On Dead Grasses and Rotten Reeds

The Passage of the Marshes

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Swamp, marsh, mire, bog (Source)

Pity the poor mosquito: that is, until the insect’s harassment and blood-sucking tendencies cause you to swat it away or flee indoors. The mosquito is perhaps one of the few living organisms – along with smallpox, tapeworm, and Nazis – that receive no love from humans. Irritation aside, some of their species spread the worst diseases which torment man (yellow fever, malaria, dengue fever, etc), and with the recent outbreak of Zika making headlines, the calls for outright eradication of the mosquito have swelled. The scientific and ethical issues of such an elimination campaign are complex, yet for the Christian they do posit an interesting conundrum: if God saw that all of creation was good, how can we come to love the mosquito?

Perhaps the ecological equivalent to the mosquito is the marsh. Swamps are rarely idealized by writing or painter: they are the festering sore of a land, the realm of bandits and witches, mysterious and dangerous, unhealthy for humans. The course of civilized history has seen people time and time again use technology and labor to drain wetlands, dry out the mires, and turn marshes into proper sand cultivable farmland, pasture, or settlement. Stay your anger, scholars and scientists: I know well the arguments on behalf of wetlands, whether they invoke biodiversity, flood control, or geological stability. What man rationally approves, he subconsciously rejects, and still we are likely to view the marshes as Frodo and Sam did: foul, wretched, miserable, dead.

Yet, a brief course in telmatology (yes, truly I say, that is the branch of science concerned with swamps) reveals the complexity of man’s least favorite land. Wetlands actually possess great distinguishable diversity, whether it be the forested foliage of swamps, the reeds and rushes of marshes, or the peat-full particularities of mires. Mires themselves are subdivided into bogs and fens, the former being convex, acidic, and nutrient poor, while the later concave, neutral and ranging in nutrients. They teem with mosses, shrubs, and grasses; they host amphibians, reptiles, and even fish. For all their foulness, they possess a beauty. What man considers dead possesses life.

There lies a challenge: to see the world through not through the eyes of man alone. Whether mosquito or marsh, there are considerations beyond the comfort and care of humans, and every act of destruction has ramifications over the generations to come. It may ultimately be right to eliminate the mosquito, for just as with the smallpox virus before, the benefits of its destruction outweigh the consequences. For health and for sanitation, some swamps might need reduction. Yet every destructive decision needs to be contrasted with the wonders of creation. We must comprehend the beauty that is life lest we destroy it wantonly. If we wish to ensure that our lands do not become Dead Marshes, then we must ensure the darkness does not control them: for only when life is prohibited does the true festering begin.

Dead grasses and rotten reeds: they force the mind to ponder on beauty hidden beyond the moral eye. Man’s charge of nature was stewardship, and such care has never been straightforward or clear. With mosquitos and marshes the questions remain, but the discerning mind must find balance: on one side, water transformed into wine, on the other, death transformed into life.


2015’s Reflection: “On the Internal Monologue of Temptation

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