Hurt No Living Thing

Sunday, April 21, 2024
It amazes me how little people know about the world around them. And I'm not talking politics or history- I mean the actual world, our earth. We have search engines at our fingertips, yet people walk around with little or no knowledge of what's right at their feet (or above their heads). They see a snake in their yard and they want to kill it, even though it's not dangerous and helps the environment. A crazy looking bug crawls across their car windshield and they smash it because "it's creepy." When I was a teacher, I could educate children about how important it is to care for all forms of life, but adults are harder to reach, I think. 

This post is part of an editorial section called Beyond Momma, where I share personal thoughts and stories. You can check out more of Beyond Momma here.

I've always loved nature, even as a child (that's me in the vintage photo above!). And as a teacher, I loved taking my students on nature walks. I'd give each child a checklist of items to find, along with this poem by Christina Rossetti. It was a reminder that while we were completing our list, we shouldn't be harming other living things unnecessarily. 

Hurt no living thing: 
Ladybird, nor butterfly, 
Nor moth with dusty wing, 
Nor cricket chirping cheerily, 
Nor grasshopper so light of leap, 
Nor dancing gnat, nor beetle fat, 
Nor harmless worms that creep.

I used to tell my students that Obi-Wan explains it best in Star Wars. Nature is like The Force: "It's an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the galaxy together." We exist because it's here. The trees clean our air, pollinators (like bees and butterflies) help fruit and vegetables grow. Even those icky spiders are part of a bigger picture, since they're a food source for birds and mammals (cue the 'Circle of Life' theme here). My students caught on to this concept quickly, and I was always proud of their willingness to understand nature. 

There's beauty in ugly things, which is why I sometimes take my love of nature to the extreme. I rescue worms that are drying up on the sidewalk (that wriggly creature is alive in my hand- how amazing is that??) and bugs that are drowning in our pool. I hate seeing a living thing struggle. It's fighting so hard to stay alive, even if it's just by instinct, so why not help it? Like this carpenter bee that I scooped out of the pool. At first I thought it was dead, but within a few minutes, it perked back up and flew off. When you look at it up close like this, it's actually quite beautiful, maybe even cute. Look at its "fur!"

I once saved over a dozen red admiral butterfly eggs from a stinging nettle plant that was being chopped out of our yard during our deck construction. Stinging nettle is so painful if you touch it! And because it was all yanked from the ground I had to drive all over town to find more to use as a food source for the remaining caterpillars (I found some by the river at a local park).  The end result was worth the effort, though. I think most people would have tossed the stinging nettle and the caterpillars without a second thought, thereby extinguishing a life cycle of gorgeous red admiral butterflies. I mean, look at the caterpillars- they're kind of gross, right? But also amazing- their bodies mimic the stinging nettles. And just look at the butterfly and how beautiful that ugly caterpillar became!

I saved drowning stag beetles from our pool. They look terrifying but are totally harmless. They don't bite humans. They eat decaying trees and their larva grows and slumbers underground (sometimes as long as seven years). Can you imagine it crawls out of the ground after seven years and someone kills it just because it looks scary? Sad, but true.

I raise monarch butterflies every year because they are classified as endangered in North America. If they're safe on the milkweed in my yard I will leave them be, but I have saved monarch caterpillars after their milkweed source was sprayed with Round-Up in my neighborhood. Other times I've watched landscapers mow down milkweed on our block before I could stop them. They don't understand who lives there. Milkweed is an entire ecosystem. 

Don't get me wrong, I won't rip a rabbit away from a hawk or anything. As sad as that is to see, I understand that life has a natural order. I understand that hunting is a necessary part of life for some humans, too. Many hunters have great respect for nature and the land, and have been hunting as families for generations. So, to everything, there is a balance.

The world can be a frightening place, I know. There are destructive storms, poisonous insects, deadly animals, and acts of nature that we can't control. But maybe we need to remind ourselves that the world wasn't made for us. We live in conjunction with it. I think Elsa Dutton from 1883 said it best (and if you haven't seen 1883, I highly recommend it- Elsa actually teaches us all a lot about life). 

Although I'm not a religious person (spiritual, yes, religious, not as much)  I do know what the Bible says about the creation of the earth and how God made man 'in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.'   'Rule' over it all you like (and how do we interpret that word, 'rule,' anyway?), but you should still respect it. Those living creatures, according to the Bible, were created before man, and one could argue that 'rule' means to take care of them like a good leader would. 

So maybe the next time you go on a nature walk, you'll remember the words of a former elementary school teacher. I hope you'll live life knowing that we're all part of a much bigger picture. And I know it's impossible to think we can never harm another living thing, because it happens, and sometimes it's necessary. But the least we can do is try.

Post playlist: Sprouting Potatoes by Harry Gregson-Williams (from The Martian), Spring (instrumental) by Thomas Newman (from Little Women)

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