Jon Mooallem is the author of Wild Ones: A Sometimes Dismaying, Weirdly Reassuraing Story About Looking at People Looking at Animals in America. It was one of my favourite books of 2013. But it really shines when done live with a little musical accompaniment.
Roman Mars of 99% Invisible was so inspired by this performance by Mooallem and the musicians of Black Prairie, that he requested permission to post the audio file on their blog. I suggest you have a listen.
The story begins at JFK airport where, each spring, flights are delayed by little turtles parading across a runway to get to their nesting grounds. “A fleet of giant airplanes being held up by just a few tiny turtles.” It is a cute and endearing image.
But hold that picture in your mind, asks Mooallem, and imagine the Caribbean sea in 1492, where Columbus’ men were kept awake at night by the sound of sea turtles bumping up against the hulls of their ships. It is estimated there were a billion sea turtles in the Caribean at that time. “It is the exact opposite of the scene at JFK, Mooallem says, “it is not a fleet of giant airplanes being held up by a few tiny turtles, it’s a giant fleet of turtles bombarding just a few, relatively tiny, ships.”
Humans are the major agents of change – and hope – on Earth
We are the reason there are no longer a billion sea turtles in the Caribbean, no longer 30 million bison on the plains, no more great auks, or dodos or passenger pigeons. Or, or, or… But, paradoxically, the persistence of an alarming number of species now depends entirely on humans. In Wild Ones, Mooallem explores the extraordinary efforts people are making to give struggling species – from butterflies, to whooping cranes to polar bears – a fighting chance. And, yes, it is all weirdly reassuring.
We live in a time when in spite of itself, nature needs people. It may look funny in the present to imagine air traffic controllers diverting planes to save teeny turtles, says Mooallem. “But squint into the hazy panorama of history and those airplanes idling in place – that little moment of not moving forward – looks, unmistakably, like progress.”
Give yourself the gift of 30 minutes to listen and be moved by these stories.