[Marxism] Homeless hawks

Louis Proyect lnp3 at panix.com
Fri Dec 10 11:35:20 MST 2004

Fifty years ago, the use of DDT brought birds such as the eagle, the falcon 
and the hawk to the brink of extinction. Rachel Carson's "Silent Spring" 
was mostly responsible for a ban on the substance and the re-emergence of 
such birds across the country, including the Greater New York area.

There are falcons in the spires of St. John of the Divine, an immense 
Gothic cathedral not 10 blocks from where I work and where leftists have 
been mourned over the years, including Sandinista Nicaragua's Nora Astorga. 
They also have nests in the nooks and crannies of the George Washington Bridge.

But the most magnificent bird is the red-tailed hawk that I saw for the 
first time in Central Park on New Years Day, 1997. A group of people had 
gathered under a tree not five blocks from the east side entrance to the 
park on 90th St. and 5th ave. In the surrounding trees, crows were raising 
hell. They were alarmed at the sight of the hawk near the top of the tree, 
which clutched a live rat in its talons. After 10 minutes or so, it flew 
off with its bounty. It was a huge and impressive bird. One can understand 
why American Indians would revere it.

Apparently this was the bird that had built a nest at the top of 927 Fifth 
Avenue, near 74th Street. Mary Tyler Moore, the TV comedy star of the 
1970s, lives there and Woody Allen lives across the street. Last week, the 
nest was torn down because building occupants complained about the rat 
carcasses that would occasionally show up on the sidewalk below the 
building. Moore told the NY Times that ''I am so outraged that they would 
do this without so much as a by your leave.'' Woody Allen has not been 
heard from, though he was omnipresent in a landmarks preservation drive to 
prevent a high-rise from going up on 92nd Street, where he has a townhouse. 
He didn't want his view blocked apparently. One would hope that he would 
deploy the same kind of activism on behalf of one of the city's wildlife 

It is hard for me to express the feelings of disgust I have for the 
denizens of 927 Fifth Avenue responsible for this cruel, insensitive and 
ultimately barbaric act. A website devoted to restoring the nest can be 
found at: <http://www.palemale.com/>http://www.palemale.com/. It has some 
wonderful pictures of the bird, his mate and their offspring.

The Times reported that while red-tailed hawks are protected under the 
federal Migratory Species Treaty, the law does not prohibit removal of an 
"inactive" nest -- one containing no chicks, eggs or nestlings. This 
according to Nicholas Throckmorton, a spokesmen for the U.S. Fish and 
Wildlife Service, who okayed the removal of the nest. I can't say that this 
surprises me that much. The Bush administration, like the Reagan 
administration before it, has a knack for hiring people who are hostile to 
the aims of the government agencies they supervise.

This brutal act obviously resonates with other things going on in the world 
involving human beings. One cannot but think of the thousands of New 
Yorkers who are homeless now, victims of the same cruel economic forces 
ultimately under the control of the kinds of people who destroyed the nest. 
We are also inevitably reminded of Palestinians who lose their homes as an 
act of collective punishment wrought by the Zionist state.

In the final analysis, the mean-spiritedness behind this act is cut from 
the same cloth that is threatening biodiversity all across the planet. The 
people who would tear down a nest in order to have a spotless sidewalk are 
from the same class that is condemning the flora and fauna of rainforests 
to rapid extinction. Working people have to figure out a way to connect our 
concerns with that of nature as a whole. The enemy of nature is also the 
enemy of working people.

In the early stages of capitalist development in the USA, the cities were 
much more connected with nature. Although some of this was obviously a 
health hazard, there were ways in which nature and humanity were 
intertwined in a positive way.

In Ted Steinberg's "Down to Earth: Nature's Role in American History," we 

 >>Horses generated power for transportation (and manufacturing too), but 
they also produced staggering amounts of manure, somewhere between 15 and 
30 pounds per animal every day. In Milwaukee, this translated daily into 
133 tons of horse droppings. In 1900, one health officer in Rochester, New 
York (apparently with nothing better to do), calculated that the city's 
15,000 horses contributed enough dung each year to completely cover an acre 
to a height of 175 feet. Worse still, the stinking piles bred countless 
numbers of flies, which harbored disease, including typhoid fever. Then 
there was the dust to contend with. Horse turds dried up in the heat, only 
to be pulverized by the creatures themselves as their hoofs made contact 
with the pavement. Ground horse excrement was the nineteenth-century 
equivalent of auto pollution-and was just as irritating to people's 
respiratory systems.

The problems created by horse dung would have been even worse were it not 
for an ingenious ecological move on the part of farmers living on the 
outskirts of cities. They purchased the horse manure and used it to 
fertilize their hay and vegetable crops. The hay then went to feed the 
urban horse population and the vegetables to enhance the dinner tables of 
the city's better-off residents. As a truck farmer from New Jersey 
explained: "In our large commercial and manufacturing cities where wealth 
has concentrated, and where abound families who live regardless of 
expenditures, fabulous prices are freely paid for vegetables and fruits to 
please the palate or adorn the table." By the mid-nineteenth century, a 
reciprocal system, with manure passing one way and vegetables and hay the 
other, had grown up in New York, Baltimore, Philadelphia, and Boston.

New Yorkers perfected the system. The opening of the Erie Canal in 1825 
propelled the city's rise to commercial dominance and spurred farmers near 
the waterway to give up grain production in favor of potatoes, cucumbers, 
cabbages, onions, and sweet corn, all of which commanded good prices in the 
city's market. In 1879, Brooklyn and Queens, New York, now the very essence 
of urbanity, even led the nation in market gardening. Brooklyn was 
described by one source as an "immense garden" serving the "vast and 
increasing demand of the city of New York for vegetables and fruits of a 
perishable nature."

The soil in Brooklyn and Queens is shallow, limiting the ability of roots 
to spread, and is not particularly adapted to storing moisture. Normally a 
farmer would need to keep plenty of hay on hand to feed the livestock that 
produced the soil-fortifying manure. But with Manhattan dairies and stables 
located nearby, it made economic sense for farmers to sell their hay and 
purchase horse manure in return. Manure from all over the New York City 
area formed the ecological lifeblood of Brooklyn and Queens farming. 
Brooklynites, one newspaper noted, "are, no doubt, glad to get rid of their 
filth (and the Board of Health will compel them to do so) [but] our farmers 
are glad to obtain means with which to enrich their lands, and to pay a 
fair price for such materials." Horse manure was so critical to farming 
that one King's County landowner even made a provision in his will that his 
son receive "all manure on the farm at the time of my decease."<<

Something like this will have to be reintroduced under communism. In 
seeking to overcome the "metabolic rift" between town and countryside 
identified by Karl Marx (under the influence of soil chemist Justus von 
Liebig), we should also make a place for the great raptors such as the 
red-tailed hawk, who are as important to civilization as any painting in 
the Metropolitan Museum of Art.



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