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Poisons in Life’s Stream

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller

By Ranger Steve Mueller


Jared, a college intern at Ody Brook Nature Sanctuary, and I were conducting a stream survey on Little Cedar Creek during the first week of May. We were studying physical, chemical, and biological characteristics in the headwaters. This exciting stuff is a bit beyond my regular endeavors. One can only pursue so much and be highly proficient in understanding the intricate workings of nature niches. We found two-inch Brook Trout fry and saw an eight-inch trout fanning over a depression in the streambed.

Life stages of trout have specialized individual goals for living. None were consciously concerned with the others, their role, or importance to stream life, the floodplain, upland, or fisherman. I saw four different people fishing Little Cedar Creek at Ody Brook opening week of trout season.

A college professor told me 10 years after my graduation that he remembered I am a generalist. That is something advised against since the 1960s for employability in this fast paced world of specialization. As a generalist, I assist others who pursue specialized interests and they help provide me with accurate information to share from their fields.

This nature niche seeks to make connections about poisons in the environment and in our bodies, and help us understand how poisons might impact the lives of animals in ecosystems.

Chemicals from herbicides, pesticides, fertilizers and everyday “safe” products used at home impact life. Many breakdown to harmless chemicals rapidly but others do not, so, we should use caution regarding what goes down the drain or is used in the yard. Specialists at waste treatment facilities are unable to extract the vast majorities of harmful chemicals we buy from store shelves. Prudent shoppers can protect present and future human generations as well as other life forms.

Back to trout, regarding chemical impacts affecting their lives in ecosystems and on our lives. I am leading to chemicals on my life and chemicals in your life. Consider how your use of chemicals affect and contribute to maintaining or harming healthy global life like that of trout and you. Think globally and act locally.

Many know I have an incurable cancer that can be treated with devastating chemicals to prolong my life for productivity, enjoyment, and contributions for maintaining healthy biodiversity in nature. I receive three chemicals during a 21-day period and then have a week to recover before starting another round of chemicals. I initially survived the statistical survival average of 1-3 three years and, with newer treatments, I am approaching a latest statistical average of 7 to 8 years. Now newer experimental treatments are expected to provide me greater longevity as I approach year eight.

A highly specialized multiple myeloma oncologist at the U of Chicago, who is coordinating this newest experimental treatment, states I am one of his healthier patients. He does not fully understand my periodic desire to quit chemo and let nature take its course. He says I am his only patient placing quality of life over longevity. Life on Earth has an innate drive to survive until tomorrow. At some point tomorrow becomes pointless and we relinquish our tenure among the living. This reality brings tears as write. My family, doctor, friends, and maybe even readers are not ready for me to relinquish. My wife sometimes thinks my nature niche articles are too personal but life on Earth is personal. We should not accept the commonly stated phrase, “Its business—it’s not personal.” Every action should be personal for protecting biodiversity and life of future generations instead of being self-centered.

I hope people recognize that trout eggs fanned under a trout and the fry we saw swimming nearby are as important as me. Each contributes to the quality to life for people, mottled sculpins fed on by trout, and the many invertebrates living in the stream. There is an unbroken stream of life dating back 3.5 billions years and in a short 300 years, we have dramatically reduced life on Earth with our increasing human numbers and need for chemicals to help us survive beyond Earth’s carrying capacity. We remain largely unaware of how chemicals used for our benefit impact lives in nature niches. They help us survive and increase our numbers. I could site many examples of how chemicals meant to help us have negative impacts on other life but Rachel Carson already did that in the book Silent Spring. She provides how their use has become dangerous to our own lives also and in some cases cause cancer.

As a generalist, I help specialists in their work and, through my nature niche, help people recognize the importance of how little known species are important to our lives. I discovered a beautiful red, tan, and black moth that a specialist described and named the Brilliant Virgin Tiger Moth (Grammia brillians). It is currently found in two protected National Parks and is one reason for us to maintain natural areas protected from chemicals and other human induced disruptions in the stream of life of one Earth.

Unfortunately, many everyday chemicals—like carbon—released by our excessively large human population, diminishes life of other creatures through things like climate change. It is imperative to recognize climate change impact and act on it before it acts on us. Our use of chemicals on crops and use of biologically modified organisms (BMO) should be used judiciously with awareness of effects on trout and our own future generations. In a previous article, I mentioned we could reduce our human population by 40 percent and our impacts on other organisms by having three generations per century instead of five. Waiting until we are in our 30s to have children instead of bearing children at 20 is a personal decision that can save the world. Think globally and act locally.

Important issues impacting sustainability of biodiversity and how we live are uncomfortable to consider because it hits close to home. Should we avoid heroic measures to save lives like mine with chemo or let life fade from physical presence? Which chemicals should we use in agriculture to sustain and increase our population at the expense of other life? We protect wilderness areas that contain species and ecological processes for comparison with heavily used areas but our chemicals have found them. They are reducing our libraries of healthy life. Even chemical intrusions into Isle Royale National Park wilderness are in higher concentrations in lakes there than in many human populated areas. Chemicals arrived with rain carried by air currents.

Though I am meandering, I hope to connect many of these pressing issues. You might have noticed there was no nature niche last week. I was too ill from chemo used to “help” keep me alive and productive to write. Normally I am able to continue my work. When my activities serve only me, I will be ready to relinquish my time on Earth. Fortunately, I am continuing to lead school field trips, working with college interns, physically work to guide habitat management at Ody Brook, and continue research to enrich the community of people and biodiversity. Trout are also doing their role, as is every species. The joint effort creates a healthy biosphere that supports all of us.

With great dismay, my physical and mental abilities are slowing, but fortunately, most are not lost. The oncologist told me I have not lost my competence. My thinking process is slowed by chemo use. Chemo treatments induced into me cause me to think about how fertilizers, herbicides, pesticides, and chemicals from household products reduce the abilities of trout, garden organisms, trees, insects and wildlife abilities to perform their roles well. We need to use some chemicals but society could live healthier and longer into the future by sustaining our population within Earth’s carrying capacity. Balancing the hard emotional questions with Star Trek’s “Spock-like” analytical reasoning brings together two realities for us to wrestle with daily. Applying the multiple realities of emotional desires with scientific reasoning to benefit a thousand future generations requires soul searching. A full, broad-based education is needed in addition to the specialized trade education most of us use to support our current family and generation. It is not easy and many choose to only address emotional and personal immediate family concerns instead of future generations or other life on Earth.

A healthy future depends on understanding the deeper meaning for how chemicals induced upon trout in nature niches and chemo is used in my individual struggle to survive. We all need to consider how chemicals are to sustain society and determine when too much will harm society. As I consider quitting chemo and relinquishing my continuing of service for life on Earth, I also think our excessive chemical use by society can cause us to relinquish life from a healthy future. Sorry, Karen, for sharing “too much” personal stuff; sorry Post for not being able to stay within article word limits; sorry that my efforts will someday end; but no apology for addressing the important issues of daily life we need to consider to help future generations thrive.

Continue to enjoy the wonder and joy of nature niches surrounding your home. Enhance conditions for life rather than unknowingly or knowingly diminishing life with poor choices of chemicals used in everyday products. Think Globally and Act Locally.

Natural history questions or topic suggestions can be directed to Ranger Steve (Mueller) at odybrook@chartermi.net Ody Brook, 13010 Northland Dr, Cedar Springs, MI 49319-8433, or call 616-696-1753.

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