Waste not

In the world we inhabit, things must die, decay, rot.

I went duck hunting with Mr. Dave Gregory of Langley, B.C., on the Nicomekl River, a lazy stream in south Surrey. It was about 1982. We normally hunted puddles in flooded fields but a cold snap had frozen everything except the ocean marshes and the tidal portions of a few rivers. Dave had chest waders for putting out a dozen decoys, portable blinds and two great Labrador retrievers.

I shot a duck and it flew all the way across the river and then collapsed: a sure sign of a heart shot. Dave’s Labradors couldn’t get to it through the slush and ice. “What a waste,” I said. Dave replied sternly: “Curt, there is no waste; ravens will have that duck in a few minutes.” (They did.)

Apples cores and old chickens

I grew up in a family profoundly affected by the Great Depression; waste was almost a swear word. Poverty means that you eat apples to the core and then some. I have two friends who – to this day – eat an apple until only the stem, blossom and seeds are left. Me? I’m likely to eat the meaty parts and throw the rest to the chickens. Is that unstewardly?

Sometimes an old chicken dies in the winter and I take it out to the field, rip out a few feathers and scatter them on the snow next to the carcass. A raven finds it within 20 minutes.

Did I waste the chicken? Should I have made soup?

Chickadees find the scraps of our butchered cows first (they eat “blood-sickles”), then magpies and grey jays, then ravens and last – but within an hour – bald eagles. During the night coyotes show up.

An ode to rot

Is beauty antithetical to stewardship? Would we be better off ploughing up those “lilies of the field” and planting kale? Are flowers mixed in with the vegetables a waste? Isn’t life more than nutrition? “Is not life more than meat, and the body more than raiment?”

John Updike once wrote an ode to rot. “Pure rot / is not / but benign; without it, how / would the forest digest its fallen timber, / the woodchuck corpse / vanish to leave behind a poem?” Without waste, composting and humus, decay, where would we be?

I began to see that my parents and friends were not so concerned about waste as they were expressing the need for appreciation. And thankfulness.

Perhaps in Eden there was no decay and death (and no fungi?), but in the world we inhabit, things must die, decay, rot. Life sprouts from death. And we’re told that suffering – while not something we seek – is a path that sometimes leads to glory. An aversion to waste, when seen this way, is not much of a virtue. I won’t glorify waste, but neither will I condemn it.


  • Curt Gesch

    Curt Gesch and his wife lead the singing via Zoom for a combined service of small United Church congregations in central B.C. each Sunday morning. In the afternoon, they lead a Friends and Family Zoom worship from their home. If you'd like to join that service, please write Curt at moc.liamg@36hcsegc.

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