West county seems to have caught bear fever. The sightings and tracking of a juvenile black bear (or maybe two) between Sebastopol and Occidental are headline news. Our wandering friend may have soon his own Facebook page.
Most of us seem to be rooting for the bear. Maybe we're really rooting for ourselves, for nature and for the wild which we are rapidly losing. It wasn't that long ago that our region was home to hundreds of black bears and grizzlies were the top predator. That was also a time when the Laguna teemed with herds of elk and pronghorn antelope and our waterways were filled with salmon and steelhead.
As a species, we evolved to be in constant relationship to the rest of our more-than-human community — sometimes as predator, sometimes as prey, but always interdependent. Now that we have extinguished the California grizzly and most of the big cats, we are certainly safer from predation. But at what cost?
Bear Spotted In West Sonoma County
The world we experience now consists primarily of other humans or things made or grown by humans. I think this makes us lonely, and it makes us forget who we are. We hunger for something but don't know what it is. A misguided pursuit of happiness leads us to want more and more of what we don't really need.
An ancient Greek myth tells the story of Erysichthon, the wealthy landowner who comes across a great oak sacred to the Demeter, the goddess of abundance. His men recognize the tree for what it is and feel an appropriate sense of awe. Erysichthon sees only the bottom line and orders his men to fell the great tree. When they refuse, he seizes an ax, decapitates his foreman who had tried to protect the tree, and proceeds to cut it down. When Demeter learns of this sacrilege, she places a curse on him that whatever he eats will only increase his hunger. He consumes everything he has, including his own children and, eventually, himself.
This is our story. We have severed our connection to the very source of life, and as a result we are possessed by an ever-growing hunger that we try to fill by consuming more and more. We have mortgaged our children's future for our short-term gratification and, in the process, squandered the true wealth we have inherited, destroying the fabric of life that sustains us.
Scientists estimate that every 20 minutes, on the average, another species goes extinct, mostly from loss of habitat and a changing climate. We may not miss the xerces blue butterfly or the Fort Ross weevil, but we will miss the polar bears and the elephants as they leave us. We may think that the California tiger salamander and the spotted owl are not as important to us as a new housing development or a few thousand board feet of lumber, but we will surely be the poorer for it. Our ecosystem has been amazingly resilient, but we are pushing the limits of its ability to recover.
We haven't left much of a home for the west county bear or other inhabitants of the wild, but we can still reduce our human impacts by focusing new development in existing urban footprints and by creating wildlife corridors instead of vineyards or fencing.
And maybe — just maybe — we can find a way to recover our own sense of awe and reverence for this amazing planet we call home.
Larry Robinson is a former City Council member and mayor of Sebastopol.