By Kathy Bouchard EBS CONTRIBUTOR
Winter approaches. The meat has been cured, the hay bailed and stacked for the animals. The bounty of the land has been harvested and stored away to be doled out through the cold days and long nights with care. The wilderness stills, the wildlife endures in sleep or privation, eking out survival as best they can. In the rhythm of the seasons, details may have changed or faded, but the feeling is still one of reflection and drawing in, becoming quiet as we contemplate the past year and how to apply ourselves to the next.
This past summer, while driving home late in Glen Ellyn, Illinois, with the 5-year-olds, after feasting on burgers and berry pie, I gasped in surprise. “Look at the fireflies!”
As we drove through the shady streets, the girls ooohed and ahhhed, until finally, out of the car, Daddy caught one of the flickering creatures. It took me back to childhood, playing ghost in the graveyard in the lingering twilight, and getting distracted by the fairy light glow of the insects. Fireflies are memories I have missed while spending the last 20 years living in Montana.
Today, as with much of the insect population of the United States, fireflies, butterflies and honeybees are disappearing at alarming rates. Because of their role as pollinators, this means food production is also endangered. The insects are not alone. The Audubon Society reports that two-thirds of North American birds are at risk because of habitat loss, and that many of them may go extinct in the next 100 years. Those memories I mentioned above are already half a century old. I wonder what memories the grandchildren of my grandchildren will have in the next half century.
Yet we in Montana live among creatures once at the brink of extinction. Bald eagles, grizzly bears and wolves have been restored to parts of their historic ranges thanks to the application of the Endangered Species Act and scientists and individuals dedicated to their survival. We value wilderness or we wouldn’t live in a rare place that supports all the megafauna that existed in the Greater Yellowstone area 12,000 years ago. From across the world, people throng to see the elk, bison and wolves, simple testimony to their inestimable value. Our truth is that nature is wealth.
As gratitude for this achievement fills us, the future abounds with challenges that we can read about every day. This space has briefly explored solar energy, dark sky preservation and plastic reduction. Other topics will soon be discussed. But now, as the long nights of contemplation approach, as we recount the past year and assess our lives, perhaps there is room to expand that commitment to nature.
There are more ways than can be stated, just choose something, and make no small plans. Dig up a part of your lawn and plant native species that will invite bees and butterflies, write your congressman about wilderness expansion, buy your first electric vehicle (I’m contemplating my second), research an organization that benefits nature and donate, try more plant-based recipes. The possibilities, mundane or imaginative, are endless. Act with intention.
“Never doubt that a small group of committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has.” The words of Margaret Mead, written in a time when vastly more wildlife and vastly fewer humans roamed the planet, are still inspiring, but the need is great, and more citizens are required. Yet, here in Montana, we already have a model to inspire us.
Kathy Bouchard is a member of the Rotary Club of Big Sky’s Sustainability Committee. She has been a Montana resident for 20 years and is inspired to work for sustainability on behalf of her grandchildren.