The Starfish Story

Note to readers: If you came to this blog looking for information on Colony Collapse Disorder among honeybees, please see "Gardeners and the Honeybee Crisis." I wrote the following, in a slightly different version, earlier today as a comment on the No Impact Man blog. However, I thought it was so appropriate for wildlife-friendly gardeners that I decided to republish it here.

There must be hundreds if not thousands of versions of the "starfish story."

Details change, the characters change; sometimes they're father and son, sometimes the "little girl" is an old man. The punch line varies slightly, too.

In my favorite version, a man is walking on a very long beach, where thousands of starfish have been left stranded by the tide. As he walks, he comes across a little girl who is picking up the dying starfish one by one and throwing them back into the ocean. The man says, "Look at how many starfish there are. You can't possibly throw them all back into the ocean before they die. Why are you doing this? It's not going to make a difference."

And the little girl replies, as she's throwing a starfish back into the ocean, "It made a difference to that one."

This story apparently originated in a 1969 book called The Unexpected Universe by the revered writer and naturalist Loren Eiseley; Eiseley titled his magnificently written version "The Star Thrower." (The story is also found in a 1978 collection of the same name.) But Eiseley's story has been transformed in the retelling and adopted by countless people as their own. Its popularity testifies to our enduring faith in the power of a single person to make a difference.

I think this story is a particularly apt one for people who decide to practice wildlife-friendly gardening. No matter how large or small the patch of earth you've chosen to care for, you are doing your bit to help others live. You are saving the planet, one back yard, one garden, one windowbox at a time.

Here's to you. May you forever throw starfish.

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