Roxana Robinson
Novelist and Biographer, Winner, James Webb Award for Distinguished Fiction
United States

Beautiful Creatures

“There is always a reason to kill a creature, it turns out, and it always makes money for someone to do so. That’s how it is in our world.”

Dear Descendants,

Already I know some of you, with your quick liquid eyes, your supple movements, the way you look and listen in your world. I’ll write to you, and to your descendants, the ones I will never know, you whose lovely quick shapes and minds will illuminate their own world.

Let me tell you what this world is like, the world I grew up in, about its beauty and variety.

Let me tell you about the miraculous Monarch butterfly, a shimmering flicker of amber that alights in our meadows, and feeds on our ragged milkweed plants. It lays eggs on the leaves, eggs that become fat striped caterpillars, which become tiny glowing gold-rimmed jade urns. These, magically, contain the butterflies, which turn dark and vivid as the moment of their emergence approaches. The butterflies themselves, flimsy, erratic, fly thousands of miles to a place they’ve never seen, to spend the winter. This quick amber miracle has been mine to admire every summer of my life.

And let me tell you about the Polar Bear, the largest land mammal, a bear of unimaginable size, with a pelt of pewter-white, a color to freeze your blood, and well it might, because they live at unimaginable temperatures, cold so deep it will freeze your breath inside your chest, freeze the salt sea, freeze the wind in the sky, but not the polar bear. Vast and unstoppable, the polar bear will swim through the frozen seas, pad over wrecked floes, slide in and out of water, fog, ice and snow. He is an apex predator, twelve feet high and weighing two thousand pounds. He has forty-two curved ivory teeth, and his paws are twelve inches across, armed with curved, lethal claws. Beautiful, wild, invincible, he has no animal enemies. It took 100,000 years for the polar bear to evolve from their nearest cousins, the brown grizzly, and now polar bears rule the arctic, with their lazy gait, their deadly black stare, their great majestic presence.

Let me tell you about the little brown bat, a small nocturnal flier that kindly eats our insects, flickering wildly through our evenings in pursuit of our mosquitoes. Bats flooded out of those louvers in our old barn – you’ve seen the pictures of it – every evening, all summer, hundreds of them, speeding out into the quiet dusk. We watched them, standing on the lawn: it was like a natural fireworks show, the silent, darting glimpses of wings flashing against the darkening sky.

Let me tell you about the frogs, leopard-spotted, with dark spherical marks ringed with gold, green frogs with round black eyes, that sat motionless beneath a leaf, waiting for an insect. Or the gray tree frog, the tiny one that climbs into the tall eupatorium plants in the garden, disguising its tiny mottled body among the leaves.

There are more I could tell you about, thousands of animals and birds and insects whom we are lucky to have now in our lives. But I think you won’t know them, dear descendants. I think that by the time you read this many of them will be gone. There is always a reason to kill a creature, it turns out, and it always makes money for someone to do so. That’s how it is in our world.

I wish I could show you these quick and beautiful creatures who were entrusted into our care, and not just describe them. I wish I could show them to you.