A long time ago I saw a small creature die. I could have prevented it, but I didn't. This is what happened:
Lou and I were sitting beside a stream when we noticed a large white millipede. The creature was headed toward the edge of the water. We watched as it tentatively dipped its front legs in the water. It arched its body, testing. I expected it to back up and go another direction, but instead it continued on into the stream. Soon it was swept under by the current and drowned.
I was disturbed by the incident. We could easily have rescued the millipede but instead chose to watch its demise. I regreted it and have never forgotten.
You've got to be kidding! It was just a wormy thing with lots of legs. What difference does it make?
In the scheme of the whole wide world, it meant nothing at all. To the millipede, it meant everything.
And that is the thing. How important is life? Does it matter when it is small and insignificant to our eyes? Do we treat life carelessly, except when it's important to us? I'm not an extremist. I think human life is most precious, and I would kill any animal to protect a human life. I kill mosquitoes around my house, and I will get rid of roaches that invade my home. But I'm not careless about it. I don't nuke every insect in my garden or sterilize my lawn. I think all creatures are on earth for a purpose. One of man's purposes is to manage the earth and its resources wisely and to respect and protect life whenever possible.
I remembered the millipede when more recently I came across two turtles engaged in battle. I was in the woodland garden, and I saw a large turtle climbing onto the back of a much smaller one. At first I thought I had come across a mating couple; but as I watched, it was clear the smaller turtle was attempting to escape. It was able to get out of the larger one's grasp and headed across the woodland path. But the large turtle was soon upon it again. It was clawing at the smaller one's shell, trying to flip it onto its back, nipping and pushing at its prey. The little one was desperate and managed again to get out from under the large one.
I don't know much about turtles, and I was fascinated. I wondered if the small one had wandered into the larger one's territory. Maybe they were two different species at natural enmity. Who knows? I did realize the little one's life was in jeapordy.
The turtles were a couple feet apart when I stepped forward and stomped my foot between them. Caught up in their struggle, neither had seen me coming, and now they both were quite surprised. They stopped in their tracks to look at me. The little one glanced from me to its pursuer, then recognized the opportunity. He turned and skedaddled out of there, as quickly as he could. I watched as he fled into the woodland undergrowth.
Meanwhile, the large turtle backed away from me. He observed the little one's escape, then glared at me. I think he was sizing me up, trying to decide if he could take me on. Minutes passed as we confronted one another. I stomped my foot again. Finally, the turtle turned the opposite direction and soon disappeared into the plantings.
I felt good that I had saved a small life. Did it matter? It mattered to the little turtle, and that is good enough.
This is the path in the woodland garden where the turtle battle occurred:
And couple of photos, evidence of other small creatures in my garden:
Is a small life valuable? Does it matter at all? What does it say about us, if the answer is no?