Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Some thoughts about mollusk poaching

Last summer, somewhere in Montana, I was on a roadtrip with Heidi. Heidi used to work for the Washington State Park Service (is that what it’s called?). She told me that she had encountered some fucked up things during her employment, one of which was this: Another park employee saw a woman carrying a pail. He asked her what was in the pail. “Moon snails,” the woman said. “What are you going to do with those moon snails?” he asked. “I’m going to take them home and pour bleach on them," she said. "Then I’m going to clean out the shells and make them into jewelry.”

Guess what his reaction to that was. 

So for someone like me, or Heidi, this is a true WTF. To us, those moon snails are already adorning the natural world, in their fully autonomous and living state. But for the shell collector, they must be “cultivated” i.e. bleached to death, before they can be of value, both monetarily and aesthetically. This woman is not alone. People buy this kind of stuff all the time—like the souvenirs of butterflies I saw recently at E’mei Shan. Or Fashion’s ongoing love of fur and leather clothing. Also I just looked down and realized I’m wearing a pearl necklace. I wouldn’t go out to Puget Sound and start prying open clams to look for prizes, but I didn’t think about that when I bought the necklace. I just thought it was beautiful. I would however, collect clams in order to eat them. Is it OK to kill a mollusk for food, but not for jewelry? Why does one seem normal to me and one seems ridiculous? Does scarcity of the “resource” make a difference?

Also, has anyone else noticed that abalones look a lot like vaginas??

Kind of a love letter

Here’s something I love: depictions of 19th-century men (and sometimes women) who are amateur naturalists.

Richard Flockton: It’s such a fine day here in Cornwallshire! I will venture to the beach to pick up some specimans. Lady Aster? Would you care to accompany me?

L. Aster: Oh, you and your specimens. I am content to sit here in the parlor and watch the sun on the rug. And perhaps later I will embroider a pillow with depictions of single celled eukaryotes.

Richard: I’m very attracted to your rational mind.

L. Aster: Perhaps after dinner we can go for a walk, and nail taxonomic placards to the trees.

Richard: I genuinely believe that we are close to a complete understanding of the natural world.

L. Aster: I genuinely agree with you.