My high school is situated on a hill above the business districts of Newcastle and Damariscotta, Maine. As you come out of the driveway and head toward town, you take a big curve to the left and then glide down the hill to the stop sign.
I learned to drive and got my license without ever having encountered a light signal. The screams in the car were not for joy when we visited nearby cities with these strange lights that kept blinking at me.
Now there’s a traffic light at the crossroads where the McDonald’s sells lobster rolls. I think the McDonald’s was there before the streetlight came. But I’m not sure.
We all grow up in such different ways.
If you didn’t take that big curve to the left, if you happened to look right instead you would see the paved (but not very far) beginning to a road that leads into the woods. The woods that were so deep that if you walked five miles or so you’d wind up at my house. I did walk those miles, many times, with my dog, Thor, a crossbreed between a collie and a standard poodle. A dog that would sit down, rump on sofa, feet on floor, next to me as though that were the most natural thing in the world for him to do.
He didn’t take tea, though.
He was named Thor because when my mother brought him home, already a sizable puppy, and let him out into a field to, well, you know, he leapt with fear at the form of nature that threatened to attack him.
It was a butterfly.
Thor it was.
Thor and I would stroll through the woods into town, past the blue egrets in the ponds and the geese at Mrs. Mulligan’s house that guarded her from moose and fishers and wandering hikers. Past stand upon stand of of pine trees, their cast-off needles forming a most sweetly scented bedding.
High mass, with its smells and bells, is a sorry comparison for the distribution of sensual treats that the forest gives so freely.
Back to the hill in town. If you followed the path I’ve been describing, alternately referred to as The Old Sheepscott Road (with variations on the spelling of Sheepscott, even) or The Old Indian Trail (is it an old trail used by Indians, or a trail for old Indians, I wonder), you would pass a house. Perhaps two. The town doctor who eventually went off to work on a missionary medical ship in Africa lived on that road. After a bit, a very short bit, the trail would shrug off its paving, its attempt to be new-fashioned, and let its dirt shine again. Well, not shine exactly.
You get the idea.
Down the hill beyond the end of modernity there was a stagnant pool. Not a pond. Not the beginnings of a creek or a brooklet. Nothing special in terms of wildlife. In fact, there were no substantial species, like fish or birds or rodents, there.
There were slugs. And microscopic whatcha-ma-call-its galore. And there were leeches. Lots and lots of leeches.
From time-to-time that is where our biology class would troop off too. Best day of school, in my opinion. I didn’t even care that we had to collect leeches to dissect and mucky water to look at under our microscopes. We were outside. I could smell pine needles. I could feel the gentle wind on my cheek.
Best day ever.
It came as something of surprise, then, when I was assigned to write a Grand Litany for Nature and begin a study of the nature of nature.
God is never without a surprise or two in his pocket.
For me, nature is a grand delight. An almost magical cocoon filled with sounds and scents and whizzing-bys and leaping deer.
To God, nature is an entire matter altogether.
To God, nature is his response. He created. And nature was created. If God sang us into creation, as I’ve read recently, then nature is his song. And it is more than an accumulation of all the varieties of animal and plant and mineral. Much more.
It is a living whole.
The most stupendous vision about nature that I was given was how Nature cooperated with Jesus in his water miracles. Working with, or stimulated by, the Holy Spirit, it was Nature’s hand that held his feet as he walked to Peter.
It was the Holy Spirit, leading Nature, that worked with Jesus to change the water into wine.
To God, Nature is his infinite, “yes.” He commands, Nature complies.
Call and response. The perfect relationship.
Man, of course, wants none of this easy compliance business. Especially not with God.
Do we carry our eviction from Eden as a chip on our shoulder, do you suppose?
What I do know is that man thinks science is completely his own. That as he works his work Nature is standing on the outside of the laboratory looking in. As though Nature wasn’t leading him by the nose to every discovery made. (It isn’t much of a discovery to Nature, now is it? Everything is already known to her.)
We don’t even want to think of ourselves as part of nature mostly because we have the illusion that we have the ability to say, “no,” to God. To Nature. To life.
We’re not like Nature, giving of herself so completely that harm is threatening to change her very nature.
We are in the process of modifying the nature of nature.
Did you know that there is a gas trapped at the bottom of the ocean? This gas, to man, is very toxic. If (or when) our planet continues to increase the temperature of the Earth’s surface, the ice that keeps this gas trapped will melt, the gas will be released, and we will all die.
Just like that.
It has happened four or five times already throughout Earth’s history.
Nature even has the ability to counteract significant threats to her existence.
We like to think of ourselves as first. First in nature. Able to kill the lion. Able to soar through the air. Able to fill the oceans with plastic.
We’re really, really big.
And we’re so important on Earth that Nature can do nothing about it. We can have our way.
She has to say, “yes,” to us.
We forget, don’t we?, that behind this creation is God. And we don’t want to acknowledge that Nature is his partner in creation.
We may be a part of that partnership. But we’re just a part.
I began to assemble a few tiny, tiny litanies, stringing together little poems, sometimes children’s poems, about the categories: earth, mountains and hills, plants, water, sea creatures, birds, beasts, humans. But I most certainly didn’t take the work seriously. Just a sweet pastime. Then I lost my hard-drive. I lost the little litanies. And I lost interest.
But lately, I keep finding something about that work in my hand.
Like sitting under an oak tree and having acorns drop on my head, I’m being brought back to attention on the matter.
Except I have one question, Just What Is A Grand Litany On Nature? And how am I supposed to write one? (Fine, two questions.)
I suppose I should go and sit by a stagnant pool of water and see what I can see.