Now You See It....Perhaps You Shouldn't

Amateur photographer, Heidi Carlson, snapped this marvelous photograph of a marbled murrelet diving off Lowell Point in Alaska's Resurrection Bay this summer. Heidi gave me permission to publish this photo here. I love this view of the murrelet--the boat-shy, cryptic, camouflaged, crepuscular, high-speed flier, tree-nesting enigma of the Pacific. It was this view of the bird that lead early birders to nickname the marbled murrelet the "kiss-me-ass" bird.

This is as much of the marbled murrelet as most of us will ever see. Funny to weigh this partial, fleeting, and ultimately unsatisfying encounter of a species against the enormous effort to protect this bird and its habitat. It is a challenge for us humans to work to protect something we do not directly benefit from--be it an endangered bird, an endemic plant, or an entire forest. It is more challenging to protecting something we should never see.

I say should because there are few places on the planet we cannot see. Throw enough money and time into it and the planet becomes a playground. Let's take our old-growth forests, tropical or temperate. We can't bring ourselves to completely and permanently close them off to let the other animals and plants exist without us. Sure, we can make logging, mining, development, and road-building illegal but...but...but what about a hiking trail or a few eco-tour excursions? We can't just ignore all this beauty and biodiversity can we? If we can't make money by extracting resources from the forest, we have to figure out a way to make money by luring "leave-no-trace" tourists who will somehow benefit from the experience of the forest.

It seems mean spirited to surround our forests with No Trespassing signs. No one likes an Unwelcome mat at the entrances to the wilderness. We want to get in there to see how pristine it is, to take photographs, to mark our life-lists, to tell our friends they must go and do the same. Instead, let's learn how to take comfort in and be satisfied knowing that forests can exist without us and our inevitable trace.