Laura Erickson's For the Birds

Thursday, November 24, 2016

Dealing with the Election Results


I made my decisions about who to vote for in the 2016 election before the national conventions took place. I’m a very political but pragmatic person when it comes to federal lands and their protection, climate, wildlife, and clean air and water, so there was simply no question about my vote. The Chicago Cubs diverted my attention from much of the campaign, and after I cast my early ballot, I traveled out of the country before and during the election.

This campaign was characterized by so much vitriol, anger, and outright hatred that the country was certain to be in a heightened state of drama no matter how it ended. It’s so sad that we the people of the United States can’t stand together the way, say, Chicago Cubs fans can, in a unified, joyous front celebrating the blessings of liberty we enjoy right now, and in a determined front to solve the many problems that confront us. We should be fighting together to defend the self-evident truths so clearly outlined in our Declaration of Independence: that all of us are created equal and endowed with certain unalienable rights, among them life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. We Americans should be standing together to defend the Preamble of the Constitution, which itself provides the very foundation of all our nation's laws, written “in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity.” It’s impossible to even conceive that the general welfare of American citizens doesn’t involve clean air and water, meaningful work with a living wage for all working-age citizens, and protection of our most fundamental national treasures, our natural resources, for ourselves and our posterity.

During the 30 years I’ve produced For the Birds, I’ve only covered political topics as they directly impact birds and the environment we share, and that’s how I intend to keep things. I don’t much like drama, and refuse to feed drama creatures or become one myself.

We Americans should take our cues from that quintessential all-American bird, the Black-capped Chickadee. Chickadees, like Benjamin Franklin, know that we must all hang together or we will most assuredly hang separately. They combine the best of black and white in each individual, and welcome all other peaceable birds, regardless of color or social traditions, into their diverse social flocks. Peaceable they may be, but chickadees are not wimps, as any bird-bander who has held a chickadee against the little bird’s will can attest. No chickadee goes gently into that good night—chickadees rage, rage against the dying of the light even as they know the difference between real existential threats and imaginary ones.

Taking revenge

Chickadee flocks have a social hierarchy, but only very young and immature birds squabble over their place in it. Chickadee society combines the very best of capitalism and socialism both, every individual working hard to amass its own personal fortune, but readily sharing the fruits of its labors with others if tragedy, or an ice storm, destroys a flock mate’s food stores. Some people romanticize what Tennyson called “Nature, red in tooth and claw,” as if evolution somehow rewards aggression and competition to the death more than cooperation. Those cooperative little chickadees give the lie to that strange belief, vastly outnumbering every avian and mammalian predator they share this continent with.

The coming weeks, months, and years will pose grave challenges for Americans trying to get through these angry times with our nation’s heart and soul intact. Getting angry or dramatic won’t help, but neither will complacency or giving up. Chickadees are the answer for me. They never lose sight of exactly who they are and what they believe in, and they recognize and avoid danger and protect their families and flock members without facing their days in fear or anger, and without closing their hearts or minds to the rich diversity that gives their social flocks such stability and success. At times like this, one could do worse than be a watcher of chickadees.

Black-capped Chickadee