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Public Radio's Environmental News Magazine (follow us on Google News)

All Fleas Considered

Air Date: Week of

Commentator Virginia Shepherd reflects on her environmental education which dictated that she value all biodiversity, even fleas.


CURWOOD: Commentator Virginia Shepherd has been doing her best to try and kill off members of an insect species that live a little too close to home. And in the process, she's developed a new appreciation of all God's creatures big and small.

SHEPHERD: Every night I find myself sitting on the floor, picking fleas off my dog, and exterminating each one by slow, soapy, death. I have no love for fleas. As the dominant species on the planet, we love to play judge, jury, and 'executioner.' We decide whether an organism, be it flea, rattlesnake, or spotted owl, has the right to survive. But should we judge? Once, while I was on a biology trip in the Florida Keys, a young naturalist, calling himself "Cosmos X," introduced my 65-year-old biology professor to, "a tarantula." Miss Sprague nodded her gray head approvingly, as Cosmos X detailed his lady spider's natural history. Later, Miss Sprague pondered the oddness of the young man's "name," but never did she question his close association with 'an arachnid.' For Miss Sprague, nothing in the natural world was to be judged. All species shared in her affections equally. Most of us are not so generous. We squash a few bugs, drown a couple hundred fleas, and mash a few uninvited crickets. We only really get ourselves into trouble when we start believing in our 'most omnipotent' selves. We think we can live as richly and well without some species, when, really, we need them all. Every spring, Miss Sprague marched her students into the woods to gaze upon skunk cabbage and cardinal flower. Wearing stockings and sandals, and always a dress, she would bend over and peer into the underbrush. "How satisfactory!" she would exclaim. We'd seen them all the spring before, but it was as if with each rediscovery, Miss Sprague satisfied herself that all was right with the world again. Where there was life, there was still hope. That's what's missing, you know. We're short on hope, because we found we're not so good at tinkering with this old world, after all. Perhaps we should sit back, and learn to marvel at our world, instead. But it's not going to be easy. I, for one, am not at all sure I can, "Marvel at a flea!?" Oh, Miss Sprague, you've got to be kidding!

CURWOOD: Commentator Virginia Shepherd lives in Harrisonburg, Virginia. She comes to us via member station W-M-R-A.



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