KQED PERSPECTIVE (aired June 94)
by Michael Ellis
I am blessed in many ways in my life but one of the greatest is by my profession – I make a living taking folks on natural history excursions to wonderful spots on the planet — the Amazon, Africa, Antarctica. I go snorkeling, birding, river rafting whale watching. So I am invariably asked “If this is your work, what the heck do you do for recreation??”
Well I must confess that I love to vacation in New York City. I revel in the contrast to the rest of my life. I get so energized when I am in that crush of humanity, that maelstrom of trade and commerce. The home of the extreme extremes.
Believe it or not the Big Apple reminds me of the Amazon Basin. The tropical rainforests are the richest biological places on earth. I can walk the same trail over and over and see a different assemblage of birds, insects and mammals every time. The entire Amazon world is buzzing with energy. At every level from the dense underground mycelia threads underpinning the entire forest floor to 200′ high up in the canopy layer, life is at full bore. Entire worlds live and die in one tree. The cacophony of insect sounds alone can drive some folks crazy. I happen to love it. The competition for resources is intense. If a plant or animal stays still in the Amazon for very long, it is soon overwhelmed, out competed and may go extinct.
New York is a human-created mirror image of the Amazon. The underground subway system roots the buildings, connects, intertwines and delivers the human protoplasm, which are the vehicles of energy. Instead of sunlight driving the eco-system, there is money and lots of it. Goods and services are exchanged at a frantic rate. You want it? Anything. New York has it. If you want to be tested, to compete, to thrive go to the City. To quote Sinatra, “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.” Slow down, become weak, you are soon history. Entire worlds exist in the World Trade Center and in Harlem tenements. The diversity of life on the streets is astounding. Ah New York, Oh the Amazon I love you both.