I live at the Institute for Humane Education, which sits on 28 acres in coastal Maine on Patten Bay. There is a small rocky island offshore, which is covered half the time and uncovered half the time, depending upon the tides. While I can swim or kayak to it, it is only at very low tides that I can walk or wade. Late yesterday afternoon was one such time.
I like walking out to this little island. Seals often bask on the rocks, and there are usually terns, gulls, cormorants and a single great heron at any given time. The loons swim nearby and make their eerie, wild calls and the Long-tailed ducks chatter incessantly in winter. The shallow waters around the island are always covered in mussels, clams, periwinkles, sea worm fronds, and, periodically, sea stars.
I’m always looking for the sea stars. Many years ago there was a huge die-off, and the shore was peppered with their dead bodies. It worried me. So at low tide I’m on the lookout, hoping to see a few of the biggest ones clinging to rocks and the smaller ones in abundance. Some years I hardly see any, and I wonder what is wrong with our waters that the sea stars have vanished.
Yesterday, I saw a half dozen medium-sized ones and breathed a small sigh of relief. I even had a fleeting thought that “all’s well with the world,” as if sea stars in the particular bay on which I reside are a harbinger of global health. Which of course they are not.
Huge swaths of the Arctic ice melted again this summer, setting by one estimate a new record, and by others the second worst melting in recorded history. One report compared the size of the melting to the area of the U.S. east of the Mississippi. All is not right with the world, even if the sea stars are back in Patten Bay.
More often than not, we humans are provincial, focusing our passions and concerns quite narrowly. Whether it’s our neighborhood or city (I was once a snobbish New Yorker who disdained other places), our state, our sports’ teams or our nation, so frequently we’re patriots of places defined by political boundaries.
Meanwhile, the earth is surely our truest sense of place and home, since every inch of it is connected to every other, difficult though that is for a land-based, non-migratory species such as we to fathom. Yet there I was, happy and relieved to see the sea stars on a late September afternoon, the melting waters of the arctic, the flooding regions of Pakistan, typhoon-struck Manila, all far from my mind, though as connected to the health of my home as the sea stars.
As challenging as it may be to stretch our minds this far, to become patriots of (and hence caretakers of) Earth, is paramount. Unless we educate our children to see beyond provincialism and artificial boundaries, there is little hope that we will be wise and far-seeing enough to be global solutionaries who recognize connections and make choices with the health of all people, all species, and the ecosystem in mind. And even though this may not come very naturally, it is not hard to do this. There are so many tools in our modern world for learning about, loving, and caring for the myriad species that abound on this planet and for the habitats that sustain them. While we may still love our individual places, our towns, our sports’ teams and our countries, we can also embrace a biosphere that needs our love, too. Our localism can and must be balanced with our globalism.
Zoe Weil is the president of the Institute for Humane Education, which offers the only graduate programs in comprehensive humane education, as well as online courses, workshops, and a dynamic resource center. She is the author of Nautilus silver medal winner Most Good, Least Harm: A Simple Principle for a Better World and Meaningful Life; Above All, Be Kind; The Power and Promise of Humane Education, and Moonbeam gold medal winner Claude and Medea, about middle school students who become activists and rescue dogs from an evil vivisector. She has given a TEDx talk on humane education and blogs. Join her on Facebook and follow her on Twitter @ZoeWeil
Image courtesy of Julien Lamarche via Creative Commons.
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