We've hit our second real hot spell here in Vermont -- not as humid as the first one in early June, but longer, as it has lasted several days now and is projected to continue through the weekend. It reminds me why I so dread the coming of summer: heat, mosquitoes, blinding sun, allergens making any exposed skin itch when I'm in any area with much vegetable growth (like, say, our backyard). Now is the time when I abandon any foolish notions I had during the spring of intentional gardening, and just let the yard become whatever the weather, efforts of spouse and kids, and profligate growth of weeds and wanted plants alike will make of it. Life takes whatever niches it is given, and fills them as full as it can. Crabgrass has already buried my nice stone path on the front corner of the lawn.
Despite the heat, I actually had a pleasant morning today with S, while his older sister was at soccer camp. We went down to the big municipal beach on Lake Champlain before it was open to car traffic; there were a few stray campers from the nearby campgrounds, but we pretty much had the beach to ourselves. S made ephemeral art of sand and driftwood -- we had watched "Rivers and Tides" last week, and S was so taken with the Scottish artist Andy Goldsworthy, who makes art installations out of materials he finds on the land, that he was in fact repeating phrases from the movie as he walked around the beach. "I am giving it to the sea," he announced proudly at one point, though the tide of the lake was unlikely to swallow his pieces of driftwood balanced against each other in the same dramatic fashion as the Atlantic enclosing Goldsworthy's stone cone, or carrying off his monster beaver house. No, S's driftwood sculpture from this morning is more likely to be simply knocked down by the waves of children and adolescents that swarmed the beach once the SUVs and camp buses were allowed to drive down into the parking lot.
While S constructed, I read about Antarctica. In the summers, the cold seas around Antarctica are abundant with untold billions of living things, but they are clustered into only a relative handful of species, each one filling one of the few niches that the stark environment allows for life. The blue whales, largest animals on earth, sit atop a three-step food chain: algae photosynthesize the sun's energy, krill eat the plankton, whales eat the krill. Or used to sit atop, before the expansion of commercial whaling into the Antarctic in the early 20th century. Harvesting of the huge rorqual whales in the Southern Ocean was no heroic adventure, no contest with the universe. The whalers of the nineteenth century, throwing harpoons into the much smaller right whales from small boats, were simply no match for these huge beasts; only with the coming of mechanized harpoons, complete with explosive devices, and floating factories to process the blubber into oil, did the killing of blue and fin whales become possible, let alone profitable.
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The other night, as we sat by the lake drinking beer and feeding mosquitoes, a friend asked me if I thought the world's ecosystem would be done any great harm if we could find some way to simply eliminate that species. I have no formal knowledge of the life sciences beyond 9th grade biology, but I suspect that ecosystems are complex beyond human understanding, that the ultimate effects of any given action are simply impossible to predict. Heat, humidity and mosquitoes, I suppose, must just be lived with.