Joe and Michael, two wise and wonderfully enthusiastic retired entomologists from the University of Illinois, came to our Priorat farm 12 years ago. They set traps in four remote places on the Serra de Llaberia, seeking to catch one species of fly.
You are most welcome, we said. We have plenty of the little bastards through the summer and into the fruiting of autumn. Take as many as you want. And they did, sitting for hours at the kitchen table sifting, find just one specimen among the great pile.
How many kinds of fly are there, you may well ask? We did. We have seen enough over the years, as have we all, to know they come in such a variety of shapes, hues and sizes (all equally annoying and vile).
Well, there are, or rather were, almost 100,000 known species of fly.
I cannot define the number exactly, for two reasons. We humans have never managed to get close to identifying them all, and, secondly, we may never do so because they are disappearing at an apocalyptic rate.
If you haven’t read the February reports on insect decline you need to.
A complex compilation of more than 70 scientific projects on diminishing insect numbers around the world concludes with a simply stunning fact – more that 40% of species are threatened with extinction. To put that into context, it is eight times faster than the already deeply alarming loss of mammal, bird, and reptile species.
It is yet another pointer to the rapid collapse of the eco-system on which all life depends. It is the fragile food chain, pollination, the recycling of death into new life, of waste into nutrients and the circle of existence. And, yes, there can be little doubt that we, the all-knowing, don’t-like-it-so-squidge-it bulls in the china shop, are directly responsible with our unsustainable intolerance of inconvenience, our vanities and our bizarre and accelerating attitude that the natural world is another order of which we are not part.
Boy, are we a piece of work. The insane human preoccupation with self is coming to a head. Apologies for the shock tactic, but we will be over before we have barely begun, taking everything with us.
Brutal histories, the dynasties now dust, ages of enlightenment that fade and flare, the relentless oscillating of wildly varying beliefs and causes, almost generational and frequently shattering – are truths we constantly revisit. Yes, Mad.
Life is so alarmingly fluid. Anything set in stone is never for ever. What matter beyond all, we all instinctively know, of course, are peace and living in harmony with each other and all other living things.
With talk of the onset of another mass extinction on miracle Earth we obsess about ourselves, our pride, our wrestling with the animal within us, the confoundingly unlimited capacities we have for curiosity, kindness and harm.
Sometimes it is very hard to fathom who or what is on trial. The fact is we all are.
PS In an attempt to do something, I am racing to understand how little I know, while trying to remember it is never too late. It matters a great deal, for example, that I thought I had a relatively deep appreciation of trees and their significance, that I knew enough. In that sentence I have summed up how stupid and small I am. There are more than 60,000 species of tree. Read their life stories and how they communicate, a wonderful odyssey .
Then plant one.