This week I saw some of the best theater I’ve ever seen, PARADISE SQUARE, a musical depiction of New York City in the late 1800s, when newly emancipated slaves from the south were arriving along with Irish immigrants escaping the Irish potato famine. It was the immigrant story – the struggles to survive, the loves and losses, the desperation when economic circumstances pitted them against one another. All portrayed in song, story and rapturous dancing! I held my breath through most of i
I came out of the theater changed because the show was essentially my family story, taking place in the same tenement neighborhoods of New York City where my people found haven as refugees from Russian pogroms not many years later. I know in my blood those stories of desperation and survival, of poverty and fear; their shame at being poor outsiders in the new world where they did not belong.
I am one of them, the child of immigrants.
When the show was over I applauded until my hands hurt. After all these years, I finally forgave my family for what they did to us, for they too were victims, raised by parents who were also troubled victims. Coming from ghettos in the ‘old country’ where they lived on the edges, they arrived here “off the boat” in their tags and tatters to a land of freedom where they were not really welcome either. So they huddled, frightened and angry, in new-world ghettos and gave birth to the next generation – my parents. Outsiders, all.
This is not a new story – it’s the old story of who belongs and who doesn’t. Who got here first and made the rules, I wonder? Who owns the land and decides who gets to live there – indeed, who gets to live?
I am watching a multi-species version of this play out right here in the Bay Area at a thirteen-acre farm community I belong to, in which the resident population of gophers is defending its territory from the human newcomers moving into the neighborhood.
These little rodents are ubiquitous, burrowing their tunnels beneath the ground with their front paws and sharp little buck-teeth. They know every inch of their turf, call it ‘home’ and it supports them well. They give back by turning over the soil with all that digging, and providing regular meals for predatory owls, hawks, and prowling cats. They were in fine balance with their world up until now.
Then we well-meaning humans came along with our complex visions of planting acres of fruit trees to help feed the local human population, also providing jobs on the farm for men recently paroled from prison – a brilliant plan!
But Ooops! we’ve got a problem here – who belongs and who doesn’t? Who’s got a right to this place anyway?
The gophers do a nightly scamper dance through their tunnels to gobble up the sweet, juicy taproots of recently planted fruit trees, and don’t mind at all chewing their way through the stiffwire baskets around the roots designed to keep them out. They’re in GopherHeaven, eating their fill and then multiplying like mad in response to their new food supply. The sad result for the human newcomers is that seventy-five young fruit trees have so far been toppled over…
We humans are the immigrants here who have come into someone else’s neighborhood with our own agenda only to find it already occupied, and we’re not sure what to do next: give up the farm? Poison the little devils; trap them and let them out on somebody else’s farm? Bring in every gopher predator we can think of?
Me, I’m exploring how to have a possible win/win here. Nature knows how to make room for reciprocal relationships occupying the same space, so why can’t we? Everything doesn’t have to always be winners and losers, with an awful battle in between determining who gets to take it all. That story is on its way out, we hope. Winning feels good for a day or two, maybe, but after that it’s lonely.
I think we can do better than that. What if we addressed the gophers directly and worked out an ingenious new way of sharing the land so that we all got what we needed? Dream on, you say? Well, why not dream on?
This is the kind of puzzle I love.
Gophers, I’m told, love to eat the roots of yarrow, a perennial, low-growing plant that is not only lovely but is also medicinal – but they can’t stand rosemary or daffodils or garlic. I see possibilities here; what if we did some strategic planting of rosemary and daffodils and garlic in the orchard and did a big swath of yarrow on the far hillside and called it theirs?
I tried something similar on Fernandina Island in the Galapagos many years ago, during a solo stay on Cape Douglas where my small cache of rice was being pilfered probably by the native rats at the cove. I appealed directly and out loud to them right there on the beach with the volcano as my witness, calling out,
“Whoever is eating my store of rice, listen up! You are welcome to any leftover cooked rice you find – I will leave it right here on this rock – but you have to leave every grain of my dry rice alone! That’s my deal, OK?”
Amazingly, it worked – until days later when my rat became supper for the resident hawk. I heard the catch happen late one night – flurry, squeal, gulp. But by that time I was headed back to civilization. If I had stayed, I would have renewed the offer.
So I figure it may be possible to cut a deal with the gophers – we can at least try. You never know…
The fact is that we’re all in this world together whether we like it or not. Nature has myriad ways of balancing the needs of its life forms, and we’re only one part of the picture. In the eco-system of belonging, we all are players in the game.
We may never know why things happen the way they do here on Earth because there is a large plan being worked out in the Universe, way larger than we can see with our human eyes. Our role is to find our place in it, share it with one another, do what we love to do best, and together offer it to the world.
That’s what the Moon did in eclipse last night.
The orbits of Sun, Earth and Moon were perfectly lined up yesterday, creating a full Lunar Eclipse. Oh my, gorgeous! What we saw from here when they all came into perfect conjunction was a “Blood Moon” as if She were blushing because we were seeing her lined up with her consorts, totally naked!
I found it decidedly erotic. Our moon.
But she is ours only from our limited point of view. She belongs to herself and has a life of her own in a vast Universe we can only begin to guess at, playing her part and reflecting the Sun’s light in her own way as she spins her journey around the Earth. Who knows what Cosmic part she plays?
I have no idea.
But then, who knows what Cosmic part weplay?