Summary: The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it. It isn’t ours and on no day of creation did God make "pests."
LIVING WITH WOODCHUCKS
If you’ve been on my website or if you listen to NPR, which profiled the story a couple of weeks ago, you’ll know I have some history with woodchucks. My defense of the woodchucks when I served St. John’s became the stuff of local legend with even the local paper in Dover running a front-page story on Groundhog Day about my efforts. I haven’t seen the first woodchuck at the parsonage here, but in this season of stewardship, I wanted to lift up the cause of my furry friends. Stewardship is not just about money. It is the attitude of the heart that recognizes that God is the owner of all that is. That does include our money, but it also includes woodchucks and all those creatures we so easily label as “pests.”
I will first say that I have a long history with woodchucks. Grandma Robertson, who lived with us, was best known for her compassion toward wasps. She fed them. Sugar water. On her finger. She accepted their stings as merely ignorance on their part, and even when she fell into a nest of them and was stung all over her body, she maintained their goodness and innocence. The only thing Grandma loved more than wasps, was her flower gardens. She had many, and she tended them from dawn until after dark.
It’s hard to say why a woman who would feed a paper wasp on her finger would turn on a cute, furry woodchuck, but when her forensic examinations turned up their teeth on her bulbs, the sentence was death. Into the house she came to find my father and his Army rifle. No matter that in our household we spent our time rescuing mice from our two cats, filial duty called and my father reluctantly went out to hunt woodchucks.
This was my earliest remembered trauma. Even now I can feel the horror in my heart at the thought of the woodchucks being shot. I remember screaming and crying and running to my room and putting my pillow over my head, feeling utterly helpless and filled with grief. Eventually my reaction ended the shooting and elaborate systems of fencing and netting began to appear, but it left its imprint on my soul.
What had those woodchucks done that they deserved death? They were hungry. They ate the food they were designed by God to eat. They were not eating small children, they were not bearing disease, they were not competing with our family for a scarce food supply. They were just eating a few of Grandma’s flowers. For that they died. To this day I can’t find a suitable explanation for why that is right.
My next trauma was self-inflicted. Newly-married and an adult at least in theory, I awoke one morning to discover a spider much too close to the bed. I was terrified of spiders, but had been blessed in my youth with a mother who was not. Whenever a spider invaded my space as a child, I had only to call for my mother and she came and whisked it away, carefully taking it outside and releasing it. My mother, however, was not included in my current living arrangments, so I did the next best thing. I called for my husband. Being the dutiful husband that he was, David came rushing to my rescue. Squash. No more spider. He looked pleased.
I was crushed. I didn’t mean for it to die. Something again seemed wrong with the world, and now with me. One of God’s creatures had been squashed, simply because it had more legs than I was comfortable with. The spider was no threat to me. It died simply because I didn’t understand its beauty. It infringed on my comfort, and because I wouldn’t touch it to carry it to safety, it died. I remembered the woodchucks and felt somehow that I had sinned, although I had no real sense of why.
The answer to that question came a number of years later in a TV commercial for pest control. There was Joe Pest Control, a kindly man entering a house to do his job. But when he got inside, the man suddenly was transformed into this techno-warrior, an armored agent of destruction shooting up every scampering pest like a Storm Trooper on the Death Star. And finally, as I watched that commercial, I understood what had bothered me most about the woodchucks and the spider.
It came in the form of a question. "What right," I thought, "do we human beings have to simply obliterate everything in our environment that troubles us?" It seems extreme to us to consider bugs as having importance, but doesn’t it start there? Does the environment belong to me? We sang songs at church about God’s eye being on the sparrow. Was it only birds? Didn’t God make the mosquito? I do mean to ask God about that choice someday, but the fact remains that every creature we see is part of what God created and called "good." On what day did God make "pests?" If God is in fact real and present and author of all life, if God made it all and called it all "good," who am I to refuse to live among certain forms of it? Worse, who am I to invade where others live and demand that my right to live there is greater than those who lived there first?