Plough My Account Sign Out
My Account
    View Cart

    Subtotal: $

    keys of an old typewriter

    Readers Respond

    Readers respond to Plough’s Spring 2024 issue, The Riddle of Nature.

    June 4, 2024

    The Riddle of Nature

    Nature is indeed a riddle. Nearly every human has experienced the healing powers of nature. Time spent outdoors can be deeply restorative and is known to help maintain mental health. At the same time, nature can be ruthless and deadly.

    The truth is that nature does not care for you at all. Nature will just as quickly kill you and give your energy away to other organisms as it will heal you and make you feel wonderful. Nature is completely agnostic about whether or not you survive. We must recognize that nature is ruthless and breathtakingly beautiful, all at the same time. Just like all of us humans.

    Nathan W. Ferrell,
    Falmouth, Maine

    Understanding Nature’s Book

    On Peter Mommsen’s “The Sadness of the Creatures”: This article is brilliant. Much of what we read these days is junk. Folks think they have something to say but most is recycled stuff. Well, Whitehead did say Western philosophy is mostly comments on Plato. So there is little new under the sun, so to speak. But I think your article for me was new. I like that you are not afraid to cast a wide net and bring in Auden, the Nazis, Anthony in the desert, Woolston, Augustine, Hut, etc. I see humanity rushing to a precipice and instead of taking warning, adding fuel. Only the humanities, the study of religion, the arts, history, etc., will save humanity over the next several hundred years. Of course, humans will need the life skills of agriculture and animal husbandry, carpentry, analog repair, blacksmiths. Much of it has been lost but, like the words of the old monks in the monasteries, it will be refound and re-energized. Your communities are a guiding light.

    Bob Kambic,
    Baltimore, Maryland

    Golden Pests

    On Clare Coffey’s “Dandelions: An Apology”: The dandelion has always been my favorite flower, precisely for its “here I am again, like it or not!” persona. There are few pictures more beautiful than a meadow of gold, and few things more delightfully surprising than a brave little golden head pushing up through a crack in the cement sidewalk. We cultivate vegetables for a living, so technically the dandelion should be a pest. Yet each time we are on hands and knees weeding the greenhouse and one of my boys finds one of these sweet pests, it is tenderly plucked and brought to me, “Here, Mom, for your hair.”

    Sonya Woolston,
    Ulster Park, New York

    Seeing Everything

    On Daniel J. D. Stulac’s “Promised Land”: Years ago, there was a TV show, Corner Gas, that took place on the Canadian prairies. Two of the residents are sitting on a car looking out over the prairie. A nonresident comes by and says, “I can’t see anything!” One of the residents replies, “No, I can see everything.” Thanks for your “I can see everything” perspective.

    Nicolai Hansen,
    Rockledge, Florida

    You have so eloquently captured the journey from adult (jaded?) comparisons – “desolate expanse” – to childlike acceptance and wonder – “the sky … it’s alive!” Mountain grandeur gets more promotional leverage than plains plainness. Both have a starkness. But if one makes the choice to actually engage and not virtually escape life on the prairies, then one has the opportunity, over time, to have one’s lust for the spectacular purged by the subtle and the nuanced.

    Doug Reichel,
    Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan

    Our Predator Species

    On Tim Maendel’s “Why We Hunt”: Amid all the philosophizing and theologizing it is refreshing to read of someone who actually interacts with nature at the visceral level of seeking the meat he consumes by his own hand while reflecting on what that says and means. I too am a hunter, in particular a bow hunter and a bird hunter behind my beloved field-bred English Springer Spaniels. I too reflect on what it means to be another of the apex predators, and on the precious value of my prey, and on how I and they fit into the greater scheme of God’s creation.

    Herb Evert,
    Cottage Grove, Wisconsin

    Maendel’s reflection on hunting deer and turkey is sure to evoke squeamish reactions in some. I share the squeamishness. Living in the country, with animals, I’ve seen several situations where mercy killing was clearly indicated. Sometimes I’ve been able to do the job, sometimes not. I met a young doe once who lurched toward me rather than bounding away as a healthy deer would have done. I’d read about chronic wasting disease in deer and was pretty sure I was looking at it. I stomped and yelled and scared her away. If I’d been carrying anything that could be used to euthanize a deer, which I wasn’t, I’m still not sure I could have killed a deer.

    It is squeamishness about killing animals that reminds us of ourselves, though. I know that because I am capable of taking lives that look just a little more alien. If you want beans, you kill beetles; the fool’s way is to spray poisons that kill helpful animals and produce allergies; the better way is to scoop beetles into a pill bottle and then, when the bottle is full or the beans are beetle-free, add water, or alcohol. If you want fruit trees, you kill the vines that drag them down. If you want a pretty rosebush to look at, instead of a tangle of briars across the path, you kill the branches that try to grow in the wrong place and direction. How much consciousness a bean beetle, a dog tick, or a honeysuckle vine may have, I’m not sure, but I am sure that with all the consciousness they have they prefer to stay alive. I kill them.

    Most of us can afford not to share what Tim Maendel makes sound like a vocation to hunting. As a species, though, we need people like him. In the future, as in the past, we may come to depend on those people.

    Priscilla King,
    Gate City, Virginia

    Miracles of Nature

    On Norann Voll’s “Lambing Season”: I live in the Basque country, Spain, as my wife is Basque. I was a shepherd for four years in England, after which I became a “lecturer in agriculture” for twenty-eight years before retiring here. In my work as lecturer, I used to teach students various practical sessions such as foot-trimming cows, reversing trailers, and of course lambing.

    I well remember one lambing session. I told the students to observe one particular ewe, who didn’t need any assistance in producing one healthy, strong lamb. As we had plenty of time, I said to them, “Right, let’s wait and see how long it takes that newborn lamb to get up and find some milk.”

    Eventually we saw several attempts of the lamb butting something, rather clumsily, around the ewe’s udder. When we saw its head under the udder and its tail wagging, we knew it had hit bullseye.

    “How long?” I asked my students.

    “Forty minutes,” they replied.

    “So,” I asked them, “How did the lamb know where to go?”

    “Instinct,” they replied.

    “Yes, OK, but what is instinct? Where did that lamb get it? Who gave them that instinct? Surely only the Creator could have,” I said.

    “Sir, you don’t believe in God, do you?” they enquired, quite seriously.

    “Why not? Look at the miracle you’ve just observed.”

    Paul Attard,
    Elorrio, Bizkaia, Spain

    A Lack of Imagination

    On Marianne Wright’s review of Grace Hamman’s Jesus through Medieval Eyes: I think a core problem with the modern world is its lack of imagination. This isn’t universally true, of course, but we put a heavy emphasis on science, math, engineering, and such and have become dismissive of the humanities where we develop the imagination and learn to question the facts the math and sciences point to. But just as everything from the Middle Ages should not be preserved, so also not everything we can use math and science to accomplish ought to be accomplished. We are dealing with some of those things now. It doesn’t mean we should abandon things like AI, but we should be much more thoughtful than we are about how we use them and what can be done with them. Of course, we cannot help ourselves; we want to play with these sorts of things. If we did more than just think about what we might do but also imagined what the results might be, we might have fewer problems.

    John D. Wilson, Jr.,
    Centerville, Massachusetts

    Send contributions to, with your name and town or city. Contributions may be edited for length and clarity and may be published in any medium.

    You have ${x} free ${w} remaining. This is your last free article this month. We hope you've enjoyed your free articles. This article is reserved for subscribers.

      Already a subscriber? Sign in

    Try 3 months of unlimited access. Start your FREE TRIAL today. Cancel anytime.

    Start free trial now