Poetry inspired by the archives of the University of Michigan Biological Station, written in gratitude for the accumulation of knowledge made possible by the work of environmental research scientists everywhere
To think that yesterday
I didn’t know that half a dozen sand spits
on the mitten’s tip of Michigan
are oriented with their spines aligned,
all trending to the west/northwest
suggesting that prevailing winds
came from the east-southeast 11,000 years ago—
wind that raced in summer
over Glacial Lake Algonquin,
gaining power in the stretch across
an estimated fetch of two hundred fifty miles
I passed the hours unaware
that all the while the likelihood of male cicadas singing
was increasing with the brightness of the sky;
not knowing that the females listening in through their tympana
would more likely move toward males
who nailed the high notes, with peak frequencies of 9 kHz
rather than 5—not really a surprise—
but if I’d known there was a word so apt
to describe that act of navigating toward a sound,
I might have said “Nice phonotaxis”
as I dropped my son at practice
and he moved toward the metal ‘ping’ of baseball bats
from fields beyond the trees
A day ago, I might have guessed that
double-crested cormorants had taken more than 6.3%
of yellow perch in ‘95 around the isles of Les Cheneaux,
if only on the basis of their ever-present,
wheeling show of iridescent wings
Yet at the same time, I’d have been among the last
to cast Emblemesoma auditrix as cannibals in utero—
having always been inclined to see
the better side of parasitic flies (all politics aside)
To think we walked the dog and, finding
milkweed blooming in the roadsides,
my daughter and I talked of monarchs when
instead we might have talked of microsatellite loci—
might have tried the patience of our collie while envisioning
short sequences of DNA repeated in tandem arrays, tracing
in our minds the fine genetic lines of kinship and identity
Had we known, we might have cancelled all our plans
and spent the afternoon exploring milkweed inner space;
found some shade and lingered there to savor the unseen,
to feel the weight of awe no less than that of gravity
What is insight, if not minutia well considered,
and what are we, if not expressions of the same
profound complexity that science would elucidate:
bound up with the sensory biases of crayfish,
the breeding site fidelity of piping plovers,
the respiratory exhalations of carbon dioxide
from downed wood on the forest floor?
Such a paradox, to think that yesterday I felt the wiser, knowing less,
the world a simpler place for having not perused the abstracts
of a hundred years of careful research laid like fieldstone fence
around the bend and out of sight; and really,
how much better would I sleep
could I not contemplate small mammal species
shifting long-established territories as the climate warms?
But ignorance is devastating bliss,
and I’d not miss the chance to celebrate a decade-long decline
of methylmercury in fish off Isle Royale, and better yet,
to know the reason why, for I see my children’s lives
between the axes of the graphs,
and despite my all-time favorite Wendell Berry line,
“Be joyful though you have considered all the facts,”
I’ll throw my lot with those who orient to evidence
like sand spits to the wind,
in hopes one day the facts themselves
are cause enough for joy.
Krist Jr., FJ, Schaetzl RJ. 2001. Paleowind (11,000 BP) directions derived from lake spits in Northern Michigan. Geomorphology. 38:1-18.
Stolting, H, Moore TE, Lakes-Harlan R. 2004. Acoustic communication in Okanagana rimosa (Say) (Homoptera: Cicadidae). Zoology. 107:243-257.
de Vries, T, Lakes-Harlan R. 2007. Prenatal cannibalism in an insect. Naturwissenschaften. 94(6):477-482.
Diana, JS, Maruca SL, Low BS. 2006. Do Increasing Cormorant Populations Threaten Sportfishes in the Great Lakes? A Case Study in Lake Huron Journal of Great Lakes Research. 32(2):306-320.
Kabat, SM, Dick CW, Hunter MD. 2010. Isolation and characterization of microsatellite loci in the common milkweed, Asclepias syriaca (Apocynaceae). American Journal of Botany. 97(5):e37-e38
Ferrante, PA. 2008. Chemical Orientation Strategies of the Crayfish, Orconectes virilis are Influenced by the Hydrodynamics of their Native Environment: An Example of Sensory Bias. Department of Biological Sciences. Master’s of Science:64pp.
LeDee, O, Arnold TW, Roche EA, Cuthbert FJ. 2010. Use of breeding and nonbreeding encounters to estimate survival and breeding-site fidelity of the piping plover at the Great Lakes. The Condor. 112(4):637-643.
Gough, CM, Vogel CS, Kazanski C, Nagel L, Flower CE, Curtis PS. 2007. Coarse woody debris and the carbon balance of a north temperate forest. Forest Ecology and Management. 244:60-67
Myers, P, Lundrigan BL, Hoffman SMG, Haraminac AP, Seto SH. 2009. Climate-induced changes in the small mammal communities of the Northern Great Lakes Region. Global Change Biology. 15(6):1434-1454.
Drevnick, PE. 2007. Methylmercury in fish: accumulation, toxicity, and temporal trends. Department of Zoology. Doctor of Philosophy:105pp.
Wendell Berry, from “Manifesto: The Mad Farmer’s Liberation Front” (1973)
In the Abstract © Laurie Allmann