Bugs in Eden
Bugs in Eden
I slapped my bald pate, surveyed my bloody palm, flicked away the dead mosquito, and winced in anticipation of an itchy skull the rest of the week. Ah, the joys of suburban life, the rustic pleasure of tending God's creation on a sultry afternoon on the shaded side of our property! The bug in the air, if not the snake in the grass, summoned to mind the observation years ago of Cyril Richardson, seminary professor, explaining the theology of Marcion, one of the earliest heretics in the Christian church. Marcion posited a creation presided over by two gods, one good and one evil. Dr. Richardson suggested it was the old heretic's way of explaining a world in which pussycats and mosquitoes coexist.
In this summer of my malcontent, I've been a landscaping commuter, between Connecticut and Vermont. The park-like terrain of the latter has been manicured five times; the third of an acre in West Hartford, once weekly since mid-April. Which is not to count the other weekly chore to which I committed us in a weak moment, the care, seeding, and weeding of a small plot of earth at the entrance to the parking lot of the local Methodist church.
No, I won't regale you with my brief against Toro, a complaint about a brand new three hundred dollar power mower, taken to the State of Connecticut Attorney General. Nor will I explain in detail my purchase of a reel mower, a throwback to my childhood, dredging up all kinds of unpleasant memories of crab grass in Stamford. Enough to say that we are the unproud owners of four mowers and one snowblower, and keeping them in running condition has made me rethink the decision earlier in the year to abandon the lawn and snow removal service hired, now unhired, since our arrival up north in retirement.
For what grabs (or better "stings") me in my renewed pursuit of landscaping perfection is just how imperfect, unlyrical, and vermin-infested are the green pastures of earth.
William Wordsworth would dismiss me as a myopic slug. He writes in "Tintern Abbey":
and this prayer I make,
Knowing that Nature never did betray
The heart that loved her; 'tis her privilege,
Through all the years of this our life, to lead
From joy to joy: for she can so inform
The mind that is within us, so impress
With quietness and beauty, and so feed
With lofty thoughts, that neither evil tongues,
Rash judgments, nor the sneers of selfish men,
Nor greetings where no kindness is, nor all
The dreary intercourse of daily life,
Shall e'er prevail against us, or disturb
Our cheerful faith, that all which we behold
Is full of blessings.
My "quietness and beauty" in the mountain meadow are unfailingly disrupted by mosquitoes and deer flies. Maybe Wordsworth's jolly old England is different. They don't use window screens in London: maybe they don't need them. No mosquitoes on the Beef Eater. Of course not, they are all on Bob Howard, who may agree with Wordsworth that Nature "Is full of blessings," while quickly adding that she (Nature) matches them with banes. Pains? Itchy ones.
So I take refuge and weasely comfort in God's curse on Adam, Eve, snake, and the rest of the created world, but especially Adam, at the end of Genesis 3:
...cursed is the ground because of you;
in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
18thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
and you shall eat the plants of the field.
19By the sweat of your face
you shall eat bread...
I hear the buzz of mosquitoes in that passage... attracted to the suburban mower person by the sweat on his skull.
Not that I would reach for the bathetic in Alfred Lord Tennyson, describing "Nature, red in tooth and claw." Never the big game hunter, I swat bugs, not shoot tigers. Nature to me is more annoyance, irritant, and obstacle.
Consider, for example, my summer labors in Corinth... no, no, not the Greek seaport, the town location of our green mountain hillside. Behold the view from the kitchen window... and count the sweat, gasoline, and citronella required to achieve its orderly beauty.
Behold the wild apple trees, so fragrant and flower-filled in May, and such a hindrance to mowing in July. Why mow? you might ask, especially if you are ecologically in tune. Because, it's the best way, the most ecologically unintrusive way, of maintaining a mountain meadow. Let the hay grow, and the aspen soon join in; next the maples; and before you can say Johnny Appleseed (that is if it takes you two years to say it), the old apple orchard is well on its way to returning to the primeval forest. So out comes the super-duper weed-whacker, a whirling dervish of a metal blade that clips down saplings along with the timothy grass. Which is also one of my summer chores.
While the bugs try vainly to gain access to my scalp through its pork pie cover (it's another story of my glorious fedora in its old age), and, amid exhausting routine chores, my thoughts run wild about humanity's struggle with creation, and its struggles with us.
Shoo, mosquito, or I'll squash you.