Harbingers of change visit St. Louis Park columnist
By Jim Vaughan – Guest Columnist
The world is constantly changing: our climate, our human population, animal populations and everything else. I don’t know why some of us are so afraid of change or deny change is happening, because it is and it does. Just imagine our world without change. I know I can’t.
In relation to my passion and job, the natural world has changed dramatically from when I was a wee tot (or as my son says, “When dinosaurs roamed the earth.”) Last week for example, my cat, who is an indoor cat, was going crazy jumping at the patio door only to find, upon investigation, an opossum standing on my deck, a foot from the window, staring at my cat.
Of course the opossum would not move until I opened the door and shooed it away; they don’t seem to be afraid of humans at all or perhaps don’t “get us.”
The funny thing is that the next week my wife and I were enjoying one of our warm fall evenings, sitting on our deck, inhaling the evening ambiance, when this critter starts slowing approaching our deck (which is only a foot off the ground).
This thing got to within inches of our deck before I, fearing we may have an undesirable encounter on the deck, had to get up off of my chair and charge it. At that point, it finally took note of me and quickly shuffled to the nearest shrub. This critter was another, or perhaps the same, opossum. Two opossums in two weeks!
If you have never seen an opossum in the flesh, you are not only lucky but you would never know how odd these critters are.
First off, they are an ugly marsupial, meaning basically, they look like a large rat and have a pouch for their young.
Second, opossums are typically found in the Southern Hemisphere or southern United States. Third, they are the most inefficient moving animal I have seen – they waddle more than they sprint or walk and are very slow; evolution has been kind to this critter excusing its ancient ways.
Now I know opossums have been around the Twin Cities for a few years, but my close encounter with this animal, twice in one week, symbolized dramatic change to me. Warmer and warmer weather trending for years has changed our natural environment, allowing organisms such as the opossum to survive and flourish here.
Opossums, mind you, are not alone in their quest to move north. Many aquatic species, such as big head carp, zebra mussels and earthworms as well as terrestrial species, such as buckthorn and oriental bittersweet, have or will have made Minnesota home. Unfortunately, there are too many of these “invasive “species already imbedded here.
I know climate warming is only one reason for invasive species onslaught, but change is still a constant; global trade, cheap and easy travel, technology and other human agents of change have facilitated introduction and movement of species and organisms (including the flu, viruses, other animals, plants, etc.) throughout our lives. The new norm seems to be faster change and adaptation (for all organisms – invasive and indigenous) or perish.
Change makes us not only gain things but lose things as well. Consider the boreal (evergreen) forest of northern Minnesota. Soon this biome will only be found in Canada as our summers and winters become warmer and drier. Or ponder our winters, where we’ve lost persistent and accumulative snow but gained longer falls and earlier springs; maybe this one isn’t such a loss.
I’ll never understand people who deny change … don’t they ever look in the mirror?
Jim Vaughan is St. Louis Parks environmental coordinator. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.