Five swans patrol Miller Lake – two adults and three cygnets. One cygnet still has brown feathers, but the other two are beautifully white like their parents. They are not native to this area, but they think they own this lake. They have chased away the pintails and the mallards, and they even take on the Canada geese that dare to stop by for a feed and a rest. They seem to tolerate the cranes that also live here, but it is a shaky truce.
The ash trees in the woods bordering the lake have all been destroyed by the ash borer. The logs in the fire pit bear the scars of the beetles’ tunnelling.
At the shallow end of the dock, the bluegills have just laid their eggs in the hollows they have created. The males have sent the females packing, and are fiercely protecting the “nests,” patrolling the perimeters hour after hour, and chasing off all comers.
On the corner of the dock is a solar light that a spider has used as a base to build a web. Countless mosquitoes and small-winged moths have been entrapped there overnight.
A black mink lives somewhere under the dock at the shoreline. Apparently it eats the frogs as well as other small animals. I wonder how many creatures that were alive last night are still living this morning. Last summer two big black water snakes used to sun themselves on the dock, but they are gone too. Rick from the cottage next door has been fishing since dawn. He and his small boat are motionless in the water, a most idyllic scene, but I know that there is a barbed hook beneath the surface of the water, and at any moment, one creature will be caught and prepared for another creature’s breakfast. And so the day begins where the previous night left off.
It’s that simple
This little corner of the world may be a wonderfully peaceful place – a restorative for the soul – but change, predation and death help make it so. Sometimes it is easy to see, not the good earth, to borrow a title, but rather, the killing fields, to borrow another.
Once my seven-year-old granddaughter, upon watching a pod of orcas circle and devour a seal, remarked, “Why is the earth such a bad place?” It’s a good question that has been asked and debated since the beginning of recorded history. Job of the biblical story asked it too, and got no answers (though he did get to talk to God face to face). And the fairy tale ending to Job’s story is offset by the seemingly glib “bet” God and Satan have in the prologue. Job’s story brings to mind the Duke of Gloucester’s words from King Lear: “As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods; they kill us for their sport.”
People of faith know that God would never toy with us, and yet sometimes it seems appropriate to ask God what on earth he has in mind. Could swans just be beautiful, please, and not also power-tripping colonials in a lake that is not theirs to begin with? And why should bluegills have to fight to protect what is rightfully theirs? And the big question: Why are we humans no less predatory than our fellow creatures? We have access to the law and the prophets. We have available the Spirit of God. We have the example of Jesus. We have the wisdom and the folly of the ages. We have the book of Nature. So what is holding us back from creating a good earth? From being inclusive, from sharing what we have, from ditching our arrogance in believing we can speak for God?
It is in our purview to do better. We can do this. We don’t have to solve the big unknowns of the universe. We can be humble enough to remove whatever blinders prevent us from taking care of the earth and each other. It’s that simple (and that hard). If that means having to look beneath the surface of the water to discern the fish hooks, as it were, well, who wants to live in a fool’s paradise?
So, at the end of another summer, from the dock at Miller Lake, here’s the challenge: Learn to live with questions instead of answers, for that will spur you on to keep searching for the truth. Embrace doubt if you must, for then you might just be prodded to live with hope rather than certainty. And don’t go swanning around as if you owned the whole lake. You don’t. God does.
Finally, find a hymnal and thank the Lord of the universe by singing the old hymn, For the beauty of the earth/ And the beauty of the skies. . . .
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