Experience

I was out herping with a local old-timer, looping side-blotched lizards with dental-floss slipknots. Our goal was to capture at least three males. We captured seven lizards, all female. Some days are like that.

As he pointed out the orioles and phainopepla in the nearby oaks, he regaled me with stories about what the canyon used to be like. I asked him if the birding and herping used to be better when he was young. I’d heard so many times that one animal or another used to be common around here, but was getting hard to find. Forty years ago, it seemed to me, wild spaces must have been overflowing with life.

He thought for a moment. “Maybe,” he said. “I think we took it for granted.”

I’m only thirty, but already I’m building my own list of remember-when stories to tell my nieces and nephew. When I was your age, I’ll tell them, rocky beaches were covered in sea stars. This open scrubland used to be an oak forest. There used to be more than one kind of tree squirrel in Los Angeles.

The loss of experience is not the greatest tragedy of environmental destruction, but it’s the easiest to mourn. When you stand in the middle of a tree die-off and realize that the connections you made with nature as a child are gone and are never coming back.

Surely the experiences we have left are worth saving.

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