Extract from Banksia – a Kangaroo’s Tale
“What is that?” It was Jessica, my four year old granddaughter.
“It’s a map. It’s where Granddad was with the kangaroos.”
“No it’s not. It’s a leaf, silly.” She was right. The cartographic shape of the Banksia Peninsula was like the leaf of a eucalypt, a landscape dangling from its petiole.
“That’s where I slept with the kangaroos,” I said, pointing to the map location in the upper Grassland Valley.
“Did you like sleeping with them? I sleep with my teddy.”
“I was just camped near them. I didn’t cuddle them.”
“Did they have babies?”
”Yes, there were little joey kangaroos.”
“Did you feed the babies?”
There was always another question. It reminded me of Sandy, always exploring, searching for knowledge. But it was amazing, thinking about it, that Sandy at four or five years was a young adult — forest wise, clever and observant. He was the leader of his mob while Jessica was still very much in the mother’s pouch stage. How different we are and how wrongly we measure wisdom.
At the time I was visiting Beth and the granddaughter before returning to the Banksia Peninsula. I had been relating some amusing anecdotes from my Banksia experience — like Sandy’s reaction to the mobile phone and his game with the trilobite fossil.
“You should write about it,” Beth said. “You’re good at making up little stories for the children. You could do it, you know. Tell that kangaroo’s story.”
“Maybe,” I replied without much conviction. “Somehow I don’t see it as a children’s story. It’s not all cuddly stuff out there in the natural world.”
“Neither is Red Riding Hood, or Robin Hood. Just don’t kill the hero, and it will be okay.”
But it wasn’t a children’s story buzzing around in my head that evening. Jessica’s quaint idea of the Banksia Peninsula as a ‘leaf’ provided a connection in my mind to the interesting idea of the Gaia hypothesis. I remembered reading about James Lovelock and thinking what a weird fantasy he was putting forward – viewing the whole of our miraculous planet as a single physiological system. But then as I refected about it, it made more sense. The geological structure, the soils, the oceans and the atmosphere, all could be viewed as interrelated functioning parts of a life sustaining complex entity, and in pursuing this idea, the Banksia Peninsula becomes just one leaf of the Earth tree — a small appendage of one huge organism that is, at this dramatic time in earth history, being placed under enormous stress by a plague of Homo sapiens and its clever but injurious technology.
Remember when you read this that many voices were speaking to me — being told how this plague has already wiped out hundreds of species and continues to reduce the biodiversity of the planet at an alarming rate. In another hundred million years time some intelligent being should be able to identify the evidence of this unfortunate era, evidence of mass extinctions left behind as detritus in the rock strata. When the trilobites became extinct about 300 million years ago there was no supreme species assuming it could somehow take control of evolution and forestall disaster. Nature simply adjusted to a changing environment and evolved on. But we humans think we are in control with limited awareness of the mess we are creating and so we continue down the path of ecosystem destruction. Maybe the super beings of the future – miracle working birds or brain enhanced macropods, will be able to look back in disgust at the great extinctions of our time, documenting the appalling lack of common sense shown by Homo sapiens — the species which was dominant during the mid Quaternary era.
Putting such reflections aside, I was forced to consider how healthy was this ‘leaf’ of the Earth I called Banksia and what was its medical history or the prognosis for its future? Clearly the ‘leaf’ was suffering from the stresses being placed on the whole of the ‘tree’. But it had evolved a certain independence and survived several minor attacks of the ‘plague’. Now how was it responding to the present human threat sparked when it was stung by a meteorite fragment? Would it mobilize its defences and strike back in its own way? Possibly it would. Projected human attacks would be rebuffed, resort developments scuttled, and the untainted wilderness character retained. The conservationists would like that. A win for the environment, it would be argued; but to what avail if the ‘tree’ itself gradually succumbs to the viral effects of Homo sapienza?