I received a thoughtful note criticizing my last blog - which contained photos of a dead deer somewhat torn up by coyotes. The concerns troubled me, so I asked a few people for advice. Here’s the note, followed by the advice I got - followed by comments from readers of this blog.
Realizing I run the risk offending you, I still decided I should give you my assessment of your recent blog post. I found it to be morbid. I think this type of posting would scare away potential volunteers.
When I wrote people, I asked:
“I wonder if you agree, disagree or "are agnostic" about (James) comment…
I wonder about the line between ‘compelling’ and ‘alienating.’"
I enjoyed the blog. It was very real, and very personal, for me as a fellow steward … although I could see where the deer carcass photos could be off-putting to the more squeamish. But are those the types that read your blog? … I would hope that most are open minded enough try to understand and learn about the realities of the natural world, which isn't always pretty and tidy. I think this post, and the reactions to it, can be a learning experience. So in the tradition of Leopold and Sigurd Olson, I say carry on -- you are telling stories … that are worth telling, and you are keeping them real.
Lee called and said:
I hope you’ll take this the right way. Those gruesome photos are just too much. I go to nature and to your blog for beauty. I have more than enough of the negative in my life without this. When I read your first dead deer blog (“A Death on the Prairie”), I didn’t dare go back for months. I didn’t say anything, but it was too much. I don’t go there for that.
I am a true believer that nature should be taken raw; that is, nature should not—must not—be gussied up à la Disney or as is the general (current day) Japanese tendency to cute-ify nature…
You can’t be so concerned with ‘scaring off’ volunteers that you violate basic precepts about how we would seek to be authentically related to the natural world of which we are a part.
If this turns off potential volunteers, I imagine they are people we would have lost eventually, anyway, to any number of unpleasantnesses that pop up regularly in the real (i.e. natural) world—things like mud, or…insects. The Somme Prairie Grove could never be maintained as the perfect, Disney-ized, flowers and butterflies environment they could approve of. Death is everywhere in the natural world. It can’t be white-washed; it is, in fact, part of life. Can’t have one without the other. I actually think it would be grotesque to try to separate the two. It was a good post—please don’t take it down.
It is important for people to understand predators and scavengers. However, this can be conveyed without such graphics. You should always strive to convey "life" when you promote restoration. A good example of a positive photo would be a coyote feeding its pups. This conveys life, even if a meadow vole had to be sacrificed for the dinner. I think the theme of "life" should even be applied to plants. Focusing on methods to kill weeds would turn off many people who might be interested in helping nature. However, showing the recovery after weeds had been removed would convey how Stewards give "life" to their sites… Your goal should always be to compel people to become more involved. Learning is a process. People volunteer for many reasons. You do not want to scare away potential supporters before they have gotten their boots on the ground to learn more about the importance of your work.
Oh my response will be quick! Hell yes you should post this. It belongs to the real fuc%ing world! It is our duty as stewards to help volunteers learn and process what they may witness, not remove parts of the environment that is challenging or uncomfortable for some.
I read the post after you sent me this e-mail and was intrigued. I personally did not share the sentiments of James…Maybe I am desensitized. I am going to say that I am 'agnostic' on this one. I don't feel strongly one way or another with regard to the impact upon potential volunteers. I find this post fascinating; I have personally found very few opportunities to track and observe top predators in Illinois (or anywhere for that matter) and felt compelled to follow you on your journey. While I find myself agreeing more with commentators Steve Halm and E Wenscott, I can appreciate what James says. The final image on this blog post, the one with the scattered remains of a deer, is indeed gruesome … Not everyone likes to think about this aspect of ecology. It is one that has been absent from our natural areas for some time now, and as populations of top predators return to our landscape their stories should be written.
Then I make this final comment:
You know, I’m still troubled and unsure. I was moved by the spirit of every response. I deeply agree with the people who appreciate all parts of nature. I also deeply appreciate the people who are repelled by “the gruesome.” I want all of us to continue to be part of the community and the discussion. Perhaps there should be two blogs: one called “The Beauty of Somme” and another called “The Nature of Somme.” (The second would have all the same posts as the first, and then some additional.) But I hope there are better solutions than that.
Please leave a comment, if you have thoughts on this.