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When Will We Listen To The Silence Of Nature

There may be a few people out there old enough to remember the old Weekly Readers that you got in grade school. Growing up in the late 60’s and early 70s in the remote town of Salmon, Idaho where at that time we didn't have much TV, it was a pretty good way to keep young people informed of news and teach some reading and other skills. I looked forward to the paper each week, but there was always one part where  we  would have a little test  where you had to pick the best title for particular stories. I always did very lousy on that while I did exceptionally well on the other tests. I never could quite master picking a title for a story. Which is probably why you're questioning the title of this article. It may not really fit. I believe  it was in 1968 when I was in second grade that there was a Weekly Reader article that showed a picture of the Earth of what they thought it would be like in the year 2000. It was kind of a horrible looking mess of pollution and everyone wearing gas masks.  That article had such a huge impact on me it made me start to think about how we need to take care of our environment and make sure that there is something for future generations. I always hoped that I would be able to save different wild and endangered species. It soon became apparent as I got older I was never going to be able to buy thousands of acres of land in order to protect species. In second grade  my interest in gardening skyrocketed and  I suddenly realized looking at different seed catalogs how important it was to save varieties from extinction.  I could do  at least my part in saving varieties of crops that were becoming extinct. 

For years we had a local writer for the Quad City Times named Alma Gaul who was an excellent reporter on environmental and gardening issues as well as other subjects. Her detailed articles always were something I looked forward to in the paper. Last summer she came out and visited with me.  I had talked to her over the years on different topics and  we had some good discussions. I didn't realize  at the time she was nominating me for an award which I received this spring. The award was from the Nahant Marsh Society for conservation. In order to prepare some sort of acceptance speech I started thinking about what started it all. It brought me back to that Weekly Reader article that I can still see even though I haven't looked at it for years. I know it's in my stored items somewhere. Once you start getting older you start thinking back of what things were like. When I bought this farm it was pretty much a chemically abused mis-used glacial sand hill. While it's only 40 acres I figured I could make some part of an impact on the world in some fashion. I soon discovered all the interesting little creatures that inhabited this farm because it wasn't cultivated from fence row  to fence row. I  look forward to finding the ornate box turtles each year, as well as many species of snakes and other creatures. What saddens me is the decline in species and species numbers in the surrounding area since I came here and how there are fewer and fewer of so many animals.  There used to be so many salamanders here that in the autumn they were moving around looking for a place to hibernate and you could see them  everywhere on the  gravel roads after dark. I haven't seen one in probably 15 years. When I first started teaching students would bring them to school to show me what they found because they were everywhere. 

In 2000 we built a house at the other end of the property about 800 feet from the original house and poultry buildings. I enjoy that walk through our lawn and gardens to get to the chore area every morning and evening. We dug a hole  (sort of pond) about half way between in a low spot to catch some of the water from heavy rains.  I  had originally hoped to maybe make a small and I do mean small pond that I could put the plant that Calamus was named after Acoris calamus or Sweet Flag. Well in sand it doesn't hold water well so it never lasts long but every year that became a favorite spot for toads and  several species of tree frogs to breed in the spring. I look forward to hearing that noise in the evenings as I finish chores and especially those late nights when I finish candling eggs. I could stand by that little puddle and see hundreds of frogs and toads all going to lay their eggs in this small probably 200 square foot little area. One year I felt so bad  as it was drying up in drought that I pumped water to keep it going long enough to get the tadpoles to maturity.  Each year it seems like there's less and less adults and then this year it was silent. I think back to the bats, there used to be hundreds of them in the evening as I would be out finishing up chores, they would  be catching all the flying insects and how we didn't have the buffalo gnats in those days and fewer mosquitoes. Now I see maybe 10 bats in a good night when there used to be several hundred. Again, I ask myself will I see any next year?  Monarch butterflies used to  be so numerous I could not even begin to count them, add to that several species of swallowtails and many others and now they are a rare and pleasant sight. Every year we had several pair of Northern Orioles nest on the property and the past 2 years not a one to be seen. Every year since I built my little sweet potato order filling shed (a very crude enclosure  that sits right under a big mulberry tree each year a pair of Catbirds nested above the shed and talked to me the whole time I did orders. This year it was silent. For years I read the articles that Alma Gaul wrote to help promote conservation and this spring after the award Alma did a feature on our work here which was picked up by  Shelby Kluver a  TV reporter. She is a young, very talented, ambitious reporter. I did everything possible to try to avoid speaking on camera with her but she was persistent and I realized more  reporters need to see how important conservation is to the saving of our planet. ( For those who always want to see more of what goes on here you can see the news footage if you search my name on WQAD’s website). It is my hope that the work of people like Alma and Shelby will get the message out there to wake up before it is too late.

Earlier this year a major chemical accident happened in western Iowa. It was unfortunately not widely covered in the news. The spill resulted in  a 70 mile stretch of the Nishnabotna River being declared totally dead and void of life. As I watch the  once rich fertile soil of Iowa being covered each year with tons of gallons of chemicals that  are supposedly used to make enough food to feed us all, I can’t help but wonder when are we going to wake  up and realize there are other ways  to get sufficient yields and those toxic substances go somewhere. Usually they end up in the water somewhere  on land or in the groundwater and we end up drinking them unknowingly toxifying our bodies Most biologists realize amphibians ( frogs, toads and salamanders) are good indicators of an ecosystems health and when  they are not there it should say a lot.  My one constant question is when are we going to listen to the silence of nature and stop destruction from happening. A quiet world  is a dead world.

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