- On December 20, 2018
Have you ever heard the story about the little boy and the starfish?
It’s from a book called The Star Thrower by Loren Eiseley. Here’s the gist of the story as I remember it:
There’s an old man walking along the beach after a big storm. Far away he sees a young boy moving towards him, bending over every few steps to pick something up and toss it into the sea.
As he comes closer, the man sees that the boy is picking up starfish and throwing them back into the water. The turbulent waves of the storm left hundreds of starfish washed upon the sand.
The man comes upon the boy and asks, “What are you doing?”
“I’m putting these starfish back to the sea. Without water they will soon die.”
“But there’s hundreds and hundreds of starfish on the beach. How can you make a difference?”
The boy bends down, picks up another starfish and tosses it into the sea. “It makes a difference to that one.”
I just returned from a 2-week trip to Ecuador, a country of amazing natural beauty. We traveled from the sea-level port of Guayaquil through mountains higher than anything we have in the U.S., from cloud forest to active volcanoes, from the Amazon rain forest to the middle of the world at the equator. All the people we met along the way were very welcoming and friendly.
One of the more unusual experiences on our itinerary was an animal rehabilitation and reintegration center in the Amazon rain forest near Tena called AmaZOOnica.
Here, a few full-time staff and a crew of dedicated volunteers work to gently re-program animals to integrate back to the wild after they have had human contact (and sometimes faced abuse). It is work that requires much patience and finesse. Each monkey, bird, or big cat has different physical and psychological issues which have put their survival in the wild at risk. Small steps, one animal at a time, to restore the balance of nature.
Another interesting visit was the Cabañas San Isidrolodge and cloud forest reserve, 2 hours outside Quito. The lodge is home to dozens of hummingbirds and sits on a critical crossing zone and link between the two huge national parks which border it.
Sixteen years ago, this land had been clear cut and used for cattle grazing, leaving the native animals no way to move freely from one piece of terrain to another. Our host, Alejandro, told us the cattle land had been purchased to fulfill the Isidro vision to let it go “back to nature”. Indeed, on our walk of the property we observed many varieties of butterflies, birds, and a family of wild pigs moving over the ridge line. A diversity of nature that was not sustainable when it was fenced off cattle land.
Alejandro expressed the humble thought that in a tiny way they are providing balance in this little piece of the world.
The same week I was visiting these two places dedicated to restoring balance in our environment, the global climate change conference was meeting in Poland amid concerns that we are not doing enough to stem damage to our earth from human activity. The global issues of water, dynamic weather patterns, population, energy use, can seem overwhelming and too big to do anything about.
Yet, I had just witnessed two examples of committed individuals bringing balance to what they could control. Making a difference, one animal, one bush, one butterfly…one starfish…at a time.
When things feel complex and overwhelming, it’s easy to feel powerless, that you–one person–can’t make an impact.
But, look around…Which starfish can you save?
Photo: JMaliszewski, 2018, Butterfly at San Isidro nature reserve.