I love attracting wildlife to the yard. In fact, I spend good money buying seed, planting shrubbery and diligently refreshing the bird baths so that when I open the back door chipmunks and chickadees, squirrels, doves and cardinals go skittering on their way.
I love it. Until I don’t.
It seems if you want to know the exact day that the fruit on your tree or the grapes on your vine are ripe, ask a squirrel.
The discriminating rodents in my yard like to wait until that final juicy week when they take one little bite out of the fruit and throw it to the ground. Day after day, I find this carnage scattered about. Finally, when the fruit has reached its peak, they round up all the workers they can find and make quick work of the harvest.
The invited guests rob me with such aplomb!
That is the risk you take when you offer free stuff. You can’t say chickadees from 7 – 8 am, sparrows from 8 – 9… everybody line up orderly and there will be enough to go around.
Ohhh no. The fattest sparrow spends most his time and energy chasing off the other, delicate ones.
And the squirrels! They must have a vast network of intelligence to alert their species ten blocks away where to get the freebies.
Now, it’s mighty dangerous to be a squirrel in my backyard (I hope I don’t offend too many fur-lovers here). But seriously, where do you draw the line?
As I write this post, I can see that my neighbors have invested in some fruit tree nets to protect their persimmons from the pests. Their yard looks like an old woman’s parlor with the furniture draped in ghostly gauze.
But I get it. It’s maddening to spend a lot of effort to achieve healthy, home-grown fruits and veggies, only to wake up one morning and find them all gone.
It’s a universal truth that to achieve success one has to protect one’s borders. Don’t you?
Now, I’m not advocating killing and trapping every vermin in the yard (don’t tell my husband I said that ;), but I do believe a thoughtful balance must be struck.
In the case of the squirrels helping themselves to the bird food, we placed the feeder on a 5’ wire – an un-pretzeled coat hanger – suspended from a second-story gutter and that has worked. Normally acrobatic, the squirrels won’t seem to risk the skinny wire up so high. And the seed that falls to the ground is there for the taking.
Doesn’t the Bible advocate something similar: gleaning.
In the Book of Ruth we read that Ruth would go into the farmer’s field and glean (or pick) some of the grain that was leftover. The productive farmer is told to leave the edges of his field for gleaning (see Leviticus 19:10; Deuteronomy 24:20 – 21). This allowed the poor (the fatherless, widows, foreigners) the opportunity to gather the leftover crops for their own sustenance.
Gleaning was commanded by God for those with productive resources to leave something extra so that the poor, through their own labor, could provide for themselves. While we don't live in an agriculture-based society, can’t we use the bird feeder example and apply it in our modern-day practices?
Modern day gleaning may mean to ask someone to water my lawn and then share some of the harvest with them.
It may mean giving some of my seedlings to a younger mom and showing her how to plant a raised garden.
Gleaning may mean paying someone to mow the lawn, wash the car, pull weeds or clean my house for pay, even though I could do it myself.
Gleaning preserves the dignity of the less fortunate and it cultivates thankfulness in the giver.
At our house, once we've made ample use of all the beans or squash or peppers in our yard, I like to make a little sign out by the road and offer the neighbors a chance to take them and, if inclined, leave a donation. That way if someone has the means, they can feel like they are contributing for their produce, and if they don’t, I will freely give it.
Could I possibly get robbed? I could, but this is where I think we have to go back to the spirit of God’s command to allow gleaning. I have been blessed by this produce and out of gratefulness, I want to continue the blessing.
A thankful heart is not only the greatest virtue, but the parent of all other virtues.