Friday, June 12, 2009

The World Without Us

She looks harmless, doesn't she? Well, maybe a little wary. Alan Weisman would say we were wrong.

The Pampered Predator

...few will admit that about one-third of all households, nearly everywhere, harbor one or more serial killers. The villain is the purring mascot that lolled regally in Egyptian temples and does the same on our furniture, accepting our affection only when it pleases, exuding inscrutable calm whether awake or asleep (as it spends more than half its life), beguiling us to see to its care and feeding.

Once outside, however Felis silvestris catus drops its subspecies surname and starts stalking as it reverts to being F. silvestris -- wild cat -- genetically identical to small native wildcats.... Although cunningly adapted over a few thousand years to human comforts, ... domestic cats ... never lose their hunting instincts.

Possibly they sharpened them. When European colonists first brought them, American birds had never before seen this sort of silent, tree-scaling, pouncing predator ...

In the past half century as the world's human population doubled, the number of cats did so much faster. In U.S. Census Bureau pet figures, ...from merely 1970 to 1990, America's cat count rose from 30 million to 60 million. ...Various studies credit alley cats with up to 28 kills per year. Farm cats ... get many more than that. ... in rural Wisconsin, around 2 million free-ranging cats kill at minimum 7.8 million but probably upwards of 219 million, birds per year. ... Nationwide, the number likely approaches the billions. ...

Whatever the actual sum may be, cats will do very well in a world without the people who took them to all the continents and islands they didn't already inhabit, where they now outnumber and out-compete other predators their own size. Long after we're gone, songbirds must deal with the progeny of these opportunists that trained us to feed and harbor them, disdaining our hapless appeals to come when we call, bestowing just enough attention we feed them again.

The World Without Us

This excerpt is a good -- and relatively benign -- sample of Alan Weisman's extraordinary picture of how the world works, what the human species has done to very quickly change and unbalance it -- and what it would be like if we suddenly disappeared.

But of course we're not going to disappear. We're going to change the planet further while trying to deal with the processes we've set in motion.

And Weisman even offers a path that might enable our own predator species to live in some harmony with all the others. I'm not going to give it away: go read the book.

This is very much worth reading and pondering. Weisman contemplates human doom and life's relentless drive to spread itself in beautiful, understandable prose.

On this occasion, the object of her predation was a vase of tulips. But we still love her.


Darlene said...

I am ambivalent about having a cat as a pet. My mother and I lived my early years with my grandparents. My grandmother hated cats because they killed the song birds, which she loved. Therefore my early impressions of the feline species was not good.

Until my daughter was a teenager we always had dogs. She was given a cute kitten and I learned to hate that cat. She clawed my furniture, brought us gifts of dead birds, and left hair all over.

Later my daughter rescued three more kittens (two from the shelter where they were to be euthanised the next day) and one tiny newborn from a car wheel. That tiny newborn was the most adorable cat and I learned to love her. She was so sweet and graceful. My perception of cats changed radically and I now love some cats.

Your cat is beautiful and I am sure I would love her.

naomi dagen bloom said...

Important to contemplate, Jan. Only wish the promo would include some women's voices, maybe Rebecca Solnit; we have much to say about man's relationship to the earth.

Off to the less urban landscape on your coast...yours, naomi

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