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Saturday, June 22, 2013
After fireworks, wildlife rehabilitators experience an increase in orphaned birds, squirrels, and other small mammals.
on the effects of fireworks
I’m not a huge fan of fireworks.
Forgive me for spelling out that heresy here in a newspaper.
If you can’t, oh well. I would probably agree with any pro-fireworks counterpoints, and have already shot so many reproachful critiques through my own position that it’s riddled with holes and hard to defend.
At least, it would be if it were based on my personal likes or dislikes.
After all, I too would be a big fireworks fan if humans were the only species on the planet. Or if our species weren’t charged with thinking about the big picture. Or didn’t have ears to hear.
In fact, one thing I like about fireworks is their sparkly, ka-booming ability to throw us into a kind of deaf daze, a trance that keeps thinking at bay.
Fireworks have that spell-casting effect on me, particularly the cascades of fiery, pretty blues and greens, the ruby and gold sparkles floating down in the black night sky.
Maybe it triggers some primeval, matter-encoded memory of the original fireball, exploding the universe into being. After all, 13.7 billion years ago, when everything was one explosion, we didn’t have to think. It must have been great.
Not-thinking is lovely, in fact. It’s why I used to watch “The O’Reilly Factor” on FOX TV, a dozen or so years ago.
The station itself had a kind of mesmerizing fireworks dazzle; everything sparkled with brilliant wattage, glittering hair and money-talk — nothing so dull or troubled as old-growth trees or the problems of muddy river fish. One never had to feel sad — just assured, maybe angry at worst.
However, I began to realize my favorite commentators (“He’s just so cute,” I explained to friends) actually had a weirdly depressant effect, which finally inspired me to unplug the TV entirely, for good.
It caused a month of withdrawal symptoms, not because any substance was now missing , but because the formerly narcotized thought process began to reawaken, with all its disconcerting persistence.
Aristotle perceived that each species had a job in this cosmos — and the particular work of the “human animal” was to think: to understand and respond to the big picture. He said it was the only route to happiness.
But this was not the amusement-park, vacation-escape, ka-booming kind of happiness we figure desirable today. To think — beyond immediate appearances, into the big picture — is pure trouble at times.
This brings me back to those fireworks. Which I personally cotton to. But!
They are a huge problem for the animal kingdom.
I don’t just mean your dog, or everybody’s dog, or every stray dog and fox, house-cat and bobcat, rabbit, deer, field mouse and all those quiet creatures whose highly sensitive, twitching ears we can envision (if we just try), picking up on sounds our duller ears (half-deaf from human noise) can’t begin to detect.
Fireworks are extremely painful, dangerous and crazy-making to these creatures. Likewise other beings we rarely think about — the toads, frogs, owls, songbirds and shorebirds deeply sensitized to sound and dependent on that acute sense for survival.
David Noakes, a University of Guelph (Ontario) zoologist, has found that fireworks cause so much alarm and disorientation among birds, they will fatally slam into buildings or fly in a panic so far from shore, trying to escape human fireworks on beaches, they can’t complete the return trip, and drown at sea. All for no reason but some short-lived human entertainment.
Noakes’ colleague, Ian Duncan, livestock researcher and emeritus chair of animal welfare at Guelph, found that on days after fireworks activity, laying hens had difficulty producing eggs. Those they did produce were often malformed.
An outdoor-life website called “Backcountry Attitude,” besides warning against the banned toxins that arrive in gaudy, unregulated fireworks packages made in China, pleads that we give thought to these other creatures — and even to young human ears, because “fireworks can exceed 140 decibels and noise at 85 decibels or above can damage hearing.”
And “why celebrate by polluting?” Instead, the outdoor site encourages nature-lovers, birders, fishermen, backpackers and animal friends to consider numerous quieter, life-honoring ways to celebrate our upcoming “Independence” Day.
After all, one person’s loud, “independence-celebrating” explosions can destroy the freedom of countless other people with miserable pets and crying children.
They also unwittingly harm the humble wildlife species, whose quiet, faithful work on the planet helps make it possible for the thinking animal to be free.
Liza Field’s column runs every other Saturday in Extra.
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