Tuesday, December 10, 2002

Nature and religion, part I

I came across this book, The Good in Nature and Humanity: Connecting Science, Religion, and Spirituality, edited by Stephen R. Kellert and Timothy J. Farnham, a collection of essays on the subject of the book's title, many of which mentioned this book, A Sand County Almanac and Sketches Here and There[: With Other Essays on Conservation from Round River], by Aldo Leopold. (My copy of the book is the same one I linked to at Amazon.com, but my copy doesn't state the subtitle although the essays are included.)
There are two spiritual dangers in not owning a farm. One is the danger of supposing that breakfast comes from the grocery, and the other that heat comes from the furnace.

To avoid the first danger, one should plant a garden, preferably where there is no grocer to confuse the issue.

To avoid the second, he should lay a split of good oak on the andirons, preferably where there is no furnace, and let it warm his shins while a February blizzard tosses the trees outside. If one has cut, split, hauled, and piled his own good oak, and let his mind work the while, he will remember much about where the heat comes from, and with a wealth of detail denied to those who spend the week end in town astride a radiator (p. 6).

Leopold has many other wonderful observations about the connection between nature and human life:
Every farm woodland, in addition to yielding lumber, fuel, and posts, should provide its owner a liberal education. This crop of wisdom never fails, but it is not always harvested (p. 73).
Growing up in central/southern Africa, we didn't need to fortify ourselves against blizzards, but we did have to burn wood to heat our hot water supply. As a youngster, I know I didn't contemplate the spiritual aspects and value of going into the bush with my dad and loading the wood he'd cut into the trailer, then unloading it at home and stacking it. I mainly grumbled at how hot and sticky and itchy it was. And now I can take a shower at anytime of the day or night, trusting that the gas water heater will not fail. Thanks, dad, for all the wood you cut and hauled and stacked (you didn't make us children help you very often) and for all the mornings you got up early and made a fire in the Rhodesian boiler so that we'd have hot water when we woke up.

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