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Sunday, March 22, 2015

What Flowers Are For

While Bow does not find the daffodil flower appetizing, there are others who do.

Flowers are not usually meant to be eaten. They offer nectar in return for cross-pollination.

It's the fruit that is made to be eaten, and even then, there is an ulterior reproductive motive behind all that generosity. But this is not the season of fruit. This is the season of flowers.

The forsythia is just now starting to blossom. And even those little evergreen scrub trees that sprang up in my pasture unbidden are doing their part to contribute to the pollen count.

Nobody planted these trees, and no one will cry when they die, but while they live, they are doing their best to reproduce, because that is the nature of life. Living things strive to live and to leave behind heirs when they die. Because even trees of the longest lifespan do eventually die. And before they die, they try their best to make sure they are not the last of their kind.

However, when human beings interfere with the process of reproduction, things do not always manage to reproduce before they die. Take the old apple trees that I used to have on my property.

When I first bought this place in 2001, it came complete with a full orchard, which had growing in it, among other fruit trees, two messy apple trees that gave tiny little green apples. I did not think the apples were edible at first, so my daughter and I used to feed them to the horses across the fence.

Then one day, long before 2007, when I was mowing the grass, an old man drove by and asked me if I would sell him some of my apples. He quoted me a price by the bushel that sounded pretty good, but that's just because I didn't actually know what a bushel was. A bushel of apples is a lot more than a pound!

The man who bought the apples was called Mr. Wantland. The name stayed in my mind, because it reminded me of Verity Lackland, a character in my novel, Vacuum County.

The next year, Mr. Wantland did not come back. The apples just lay on the ground, and nobody ate them. We shared them with some of our neighbors, who told us about a recipe for fried apples.

Then a few years later there arose a great storm, and both apple trees were uprooted. There were no more apples. There was also no more Mr. Wantland. I visited the cemetery this year and found out that he had been buried there next to his wife in 2012.

I hope that Mr. and Mrs, Wantland had many children, and grandchildren and great grandchildren before they died, because a name like Wantland deserves to be conserved. But, as for my apple trees are concerned, I am pretty sure they never reproduced. Not on my property, anyhow.  I suspect that the fruit bearing portion of the tree had been grafted onto another tree and that the whole process was so artificial that trees like that could never reproduce or thrive without human assistance. And that is not ultimately a good idea,

Many people think that planting a tree is an act of conservation, but the most conservative and therefore the most conservationist,  thing to do is to let the trees plant themselves. That way, nature will make sure to weed out what cannot survive on its own, and it will reward good health and fecundity.

But what does this have to do with chimpanzees, you may ask?

Well, there are conservationists who limit the reproductive lives of chimpanzees, because they see that resources are scarce. They may do this in very humane ways and for seemingly humane reasons, but they are still dooming chimpanzees to extinction.

This morning, Bow and I watched a video about a sanctuary for chimpanzees where all the males get vasectomies, However, one such operation must have failed, because an unexpected baby was born to an eight year old female chimpanzee. However, the new mother, never having seen an example of how a mother should behave, did not care for her baby. The baby was then bottle fed by humans, but eventually adopted by a childless couple of chimpanzees who did like babies. The narration explained that this was the best possible outcome, but with a fifty year commitment for each chimpanzee, the sanctuary will try to make sure that no more babies will ever be born.

They see a chimpanzee as a fifty year commitment, all debit and no credit, because they don't think that chimpanzees could help contribute to their own keep. They would frown on a chimpanzee working in entertainment or language research as inhumane. They would also frown on a chimpanzee living as a human's companion or caretaker or pet in a regular household. That would be inhumane. But dooming all the chimpanzees not in the wild to extinction is not inhumane!

These people are not conservationists. They don't care about the species, and to the extent that they care about the individual members of the species, they do not appreciate the natural role in improving the quality of living that having babies can play, not only in the life of a female, but also of an entire community.

Those are the sanctuary people. And then there are others who believe that all non-human apes should be "returned" to the wild, even if they were captive bred and cannot return to a place where they have never been. Damien Aspinall is an example of that.

But what else could we do to help endangered species to reproduce and to thrive?

A minister in the central Indian state of Madhya Pradesh has asked state forest officials to allow individuals to keep lions and tigers in their homes. This would be a way to fund and boost a resurgence in the population of the big cats.

Meanwhile, here in the United States everything is being done to take such animals away from people who keep them at their own expense and to put them into institutions funded by the state -- institutions that will see their care and feeding as all loss and no gain.

What is the difference between the state that confiscates exotic animals and the people who keep them at their own expense? The state sees no value in the animals, only the danger they pose and the expense of feeding them. But the people who keep them value them enough to invest in their care. Yet it is the very act of caring that makes private individuals suspect in the eyes of the public. There must be some profit in this, and profit is bad. But profit is what makes the world go round!

Flowers are for spreading pollen. They are not mere decorations. Fruit is for spreading seeds. It is not a free handout given by charitable plants to hapless animals. Babies are for the maintenance of populations. They are not just a fifty year commitment -- they are the future for all of us, until the end of time.

Flowers are beautiful for a reason

The way nature works to preserve species is not through "unselfish" efforts by individuals working against their own self interest. Nature works by offering enticements. Flowers are pretty for a reason. Nectar is sweet to draw bees in. Babies are cute to make us cherish them. And every living thing has its own beauty and its special allure. Let those who do it because they love the baby adopt, not those who see the baby only as a fifty year commitment. Let those who love the nectar keep the flowers planted, those who eat of the fruit of the tree plant more trees with their droppings. Don't punish people for loving what they do. Self-interest is the only thing that keeps the cycle of life in play. Let's embrace it, rather than expecting that we can find some other, better way.

We are a part of nature. We are not exempt from its rules. Let's not think we can get anywhere by playing holier than thou.


  1. What a great post, Aya. I love the beauty of flowers, and appreciate what they do to spread their species far and wide. We have this idea about returning to natural flower lands and flora and fauna, and I remember they sprayed the Scottish broom plants a few years ago because these are considered an "invasive species". However, I love the scent of these plants and these are so beautiful, and with the changes to cities and populaces in California, I never understood why we have to go back to some projected idea of what wild lands looked like before the first Spaniards came to America. We do not know exactly, and why spray toxic chemicals on plants and waste money to do it. Anyway, the Scottish broom plants came back the next year, so it was just a waste of money. Nature will always reclaim the land. I see this happening in the mountains every time I go up there.

    1. Hi, Julia. I am glad the Scottish broom plants came back. Nature always finds a way.

  2. What an article abou the beasts of the wild and that should be kept surviving. I saw something on the TV years ago about lions or tigers, (I forget). There were all shot to deatht since they were kept in the homes of people who cared about them. I did shed tears when I saw that. Pity they could not put them on a reserve or something. These animals had a life and were living. They were not abused at all.

    1. I don't understand how it could ever be humane -- or even legal -- to shoot somebody else's animals who were kept at home by people who loved them, and never harmed anyone. What AR people don't seem to realize is that adherence to strict property rights of animal owners is the best way to protect these animals.

  3. Wonderful article, Aya! The few who abuse the animals cause give these activists all the fuel they need to get a movement going and pretty soon, the mob mentality takes over and there is no reasoning with them. They don't even see what could happen to these animals if sent to the wild, where they have never lived. And, if they're able to get enough money behind them and lobby the govt., they'll have the biggest power to wield against people who own the exotic animals for research or as pets. The world has gone mad. Every day, it makes me want to withdraw more & more from the insanity.

    1. Thanks, Kathy, But don't withdraw! We need to band together and stand up for our rights and the well being of our animals.

  4. By the way, the Damien Aspinall is such a tragedy...and he called it a 'helluva setback"???