WRITER, ARTIST, Wildlife rehabilitator

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A witness to human damage

Photo: Red-tailed hawk on Long Island, New York. ©Erica Cirino

Photo: Red-tailed hawk on Long Island, New York. ©Erica Cirino

On a hike this morning, I pecked this note into my phone before a chance meeting with a hawk:
"What will deter us from using plastic & extravagantly abandoning it in nature, where we expect others to deal with our messes?"

"Others" include nonhumans, who bear the brunt of our irresponsibility, yet do not harm us humans. Before I ran into this beautiful red-tailed hawk, I had been internally grumbling about the amount of plastic I saw on the park's beach; the presence and growl of the tractor that was enlisted to clean up sun-seekers' messes by cumbersomely mowing through the beach's sand; and the trimmed, asphalt-encrusted, human-shaped landscape of the park, which has grown ever-more cultivated every time I visit. Nature, subdued.

I have gotten to know this park inside and out from my years of racing cross country there as a teen and never before has it looked so touched by human hands. I felt furious. But as soon as my eyes settled on the hawk, some of the anger melted away but it was quickly replaced by sadness. We occasionally talk about environmental justice when it comes to human communities (and there is still so much work to be done in this regard), but it's even more rare that we make reparations to nonhumans for our damages to nature. And that is truly heartbreaking.