Jun 29 2020

In Praise of Insects

One of the books I read this month is Buzz, Sting, Bite: Why We Need Insects by Anne Sverdrup-Thygeson.  It is a very interesting book and gave me a much greater appreciation for insects and the role they play in God’s Creation.  There certainly are a lot of insects on earth.  Scientists estimate that there are close to a million different kinds!  These six-legged creatures make up a huge percentage of the world’s living organisms.  It’s a good thing they are there as they provide many valuable services for both humans and other creatures.  The author of the book states “…we humans rely on insects getting their job done.  We need them for pollination, decomposition, and soil formation; to serve as food for other animals, keep harmful organisms in check, disperse seeds, help us in our research, and inspire us with their smart solutions.  Insects are nature’s little cogs that make the world go round.” 

There are around thirty different orders of insects in the world.  These include butterflies, beetles, wasps, flies, dragonflies, termites, and orthoptera (grasshoppers and crickets).  Other than butterflies and a few beetles like the lightning bug, most people do not look favorably on insects.  They appear to be little more than pests to a lot of folks.  But as already noted, insects play a vital role in our lives.  Sverdrup-Thygeson notes that it is not easy to put a price tag on the services insects provide.  She says “the annual contribution of the many pollinating insects is estimated to be worth around $577 billion.  Decomposition and soil formation are estimated to be worth four times as much as pollination in total.”

Unfortunately the insect population is declining worldwide.  This is due to a number of factors.  Those most frequently cited are “increasing land use, intensive farming and forestry practices, pesticides, and the decline in natural remnant habitats, as well as climate change.”  It has been estimated that one-quarter of all insects may be under the threat of extinction.

I learned a lot about insects by reading Buzz, Sting, Bite and if you are interested in learning more about these fascinating creatures and all they do to enhance life on earth, I highly recommend you read it.  The book left me marveling at the amazing web of life God created.  Marvelous, indeed, are the works of the Lord!  We should all give thanks for insects and learn to appreciate them more.  They are worthy of our admiration, as King Solomon recognized, and protection.

A Canadian insect researcher once said, “The world is rich in small wonders—but so poor in eyes that see them.”  I pray God will give us all the eyes to see the wonders of the insect world and all the other small creatures around us.

–Chuck


Jan 27 2020

Loneliness and Nature

Do you experience loneliness?  Statistics would indicate that periodically you do.  Just about everyone does.  How do you deal with loneliness?  Some choose harmful paths but most people simply seek companionship.  But where do we find the companionship we’re looking for?  An obvious answer might be in our friends and family.  A less obvious answer would be in nature.

A few days ago a good friend sent me a link to an article found in the most recent issue of The Christian Century.  In this article the author, Tricia Gates Brown, claims that our problem isn’t just loneliness, it’s “species loneliness.”  This phrase she picked up from novelist Richard Powers.  Brown writes, “For Powers, species loneliness denotes the ways human beings have cut ourselves off from the nonhuman species inhabiting our world.  In our desire for dominance and self-gratification we have put ourselves in solitary confinement, and in the worst cases become the tormenter of all things nonhuman.  We have deprived ourselves of love relationships with nonhumans.”  Brown goes on to say that species loneliness is making us sick.  “We were never meant to operate as an autonomous and independent species.  We desperately need the full cooperation of other species to survive, from large mammals that maintain a crucial balance within ecosystems to microbial communities in our own guts.  As a result of our non-cooperation, interspecies disconnection is breaking down the systems humans depend on.  This disconnection is deeper than the interdependence of biological systems; it is also theological.  That’s why, to my ears, the word loneliness gets at the issue with such scalpel-precision.  Loneliness has been defined as being ‘destitute of sympathetic companionship.’  It is a sickness of the heart and soul, the parts of ourselves we cannot see yet know to be our very essence.”

I believe that Brown is on to something here.  Loneliness is a reality for many of us and the root of that loneliness is not always human.  This explains why some people turn to their pets for companionship.  It may sound strange to some but there are people I know who find companionship in certain trees or flowers.  I’m convinced that this is just how God has made us.  In the Creation stories in the Bible animals and plants play a prominent role.  We are meant to interact with the rest of Creation and can find an antidote to loneliness there as well as with other humans.  This enables us to “widen the family circle of love.”  At the end of Brown’s article she says “God as immanent companion encountered in nature—under a stone or in the eyes of a hummingbird or a dog—is wonderfully good news for people sick with loneliness.  Love is abundant and waiting for us, right there in nature.”  Are you willing to expand the boundaries of your love?  If so, you may well find your periods of loneliness lessen to a significant degree.

–Chuck


Dec 30 2019

Respecting the Elderly

For Christmas a dear friend gave me a copy of The Wisdom of Wolves by Jim and Jamie Dutcher.  The Dutchers have devoted much of their lives to studying and photographing wolves.   Throughout this book they share lessons they have learned from wolves over the years.   In one chapter Jamie Dutcher writes about the important role elderly wolves play in the life of the pack.  She believes “the presence of elders is what shapes the very character of a wolf pack” and that “the soul and wisdom of the pack lives in its elders.”  The Dutchers cite evidence that the presence of older wolves are necessary for the survival of packs.  Jamie also concludes that the same is true with humans and society in general.  She writes: “In the developed world, where we prize youth and vigor, always looking toward the next technological advance and all too eager to forget the past, the elderly are often marginalized.  We tend to think of our senior citizens as a group that needs to be cared for but not necessarily venerated.  How often do we acknowledge our elders as ones who remember history firsthand, as the holders of knowledge and experience, as the keepers of our culture?”   In another passage she says “If we don’t look to our elders, we ignore our history and shared experience, and we end up repeating the same mistakes over and over again.  If we truly cherish the young and let our elders be our teachers, we can break the cycle of ignorance and grow together.”

I believe, with the Dutchers, that we do indeed have much to learn from wolves.  If nothing else we can learn from them the importance of respecting and honoring the elderly of our society.  The Scriptures certainly teach us the same lesson.  Job 12:12 says “Wisdom is with the aged, and understanding in length of days.”  Leviticus 19:32 says “Stand up in the presence of the elderly, and show respect for the aged.”  In 1 Peter 5:5 young men are encouraged to “be submissive to those who are older.”  In numerous passages children are exhorted to honor or respect their parents.

As we come to the end of one year (and decade) and prepare to begin another, I would suggest that one resolution we might all make is to give more respect to our elders.  They truly do have much to teach and offer us.  In humility let us learn from their wisdom.  Let us strive to give them the dignity they deserve.  Wolves are wise enough to recognize the importance of doing so.  Are we?

–Chuck

I took the pictures shown above at Yellowstone National Park.


Oct 23 2019

Bad News for the Birds

Have you heard the news?  A recent study has indicated that birds in North America are in trouble.  In the past fifty years the total number of birds has declined nearly 30%.  That means over one in four birds have disappeared in North America.  The study, published by the journal Science, reveals that close to three billion birds have been lost during just a portion of my lifetime.  This is tragic news!  Everyone knows that birds play an important role in the various ecosystems they abide in.  They are an instrumental part in the web of life.  Thankfully, not all species have experienced decline but every biome in the United States and Canada has been affected.  The populations of waterfowl, raptors and turkeys have increased significantly.  That is not the case for major families like sparrows, warblers, blackbirds and finches.  Many of our most beloved birds are disappearing at an alarming rate.  Ken Rosenberg, from Cornell Lab of Ornithology, says the bird losses “are a strong signal that our human-altered landscapes are losing their ability to support birdlife.  And that is an indicator of a coming collapse of the overall environment.”

What are the reasons behind the dramatic decline in the bird population?  There are several.  Habitat loss and the widespread use of harmful pesticides are two primary factors.  A decline in the insect population has affected those species that depend on insects for food.  Other causes include climate change, detrimental land use policy, and the weakening of wildlife protection policies.  Even things like window collisions and cat predation have been pointed to as contributing factors for decline.  Knowing the causes for decline is important but doing something about them will require significant effort and changes.  Do we care enough to make these changes?  I believe people of faith should care enough.

About the time I first read the reports about the loss of three billion birds in North America I was studying the story of Noah and the Flood.  I can’t read that story without remembering that God was insistent that the flood not destroy all wildlife.  God instructed Noah to build an ark not just to preserve humans, but all creatures as well.  I found Genesis 7:2-3 to be very interesting.  God told Noah, “Take with you seven of every kind of clean animal, a male and its mate, and two of every kind of unclean animal, a male and its mate, and also seven of every kind of bird, male and female, to keep their various kinds alive throughout the earth.”  It would seem that God made a special effort to preserve the birds—seven pairs of “every kind of bird” were to be placed in the ark.  Could God have a special love and concern for birds?  It would not surprise me if that was the case at all.  We know from the Gospels that Jesus paid careful attention to the birds and encouraged us to do so as well.  Now, especially now, would seem to be a good time to do so.

–Chuck


Sep 29 2019

Rocky Mountain High & Psalm 104

I recently got to spend several days photographing at Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado.  It was a truly wonderful experience!  This park has so much to offer—majestic mountains, beautiful lakes, abundant wildlife, and stunning vistas around almost every turn of the road or trail.  As is typically the case when I visit our national parks, the trip proved to be a spiritual experience.  For me there is nothing like the beauty of God’s Creation to stir the depths of my soul. I read the words of Psalm 104 while on the trip and they seemed so fitting.  I found myself echoing the opening words, “Praise the Lord, O my soul.  O Lord my God, you are very great; you are clothed with splendor and majesty.”  (v. 1)  How can you view such beauty and not offer praise to the Creator?  We had a number of experiences where we got to see alpenglow on the mountain tops.  This special light reminded me of the Psalmist’s words, “He wraps himself in light as with a garment.” (v. 2)

In the mountains it did, in fact, seem as though God “makes the clouds his chariot and rides on the wings of the wind.” (v. 3)  Looking up at those grand peaks I had to affirm that “He set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved.” (v. 5)  Viewing the waterfalls and streams in the park it was clear “He makes springs pour water into the ravines; it flows between the mountains.” (v. 10)  We photographed birds next to one stream and this seemed to correspond with v. 12, “The birds of the air nest by the waters; they sing among the branches.”  As I photographed a pika and a marmot in the higher region of the park I couldn’t help but think of v. 18, “The high mountains belong to the wild goats; the crags are a refuge for the coneys.”  Seeing the mule deer emerge at dusk made me think of the words “You bring darkness, it becomes night, and all the beasts of the forest prowl.” (v. 20)   Spending time watching herds of elk I couldn’t help but affirm with the Psalmist “How many are your works, O Lord!  In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.” (v. 24)

Having spent a number of days in Rocky Mountain National Park it seemed appropriate to pray “May the glory of the Lord endure forever; may the Lord rejoice in his works.” (v. 31)   It also seemed appropriate to sing.  The Psalmist said “I will sing to the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.  May my meditation be pleasing to him as I rejoice in the Lord.” (vs. 33-34)  On the last morning of the trip, as I photographed the first light on several peaks, I played John Denver’s song, “Rocky Mountain High,” on my iPhone.  It somehow seemed appropriate.  Even more appropriate, however, are the words of Psalm 104.

–Chuck


Jul 30 2019

Wonder and Awe

“For you make me glad by your deeds, O Lord; I sing for joy at the work of your hands.” Psalm 92:4

While on a road trip with a friend last week he told me about a book by Leigh Ann Henion called Phenomenal: A Hesitant Adventurer’s Search for Wonder in the Natural World.  In this book Henion talks about the importance of wonder for our lives and how it can be found especially in nature.  She chronicles her experiences of wonder visiting migrating monarchs, Hawaiian volcanoes, viewing the northern lights, while on an African safari, and observing a total eclipse of the sun.  Learning about this book has made me think about some of the places where I have experienced wonder and its counterpart, worship, in nature.  Space does not permit an exhaustive list but here are a few.

I have experienced wonder each time I have visited slot canyons in the desert southwest.  When light from above is reflected on the sandstone rock walls the result is pure magic.  Like Henion, I have also experienced wonder and awe observing the northern lights.  Watching the curtains of light move across the Alaskan skies moved me to the depths of my soul.  It was truly a spiritual experience.   I have likewise experienced a deep sense of wonder in Alaska watching giant glaciers calve.  The sights and sounds of this phenomenon inspire me in a remarkable way.   I could say the same thing about walking amidst the giant sequoias and redwood trees of California.

I remember feeling wonder and awe the first time I looked up at the Grand Tetons in Wyoming.  There was something about those mountains that humbled me and made me feel small in more ways than one.  I have also experienced a heightened sense of wonder each time I’ve visited the geyser basins in Yellowstone National Park.  Watching geysers like Old Faithful, Giant, Grand, and Castle erupt thrill both my heart and soul.  The same thing can be said for sunsets I’ve experienced in the Grand Canyon and sunrises on the coast of Maine.

Many times I have been moved to awe and wonder watching wildlife.  It’s happened observing a whitetail fawn take its first steps and coastal brown bears snatching salmon midair at Katmai’s Brooks Falls.  It’s happened while listening to sandhill cranes migrate overhead and while watching humpback whales frolic in the seas.  Getting to see wolves and moose in the wild have likewise provoked wonder and awe.

Henion speaks about how the phenomena she experienced proved to be life-changing.  The things I’ve mentioned have also been life-changing for me.  In each instance I believe I have been able to catch a glimpse of the Divine.  I see each example as a gift of God’s grace.   I sincerely believe that it has been the Creator’s intention all along to show us God through the handiwork of Creation.  Most of the examples I cited are big things but God is also revealed in the small for those with eyes to see.  It might be a tiny delicate wildflower or the wings of a butterfly.  It could even be something so simple and complex as a snowflake.  The truth is, God may be found in all that God has made and when we truly see we cannot help but be moved by wonder and awe to worship.  Wouldn’t you agree?  What natural phenomena have moved you to wonder and awe?

–Chuck