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Anthropomorphize, it’s Okay, Really!

Posted by Paul Wiemerslage | Mar 09, 2016

I wonder how long it would take you to notice the regular recurrence of the seasons if you were the first man on earth.  What would it be like to live in open-ended time broken only by days and nights?  You could say, “it’s cold again; it was cold before,” but you couldn’t make the key connection and say, “it was cold this time last year,” because the notion of “year” is precisely the one you lack.  Assuming that you hadn’t yet noticed any orderly progression of heavenly bodies, how long would you have to live on earth before you could feel with any assurance that any one particular long period of cold would, in fact, end?

This excerpt from Annie Dillard’s classic Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, always comes to mind this time of year as winter persists.  I think of the animals, those hibernating eager to emerge from their dormancy unaware (mostly) of what their animal brethren have been up to the for the previous 4 months.  I think too of those hearty critters that brave the winter head on staying active.  How terrifyingly difficult it would be to survive day in and day out with scant resources.  All the while knowing that, even if you survive this winter, you’ll have to do it again the following year, and the year after that.  How many winters could you last? How long could you endure? 

Of course it isn’t scientific to anthropomorphize, but it is fun, and important to do so. Much can be learned contemplating the wonders of the natural world and our relationship to it.  God knows this and reminds us of it time and again (Psalm 19:1-4, Romans 1:20, Isaiah 6:3). The problem is, reading bible verses or learning about the natural world through textbooks isn’t enough.  Caring for our planet requires that we establish a connection to it that goes beyond words.  In effect we must feel something for creation.  If you are finding it difficult to do so, go outside and spend an entire day outdoors in the winter (this point may be lost on our southern friends).  Feel your fingers start to sting, then go numb, then sting again, and finally throb like the beat of a drum. Multiply that by 90 days.  With luck, you will gain a small sense of what winter can be like for wild animals.  Then go back and read about winter adaptations, be amazed at lipid concentrations in polar bears.  Unlock wonder and intrigue in the learning process.  When you find yourself beginning to anthropomorphize that is a good indicator that your connection to natural world has reached your heart.  This heart connection is fundamental to being human and I might say necessary for all people to develop and exercise. This heart connection and sense of wonder is what drives science (why would anyone study lipid concentrations in polar bears if they did not first feel some deeper connection!!?)

Kathleen Dean Moore speculates what sets people apart from other animals is, “[our] ability to take notice, to be grateful and glad…” This time of year reminds me to take notice, to be grateful and glad for winter.  For the hardships animals endure to see another spring, the adaptations that aid in their survival and the reminder that we can in fact sympathize, it’s what makes us human and what makes us unique and it’s what compels us to learn more.

Dillard, Annie. Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. New York: Harper's Magazine, 1974. Print.

Moore, Kathleen Dean. Wild Comfort: The Solace of Nature. Boston, MA: Trumpeter, 2010. Print.