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Earth Day: Rejoicing in the Unseen

04/22/02 12:00AM By Ruth Page

"At heart I subscribe to the writer Peter Matthiessen's notion: not seeing an animal but knowing that it's there is profoundly transformational and in its way, every bit as potent as a personal encounter." Those are the words of Sanjayan Muttulingam, a lead scientist with the Nature Conservancy. A recent issue of the Conservancy's magazine offers readers a photo journey to natural wonders in this hemisphere.

Today, Earth Day, it's a thrilling reminder of Nature's incredible treasury that speaks directly to your heart. Are we not deeply moved just knowing there are giant redwoods in California; magnificent rock formations in several Western states; near-virgin forest in Northern Maine; and sweeping stretches of seacoast still pristine in a few areas along our Atlantic and Pacific coasts, even if we never see them in person? Isn't it delicious to know there's a goofy-looking bird called the hoatzin with a spiky orange hairdo, living on a cow-like diet of greenery along waterways in Peru? And to read that, when its babies face a threat, they just toss themselves overboard into the water below and climb back to the nest when it's safe. Wow! How about the magnificent black caimans lurking under branch-overhangs along parts of the Amazon that's also home to its own brand of freshwater dolphin? And the brilliant, tiny, poison tree-frogs in the jungle depths, the world's only truly black flower high in the hills between us and Mexico, a few Siberian tigers that still stalk hundreds of miles of bitter tundra in the Far East, and plants and insects in various parts of the world that have evolved together for so many millennia, they are in some cases able to change each other's sex, or share a poison that protects them both?

I never expect to see any of these or a million other natural wonders, but knowing they share our Earth resonates with my soul. How can we bear to destroy the incomprehensible wealth that makes Earth unique? Does the fact that I'll never walk on the moon make its clear light any less soothing when I lift my eyes to it, as it pours a golden path on Lake Champlain?

Each Earth Day is a reminder that we humans can choose whether to preserve, or continue to destroy much of Nature. There's still time, if we move with humility and purpose, to control our selfish exploitation of all that three and a half billion years of evolving life has produced. We can continue to enjoy a world rich in wild marvels, or contract our lives and endure one composed mainly of vast concrete cities under smog, endless vistas of factories and automobiles, paved highways and parking lots, with packed, scurrying, billions of humans who have substituted manufacture for nature. Assuming it's possible to survive on such an Earth, with only manicured parks to remind us of original Nature - and it probably is not - do we want to?

This is Ruth Page, urging you, especially on this Earth Day, to think about how exotic organisms far away can still enrich our inner world.

Ruth Page is a writer and former editor of a weekly newspaper and a national gardening magazine.

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