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Bat Guano and All That
Penny Ward Moser
September 02, 1991
The public radio call-in show "Good Dirt" provides a trove of ecological info
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September 02, 1991

Bat Guano And All That

The public radio call-in show "Good Dirt" provides a trove of ecological info

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It was during the third show that I realized what was missing: my rocking chair. I was listening to the radio, contemplating a discussion on whether the species—human, that is—is endangered or even doomed.

I had already learned that it is O.K. to keep a rehabilitated bullfrog as a pet; that it is illegal to transplant a wild dogwood tree in the Commonwealth of Virginia; that Americans each year dump, leak or spill three times more oil than oozed from the Exxon Valdez; and that electric bug-zappers may be replaced with bats, which you can attract to your backyard by putting up a bat house and smearing it with store-bought bat guano.

It had been a long time since I spent an hour at night with the TV off, lights dimmed, listening to a radio show. Radio has been for me, in recent years, something you tune in on snowy mornings, hoping the world has been canceled. Now, here comes a wonderful new program, Good Dirt, which originates at WAMU-FM, in Washington, D.C., and is currently heard on many Public Radio affiliate stations.

Good Dirt, a call-in show "on the nature of things," stars naturalist and all-around learned curmudgeon Bil Gilbert—who is a special contributor to this magazine—and former Nature Conservancy executive Dave Morine.

I could say the show would be of interest to all "environmentalists," but Dirt recently devoted a considerable portion of one show to the premise that the term is so overused and misused that it no longer means anything. Rather, the show is dedicated, as Gilbert puts it, to the premise that "understanding, appreciating and living in harmony with nature brings joy into people's lives." He puts listeners "in harmony with nature" not only by informing them, but also by spinning long, warm yarns about crows, and how the hunter-gatherer American Indians looked upon the agrarian pioneers as slaves of the land. It's these easy-listening touches that drew me to my rocking chair.

The tone can shift quickly from the convivial to the crabby when the hosts blast environmental groups for becoming nearly as driven by money as the evils they oppose. "They're all selling T-shirts," Morine complains. Gilbert says many a group has gone from "improving relations between man and nature...to an institution that is principally concerned with its own survival."

He hit home hard one night when he chided all of us who feel so virtuous while filling up the recycling truck. "Don't buy so much stuff to begin with," Gilbert says. I saw my own leaf bag full of Diet Coke cans and considered that I really could drink more water.

One of Good Dirt's great strengths is its appeal to all of us who have had it with hypochondria and hysteria. You know, like when CNN dolefully reports that researchers in Utah now believe that almost all illness is caused by applesauce.

One recent Dirt featured guest meteorologist Pat Michaels of the University of Virginia, who attempted to throw cold water on the global-warming theory. Michaels claims that for the last 100 million years the earth was warmer than it is right now, and that the CO[2] concentration in the atmosphere was more—probably several times more—than it is today. Callers to the program give me hope that there are people out there contemplating things besides Oprah's fight with fat. Some questions the callers ask are easy:

What to do about ants and mosquitoes? Good Dirt says to learn to like them. They belong.

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