Maya Lin is in the memorial business. Most famous for her soul-stirring Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington DC, Lin has now turned her sights on memorializing the earth, or, rather, all that is missing from the earth. She has built an extraordinary website that asks the question What Is Missing? and helps us each answer it by allowing us to take glimpses, through video, text, art, etc., into everything, and everyone, who is extinct, or who is about to become extinct. This, Lin says, is her last memorial, and one that she will be adding to for the rest of her life.
The website is both fascinating and heartbreaking. It opens upon a world map made up of points of light, each of which can be clicked on to find out the story of one of the missing. You can also rearrange the site to tell you the story either chronologically or geographically. Or, even within the maps that are arranged by place, you can focus on the past, the present and, (eventually, this part is not yet built) the future. There is also an interactive page which allows people to post their own memories, or the stories they were told by their parents and grandparents about their memories, of the way it used to be. The creatures who were who are no longer. The abundance that is now diminished. (On a personal note, I can easily remember that when I was a child, bird song was so much more complicated and varied than it is now.) The site’s facebook page has also become a place for people to post their memories. These stories are absolutely fascinating and, if Maya Lin had not thought to put this all together, how many of these memories would have simply died along with those who carry them?
You can easily spend hours and hours here. While randomly clicking on points of light on Lin’s map, I learned about estuaries, their importance for sustaining biodiversity, and how 22 major cities around the world are built right on them (including right here in New York), pretty much eliminating their value to the natural world. I also learned about, and saw, and heard, African Penguins, who are the only penguins to inhabit Africa and whose numbers have dropped from 220,000 to 72,000 since the 70s. And then there were the Giant River Otters of South America. And, and, and….
What a privilege to catch these glimpses and snippets of these animals just living their lives. This is so different from seeing animals in a zoo, where they have been reduced to objects for us to peer at, learning that it is ok to imprson them and learning little of what their lives should be. I truly believe that you cannot explore this website for any length of time without coming away moved by the extraordinary diversity and beauty of the world and its inhabitants and re-energized in your commitment to try to save whomever we can.