Stacey Cole: New book illustrates how all of life is interconnected

Nature Talks
June 22. 2012 8:02PM

Several years ago as I stood looking upward at the smooth water-rim of Glen Ellis Falls, my eyes followed the water as it fell into a pool, some 60 feet below.

Sometime afterward, I penned these words: 'Life is a miracle, bright, beautiful and exhilarating. Death can be dark, cheerless and too full of sorrow. I can take these last three and not dwell in them as I school myself not to. It takes life to counterbalance death. Life is a circle with a beginning and an end. Nature displays it so.'

I continued on, describing the life of these fresh, splashing, flowing waters until they met their diluted demise in the Atlantic Ocean. I then recorded their rebirth. Through vertically streaked clouds, sea water was lifted up by the sun and carried over the land, there to fall as rain on our northern forest floor. It gathered itself in small rivulets and advanced, falling into a running brook that, by and by, spilled over the rim of Glen Ellis Falls.

(By the way, this enchanting waterfall is located a short way from NH Route 16 in the town of Jackson.)

Bernd Heinrich, an internationally recognized scientist and author of numerous award-winning books, including the best-selling 'The Mind of the Raven,' is professor emeritus of biology at the University of Vermont. His latest book, 'Life Everlasting - The Animal Way of Death,' published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, was released on June 19.

When a good friend with a severe illness wrote Bernd asking if he might have his 'green burial' at Heinrich's hunting camp in Maine, it inspired the acclaimed biologist to investigate a subject that had long fascinated him. How exactly does the animal world deal with death? And what are the lessons, ecological to spiritual, raised by a close look at how the animal world renews itself? In the introduction Heinrich wrote: 'The science of ecology/biology links us to the web of life. We are a literal part of the creation, not some afterthought - a revelation no less powerful than the Ten Commandments thrust upon Moses. ... We do not come from dust, nor do we return to dust. We come from life and we are the conduit into other life. We come from and return to incomparable amazing plants and animals. Even while we are alive, our wastes are recycled further into bees and butterflies and on to flycatchers, finches and hawks and back into grass and on into deer, cows, goats, and us.

'The potential ramifications of recycling are almost as varied as the number of species. I hope to provide a wide view, and I give examples from personal experiences everywhere from my camp in Maine to the African Bush.'

In an interview with the author, Heinrich said: 'The theme of the book is that all of life is interconnected - and in a natural system there is therefore no end. There are instead transformations from one form to another. I discuss humans quite a bit, not only because there is some debate about our role, but mainly because of our huge impact. Many animals learn from each other, and what they learn directly affects whether or not their offspring live on.'

I found this book certainly a thought-provoking and interesting read. Illustrated with several pen and ink drawings throughout its 236 pages, 'Life Everlasting - The Animal Way of Death' published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt is list priced at $25 and is now available at all booksellers.

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A most interesting letter was received from a Lafayette, Calif., reader who wrote in part: 'Loved your article on beavers. Just wanted to say 'Hi' and tell you that beavers are gaining in popularity all over. I became an accidental beaver advocate when some moved into our local stream and the city wanted to kill them. I started a group called 'Worth A Dam' to teach others about their value and how to solve problems. I organize a yearly beaver festival and am working with a group in California to reeducate our state about beaver value and historic prevalence.

'Beavers and their trickle down economy!

'Ponds attract and sustain wide varieties of wildlife. Drowned trees do create incredible habitats for herons and other nesters like wood ducks and woodpeckers.

'NOAA Fisheries has shown time and time again that beaver ponds make crucial habitat for steelhead and salmon - noting that ponds increase the diversity and density of fish populations. Five years ago our city installed a flow device that controlled flooding and allowed the beavers to remain. Now because of their dams we regularly see steelhead, other woods ducks and even mink in our tiny urban stream!'

I really appreciated our California reader's letter.

Stacey Cole's address is 529 W. Swanzey Road, Swanzey 03446.

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