Everyone had already left the office of “Earth First,” an independent environmental action group on this Friday afternoon leaving it disorganized and cluttered. The office was situated with periodic desks littered with mountains of papers and computer equipment. On the walls there were various posters and banners with the slogans that the group was using such as, “Earth First,” “Save the Animals,” “Meat is Murder,” and a large banner that read “Making the World a Better Place.” They were only one of many such groups that are growing in popularity and influence.
Of the dozen or so employees and volunteers only one remained. Richard Green was the branch leader for the last five years and was very proud of all that he had done there. In his mid forties, Richard spent most of his life as an activist. He was not exceptionally well built, nor exceptionally handsome. He compensated for his mediocre appearance by trying to make a difference for what he felt was important. He made it his life goal to protect and advocate for the environment and its animals.
During his tenure as leader he had directed many protests, influence legislature, and battled development. His group was responsible for the protection of wetlands that were threatened by agriculture, halted housing projects which threatened the kangaroo rat, and even caused the city to shut down a manufacturing plant which did not meet environmental standards. Needless to say, Richard’s work was quite satisfying for him. He had the sense that he was truly making a difference and protecting the earth. On this day however, he was in for an encounter that would forever change his perspective.
Richard was in his private office (the only one in the building) watching the news as he reclined in his chair. It had been a long week because the group was conducting routine protests at a local car dealership because of the damage that oil using motors cause to the environment.
The news was reporting on the warmer than normal weather forecast for that weekend and Richard shouted at the TV as the newscasters reported.
“See! See! It is going to be 78 degrees this weekend and the normal is only 73. Why are there still people who won’t accept that we are destroying the planet through global warming?” There was no one there to hear his outburst, or so he thought, but he regularly did so anyways.
As Richard was busy searching for confirmation that his crusade is worthwhile, someone slipped into the office. Not until the person was at the doorway to his left did he notice. When he did he jumped a little in his chair.
The person in his office was an older looking woman but strikingly beautiful. She appeared meek with long grey hair with some strands of black and long flowing robe of a shimmering material that shone like morning dew. She was slender and rather tall but leaned on a long staff that was knotted and gnarled wood. Her gown flowed to the ground and even dragged behind her a few feet. Her face glowed, but her eyes were large and pale. Richard did not know what to say to his uninvited guest so he said what nearly anyone would say.
“Who are you and how did you get in here? Do you need help with something? We are closed, so you should come back another time.” The woman did not respond initially but continued to study Richard as though she was amused by him. Although it was not an intelligent response to her lack of engagement, Richard decided to ask his questions again only louder and slower. “Ma’am, who are you and why are you here? Is there something you need help with? You really should come back Monday when we open,” he suggested. For another moment the women did not respond, but when she did it was not to Richard’s question, but rather with a question of her own, but did so without moving anything but her mouth.
“Why do you believe that I need help?” she asked in a soft voice that sounded more like it belonged to a young woman rather than an old one.
“I’m sorry…what?” he stammered.
“Why do you believe that I need your help Richard?” she repeated.
“How do you know my name? And who are you?”
At last the woman gave in to Richard’s inquiry into her identity. She shifted her weight from her staff and stood upright adding another few inches to her stature and nearly filling the doorway. “I am Mother Nature as many of you call me, though that is not how I am known otherwise.”
Richard burst out into laughter as he leaned back in his cushy chair and held his gut. He laugh was shrill and unpleasant to the ear. As he laughed he prodded further. “That is hilarious. Who put you up to this? Was it the staff? Are they still here? I have to hand it to you; I really thought for a minute that you might be Mother Nature the way you look in that costume. You really should use this again this Halloween. It is perfect.”
The woman remained perfectly still and waited for Richard to calm from his fit of laughter. When he did she proceeded.
“I am Mother Nature, as I said, and I have come here to ask you a few things.”
“It is ok doll, I love it. You can give it up now.” There was no reaction in her face which began to frighten Richard. Deep inside of his heart he wanted to believe her identity so he decided to test her.
“Fine then. I am open to you being Mother Nature, but how can I know you are who you say?”
Annoyed but not surprised by the man’s lack of faith, the woman pointed to a fichus tree in the corner of the office. Without taking her eyes off of Richard the tree began to grow. It grew from a mere three feet to six and sprouted more foliage and branches as it did. Furthermore it was greener than ever. When she dropped her arm the tree ceased growing.
Richard’s jaw hung open as he stared at his fichus. “This is unbelievable. You must be Mother
Nature. I can’t believe it. What an honor. I never thought that there was any real Mother Nature.”
“I assure you I am real.”
“I believe you. I apologize for being short with you. What can I do to help you? Whatever it is I will do it.”
“Again you assume that I need your help. Why is it that you think I need help?”
Richard was unable to answer. He wracked his brain for some sort of response but had none so Mother Nature decided to simplify her question.
“What is it that you do Richard?” she asked.
Stammering again, but gaining some confidence as he proceeded, he answered, “well, ah, I fight for the environment. The earth. The animals. I fight for you.”
“And why do you do this?”
“Well because someone has to do it. I mean, the trees and the animals and the whole planet cannot speak, so I speak for them all.”
“How can you know that you are saying what they would want you to say?”
“Well I guess I cannot know for sure, but we simply try to defend the things that need defending.”
“I see. And you feel as though the earth, the animals, the trees are helpless?”
Richard could see that he was being led, but he did not know to where, so he answered the way in which she predicted, and the way which was true to what he believed. “Well yes. People are cutting down trees all over the world, polluting the air, and destroying habitats for animals. If I don’t do something, then who will?”
“It sounds like you are a real hero Richard.” Richard wanted to enjoy the compliment but he was not a stupid man and could tell that Mother Nature was being condescending. There was an uncomfortable pause before Mother Nature continued her inquisition.
“Is what you are doing good in the long run?”
“Of course it is. I work so that the earth will survive long after I am gone. I am fighting to save the planet. What is wrong with that?”
Mother Nature stepped into Richard’s office a couple steps until she stood close enough to his desk to tower over it. “Do you think I am weak? Do you think me so frail that I can be extinguished by mere mortals?” He voice rose in volume and deepened so that she did not sound so much like a kind woman, but rather an angry queen. “I have more power than you can imagine. You think that you could kill me or my domain?” She pointed to the fichus that she so impressively grew before Richard’s eyes. He looked at it just in time to see it wilt to dust.
“I have the power to decide what lives and what dies. I can wipe humans off the earth if I wanted. Earthquakes, typhoons, floods, blizzards, I control them all. Can men stop them? No they cannot.” Her eyes turned black and Richards clutched the arms of his chair in fear. She laughed a great and full laugh then calmed.
“What can you do for me? Nothing!”
Richard was not satisfied, and since she settled down he gathered the courage to challenge Mother Nature. “But what about global warming? What about endangered species? What about the damage done to rivers and lakes? Do you not need me to help protect those?”
“Do you not get it little man? You are nothing. You think that you are important. Many humans think that they are very important. But in the grand scheme of things you are not. You think that you are the reason the earth is warming? You are not. You cannot even accurately predict the weather, let alone do something about it and yet you think that by driving your cars, and using electricity that you have the power to warm this planet? You are not important enough.
“Do you think that I cannot change it? Did you not hear about the huge blizzards I unleashed in the north? Have you ignored the feet of snow I dumped on entire cities? You think that if it is warm one day that you have proof of global warming, but you are all fools. Do you think that I could not freeze you right here?”
Nature’s eyes turned white and the temperature dropped dramatically. Richard began to shiver and his computer monitor fogged up.
“I am in charge! Not you! Not any mortal!” Just as quickly as it began the temperature returned to normal. Richard no longer had any arguments. He could do nothing but sit in awe of the being in front of him.
“I came here today to warn you. Mankind’s greatest threat is not his destructive capabilities. It is not nuclear weapons, or slash and burn agriculture or carbon dioxide emissions. Mankind’s greatest threat is his own arrogance. The reason why you and others truly admire the earth is because everything fits together. Everything has a purpose. You and others like you fear that you have no purpose so you choose to make yourself important by doing what you feel is right, but in doing so you become arrogant. You feel that you are better than other humans because you believe that they are doing wrong while you do right, and so you feel superior. You corrupt your place by doing so.
“Even the lion does not believe it to be better or more valuable than the gazelle. In fact it values the gazelle because it gives it nourishment. In the same manner then the lion values other lions as it values itself.”
Nature’s voice softened and she again sounded more like a kind gentle woman. She again leaned over on her staff so that she did not appear so intimidating. She continued, “So you should value other people. Do not fight them on my behalf but rather help them. Quit fighting a battle for someone who never asked you to fight and ally with your fellow man. You hurt people with what you do. You think that you are helping me, but I do not need your help. I survived long before you were here and will survive long after. You were not put here to love trees or rivers or lakes, but to love other people.”
Nature paused to let Richard consider her instructions. Rather than argue or counter Nature’s advice he began to sob. He buried his head in his hands and leaned over onto his desk.
“Why does this displease you?” Nature asked. “Is not this command easier than what you have been doing?”
After a minute Richard was able to answer, “I have put everything I have into this crusade. It is my life, my religion. It is everything I have. Without it I do not know what to do.”
“Do as I instructed. Refocus your efforts into helping people rather than battling them. Thought there will always be some you do not like; they are all your brothers and sisters.”
“I don’t know how. I have only known this.”
“You will learn. Think about what I said and you will discover how you can help. I am leaving now, and you will not ever meet me again, but do as I say so that you truly can make a difference.”
Nature turned and wisped out of the office as though she was a breeze. Richard sat in his chair and mused, questioning whether the exchange between he and Nature and actually occurred or whether it was a hallucination. Then he glanced over to his fichus and found it wilted away. He sobbed some more and then slept on his own desk.
When he awoke it was night, but he did not leave the office, instead he decided to remodel it. He remained there all weekend and when the employees arrived Monday they found that they had not arrived to the “Earth First” office, but rather the “People First” one. Richard explained to them that he had a revelation and that the group was going to refocus its attention. Some left, but others stayed and helped Richard launch scores of community projects such as day care centers, libraries, playgrounds, career centers, drug and alcohol rehabilitation centers and others.
Five years to the day Richard met Mother Nature, he was serving soup at a kitchen when an old lady thanked him for all that he was doing, and with a wink of her eye she said that he was “really making the world a better place.” He thanked her and smiled because he truly knew that she was right.