Why can’t we stop tinkering with nature?
cries fellow photographer and scientific illustrator, OC Carlisle.
Bartram’s very words at the beginning of his book are:
Gifts from God….
Plants, therefore, were viewed as a gift from the Creator, placed in our world for sustenance, amusement, and delight. The concept of an invasive species had yet to appear on the horizon. So the Bartrams’, among many others, went tinkering away. They were not alone in humanity, and in their tinkering they did actually preserve the Franklin Tree from complete extinction. Yet tinkering perhaps endangered the Franklinia in the first place, along with the chestnuts.
Poison from the New World…
Tinkering also led to the export of a poisonous exotic, straight from the New World, poison ivy. Arriving in one of Bartram’s Boxes in Great Britain, I heard from a recent tourist it has been spotted on the campus of Oxford, in a bed of English ivy, which is itself an invasive species in the United States. Tit for tat, apparently. I prefer English ivy to poison ivy in the garden. At least when I rip out English ivy I don’t itch for days afterward.
What could have been…
William Bartram’s niece, Ann Bartram Carr, had a rockin’ business in the 1800’s importing exotics and growing Native American species. Thus her business could have been part of the import of a water mold, Phytophthora cinnamomi, to the United States. Combined with the South’s over-farming for cotton, the P. cinnamomi colonized first in exhausted fields of Gossypium, or cotton, and then naturalized in the Southern forests, killing all susceptible species in its path. Thus that very water mold caused Bartram’s Franklin Tree and the chestnut tree to go extinct in the wilds of Georgia.
Defining Invasive Species….
Of course, there may be one more invasive species on the continents of Asia, Europe, North America, and South America that we have yet to mention. Many many centuries ago, a cell made a bargain with a bacteria, and a mitochondria was born on the continent of Africa. Descendants carrying that mitochondria spread out over the entirety of the earth, invading the land, changing it everywhere they went, and celebrating those changes as science, art, language, civilization, culture, religion.
Described by Hamlet….
“What a piece of work is a man! How noble in reason, how infinite in faculty! In form and moving how express and admirable! In action how like an Angel! in apprehension how like a god! The beauty of the world! The paragon of animals! And yet to me, what is this quintessence of dust?”
~Shakespeare, Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, Act II, Scene 2
What power is this?
Can our human culture set right its wrongs? Can we use the tools of science, art, language, the tools of our culture, to conserve, make right, restore the environment and climate we have impacted by our very presence?
Quintessence of Dust….
Or are we but specks of dust, jousting with a giant, powerless over the course of Nature, powerless even to the ways in which we do impact the environment? Just one more species surviving on the face of the planet?