Generally speaking, in these essays I seem to be constantly alarmed at our tendency to ignore or deny the degree to which we are part of the natural world. I believe it is true that, as J.F. Blumenbach, the nineteenth-century founder of anthropology, first observed, we are “the most perfect of all domesticated species.” Many of these essays are ruminations about what that means. But we have not taken nature out of ourselves — even the most domesticated cat eats, drinks, breathes, hunts, hosts fleas, and reproduces — rather, we have taken ourselves out of nature. To our cost. In many of the essays I try to remind us of the fact that when we destroy a segment of nature — by cutting down a forest to make a road, or killing wild animals for sport, or even ridding ourselves of pests and parasites — we destroy an essential part of ourselves. When we tamper with nature, by altering an organism’s genetic makeup to produce a new plant or animal, or bypass sexual reproduction through cloning or gene splicing, when we remove a species from or add a species to an ecosystem, we are interfering with a process that has evolved on its own, and which has taken us into account, for millions of years, and about which we know next to nothing. It ought to be a sobering thought that, when most of us encounter a bear in the forest, the bear knows more about us than we know about it.
I am not, however, a polemicist by nature. My inclination is simply to point out what we’re doing as a species, place that action in some kind of natural context, and occasionally ask why we persist in doing it. If the voice sometimes sounds plaintive, or incredulous, or impatient, well, that is often the voice of the essayist. An essay is a pearl that began with an irritating grain of sand.
Excerpted from Bringing Back the Dodo by Wayne Grady. Copyright © 2007 by Wayne Grady. Excerpted by permission of McClelland & Stewart, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.