I use the words of others, both of prose and poetry, frequently in my varied writings. Probably a good habit, since they are so much wiser and more eloquent than me, or is it I?
So, here are three instructive examples of such words of wisdom.
First, since Joe Boggs did such an outstanding job with his bygl-alert on mosquitoes this weekend (bygl-alert 1027), let us heed the words of malaria specialist Paul F. Russell, writing in 1931, quoted in “The Fever: How Malaria Has Ruled Mankind for 500,000 Years” by Sonia Shah:
Man ploughs the seas like a leviathan, he soars through the air like an eagle; his voice circles the world in a moment, his eyes pierce the heavens; he moves mountains, he makes the desert to bloom; he has planted his flag at the north pole and the south; yet millions of men each year are destroyed because they fail to outwit a mosquito.”
Ozymandias, thy mighty ego, despair.
Second, One of the books I provide my students in our OSU Extension Nursery Landscape and Turf Team-taught Sustainable Landscape Maintenance class in the Horticulture and Crop Science Department class each Spring Semester is “A Sand County Almanac” (1950), the conservation classic by Aldo Leopold.
One student’s assignment was to present to the class something that resonated with him from the book. He was from Ohio farm country and his family has a woods. He loved to walk with his dog on his natural wanderings there. So he liked a passage in which Leopold spoke of walking with his dog. By way of background, Leopold was proud of his ability to discern birdsong.
“…We sally forth, the dog and I, at random. He has paid scant respect to all these vocal goings-on, for to him the evidence of tenantry is not song, but scent. Any illiterate bundle of feathers, he says, can make a noise in a tree. Now he is going to translate for me the olfactory poems that whoever-knows-what silent creatures have written in the summer night.”
Again…olfactory poems…written in the summer night. Whoa.
Third, is an example from my favorite new book; “The Wizard and the Prophet: Two Remarkable Scientists and their Dueling Visions to Shape Tomorrow’s World” (2018) by Charles C. Mann. The book is about Norman Borlaug (the Wizard) and William Vogt (the Prophet) their differing views of the world’s challenges in the 20th century, facing for example the projection that the world would have 10 billion people by 2050.
Borlaug, a plant pathologist (take that, Joe Boggs) who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1970 for his plant breeding expertise that fueled the Green Revolution, focused on higher yields to produce more food for the increase in population. Vogt, an ecologist, focused on warning that our land use and agriculture was not sustainable and that we needed to move toward more sustainable solutions to the world’s problems by respecting ecological, economic, and population limits. But more of that in a later byglbook-alert.
For now, let us examine the background for the concluding words of William Vogt. His first scientific job was to determine the reason for the decrease in guano deposits off the coast of Peru. They were an important economic resource for Peru, selling some of the nitrogen from these bird deposits for fertilizer before the chemical process of nitrogen fertilizer production put them somewhat out of business.
It was the 1930’s. He hoped to study for his PhD with Aldo Leopold at the University of Wisconsin (subsequently World War II derailed this plan). He was steeped in the new ideas of the emerging science of ecology, the Frederic Clements school of thought from of the University of Minnesota and the Carnegie Institute, that all things in nature were balanced, cyclic; best not to interfere.
In his post in Peru, using primitive tools, a magnifying glass rather than a microscope, with nascent ideas of the Humboldt Current and El Niño cycles , he learned that the guano deposits from Guanay cormorants were temporarily low due to warm water capping the usual mixing of water that stimulated growth of plankton that anchovetas needed for food that the birds then needed for food. So, during this cycle of El Niño plankton decreased and so on, and the birds then did not have enough food and many died or left the area.
Less plankton. Fewer birds. Less guano. What to do? For Vogt: One could only “help conserve the balance between species continually sought by Nature.” Do not mess with the balance, the cycle. Wait it out. Or as he so eloquently put it:
(It is unwise) to “augment the increment of excrement.”
Words of wisdom.