TO live on Bogle Brook, as I do, is to have year-round outdoor theater in your own backyard. It's one of the numberless freshwater streams tumbling their way through eastern Massachusetts toward the Atlantic. And it's a teeming superhighway for local wildlife.
You don't see all this drama instantly. At first, you just see lush vegetation: willow trees, ferns, mosses, purple and gold wildflowers. And the rocky, noisy brook itself, flowing clear and cool out of Nonesuch Pond.
Look more closely, and you might see a brown rabbit munching grass. Or a doe bringing her fawns for a drink. Or a great blue heron. Or little fish and salamanders.
It's easy to love Bogle Brook. But a stern, scholarly-looking wetlands officer showed me that I needed to defend it, too. "You don't want to destroy all this natural beauty and wildlife, do you?" he said, as we stood on the bank.
"Of course not," I said, bewildered. "All I want to do is build a little embankment on my side of the brook to stop the erosion."
"But what you don't realize," he said, "is that your embankment would change everything up- and downstream. It would change the vegetation. The wildlife. The course of the brook. The whole ecosystem!"
Suddenly, I got the point. This was everybody's stream. And sharing a stream is like sharing a highway, an office, a room, a piece of pie. You don't make decisions unilaterally, without thinking of how they'll affect the people you're sharing with. You respect their wishes, their welfare, their identity. You avoid disrupting things for them or endangering them. You treat them the way you'd want to be treated.
So it came down to caring about my neighbors along the brook. Caring about them too much to risk hurting them. And caring also about those other "neighbors" the rabbits, deer, herons, and salamanders whose fresh tracks I have so much fun tracing in the winter snow.
Taking care that these neighbors didn't get hurt would keep me from getting hurt, too. Learning to share, to be a little more unselfish, can only help a person. Because these capacities come from God. Because God fortifies people who exercise them.
And this unselfish love does even more. It radiates out into the mental environment we all share and transforms it. That's the fundamental environment that needs protecting in our community and in our world. The selfishness and greed that are behind deforestation, pollution, and reckless abuse of resources are actually mental threats the real contaminants. And God's pure, wholesome love is the one detoxificant that purges them. It's the one supreme, controlling force of the universe.
Last year, I learned more about the preeminent force of this love. A sudden thaw of three-foot-deep snow, coupled with five days of torrential rainfall, flooded our area. My backyard looked like a bayou.
One morning, the roaring waters of Bogle Brook were within two inches of overflowing into my house. Driving to work, I prayed to put all my faith in God's law of love, the law I knew was more powerful than any embankment or floodwall or flood.
It was another day of heavy, ongoing rain. When I returned that night, the rushing stream had crested exactly level with my house. But, to everyone's astonishment, it didn't overflow.
Over the last century, lone ecological prophets like John Muir, Marjory Stoneman Douglas, and Rachel Carson have implored us to respect our environment and to stop devastating it. Only in the last decade, though, has the worldwide religious community joined in with the cry, urging us all to pray.
Yet 125 years ago, Mary Baker Eddy called the world to a new, spiritual view of the environment. She also indicated the dangers of a self-centered, material view of nature. "Nature voices natural, spiritual law and divine Love, but human belief misinterprets nature," she wrote ("Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures," pg. 240).
Love alone can cleanse the environment we share. Love alone can safeguard the fresh tracks along Bogle Brook.