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between-our-steps-07-11-18-doubleEverywhere I go in our area, grass has turned brown and brittle. Most of it will come back when we get moisture, but some places will have to be reseeded. Tree leaves are turning yellow and falling. Weeds are showing stress. I think by now everyone knows how close to drought we are. The grass tells the story even if we miss the other clues.

Which reminded me of one of the exchanges I love from Tolkien's Lord of the Rings. The person who opens the conversation is a man who lives an ordinary life focussed on humans and horses. He asks, "Do we walk in legends or on the green earth in the daylight?" The answer: "'A man may do both,' said Aragorn. 'For not we but those who come after will make the legends of our time. The green earth, say you? That is a mighty matter of legend, though you tread it under the light of day!'"

In the novel, this man is about to come face to face figures he thought just a story. Like him, we tend to focus on what we see everyday. For us, scientific explanations take the foreground. But lets take a moment to ponder what stories of how the world began tell us.

The Judeo-Christian tradition has two stories. The difference between them reminds us that these are myths, stories that seek to describe what cannot be known. I don't think either was intended to be read literally.

The first poetic description takes place in stages. In the beginning, the universe was a formless void, darkness, with a wind from God sweeping through it. Then, form developes as God speaks. At each stage God sees it is good.

Light and dark are separated. Waters are separated. Land is formed. Seas are given their shape. Vegetation comes with the seeds in the fruit that will allow it to spread. Fish and birds arrive, followed by land creatures. Humanity comes last with the responsibillity to care for all, responsibility shared with the Creator.

Some like to point out that the description of the beginning, including the separation of light and dark, resembles the scientific "Big Bang" theory. For me, the story reminds us that humanity came last and that our place is not one of power but responsibility (The word used is the same one that describes the responsibillity of the king, to act with compassionate power as God does, to care for the people rather than use resources for their own luxury.) All the creatures and plants, land and waters, sun and moon and stars, are given a place that is theirs.

Where the first story (likely written later but appearing first) shows the beauty and intended harmony, the second story describes how the world gets to be messed up. Two people are given a garden to tend. But instead of caring for it, they take from it something that was not theirs. This breaks the balance, and they are sent from the garden into a harsh environment and all creation suffers from their action.

The tree the two steal from is called the "Tree of Knowledge," and for me, in this age when we hope science can fix everything, the story reminds us that our actions can bring devastating consequences, that technology does not erase even if it heals, that we need to step back and slow down to ponder our effect on the world.

Many of the other mediteranean creation stories include disagreements between gods and violence. In classical Greek stories, bitterness and ambition bring disaster, repeatedly. There is an earlier tradition, however, that a goddess danced on the water to form the world and lay down the rivers that nourish the land.

Across North America, there are stories of creatures risking their lives to dive down for mud to place on a turtle's back, a story of heroism and sacrifice among the animals.

And for me, the scientific story of an explosion of matter and energy that formed solar systems and planets, with life slowly developing, different creatures walking this green earth at different times, reminds me of the fragility of the world and the fact that humanity is not the center of the unverse.

In this abnormally dry summer, it is good to listen to the story of need the grass is telling, to notice all that is affected.

Cathy Hird lives near Walters Falls.


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