Nature's Serial Story Ch. 10 [10/13]
E P Roe
Agriculture, Heredity, Environmentalism, Climatology, Education, Natural History, Instinct, Fear, Natural Economy
During a discussion about the reasons for the increasing frequency of droughts, Webb Clifford declares, 'We are suffering from the law of heredity. Our forefathers were compelled to fell the trees to make room for the plough, and now one of the strongest impulses of the average American is to cut down a tree. Our forests, on which a moist climate so largely depends, are treated as if they encumbered the ground. The smoke that we are breathing proves that fires are ravaging to the north and west of us'. The 'influence of trees on the climate', he insists, 'should be taught in all our schools as thoroughly as the multiplication table'. (537) As if serving as 'a practical commentary on Webb's words', a fire is soon started on a neighbouring tract of land by some oblivious 'City chaps [...] gunning out of season' (538). Later, Dr Marvin discourses upon the natural history of the ermine, which is described as 'perhaps the most cruel and blood-thirsty animal in existence' with an 'instinct to kill [...] so strong that, were it possible, it would destroy the means of its subsistence' (547). But this 'mythical vampire embodied' hunts 'destructive [...] field-mice' and thus also 'serves a very useful purpose' in the 'economy of nature' (547–48). The doctor's account of the ermine draws upon the work of 'Dr. Coues, an eminent naturalist, [who] has given a graphic account of him' (548).
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