The first time I ever remembering being distinctly embarrassed was in third grade class at Sonora Elementary School. My teacher was Mrs. Hanson, a teacher I adored, who favoured floral dresses and half eye glasses. We had been studying science: volcanic origins and dinosaurs and such. Mrs. Hanson asked the question that doomed me: “Can anyone tell me how land was first formed?” Certainly she expected some response about those volcanoes again, pushing through primordial seas, or possibly a stab at ice ages carving valleys, or with no scientific answer, some respectful silence. Alas, I never owned a reputation for silence, respectful or otherwise. I eagerly put up my hand and when called on, said with scientific certitude: “There was great evil on the Earth and it was so bad that God caused rain to fall for forty days and forty nights, until there was water everywhere. Everybody died except for Noah and all the animals, who floated in an ark he had made. Then, after a while the storm on the outside became preferable to the stink on the inside so Noah sent birds out looking for dry land which eventually worked and that is how we got dry land.”
It seemed a perfectly reasonable answer. After all, it came straight from the First Methodist Church. But after a few eternal seconds of pin drop silence, somebody began to giggle, and then another, and then everybody caught it. Even Mrs. Hanson laughed; peals of undisciplined laughter. I knew they were laughing at me but (I furtively checked my fly), I didn’t know why.
Now I do. Attempting to turn a myth of religion into a scientific treatise is never smart, and often funny.
But friends, I am getting old and childlike again, and there’s a part to that ancient story that I feel good to revisit: it’s the myth of it. Myth as the veiled face of truth. Myth as a means for us to brush shoulders with the inexplicable, and to acknowledge that the cosmos is very deep, very complex, and utterly gorgeous. Laugh away, but I am a sucker for myth, fairly swept away by the puzzles all around me every day on this farm and in Nature everywhere. Such diversity. Such order. Such chaos. Power. Size. Visible. Invisible. Weight. Lightness. All of it. That a fava bean still does not sprout a magnolia. That an egret does not mate with our goose. That a golden plum hangs in waiting again, as it has for the last hundred years for some happy passerby. That I can live it this enormous Ocean of Unknowing, not in fear but in gratitude. Not to plunder, but to tend. Not to shape it into something else, but to be shaped by it. Whatever your religion – even none – the Earth is our Sanctuary and we are its celebrants.