Sep 28 2017

All Life Matters

_DSC7516I, like everyone else, have been saddened by the devastation caused by the recent hurricanes. Of the three major ones to hit, Irma got special attention from my wife and I. All of my wife’s family lives in Florida and we also have a number of friends who live there. We anxiously awaited news from our loved ones as the storm approached and rolled through the state. You can’t help but worry about your loved ones when they are in harm’s way.

I have to admit that the people of Florida were not my only concern. As someone who has photographed the wildlife of the Sunshine State numerous times I wondered how the fauna would be affected by the hurricane. At first I concentrated on the birds of southern Florida, especially in the Everglades. Would they be able to survive the incredibly strong winds of the storm? Later, I thought about all the alligators there and wondered how they would be affected. I hoped they too would be able to survive.

_DSC7009I have to admit my concern for the alligators was influenced by something I had recently read from John Muir’s writings. Here’s what Muir wrote: “Many good people believe that alligators were created by the Devil, thus accounting for their all-consuming appetite and ugliness. But doubtless these creatures are happy and fill the place assigned them by the great Creator of us all. Fierce and cruel they appear to us, but beautiful in the eyes of God. They, also, are his children, for He hears their cries, cares for them tenderly, and provides their daily bread… How narrow we selfish, conceited creatures are in our sympathies! how blind to the rights of all the rest of creation!…alligators, snakes…are part of God’s family unfallen, undepraved, and cared for with the same species of tenderness and love as is bestowed on angels in heaven or saints on earth.”

_DSC8366I watched a good bit of the news coverage of Hurricane Irma and don’t recall the storm’s effect on wildlife being mentioned once. It made me wonder if anyone cared.   I certainly understand why the primary focus was on the storm’s impact on humans but I’d like to think that there were others beside myself that were concerned about the wildlife of the area. I’m sure there were. And, if not, I can rest knowing God was concerned.

_DSC7622The Bible reveals that God is the author of all life and that all life matters to God. We are no doubt more picky about what we consider important but if God loves and cares for all of Creation shouldn’t we? Even the alligators and snakes mentioned by Muir should concern us for they are our fellow-creatures. So the next time another storm threatens I hope you will lift up a prayer not only for the humans at risks but also for our other brothers and sisters–the wildlife we share this planet with. The Psalmist declares to God, “How many are your works, Lord! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.” (Ps. 104:24) Let’s not forget to show our concern for the rest of God’s Creation. God certainly cares for them and so should we.


(The pictures shown here are some I’ve taken in southern Florida.)

Jan 30 2013

Appreciating the World as God Made It, Not as We Think It Should Be

FL Everglades-02Florida is a fascinating place. I was there for a conference last week and took some time to also visit the Everglades. I was not in the national park. The Everglades is a much larger area than the park. It’s headwaters starts up near Disneyworld and is a broad, very shallow, very slow moving river going south of Lake Okeechobee.  Or at least it was. Over the years it has been pretty badly treated, being chopped up with drainage canals, polluted with agricultural runoff, rivers channelized, the soil destroyed and the usual sort of damage we can do to a natural ecosystem. A lot of work has been done in recent years to undo the damage (which also affects the water system of the big cities along the SE coast), though there is still much to be done, and the costs to repair the damage will far more exceed the costs incurred doing that damage.

FL Everglades-04A simplified history: almost 200 years ago, a number of influential northerners came to Florida and fell in love with the warm climate. The problem was there were already people here farming the north – the military ran those “inconvenient” Native Americans off into the Everglades. Then a few years later, those new arrivals began to plot the drainage of the Everglades itself to make the land useful in their terms. And they felt it was God’s will for them to change this “wasted land” into something productive (never mind that this land was extremely productive in terms of wildlife, productive beyond what most people had ever seen). Of course, they often invoked the idea that man was to have “dominion” over the earth. If we saw a man brutally abusing a woman because he supposedly had “dominion” over her, we would lock him up for a long time in prison, though I suppose for the times, people sometimes thought it was okay for man to do that too. I hope we have come much further today in both our connections to fellow human beings and the natural world that is our home.

FL Everglades-03In the late 1800s, Governor Broward said, “The Everglades should be saved. They should be drained and made fit for cultivation.”  Many people of the time felt it was God’s will for man to “tame the wilderness” anywhere they could. The word “saved” was not chosen at random. The Census Bureau at the time announced settlement of the West as so much land “redeemed” from the wilderness. Redeemed also had religious overtones.

It took a long time, but by the 1960s, technology and engineering succeeded in draining parts of the Everglades … and thoroughly messing it up.  One has to wonder a bit about all of this. These were largely folks who believed in God and religion. They saw no problem in totally changing something of God’s Creation and in labeling such Creation as worthless.  How often have we been arrogant about our abilities to do things “better” than God? We definitely don’t put it in those terms, but all too often we are more interested in what we can take from God’s Creation than we are in what we can learn from His work.

The Everglades was and is a very complex ecosystem. Arrogantly, men (and I use the term deliberately because it was almost all men) felt they could change a landscape that was functioning perfectly as it was. They knew better than the Maker, evidently, yet over time, such arrogance has been more than a bit of a problem. As water drained, wet muck dried and became susceptible to fires whose smoke blackened Miami (Broward “knew” that fires were not possible). As water drained, the natural water tables were strongly affected and folks along the coast found their water systems were being invaded by salt water.

I know we look at things with a different perspective today, but it is still more than a bit amazing that if folks believed God created the world (and they did), that they would not pause at least a little to understand His world better before tearing it apart.

FL Everglades-05Have we learned? I don’t know. I still hear a lot of people making claims about our world that seem to be based a lot more on what they want to happen rather than a real understanding of the world God has given us. They choose to believe what benefits them rather than what is written in God’s own hand, His Creation. I am constantly surprised and filled with awe at the amazing complexity of our natural world that has long worked so well without any of man’s help. Maybe that is because God does not need our help to make nature do its best, and our role as stewards of what God has entrusted to us has a spotty record. I believe we can and must do better to honor God’s Creation and to “use” the world as God made it, not as we think it should be used because we know better.

— Rob

Dec 19 2012

Swamps and Other Places We Don’t Always Understand

SC Everglades-01You probably noticed that Chuck and I just spent a little time photographing in the northern reaches of the Everglades in Florida up by West Palm Beach. A lot of people think the Everglades is just the national park, but it is an ecosystem that goes far beyond the park, which is one of its challenges. While in Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge, I picked up a book, The Swamp: The Everglades, Florida, and the Politics of Paradise by Michael Grunwald. This is a fascinating history of the entire Everglades drainage which begins up near Orlando. I am only part way through it, but it is filled with history and how people deal with land they don’t understand.

It is very interesting that a lot of people going to Florida early on thought the Everglades was a desolate and worthless swamp. Then as America annexed the land, developers moved to the area and were determined to drain this “worthless swamp” so that people could live and farm there in the rich soil (it actually wasn’t rich), beautiful weather (they didn’t mention the storms), and lovely conditions of mild winter (they also did not mention the bugs, especially mosquitoes). And there were folks who sincerely felt that God wanted them to subdue this landscape and make it profitable for man.

Times have changed and today people realize what a treasure the Everglades is, but how messed up it got by people trying to drain it. Those were different times when folks like Governor Napoleon Bonaparte Broward promised in 1904 to create an “Empire of the Everglades,” by wringing the last drop of water out of that “pestilence-ridden swamp.” It was a time when man could do anything and certainly a worthless swamp was not something to care about.

SC Everglades-03Consider this. If we believe God has created this stunning world of ours, and His work is good, then having an attitude like that goes against God. It essentially says that God must be stupid to have made such a terrible place. The folks of the time believed God gave them a mandate to conquer the earth, though I am not sure this was not a bit of human arrogance. The Bible says we were made in the image of God, but it seems like people often make God in the image of themselves to justify all sorts of assaults on the planet and nature. The excuse people had was that these places were places of evil, not of God, but that is an excuse born of how people viewed nature, not a real look at nature.

People still do this today for swamps and wetlands because they seem like places that do nothing for man. Perhaps it would be better to see what they do for God, and how they truly do glorify God when we open our eyes to what is really there. The Everglades is such a good example of this. It truly is a place of connections, amazing connections between animals and plants that have everything to do with beauty and God’s amazing capabilities and nothing to do with evil or worthlessness.

A very simple example: Alligators create holes in the wetlands that create places other animals come to during dry spells. This helps the system survive even when conditions are not at the best. These gator holes are like Noah’s arks, but for dry conditions in a wet landscape. That is a pretty remarkable way this system has been put together.

SC Everglades-02Or just look at how slight variations in water change what grows in places and how things adapt. Places where the water is deep (which is very relative since water is rarely very deep anywhere in the Everglades or most other swamps), the water is open and has water lilies growing there. As the water gets shallower, sawgrass and rushes grow, then cypress, a tree that can handle wet roots. Each grouping of plants and habitat creates a unique habitat for wildlife, too, so anhingas will be in the sloughs where the water is deeper, herons in the shallower water because they don’t like to get their bellies wet, raccoons in places where the ground gets drier, and so forth. There are also very dry places, tree islands, where animals like Florida panthers and black bear live. Each place is a well-connected system of interdependent parts that, to me, says that God is pretty amazing to have structured a world like this.

SC Everglades-05As Chuck has said many times, nature is God’s “other book,” a book where He has written directly. We might not understand everything in that book, but simply not understanding is no excuse to write it off as unimportant. Then we truly are trying to make God in our image because we want a small God that only does things we understand. I am pleased to know a much bigger God who does amazing things that can be difficult to understand, but provide us with a stunning world if we are only open to all of its possibilities.

The images you see hear are all in the Northern Everglades: lily pads in Grassy Waters Nature Preserve, swamp lily in Loxahatchee Wildlife National Refuge, varied habitats in Grassy Waters and ferns in a cypress swamp in Loxahatchee.

— Rob

Dec 12 2012

The Fragile Web of Life

Last Thursday Rob and I took a guided tour of a swamp trail at Loxahatchee National Wildlife Refuge in southern Florida.  Since this is a habitat I hardly know at all I learned a lot from the naturalist leading the tour.  One of the things he kept stressing is how in nature everything is connected.   This made me think of a couple of my favorite quotations concerning nature.  Long ago Chief Seattle said, “Humankind has not woven the web of life. We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect.”  John Muir spoke similar words when he said, “When we try to pick anything out by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.”

The naturalist leading our tour emphasized the impact flora and fauna have on one another.  He also talked about the impact of humans on the earth.  Everything we do impacts our world one way or another.  In southern Florida this is evidenced in what has happened to the Everglades.  Development and a number of poor decisions over the decades have greatly threatened the survival of this unique habitat.  This is tragic for a number of reasons.  One reason, just alluded to, is that the Everglades are unique.  Marjory Stoneman Douglas, who fought valiantly to protect this region, noted that “There are no other Everglades in the world.”  If what exists in southern Florida disappears this will be the end of a beautiful and special ecosystem.

Another reason the loss of the Everglades would be tragic is the wondrous diversity of life that exists there.  The Everglades serve as the home for countless birds, reptiles, amphibians and mammals.  It also serves as host to magnificent flowers, ferns and trees.  Humans have severely altered the flow of water that has sustained the Everglades for eons.  Much habitat has already been lost and more is threatened.  This will affect every living creature and thing in the region.

Still yet another reason the loss of the Everglades would be tragic is spiritual in nature.  This portion of North America, like the rest of the planet, is God’s Creation.  As I have noted numerous times on this blog, God makes Himself known through His Creation.  If we lose unique habitats like the Everglades we actually lose opportunities or means of learning about God that we will not find anywhere else.

I am an environmentalist not just because I care about the well-being of the planet and its inhabitants.  I am an environmentalist because I am a Christian who understands that God cares for this planet and uses His Creation to teach us about Himself.  If we do not protect what God has made it will be like removing books from the Bible and never being able to read them again.

In the web of life humans are affected by the rest of the natural world.  We must never forget that everything we do, likewise, affects everything else—even God’s ability to make Himself known to us.  If that isn’t incentive enough to take Creation Care seriously, I don’t know what is.