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  • Glenn Sonnenberg

Musings from the Bunker 12/8/20

Good morning,

Here are we, in the midst of a tighter lockdown due to our inability to control our behaviors and, thereby, the virus…and forcing us into a little more “at home time.”

The pandemic has forced us inward in many ways, even before government-mandated lockdowns. We are restricted to our homes more, go out less, put less mileage on our cars, don’t travel to faraway places. Some have rarely gone back to the office, working from a den or a bedroom or a yard. After years of expanding globalization, things have gone in reverse. In many ways our world has gotten smaller. It is almost as if we now live in a self-contained “terrarium” of our own creation, with limited exposure to the world outside.

I’m sure most of us remember learning about ecology in elementary school and how a small biosphere can be created in a large bowl by any enterprising student. My sister and I were no exception. We put small seedlings, planter mix and some water in a large bowl, stretched some Saran Wrap across the top (to help replicate the water cycle) and perched the terrarium on the kitchen counter, where it could get lots of sunlight. For several weeks we watched the seedlings grow. In the late 1980s some scientists decided to take the terrarium example to a new extreme in order to discover how humans could exist for long periods of time on the Moon or Mars. People voluntarily chose to live for months at a time in self-contained environments in the Arizona desert, in an effort to replicate how space colonies could be created and maintained.

So back to the small local “terrarium” in which we now live. First, for those of us with roofs over our heads, food on the table, and some space to spread out and take walks, it isn’t such a bad place to be—at least for the short term. In this terrarium, with less travel and movement, with less of the sensory overload of the modern urban environment, I feel my senses are more keenly aware to the happenings in the immediate environs, employing enhanced sensory perceptions.

I have noticed how the change in the earth’s tilt from season to season throws sunlight in a slowly changing arc across our yard each day. Of course, this phenomenon is not news (we witness it each year, after all!), but I now find myself focused on the extent of the shadows and the sun’s lower station in the sky on a daily basis. And while I’ve always known that hummingbirds live in our yard, I am now focused on the foliage they prefer. The birds’ nests in the bougainvillea were a center of activity in the Spring when the chicks had hatched. Now I see that they are off and grown and the area has grown quieter. Some birds still maintain their posts and the daring squirrels dart across the yard or the roof in search of food. I’m glad the mosquitos left in October and I dread their return. I am bummed there is the occasional rat but, then again, it is we who are encroaching; they were here first.

The other day, I saw several dead bees in our yard. And this got me thinking about the larger “terrarium” in which we live, a globe of rock and water that travels millions of miles a year through a lifeless void. On it are contained the entirety of our known world—everyone that is alive and the remains of all who have once lived. Every natural resource we consume, every element, bacterium, microbe—everything, is traveling along with us on this regular circumnavigation of the sun. Sure, there is talk of mining asteroids or the moon or even Mars, but the speed of light and the limitations of human life and endurance suggest that, while we may make a dent in the cosmos, it won’t open up quite as has been imagined in science fiction.

What we have is right here. What we are ever going to have is right here. Those dead bees remind me that nature is fighting a war on the bee population worldwide. Through our actions and inactions, these pollinators of much of what mankind consumes are stressed. And there are no more “where they came from.”

I walked back into the house and put some oatmeal on the stove. The familiar blue flame of natural gas emerged with the turn of a handle. I realize that this substance, while not living, also has a limited lifespan; it is finite. Through the miracle of human ingenuity, we have poked straws in the Earth’s crust and are extracting this substance that is seemingly inexhaustible, providing us a relatively clean source of energy. And yet, while these straws will dig deeper and wider, continuing to provide us with this miraculous source of power, they will continue until they can dig no deeper or wider; it must end. There is a limit to the amount of biological detritus that the Earth can provide us. When it’s gone, it’s gone.

And so I sit back and contemplate the “big terrarium” in which we live. It’s all here. What we have is all that we will have. How we maintain it and nurture it will dictate its continued health and viability.

So back to Gale’s and my terrarium back in Anaheim, With attention and nurturing, the plants inside lived and flourished for a while. Occasionally, we would “sneak” some water in to keep it going a little longer. Eventually, as children are wont to do, we were distracted by something else and moved on from our experiment. The plants in the terrarium died. Perhaps an important metaphor for the cost of our being distracted from maintaining this precious terrarium in which we live.

This next round of sheltering in place will be no picnic. Yet we will enjoy the simpler pleasures, the warmth of the sun, the brisk evenings, the turning of the leaves, the sounds of birds, the barks of dogs, and the ever persistent leaf blower… I will focus on enjoying the nature around us in this most marvelous terrarium and look forward to the next round of “reopening.”


PS: Today is the day states by which states are supposed to have certified their elections and deliver their elector lists for the Electoral College meeting next week…Until this year, this was a date of little consequence; in today's weird word, apparently every day is another step in the fight to maintain our democracy.

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