Remember the bridled white eye, with his tiny spectacles, who seemed always to be offering an arch look to punctuate a well-placed question. As in, what are you doing?
Or Bachman’s warbler, who once knew the damp floors of the dense forest? Remember the Kauai akialoa, with his flourish of long bill, hooked like the edge of the reaper’s scythe, and the honeycreeper that once set her eggs in cup-shape nests. Remember the little Mariana fruit bat, the flying fox slowly poisoned by DDT in cycad seeds.
Careful! A mother calls after a child, ever reckless with living and ignorant of possibilities for being snuffed out. Watch! Watch out!
The Scioto madtom once fed on the bottoms of graveled streams in central Ohio. The upland combshell mussel could only produce with enough space in the clean waters of an undisturbed riverbed, with fish enough for hosting the young. The blade horned chameleon of Tanzania’s old growth forest darkens its skin under stress. It wraps its tail around a tree branch and hangs on.
Hold tight! she calls.
The Pacific bluefin tuna are often caught before they can breed.
The North American bumblebee made its home in the eastern grasslands now plowed for corn and its attendant poisons.
How easy it is to lose what isn’t watched. Among the African elephants, the matriarchs will slow their pace so a calf can keep stride. A cheetah will move her litter every few days to keep predators off the scent. An alligator will hold her babies in her mouth to protect them from being eaten by another.
She is watching out a window, through a screen. She is watching the sky, the temperature, the poisons, the electrical outlets, the latest reports. What do you know? She will ask, sometimes. Waking to check that her young are still breathing, waking to number the threats, count the fires, track the melting ice and the coming war, to calculate the timing of her next move, and wonder, how? Her song is silent like the watch she keeps over the lives of the living, so easily and recklessly lost.
This post was inspired by a sobering look at the report, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services Proposes Delisting 23 Species from Endangered Species Act Due to Extinction. This on the morning after an American holiday in which it is fashionable to offer thanks for what is solidly in hand. The juxtaposition of the report and this moment have me imagining how the notion of gratitude might be expanded to include grief over what was once had, but then lost, and vigilance over what remains, teetering precariously and often invisibly between here and gone.