Kindling Neighborly Connections between People and Nature.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

Find Your Path and Follow it

Take a look at a wind-whipped hillside in Pennsylvania's north country during late-October and you'll notice that the oaks cling tightly to their leaves after all other deciduous trees have shed theirs for the year. This is a beautiful time of year. Then again, every moment of the year holds its own beauty.

It's like Ralph Waldo Emerson said in his book titled Nature, "To the attentive eye, each moment of the year has its own beauty, and in the same field, it beholds, every hour, a picture which was never seen before, and which shall never be seen again." (Nature Walking. Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. Beacon Press; Boston, MA, 1991. page 15)

"To the attentive eye, each moment of the year has its own beauty, and in the same field, it beholds, every hour, a picture which was never seen before, and which shall never be seen again." -Ralph Waldo Emerson

I recall a particular moment that held a special kind of beauty to me. It happened during a recent saunter in one of my favorite wild spaces in Tioga County, PA. The sun was drawing near to the western horizon. Looking for an advantageous spot to take in the beauty of the final hour of the day, I climbed onto the lowest branch of a big white oak tree which overlooked an expansive meadow. I reclined with my back against its trunk.  The meadow was filled with tall stems, each one crowned with the white fluff of goldenrod that had gone to seed. He approached from the north; antlers made of bone containing eight long tines, each one pointing towards the heavens. He made his way in my direction along the edge of the meadow towards the cover and sustenance provided by the grove of white oak trees. Now within 30 yards of my vantage, golden beams of evening sun illuminated his warm brown coat as he took every cautious step. Senses in tune with this wild space, the whitetail buck paused for a moment to survey the landscape, offering the hunter and the wildlife photographer the perfect shot, and to all who are fully present and aware a moment of inarticulate beauty. Though I had neither bow nor camera, the moment is etched in my mind forever.

The wildlife photographer may see this buck again some other day. The hunter may intend to make a meal out of it. Either way, the buck is far more beautiful alive in the meadow than he ever would be mounted on the wall of a hunting camp. A truth to be shared by hunter and non-hunter alike.
A photo of the same buck taken another day.

I'm currently in the middle of reading Aldo Leopold's, A Sand County Almanac for about the fiftieth time since I was first introduced to it fourteen years ago during my time in college. Through the pages of his book its clear that while Leopold is a hunter, he is first and foremost a conservationist who values wildlife more alive than he does on a dinner plate.

When it comes to the qualities about wildlife and wild spaces that inspire and motivate, the reasons are different for different people.

  • For some, its the eye for beauty.
  • For some, a heart ablaze with love for wildlife and wild spaces.
  • For some, a spirit that revels in the thrill and challenge of the hunt.

I have felt all three; and perhaps you have too.

And what do you do when the logic of the hunt says "shoot," but the heart feels a sense of kinship with wild neighbors as the hunter locks eyes with his/her quarry?

This was my dilemma.

For me, the joy of the hunt always faded quickly at the moment of the kill. I've learned that I don't need meat to live healthy. In my geographic region there are plant alternatives. Perhaps this is part of the reason I took up birding.

During the past three years I've grown to understand the way I want to live, and the way I've felt led to live as the Spirit of God continues to fill my heart with love for wildlife and wild spaces.

Jesus affirms that one of the most important things is to love our neighbors as ourselves. Furthermore, by his definition, to count someone as a neighbor means to extend mercy towards them. The term 'mercy' can be defined as 'love, kindness, and compassion.'

To love my neighbor is to work for the good of my neighbor and to help my neighbor to thrive.

Because of the love in my heart and my experiences in life I'm led to count wildlife and wild spaces as a neighbor to me.

As best I can my chosen path is to live as an expression of the mercy of God towards my wild neighbors. To me this means doing no harm as much as I can. If an animal doesn't have do die in order for me to live, I don't want it to. It also means doing good to my wild neighbors as much as I can. It means supporting organizations like the Audubon Society and the American Chestnut Foundation. It means helping to establish and preserve habitat for native species in the places where I have influence.

I always find joy in my experiences with my wild neighbors as I get to know them better; the oak, the deer, the jay, the goldenrod, the woolly-bear caterpillar, and many others.

This is my chosen way of living. But there are different ways of living.

I've found my path. I hope you'll find yours if you haven't already.

I wish that we would all provide one another that freedom.

There are different ways of expressing love towards wildlife and wild spaces. I know many a hunter and omnivore who love wild spaces as much as I do; they are my family, my friends, and my neighbors who express that love for wildlife and wild spaces in many and varied ways.

While I certainly enjoy spending time with kindred spirits, that is to say, people whose love for wildlife moves them to be vegetarians too, I don't want everyone to be like me. How arrogant would I have to be to think that way?

What is important is that each of us should provide one another the freedom to live in a way that is faithful to God's love for all of us and true to the person whom the Spirit of God is making each of us to be.

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