Rob McCall died this morning – not unexpectedly. He had been failing for some time.
His passing is a great loss to his community in Blue Hill, Maine. Also to the world.
I painted his portrait five years ago, and at the unveiling of it in the Blue Hill library, with Rob there, I said, “I know of no greater contemporary nature writer and no greater source of wisdom for how we must think of ourselves in relation to nature if we want to survive on this planet.”
He was, for many years, the beloved minister of the Blue Hill Congregational Church. But it may have been his weekly essays, his Awanadjo Almanac, through which most people knew him.
Rob paid extraordinarily close attention to all the miraculous phenomena of nature and equally close attention to the frequently dispiriting behavior of humans. He gently, but adamantly, encouraged members of this community to perceive more closely and act more generously. It is not an exaggeration to say that he changed the ethos of this place. In a democratic society how people act, what they choose to protect, what values they bring to important decisions, who they choose as leaders, how humble or arrogant or prejudiced or kind they are with others depends to a great extent on the quality of their teachers. The truths they tell. Rob McCall was a quintessential teacher. The best way to remember him is to read his own words. Here is a little selection of his quotes that I collected:
“Most creatures under heaven are entirely concerned with faithfully feeding and mating and playing; raising their young in peace and unafraid. They are oblivious to the rise and fall of fortunes and empires except when these events interfere with the natural rhythms of life, when their habitat is threatened, their water poisoned, their air sullied. The nations rage, the kingdoms totter while wild roses still shyly bloom, deer still graze, whales still dive and breach in search of food, and the hermit thrush still sings its age-old, sorrowful song from the cool woodland shade.”
“Around here the spirits of the towns are mostly Christian. But the spirits of the forests are Algonquin; the spirits of the snow and ice are Inuit; the spirits of the mountains are Buddhist; the spirits of the big trees, rocks and waterfalls are Shinto; the spirits of the animals are Neolithic; and the spirits of the bays and islands are Celtic, Druid and Pagan. If you stay in town, Christianity might be all you need. But, if you wander far out beyond the towns, Christianity may not be enough.”
“We are told that Moses was out seeing for himself when he saw a burning bush. God spoke to Moses, not through any book or priest or church, but in the form of a living plant on fire. This is the elegance of myth, because this is precisely a description of plant metabolism: every plant is doing a slow burn as carbon, water and sunlight are synthesized by chlorophyll into sugars which the plant burns to sustain its life, and all life. Every bush is a burning bush, every shrub is a revelation.”
“Why is it that hurricanes and other natural disasters seem to affect the poor more harshly than others? Why would a just God further punish those who have suffered the most by sending destructive storms to add to their suffering? Let’s not be too quick to blame God, who sends good weather and bad to fall equitably on everyone. The poor often suffer more from natural disasters because of poor housing, inadequate transportation, dilapidated infrastructure, and inferior rescue and medical services. It is up to man, not God, to change all that. A few rolls of paper towels are not going to do it.”
“Massacres of innocents are getting to be commonplace these days, thanks to a festering rage in industrial societies joined to advanced firearm technology. Nearly every morning it seems we are greeted by another horror of mass murder. It is dangerous to suggest that this is not about guns but that it is simply about mental health, or religion, or terrorism, or domestic violence, or a bureaucratic failure somewhere. A madman with a knife might manage to kill a few innocents before being stopped, but a madman with an assault rifle can kill scores, as we have all witnessed recently. So this is most definitely about guns, and no denial can alter that truth. It is criminally negligent to continue to allow public health and safety to be endangered in this way. It is diabolical to insist that this slaughter was the intent of the founding fathers when they drafted the second amendment to the Constitution, which clearly states that armed men should be ‘well-regulated.’ It is tyrannical to suggest that the right of a few to use their weapons should massacre the right of the many to the peaceful pursuit of happiness, and make children, and adults, afraid to go to school or to church, or even to leave their homes.”
I could fill many pages with the words of Rob McCall. I won’t do that, but suggest you seek them out for yourselves. Most of his best thoughts are preserved in his books.
But I want to leave you with the quote I chose to scratch into his portrait:
“I don’t care what you believe, frankly. I don’t care if you believe that Christ was actually bodily resurrected from the condition of being clinically dead, or if you believe it’s all a silly myth. I don’t care what you believe. I care what you love. If you love the Creator and the creatures and your neighbor and yourself and your family and your enemy and the Earth and the Great Mystery, then what in the world do you need beliefs for? And if you don’t love these, what earthly good will beliefs do you anyway?”
I have no doubt that his soul is at peace. A life more dedicated to justice and truth and nature and kindness we could not find.
Let us continue to heed his words to bring peace to the world.