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Life Lesson From a Little Green Heron

A Nature Based Leadership Essay

 Little Green Heron

©2016 (SJones)

Steve Jones; 2.28.16

My list of lifetime regrets stands at 49. No, not every “I should not have said, did, acted, or behaved the way I did.” Instead, these are the ones of significance that have traveled with me, some for four decades and more. Ones that hurt someone, or something; not those that simply made me look dumb or feel stupid. I started the list probably twenty years ago. I lost it once and rewrote it. When I found the one I had lost, the new one matched perfectly. These regrets are deeply etched, as are their lessons.

Not to worry, I am not about to recite all 49. Just one of the regrets and corresponding lessons relevant to my thinking about nature based leadership and the Nature Based Leadership Institute we are creating here at Antioch University New England.

I grew up in Cumberland, Maryland at the western terminus of the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal, constructed in the mid-19th Century, its eastern terminus in Georgetown near Washington D.C. Dad maintained an entire menu of fishing holes within an hour or so of home. Battie Mixon, a restored and re-watered section of the canal just 18 miles away, offered sunfish, bass, catfish, and a few other species. We fished there 5-10 times every summer. Dad could fish and allow me the freedom to wander the shoreline staying in sight. Once I reached adolescence he no longer insisted I stay within view. Steve little green heron 1

I was perhaps 12 or 13 one day when the fish weren’t biting enough to command my full attention. Just to the right (south) of the towpath (see photo) a linear depression (where canal construction engineers took additional fill for the elevated towpath and the next lock a half-mile from the photo point) also held water, but shallower than the fishing hole and being reclaimed by sediment and emerging vegetation. I often watched that wetland for turtles, snakes, and birds. This day I saw a wading bird that I can identify today from the remembered image as a little green heron. I did not know its identity at the time. I did know that at 100 plus feet distance from me the bird offered a tempting rock target to the adolescent Steve. I found the perfect rock and without considering the consequences, aimed and threw at the impossibly small target.

I hit the beautiful little green heron in the head; the bird toppled. I waited for it to regain its footing, or rise and fly. It did neither. I did not celebrate my accuracy nor congratulate my “lucky” throw. I stood stunned, suffering silently for the foolish act I had just completed. I close my eyes today, fifty years later, and I can see the image clearly, and I feel the regret as though I had just this moment slung the rock.

I did not tell Dad; in fact I told no one until this writing. Yes, I’ve killed birds since then, upland game birds as a licensed hunter: woodcock, pheasant, ruffed grouse, quail, and turkey. But no more errant rocks. Such birds as the little green heron are protected by law, and now safe by virtue of my own awareness of unintended consequences. My guilt and shame live on, fueling a palpable regret, unabated by time.

The shallow, warm-water slough surface was green in spots with filamentous algae that day; I still see the bird’s floating, delicate corpse as I walked closer, hoping against hope that my missile had done less than mortal harm. Not so. I suppose my lament relates more to the symbol of the bird than of the actual death. I brought to an end the life of a creature that brings magic to an otherwise dismal setting – not dismal to me, yet few people see the beauty and wonder in the stagnant, algae-coated warm water he fished. I found magic in the setting even then, the sunning turtles aligned on fallen logs, the dragon flies darting just above the green surface, the muskrat tracing a ‘V’ through the still water. The little green had stood there fixed, and transfixed, watching for edible life, waiting patiently, fearing nothing. Steve little green heron 2

My projectile came without warning. Evolution had not alerted his nerves, sensors, and reflexes to adolescent-heaved stones. I robbed a vibrant ecosystem of a precious participant for no purpose other than to test my arm. Perhaps I am further saddened because that selfish act of violence and waste symbolizes my own species’ careless disregard for so much that is nature and natural. We tend too often to ask of other life, “Does it add material value?” If not, then go ahead, toss a rock its way. So much of what we do is blind to the intrinsic values that economics ignore. Isn’t it time we gain awareness, learn to attribute real value, and stop throwing rocks to test an arm?

I ache for that individual little green heron, and always will. I paid the deep price of guilt, humility, and shame to learn and accept a life-lasting lesson. Every action yields consequences. Nothing should be done for which consequences are not apparent.

I also now know that a conscience doesn’t develop from reading a manual. I learned that late summer afternoon the power of recognized guilt and responsibility as soon as the heron fell. I’ve held myself accountable for fifty years. A cog in the wheel of life is connected to the whole. No little green heron stands alone, separate from all else. How can our Nature Based Leadership Institute open many more eyes to such lessons of interconnectivity, responsibility, and consequences? How can we discourage rock-slinging in all its metaphorical dimensions? How can we illuminate the consequences of every decision? Perhaps most importantly, how do we instill an Earth Ethic (a disciplined self-awareness and conscience) in every business, NGO, organization, and individual? How do we successfully encourage, develop, and instill an obligation to be responsible Earth stewards?

Perhaps most importantly, how do we apply nature’s lessons to living, learning, serving, and leading? That afternoon years ago I looked at the little green heron. Blindly, I looked, yet did not see. I did not see the life and its place in the wetlands ecosystem, nor the wetlands and its place on the landscape. I saw only a target to serve me in a brief moment of self-absorption and shameful entertainment – a contest of sorts to, again, test my arm. Only after I exacted the toll of death to the bird did I both see and feel. I saw the act for what it was and I felt the consequence and harm from my foolish throw. I could not undo the deed. Instead, I decided to learn from that day, and to apply the lesson time and time again.

Now, I am embedding the lesson in the fabric of our Nature Based Leadership Institute, and sharing this tale for the benefit of those engaged and for the many we hope to touch. All lessons distill to stories. I will take the little green heron to the end of my life’s journey, telling and retelling my story and the fateful role he played.

About the Author: Steve’s PhD is in Natural Resources Management (1987). He practiced forestry in the southern forest products industry for a dozen years prior to pursuing his doctorate. He has since served eight universities, including three as CEO (2004-present). He is currently President, Antioch University New England (AUNE). He also chaired the Governing Board of the University of the Arctic 2005-08. Steve believes that every lesson for living, learning, serving, and leading is either written indelibly in or inspired compellingly by nature. Steve co-created AUNE’s Nature Based Leadership Institute in 2015 (http://www.antiochne.edu/community/nature-based-leadership-institute/). Reach Steve at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

 

SustainAbility Newsletter Archive Article (random)

Fight Rising Fuel Costs- Get Better Gas Mileage!

Fuel Economy

Four Quick Tips to help you get better Gas Mileage:

1) Drive Sensibly
Aggressive driving (speeding, rapid acceleration and braking) wastes gas. It can lower your gas mileage by 33 percent at highway speeds and by 5 percent around town. Sensible driving is also safer for you and others, so you may save more than gas money.

Observe the Speed Limit
While each vehicle reaches its optimal fuel economy at a different speed (or range of speeds), gas mileage usually decreases rapidly at speeds above 60 mph. You can assume that each 5 mph you drive over 60 mph is like paying an additional $0.31 per gallon for gas. Observing the speed limit is also safer.

Remove Excess Weight
Avoid keeping unnecessary items in your vehicle, especially heavy ones. An extra 100 pounds in your vehicle could reduce your MPG by up to 2 percent. The reduction is based on the percentage of extra weight relative to the vehicle's weight and affects smaller vehicles more than larger ones.

Avoid Excessive Idling
Idling can use a quarter to a half gallon of fuel per hour, depending on engine size and air conditioner (AC) use. Turn off your engine when your vehicle is parked. It only takes a few seconds worth of fuel to restart your vehicle. Turning your engine on and off excessively, however, may increase starter wear.

Use Cruise Control
Using cruise control on the highway helps you maintain a constant speed and, in most cases, will save gas.

Use Overdrive Gears
When you use overdrive gearing, your car's engine speed goes down. This saves gas and reduces engine wear.     


2) Keep Your Car in Shape

Engine Properly Tuned
Fixing a car that is noticeably out of tune or has failed an emissions test can improve its gas mileage by an average of 4 percent, though results vary based on the kind of repair and how well it is done. Fixing a serious maintenance problem, such as a faulty oxygen sensor, can improve your mileage by as much as 40 percent.

Keep Tires Properly Inflated
You can improve your gas mileage by up to 3.3 percent by keeping your tires inflated to the proper pressure. Under-inflated tires can lower gas mileage by 0.3 percent for every 1 psi drop in pressure of all four tires. Properly inflated tires are safer and last longer.

The proper tire pressure for your vehicle is usually found on a sticker in the driver's side door jamb or the glove box and in your owner's manual. Do not use the maximum pressure printed on the tire's sidewall.

Use the Recommended Grade of Motor Oil
You can improve your gas mileage by 1–2 percent by using the manufacturer's recommended grade of motor oil. For example, using 10W-30 motor oil in an engine designed to use 5W-30 can lower your gas mileage by 1–2 percent. Using 5W-30 in an engine designed for 5W-20 can lower your gas mileage by 1–1.5 percent. Also, look for motor oil that says "Energy Conserving" on the API performance symbol to be sure it contains friction-reducing additives.

Replacing a Clogged Air Filter on Modern Cars Improves Performance but Not MPG
A new study shows that replacing a clogged air filter on cars with fuel-injected, computer-controlled gasoline engines does not improve fuel economy but it can improve acceleration time by around 6 to 11 percent. This kind of engine is prevalent on most gasoline cars manufactured from the early 1980s onward. Tests suggest that replacing a clogged air filter on an older car with a carbureted engine may improve fuel economy 2 to 6 percent under normal replacement conditions or up to 14 percent if the filter is so clogged that it significantly affects drivability. The effect of a clogged air filter on diesel vehicles will be tested in the near future.

3) Planning and Combining Trips
Combining errands into one trip saves you time and money. Several short trips taken from a cold start can use twice as much fuel as a longer multipurpose trip covering the same distance when the engine is warm. Trip planning ensures that traveling is done when the engine is warmed-up and efficient, and it can reduce the distance you travel.

Commuting
Stagger your work hours to avoid peak rush hours. Drive your most fuel-efficient vehicle. Consider telecommuting (working from home) if your employer permits it.

Take advantage of carpools and ride-share programs. You can cut your weekly fuel costs in half and save wear on your car if you take turns driving with other commuters. Many urban areas allow vehicles with multiple passengers to use High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes which are typically less congested, further improving your fuel economy.

Consider using public transit if it is available and convenient for you. The American Public Transit Transportation Association has links to information about public transportation in your state.

Traveling
A roof rack or carrier provides additional cargo space and may allow you to meet your needs with a smaller car. However, a loaded roof rack can decrease your fuel economy by 5 percent. Reduce aerodynamic drag and improve your fuel economy by placing items inside the trunk whenever possible. Avoid carrying unneeded items, especially heavy ones. An extra 100 lbs in the trunk reduces a typical car's fuel economy by 1-2 percent.

   
4) Choosing a More Efficient Vehicle
Selecting which vehicle to purchase is the most important fuel economy decision you'll make. The difference between a car that gets 20 MPG and one that gets 30 MPG amounts to $968 per year (assuming 15,000 miles of driving annually and a fuel cost of $3.87). That's $4,840 extra in fuel costs over five years!

The difference between a car that gets 20 MPG and one that gets 30 MPG amounts to $968 per year (assuming 15,000 miles of driving annually and a fuel cost of $3.87).  That's $4,840 extra in fuel costs over five years!
      
Use www.fueleconomy.gov's Find and Compare Cars section to find the most fuel efficient vehicle that will meet your needs.     
 


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References and Sources used in this issue of SustainAbility Newsletter Include:

Audubon Lifestyles
www.audubonlifestyles.org 
             
The International Sustainability Council
www.thesustainabilitycouncil.org 

Sustainability Campaign
sustainabilitycampaign.blogspot.com

Ford Motor Company
www.ford.com

Urbana University
www.urbana.edu

Defenders of Wildlife
www.defenders.org

The Earthday Network
www.earthday.org/2012

Bloomberg Businessweek
www.businessweek.com

Small Busienss Trends
www.smallbiztrends.com

The Dodson Group
www.thedodsongrp.com      

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A Coalition for Good - Spreading the Seeds of Sustainability

ISC-Audubon is a coalition of non-profit organizations and initiatives that include The International Sustainability Council (ISC), Audubon Lifestyles, Audubon Outdoors, Planit Green, Broadcast Audubon, and the Audubon Network for Sustainability. 

Funds generated through memberships and donations are used to provide fruit & vegetable seeds, wildflower seed mix, and wildlife feed & birdseed to urban and suburban communities around the world. These seeds are used by communities to establish fruit and vegetable gardens, bird and wildlife sanctuaries, and for the beautification of urban and suburban landscapes by creating flower and native plant gardens.

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