Well, sort of. It is true that in some ways my children are suburban kiddos. Last month while we were visiting family in the Great North Woods of northern New Hampshire, Lucien became fixated on seeing a moose. It is a fairly common occurrence on the stretch of road that winds through the bogs of the Androscoggin River between Berlin and Errol. But, I had never perceived Lucien’s limited experience with forest until, later on the same trip, we were riding bikes through a small 100ft area of trees. “Maybe we will see a moose!” Even this small cluster of trees was forest to him—the fact that we could see directly into people’s backyards did not matter in his almost three year old mind. In moments like these, the packed in suburban farm seems so inadequate to meet the small child’s need to be filled up with nature. As a mother, I despair a little, and can’t help but ask myself, “Are we really doing enough to balance their city existence?”Still, in a world of concrete and city pools, they can walk out their back door and pick red strawberries, measure how tall the corn is against their own height, picture their Halloween jack-o-lanterns as they tuck pumpkin seeds into the ground, snack on a pea pod on the way to the sandbox, watch a pollen heavy bee visiting the sunflowers, argue whether or not the raspberries are supposed to be red or black (I will never win this argument. If only they knew how juicy sweet they could be!). When we buy eggs from the grocery store they ask, “Why isn’t the yolk orange, Mama?” And, they are beginning to understand that to be able to eat a chicken with good conscience, you have to be able to look that chicken in the eye, with gratitude and sadness and matter-of-factness for the cycles of existence, as you end its life. These suburban children live the growing, harvesting, passing, resting of the year, and I hope that this understanding, planted within them at a tender young age, will instill in them something of nature’s laws of transformation, and how the human being, too, interweaves through this process.
Would I prefer they lived in a magical land without stop lights? Yes, part of me would. But, the question that always follows is, “What about the community work?” After all, there are few places on the earth in which abundance of nature does not also equal absence of man. And, when it comes right down to it, we need each other.
Unlike all else in the natural world, there is a part of us that is not bound by its laws. A farm dog will never stop to ponder the morality of eating a woodchuck. But if you ask ten people why they eat the food they eat, you’ll likely get ten different answers. As human beings, we are always asking ourselves, “Am I doing the right thing?” We are awake in our thought lives and free to choose how we strive to transform ourselves, unlike any other being on the face of the earth. More often than not, it is another human being that holds up the mirror, reflecting our shortcomings back to us, nudging us to put our egotism aside and gaze upon the image in the mirror with more objectivity. If we are lucky, the mirror is held up in love, so that the clarity of the reflection is accompanied by the transforming power of warmth.
Of course, the natural world holds up this mirror also, forever showing us how our human flaws have ravaged the earth. But, it never says, “You know, I forgive you this mistake and I love you, so I’ll clean up that river, rectify global warming, bring back the Mountain Gorilla in abundance.” In this way, nature is bound by its own laws, the limitations of cause and effect. It is only the human being that is free to offer the transformative power of love.
Perhaps this is why the Garden, where we lived in perfect harmony with nature, free from knowledge and questioning, is behind us in our evolution. We are not called upon to return to this paradise. Instead, we are called upon to build the New Jerusalem; a city filled to the brim and overflowing with all the capacities only a human being can carry; “all the spiritual treasures of the peoples and all achievements of soul.” (Revelation 22:26)
These suburban children will have to wait a while for another chance to spot a moose, swim in a lake, count rotten trees in the forest. But, every day in the small part of this city that is our community, they will be called upon to look in the mirror, and they will be offered unconditional love to take up the work of transforming their reflection. I think I can live with that.