I literally spent the last daylight hours of the year hiking. I had a spot in mind with a broad view of Mount Diablo, and catching the last rays of red 2006 sun as they lit it up in alpenglow, and I left too late. Two months ago I could have hiked three miles and 1400 feet of climb in half an hour, but not today. I gave up two-thirds of the way there, took a small single-track path I’d never hiked before into the darkening woods.
My life started here in these V-shaped cañons clothed in oak and resinous bay, rotting logs like bridges over the seasonal streams. 2007 marks 25 years since I started walking in the California Coast Ranges, the two decades and change I spent before that mere prologue. Coyote brush and miners lettuce and milk thistle sprout from soil so aerated, so full of humus it gives six inches beneath my feet.
This year saw me harden. I am an order of magnitude more misanthropic than I was a year ago, more persuaded that despite our art and cleverness we are an investment the planet should not have made. It is too late now, of course, for second-guessing that gamble. It is too late for a lot of things: for the baiji and the black rhino, for Lohachara Island and the Ellesmere ice shelf, and our victories consist of slowing the rate of devastation a trifle, of finding occasional lone and hopeless survivors of species declared extinct a bit too soon. We read of the devastation and cluck in shame to ourselves and have another 200,000 babies each day. Children are our future. Each and every one of them the future. A bleak future indeed for all but rats and pigeons.
And for the coyotes. The coyotes will survive almost anything we might do to this world: that is solace. They sang to me tonight as I walked downhill in darkness. This was a good year: among the swelling billions of pestilential humans are a few dozen cherished friends. This year saw me soften: I am a little more hopeful than I was a year ago, more persuaded that some of us might see past the petty bickerings among minor subgroups within one species in five million, might rise past our superficial, transitory divisions to stop the damage to the planet we depend on. It is a long shot still.
Ecology is a science that can wreak inner transformations on the scientist: it demands sensitivity to variable conditions, and one learns that adherence to ideology in the face of contravening facts is the mother of unintended consequences. Patriots, or Christians, or radical feminists, Marxists or Theorists or Libertarians or misanthropes, racists or progressives, we determine our opinions by whether they fit the labels we apply to ourselves, but there are more people now who turn that on its head. Some of us are listening for the coyotes. Some of us look to learn what is instead of determining what must be. We are in a small minority, but we are more than we were. Night-walking the forest, one places each foot with deliberation. Counting on the rhythm of your stride will pitch you off the edge.