In his 2013 book, Wild Ones: A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuring Story About Looking at People Looking at Animals in America, Jon Mooallen follows the efforts to save threatened and endangered species. The book was a well-researched page turner, and it made me think more about the importance of saving entire ecosystems, not just the photogenic species that use them.
Mooallen starts with the story of a star animal: the polar bear. Congress has been reluctant to place the polar bear on the endangered species list, but conservationists have drawn more attention to their cause as celebrities like Al Gore and Leonardo DiCaprio sell bears as symbols of climate change.
Mooallen contrasts the polar bear with the Glacier Bay wolf spider. The Glacier Bay wolf spider also lives in the tundra. It is also dying out. But, as Mooallen writes, the spider is “a public relations nonstarter.”
One species makes us say “awwww,” and the other makes us say “ick.”
Throughout the book, Mooallen shares some really discouraging stories, but he never lays on a guilt trip. It’s not that he’s absolving the human race; instead, Mooallen shows that the goal of “fixing” the Earth is just overwhelming. We can’t save all the animals, we can’t save their homes. But we can’t do nothing.
“The best of us are cursed with caring, with a bungling and undying determination to protect whatever looks like beauty, even if our vision is blurry,” Mooallen writes.
I went hiking today. I was on a dry, dusty trail here in Southern California. The soil was reddish. Black crows perched on skinny tree branches. The area was an old Marine Corps training ground that had been reclaimed by weeds and erosion. I could see Highway 52 between two hills.
It was beautiful, this version of nature.
Then I drove back to my apartment, following the asphalt into the city.
I learned about Wild Ones from this amazing 99% Invisible podcast. I highly recommend it.