The writer of Psalm 104 had an appreciation for wild things. I have a somewhat limited appreciation for wild things. If they threaten my garden, as do woodchucks and raccoons, I go after them. If they are only passing through as wild turkeys, I enjoy them.
As our environment unravels and the wild things are threatened, Psalm 104 catches my attention. The psalm is one of what William P Brown calls “the seven pillars of creation.” The other six are Genesis 1 and 2, Job 38-40, Wisdom in Proverbs 8, Ecclesiastes and Isaiah 55. Verses 24-35 of Psalm 104 provide the essence and deserve reflection.
The second creation account in Genesis tells of a man and a woman in a garden. They had what they needed but were expected to take care of it. The story tells us that they blew it. The history of humankind follows this pattern.
Whenever people get organized they seem to do one or both of two things: 1) beat up on somebody or 2) trash the environment and the wild things. The psalm writer observes that the wild things look to God “to give them their food in due season.” But evidently the food they needed was not always available.
At the end the writer puts his finger on the human problem and hopes “that sinners be consumed from the earth and that the wicked be no more.” That’s too much to hope for. Somehow we need to acknowledge our own sinfulness and recognize that having “the wicked be no more” is too broad a prayer request.
But more than the psalmist could recognize, we know we depend on the environment and that we may be in the process of destroying it. Indeed it could happen that not only the wicked but everyone and all creatures could be no more if present trends continue.
Our psalmist lived in the time of the Fertile Crescent. There was power at each end of the crescent—Egypt at one end and Babylon at the other end. Palestine was said to be a land of milk and honey. It was also to be a land of political instability because the power people would go through it to get at each other. They would go through the crescent since they could not cross the desert.
But the psalmist is not concerned with politics. It is the wild things that get his attention. The earth is full of them and they are sustained by the hand of God. It is amazing to see what niches some of the wild things have found.
Take the monarch butterflies. These butterflies overwinter in Mexico or California. When Mary and I were in California in 1980 we saw a cluster of them wintering in California. In the spring these butterflies start north. They take three generations going north. They lay eggs and soon die. The next generation hatches, grows up, and continues the journey. These larvae feed on milkweed. Milkweed is poisonous, but the monarchs can handle it, which is good because then birds hesitate to eat them.
The fourth generation makes the trip south in one generation. I saw several monarchs on my flowers one year. I suppose they were on their way south. But now monarchs have a problem. They feed on milkweed and farmers especially in the Midwest use Roundup to kill the weeds. Then monarch larvae have nothing to eat. I noticed three milkweed plants along the edge of my lot last summer and left them there. Whether or not any monarch larvae had fed on them I don’t know, but I left them there.
As I say, a typical human tendency is to cut and slash But once in a while we find an example of someone who works at restoration. I used to get a magazine called Westsylvania. In autumn 2004, it carried an article on how the wild turkeys were brought back. According to the article, wild turkeys had just about died out through overhunting, but in the 1950s a program was devised to try to bring them back.
There were still some remnants in the Bedford County mountains and the program devised was to clip the wings of some turkey hens and put them in an eight-foot-high fence. Wild gobblers came in and mated with them, the eggs were collected, and then the hens were put in the pens again. “The breeding program proved so successful that it ended in 1955. By then, even the game-farm raised turkeys—who by then carried just one-sixteenth tame genes—had become too uncontrollable.” By 1968, Pennsylvania began the spring gobbler hunting season.
Recently I saw a flock of 20 turkeys in the field across the road. The best thing about turkeys is that I can’t see that they cause problems in my garden.
We have gotten caught in what is coming to be an environmental disaster. After Edwin Drake drilled an oil well in Titusville, Pennsylvania, in 1859, oil became plentiful and as time went on more and more uses were found for it. Especially in transportation. Today we are trapped in our cars.
In his book Terra Nova, Eric W Sanderson says that we will need to get away from oil, cars, and suburbs. He says we need to live more closely together and go back to trolley cars and trains along with walking and bicycles.
When Mary and I built a house three miles from town we didn’t think about the implications of all the driving we would do. Also, Scottdale was a marketing center with grocery stores, clothing stores, and a good shoe store. Today with Walmartization all of those have gone away and Scottdale is basically a bedroom community of the big box stores at its edges. Yet those who live in town are less dependent on oil than we in the country. I have noticed that all of my grandchildren live in town.
Whether the changes can be made in time to save the environment from disaster remains to be seen. In his fantasy, Sanderson sees basic transportation changes as early as 2028. That does strike me as fantasy. However, I was interested to see in the September 29, 2015, issue of the Connellsville Daily Courier that a “Transportation alliance” is forming to represent all of our local counties. What this means I’m not clear.
In the meantime it is possible to do something about the problem of electricity generated by fossil fuel. I have signed up with a company called Ethical Electric which uses environmentally friendly generation. I noticed that the first bill based on this new system cost two cents more per kilowatt hour. I think I can handle that.
As an old farmer, I still like a place in the country, but I see that without recognizing it I have become dependent on a system that needs to be changed. I do not look forward to giving up my place in the country. But to maintain it I have an automobile, a pickup truck, a tractor, a garden tiller, and two lawn mowers. If I were to move to town I would need only the car and maybe a lawn mower.
The writer of Psalm 104 had no idea what would come to pass in the era of oil, suburbs, and automobile transportation. I can only believe he would support efforts to save the earth for the wild things as well as for our descendants.
—Daniel Hertzler, Scottdale, Pennsylvania, is an editor, writer, book reviewer and occasional preacher. He retired in 2015 as an instructor for the correspondence course, Pastoral Studies Distance Education. He is author of the memoir On My Way: The View from the Ninth Decade.