Gotta be honest. The 1977 margarine commercials in which Mother Nature appeared as a benevolent goddess wearing a fairy godmother gown, daisies in her hair, wandering among friendly animals, served as a visual amen to my already uncritical regard for her. Even though she called lightning down on the makers of margarine who fooled her into thinking it was butter, that was empty bluster. A raccoon put his paws over his eyes. Big deal. Mother Nature, I still felt, was a winsome life force pervading the planet. You could lift spaceships out of mud with it. All this in 1977.
A Living Life-Giver
Even the Bible characterizes Mother Nature as a living life-giver who obediently responded to God’s command and who was able to bring forth vegetation: plants yielding seed, and fruit trees of every kind on earth that bear fruit with the seed in it (Genesis 1:12). Even though the biblical writers couldn’t worship Earth, they consistently imply that she’s worthy of our wonder, respect, and loving care.
A Heart of Gold but Flesh That’s Cold
But after backpacking 405 miles on the Washington Section of the Pacific Crest Trail, I have adjusted my assessment of Mother Nature’s character. Oh, certainly she has a heart of gold. However. Depending on surface factors like ground cover and weather, her flesh is cold: on average 50 – 55 degrees. Which is more than 40 degrees colder than the human flesh I laid down to rest on her cold clay night after night on the trail. My grandma’s sun room had a heating element running beneath the floor. You could feel warmth rising up through it into your feet, into the entire room. Lying in the dirt, I could feel cold rising up from Mother Earth, dispersing what little warmth I was able to exude into the feathers inside my sleeping bag. (How do birds keep warm, anyway?) As soon as I would lay down, I could feel Mother Nature’s icy fingers reaching up out of the mud, through my feathers, into my flesh, chilling my limbs, causing me to shiver, tensing my muscles which ached more while I tried to rest than they did while walking a dozen miles. No backpacker would have come up with the idea that Mother Earth is a purely benevolent life force. As a way of preparing us for day hikes in the mountains, the pastor who MC’d Wartburg Seminary’s Luther Academy of the Rockies warned us, “The mountains don’t care.” When the wind blows over Mount Rainier or Mount Adams, you no longer feel the balmy Kuroshio Current that bathes Seattle in winter rain. It feels like someone left the door open on a 14,000 feet tall freezer. In another blast from the past, the shopworn metaphor from a 1977 hit fits Mother Nature, “You’re as cold as ice.”
The Mother of All Mushrooms
Still, during the chilly, blustery, rainy days we wandered through snow and mud in mid-July, Mother Nature was very busy “bringing forth” an abundance of fungi: rubbery, brain-colored corals, bone white bulbous stems with fake pancake caps, mushrooms whose pale flesh easily bruised brown and rotted alive, strands of sage-colored witch’s hair or Methuselah’s beard that seized stout sticks in their creeping tangle and, along with other forms of ravenous lichens, reduced them to mush. All of Mother Nature’s flesh-eating progeny incarnate her cold flesh in their own. Yes, these fungi do play essential and benevolent roles in digesting the dead to enrich Earth flesh so hungry young plants and tall trees are well fed. But the ghoulish children Mother Nature births on her own resemble vampires and zombies more than luxuriant brambles full of berries. Which Mother Nature brings forth in a way strangely consonant with scriptural story.
The Synthesis with Falling Photons
The Word God speaks to Earth in Genesis in response to which she brings forth vegetation is identified as the Light of the World in the Gospel of John (John 1:9). Just so, scientifically speaking, it’s only the sun’s light permeating Mother Nature’s cold flesh that raises up green sprouts blooming with flowers, fruits, and seeds. In the Bible, this synthesis of Earth with falling photons was meant to feed “cattle, creeping things, wild animals of earth of every kind,” and us – the creatures God made in his image (Genesis 1:29-30). In the Bible, all these creatures are distinguished from Mother Nature’s fungal brood and from the plants raised up by the light: all animals are alive because God breathed the breath of life into their nostrils. In the Bible, animals and human beings are distinguished creatures, indeed.
Abundant Life Called forth by Light
Without light, Mother Nature’s womb delivers a ghoulish clan: some of whose spores and flesh are poisonous to us, some of whom are helpful to green plants by feeding them and enriching the soil, some of which are even edible for us. But their utility to us is fraught with risk. Only experts should try to eat wild mushrooms. Still, deep down inside, Mother Nature does have a heart of gold – glowing molten gold flowing out of deep wounds or heating subterranean pools that gush up as geysers or steam or hot springs. In her heart of hearts, Mother Nature treasures the day God said, “Let there be light,” which created billions of galaxies expanding, each containing billions of stars burning. On that day, some of the flaming flotsam orbiting the stars began to cool, so that dry land appeared, so Mother Nature herself was born, and so on her wrinkled rock face the Light brought forth “vegetation: plants yielding seed of every kind, and trees of every kind bearing fruit with the seed in it” (Genesis 1:12). The gravity-trapped gases became the very breath of life God breathed into small scoops of her dust to make animals and human beings alike. All this she remembers, grateful for and proud of the abundant life she supports.
Can’t Live with Her; Can’t Live without Her
But it’s hard for Mother Nature to love us. Her indigestion causes our earthquakes and tsunamis; the sun-powered storms spinning around the globe are not under her supervision. But the life she and the Light create together continues to generate the very breath of life for us to breathe, water for us to drink, and fertile soil in which to grow the food we eat. It’s hard to live with Mother Nature, but we most certainly can’t live without her.