The Oriole in the Coal Mine

Trees are boundaries. They are creatures of the air, but are anchored to the soil. Most birds are like that, too. Many put their nests up in the sky, supported by trees. They even ride the wind. Many even use unnatural materials to weave their nests, as the orioles did when they wove the nest below.


To them, all materials are natural, even this invasive Chinese elm tree. Other than sheltering this pair of orioles, it really does very little else in the ecosystem. But what is this ecosystem? Why, a collection of insects that have managed to adapt to human landscaping, as these orioles have done, and a collection of fruits and flowers planted by humans for their own aesthetic enjoyment.

P1580125 Cherry Tree Converted Into a Collection of Leaf-Sprouting Logs

(In back of the tortured juniper)

If humans did not go in for beauty big time, there would be no orioles now.

P1580210 Apple Tree Cared for by an Eighty-Year Old Man

Time ticks.

That, however, is only a short term effect.  In my community of houses, most of them 45 years old, built on an old orchard, most of the fruit trees are abandoned. They won’t last long.

P1570697 The Cherry Tree in the Foreground Has Not Been Pruned for Five Years. 

Tick, tick, tick, tick…

New houses plant sterile plants that do not feed animals or birds, or even are just surrounded by gravel, with a bit of artistically arranged driftwood and maybe a shrub or two, without room for orioles.

P1570930 The Newest Landscaping on the Block.

This is 90% of the entire green space of the housing plot. Note the rocks. They rest on sheets of plastic, to keep things from growing there.

The orioles will soon not come back. That’s nature, we’ll say. No, it’s not. It’s this.

This is nature now.

p1620979And this.


New Landscaping, Wrapped to Keep out Deer

The kicker is that orioles are more beautiful than elm trees, gravel, golf-course inspired low-maintenance landscaping, or driftwood. How did we, the artists, allow beauty to become the agent of death, on our watch? We are the orioles. What’s next for us?

7 replies »

    • Interesting thought, Brian. Might it be because nature and contemplation of decline are both romantic concepts, living out their own trajectories? Hmmmm…. thanks for making me think.


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