Most days, I take a walk instead of a lunch break. I wander from park headquarters out to the public dock that sits upon and overlooks the brackish waters of Bartlett Cove. In the spirit of expanding what I am able to witness on these jaunts, as well as to increase my chances of discovering migrating birds, I have begun to carry along my scope (which I refer to as my “eagle eye” when I share it with school kids in Gustavus).
One recent afternoon, I was so intently watching and attempting to photograph a beautiful, male black oystercatcher through my spotting scope, that I was taken aback when I lifted my head from the eyepiece and saw something tiny scurry beside me and look up. Since most days I go birding on my own, I am unaccustomed to having someone to exclaim to (ok, shriek and swear is more likely) when I see something exciting. But this little mink looked right up at me and seemed to genuinely ask, “well, tell me what you see, human”. It took us each a moment to remember our pre-determined next steps in our well-defined roles as mink and tiny human.
“Vocabularies are never neutral. Things that are included in a vocabulary gain a familiar reality; things that are left out are ignored or even have their existence denied” (p. 42). For how many people in the world are species other than ourselves part of a working vocabulary that plays a significant role in decisions made in connection with a shared planet?
Do the mink and oystercatcher factor in on a decision to build beachfront property? What of guillemot and gull? We interrupt a pattern of life to build a dock, and eventually the barnacles and birds find a niche in and around it. When this structure becomes obsolete in our human-centered world, we tear it down and replace it without a moment’s thought to our neighbors, be they feathered, shelled, or otherwise.
When will we learn?