Nature Notes - July 2019
- Story by James Inabinet, PhD
One early afternoon in the Moon of Pollen, I made my way to the bluff adjacent. From my perch, I noticed new leaves everywhere covered by a light yellow dusting–premonitions of spring.
Every pine limb in view was replete with yellow male cones. Oaks bloomed; ruddy to yellow-green flowers drooped on bare limbs. I closed my eyes to the sounds of the southwest breeze and thunder. Spring rains would soon temporarily wash this place clean of pollen, but right now yellow ruled.
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A palpable harmony, a felt one, I have quite often found myself to be ensconced here in my forest home within a panoply of seamless fits, a place where everything seemed “just so.” Homes and niches interpenetrate and overlap homes and niches–and I am a part of it!
I have surmised that every constituent being, by simply following their desires to be, by just being and doing according to true natures, contributes to and creates this harmony.
Weevils are being weevil. Driven by a similar desire, they drill into acorns where eggs are laid that hatch into acorn-eating weevil grubs. Shiny green tiger beetles, driven by a desire to be and do tiger beetle, are running about–fast–on the forest floor to catch and eat small insects, notably acorn weevils.
Lizards are there too, among the beetles, prompted by desire to just be lizard. Some are flashing blue underbellies while others flash ruddy neck extensions, even as tiny flying moths are snatched up and devoured.
Bees, driven by a desire to be bee, can be heard buzzing about (a totally bee behavior), checking-in on coreopsis flowers over there, wild plum flowers over here, and huckleberry flowers over there.
Sitting on a mat of leaves, I leaned against a water oak to gaze. A barely visible dogwood bloomed through intervening foliage. I listened to the gentle breeze in the canopy and scanned.
A low-flying pine warbler, lured by desire to be warbler, flitted from limb to limb. She was singing a distinctive “warbling cheep” while jerking her head about rapidly, side-to-side, up-then down, jerky–nothing smooth about it.
To the west about a hundred feet away a male swallowtail, driven by desire, perhaps by the proximal scent of a potential mate, flew haphazardly but quickly from left to right and out of sight, two hundred feet in a matter of seconds.
What would that be like? What would it feel like for a human in service to a potential “human niche” to perform a “human function” that creates it?
Ecologically, an organism performing its function in an ecosystem is performing its niche. Niche is kind of like a “job” in the ecosystem, both the place and the functioning, inseparably, together, including associates, i.e., oaks and weevils and squirrels and warblers.
Squirrels perform a squirrel function by gathering acorns, ripping pine cones apart, running along limbs, hiding from the cooper’s hawk behind a pine trunk. By performing these functions, a squirrel niche is performed.
How does the squirrel know what to do? She follows instinct for sure, but what is that like? I surmise that niching behaviors are prompted by a desire to be and become, whatever kind of organism is in question. Squirrels, driven by the instinctual desire to BE squirrel, perform niching behaviors and squirrel niches spontaneously spring into being.
This brings us back to humans and niche. In a forest ecosystem, what might a human function be? Along the lines of squirrel function and niche, this must be a performance of human function that brings about a human niche.
How would a human know what to do? Is it just instinct? In its performance, would human niching harmonize with the functioning of other beings of a forest like squirrel functioning does? What would such a human niche look like, be like? More importantly perhaps, what would it feel like?
These questions haunt me.