Experiencing the Sublime in 24 Inches of Dirt

It was a busy time of life with graduate school and worries over money. While tending our landlord’s garden I found myself fully prostrate, spread out on the ground and pruning a rhododendron bush. What followed was a spiritual experience that was ethereal in nature, and yet firmly rooted in the solid terra firm of earth.

My body delighted in the warmth of the soil beneath me, and my eyes remained transfixed on a common toad that was exercising dominion over his small kingdom. Never have I witnessed such focus and concentration. The animal remained perfectly still, waiting for any movement to announce the presence of nourishment. Once detected, the large toad’s eyes became fixed and concentrated on its prey. The facial expression was somewhat akin to someone experiencing a bowel movement unencumbered by multi-tasking of any kind. In utter fascination, and avoiding the urge to blink, I remained frozen as a statue as the amphibian unfurled its remarkable tongue to bring in a meal.

I remained still and silent there for an entire hour, with all stress and concerns abandoned to some other world, as the toad similarly devoured about 10 ants and other insects. Beyond a slight cock of the head, fixation of the eyes, and a lightning-fast movement of the tongue, my friend never moved. He waited as nourishment came within striking range.

Marveling at the splendid simplicity of this being, life slowed down. Peace was restored. The creator’s handiwork was fully on display, as much or even more so than any of the mountaintops I’ve been fortunate enough to climb. And yet, here I was face down in the dirt gazing a mere two feet at a fellow creature doing what it was created to do. We were both in the dirt together, and seemed as equals. Perhaps not equal in all ways, but we were both of the creation together, set into our particular kingdoms by our common maker.

The last time my face was down in the dirt like this had been in much less happy circumstances. For five years I spent entire summers in the care of a babysitter. Much of this time was spent alone in the shadows. Many hours elapsed as I immersed myself in the world of the ants. I brought forth worms and other bugs, watching them struggle for hours to push, pull, and drag their prey underground. I rarely disturbed them in any way, but simply studied their comings and goings. I also followed the workers as they ventured out on hunts or exploratory missions. Occasionally I introduced a red ant or two in order to watch the fighting that ensued. The black ants overwhelmed them in large numbers as they thundered out of the nest shouting, “For queen and colony!”

It was marvelous to stumble upon this impressive toad. Rather than escaping from the world this time, however, the experience helped me make greater sense of it. I also learned to stop and appreciate the little things that most people are oblivious to as they rush on past. This is especially important, and most needed, during periods of busyness and stress. Perspective. Pass it on…

Photo credit: http://www.warrenphotographic.co.uk

Common Toad (Bufo bufo) taking an earwig.

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