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Have you ever sat in a symphony hall and, while listening to an especially moving piece, marveled at the blend of instruments that could produce such an overwhelming sound? You could say the same thing about listening to the Grateful Dead.

Now consider removing the violins from the symphony, or the bass guitar from the Dead. The sound is not the same, is it? When an integral part of any band or symphony is missing, the music suffers.

Life on the blue planet we call the earth mirrors a symphony orchestra. John Muir wrote, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”

Muir’s perception makes us consider the consequences when we intervene in nature to remove a species or when we alter our environment to the point where whole ecosystems perish. Does this concept alter our daily lives?

Think about your reactions to nature.

A few months back, I walked out on my backyard deck. It was one of those first really warm summer days. Birds were everywhere, squirrels were in the trees. Then I saw it. Out from under the deck came a big copperhead, almost two feet long.

What would be your reaction? Get a hoe? Get a gun? Kill the snake? Growing up on a small south Arkansas farm, that would have been my automatic reaction. Anything that could be a threat to anybody was automatically killed. And on top of that, anything that posed even a remote threat to crops, livestock or property was killed.

That thought process gave us an open season on everything from snakes to chicken hawks to beaver to sparrows, and in previous years the Arkansas Game and Fish Commission had bounties on wolves, cougars, and bobcats. That mentality, which prevails to this day, has resulted in wholesale destruction of hundreds of species simply because we view them as threats. They are considered undesirable wildlife.

When was the last time you heard of anybody being killed by snake bite? How many chickens have you seen snared by a chicken hawk? Our farm was covered up with chickens, and I never saw a hawk take even one. What are your odds of being killed by snake bite, cougars, bears, or any other creature?

What should be our reaction to the parts of nature we consider undesirable? Where do you start, and where do you stop? While we are classifying, shouldn’t we consider how removing them degrades the blue planet?

I watched that copperhead slowly move through the azaleas, work its way around the deck, then disappear into some leaves. There’s probably an active copperhead den in my backyard. I may get bitten, but I doubt it.

I don’t know what part copperheads play in the harmony of nature; maybe they hold down the toad frog population. But I have become convinced they deserve to live just as much as the beautiful bluebirds nesting in my bluebird box.

Copperheads are part of my snaky backyard. A big brown water snake has a den beside our patio, and last spring it birthed several little ones. In our front yard I frequently see garter snakes and green snakes, and in the pond off our deck there are probably water moccasins.

How can I try to promote the well-being of one part of our environment while destroying another part? Should I have killed the copperhead? I’m sure a goodly number of readers will say yes. Of course a copperhead is a threat, but should we kill all the pit bulls? More people are killed by pit bulls than by copperheads. Tough questions.

Back to the farm: When I was 8 years old, my dad placed a bolt-action 20-gauge shotgun in my hands. His words of advice still ring clear. “Don’t shoot anything you’re not going to eat.”

Back then we supplemented many of our meals with game I killed and fish I caught. We ate possum, coon, and armadillo. This concept still drives my hunting and fishing. I can’t imagine shooting a duck and not retrieving it, or catching a stringer full of fish and not dressing them.

And today, I can’t imagine shooting a hawk or killing a snake or anything I’m not going to eat. This makes me oppose trapping beaver, which are being killed and thrown away because the dams they build may damage a few acres of scraggly timber. On top of that, about one-third of the catch in beaver traps are otter.

And the much maligned coyotes? Send a few more my way; the coons, possum and armadillo are overrunning my place. I’m in the city limits, so if nature doesn’t control itself, we are going to be knee-deep in whatever can adapt to the scraps of habitat we have left them.

So the next time you set up a bug zapper—which, by the way, doesn’t attract the mosquitoes that bite you—think about the harmony of nature. Wouldn’t the addition of a birdhouse for 50 purple martins to eat those mosquitoes make for more harmony than the sizzle of a bug zapper?

I have always found that the more varied and diverse life becomes, the more meaningful it is. Our blue planet is rich and wonderfully crafted. We should tread softly on its surface, and put away forever the slash, burn, and kill mentality of another generation.

Email Richard Mason at richard@ .

Print Headline: Tread softly on our blue planet


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