Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Drawing Distinctions

I took a break to walk around the lake yesterday. There's a beautiful path skirting the edge, right around two-miles long. Some of it is in the open sun and some is shaded by tall trees. There is exercise equipment along the trail, benches to relax, small bridges over streams, and small docks for fishing. The geese understand that no one really follows the "Do Not Feed the Waterfowl" signs. There's a playground for the young ones---in sight of a McDonalds across the street.

The trail is very inviting, not only for the locals, but for the pets. All of the walkers and bikers are accustomed to seeing a variety of dogs getting their exercise alongside their owners on the path. Dog walking there is so encouraged that the city installed and stocks dispensers with dog-waste disposal bags for easy clean-up.

So as I rounded a corner in a partially wooded leg, up ahead I saw a middle-aged woman with her iPod and sporty exercise attire. Moving faster than my casual pace, she had passed me a little earlier; now I saw her stepping off the path and making a quick check around her. Seeing no one, she walked up to one of posts, stripped it of its contents, and stuffed those bags into her fanny pack.

Then, without looking back, she was off again.

It is easy to assume the worst, making assumptions about what transpired; for instance, this lady with her fancy clothes and expensive iPod was taking advantage of the system, preferring these specialty clean-up bags to the typical plastic grocery bags one might use closer to home. Of course, it's also possible that she was intending to clean up any dog messes that the less conscientious had left behind. Who knows? Since I did not yell to stop her and then ask, it remains a mystery. When I eventually passed that empty post, it was in quiet amusement.

Whether through compassion or taxation, services are put in place to make society more livable for everyone. There are so many people who are too proud to ask for or to accept help, while there are others who need no help at all but who will gladly take advantage of the system.

We fill bird feeders with seed, and we place guards around the feeder to keep the hungry squirrels at bay. We cultivate and plant fragile flowers, and we pull invasive weeds. But who makes the distinction between the weed and the flower, or between the hunger of the bird or the squirrel? What is the difference?

Some would denounce man as being in error for drawing the distinctions in the first place and then interfering with nature; but, is not imposing our own sense of order and balance upon the world around us as much a part of nature as anything else.

Why do we do it? Who knows? The woman stuffing her fanny pack with every dog litter bag in sight is as much a part of nature and a perfect expression of the universe as a flower blooming or anything else---as might have been a man smacking her on the head and telling her to put the bags back. Are these questions even important, or is it the questioning itself---being conscious of ourselves as expressions of the universe---that is important?

What is it within us that allows us to see the absurdity and to laugh?

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