Hunter goes hunting wild animals with a rake...
My wife's parents live in the Sierra foothills near a river. It's long been cattle country so it's home to every sort of non-native invasive weed, from thistles to a dozen kinds of obnoxious grasses that stick in your socks.
There's a shaded sandy beach on the river that we keep clear of these alien invaders for entirely selfish reasons. It's a great place to hang out on hot summer days. We walk down to the river with our rakes and hoes, and in a few minutes the beach is clear.
Our family dogs have always considered this place heaven on earth. Our little children build sandcastles and try to catch fish.
Recently, back at home in the heart of agrarian California, we visited our local animal shelter. This never turns out well because we usually end up taking home the most un-adoptable dog they have. This time was no exception.
The dog that caught our attention was an old hound. She was covered with scars, she walked crooked, she was missing teeth, three-quarters of her tail, and a few chunks of ear. The shelter people said they'd put her down if they didn't find her owner.
But she was among the most intelligent, well-mannered, and gentle dogs we'd ever met. She looked so sad and depressed in the shelter, like she'd rather be dead than have no pack and nothing to do. My wife told the shelter we'd adopt her.
The shelter did find her owner, but he couldn't take her back. By the dog's behavior, especially her fondness of pickup trucks and her calm demeanor around power tools, I'm guessing he's a construction worker suffering some hard times.
So the dog came home with us and she is a wonderful gentle soul who sleeps in the sun, does a happy dance whenever anybody pays her attention, and is extraordinarily attentive to the rules of our household.
We knew she would love visiting my wife's parents.
It's a long hot drive across the valley and fifteen minutes after we arrived we decide to take the dogs to the river. On a typical visit to the river the family dogs will splash through the water, romp about, playfully chase a few mice, rabbits, or ground squirrels, and then dig in and settle down in the cool sand.
First thing new dog does at the river is hold her nose up sniffing, sniffing... and then she dashes across the river and into the brambles, faster than I've ever seen her move, with the rest of the dogs following in joyful pursuit. Then we hear a huge amount of thrashing in the underbrush. Then our youngest dog, who looks like a big fox or a little red coyote, a fearless hunter of mice and chaser of road-runners, suddenly leaps out of the brush, falls six feet sideways into the river, swims across, and hides behind my wife.
I grab a rake and run across the river towards the commotion. Then I hear our other dog, who's an easy going mutt with the temperament of a big lazy urban labrador retriever, yelp in terror, and then she too comes flying out of the brush and into the river, and her head is bleeding. (Fortunately it was just a scrape, probably the result of her hasty retreat.)
At this point the old hound is the only one left in the brush chasing after something, and singing with joy.
I tear through the brush and brambles with a rake in hand, and old hound dog sees me. She leaps over a big boulder, out of sight. I see nothing. Then I hear a rustling maybe three feet from where I'm standing.
I look down, belly level in the brambles, and it's the face of a monster. And hound dog is on the other side nipping at its ass.
The beast looks at me like it could kill and eat me. I know it could. I hold the rake uselessly in front of me and take a few steps backwards. Then three hundred pounds of tusked angry pork takes flight, deftly dodging the rake, brushing against me, hound in hot pursuit.
I know she's a good dog because she eventually came back when I called, and she has since forgiven me for letting the hog escape. Now I know how she got those scars. She hunts hogs.
This experience has got me thinking about a lot of things, especially how unnatural it all was. First of all, I'm burning gasoline to drive with my family across California to visit a "natural" place populated with Eurasian imports like thistles and pigs, with a dog bred and trained to hunt these pigs.
But even before Columbus, this "natural" environment was greatly modified by the first Americans.
So I'm thinking what comes next? Will we recreate and enjoy a "natural" environment of our choosing someday, maintained with a deft and skillful hand, or must we suffer chaos and collapse?
There's so much in this world we don't see. Most of the time those pigs on the opposite shore of the river are invisible to us.
The thing was black, and about 8 feet long with the legs spread out.
I don't believe my friend used a rake to take it down though.
Someday I would love to talk to you over a beer or a cup of coffee.
Is there anything we can do about all this? Repair the damage? Change things for the better?
--David Brin, Existence
Benford, Bear, Bova and Brin...
Thanks for the heads up.
The whole book was (mostly) about exploring all the very very many ways humans might either off themselves, or be offed, and how we might do our best to navigate all that. And also, fermi's paradox.
So, in that regard, it was a little bit darker than David "Sunshine" Brin's usual style. But Brin is such an utter human-optimist, that he simply can't sustain non-optimism, and so the book occasionally seemed almost bipolar.
Like KSR's recent 2312, he's been experimenting with some blog-inspired stylisms (so now the conquest of the inter-tubes' attention deficit disorder is complete, having even infected novels - winning?). He uses a running thread of chapters through the book called "Pandora's Cornucopia" - and that phrase was arguably worth the price of admission.
Nature embraces and needs change. If it cannot change and adapt it will die.
Humans because of our limited life span see an environment and think that is how it has always been and will always be but we are wrong. Even before humans evolved environments evolved.
If you get a chance to see the TV series Mutant Planet which is on the Science Channel (http://science.discovery.com/tv/mutant-planet/), it shows how the Earth's environments are constantly changing and mutating. Each factor in nature changes to adapt to how the other factors have changed.
Even introduction of new species into a formerly isolated environment is not a new phenomenon - it has happened before, though maybe not at the rate it is happening now.
I really believe Earth's environment will survive whatever humans throw at it. It will not be the same, it may not be habitable by humans in the way we live now, but it will survive.
I have no doubts that humans will still be here in the near future, and in fact, it's a realistic belief to have.
On the other hand, though, nobody can plausibly deny that there will still be auite a bit of suffering to go around, even if we drastically change course soon.....
The population may be greatly reduced and the cultures will be changed, but humans will probably still be around.
The 'probably' is because we have no idea how much the global environment will be affected. In the past the Earth has ranged from being almost completely tropical to being an ice planet. Either extreme could be a tremendous challenge for humans to survive and to maintain a viable civilization. Either way I would bet at least a few individual humans would survive and keep a breeding population around to screw things up again.