A new federal agency, dedicated to the destruction of predators… aimed to kill every predator of every species in a region… [Dan Flores, Coyote America, 2016]
Extermination, destruction, eradication, extirpation… these words blatantly went into state policy titles. For someone growing up with population ecology common sense, it is beyond ridiculous to see, not too long ago into the past, a governmental agency trying to eliminate the entire “predator” category from the ecological hierarchy.
Forest service, national park service, fish and wildlife service… these names today automatically project green and friendly mental images, referring to probably the most harmless governmental departments. Who would have thought they had such a dark history during the late 19th and early 20th centuries?1
These near past events serve as a warning sign that is still beckoning to us: how zeal wedded with ignorance is surely to produce madness Ahab style. One would think after the Endangered Species Act, wild animals in general were to cast behind them the darkest era of their history, and to ride the turning tides triumphantly into the future. Wrong. If my eyes are not deceiving me, the red wolf recovery program is still on at this very moment – the one that actually led up to the Act itself. One defines a specific animal to be a species, then finds it to be endangered. In the name of purity, some other canids like coyote, whom red wolves naturally have genetic exchange with, simply lost their right to exist. Layman’s questions aside2, the chilling methodology aside3, one never ceases to be exasperated by blind human convictions.
Also noteworthy is the social significance the particular scientific advance in ecology rapidly brought about, which today I have so naturally taken for granted. Back then the coyote research was done in a highly politicized environment, entangled in a web of industrial interests – in this case those of the ranchers and hunters – much like what climate scientists have to face today, as was pointed out in the book. I wonder how climatology will look like in the eyes of the near future. Does it cast a similar curve of acceptance rate that quickly converges to a common wisdom steady state? Has it morphed into a new wave of public movement?
Despite all the atrocities revealed by the book, its overall style is actually quite witty, and also dotted with suspension. The author’s personal encounters with coyotes were most beautifully written. The poignant reflection of the detachment shown by that killer child, awakens my own deep remorse for similar degrees of cruelty. The wooden call episode let me relive the moment of mixed mutual feelings – those of curiosity and fear that seem to epitomize the entire subject of man and nature.
If the Old Man Coyote, “a whirlwind biophysical force with a large capacity for taking sensuous pleasure in life”, who embraces “no religious tradition beyond being alive” but “sacred existence”, and “teaches delight in being alive in a world of wondrous possibilities”, sounds too much of artificial romanticism than a sober observation, then there is this; if among all the tales and accounts there is a single story to remember, then it is this:
A coyote trot along a trail with a sprig of sagebrush in its mouth. At repeated intervals it had tossed the sprig joyously into the air, caught it, then trotted on.4
3 The technique “using morphology measurements and recorded howl profiles” instantly alarms me by a frightening association with the Nazi studies of differentiating human races for malicious purposes. What the author related to was Crania Americana, which at first I presumed was less harmful as I had never heard of it before. But it seems to be recognized as an important work for scientific racism.
The red arrow, or rather what remains of it, points to a narrow barrier of rocks barring my way. Technically speaking it’s not difficult to find small footholds to climb up. The problem is, after overcoming it, on both sides the slopes rapidly fell as if eager to reach the mountain valley. I could not walk upright, fearing any misplaced step, or a gust of wind would rob me of my balance and roll me down to the unfathomable depth. My heart and legs faltered at these thoughts. Surely I’m not expected to continue on such a dangerous path? Besides, no further red paint could be seen ahead. Maybe this is the wrong place. But where else should I go? At this point, the cross on top of Hönigspitz was already lost behind the final few hundred meters of steep rising.
I looked back at the small figures of the two hikers coming this way, who I descried a while ago and induced me to hurry up lest I be caught up with and lose the title of being the first one to reach the peak. That idea was completely gone. Now I only wished them here sooner. While waiting for them, I walked back a bit to find a place to rest. But wherever I moved, in front of me was always that formidable descent that gave me no peace. Leaning back against the rocks as much as possible, I imagined a stream that may rush down from here; started to comprehend how fearless the water has to be. Thankfully the anxiety did not last long. How swiftly the couple traversed the single foot path where I spent quite some time and effort finding firm rocks for both of my hands to hold on to so as not to fall sideways. Soon they popped up around the corner, Thomas and Mara!
They confirmed that horrible path is the right way to the top, and asked if I’d like to join them. Oh of course, I happily joined them – they looked so pro. On the other hand, they apparently also noticed me as the opposite. So Mara led the way, me in the middle, Thomas the rear and sometimes at the outer side to protect my flank whenever applicable. Now I understood what a mountain ridge is. All my life I had been hiking in mounds. Or at Hefelekar, the ridge was much wider and stairs were built. Yet Mara and Thomas walked the delicate string as if that 2700 meter elevation wasn’t there – they walked upright like decent human beings. While I constantly dogged down and almost crawled my way up. Maybe that was to punish the nonbeliever who wanted to reach Jesus’s cross – an unpleasant thought.
Now that I wasn’t alone anymore, and the couple kept me busy with conversations so that my small brain had no room for thinking about the risks, the danger seemed dismayed and to have retreated. The challenges were to keep up with my companions’ pace in this tough ascension and at the same time make sure each step is firmly grounded. Even though they asked me to tell them whenever I feel like taking a break or if they are too fast, I guess I could still push myself further strength and perseverance wise, so as not to bore them too much. This way after much fun of rock climbing (made easier by tracing Mara’s pioneering steps), crawling (when it was relatively level) and Thomas’ many promises such as “we are almost there”, or “this is the last small bump to overcome”, we reached Hönigspitz!
The northern side of the mountain range were clothed in virgin snow: a vast white headpiece touches her waist; the white dress develops into long stripes and finally laces at the fringe. We took a food break while admiring the views around us. Thomas remarked that I was probably the first Chinese to ever ascend this peak because it’s not so known other than to locals. “Is it because here it’s not as nice as the other side in the Texelgruppe Nature Park?” I worryingly asked. He replied:” No. It’s because here it’s much more difficult to climb.” That was a satisfying answer 🙂 Then I started to worry about the way down. There’s no way I could descend the same way I came – it was simply too steep. The couple told me their plan of going on along the ridge towards the other slightly higher peak Hirze Spitze – the namesake of this region and apparently the highest peak around, and then returning back to the middle point between the two peaks where there would be a much easier route down. While having to deal with the scarily tricky Alpine mountain ridge again doesn’t sound exactly appealing, taking the same way back is all the less so. So I accepted the former challenge.
At the descent point I opted to stay put and wait for them. The staff at Krammeben forbade me to go up to Hirze Spitze anyway. Before they embarked, Mara offered if I wanted an apple, a banana, or her jacket. Such kindness… I shamelessly took the apple… I guarded the sign post in this profuse serenity, now watching Thomas and Mara making their way to the neighboring spitze, now waving to the paragliders riding the east wind, now singing little winged songs to my silent snowy audience, most of the time nourishing my soul by inhaling the breathtaking mountainscape near and far. Alps! read more …
Chapter Six of Alon Tal’s book Pollution in a Promised Land: An Environmental History of Israel. This chapter talks about the activities of the Nature Reserves Authority, mainly when Avraham Yoffe was in charge. I’m left with an impression that under his command, the new born authority secured an astounding fraction of Israeli land for reservation, albeit small and scattered. His successful campaign to stop the dirty habit of wildflower-picking remains the single legend that never repeats. Along with the anecdotes, for instance
walking into the kitchen of his host, opening the refrigerator, and pulling a leg off of a chicken without being invited,
or another, he hired two female scientists and threw out the grumbling male staffs saying
he had ‘enough balls’ already and wanted some brains,
as well as Figure 13 which depicts a Yoffe in full army uniform, feeding a cute little baby herbivore (I’m guessing gazelle?) with a milk bottle, which easily reminds me of that famous picture of Ariel Sharon with a lamb slung over his shoulders – all these make me take a great liking to him.
However now, many weeks past, Claude Lanzmann’s Pourquoi Israël that I watched much earlier somehow surfaced again. And I remember there was an interview with a retired military man who turned to wildlife advocacy. I opened the DVD package and found indeed the name Abraham Yoffe there. In the film, aside from telling us about his dream of rehabilitating the biblical animals in the land of Israel , he also offered his opinion on the political conflicts, in which he clearly aligned himself with the school of “Greater Israel”. For Egypt, he said the Sinai
is not important to them, but important for us… It can act as a buffer zone, which is good for us, good for them and good for the world.
I can’t decide if to say he was naive or if he was intentionally blind. As regard to the Palestinian problem, he said
We should learn to live together. and I’m ready to give them all rights as Israelis.
This is of course one basic underlying belief for any one-state solution advocate. But when questioned by the director “what about the Jewish state”, pointing to the demographic problem, Yoffe said
I’m not afraid… You see when I was born in this country, the percentage between Jews and Arabs was 1 to 10… Today it’s 3 Jews to 1 Arab. So why should I be afraid?
Well I don’t really want to give an analytical comment on this bizarre statement. The point is, it is really interesting to get accounts of things and people from different places. Just as reading the Israeli environmental history gives me a unique perspective when looking at these less known but no less inspiring, exciting, heroic or heartbreaking deeds against the most familiar Israeli modern history, the association of different depictions of this person evokes a similar curious sentiment. As a result, Yoffe’s image is now more complicated in my mind than before.
. This biodiversification effort – the Hai Bar project – is also documented in the book. It is quite a subject of controversy. On one hand it collected a lot of endangered animals, opened up a safari as a tourist attraction, on the other hand some predators were confined in small areas, and the indigenousness of some of the species were questionable.
I went to the sea turtle center twice more over the past two weeks. And new experiences.
For week 2 I went on Thursday and met some regular volunteers there. Among the four coworkers, I spoke with Shir the most. She is a high school graduate and has been working here for a year now as her national service. On that day I realized the toughest work wasn’t touched at all during my first visit. Lettuce!
… I was happy to be invited to go on a trip to collect lettuce for our green turtles. Sat in the car, watching the fields, groves and clean handsome village houses of the nearby moshavim, we arrived at a vegetable company – but it was a big warehouse sort of, waste plastic bags and other materials piled randomly on a sandy ground. In front of the warehouse was a shady working area for their employees. There were two groups of workers, on one side were Muslim women and on the other were Asians. It seemed the two sides didn’t communicate at all. One curious Asian girl came up to me and asked me in English where I’m from and if I work or study here. I explained my turtle mission and learned these people are from Vietnam. Indeed, look at the conical Asian hat!
They cut the bad leaves away from the lettuce and washed it. And it is our mission to take in the bad leaves – bad in human eyes – and fill as many plastic bags as possible. It’s a piece of cake to bring a handful of leaves from right to left. But a hundred pieces of cake is quite a big thing. All the time I bent down and lifted up. The plastic bag was like a black hole, whenever I thought I finally fill it up, Shir would shake her head and violently give it a push – what power of compression that the bag was half empty again. Although dismayed, I kept going. I guess the efficiency ratio between Shir and I was 2 to 1. I was truly happy we didn’t have to continue after I collected three bags. But that was too early for celebration. What comes after loading the giant lettuce babies unto the car is of course, unloading them. Then we teared these bags open and released the lettuce into a metal cart, from there we had to transfer the lettuce again but into another white numbered bag and weigh according to the data on the daily sheet. I am going insane just by writing all these down. In short, everything about lettuce is labor intensive. read more …
A bit history first. On the last day of the summer Ulpan, everyone was asked to go in front and make a small speech in Hebrew about oneself and the future plan here. I remember saying אני רוצה לעזור לחיות בים among other things. The seed of green Zionism was already there even in the earliest days. As the second semester was just begun, I heard from Reuven that he had a friend who helped the sea turtles near Caesarea and it was a once-a-week thing. I carefully remembered this information since. In a recent trip along the seashore from Akko’s Argaman beach with Roy, we found two very big sea turtles on the sand, but dead for long. One of them was entangled in fishing net. I was saddened by the scene and made up my mind to volunteer for this good-natured animal soon. Now that I finally finished the paper draft, caught a break between the stages of research, I have to seize this chance to make the seed grow.
The early Zionist pioneers saw returning to the soil not only through a pragmatic perspective, but also as a means to rebuild, strengthen themselves in body, characteristics and identity. Parallelly, I think practicing green Zionism both does good to our nature and liberates myself from the unhealthy state of office-sitting and computer-staring. So much for the ideological babbling, here is my first day helping the sea turtles.
Israel Sea Turtle Rescue and Rehabilitation Center is in Michmoret. It isn’t as easy to reach the exact spot by bus as with nearby places like Caesarea or Netanya. After a constant fear of getting late for the bus or missing the stop to get off since 5 a.m, I got off at Yannay interchange and walked for half an hour to the center. Along the way I passed the Alexander Stream National Park. I should walk inside of its more pleasant and shadier wood in the future, as I was later told that it’s straightforward to reach the center along the beach.
Dotan, a heavily tanned guy in clothes that rejoice to be untidy, received me with warmth and I walked with delightful curiosity among many sea turtles – all in various water tanks. Each water tank has inflow and outflow of fresh underground sea water, underground for stable temperature. One turtle is very uneasy. it constantly splashed the surface with its fins and tried to get out. But I learned this one is blind because of a collision accident and can no longer be released back to the sea. In the same tank is another one, a quieter one. It doesn’t really surface so I could only vaguely see some plate attached to it. This one is called חופש, it lost two left fins due to lack of blood circulation when entangled in fish net. They attached a flipper to help it balance when it surfaces to breathe. This is actually widely reported in the news. I was also impressed by the messy staff office. But that only makes sense for people dealing with wildlife and work often in the sea. Shortly, another new volunteer Avi came to join us. He looked around 50 and was tall and fit. We gathered in the main working place, a space with a dozen water tanks. read more …