It’s getting harder and harder for me to kill anything.
I’m going to be embarrassingly honest: Yesterday I was dumping the cat litter out back in a place where everything gets dumped if it’s organic, and I saw this little bug on the litter racing around sensing immanent danger. I had to rescue him before I could toss the litter. He was very agile at avoiding the leaf life-line I was offering so his rescue took a few minutes. It’s just that he was so alive! Why “he”? Maybe because I identified with him. That could be me, I tell you, running around trying to survive while something that knows what’s really going on is offering a simple way out.
But it’s not just insects. It’s plants. Weeds.
Weed-wacking is something I have to gear up for. I feel bad for all those green beings I am wacking off at the knees. Sometimes I wack around a wild flower, sparing it, but the nylon blade is fierce and lethal. I can’t even see my own weapon, but everything within the invisible radius falls before me. There are two mes. One loves all forms of life and calls himself a pacifist, and the other pulls up hundreds of weeds in the vegetable garden like a human machine. I’m good at weeding. Very good. I’m efficient. I’m lethal.
And part of me feels bad. . .is disappointed in myself for not having figured this dilemma out by now. I’m a hypocrite. Am I never going to be able to justify myself to myself?
I’ve been clearing for a new sweat lodge in a stand of pines near the house with a young friend. There is a lot to clear to prepare this space. It used to be a natural pool with an inflow and an outflow, maybe a hundred years ago. The land used to hold more water. There were more streams, more vernal pools, more swamps. As the years and decades passed this woodland pool filled in with the richest soil I have ever seen. It is almost black. And there is enough sunlight reaching this spot to create the perfect garden of “weeds” – wild mustard, goldenrod, jack-in-the-pulpits, raspberries, wild rose, ferns and Virginia Creeper and it all has to go. It will be a beautiful spot when we are done, a medicine place. There is an old apple tree, no longer living but very present in its own way, with sinuous naked branches gesturing like a dancer. And there are great mossy trunks of storm-downed pines that we will leave on the periphery of the clearing for seats and to help define the space. See, that’s it. We define space. We decide how we want nature to fit in. What stays and what goes. That’s the way it has always been. And nature never complains. No matter how many plants I pull up by the roots, no matter how many saplings I wrest from the earth to create this space where people will come to sweat and pray. . . never a complaint have I heard. Of course we spoke to the plants before we got started, we expressed gratitude for their sacrifice, but what choice did the forest have? None.
My mother raised me to respect nature, to treat living things as friends. But she never helped me resolve this question of how to reconcile loving everything that lives and yet go through life judging what survives and what goes. It’s simple: What lives? Why, things that feed me and look nice and serve some purpose. What is sacrificed? Things that stand in the way of how I am trying to live or what accomplish. I’m just saying that as I age, this question is becoming more than a question. It is becoming a problem.