As I am writing on this cold, frozen morning, there is a robin calling just outside my window as it forages through the crabapple trees and I am hoping that the bluebirds will stop in again today as they make their rounds searching for food. A little farther off in the yard a Carolina wren is singing, seemingly unintimidated by the temperatures as it goes about poking its bill into old tree trunks and branches piled up here and there. There is a bit of frenzy in the robin's call and movements, as if it knows that its survival is in question and that the diminishing number of berries our yard offers are its hedge against succumbing to the cold. And there is no question that though the yard offered an abundance of food a month ago, its provisions are being consumed at a rapid rate these days. Some years the small crabapple out the kitchen window carries its heavy fruit crop into the early spring but this year it will soon be picked clean. The garden beds, however, are still full of aster and goldenrod stalks, and coneflower and black-eye Susan seedheads provide an ongoing buffet for juncos, various sparrows, and cardinals. The river birch and sweetgum trees have been providing seeds for chickadees of late and the decaying trunks of old Christmas trees hide grubs and insects for titmice, nuthatches and woodpeckers. Suffice to say that the yard is almost never empty or still, save for the occasional incursion of a hungry Cooper's hawk, bringing all visible avian activity to an immediate and silent halt.
I have just finished reading a piece by a friend of mine concerning decisions he and his wife have made in obedience to God about their lifestyle. The essay was about their choice to follow God's direction to live more simply than in days past and about the implications of that choice for their life of ministry and service. There is challenge in his words and also affirmation for choices I have made over the years. Along these lines, something I have pondered for as long as I have lived in this house has had to do with the resources that I have put into making our home landscape into the sanctuary it is for the wild creatures with whom we share this place. As anyone who loves plants and gardening knows, gardeners can be just as tempted to spend on "just one more" as can any connoisseur of technological or entertainment gadgetry. Our indulgences just happen to run towards that which is living matter. I don't delude myself into thinking that buying a living entity makes that purchase somehow exempt from examination... well, I try not to anyway. Gardeners can fall into the trap of exalting beauty or their own sense of aesthetics, the same as anyone else, and can be just as prone to overspending to achieve their botanical goals.
But that is not the type of gardening I am thinking of as I sit and reflect here this morning and my hope is that my efforts are for a higher good than simply self-gratification. Gardening simply for visual beauty can be almost as devoid of sustenance for wild things as can a neighborhood with nothing planted. The difference is in what we plant and why. This morning as I looked out and heard the robin I was reminded of Jesus words "Consider the birds of the air. They neither sow nor reap, yet your Heavenly Father feeds them." And though we may like to quote that verse as evidence of God's intent to provide, we humans have removed almost all of what God had originally put in place to do the feeding of His creatures. We have, by and large, taken over the land and emptied it of the provisions that God originally intended to sustain the life that used to be here. We have fallen prey to a cultural model of living that elevates manicured lawn and barren landscapes over the life of pollinators, butterflies and the birds whom God placed here before we ever arrived on the scene.
And so I come back to my simplicity question as it pertains to gardening. I have come to a sense of peace in the answers because the choices and efforts I make, and yes, the money I spend are done so with life in mind. I live in the joyful awareness that simply by planting what will bring food and shelter for the birds of winter or the pollinators of summer I am cooperating with God, the Creator and Sustainer of all things. When I am awakened in the spring by the melodies of migrant songbirds in our trees, or when I turn into our driveway in August and am overwhelmed by the calls of singing insects, or now in the dead of winter when bluebirds and robins are finding bits of nourishment to see them through the winter I am exceedingly thankful for the invitation God has given to become partners with Him in caring for the world. The same invitation is open and extended to each of us. It is my fervent hope that others will accept and embark upon the adventure of partnering with Him in caring for the Creation. And it is my hope that we might always be mindful that we have been set amidst Creation not as kings but as caretakers, not solely for our own pleasure but for the good of all.