The best job that I ever held was at the St. Louis Science Center as a “gallery assistant” in the Fossil Lab. I had a table full of fossils, and miniature dinosaur figures and invited visitors young and old to come to my table to touch, and play, and asked them questions. Why do you think the parasaurolophus walked on 2 legs and the triceratops walked on 4? Who would eat who? Why did the dinosaurs die? Basically I got paid to play, which was as awesome as it sounds.
I also occasionally busted out the “Water Table” which was just a glorified sandbox, with a water source at the top, lots of sand, tools for shaping the sand, miniature trees and dinosaurs. Visitors and I would create rivers, which led to the ocean, and once the water turned on at the top, we saw how the land moved and changed. Floods occurred, banks were eroded away, dinosaurs fell into the streams and turned into fossils and both the visitors and I watched in amazement, because we never really knew exactly what the water would do.
Much like the land has been shaped and transformed by the water, so has my life. My earliest formative memories are from “The Club”, the cabin and piece of land my mother’s family owned since the 1930s located in Cedar Hill, MO. The tiny cabin was built on stilts on top of a riverbank in an attempt to mitigate the risk of the rising water of the Big River below during heavy rains. It was and where I spent most of my summers growing up and the reason I fell in love with the outdoors. I remember my grandma helping me bait my first hook, and the pride I felt when reeling in my first fish. I remember mischievously stealing ears of corn from the farmers next door, riding bikes down the endless dirt roads and making mud cakes in our dirt pile next to the old house. Unfortunately, the great floods of 1993 and 2008 destroyed the Club House and much of the land, and now though still in the family’s name, is a defunct area, overgrown and forgotten. The old house has become a garbage heap for the locals. It was devastating, but also a needed wake-up call. It began my questioning for God, and why terrible things happen
My wonderment for the land and the water was born there, and it carried me to pursue the study of marine biology. During my first semester at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, FL, we were evacuated 3 times; first for Hurricane Charley, then Frances, and lastly for Ivan. The 2004 Atlantic hurricane season was one of the most active, and destructive on record (at that time). Suddenly the abstract idea of climate change became all the more real, and I saw the devastation it could cause. While my dream of becoming a marine biologist faded, my fascination and love for the land and its relation to human life grew stronger. I finally finished my college education with a degree in Environmental Science, and a focus on biology.
10 years later that passion for the environment continued on and I began my service as an environmental Peace Corps volunteer in rural Jamaica. Though Jamaica has been independently governed since 1962, and churns up images of Sandals Beaches, reggae music and fruity cocktails, it is still very much a developing country with a complicated relationship with its land. It is covered with fertile soil, and almost any tropical plant can be grown there. However due to unpredictable weather patterns, such as the awful drought I saw while serving as a volunteer, farming is an unreliable source of income and Jamaica imports over 80% of its food. The tourism industry, which is the biggest contributor to Jamaica’s economy is mostly foreign-owned with little regard or care to the coastline, or the disposal of waste. In my 2 years of service I didn’t save Jamaica from climate change, but I worked hard to make micro-changes where I could, most of which I’ll never see. Like a kid growing up to become a farmer, or one less Jamaican burning their trash.
The land, like our lives, is constantly evolving and changing. 50 years from now, we don’t know what the Florida coastline will look like, or if Jamaica will withstand all the impending hurricane seasons. These changes can happen all at once, or like plate tectonics, slowly over time. There could be moments that change your life in an instant like the death of a loved one, or a job relocation. But mostly, it is the small, micro-movements of how we act and how we treat each other every day. That’s where God lives in us and that is what will dictate the way our community, our church, our city and our country move forward.
Whether it was the floods in Missouri, the hurricanes in Florida, or the drought in Jamaica, I was always aware of the POWER of nature and the presence of God. In the wake of these natural disasters, I am always reminded of the book of Job, which raises more questions than it may give answers;
Where is God in suffering? Can God be trusted amid suffering?
It is in the asking of these questions though that we get closer to God. Do we need to understand why in order to appreciate the beauty of nature or the power of God? These experiences remind parts of me lying dormant that there are still rivers, indeed deep parts of myself, that remain unexplored, and that pondering unfathomable questions on endless rivers is sometimes better than finding the answers we seek.