Ancestral energy lives in the stars above us, the stones beneath us. Their memory gathers in oceans, rivers and seas. It hums its silent wisdom within the body of every tree.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Words from an Early Naturalist

Gene Stratton-Porter
In my post last week, I wrote about discovering a book that had belonged to my 2x Great-Grandma. It was meaningful to me because I am a booklover. I was more excited to discover that the author, Gene Stratton-Porter, had been born Geneva Grace Stratton, and was a woman. Then, researching the book and the author led to the discovery that she was an early and avid naturalist, writing her books of fiction, ripe with a wealth of knowledge of the doings of the natural world, so that she could support her books and articles of non-fiction.
This voice from the past was more than just a connection to one of my ancestors. I see the effects of cutting down forest to build more city as the deer and coy dog populations become more and more visible in my city. The sight of eagles and hawks within the limits is becoming so common as to not be a novelty anymore. Why is that? Because their homes are disappearing for the sake of our comforts. It was both heartening and heartbreaking to discover Gene Stratton-Porter’s own words on the loss of her beloved natural world, almost a hundred years ago.
I found a description of her from biographer Frederic Cooper: “Gene Stratton-Porter lives in a swamp, arrays herself in man’s clothes, and sallies forth in all weathers to study the secrets of nature. I believe she knows every bug, bird, and beast in the woods… She is primarily a naturalist, one of the foremost in America and has published a number of books on flora and fauna…”

Voices from the Ancestors
The Limberlost marsh in Indiana was a favored place of the author at one period of her life, reflected in several of her books, most popularly in A Girl of the Limberlost. She was devastated when the trees and natural habitats of her animal friends were cleared to make room for farmland. And she watched in despair as oil drilling destroyed the marshlands. She spoke out against it, even though her husband owned many oil rigs.
Gene Stratton-Porter wrote several essays on environmental issues in a book, Let Us Highly Resolve, printed posthumously, in 1927. She watched her beloved swamplands get cleared for farming and oil. In her article “Shall We Save Our Natural Beauty?” she says: “The deer and fur-bearing animals are practically gone from the country I knew… The birds have been depleted in numbers until it is quite impossible to raise fruit of any kind without a continuous fight against slugs and aphis… With the cutting of timber has come a change in climate; weeks of drought in the summer…and winters so stringently cold that the fruit trees are killed outright. The even temperature and the rains every three or four days which we knew in childhood are things of the past…it has become necessary for the sons of men who wasted the woods and the waters to put in overhead sprinkling systems… windmills and irrigation are becoming common…as a nation, [we] have already, in the most wanton and reckless waste the world has ever known, changed our climate conditions and wasted a good part of our splendid heritage. The question now facing us is whether we shall do all that lies in our power to save comfortable living conditions for ourselves and the spots of natural beauty that remain for our children… If this is to be done, a nation-wide movement must be begun immediately…there may not be coal and iron, at the rate we are using it, to supply future generations… Certainly to plant trees and preserve trees, to preserve water, and to do all in our power to save every natural resource, both from the standpoint of utility and beauty, is a work that every man and woman should give immediate and earnest attention.”
Gene wrote her articles in the hopes of sharing the “often-overlooked beauty and complexity of wildlife.” She regarded it more highly than the social affairs and proprieties she saw within her world. Of the loss of habitat in the Limberlost marsh, she notes the inevitable climate change: “They had forgotten that draining the water from all these acres of swamp land would dry and heat the air… and they had not figured out for themselves how much rainfall they would take from their crops… [A]s the forests fell, the creeks and springs dried up… the work of changing the climatic conditions of a world was underway… the fur-bearing animals and all kinds of game birds were being driven farther and farther…”

I hear her words, and I think of my love of the green wilds. A friend of mine says that when she was growing up, her family home was in one of the first suburbs at the edge of a wood, a wood that stretched for miles behind them. Thirty-five years later, there are no woods to be seen at all. Nothing but more suburbs and sprawling spaces of dried grasses. I am not a scientist. I don’t have facts and figures. I don’t feel the need to prove we are damaging the Earth. Her resources are finite. That is a surety. How many generations of voices need to ring out before we find the strength to make the changes necessary for the continued survival of all life on the planet? For we are all relations.

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