On Variety

“Variety is the spice of life,” they say.

Our satellite TV pulls in hundreds of channels of programming. We sit on the couch and push the buttons on the remote to find dozens of permutations of bachelors and bachelorettes and would-be models and singers and dancers weeping or grumbling, penis jokes and incredible bargains in tennis bracelets, luggage and knives. We expect more and more of the same, and that’s what we get.


But yesterday, as the sun was setting in the west in yet another unique display, I looked up there were six or so nighthawks soaring and dipping and jogging their way through the sky.


I instantly recalled the many evenings in Fremont, Ohio, in the elementary school yard, watching the nighthawks make their way up high and then go into their precipitous stoops–then thrilling as they pulled up at last, after their mouths filled with bugs, and hearing the deep-throated “plunk” of their winged air brakes.


But in the eleven years we have been on Heatherhope Farm, I think I’ve made no more than a handful of sightings of this marvelous species. The Robins and Cardinals can be counted on. The Meadowlarks are pretty regular. But the Dickcissels and Bobolinks come and go. There they are, now they’re gone. Maybe this year, maybe next.


And just yesterday I opened the shade in our bedroom window and there, dancing around the weeds just outside, was the very first hummingbird that I’ve seen here on the farm. Was it another hummingbird around the flowers at dusk, or was that an enormous moth?


It’s not just birds. Each year’s weed crop is different, new ones blow in on the wind, react differently to the dry heat last year and the wet cool this. Each weather front puts on a different grin or grimace. And the mix of bugs is fascinating. Just minutes ago I let go yet another laugh of surprise when I came in the house and in the corner of my eye glimpsed a praying mantis on the door frame. Another rarity.


Toynbee condemned the “dogma that History is just one damned thing after another.” To some it does seem maddeningly random, to others repetitive; but history is full of humanity, and humanity will surprise you very routinely with a capacity for both inhumanity and superhuman compassion.


It’s television and even the googleplexed virtual world that seems to act like a stuck record. The more different stuff we see, the more that kind of mindless variety seems the same. Tweaking the same few formulas leads to inanely sensational  difference. 


But stop and look around as you walk in the Great Outdoors. Take time out from saving the environment to appreciate it. You’re bound to see variety most generously suffused with glory.

About John

John is a retired pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America who has served congregations for over 40 years, including in rural, suburban, campus ministry and urban settings. His love of Border Collie sheepdogs has been fortified by his many friendships with shepherds all around the world. Nothing he has ever or will ever accomplish is as significant as the patience God, his wife and his friends have shown in putting up with his deficiencies.
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