Monday, February 13, 2012

A Cause for Concern

There are things, I believe, that should disturb us. An ad for Louis Vuitton, for example, showing Bono and Ali (his wife) with their LV bags, having recently alit from a small plane in what I assume is the Serengeti Valley in Tanzania. They are alone. She looks watchful in her silk blouse—there are, after all, lions and hyenas in the Serengeti not to mention harmful insects and elephants. He is standing in what can only be called a Christopher Columbian pose, scanning the horizon, guitar case in hand and inevitable dark glasses shielding his eyes from the harsh African sun.  He’s dressed rather warmly for the occasion, adorned with a long red scarf—what others might call a muffler—in case a blizzard strikes.

The ad is delusional in so many ways that it verges on the grotesque, and I wonder what its creators want us to assume. That the Bonos travel light? That they’re there for a concert? That we should emulate the look and the expenses involved in flying the couple to a remote place for a photo shoot? Or is it that the bags will transform us into responsible rock stars capable of saving a continent from its own self-destruction… Personally, I like Louis Vuitton. When in Bangkok in the 1990s, I purchased a full set of LV bags for $125.

More disturbing, and far more serious than the posing of a singer and his spouse, is the disappearance of box turtles from the east coast. I am entirely serious here.

Back when I first came to the States, the yellow and black box turtle was both ubiquitous and delightful.  They were everywhere, and it was impossible to go for a walk or hike through the Maryland woods without encountering a slew of these gentle creatures. Every back yard had one or two. The Post brothers, six hooligans of varying ages who lived next door to us, had discovered that one could drill a tiny and painless hole at the edge of a  turtle’s shell, slip a string through it, and essentially leash the animal. I remember setting up a posse of small boys who thought this was wrong. We crept into the Post yard at dawn and freed all their captive reptiles, sniping the strings and depositing the turtles back into the woods. This may have been one of the first at of eco-rebellion in the Washington area.

Box turtles are hardy creatures. Potential natural predators can’t break through their carapace; they can live to be 50 years old and it was thought until recently that 98 percent of them managed to survive from year to year. 

The turtles are vanishing because an animal disease called ranavirus has run rampant, killing both reptiles and amphibians. Salamanders and tadpoles are falling prey as well as turtles in the Delmarva (Delaware, Maryland and Virginia) area, and scientists are worried about the potential ramifications on the rest of the environment. The ranavirus can kill a turtle in as little as four days, and empty a pond of tadpoles in a week.
The disappearance of the salamanders and tadpoles has a seriously deleterious effect on the immediate ecology of an area. Without these small amphibians, insects flourish.  Ponds become lifeless and the food chain among animals is disrupted as creatures used to feeding on the amphibians—birds and mammals—must find new sources of nourishment. The frog population vanishes.

At this point, there’s nothing we can do to stop the ranavirus. Scientists who have been tracking its effect on the animal population report that diseases of this nature normally die out of their own.

Which is more than you can say for Louis Vuitton ads…

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