Tom, our black lab dog, exploded from his bed on the front porch after midnight in a frenzy of excited barking. The coyote pack on the hill, responding to some unknown signal, were in full chorus. Wild high pitched yells echoed back and forth under the winter Wolf moon, then stopped as abruptly as it started. Joining in the midnight concert, the bulls in the east pasture began to bellow, then the cows and calves chimed in for a full half hour of conversation before everyone decided it was a false alarm, and settled back down for the night. In the morning , the neighbor called to say some of the cows were out on the lane; a winter's night adventure that kept the farmer busy most of the next day.
Herd behaviour is a constant on the farm, always interesting to watch. Animals all have their own patterns and are happiest when their routines are not disturbed.
We humans have our own comfortable patterns and daily routines; lately I've noticed how predictable we are in church. We nearly always sit in the same pew in church. When our usual place is taken, and we sit somewhere else, somehow it seems disoriented. Many people always sit in the very back of church, some like to sit in front, and some seem to look for a spot where they are out of the sightline of the priest, maybe to nod off during the sermon Sitting at the end of the pew, next to the aisle, is also another choice location, either to be able to watch everyone else or to be able to leave early, I'm not sure.
I suspect that where we sit in church and how we become comfortable in crowds, is formed at an early age by childhood memories with our parents. Coming to church with familiar faces and rituals connects to our history of living in this place. Our churches have enclosed our ancestors as they brought their babies, celebrated weddings, buried their dead. The space we inhabit in church breathes our history and the heritage of generations.
For people living on the land the familiar landscape of rolling hills and green fields, creek and homestead has the same legacy. It is part of our sense of place, the connection to the generations past. Like the animals we become upset when a change is happening. As scientists study the changing weather patterns of our world and try to predict its impact on our future, it seems certain that whatever happens it will be different from the stable weather patterns of the past. All we can do here to preserve our legacy is, as Wendell Berry says, is avoid doing permanent ecological damage to our towns, our farms, our streams, to fix the damage we cause, to clean up our own mess.
By Martha Young