Here in Australia it’s the last day of spring - traditionally a time of new life. So I wanted to share pictures of some of the younglings I’ve seen in the last couple of months, as well as some reflections on what new life means to me. There are a lot of ducklings, but don’t be alarmed - other birds and animals get a look in too.
Let’s start with some ducklings
Last weekend, I was visiting Wilson Botanic Gardens in Berwick. There was a lot that I wanted to share, which really triggered this post.
But yes, it started with some ducklings:
And when I say that they meant business, one of the parents was guarding the path and charging at any humans who dared to walk past. As far as I could tell, that left the ducklings able just to get on with life without having to worry about these big human creatures:
Then add a splash of colour
Sometimes the young look very much like their parents, but other times they don’t (in fact, you have to see them together to be confident that yes, they really are the same species…). One such example is the Eurasian coot. I’ve loved the fuzzy red on the heads of baby Eurasian coots since I first discovered them, but they’re nothing like their parents:
At least they know the importance of keeping a respectable distance from parents:
Unless it’s feeding time, of course:
Pacific black ducks, on the other hand, are incredibly like their parents from a young age (while still managing to look a lot cuter).
Of course, as good citizens they still need to share the water with other birds:
Even with reptiles, for that matter:
Caring for the helpless
Part of what the cuteness does is make us want to protect them:
Not many people want to kill a duckling (though of course that doesn’t necessarily stop people eating roast duck later).
Some other animals
Talking about roast duck, calves can be quite cute too:
And rabbits may be a plague that don’t belong in Australia, but I still kinda like seeing them around:
While butterflies can fill the world with colour:
Co-existing with humans
You can have your own family and your own habitat:
But you still need to learn how to live in a human world. In this case, that means having to deal with things that might look a lot like leaves - but lack their nutritional value:
The more, the merrier
Back to the ducklings
Today at lunch-time I saw a number of ducklings (perhaps not such a surprise since I’d seen them yesterday evening).
It was only a few days after I’d seen the previous Pacific black ducks, but these ones were clearly a bit older and even more like their parents.
And they’d also learned how to share their environment:
And now for something quite different…
When I think of new life, one of things I think of is baptism. Growing up, baptism was supposed to be the point at which you started a new life. It was when you formally committed to the religion.
This draws heavily on New Testament imagery. Baptism was supposed to be symbolically dying with Jesus. You were buried with him under the water (requiring full immersion, not sprinkling). In the process you had put your humanity to death, gained freedom from sin, and were symbolically resurrected to a new life.
Baptism brought forgiveness of sins and a new start. And afterwards you would lead a completely different life. You would be perfect, like Jesus was perfect. Right?
Transformation takes time
So what exactly has this got to do with cute ducklings? It was fun watching the ducklings today diving and resurfacing at will:
But there was no symbolic death, no burial, and no resurrection. And they certainly didn’t transform into fully fledged adult ducks as a result. They didn’t even seem to need towels to dry themselves - the water positively slid off their backs.
Growth and change is a process. These ducklings may have been larger and older, but they hadn’t magically transformed from ducklings to ducks, and there isn’t going to come a day where they do magically transform.
Similarly, leaving aside all the symbolism, I wasn’t magically a different person the day after my baptism from who I’d been the day before. I mean, does this look like a life-changing moment?
I may only have been thirteen when I was baptised, but it was basically something I’d been preparing for all my life. I sincerely believed in the truth of the Bible (and the correctness of the Christadelphian interpretation of the Bible), and those beliefs had grown long before I took the official step.
The folklore around baptism was that it was supposed to be the best day of your life. That it would be an emotional moment. A lodestone to look back on when struggling.
And that just wasn’t true of my experience. I did it because I believed I was doing the right thing. And I don’t really regret that: It was the best thing for me as I was then.
Instead, what it really was was a public declaration of the private convictions I already had - and that did have an effect longer-term. I was both allowed to be more involved in church services and expected to be more involved - for example, in public speaking and Bible reading. Those extra opportunities would continue to change me and lead me in unexpected directions. But there was no overnight change.
Another transition point
All these things also applied to when I left the religion. And that brings me back to new life: I have without doubt built a new and different life post-religion.
Like with baptism, there was a formal marker of leaving the religion: sending a resignation letter. It’s an open question whether I really needed to send that letter, but, like I never questioned whether baptism was needed, I don’t know it even occurred to me to do anything else. No bath-tub, no elaborate ceremony - in fact, in this modern Babel era I didn’t even need to use paper. But it was a real transition.
Doing it this way had its advantages: It was a public declaration. It made it clear to everyone where I stood. But it was also the culmination of years of doubt and of searching. I wasn’t magically a different person the day after I officially resigned from who I had been the day before.
It was a difficult time, and a confusing time. It was a relief to have it over with, and to no longer be living a lie. But it also meant I’d turned my back on many of the habits of a life-time, and so needed to bring new structure and purpose to my life.
I didn’t have it all figured out on day 1 (though I had some ideas) - but I also didn’t have to. Making the break official gave me more time and more ability (and more permission!) to discover how I might want to live that new life.
The day after sending the resignation letter I went in to work in the same office I’d worked in the day before. No colleagues came up to me to congratulate me on the newly manifested demonic halo that doubtless surrounds those reckless enough to reject religion.
I was the same person.
Marking the seasons
An important part of the new life I ended up building for myself was spending more time in the great outdoors, and being more aware of the seasons and of the cycle of life. Hence lots of cute ducklings in spring.
I grew up expecting a future, perfect eternal life. It was difficult giving that up. Now, I believe I will see a finite number of seasons. I don’t know how many that will be, but I want to take full advantage of them.
From the blooming of the wattles to the last flowers of the year, from the first shoots of green to trees covered with leaves, from the first helpless (and cute) younglings to their growing independence, from the cold and short days of winter to the long and warm days of summer, there is so much to see and do. Then the temperatures drop, the days shorten, the leaves colour and fall, and winter returns. And in among it all there is beauty and grandeur and opportunities for contentment and joy. Opportunities which I hope to seize and appreciate.
Spring brings new life, sure - but it too has its reminders of death. Perhaps some of the animals I see will out-live me - but most probably won’t. In fact, it’s quite possible some of the ducklings I’ve enjoyed watching this spring will never reach adulthood. They could even be dead already.
I too am mortal. I too could die tomorrow (though I obviously don’t expect to). And, new life or no, one day I will die. I believe this will remain true whether I acknowledge it or not, so I might as well acknowledge it and do my best to work with it.
A continuation of who I already was
It’s easy to paint a picture of sudden changes. Of key decision points. Of a new start, and a new life. But, like I’ve said many times before, in many ways leaving religion just gave me the time and space to become even more the person I already was.
I have photos I took in high school of the ducklings that visited our school oval. Those photos were taken with a film camera that might even be older than me. And they look a lot like the photos of ducklings I’ve taken this spring.
Before I left religion, I’d done a lot of hiking. I’d admired a lot of animals. I’d taken a lot of photographs. Actually, all those things were as much a legacy of my upbringing as the religion was (though, like the religion, I made them my own).
These things were even supposed to be part of my religion (“admiring God’s creation”). Though maybe sometimes that was just the justification I used to do what I wanted to do anyway. I don’t know.
I can even remember when I first thought about having a finite number of seasons, and it was before I’d started seriously doubting. I believe that back then I still believed in eternal life on a future, perfected Earth. But I also wanted to make the most of the finite years I had in this dispensation.
The new, religion-free life is a continuation of the old, religion-soaked life.
Right now, I can say that my life is different enough from what it was that it looks like a new life. And an important part of that new life is seeking out new life, photographing it, and then sharing it (though I’m much better at the “photographing” part than the “sharing” part). Maybe this would work well for some of my readers, or maybe it wouldn’t - but I know it works for me.
It was a gradual process getting there, not some sudden magical transition from “religious” to “non-religious”. And it’s not like it’s finished: I continue to change and develop and discover more about myself and about the world around me.
Life can change in so many ways: Finding a new job, or taking on new roles and responsibilities. Joining a religion, switching religions, or leaving a religion. Joining a community, or leaving a community. Moving city, state, or even country. Starting a new relationship. Having a new child. Facing a critical health issue. Recovering from a major pandemic.
Even where there’s a sudden break between an old way of life and a new way of life, the effects won’t necessarily manifest immediately. There may be new challenges and new opportunities. There may be unexpected changes which aren’t noticed for years. That too is part of new life. I certainly don’t have a monopoly on it.