Among the joys of this spring has been a trip up the Natchez Trace from Culbert’s Ferry in North Alabama to near Nashville, a distance of about 125 miles. The road winds mostly through a forest, generally following the route set early in the 19th century by the European settlers of Middle Tennessee.

Meriwether Lewis lived along the Trace, as did the chiefs of the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes Leferve and Culbert. Andrew Jackson and his Volunteers followed the Trace on their way to the Battle of New Orleans in 1814. Davy Crockett traveled the Trace on his way west and to fame as a defender of the Alamo.

Spring is a beautiful time on the Trace. Redbuds, dogwoods and fruit trees from long-abandoned homesteads furnish color. Deer, turkey, raccoons and skunks stop and look at you. Birds are flitting about seeking a place to build a nest and raise a family. Grasses along the roadway are greening up.

It is a slow trip by modern standards, only 50 miles an hour. But, if one thinks about the fact that Jackson, Crockett, Lewis and thousands of unknown travelers spent two hard days, or more, covering those 50 miles, one can be more thankful.

As we traveled along we counted only 27 pieces of litter along this 125-mile stretch of the Trace. It is not uncommon to find that much litter in less than a quarter of a mile along the county roads where we live. Why the difference? We concluded that persons who travel the Trace have a commitment to nature and the preservation of its beauty. Unfortunately, many of our neighbors do not.

Back home in the church basement of Ethelsville Baptist Church eating dinner last Sunday, Mrs. Lollar told me about her predicament–turkey buzzards have built nests in their “shooting houses”–those little houses on stilts next to meadows from which hunters harvest deer during the winter. She attributed this “relocation” to the growing practice of the timber companies to “clear
cut” tracts of timber.

Adjoining the Lollars, a tract of many acres which had been fully planted with pine trees 25 years ago was harvested recently. Little remains but discarded limbs. The buzzards had lost their homes. They found another; how-be-it, one where they are not welcome.

One evidence of the humor of God is the turkey buzzard. What an ugly creature. But in God’s economy it performs an important function. It cleans away the decaying flesh from dead animals. It takes into itself the disease of others. It protects God’s other creatures from contact and spread of illnesses. Apparently, God graciously provided them with some solace. They fly beautifully. Isn’t that just like God?

For years I puzzled over the meaning of Matthew 24:28. In the NIV it reads, “Wherever there is a carcass, there the vultures will gather.” The setting is when Jesus was teaching about the end of time and his return to earth. Apparently, he was likening himself to a vulture. At a point when mankind has become extremely corrupt, he will come again.

Recently, we celebrated Easter. The story of Easter is that Jesus took upon himself the corruption of humankind. This was his mission then. His mission on his return will, in a sense, be a continuation in that he will completely deliver humankind from the corruption that has threatened and sickened us all since the Fall.

I suppose that the reason that it took me so long to see the teaching that Jesus was making by using what was a common expression, was that I resisted thinking of Jesus as a turkey buzzard. (Actually, the turkey buzzards are native to America. The vultures of the Middle East are different.)

April is the setting for three major ecological celebrations, sometimes four: Arbor Day, Earth Day, Soil and Water Stewardship Sunday and Rogation Sunday.

The National Association of Conservation Districts provides materials for churches to use in conducting a Soil and Water Stewardship Sunday. It can be accessed at I wrote the adult Sunday school lesson. It focuses on the parable of the soils are recorded in Matthew 13. You will also find educational materials there which are useable in day camps.

Remember, vultures will take care of the “road kill” litter, but the papers, plastics and bottles will not go away, naturally. God made humankind with the potential not to pollute. But some do. So, others of us will need to adopt the role of servant, something that Jesus commends to his disciples, and pick their messes.

Further, to plant timber plantations with large tracts of pines that can be harvested all at once appears to be efficient and economically wise, but it can be disastrous ecologically. Diversity of types of trees and selective harvesting is a much better plan.

Gary Farley is partner in the Center for Rural Church leadership, Carrollton, Ala.

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