ROEP Executive Director Megan Isadore was honored with the Environmental Leader of Marin Gold Medal award of 2014, for the River Otter Ecology Project. These are her remarks at the lovely celebration evening put on by EarthScope Media.
Wendell Berry said it, as he so often does, “If we were sincerely looking for a place of safety, for real security and success, then we would begin to turn to our communities - and not the communities simply of our human neighbors but also of the water, earth, and air, the plants and animals, all the creatures with whom our local life is shared.”
That’s not easy. When we look to the multiplicity of all the local creatures, it starts looking awfully complicated -- and messy!
It begins to look, from where I stand, quite a lot like a watershed. For what is a watershed but a catchment basin for all the world offers - all that filters down, through, around and into; picks up and lets go; gathers and tangles; drops and twists; messes up and then, smooths. How are we supposed to unravel all this watershed multiplicity on this burdened earth, and use our energies in accordance with nature and community? I surely wish I knew.
My dear friend Barbara Deutsch recently said to me, “It’s about keeping faith with place.”
I think what Barbara was getting at is this: natural communities are interwoven and interdependent – that’s ecology. But our human instruments and desires are not always wise or informed. In short, we really don’t know what we’re doing. But we keep trying, and the pace of our erudition quickens by the day.
I’ve learned more deeply about otters from walking through one particular wetland every week for a year than from the more usual forms of scientific inquiry. I don’t always know what I’m looking at, but I attend. I watched the marsh grasses grow high and I lay down to rest and stare through them at the sky. I picked non-native wild plums and ate them for lunch, then saw the tree die back after being deeply scored by its caretakers. No more plums for the wildlife or me -- for now. I picked ticks off my socks in late summer, and wondered whether the deer have some way of repelling them. I found a deer carcass piece by piece, spread out by coyotes...or bobcat? Or both, plus others. I saw newts come out to mate in spring puddles, and found an opossum skull, intact and bleached. I found a lot of otter scat, and picked up some of it. I saw a Say’s phoebe so beautiful I thought it was some strange new bird I didn’t know, until I knew it again by seeing it fly. I gained more than an inkling of the communities Wendell Berry was talking about. Is this important to my work? It is my work.
Our local communities: pickle weed, juncus and willow, great blue heron, coyote and gopher; beavers otters and salmon and redwoods; serpentine, limestone and shale with some granite here and there; creeks sliding through wetlands into the great Pacific, hot dry summer bursting into wild winter storms; humans in cities and on ranches, farmers and suburbanites, small towners without even postal delivery...all deserve our gentle, sustained attention.
When we offer our best, our most reflective selves to these confusing multiplicities and have the patience to stick with their study, we may find the world opens to our understanding. Let us make haste, slowly.