In my late teens and early twenties I spent four summers working at Lutheran summer camps–as kitchen staff and counselor, in Pennsylvania and North Carolina. During these formative years, a fixture in my life was a woman named Mir. Mir was the environmental education director at both of the camps I worked at (I essentially followed Mir and her camp-director-husband to North Carolina). She was as short as her name, perpetually wearing hiking boots and packed with enthusiasm and energy for the natural world.
During the afternoon “activity time” I would sign my cabin up for one of Mir’s offerings. She offered a slew of options, but my favorite was “Creek Critters.” It was a simple concept. We would gather at the creek and Mir would give us small plastic containers and largish eye-droppers. Then we were set free to gather water samples and whatever critters we could corral (no water snakes please). The samples would go under low-power microscopes and campers would watch tiny creek-dwellers dance across the slides. Mir would congratulate each find as if the camper had discovered a new species. It was bacteria and little bugs, but it was really really exciting.
The best part was the end. After we had carefully released our critters, Mir would stand at the bank of the creek and announce Psalm 104. “Oh Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom you made them all; the earth is full of your creatures.” The campers–and I–were transfixed. “Yonder is the sea, great and wide,” she indicated the creek with a grin and a wide sweep of her arm, “full of creeping things both small and great.” Her eyes would shine as she exhorted us to take care of all that God had made, and we would return to the cabin with her words ringing in our ears.
It’s been more than a decade since I stood in those woods and heard Mir pronounce God’s manifold wisdom over creatures “great and small”, but I’ve never completely lost the sense of wonder that accompanied her words. It came back to me this week as I was standing in my backyard, watching a swarm of children play and argue and run and fall, grinning as the goofy chickens shook and pecked and flapped and clucked, and wondering how so much life could be contained in one city backyard.
And yes, I did just compare my children to bacteria.