This spring I planted six rows of sweetcorn enthusiastically looking forward to the fresh ears roasting over charcoal (peel the husks backs but don’t remove them, check for corn ear worms, replace the husk and soak them overnight in water so the husks don’t catch on fire on the grill). For several weeks I waited for the little green “bunny ears” to break the surface of my red clay. After a couple weeks, I began to wonder but hesitated to watch a planted corn kernel fearing it might be much like a watched pot never boiling. One morning I noticed some small holes next to all my planted corn seed. Something had gotten them all and at first I thought crows had come along and pulled the small green shoots out as they are prone to do…but then I said “What Shoots?” because there had been none. Small solace, I was relieved to know my plastic bobble headed horned owl on the fence post hadn’t failed. Eventually I determined that small pocket mice had set up housing in my garden…and as soon as I planted a seed of any kind, at night they’d dig it up and eat it. I figured out how to work around these little thieves (humanely without traps or poison – you just have to be smarter than the mouse), but my five rows of corn turned to one and I might have gotten ten good ears which I relished.
Some might ask “Why didn’t you just go to the farmer’s market and buy some fresh corn?” But just eating corn was never the point. It was the challenge and joy of growing the garden for today that I was after. The calming effects that tilling the soil, removing rocks, and adding fertilizer and organic matter, all have on me. And so this BLOG is about how focusing on the end game may not always be the best approach to what we do. It’s so easy in life to develop a defeatist attitude if we cannot see an end we can reach. As with little things like trying to justify planting corn if the end result is not bushels of corn, why bother? The attitude quickly spreads to bigger and bigger things. And if you are not careful you might conclude “why bother to do anything at all.”
Thus it is with quail recovery. One could easily say after all the years we have poured our heart and soul into quail, we still have not “brought them back.” At least not across their entire range, or an entire state. So why bother? I guess that means that the thousands of landowners we have helped, many of who now do have quail, or more songbirds, or fields of butterflies was just a waste of time. Because…someday those acres might all be gone to other uses. And on and on it goes.
When I began my career I thought we could change the world, and quickly. We would strike up an army of quail-it-teers, and quailologists, and quailiticians and we would “bring them back” in ten years, fifteen, twenty five maybe…but we would succeed on a grand scale. In that zeal I often forgot about the moment I was in, especially with landowners…since they were all just a means to an end. Thus as fast as I began a new project, one behind it fell apart. As any corn plant knows without water and attention the hot summer sun will wilt a stalk and yield will be nothing. Encouragement and follow-up is the water for wildlife projects. And if we reconsider our approach, and help every landowner we can, and stay with them as they call us for advice over the years. And praise their work and encourage them to continue, over time all these “now moments” add up. And if we work today, and then tomorrow and then the next with a commitment to quality, one day we might wake up to find quail doing better in an section of a county, or on a Wildlife Management Area we have worked on for years. We might also find that we have created critical habitat for quail, or grouse, or red-cockaded woodpeckers, or monarch butterflies that will serve to support source populations when positive landscape scale effects occur that we may have never foreseen. Not to mention along this journey all the deer, rabbits, bears, turkeys, small mammals and songbirds we have helped…as there are very few examples of single species habitats.
There is nothing wrong with planning ahead, in fact it is a must. But don’t forget that the here and now is important, too. I am here today, at this hour, in this moment and it matters. I will do with my whole heart in this second and the next what needs to be done. The past is gone, the future is unclear but I have now. Now I have woodcock that use the small patch of cover I manage. Now I have a bird dog that loves today. Now I can still walk the hills. Today I can help someone who wants to help wildlife. Never underestimate the power of now.
This BLOG is dedicated to all those who sacrificed years, blood, sweat, tears and some… their lives… in Afghanistan to buy twenty years of hope for so many…and to have also sown the seeds of change that may not find the full sun for decades. The sacrifices you made were not in vain. Fall is just over the hill from us. Please endeavor to enjoy today more and worry about tomorrow less.