If I had my druthers, I’d live in a house with a large back deck that overlooks a wooded marsh with some open water. I could spend my waning years taking in the cycle of seasons and observing the wildlife that often makes marshes such dynamic ecosystems. I get a bit of that experience each spring when I take a sling chair, a camera, and my binoculars to a high spot that has a number of great vista points overlooking a large marsh hardly a half mile from the RBC building.
It’s a deliberately and expensively preserved wetland surrounded by hotels, factories, office buildings, Costco, Staples, Target, Starbucks, and Dick’s Sporting Goods. All of these buildings went up after the Clean Water Act, and that required saving the marsh. Now many of the establishments around it actually celebrate it—some with groomed overlooks that had to cost thousands of dollars.
Typical featured players are tree swallows, red-winged blackbirds, carefully tended mallard, Canada goose, and mute swan families—all dashing on and over the water looking for insects or aquatic plants. In the center of it are some low shrubs that provide nesting spots for about a half-dozen great blue herons–birds that usually nest in high trees in large colonies. It’s a virtual bird metropolis. Saving that urban natural area has turned it into a treasure, and an easy-to-reach spot where this grandpa can take his grandchildren to see wildlife close-up and to ponder its biblical meaning: Psalm 104.
Dr. Cal DeWitt, professor of ecological studies at the University of Wisconsin and former director of the Au Sable Institute for Environmental Studies, is a good friend—and he [the lucky duck!] lives on a huge marsh: the Waubesa Wetlands. Once when he was campaigning for wetlands conservation and restoration in his township, he came across a couple farmers who told him they didn’t see much value in preserving their wetlands. Dr. DeWitt knew they were both avid pike fisherman. As an ecologist, when he explained to them that pike fingerlings depended upon wetlands for their survival, he won their support.
The truth, however, is that all natural systems are important in God’s scheme of things—the value of most of them not so quickly grasped. That God would care for a sparrow, the humblest and least attractive of birds, ought to be a sign to us that we should not see anything in nature’s community as being valueless or unnecessary. All things in nature are interrelated—a fact well put by John Muir: “When we try to pick out anything by itself we find that it is bound fast by a thousand invisible cords that cannot be broken to everything in the universe. ” Unspoiled wilderness provides us with the best of laboratories in which to learn about these connections. That fact may well have been what Henry David Thoreau had in mind when he said “in wildness is the salvation of the earth.”
Modern science often gives us the impression that we really understand the complexity of wild nature. The truth, however, was stated well by another ecologist: Frank Egler: “[Wilderness ecosystems] are not only more complex than we think, they are more complex than we can think.” It’s in part because of such complex interconnectedness that our planet’s wild areas make us humble—which is the right attitude to have in the presence of our Creator and His priceless handiwork. Maybe we are finally learning how foolish it is to destroy or drastically alter the systems God has put in place for His creatures—creatures that may not mean much to us, yet ones He cherishes and delights in.
The LORD is good to all; he has compassion on all he has made (Psalm 145:9).
Do we have compassion on all He has made—and are we seeking to save and restore those parts of it that we are in great danger of losing.