Lessons from the Maple and the Ant

This maple tree belongs to my neighbor. (Photo credit: Rachel E. Watson)

The maple tree in our next-door neighbor’s yard looks autumnal almost year-round, from the early days of spring to the late stages of fall.

Even though I suspect it’s a bloodgood maple – a shrub-like maple bred for its small stature, red-bronze-purple leaves and ornamental appearance – its fall quality acts as a reminder that, in the words of George R.R. Martin’s Stark family, “Winter is coming.”

This could mean winter of the soul, winter of old age, winter of the Earth or the changing of the seasons. Winter is coming.

I only found one ant in my backyard. Were the rest working? 
The tree, as it looks ahead to winter, reminds me of Proverbs 6, wherein King Solomon urges his readers to “go to the ant” for lessons in hard work, delayed gratification, diligence and wisdom. As he puts it, “having no commander, overseer or ruler … it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest” (Proverbs 6:6-8). The ant knows winter is coming; its whole life is devoted to preparation. Solomon calls that wisdom.

As I’m relearning in my church’s summer sermon series on Proverbs, Word to the Wise, Solomon’s audience was an agrarian society in which families were only one or two down harvests from starvation.

Today, in Western nations, this reality is much less pervasive. Only about 2 percent of the U.S. population currently lives or works on farms. While we still depend on agriculture for our sustenance, most U.S. citizens are far removed from feeling the immediate effects of a poor harvest. Farmers work hard to grow and distribute food. But those of us who toil in other industries might forget the importance of planting, tending and harvesting.

Farming is good; gardening is good. But those of us who don't grow food still can apply the ant's example to the works we do pursue. 

I aim to apply myself to honing my writing and editing skills.  This is a lifelong commitment – one I have recently reaffirmed. My expertise won’t grow in a vacuum. I need to write and edit – daily.

What about you? What are your aptitudes? What craft can you hone as you consider the ant?

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Kim Schoetzow said...

Great post, Rachel. I like the idea of wisdom as preparation, especially for things that aren't imminent. Too often we see last-minute preparations for natural disasters and much more subtle changes in life. For example, you can often find a memoir on marriage on my nightstand even though I'm not married.

Rachel E. Watson said...

That's really cool that you're learning/preparing for "life's subtle changes" like that, Kim.

And I agree, we often do see too-little, too-late measures taken when catastrophe strikes. I guess it makes sense that if people as individuals don't prepare for possibilities, then neither do the units of government they create.