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Conservation Corner: Moving too fast has consequences

We hear lots of complaints about the aches and pains of getting old, but I’m beginning to think that there are many often overlooked advantages of aging.

There’s that elusive thing called wisdom that begins to kick in as we get older, and our values become more defined. What seemed so important to us when we were in our 20s and 30s and 40s, now may be of little consequence. If we are looking at the possibility of having only 10 more years or so on this earth, what do we want to do in those last years? How will we allot our time and our resources? What really matters?

Lately I’ve been spending time with our 2-and-a-half-year-old granddaughter Lucy. She’s in her first 10 years of life, and I’m thinking that I may be in my last 10 years of life. [It will be great if I get more than 10 years, but I’ve always been taught to not look a gift horse in the mouth, and the gift of this life has been wonderful regardless of how long it will last.]

Lucy likes to play with other children her age and do all the stuff that children do, but I have found that she really likes to be outside with me, simply walking in the woods or in the garden looking at things. Watching the earthworms crawl in the garden (hiding from us), or watching the spider spin her web, or the frog swim across the pond stealth-like to eat the unsuspecting dragonfly, or listening to the songbird in the tree, or the hoot owl, or….

We are living in a society that wants us to believe that we must buy all sorts of educational toys and gadgets to make our children happy, yet Lucy probably learns more of real value watching the spider make her web, soon to be knocked down by someone passing by. Then the spider will start all over again making yet another web more magnificent than anything us humans could do; there’s a life lesson there.

I sort of think that aging is the exact opposite from the early years of life. Lucy’s world is speeding up as she gains more knowledge and ability to do new and different things, and mine is slowing down. In the middle of our lives we go to school, learn a profession, get a job, have children, work, work, work. It seems like everything goes faster and faster, and all we can do is keep up until the children are raised and out of the house, and we have enough money in the bank to pay off the mortgage and begin to breathe again.

Of course we learn lots during those middle years, but there isn’t a whole lot of time to reflect upon what we’ve learned, and what it all really means. Until we take time to slow down and reflect, we’ll never figure anything out.

Way back in high school, many years ago, our math teacher taught us about parabolas. I think that I must have missed the reason for the lesson entirely, but I do remember the idea that the parabola is a line that goes up and down in a repeating pattern, and it looks sort of like ribbon candy, slightly pulled apart.

In my river morphology classes, I learned that the sinuosity of a river or stream looks like that ribbon candy. The slower the velocity/force of the water in the stream, the more gentle curves there are, which causes no stream bank erosion. Those curves slow down the water, creating h = aquatic habitat for all sorts of creatures.

Now, imagine that the ribbon candy is flexible and starts being pulled at both ends. The water flow in this case is much faster, with more force (an equal and opposite result of the force being put on the ends of the ribbon candy) being put on the banks of the stream, resulting in minor stream bank erosion. Now, pull both ends of the ribbon with extreme force. The water flow is now ferocious, washing the stream banks out until they resemble dirt cliffs, with tons of sediment washing downstream towards the oceans. All previously existing aquatic habitat is gone.

Where am I going with all this? I’ll go back to the woods where Lucy and I are watching how Mother Nature works, and what she has to teach us. Without those quiet times away from our modern technological world, it is easy to forget that maybe we have more to learn from Mother Nature than from Google.

Happiness for us might be in that middle place where the ribbon candy image is being pulled ever so gently at the ends. There’s enough tension to keep us alert and to keep life interesting, without destroying other species and not disrupting the stability of the stream banks. What we have now is life at a frantic pace; environmentally that pace has created incised stream banks, flooding, extinct natural species, fish smothered with sedimentation and contaminants…do I need to list more?

There is a balance. If we spend more time quietly observing and listening to Mother Nature, we just might come closer to a sense of balance. Sit beside the stream on a calm day for a while, and watch the way it moves. Then go back and watch the stream after a heavy rain when the stream must carry a greater volume of water at a faster rate. It’s a lesson worth learning.