I take the commuter rail into Boston a couple times a week, then catch the subway and walk to work. It’s a nice way to get to town without frustrating traffic and allowing me the time to read and catch up on email. I notice so many people, like me, focusing on their smart phones and books that it made me realize something. In most healthy non-human environments (forests, plains, mountains, etc) there is too much other stuff going on to walk around with your head down. Birds, reptiles, insects, flowers, fungi, deer, trees, landscapes and many other actors draw the walker’s attention away from him or herself and to the world around. This must be a learned trait of survival, being aware of one’s surroundings enough to find food, seek shelter and avoid danger. But in a city, awareness is not so important. The city is an entirely human-centric habitat. Trees, shrubs and flowers are enclosed by rock and concrete planters, animals are few and adapted to live off our trash. Not much happens in this world. It’s like a blank environment only capable of transmitting human-to-human information. You will not stumble upon a mountain lion eating a fresh deer kill in back bay. You will not discover a new creek full of trout in JP. You will not lose yourself in wonder watching a pair of foxes hunt together around Harvard Square.
It is a desert of biodiversity. Very few activities happen in the desert since very few different species can sustain themselves there. Similarly, with little food and clean water available, few creatures aside from humans can survive in the city. Is the lack of inter-species drama what drives us nose first into the palm of our hands? Or, with the more convenient and well advertised advent of handheld technology have we forgotten to look up and notice that the wildlife have left us?
Sure, many say that so much happens in the city. So many people talking with each other, eating together, having drama. But in my little chicken community there is real drama, only not sensed by most humans. My rooster, Petit Monsieur, is currently fighting with his heir apparent, young Barred Rock. Rock’s father was killed by Petit last summer, only a week before he hatched. Now the two are engaged in a blood feud over who will rule the harem, giving Rock the chance to avenge his father’s death. Meanwhile the hens are forced to ally themselves with their current monarch or to defect to the younger rebel’s side. Petit has the advantage of experience and 3-inch talons, but young Rock is bigger and just coming into his prime. All the while the common enemy, Mr. Fox, is ever present at the gates, temporarily enjoining the two clucks in common defense of the flock. They don’t speak english, but it’s obvious when you spend time with them that this feud is for real, and more drama than even Downton Abbey can conjure.