No apologies this time. It just happens to be a season rife with opportunities for sharing reflections at various gatherings, and they seem to be coming only weeks or days apart. This one was given last Sunday morning as Circle Community gathered for worship at the Retreat House.
Walking around these last few weeks and days at Rolling Ridge, there is only one possibility, and that is abundance. After a long, stuttering spring, plants have erupted of every description: slender stemmed with heart shaped leaves, clustery plants with long bladed fronds, low to the ground plants with a symmetrical circle of five tear shaped leaves...I know the names of none of them, but their presence is vibrant, fulsome, growing, and all around. It is the season when the grass springs up fully behind the mower the instant it passes. The garden is a riot, the purple and white fronds of radishes gone to seed next to the dark kale and feathery dill, which decorates almost every bed. The strawberries are ripening at the rate of a gallon or more a day. Young things are being born every minute; walking near the wood's edge, Emma and Kate found a tiny snapping turtle peeping curiously from under its shell. Baby Gael arrived Thursday night.
It's hard to know what to do with all of it, at least sometimes. On Friday, at Charlotte's, a squirrel had perhaps the right idea. It was sprawled on its belly in the sun on the porch railing, legs spread-eagled behind his body, gobbling seeds with horizontal dexterity, the picture of bliss.
These halcyon days have a shadow side, which Annie Dillard points out in her chapter called Fecundity, in Pilgrim at Tinker's Creek. It is this: all this abundance is here so that in the dog-eat-dog, red-in-tooth-and-claw, death-infested world of nature a sufficient number survive to perpetuate the species. That's the sum total of it.
She gives a famous analogy of a railroad manager who needs three engines for a stretch of track with a steep grade. So, the manager builds nine thousand engines, each one precise and top notch, at huge expense and effort. Then the nine thousand engines are sent out on the track, but with no one manning the switches. The engines crash and crash in great catastrophe; only three survive: just the number needed in the first place. The manager reports to the board of directors. Conclusion,
....And what are they going to say? You know what they're going to say: It's a hell of a way to run a railroad. Is it a better way to run a universe?
Yup, things are crazily out of proportion. Annie puts it this way:
That something is everywhere and always amiss is part of the very stuff of creation....we could have planned things more mercifully perhaps, but our plan would never get off the drawing board until we agreed to the very compromising terms that are the only ones that being offers. The world has signed a pact with the devil: it had to. It is a covenant to which everything, even every hydrogen atom, is bound. The terms are clear: if you want to live, you have to die....The world came into being with the signing of the contract. A scientist calls it the Second Law of Thermodynamics. A poet says, "The force that through the green fuse drives the flower/Drives my green age." This is what we know. The rest is gravy.
But, you have to admit, it's pretty great gravy. It's the gravy the squirrel is slurping up in ecstasy, it's the smiling wonder with which Emma held the baby turtle, it's the feel of the soft, plump strawberries on your fingers, and an afternoon in the garden with friends planting peppers and pruning raspberries. There's more: it's also the deep comfort of companions, friends, the ties that bind us--yes, perhaps to a crazy contract--but also to one another. By one another, of course I mean our Circle, our loved ones; each one of us precious, each one of us cherished. I also mean all the green and wild living ones that surround us, that share their lives, give their lives, to us and with us. We swim around in this gravy each and every day. Now that's abundance.
* Image: Abundance in the Garden at Rolling Ridge