“The tree I had in the garden as a child, my beech tree, I used to climb up there and spend hours. I took my homework up there, my books, I went up there if I was sad, and it just felt very good to be up there among the green leaves and the birds and the sky.” -Jane Goodall
A few days ago I was watching turtles on BBC’s Africa (it’s almost Planet Earth, complete with David Attenborough; but this isn’t to be confused with the other time I was watching Planet Earth, or the other time I was watching turtles). Hundreds and hundreds of baby turtles emerged from their nests in the sand, blinked their eyes at a new sky, and went running down to the water. Birds swooped to pick them up. A crab wrestled with one. Near the end of the footage one small, vibrant spark of life made its way to the water, tumbled in the surf–and swam out into a wide new world. This last shot is gorgeous: the baby turtle flies gently beneath the liquid sky of the water’s surface, suspended impossibly, beautifully in ocean depths that look as wide as the world itself.
I wonder why I’m so insistent on my own humanity. Don’t get me wrong, I like humans. And I understand that the footage was anthropomorphizing the turtle. But many of the lessons I can learn, the landscapes I can grow in, and the dreams I can share are far wider than just us if “us” means our species. Think of how restful cats are–whenever I watched the family cat sleep, I was struck by how perfectly he stayed, by how fully he shared space with a moment and the light falling into it. Think of that turtle’s heart, beating beneath the waves as its flippers move it forward. Think of the mother bird, pretending a broken wing as she leads me from her nest. Think of a bat, seeing in a way I can’t even understand, or a whale, calling through a thousand miles of ocean and being heard. Think of puppies playing. Think of it, and feel.
I think we humans get tied up in the knot of proving ourselves, of not being good enough, but I think we do that because we defined a little world. Even in literature, that art I love, I hear people talking about “what it’s like to be human” or “what it’s like to have a mind” (a human mind, we mean) or “the human condition.” What about what it’s like to be alive? What about what it’s like to be? What about the long, slow lift of mountains? What about the gentle, intangible dance of planets and stars? What about the slow gathering of water into shining pools–and what about all, all, all those other living creatures who come to drink from those pools? When I stand in wonder as a little part of that, I feel less of a need to be right. I feel less of a need to conquer, control, or remake. That doesn’t mean I need to be passive–after all, our actions have a lot to do with whales’ ability to sing to each other (National Geographic says our ocean noise might have cut their range by 90%) and turtles’ chance to keep on swimming, but the call to action of being a part of things is s0 much sweeter and so much stronger and so much, for me, kinder than the call to action of being an incapable master of a breaking world.
According to a stroll through google, there are about 8.7 billion species on this planet. If you spent exactly one minute saying hello to each species, and could work forever without taking a break for anything, it would take you 16,553 years to say hello to all of them. (If Moses decided to do that, and has been focused ever since he got out of the basket, he’s not quite 20% done). To put it another way, if every human, every cat, and every dog in the entire world was declared the guardian for one specific species, we would still have more species than guardians.
What a wide world we live in.