Paddling the Powhatan Creek on a fall day I floated near the saltmarsh at low tide. The mud heaved with armored creatures that I alarmed, hauling themselves on ten legs to run into the reeds with a giant claw like a fiddle under an arm. The abundance of nature is still gob-smacking. If the scene is magnified in the imagination, Michael Crichton could have written the story Brachurid Park.
Close to the bank, dozens of small fishes leapt out of the water for a second, as if checking for the long, pointed beak of a fisherman up to his knees. And then my bow suddenly lifted and slammed down as a huge snapping turtle disturbed on the creek bed made off with as much panic as it left me steadying my kayak.
But none of those sights were as indelible as the tiny spinning whirlpool in a patch of still water. Paddling to see if the insect caught in a meniscus would be gobbled by a fish I found a drowning honeybee.
For nearly a quarter hour I watched and tried to rescue it on the blade of my paddle, but it always slipped off in the wash. Eventually it caught and I knocked it onto my prow to study it. Golden-yellow, the bee wasn’t from my Russian colony four miles away. Over several minutes it scrubbed its head and body and dried in the afternoon sunshine. Then it flew off, with my blessing. The boy scout of years ago rose inside: it was my good deed for the day.
I can’t help reflecting that I am the stranger of the two, and perhaps of all species. Every day I am responsible for the death of living creatures by eating, driving, gardening, etc., and when not in the deed I am complicit through others. And yet, I now take more care of my choices as a consumer and try to avoid harming animals met as individuals, like the mouse in our house and the worm exposed by my garden fork, but if I try to be Franciscan, revering all nature, I soon fail. I am guilty of deliberately stepping on a giant cockroach today.