My husband, his mother, and I went for a walk this morning. We followed our usual path—Zack and I walked up the steep hill to his mom’s place and then the three of us headed past my son Jubal’s trailer and up the long driveway and through the gate to the “upper end.”
That’s what we call the land that’s farthest away from the houses, the sheep barn, and the orchard pastures. A dirt road follows another steep rise up through oak woodlands, past the pond that floods the road after winter rains but dries up in the hot days of summer. After passing the pond, the road follows a wide loop that circles the oldest barn on the place, old enough that it has been many years since it was used for anything but storage.
Before we got too far, my son Jubal caught up to us, his dog Odie jumping with excitement, wiggling and barking at the sight of us. Good-natured and tail-wagging friendly, Odie is a young pit bull, sleek, muscular, and extremely energetic. They joined us and were soon in the lead.
These walks are for exercise, but they are also a “check-in” time—we share conversation about our lives and scope out the farthest reaches of the ranch, a distance of a mile from our house, around the loop, and home again. It’s an opportunity to keep an eye on the springs and spring boxes that provide the only water on the place and we can locate fallen trees or broken fence lines. It’s also a time to enjoy the natural beauty that we are privileged to live amid.
On every walk, no matter what the season or weather, the view from the upper end can take my breath away—sometimes hills and valleys barely seen through the foggy mist; sometimes miles and miles of clear skies that reveal Mt. Tamalpais in the far distance.
Occasionally, we stumble upon a bit of excitement. This morning Odie perked up his ears and stiff-legged, jumped into the ditch near a large stack of fence pickets. Jubal pulled him back then whistled low and soft. “Odie,” he said holding Odie’s leash tight, “jumping a rattlesnake isn’t the best idea, bud.”
A small rattlesnake, probably less than 12 inches long, lay curled in the grass. It didn’t coil or try to strike, slow and sluggish from the chill of a damp morning.
Thirty years ago I married into a family that likes and respects all creatures, snakes included, even rattlers. My husband’s family showed me that snakes have their own place in the natural order. Although it took a while, I have come to adopt my husband’s ways—I don’t kill snakes. Our policy is the old adage, “live and let live” or perhaps it’s just a variation on “do unto others as you would have them do unto you,” what we Christians call the Golden Rule. Given our call to care for creation, it seems to me that the Golden Rule applies to the other creatures that share the earth.
Every major religious tradition has something similar to the “Golden Rule,” but even when our treatment of other humans is concerned, it’s not easy to live that rule, not in our own lives or out in the larger world. That’s obvious from the newspaper headlines and the words of the latest television pundits. All across the world people are shooting and bombing, killing and maiming each other, from Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya to a whole list of countries in Africa and other places spread around the globe.
We fear what is different, whether it’s a difference of race, tribe, clan, religion, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, political party, or at times, even species. When economies tumble, natural disasters come, a frightening disease strikes an entire population, or any of the things that increase the tension and anxiety in people’s lives, the ones we fear become an easy target to blame, an easy enemy to attack.
Love your neighbor as yourself, the Bible says, but what about those who aren’t our neighbors? Those don’t look like us, or don’t talk like us, those who don’t worship the way we do, don’t live the way we live? In the 6th chapter of Luke, Jesus says, “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them… But love your enemies, and do good to them… be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”
Living here on the ranch with its abundance of wild creatures has taught me that humans can learn to live with what is different, even with what we fear. My prayer is that one day, by some miracle of grace, the peoples of the world can find a way to respect, love, and live with each other, whatever our differences may be.
peace & blessings, Country Woman