Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The balance of nature

A crowd of mosquitos in the bathroom this morning. I let 'em have it with a rolled up newspaper, bearing in mind, of course, that they have a role to play in nature, namely to keep human populations in check. Until relatively recently, they did a pretty good job of it by transmitting malaria, dengue fever and filariasis. In turn, mosquitos are preyed upon here by Bahamian mosquito fish, voracious creatures that eat their weight in mosquito larvae every few days.

Science and technology have rendered the balance of nature obsolete. We make our own "balance" now. No more mosquito-borne diseases here, and the human population booms. I'm not sure what's happening to the mosquito fish, but the naturalist David Campbell tells us that "it has on several occasions during the last century been distributed by public health personnel to pools and ponds all over the Bahamas," thereby making these islands more pleasantly inhabitable.

Long before I met David, he lived in and traveled extensively through the Bahamas. Out of that experience he wrote a book called The Ephemeral Islands: A Natural History of the Bahamas, published first in 1978 and still in print. My copy is falling apart from use.

David now teaches nature writing at Grinnell College in Iowa. He is a recipient of one of this year's Lannan Literary Awards for his nonfiction work. Congratulation, friend.