Every morning, before breakfast, I go out to the garden to tend to the bird’s bath and change the water for the wildlife who pass through the yard every night.
We have opossums, skunks, raccoons, and bunnies who forage around the house after dark. Clean water is hard to find in populated areas so I keep everyone’s bowls fresh. That’s my job.
I was listening to my inner dialogue this morning, as I was scrubbing algae off the rocks for the little birds, and dumping out the dish the raccoons used to wash food last night. “This is a good thing. Everyone should share. I’m glad I can share our water with the birds and animals here.” I actually heard myself thinking those things for the first time and it made me ashamed.
Our house is on the slope of a mountain, on the edge of a forest. The town’s water supply is about a mile away in a reservoir sitting in a small plateau on the same slope of the same mountain. Our house draws water out of the reservoir and, in so doing, prevents that water from becoming mountain streams that would otherwise have flowed down the slope of the mountain to the river you can see in the valley below our back porch.
I’m not giving anyone anything. I’m not sharing anything either. What I’m doing is putting back a tiny fragment of what would have been freely available to birds and animals in my garden before people decided to take it away.
It occurred to me, in that moment, that this is the problem with how we frame the idea of possession in general. As a human society, we seem to think we own everything despite the fact that there is nothing in nature to reinforce that idea, and quite a bit of evidence to the contrary.
My little tribute of water, and food when it’s needed, it’s barely more than a gesture. It’s practically symbolic. It’s more like what the ancient Greeks used to do when they poured a little wine out of their cup for a libation to a God before they got drunk, than real sharing.
I suppose it comes from Genesis and the idea that God promised man would have “dominion over the earth” and every living thing on it. This attitude percolates through our society, it shapes everything we do. We think we’re entitled to dam rivers, blast mountaintops, put houses wherever suits us. We say; “possession is 9/10 of the law.” Surely it should be “possession is proof of culpability.” At the very least, when we take something and call it ours, we should bear some responsibility for that action.
What we take away from others doesn’t belong to us just because we’ve taken it. Nature doesn’t function by whimsical human statements drawn from ancient liturgical texts, and honestly, neither should we.