Years ago, at a “cosmic” breakfast with Zen Grandmaster Peter Matthiessen, I posited that a cigarette butt I spied on the then-pristine Galapagos island of Bartholomew was out of place and needed to be picked up.
Matthiessen countered that the butt was exactly where it was supposed to be and that any perceived disturbance was within me rather than on the ground. While I understood this familiar philosophical position, I argued then that I was also where I was supposed to be, and my impulse to do the right thing–pick up a piece of trash–trumped even the loftiest philosophy. We proceeded to explore how unbridled personal convictions could lead to bad things–the Holocaust, for instance–but despite my respect for Zen, I remain convinced that there are certain innate impulses that transcend intellectual positions.
This discussion has reared its interesting head again as South Florida endures a record-breaking cold spell the likes of which has not been seen for decades. The last time it was this cold, South Florida was, from the perspective of zoogeography, a bit of a different place; recent years have seen an influx of non-native animals, many of them cold-sensitive reptiles. These creatures–Cuban Knight Anoles and green iguanas among others–have become well established down here, so much so that iguanas are disdained for their primitive looks and omnipresent scat, while big anoles are avoided because they bite and prey mightily on smaller, native species.
This morning, on my way to the gym, I noticed a raft of these creatures lying on the ground beneath trees in my neighborhood. The vast majority of these were dead, frozen solid by the combination of persistent low temperatures and wind. Having been around reptiles all my life, I viscerally felt the agony of their struggle, the slow breakdown of their bodily systems, the inexorable loss of whatever level of consciousness they enjoyed. Truly, seeing so many die broke my heart.
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