State of the Planet

News from the Columbia Climate School


The Island of Manhattan. Image from the Wildlife Conservation Society
Images representing the past and present Island of Manhattan. Credit: Wildlife Conservation Society


People are sometimes startled

By falcons perched on balconies, raccoons slinking through the park,

Bluefish blitzing herring up the river, coyotes tracing train tracks.

Isn’t it amazing, or isn’t it disturbing, we say,

A creature’s daring foray into our hard-paved empire.

I prefer the long view – that of Manhattan Schist, let’s say,

Having been buried in mile-thick ice,

Thoroughly sculpted and scoured,

Recolonized by green things and red-blooded things

Over and over again, with each ephemeral ice age.

From that vantage, it is we who are the curious invaders, an encrusting colony

Of organisms with a stunning talent for creating habitat for ourselves.

Diggers of ditches, un-earthers of bones, surveyors of history

All tell a tale of an earlier island of Eden,

Teeming with silver-backed, feather-tipped, vibrant-green life

Not so long ago.

The Schist, sparkling darkly in the park, is not surprised

By ‘coons and hawks, toothed and clawed neighbors,

Nor by the eels, pipers, moths, terrapins, raptors, seals, spiders,

By great trees ripping upwards through pavement.

You might think that I am about to lament all the changes we have wreaked

On this landscape, but I refuse to despise my own species.

I refuse to accept the conservationist’s guilt,

To draw boxes around wildness and around civilization,

And ignore the reality that these two can never truly be separated.

Instead, I am in awe of the spectacular forces that shape my world,

From grinding ice sheet to pulverizing jackhammer,

From rising skyscraper to ascending oak.

I live my animal life deliberately,

Knowing that we can never extract ourselves from Nature,

And that the boundaries we draw are not real.


This is one in a series of posts by Katherine Allen, a researcher in geochemistry and paleoclimate at the Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory and the School of Earth & Climate Sciences at the University of Maine.

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