Tuesday, December 23, 2008

When Zero Isn't Nothing

I don't need to tell you that it's cold. Just look outside the window. Or go out there. This winter Dave and I have donned our arctic-certified North Face down-stuffed coats for the first time since we bought them 5 years ago. In the week, the temperature has flirted with zero six times.

But we are the lucky ones. In an increasingly snow-bound world (there's no apparent end to the storms lining up to dump on us.....) we can go inside at will, stand by the fire, brew up a cup of hot chocolate, and sleep warmly at night.

Yesterday the dogs and I went for a romp in the snow. Kyla--the ever-optimistic border collie -- led the crew, bounding over a snowy lump of sagebrush, and disappearing into a deep swale of drifted snow on the other side. We dusted ourselves off, made doggy snow-angels, got in the pickup, and 4-wheeled it home.

Not everyone, or all creatures, have this luxury. On the drive home, I noticed the birds, hunkered down and miserable, clustered together on branches and phone lines. There were a few rabbit tracks. Not much else. Despite my vows to economize this year, to spend no unnecessary funds, I found myself at Bi-Mart, plunking down the $20 bill I'd been hording for a special occasion, to buy a bird feeder, bird seed, suet block, and suet cage. This morning the birds who have found it are a bit happier and so am I.

The winter chill means hard times for wildlife--part of the winnowing process, but a sad one, made especially difficult by our diminishment of wildlife habitat, and intrusion of what little is left. Our snowy walk yesterday was taken at Yarrow--an un-inhabited subdivision stymied by the mortgage crisis and local crashing economy, where pavement and development in the ironic pose of "greeness" has pushed ever farther into wild places at the edge of town. Where will the jackrabbits and coyote move once the economy recovers and people, dogs, and cars inhabit the place?

Zero is something. Not only in diminished temperatures, and diminished habitat, but in diminished economic resources to protect habitat, and rescue creatures in need--humans as well as wildlife. That $20 was well-invested. But it also means no treat of a lunch for two at the local, organic foods restaurant/bakery that needs the business, no $20 donation to the local food bank. The local economy is thinner, and zero is a significant number. For all of us.


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