Thursday, June 28, 2018

mutually sanctifying

As I nursed two small planters of vegetables and flowers into bloom under the shadow of the Metro North, I realized that growing things reminds you what it means to be human. But, in growing, you discover it is not just humans who sanctify the earth, the earth also sanctifies us, gives us our identity of gardener. The art of being human and the task of digging in the humus—this action of bringing forth fruit—are deeply intertwine.

My father's brother (his brothers are usually all jokes and teasing and loud hearty Irish-German guffaws) tills the California land (my Steinbeck-stamped soul is stark-struck) and his eyes tear up with mine as we talk of land. Of loving land, living intimately with it, and letting it live in us.

At the zoo, the lion lay down in the shade of a Minnesota oak. In the zoo, the Lord's holy mountain is already here, for the lion and the snow leopard lie down together, or at least within several yards of one another. They both looked preternaturally tame and meek, which of course they must be. Because if you are being treated like a tame housecat, even if you are lion, you must sort of eventually become more housecat-like than lion-like. How much of a lion's identity, I wondered, comes from the savannah, and how can he possibly maintain it, living in a cage in Minnesota? Humans, who are culturally conditioned, and whose cultures are locationally bound, must also suffer similar cognitive dissonance when being transplanted. The difference, I imagine, is that the human being can hold onto whatever cultural traits connect her to her home. The human can fight against the nature which surrounds her, maintain a bit of individuality, a trait of her identity that links her to the people who root and shape her thousands of miles distant. As I watched the sleeping housecat-lion, I wondered if the lion was dreaming of the savannah. Or if it lies within his animal soul, deeper even than his dreams, but calls to him every so often in a hot breeze of wind, or zebra bleat from the next cage over.

At the end of going through a tour of these out-of-context beasts, it was refreshing to stop with my Uncle Steinbeck and my ornithologically-minded father at the duck pond by the entrance of the zoo. At the duck pond, nature is not in a cage. Even in a manufacture pond, the environment is more natural, and nature as she is supposed to be hums along with her usual whimsical pace. The sunshine sparkles on the water, interrupted by the unfettered splashing of wings, and ripples of paddling feet. The highly unexotic mallards enchant by their effortless existence, splashing, diving, creating a ruckus. The drakes chased each other out of their invisibly-but-indelibly marked territories, a couple frisky young fellows shamelessly chased down and humped the outraged female ducks in front of us, and some few stray geese barged through the duck community, without gaining a whit of notice. Relieved of the burden of performing what they are for curious humans, these animals can be their fullest selves, and the simple comedy of their daily activity is the holiness nature was meant to give the world.

Perhaps they can only be those selves, however, when allowed to be fostered by the earth and not a human hand. Perhaps animals, as we are, are meant to receive from the earth something more than bodily sustenance. Perhaps our souls and better selves are also nourished by the earth we give our hearts and homes and bodies to.

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