I walk in the evening before the Worm Moon, the full spring moon that draws earthworms from the soil to wriggle in the damp forest floor. Spring is here, pale moonbeams whisper to the forest floor dwellers.
The trees, too, have heard the news. Red buds blossom in magenta blushes of petal; wisteria winds itself around branches, sprinkling the forest in green and lavender mist.
It is not the leaf-rain of autumn, nor summer’s blanket humidity, nor winter’s endless, cold fog. It is the world budding — mists and wisps of life emerging.
The robins carry nesting twigs in their beaks, inchworms dangle from branches, petals fall like snow from flowering trees. I only wish I could paint the Earth as it returns.
Dusk falls in the forest, the sky an afterglow of purple. Frogs begin to sing, barking their full-throated call, crying out from the creek-beds the rains filled yesterday. A bat flies erratic loops above. I stop and listen to the music of spring peepers, whose high-pitched peeps mimic chirping birds. The tiny frogs are no bigger than a paperclip, and yet they fill the whole forest with sound.
“Listen. Breathe Earth’s wild music into your body. You are not alone. Here is the harmony of which you are a part. Your joy is the exhalation of birds…The depth of your feeling is the depth of time. Your longing is a spring chorus of frogs,” Kathleen Dean Moore writes in Earth’s Wild Music.
Listening in the forest, I forget that the spring chorus of frogs is fading, that frog populations are rapidly dwindling. Amphibians are the world’s most endangered class of animals with extinction rates about 45,000 times higher than the background rate, according to Elizabeth Kolbert’s The Sixth Extinction.
Living along the thin line between land and water, frogs’ thin and permeable skin easily absorbs both moisture and toxins. Frogs’ spring songs signal a healthy ecosystem. A polluted or degraded environment leads to a silent spring – not Rachel Carson’s spring robbed of birdsong, but a spring without frog calls. The loss of frogs is a warning of more losses to come.
While the spring peepers I hear in March and April evenings thrive in the eastern U.S., the little frogs are still threatened by the clearing of wetland and forested habitat, and their populations are decreasing in some places. 13% of North Carolina’s 96 species of frogs, toads, and salamanders are in danger of being lost, while globally more than 40% of amphibian species are at risk of extinction.
In response to amphibian collapse, North Carolina artist Terry Thirion created the Disappearing Frogs Project in 2013. By 2014, more than a hundred artists contributed frog-inspired paintings, sculptures, and photography to raise awareness. “Art has the unique power to communicate truths and inspire people to action,” she writes on her website. I think many artists would agree.
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Last week, I helped launch the Enviro-Art gallery. Hearing our guest artists speak, I realized that we must create amidst collapse. For while art may not stall the landslide loss of species, I think art can effectively guide attention to environmental crises, capturing the beauty and fragility of what we stand to lose. I think of Courtney Mattison, who sculpts ceramic pieces of coral, creating intricate installations that communicate coral bleaching. Her coral works spiral from life in color to skeletons, to the ghostly worlds of climate change. I think also of Judith and Richard Lang, a couple that walks the same stretch of beach every day, collecting plastic to create provoking images and installations that capture the cost of consumer culture. I think of Annea Lockwood, who captures the songs of rivers. I think of Jill Pelto, who creates watercolors with climate data. Seeing and listening to all of their art, humans’ impact on the planet strikes me as more tangible than a fact or figure can express.
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In the Anthropocene, in this time of climate change and mass extinction, we must make music, art, sculptures, installations, and films to document our loss and to hold hope for what is left.
For “what is left––that’s what the world will be made of,” Kathleen Dean Moore writes. And we are all, in some way, creative.
We are continually making and re-making the world around us. If we can focus our energy towards restoring the Earth, towards reimagining a world in which we create with the Earth, then I have hope. How else do we move forward?
Kendall Jefferys – Rachel Carson Council Presidential Fellow.
Kendall Jefferys is a Rachel Carson Scholar at Duke University and a dual major in Environmental Science and English. She initiated the RCC Coasts and Ocean Program. Ms. Jefferys has been named a Rhodes Scholar for 2021. [email protected]
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