One afternoon about a year ago, I had stopped at a colleague's house to drop something off, and she gave me a tour of her yard and garden. As we passed a bush, Connie paused and flicked a couple of caterpillars off the leaves.
"They're terrible things; they've completely infested my yard."
Connie looked around and picked up a child's plastic sand pail. She flicked some more caterpillars into the pail. As we walked around her yard looking at her greenhouse, garden patches, and various bushes, she continued to add caterpillars to the bucket.
"I've been paying my daughter to pick the caterpillars off the leaves," Connie said. "A penny for every caterpillar. I don't want to use pesticides, so I am trying to control them by picking them off by hand."
When she had shown me around her whole yard, we ended up down in the back corner where the lawn ended and the wild growth took over. With a flick of her wrist, Connie flung the caterpillars out of the bucket and into the thimbleberry bushes.
"Connie!" I exclaimed. "You're not going to get rid of the caterpillars by moving them from one part of your yard over to this other corner."
She looked at me shamefacedly. She has a degree in Forest Biology. She knows about pest management.
"I just don't like to kill living things. It's the Buddhist principle of valuing the worth of all life."
As I drove away that day, I chuckled to myself, thinking of all the effort Connie and her daughter were expending to move caterpillars from one side of her yard to the other.
I remembered Connie's caterpillars today, and chuckled again, this time at my own expense. We have had a very wet summer this year and everything is lush and green. I was out in my greenhouse weeding, and picking slugs and snails off of my vegetables. As I threw slugs and snails out the door of the greenhouse onto the lawn, the memory of Connie's caterpillars came back to me. I can't bring myself to kill even slugs. Instead, I give them a fighting chance to survive out there on the grass, a little further away from my vegetables. In fact, when I watch a slug looking for shelter, creeping as fast as it can across bare soil recently denuded of weeds, its head up and its little horns quivering, I feel sorry for it. I guess it's that Buddhist principle at work. And I guess I'm not cut out to be a farmer.