Our Hancock County philosopher observes the natural world around him acting in harmony and wonders where humans fit in.
- Story by James Inabinet, PhD
Minutes passed. My eyes remained closed as I felt a simple joy at being here, now. My wandering mind soon fell onto why it felt so good and it occurred to me (as it has before) that it might be the interlacing harmony of it all.
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.
Oak trees are being oak. Driven by a desire to be oak (no more-no less) they surge with hormones and produce flowers that become acorns, food for squirrels, birds, and weevils–and budding oak trees.
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.
In the face of a desire to be and the apparent harmony within my forest home, I wondered about humans. I wondered about human-in-harmony, about what it might be like for a human being to live in harmony with the forest in the same way an oak or a warbler or a fence lizard lives in harmony.
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.