I read a lot of science – books, magazine articles, and journals – to balance the fiction and religious material I read. With the exception of just a few authors, most writers on both sides of the science/religion debate portray each other in intentionally narrow, unflattering, terms. The exceptions, N. T. Wright, Marcus Borg, Robert Wright, Chet Raymo, and Kenneth Miller, are insightful, respectful, and sometimes playful authors. (For example, Raymo’s book title When God is Gone, Everything is Holy, is as sincere a tribute to mystery and miracle as anything you will read. Don’t be misled by the title.) Underlying each book and article I’ve encountered are three basic principles of life; to make more life, to control life, and to find meaning in life.
A gardener who works outside sees evidence of the first two principles most often – especially this time of year, late winter/early spring. I have been outside daily during our unusually warm, sunny late winter days and have been entertained by the antics of our frustrated resident squirrel, he of the ample haunches and bald tail spot. He’s been chasing another squirrel who has been reluctant to allow him to catch up with her (I’m making the assumption that it’s a she). She’s not given him that “come hither” look yet, and if her behavior is an accurate indication of mood, it’s not coming any time soon. But he’s persistent, and only seems to be distracted by an occasional peanut.
Our crows are acting up, also. I’ve seen a couple of altercations and a few chases on-the-wing (an impressive sight!). They are pairing up, if appearances are accurate, and trying diligently to get on with life. Spring is in the air and wildlife is responding. All species follow the dictates of Genesis 1:28. After all, it’s in the genes.
And plants do it, too. In the Carkeek Park Demonstration Gardens, I have tried to control the reproductive expertise of bind weed (Convolvulus arvensis) and English ivy (Hedera helix) since my first day on the job. If ever there were plants built to survive at all costs, they are those two. As we don’t use herbicides in the Gardens, we resort to pulling out by hand and smothering sprouts and seedlings with deep layers of bark mulch. Each year we see a slightly smaller population of these plants than the preceding year, but we haven’t eradicated these nuisance weeds yet and I’m sure we never will. These plants are built for the long haul. It is a given that each spring I will find ivy or bind weed in a new part of a bed while congratulating myself on the successful eradication of both from another bed. How did these plants come to be so successful? At times I want to shout, “Who’s responsible for this mess?!” But I know the answer. In their native environments, both plants provide food, shelter, and nectar to a wide variety of birds, insects, and some mammals, and controls on their growth do exist. But here in their adopted environment, there are no naturally occurring controls on growth and they’re not that beneficial to wildlife. Goats will eat both but they will eat most anything they encounter, and are not practical in botanic gardens. When I found both vines coming into my home garden from a neighboring yard, not even my beagle would eat them. And this was a dog who would eat my slippers, his blanket, fir cones, and green apples. Go figure.
After a winter rest, a garden comes alive with astounding speed, variety, and creativity. Each season offers unique beauty. Even weeds have purpose. What meaning, intent, or purpose we glean from the environment we are so intricately bound to and part of determines how we respond to each life form we encounter. Whether we see life as having come from an intentional act or see life as the result of a long evolution of random mutations, our responsibility is clear. Each action has consequence. We are only one part of a vast but delicately balanced and finite system, not the end result as we often like to see ourselves. Our actions often lead to disastrous, unintended consequences – the true meaning of monkey business.
And being just one part of this precious system, we must be mindful that we could be its end.