— By Susan Eirich, Ph.D. —
The other day we watched footage from our trail cam on our wildlife corridor. Something flitted briefly across the screen as we looked for mammals, and someone said, “Oh, it’s just a bug…”
“Just a bug?” I exclaimed. “What do you mean, ‘just a bug’? They make the world go around! Without bugs, we are lost. And they are incredible! Have you ever seen the film Microcosmos? Well now you must—it will be a staff enrichment session. And they aren’t ‘bugs,’ they are insects—proper respect, please! No demeaning through language—we do that with too many life forms, including humans, and the result is the same, so—insect, please.”
(Even worse: because it was “just a bug,” she deleted that clip.)
I exclaimed, “Wait! It is part of the Life there! It is a huge deal to any bird who catches it or a flower it pollinated!” But it was too late.
I had wanted her to save the clip to share as an essential part of the Life of the corridor. (Poor woman is still looking for another insect to flit across the screen to make up for it.)
It is a constant stretching and learning for all of us—every day, ideally—as we discover the unending wonder of all life forms. This can be through books, films, talks—we have opportunities to learn about it all the time, any time we choose. The thing is that no matter what we uncover, it is only the tiniest bit of the magical universe we are born into as window after window opens into our understanding of how nature works.
Many (many) years ago as a little girl, I used the word “dirt” and my father reacted the same way to me. With an intensity I still remember vividly, he said, “It is not dirt—it is soil!” And the more we learn about soil, the more magical it is, too: billions of life forms in a teaspoon—life forms that support the trees and plants that support our own lives. (Getting passionate as I write this, I think I might make staff read the wonderful book Entangled Life about the wonder of fungi and how they, living out of sight, support and sustain nearly all living systems. As author Merlin Sheldrake says, “without fungal webs no plant would exist anywhere.”)
Scientists say that a single cell in our body is more complex than an entire state-of-the-art warship with all of its communications, engine, and myriad parts to make it work. And that is one cell of trillions in our body. When you look at the details of any insect, they are superbly designed and very very alive, even if—or maybe because—their life span is only one season. Then there are the incredible things they do for the ecosystem, of which our understanding has only scratched the surface. We do know that our food system would collapse without them.
We often do the same thing with plants. As an experiment in how we see, a plant scientist showed humans a picture 95% full of greenery with a human or mammal somewhere in it and the latter is all the people would “see.” All the rest was green background. Asked what was in the picture, they would name the human or mammal. Aieee! How do we help ourselves see more and drop our cultural blinders? It is an ongoing journey, but an essential one if we are to live successfully on our Earth. These life forms and systems are everywhere whether we see them or not; acknowledge them or not. We need to support them if we want to survive–and better yet, delight in them.
Anyone in the office who uses the word” bug” from now on will be assigned another book to read…
Dr. Susan Eirich is the Founder and Executive Director of Earthfire Institute Wildlife Sanctuary and Retreat Center. A licensed psychologist, biologist and educator, her goal is to widen the circle of conversation about conservation to include the voices of all living beings.
Microcosmos is a documentary filmed in 1996 that captures stunning images of the universe of insects usually invisible to us. According to a Rotten Tomatoes review,: “It may appear tiny to the human eye, but there is no denying that the insect kingdom — as captured by the filmmakers behind this documentary — is as dramatic, action-packed and beautiful as any other.” Available on Amazon Prime / Paramount + or DVD.