Skipper Butterfly“For years and years I struggled
just to love my life. And then

the butterfly
rose, weightless in the wind.
“Don’t love your life too much,” it said,

and vanished
into the world.”

Excerpt from ONE OR TWO THINGS by Mary Oliver

I watch the tiny, nut-brown Winter Wren, hopping from branch to branch in the bushes near the feeder. I love him because he’s no bigger than one of those walnuts dropping from the tree. Because my sightings of him are rare, other than the numerous sparrows quarreling over the food I put out. I love him because he’s tiny, elusive, and fragile.

He will not live long. Either his life force will burn quickly, like a bright flame, or the Sparrow Hawk who delights me with his daily visits will snap him up. Some of my friends mourn every life that passes. And yes, it would make me sad to find his tiny body, lifeless on the ground. But all beautiful, delightful things are transient. And do we love them less because they leave us too quickly?

But my sorrow and anger grow fierce when I think that his sort might disappear. How can something this fragile survive our stupidity and greed? Do the people who deny the truth of climate change and the tragedy of the destruction of natural habitats delight in the sight of the tiny wren? Or the fragile essence of the butterfly among the grasses? I don’t think so, or they would think twice about what the human race is doing to this planet.

Even the hubris behind our well-meaning interventions can be the source of tragedy. Recently, I learned that ornithologists believe that, by erecting artificial nest poles to stimulate the return of the Osprey in North America, we created Osprey over-population. Ospreys no longer build natural nest defenses. As a result, the Bald Eagle, who returned from almost-extinction on his own, has started invading Osprey nests and snatching chicks.

This will probably continue until the balance is restored and the Ospreys learn to defend their nests against predation. And, in the meantime, individual nest tragedies will continue to occur. We will love the small, vulnerable chicks and mourn their passing.

In this case, I do believe the balance will be restored. But some life on Earth is too fragile for this. The list of species that become extinct grows longer and longer. Wildlife photographer Joel Sartore started his Photo Ark project to document endangered species, living in zoos.

“The god of dirt
came up to me many times and said
so many wise and delectable things, I lay
on the grass listening
to his dog voice,
crow voice,
frog voice; now,
he said, and now,
and never once mentioned forever,

which has nevertheless always been,
like a sharp iron hoof,
at the center of my mind.“

Excerpt from ONE OR TWO THINGS by Mary Oliver

Let us stop trying to create the world in our own image and start learning to love fragile, transient things.



  1. Too often, we only look at what nature can do for us: be it food, beauty, a place to rest, clothing …. Never do we look at nature and just let it be what it is for it’s own sake.
    thanks for these thoughts, Maddi, and the beautiful poetry.

  2. Mary-Lou Gillette

    Dear Maddi,
    Your words express so well, the sadness so many of us feel about human presence on this earth. It is horrifying to watch what is happening and to think that for most of us, we will not live long enough to even see a noticeable improvement in our stewardship of this beautiful planet. I view every interaction I have with nature as a gift and honor it with a silent prayer and hope for its survival.

  3. My friend from Switzerland just sent me an email. She told me the forest close to her house has been cut down. She was so upset. I am, too. I have been there enjoying the serenity and peace of this place. The homes of how many animals might have been destroyed ? I don’t know. When will people stop destroying the natural habitats of other creatures?

  4. Global warming, habitat loss, poaching, animals in danger of extinction. It makes me sad. I hope people will pay attention and start protecting our planet instead of harming it. Life is too precious.. all life, human & animal.

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