On the farm, the expectation was that you would see wildlife every day. Mice were ubiquitous, in and outside the house. The mice attracted the occasional stray cat, as well as black snakes. They helped keep poisonous snakes away, so black snakes were good. Deer and turkey emerged from the woods in the fall. Woodchucks, skunks, and foxes slinked around the place, usually at night.
Dogs, donkeys and chickens were invited residents of the farm. Hens tended not to last long, especially the summer when a weasel discovered the coop, found a way through security, and consumed the flock, one chicken per night. In contrast, the donkeys thrived year after year. One fall the old girl, Patty, died of old age. At 31? 33? No one knew … she’d been caught in the wild and brought to Virginia long before she got to Westview. A neighbor with a backhoe was kind and dug her grave. The bucket on Leslie’s tractor carried her from the barn, where she just did not wake up one morning, to the hole. Everyone around joined in a prayer for Patty and her forlorn mate, Higgins. His depression lasted until two miniature donkeys arrived a couple months later. Higgins fell hard for Patches, and tolerated Jackson. The three of them still are roaming that field.
Fast forward a few years. The dogs wandered around the new backyard, sniffing the air and the ground, chasing squirrels. On the other side of the fence, the creek ran slow and thin. The water was shallow and clear. Suddenly two minnows appeared, darting and then circling. It was a surprise to see them. Then two more were in view, then more … their quick movements made it hard to count them all. The creek always had seemed lifeless. It was a gift to see those little fish.
A week later, high-pitched barking in the woods went on for almost an hour. Coyote? Bobcat? Fox! YouTube confirmed it. The next day a neighbor said the fox has a den on the other side of the creek from her property. The barking appeared to be a warning to the pups in the den. “Two dogs nearby – stay put!” How cool to sit on the back porch and hear that sound less than a football field away.
In the country and in the city, animals teach. They are easy to appreciate, and to love. Enjoying nature brings to mind Saint Francis’ admonition to respect, cherish and honor the animals that we come in contact with. The Gospels tell us of Jesus’ appreciation for nature: the flowers more spectacular than Solomon’s robes, the hundreds of sparrows, the bounty of the sea. Sometimes putting on the mind of Christ means to cherish God’s creation the way He did. Why wouldn’t God’s heart race with joy for the bright colors of the goldfinch, or a mother goose’s care for her chicks?
Opening our senses to be in nature in a slow, deep, satisfying way surely will make us more grateful for the gift, less interested in exploiting it, more eager to take care of it. God made the animals beautiful and compelling for us to enjoy them. We should not overlook that gift by ignoring the treasures all around us. So look around, listen a little harder, and see what good things God gave us to enjoy. Nature was meant to bless us.
Dan Jordanger was born in Chicago, grew up in New Jersey, came south and obtained degrees from William & Mary and UVA, has worked downtown for 30 years, and has enjoyed 23 blissful years of marriage with Leslie. Dan is part of the GPPC choir’s five member tenor section. His musical tastes stopped evolving in the mid-1990’s, but the song that plays in his head almost every day is one he first heard in a high school art appreciation class, the barcarolle Belle nuit, o nuit d’amour from Offenbach’s The Tales of Hoffmann.