Michael Jenkins lives in Midtown of Tallahassee, Florida in the Tallahassee Red Hills Ecoregion. He is a field ecologist and focuses work on targeted habitat management around rare species, mapping, and grant administration for rare species conservation in Florida.
Photo Credit: Michael Jenkins
As I sit here in the early “Midtown” Tallahassee morning, working from home during this COVID 19 pandemic, iron-colored nautical dawn is in the air. A tiny fire flickers from an evergreen-scented candle, lit to see my computer keyboard. My screened windows and doors are all open, and the predawn chorus of birds comes in from all sides. Is the predawn chorus, in fact, birds saying, “I made it through the night and survived the owls, snakes, and accipiters, and am ready for anything! Here I am. What up?” The complexity, beauty, and therapeutic resolve of the sights and sounds of Nature distills random thoughts from my brain, now in peak performance. Italicizing these hit-or-miss thoughts seems fitting here because they may be at quite an off-angle to what I was thinking. Random thoughts like a climber near the base of a summit, walking in different directions looking up for routes to the top.
Far away from any mountain summits here in the Florida, Mockingbirds and Brown Thrashers warble their deliberate, frantically multiverse songs from the middle to lower strata of my yard. Are they songs? More likely a call needed to exist in the brutal existence of Nature?
Cardinals align in the Chinese azaleas outside, under the window and scolding my two cats crouching on the window sill, looking intently out at any moving thing with super power eyes and ears that move in perfect tandem action. One has a claw stuck in the screen but does not seem to care. Seemingly random questions and thoughts are inspired by all these natural stimuli and my mind continues to search. Would it help humanity if there was an effort to formally and exhaustively debate serious political issues, using a neutral moderator, tallying important resolutions/agreements/impasses, receiving input from everyone interested, and taking place over a three-year period to ensure thorough completion? I have an answer for that random thought. Yes!
A flock of Canada Geese honks and flies over low, just over my roof in the now less-dark civil dawn. I feel the vibrations of their honks in my chest. The cats cannot contain themselves from this overbearing sight. I seem to sense the geese from far away before I hear them and know they are coming before my ears detect them. Do the cats alert me to them? – I hear the geese flying from their roost near here, to and from “Lake” Ella; a beautiful, human made, well-constructed, and effective retention pond. The geese leave a wake of ever-changed organisms beneath them; all in a “fight, flight, or feast?” mode with these loud, large birds flying so low, and then relieved and a bit wiser as they fly away. The geese remind me of Autumn when I was a paperboy doing my route in Ohio in the late 1970s, watching them fly over in giant V-formations: so, so high and loud. I am totally going to rock work today!
A Great-crested Flycatcher sings a single, upending trill tune from high up in the Black Cherry tree. The sound lifts me up and I take a deep, deep breath and feel so good in my heart and my mind. I am lucky to be alive and lucky to be part of an amazing world. This flycatcher may be using a gourd nest I hoisted way up high in the tree using a complex system of ropes, logs, ladders, and a bamboo fishing rod (still hard and strong after decades). I felt a feeling of genius and accomplishment there doing that after I saw the flycatchers fledge from out of the gourd the first year. Since then the squirrels ate the hole out and have squatted the place. Does it hurt to make fun of squirrels and to anthropomorphize Nature? Probably not in all situations. The more mercurial part of my mind needs a diplomat to the part of my being that is the real world.
Chickadees and Tufted Titmice cheerily (really?) sing and flit in the canopy and to the bird bath. They LOVE the bird bath. These two species’ songs I regularly get confused; a personal ornithological weakness from being wrong, then right, then wrong again and then needing to google their songs to calibrate my mind and deal with the baffling diversity and rigorous intellectual challenges birding entails. Why don’t preachers preach more on the Good Earth and how we need to be good stewards? My mother and her parents love Nature and view it as God’s Creation. “How Great Thou Art” is a family favorite song, most definitely. I have asked people this question of why stewardship of God’s creation is not a subject more preached on, with not-so-great reactions and responses. O-kay.
Blue Jays flock and mob a Great Horned or Barred Owl or other bird of prey I cannot quite make out, even though visibility is better now at dawn. The Blue Jays remind me of the lone feathers Sallie Middleton would paint into her wonderful art that was hung all over the walls of my grandparents’ and personal home growing up. This wonderful morning immersed in Nature has invigorated me in my mind and body. I gotta start my pandemic-induced remote working situation here soon!
As a field ecologist, and having worked for public and private organizations for decades, I travel a lot and so have plentiful time to think of things while driving. Random thoughts delivered during those years of driving alone come back to me as an old standby, cherished dream: Envision a scientist, naturalist, or any individual being able to go to a Work Center within any ecoregion (dig it!) and within a week’s time, become an expert on that area and its ecology with the use of effective species identification tools and other resources that exist for that ecoregion found right at their fingertips. That expertise then makes conservation efforts much more effective. Envision privately funded, local ecoregion approaches to highly intensive and effective biodiversity conservation on public and private lands through direct, on-the-ground management, mapping, monitoring, and research. Many ecoregions are presently well known and targeted for conservation but here, ecoregions would be delineated for the entire continent and each ecoregion used as a focus area for conservation. Examples of ecoregion scale would be Huron-Erie Lake Plains (OH), Grandfather Mountain (NC), Mogollon Highlands (AZ), or the Lake Wales Ridge (FL); they are then subdivided by watershed, county, etc. Each ecoregion will have one or more privately funded Work Center (for lack of better word), where naturalists, scientists, and nature enthusiasts of all kinds can work out of. Work Centers are already in place and well established in many ecoregions but there will be at least one per ecoregion. Each Work Center has facilities such as living quarters, camping, computers/data storage, tools, libraries, field gear, vehicles, etc. The individuals at a Work Center work with public and private land managers within the ecoregion’s important ecological areas as they manage and research rare and common species and ecological processes, etc. (this is already done in many areas and has been for decades but this activity would be greatly enhanced). Species populations/habitats are identified within the ecoregion, then prioritized and conserved by the individuals at the Work Center. The Work Center would also be tasked with maintaining a species list, knowledge of important ecological/sensitive areas, and documentation of natural phenomena within the ecoregion, among infinite other things. The Work Center may/may not have living quarters and camping and be able to hire biologists on an hourly or seasonal scale, paying them a living wage. No college education would be required. So a naturalist who loves working in nature could visit a Work Center and work their entire life there or travel the country going from one ecoregion and Work Center to the other. Scientists and naturalists could visit different ecoregions and have places to stay, intermingle with resident and visiting naturalists/scientists, have scientific materials to examine and produce, and either get paid for, or volunteer to do land management, such as invasive plant and animal removal, fuel reduction, or prescribed fire. A database would be kept at the Work Center that would include all scientific/conservation work done on the species past and present, and how each species occurs and its relative abundance within the ecoregion. A naturalist/biologist could produce findings on each species, ecological process, etc., and keep that in the Work Center’s database, effectively “publishing”/posting formal and informal, peer-reviewed findings on a daily basis that would eternally contribute to scientific knowledge and for biodiversity conservation of the species and ecology of the bioregion.
A sweet sunrise cool breeze shakes the Sabal Palm fronds, the Longleaf and Loblolly Pine boughs, and the Spanish “Moss” in the Live Oaks. People are walking by, more so than before the COVID 19 came to town. Friendliness and teamwork are in the air. It is a dangerous, strange, but, beautiful day. I am totally going to rock work today!