“Though boys throw stones at frogs in sport,
the frogs do not die in sport,
but in earnest.”
It is springtime in Texas. And, my thoughts are stirring along with the awakening landscape.
The bluebonnets and Indian paintbrush are in bloom along the highways and across pastureland.
Wrens and mockingbirds and robins frantically feed their tiny young.
Baby birds, it seems, are everywhere!
I’m thinking about turtles because at this time of year they are crossing the roadways.
They are everywhere, and I do mean everywhere. You can’t drive down a country highway without encountering a red-eared slider or a soft shell or even a snapper that isn’t trying to cross to the other side. Where are they going? What is the rush? Is it mating season? A mass migration? Is it just the fact that the grass is always greener on the other side? I don’t know. I just know they are trying to cross the road right in front of my car. And my car has an incredibly hard time slowing down for them.
Husband and daughter-in-law are two of those amazingly soft-hearted folk who always stop their cars in the middle of a congested roadway (no matter that cars whiz by at supersonic speeds and despite my crazed, “We’re all gonna die!” ravings in the passenger seat). No, these two calmly switch on their emergency flashers, climb out of the car and—
—amidst blaring horns, irate commuters on a crashcourse trajectory and, of course, the lunatic rant from the passenger seat (Me)—
—gently nudge a sluggish but obstinately determined turtle across the road into the ditch and out of harm’s way. I so admire them for this selfless act, and yet I am rarely willing to sacrifice my life, my time, or my position in the dragstrip queue for a reptile (amphibian? reptile? Okay, I admit it, I had to look it up to make sure they’re reptiles. Duh.)
My granddaughter was telling me about a friend’s grandfather who likes to sit on the back porch of his country house and shoot turtles sunning on the side of his pond. Why? I asked her. Because he thinks it’s fun, she responded. He shoots them not because the family is hungry, and he is planning to prepare turtle soup; not because they are a menace to fish in the pond that could keep his family alive; not because they eat up the crops around his pond that sustain his and his family’s lives; not because they are a threat to the small children in his extended family. No, he shoots them because it is fun. Because he can.
Okay, so here is how I see it. We have been endowed with custodianship over this world. I actually take that commission seriously. Without sounding like a tree-hugging, nut-eating wacko, I believe there are certain parameters under which we should operate. God gave us dominion over the animals and over the earth. I don’t take that as a master/slave relationship. Nor do I take that as a license to wipe out whatever species happens to be in the way of my manifest destiny to conquer and control every square inch of the planet. I take that mandate from God as a sacred responsibility.
I don’t by any means believe that the Australopithecine whattle-throated, yellow-speckled, citrus-devouring caterpillar is more important than the energy or food demands of a modern world. We are to do what we can do to save the planet’s species but, come on, limits have to be drawn. We are responsible for ourselves, our children, our own personal welfare. But, are we not also supposed to be caretakers of this planet and of those creatures who cannot protect themselves against an ever-encroaching human presence?
It may not seem like a big thing. It might only be infinitesimal. And yet, sometimes those small things make up the whole. Sometimes it is what is done in the details of the every day that make up a life. A life of sin. A life of glory.
The small things add up.
I know that in my own life, I often find myself hardening against the natural world. I find myself caring less and less about the fate of “inferior” species, whether they be fauna or flora. Hey, we’re in an economic crisis. We’re in a global cultural, political, and financial meltdown. I’ve got Me to worry about. My world–Population Me. Not a some variegated Lithuanian trout or a Peruvian tree frog or a Nebraskan orange-beaked hawk. It’s all about me right now.
Yet, something nags and gnaws at the edges of my heart. A critter has burrowed into the crevices beneath the skin and slowly eats away at my ambivalence. Something forces me to remember that there is a world out there that I am a part of and that I have been given dominion over. I see a turtle crossing the road, and I have to force myself to remember to ask you, Lord, to help me to be the custodian you created me and all mankind to be. Help me to remember that my fate is tied to those creatures—great and small—who make up your world. Help me to remember that, while I am eternally important, everything around me is a part of your world, a part of your plan.
And so, as Spring awakens around me…I’m thinking about turtles. I’m thinking about how frogs and all other creatures that cohabit my space on this planet do not die in sport. As the ancient Greek poet wrote…
When they die…
They die in earnest.