The Carlisle Mosquito Online

Friday, April 6, 2007


All creatures great and small

It appears that Carlisle's ubiquitous black bear has transitioned from being something of a folk hero popping up all over town to a downright scary scavenger, terrorizing horses, dogs and homeowners (see page 1).

The bear situation has escalated to the point where authorities from the state environmental police and the Mass. Division of Fisheries and Wildlife are basically saying, "The bear's gotta go." They do not mean the bear has to go to northern Maine. They mean the bear has to be destroyed. Doesn't this sound like a last resort rather than a first response?

The fate of Carlisle's bear raises many questions. Fortunately, on Thursday, the day after the Mosquito went to press, an informational meeting for the community on the black bear was scheduled with wildlife biologist Jim Cardoza, and perhaps many of the questions residents have will have been answered. Is there one bear or more? Could this be a mama bear with cubs in the den? Where is the den? Ultimately the most important questions are: who makes the decision to put the bear down? What criteria are used to make the decision? Why can't the bear be tranquilized and moved out of town?

According to Pat Huckery of the Fish and Wildlife Office in Acton, the Carlisle bear has crossed the line from raiding bird feeders and beehives to breaking into barns and destroying property in a quest for food. This behavior, of course, is unacceptable to humans, but, taking a page from Manny, the bear is just being a bear.

Asked how Carlisleans can deal with the bear problem, Cardoza's response is chilling: we can do nothing, or we can erect an electric fence and remove available food, or the landowner can kill it because it is destroying property. We can kill it? Are we Davy Crocketts in the frontier town of Carlisle who can "kill ourselves a bear?"

No, Carlisle residents tend to be kind to "all creatures great and small." We stop traffic and help a turtle cross the road. We patiently wait for a flock of wild turkeys to cross a busy intersection. We feed the birds in winter and co-exist with deer.

Being overly sentimental about a 300-pound bear crashing around in the dark under our window is unwise and foolish. We cannot wait for a crisis to occur if the bear continues his destructive behavior. It behooves us to get as much information as possible about the dangers the black bear poses and how best to respond.

Meanwhile, message to Carlisle bear: stay safe.

Choice and change

There's an old story about two caterpillars sitting on a tree branch in the springtime. A beautiful butterfly is fluttering over their heads. One looks up, pauses for a second, and says to his mate "you'll never get me up in one of those!" The story is amusing because we know something that the recalcitrant caterpillar does not not only will it learn how to fly, but there really is no choice in the matter. In fact, the caterpillar's very survival depends upon it.

It's human nature to resist change even change that we know is likely to be good for us. As an architect, I deal with this phenomenon all the time. Whether it's new construction or the renovation of an older building, the process literally destroys what's familiar and puts something quite different in its place, and this can take a lot of getting used to. One of my former partners used to say, "I'm very comfortable with change as long as it's somebody's else's change, I'm perfectly happy!"

We often resist new ways of doing things because there is great comfort in the familiar. When we get good at something, we tend to do it over and over again the same way. The more we do it "right," the better we become. Whether it's grooving a golf swing or preparing a favorite recipe, we invest in a known process to get a predictable outcome. However, with each repetition, we're digging what I've come to call "success ruts." The more repetition, the deeper the rut. As we dig down deep, we may become increasingly expert at doing our thing, but we're also cutting off peripheral vision. Eventually, we get to the bottom of the Grand Canyon we may know every layer by heart and be surrounded by stunning beauty, but we can't see over the rim. That's when we've become a real expert.

We live in a society that loves specialists people who can do something that few others can, like throwing a big-league fastball, writing software code, or performing cardiac surgery. Even specialists have their specialists attorneys who practice nothing but patent law or dentists who do only root canals. Specialists are richly rewarded because their talents are rare and their skills are honed to near perfection. On the other side of this same coin are people who make their living by providing surprise and delight, like jazz musicians or comedians. Their work is not without discipline or craft, but we keep coming back for more because we don't know what to expect next. I suspect that much of the time, neither do they.

It takes real vision (and often, courage) to know when to break the rules, to think so far outside the box that a new reality is created. That's what Galileo did when he postulated that the earth moved around the sun and not vice versa, and it got him into real hot water with the Pope. We can only stand so much of this kind of thinking in our lives. (Another old saying: "If you're one step out in front of the crowd, you're a leader. But if you're two steps in front, you're a target.")

This is the time of year when most high school seniors will decide which college to attend. Now the tables have turned instead of being supplicants, they must choose. Is it better to keep hugging that tree branch, or take a flyer on becoming a butterfly? Sometimes we don't have a choice, and there are risks either way. But of course, that's what makes it so interesting.


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2007 The Carlisle Mosquito