edited: Saturday, December 29, 2001
By Jeffrey W. Bennett
Posted: Saturday, December 29, 2001
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Living Responsibly in our world
by Jeffrey W. Bennett
God gave us the beautiful mountains, large meadows, and great seas, all for which I am truly thankful. We have proof in the many natural settings serving as the backdrop for scripture-based posters. Some love what He has created, and all are charged with caring for His creation. However, merely recognizing this magnificence is not stewardship. Putting thought into ecology, the environment, and how we affect it is.
How far does this stewardship go? Deuteronomy 25:4 tells us “Do not muzzle an ox while it is treading out the grain.” We have guidance from the Bible showing how to care for the land and wildlife inhabiting the earth. However there are others working to give deeper meaning to the word stewardship. They have devoted their lives to studying animals, their environment, and how we affect it.
For example, biologists have documented mysterious disappearance and mutations of frog species, leaving authorities baffled. Some consider it to be a direct reflection of our influence. Factory residue, fertilizer, and construction are some factors contributing to such drastic changes. The scientists I had the fortune of spending a few adventurous evenings with, study such patterns of changes in reptiles and amphibians. Thus, they have carried the definition of stewardship a little further.
Recently, some of the herpetologists at the University of Georgia’s Savannah River Ecology Labratory Near Aiken, South Carolina, invited me along for a nighttime snake hunt. I met the party at sunset and found in the midst of the experts two undergraduate students, four research herpetologists, and a medical student. The group’s collect experience helped to settle my apprehension of purposely seeking out one of man’s most feared creatures.
I pondered what we would discover as the headlights led us into the dark woods making up the 300-square-mile preserve owned by the U.S. government. I had been on two previous day trips to turn over logs,strategically placed shelters, and look in swamps for wildlife native to or introduced to the area, and had yet to see a snake. I doubted this trip would be any different.
As we navigated the primitive roads a series of questions interrupted my thoughts.
AHas anyone caught a fasciata recently?. Dr. Gibbons asked.
AA banded water snake..
AOh, not yet..
AHow about a guttata?.
AA corn snake.
AOk, we=ll take road five. I=ve caught a few up there and I want to check again,. Dr. Gibbons instructed.
We made a few stops and looked in the old barns, under boards, and in the vegetation. Even though we did not find snakes, we found many species of frogs and toads. I had a lot of fun scurrying about trying to catch anything that moved. The brave adventurers earned their living reaching into dark shadows for what might lurk. One student pulled her hand out of a hole and revealed a small toad. I wondered how she could know what was in the dark before grabbing it, maybe she just knew.
Not all the work turned out to be fun. The arduous documentation of evidence and amphibious and reptile specimen movements is one of the less glamorous duties in field studies. Yet, without these records, we would not know impact the local industry has had on the ecology.
The winding road brought us to a creek bed, where we scrambled from the van. I was nearly trampled because this wild bunch had a game they liked to play. Basically, when the vehicle made a stop, we tried not to be the last out, or worse yet, just ahead of him or her. Once recovered, I realized that we must be in the right place. Everyone had their flashlight, either hand held or helmet mounted, trained on an area the size of a beach ball. They poised in awe of their
However, I struggled to see whatever had caused the fuss. Even though I strained for what seemed minutes, I could not discern what they discovered. Finally the source of wonder revealed itself. Growing impatient with its audience, a huge serpent uncoiled to slither away. Sinbad or Hercules would have had trouble fighting this large cottonmouth in the old adventure movies.
Later, when I asked why I had such a hard time seeing the snake, Dr. Gibbons explained that I suffered from a lack of what is called Asearch image.. It’s something both scientists and laymen often experience. To explain, imagine walking along and your friend jumps at seeing a green snake. You focus all your energy in finding the green menace, but while searching you may inadvertently overlook any brown ones resting nearby. It’s like not being able to see the trees for the forest.
Later, we drove to a pond. Since it had rained, Dr. Gibbons thought we would have luck with frogs. I have been in the woods many times at night and have heard many frog calls. This night was different-it was like Christmas for these people. Dreams came true as excited scientists identified species after species. Some proved to be hybrids, having adapted to environmental changes.
I was greeted by such a brilliant display of different frog sounds that I found myself hoping each caller would find their mate. To experience such emotion and excitement as each scientist attributed a frog name to each voice was inspiring. I listened long into the night as each versicolor, ocularis, gratuosa, or any other variation of tree frog called out. I couldn’t help feeling as if I were eavesdropping on something special.
Many scientific names are hard for the untrained to remember, so more common ones are necessary. The Morse code frog ditted and datted the lyrics, the cowbell frog provided acoustics, and the banjo frog plucked in an accompaniment to one of the most heartfelt love songs most of the world never hears.
Once finished, we all left satisfied for different own reasons. I gave Dr. Gibbons a ride home that night and we talked as the rain picked up momentum. Flooding had forced many small animals onto the road, so I kept the adventure alive as I inquired of Dr. Gibbons as to their names. We identified some copperhead snakes and leopard frogs.
I had so much fun learning about a new world, that I did not want it to end. The next day as I sat on Dr. Gibbons back porch being entertained by his frog imitations, I realized the adventure didn=t have to end. There is very much yet to discover in backyards, playgrounds, woods, ponds or wherever your adventure takes you.
The most important, however, is recognizing God’s Creation-His most abounding evidence of His existence. It is up to us to learn of all he has to offer. He created it all to glorify Himself, while somehow being generous enough to provide for our amusement. In my appointment-filled day, I am often thankful for those who, like the scientists at the Savannah River Ecology Labratory, spend their energy identifying how we affect our environment.
You can hear some of the many frog sounds, or learn of the Savannah River Ecology Lab’s mission by visiting their web site at www.uga.edu/srelherp/TOADS.HTM.