The missing one
essay and photo by Leonardo DeGorter
We make millions of people smile just by being ourselves. No makeup on our furry faces. We don’t need fireworks or any other special effects, which are so commonly used to entertain your audiences. All we need to do is show up, and when you’re not inside your heated houses in front of a screen, you’ll see us.
We’re out and about in your cities. We’re in the wilderness–or what’s left of it. Our homes, acclimatized by the seasons, were mostly erased from the land. Now they’re covered with concrete, tailings ponds, metal structures, and asphalt. But we endured this endless assault with dignity as we slowly disappeared from our blue planet.
Sometimes we may show up uninvited at your house. We may pop out of your chimneys, hide in your basements, or swim in your pools, but you’ll make a scene and vilify us. We’ll be called names and persecuted, but when you find it convenient, you’ll decorate your walls and museums with us.
We contributed to scientific progress. We worked side by side with your brightest minds, helping to find the cure for several diseases. We kept everyone healthy and safe. Every laboratory on Earth has welcomed us, cage after cage after cage.
We smile at you from your cereal box during breakfast. We cheer your children from cartoons and animated movies while they hug their favourite stuffed animal. And if you’re vain, which is none of our business, we can also dress you in a fancy way. All you need to do is turn away from the pelt farm horrors and just stare into your mirror.
We’re so many that we even helped your so-called “economy,” illustrating numerous products and services, which must be a noble way to contribute to capitalism. We sometimes wonder why we never received any royalties from our services, but we don’t have banks, so we’d better settle for clean air and water. And then we got “our” parks.
After realizing we were running out of space, you created parks where we were allowed to roam. Protected corridors where we could follow our primitive migration patterns or just swim around safely. After all, we must be doing something right to deserve such special consideration on your part.
The time you spent in nature was progressively replaced by the time you brought nature into your home, first in the pages of books and magazines and then on high-resolution screen devices. Documentaries turned us into movie stars, and we were always filmed with the latest video technology, but unfortunately, it takes more than stardom for us to survive.
Now we’re fading away, unable to adjust to the rapidly changing weather. It seemed at first that you would miss us, but you’re such a creative species that you soon found a way to replace us. It seems the latest A.I. advancements can provide an experience “better than the real thing.” No mosquitoes will zoom around your face anymore unless you dial this option into your customized program.
Some people, we’ve heard, have declined this treat. Not the most civilized people, but those annoying fringe groups that seem destined to scream at progress. They are the ones who refuse to play by the established rules. They can be noisy, and we hope they will change the status quo, as they have done time and again.
In the meantime, some people are still willing to travel long distances just to catch a glimpse of us. And we disappoint no one; we’ll always be there for you, as long as we’re allowed to. Breaking the ocean surface, flying between trees, or just roaming vast plains while they’re still there.
Not too long ago, we could safely emerge from a polar den, breaking the snow-covered entrance, so our pups could smell the tundra for the first time. But now the snow is melting away. We could launch ourselves from an ancient tree to fly over our forest. But now we can’t see our forest because of the smoke. Or we could just have a peek at you from the safety of our coral reefs if they were not bleaching to death.
We were here long before you climbed down a tree and began walking on two legs. We remember it like it was yesterday. We all lived together in harmony back then. We hope you remember how it was to have all your needs provided by your surroundings.
But you’re such a wise primate that you soon got busy with your own sophisticated affairs. Please remember that we were the ones who provided you with nourishment so you could develop your big, complex brain. We would appreciate it very much if you could try to use it a bit harder.
Can you imagine living on a planet where all bodies of water, from little streams to oceans, are clean? Where the air you breathe doesn’t make you sick. Where the land you rely on is not poisoned by chemicals and toxic substances. And where our atmosphere was still protecting us instead of threatening our very existence.
Some people on this planet still live off the land, at least the ones that were left alone in their secluded corners. Maybe you could speak to them and listen to what they have to say. Their knowledge may provide solutions to problems we cannot help you with, no matter how many experiments you run on us.
All you need is already available, but it will take a significant shift in mentality for you to realize this. If you get to this point, maybe there will be enough time to change course. Maybe some crises will be avoided, and maybe there will be more empty cages around the world.