We Love the Creation We Know

January 13, 2010


[Ed. note: this article is part of our weekly series of reflections called Deep Down Things, published on Wednesdays.]

by Kendra Langdon Juskus

The author's childhood backyard in winter.

I grew up in a beautiful place. Not even an hour from New York City, my parents’ house rested between a reservoir, a forested plot of water company-owned land, and some reclusive neighbors. I was allowed to ramble the place with abandon, and that’s how I learned its secrets: where the snow drops would herald each spring, how to find crayfish in the sand of the lake bottom, which vines in the forest would hold my weight, and that the wild grapes and blackberries were good for eating.

One summer, the water company that owned most of the land I roamed decided to clear a road through it to monitor resident activity along the lake (a neighbor had illegally cleared trees on the water company’s property to improve his view). The company gave no warning of its plan to the families who lived along the reservoir, and when my eleven-year-old eyes saw the violent clearing of the trees and brush behind our house, I nearly lost my mind. I’ll spare you the pre-teen drama that ensued, but it suffices to know that my mother wouldn’t let me out of the house in fear that I might throw myself before a bulldozer.

The road was constructed, and, after a few years, forgotten and overgrown. But the fierce protectiveness that experience unleashed in me has never left me. The furor I felt watching those bulldozers crush tree after tree didn’t come from a sense of ownership over the land or an abstract commitment to environmentalism writ large. It was more akin to, if I may be so bold as to use these allusions, Jesus’ outrage as he threw the money changers out of the temple, or the lament of the exiled Israelites over their land.

The land I knew probably appeared small in acreage and unremarkable to others in its foliage and topography. But it was physical shelter and sustenance for vulnerable creatures, and for me it was a spiritual refuge of joy, discovery, and peace. It was where I met God. And I only loved it and desired to protect it so arduously because I knew the fragile, hidden preciousness that lay deep within it.

Lyanda Lynn Haupt, in her book Crow Planet, explains that it is important to know our immediate places in order to contribute to the larger call of environmental stewardship. She writes, “I believe strongly that effective and lasting conservation efforts are based in an everyday awareness of our continuity with the more-than-human world, an awareness that is cultivated through study and observation.”

Look closer!

Look closer!

Her book chronicles the discoveries she makes and the lessons she learns studying, with a naturalist’s eye and a neighborly spirit, the crows in her hometown of Seattle. She struggles through the stereotypes and perceived ordinariness of crows to learn of their intelligence, physical complexity, and relational intimacy. Through knowing them she comes to love them—not in a sentimental way, but with an appreciation for the role they play in her ecosystem, and with a devotion to helping them flourish in their “urban wilderness.”

This more studied knowing and active loving is the grown-up version of the exploring, discovering, and defending I did as child. And I don’t pretend to be the only person who knew her childhood environs like she knew her mother’s embrace. Many of us talk of the places we roamed as children in terms of an intimacy we lament to have lost. And shreds of the connections to creation that were formed then keep some of us working to conserve and restore a world that tomorrow’s children will continue to learn, know, and love.

But this is not a privilege exclusive to children. When we rely on vestiges of the past to sustain our work in the present, we come up short of breath. It’s the joy and responsibility (as so many things in life are both) of the adult steward to continue investigating, naming, and learning not only the dramatic mountain ranges and wetlands that we are privileged to have access to as adults, but also the backyards and street corners that we might better know if we were children. We cannot persevere in commitment to the species (humans included) and ecosystems that are exotic or breathtaking without the sustenance we receive from knowing and loving the environments of our daily life.

Do those places appear unremarkable? Look again.

Kendra Landon Juskus is the managing editor of Flourish.

{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

Rusty January 15, 2010 at 10:13 am

I find that one of the biggest blessings of having children is that they slow me down and localize me. The want to get all the good out of where we are right now. I had forgotten how important is my own backyard, or the in-between little patches of woods, ditches, brush, weeds, places that capture the attention of my kids, and where we find amazing things.

Cal DeWitt takes his students (and anybody he’s hanging out with) on “sidewalk safaris,” and amazes them at the biodiversity they find in pretty ordinary places. He kinda reminds me of my wife, in that regard (but only in that regard).

Thanks for this Kendra.

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