Tag Archives: aesthetics

Spirituality, Species & Scripture

“Whoever destroys a single life is considered by Scripture to have destroyed the whole world, and whoever saves a single life is considered by Scripture to have saved a whole world.”

—The Talmud

“You weren’t here, but you should have seen it,” my neighbor from across the hall is talking to me in the entry of our triplex. “The man drove up to the building in his van, hopped out and suited up until he was covered from head to toe in something that made him look like he was going to handle radioactive material. Then, he unwound a hose that was almost as large in circumference as a fire hose and started spraying poison all over the tree in the front yard. I thought you asked Mr. Roehler not to spray? I kept thinking about Matthew and his asthma.


“The overspray went everywhere—on the front porch, the outside furniture, the picture windows and, of course, all over the lawn and tree. Evan should be careful to wear gloves if he digs dandelions in the yard. I just wanted you to know.”

Retreating to my own apartment, I watch as the neighbor closes his door; then I close our door in mild disbelief.

When our family moved into the building, we negotiated a special rental rate which required us to shovel the walks during the winter season and maintain the yard organically during the spring, summer and fall seasons.

My husband, Evan, was out with his dandelion digger almost every-other day. Mr. Roehler had said that he would spray if he saw even one yellow dandelion head.

We made these arrangements in exchange for a reduced rate in rent and because we had hoped that the agreement would help us protect our asthmatic child, as well as reducing chemical runoff to the small lake immediately across the street.

Initially, finding this apartment had been a dream-come-true in that we were able to portage our canoe directly from storage in the garage and put in to the lake by walking across the street. The community is full of natural lakes with a myriad of interesting waterways to explore. Many local people have sizeable sailboats, canoes or motorboats, which are enjoyed when the waterways are not frozen.

A week later, I see Mr. Roehler and stop to have a brief conversation with him.

“What’s one or two downy woodpeckers?” Mr. Roehler responds to my expressed concern about the pesticides, as he faces me—smiling—when I ask him about why he had the tree sprayed.

According to Mr. Roehler, the tree “needed” to be sprayed because of the “unsightly mess” that the caterpillars—one of the food sources for the downy woodpeckers—make in the tree and in the corners of the large picture windows on the front porch.

Without bringing up our family’s personal health concerns, our previous agreement involving organic lawn care or the broader issue regarding the damage the pesticides will do to the ecological systems in the lake across the street, I had mentioned to Mr. Roehler, who loves birdwatching, that the woodpeckers would be harmed by his actions. His response amazes me.

What is one or two downy woodpeckers?

There is some deep disconnect, not only in the psyche of this now dead old man, but in all of our psyches causing us to disassociate our consumer-based, often misguided “aesthetic” choices and myopic habits with the profound damage being done to the natural world.

This is not a statement of despair or harsh ridicule; it is a statement asking us to begin making more conscientious lifestyle and consumer choices because we, as a species, need to begin attending to the well-being of the ecological systems and creatures with which and whom we share the planet. Life is sacred-all life.