodplain fiddle heads and woodwind warblers play their rolling arpeggios. My children laugh and tumble on the new grass. And off in their quiet corners, a turtle on a tussock and a serpent on a ledge bask in the welcome light.
Tim Abbott is program director of Housatonic Valley Association’s Litchfield Hills Greenprint. His blog is at greensleeves.typepad.com.