Freshly harvested tobacco plants
April 1, 2008 Smoking: An April Fool's
The World Health Organization (WHO) estimates that one hundred
million people died of smoking related illnesses in the twentieth
century and that one billion will do so in the twenty-first century
at the current rates of tobacco consumption. Many of these victims
will be in the developing nations such as China, India, Indonesia
and other parts of the Pacific Rim. In order to combat this
tobacco epidemic the WHO has sponsored the Framework Convention on
Tobacco Control, which has been ratified by 150 countries and
includes international norms for banning smoking in public places.
WHO is now moving towards forming a protocol on tobacco smuggling.
Smokers throughout the world and especially in developing
countries respond to peer and advertising pressure. They could be
termed the true butt of an April Fool's joke. Unfortunately, this
tobacco habit could cost these smokers precious years of quality
life through emphysema, lung cancer, and increased risk of heart
attack. The joke of the smoking habit is a cruel one which goes
deep in our society and includes about one-quarter of the
population (not counting those who are affected environmentally by
the smoking of others). Unfortunately, anti-smoking campaigns are
often half-hearted and so emerging middle class Chinese (28% of the
world's smokers) and others find contentment in lighting up
together or alone in much the way that the previous deceased
victims did in the last century.
Looking back on the history of tobacco use, we find that there
was little addiction when a peace pipe was passed around among
elders in a Native American circle on a special occasion, little
contamination of the airy environment, little cost since tobacco
came from a beautiful flowering plant growing throughout the
western hemisphere. However, with the arrival of Columbus, the
white folks took tobacco far more addictively and made it a daily
habit. Pipe smoking caught on with sixteenth-century Sir Walter
Raleigh but was far more universal by the Civil War. Tobacco was
a commodity of illicit exchange for coffee by Confederates with
Union soldiers. Tobacco use was regarded as something to tide
soldiers through difficult times. Cigarettes were born and got the
boost in the First World War and were even more popular in the
Second World War two decades later; free cigarettes were
distributed by manufacturers by the billions and, by the end of the
conflict, millions of hooked veterans continued the practice.
I look back on growing tobacco on our Kentucky farm with
surprisingly fond memories. I grew up in a family where tobacco
use was not frowned upon: there was only a restriction on smoking
near barns due to fear of accidental fire. But we had no idea what
the second half of that century would do to the smokers of this
land or world. Today we know more and can do something about it.
Prayer: Lord help us to assist smokers to name, claim and
tame their smoking addictions for their own sake and that of the
loved ones who live with them.
Close-up of bark, osage-orange, Maclura pomifera
April 2, 2008 Organize an Arbor Day Event
In the coming weeks many of the states in this country will
celebrate Arbor Day, a day for focus on trees through plantings and
through highlighting their benefits (just listed on March 8) as
well as for general tree maintenance. The focus on trees is
important in this age of massive deforestation, when we are coming
to understand the obligation to help reforest this wounded Earth.
We need to spread the word and organize events where possible. It
may be important to focus on Arbor Day organizational details.
Arbor Day promoters should include: the environmentally
concerned (about global warming and deforestation practices); those
educating youth (all from kindergarten to adults could plant a tree
or assist someone who is unable to do it alone); those interested
in growing some of their own food on their lawn space;
institutionalized people who desire to get outdoors for a brief
event; those who are grieving for a lost one (a tree planted in
honor is a perfect closure for some); those preparing to move
elsewhere and wanting to leave a fitting memorial for relatives and
friends (a service person going overseas); and those who are
getting married or celebrating an anniversary. If we look hard,
there is always someone who could plant or have a tree planted in
his or her honor.
The planting event could become a meaningful even though
informal ceremony. Make sure to choose a tree variety that will
meet with general approval (all have some one or other type that is
their favorite). Avoid exotic species. Select locations that are
good for that variety of tree with enough room for it to expand
when maturing (fruit trees like sunny locations). Go to the search
engine and get basic data on the type of tree chosen and make
copies so others can be informed before planting. Make a sign and
label the tree along with the name of the person whom it is
dedicated. At the ceremony make sure some mention is made that the
tree will most likely outlive us; thus we need to realize our
mortality and the possible damage to a treeless Earth. Provide the
proper tools and prepare the sapling for planting with general
instructions on the specific planting operation.
Planting fruit and nut trees can be a part of an effort to
make such as hospitals and academic centers more liveable
institutions, where employees and residents are able to eat from
the produce of the land itself. These "backyard orchards" can
spring up at colleges, parks, military bases and road right-of-ways
(using dwarf varieties that are resistant to highway pollutants and
subject only to minimum limb breakage). This gives an opportunity
for both residents and visitors to taste the land's produce and
come closer to it.
Prayer: Lord, give us the foresight to know that the trees we
plant today will help in some way to heal our wounded Earth. Help
us to see that the tree is an extension of our own efforts.
Inspire us to assist others to see the good in planting trees.
Cardamine douglassii, purple cress
April 3, 2008 Confront Television
Some of us deliberately refrain from watching television --
and there is some freedom involved. If you don't have cable in
these parts, all that appears on the screen is a snow storm. Most
find television-free homesteads to be such an anomaly that the
statistics do not count them. How dare they? For the hooked,
please remember that there are other sources of news and
entertainment that are just as good if not far better; second,
Internet and radio do just fine; and third TV-free means plenty of
extra time to read and write.
There are some TV benefits: television could be called an
"appropriate technology," for it links one visibly with cultural,
informational and international events; the viewing audience can
observe and hear and yet does not have to expend fuel, time and
admission cost to go to the event itself; TV is a vista to the
outside world for shut-ins who cannot travel and those who find it
difficult to negotiate airport searches and Interstates; and
finally TV enables the viewer to study the expressions of notable
people and potential leaders, providing a far better understanding
than written word or voice alone on radio can give. Other TV
technology benefits include television screens used to detect
shoplifters, televised interviews with people, the ability to peer
into the heart at a surgery, TV protection for bank tellers, and
the help given to help catch America's "most wanted."
Nothing is perfect, and television certainly has its minuses.
This means of communication is a dumbing-down of America through an
average of six hours per day of household operation (hopefully not
always watched) -- the present day "bread-and-circuses" for the
multitudes. TV encourages a watching addiction in couch potatoes
and infringes on home life through a drying up of interpersonal
communication. Socially and intellectually something becomes lost.
TV is expensive (electric bills, cable costs and the price of new
digital equipment); TV is time consuming and weans people away
from reading and makes them virtually illiterate. Furthermore, the
advertisements are heavily medicine-related thus adding to the drug
addiction of our country. TV watchers can become zombies feeling
an inability to do what the performers do or realizing that their
own expressions are cheap imitations. Except for public TV
content is at best mediocre and at worse filled with things that
are contrary to an authentic spiritual life.
With an activated TV I would most likely not read a book a
week. I would consider myself too exhausted and thus would be
tempted to expend less energy by tube gazing. Do others suffer
from taking the easier route? Are they like problem drinkers in a
wine cellar? Should we not have airport and other waiting rooms
TV-free zones? What about a television anonymous?
Prayer: Teach us, Lord, to discipline our leisure time to
some degree and to weigh the benefits and disadvantages of TV
watching; help us reserve time to daily reflection.
An assortment of Bluegrass wildflowers, growing upon a dead tree stump
credit)April 4, 2008 Review Types of Walkways
Walkways are needed by those who find it difficult to hike
"cross country" on lawns, city streets, parks and pastures, or just
to reach a place to sit and observe the great outdoors. People on
a safe walkway do not have to attend to their steps when viewing
flowers or buildings or conversing with a walking partner. Too much
muck was associated with the sidewalk-less ages of yesteryear. We
say "yes" to walkways. How do we make a suitable walkway for our
immediate purposes? Much depends on the physical condition of
those wishing to use a particular walkway, local ordinances of the
place, natural setting, cost of materials and installment costs,
accessibility of paving materials, as well as the need for year-
round versus temporary walkway use at given periods of time. The
sheer variety of walkway materials means that some choices will be
Dirt or mowed lawn -- natural and easy to walk on in dry times
but harder to maintain and negotiate during the rainy
weather or growing season.
Sawdust trail -- a clean look and can recycle in time
into the surroundings, but can invite moles or
Chips -- longer lasting and can be serviceable but
difficult for those with wheelchairs to maneuver on.
Stone -- (such as flagstones) laid in somewhat random fashion
with grass in between can be aesthetically
pleasing, but can be slippery in wet weather.
Gravel -- a more manufactured look, but good for all-weather
traversing for those who can walk.
Split logs --difficult to build without the proper skills or
equipment, but good for damp places.
Pressure-treated wood -- good for all-weather walkways in soggy
and wetland areas.
Brick or tile -- very pleasing surfaces made by pressing
them in sand and leveling them.
Concrete -- a durable but resource-intensive and costly
surface throughout the year, especially good for
those with wheelchairs. These walkways should be
constructed only as wide as necessary for the chair.
Consider retaining part of the total path length as
unhardened surface for the more physically able walkers.
Blacktop -- same as above, but could allow for snow or
ice melt more quickly due to dark surface.
Plastic materials -- new materials on the market can be mixed
with earth to make a natural looking hardened path.
While quite expensive, these plastic covered pathways
allow all-weather use. Recycled plastic may be in the
future as well.
Prayer: O God, You furnish us with so very much in our
journey in life. We too must think about the little ways we can
assist others so that their journeys may be more meaningful. Please
help us to serve them better through their walkways of life.
Solar panels at the Mary E. Fritsch Nature Center, Appalachia - Science in
the Public Interest
credit)April 5, 2008 Start Thinking Solar
We are now enjoying longer days as we observe thirteen hours
of daylight. Our lengthening days and the gradually warming
landscape make us all aware of God's gift of the sun and its
energizing rays. Yes, that sun is burning away with an energy
supply that will only last a limited time -- just tens of millions
of years. Let's make hay while that sun shines. The sun's rays do
more than give us daylight and warm our globe. Solar energy is a
renewable energy source that is waiting for full utilization; it is
essentially environmentally benign (no pollutants in fuel
extraction or energy generation); it can work wonderfully in a
decentralized manner, in contrast to large powerplants (though
there can be centralized solar-powered establishments).
What is more, new developments in solar generating materials
will allow roofing and wall panels to be the solar collectors.
Thus solar power can render individual homes, institutions or
communities self-reliant in energy needs without the need of
central power plants. Solar power does not have to depend on large
amounts of capital or the functioning of large utilities with their
extensive power grids. Lastly, solar power is readily available in
varying degrees throughout the planet, a free energy source. Even
in places with less solar radiation than Florida or Arizona, such
as the Netherlands and northern Europe, many buildings are
With solar having so many obvious benefits, we are
disappointed to see solar taking a back seat to non-renewable
energy sources -- oil, gas, coal and nuclear power -- due to
grossly unequal governmental subsidies. A host of tax breaks,
incentives, research dollars and other pay-outs have kept these
non-renewables in the forefront, even though they are highly
polluting, and the extraction, transport and processing of the
fuels have caused environmental problems from everything from
surface mines to oil spills. And don't forget the resulting global
warming. If renewables can compete on a level playing field with
non-renewable energy sources, renewables can become major energy
sources in this century(wind is our fastest expanding current
energy source). Solar energy has been applied to generating
electricity, heating water, warming greenhouses, cooking and drying
foods, pumping and purifying water and running automobiles (see
Table of Contents of these Daily
Can the solar dream be realized soon? Many experts in solar
fields are convinced it can, and recent advances are proving it.
New legislation expanding federal tax credits and subsidies to
renewable energy will help make this happen. Solar energy is safe,
dependable, and ready for use by householders who can become
electricity producers. Reliance on solar could save remaining
petroleum for use as raw material for making future medicines.
Prayer: Lord, help us to think solar for the benefit of all.
Your gift of the sun is your free offer for our benefit.
Stylophorum diphyllum, celandine poppy
April 6, 2008 Journey to Emmaus and Back
You have shown me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy
in your presence. (Acts 2:28)
Each of us walks the road to Emmaus carrying back to our
havens of security our wounds and pains and depressions. The hopes
and dreams that the Kingdom is being completed now seem to be
unfulfilled with each Calvary event in our lives. We are unable to
even recognize those who are walking along with us, that Jesus is
at our side, as we walk along blinded by self-pity and concerns.
Our minds are filled with the rumors and tales of disasters or a
mix of the unexpected and overwhelming. It is the evening time of
our spirit, at least that is what we sometimes think. But the
Emmaus disciples in similar circumstances teach us four things:
Accept and listen to those moving along with us, for these
disciples experience Jesus in their midst; he tells them about how
the Scriptures are being fulfilled -- and the disciples listen even
to apparent strangers. The world around us seeks to give us new
meaning if we but listen to those about us.
Invite the stranger into our company. The hospitality of the
disciples should not go unnoticed. They did not want the stranger
to continue alone because he too needed some sustenance. We need
to extend our hospitality to all who want to continue on the road.
Recognize Jesus where he is. The Sacred Scriptures take on
a fresh meaning when we become aware of Jesus' presence; the
Breaking of the Bread (Eucharistic Liturgy) opens our eyes to being
now part of the Body of Christ. Although at that point Jesus
vanishes from their sight, still the effects of his visit stay with
them and energize them in a very special way. Our Eucharist should
energize us also.
Convey the new energy to all the world. In the case of the
Emmaus disciples, they took the message to the whole assembled
church and gave the gathering the deeper meaning of what they had
experienced on their journey. Each of us is to find the Good News
in our everyday activities and to bring Christ's presence to the
entire assembly. This fourth movement of proclaiming takes energy
too. The tired disciples walked all the way back to Jerusalem in
late evening to tell what had happened in their home. The movement
of the soul takes the proclaimed Good News and applies it in our
lives. We are energized and, like the Emmaus disciples, we hasten
forth and share this Good News with others with whom we are
Prayer: Father in heaven, author of all truth, a people once
in darkness has listened to your Word, and followed your Son as he
rose from the tomb. Hear the prayer of this newborn people and
strengthen your Church to answer your call. May we rise and come
forth into the light of day to stand in your presence until
eternity dawns. (Prayer of the liturgy of the day.)
Alpine bouquet, a cluster of native Wyoming plants
April 7, 2008 Develop Public Service
If you are seeking to reach a broader audience, consider some
novel approaches. Perhaps the initial news-worthiness has been
tarnished by prior reporting, and you despair about breaking into
the crowded radio and other media. Take heart! There's an
excellent way to serve the public interest and get the message to
others, namely, through mandated Public Service Announcements or
PSAs. The airwaves belong to the "commons" and that means all of
us. The media use these air waves but are supposed to nod
occasionally to the needs of the community, and you can take
advantage of this window to the public as a media opportunity.
Be realistic about your own resources. Try to mobilize
volunteer editing, announcing and reproduction of your PSA.
Remember, it takes considerably more resources (planning, editing,
filming, light effects, etc.) to complete a videotape than an
audiotape. Buck for buck, the radio PSA can be a very good route
for a cash-strapped public interest group with a message needing to
be communicated to a broader audience. I know, for I do five local
radio broadcasts every two months.
Determine the content. What do you want to say? Is it a
clear message? Are there several nuggets of thought that deserve
sequential PSAs? Can you get the message across clearly and
without confusion? If it has possible political content, make sure
you keep it educational rather than espousing a single position.
Of course, PSAs are developed by advocates but the point is that
all sides including yours deserve to be heard. Write your own
first draft, even if you are fortunate enough to have the volunteer
services of media people. You need to make sure the information is
crisp, accurate and not easily misunderstood. Be upbeat in text
and tone. Make every word count. Try to be quite practical and
hope that some form of action will result. Thus be specific and
tell where to go for further information. Give a web site
location, or name local contacts in the listening or viewing area.
Make the message short and adjust it to local or standard
format. A good rule of thumb for words and sizes of messages is:
10 second spot = 20 words, 20 seconds = 50 words, 30 seconds = 75
words, 40 seconds = 110 words, 60 seconds = 150 words. Keep
numbers and all data to a minimum because the listener will easily
be confused. Double check the requirements of your local station,
including tape or script sizes before preparing audiotapes, hone
the message to the announcer, and determine the number of copies
and the amount of lead time for dated announcements. This applies
especially when reaching an audience of a particular station or
network. Some messages fit better with certain media outlets.
Send an introductory letter, even if you have made prior contact
with the station. Enclose both the text of the audio/videotape and
the tape itself, along with basic descriptive material. Try to
enlist a professional radio announcer or a good volunteer reader.
Anemonella thalictroides, rue anemone.
April 8, 2008 Travel Lightly
The suggestion to travel lightly risks going to deaf ears.
The budding traveler needs this or that item just in case of an
emergency, a turn in weather, a possibility of not being able to
wash clothes and on and on. Eventually we are talking about much
more of our wardrobe and the need for more luggage. I once saw an
extra-large mobile home/camper that could not make a sharp turn and
was hung up in the parking lot with two wheels suspended over the
curb. It is hard to commiserate with those who travel with their
Take less rather than more. I like to pack super light when
taking public transportation so I do not have to check extra bags
at the airport. Can I carry each bag with my little finger? That
way I have everything at arm's reach. I would rather be without
than travel with unneeded items -- but once it did get cool in
England in June. However, the purchased wool sweater proved to be
a good buy, even though not once needed on the European continent.
Think ahead. In order not to be short of items, it is wise to
keep a standard packing or hiking list that can be modified with
time and circumstances. Medicine was never high on my middle-age
listings but is now prominent. A solution to forgetting important
items is to pack for a trip some time before departure and then go
over the items again right before leaving. Generally, any omitted
item will be remembered during the time from the first to the final
packing. Consider the number of travel days and whether washing
opportunities are available. Think also about special personal
items such as medicines, which may not be easily obtained.
Ship or give away to lighten the basic load. Everyone should
move at least once every five years. That keeps the junk from
accumulating to such a degree that one is weighed down by the
accumulated bulk. If items are absolutely necessary and cannot be
carried by hand, ship ahead of time. Shipping may be an option
while preparing for a trip, or it may be useful for sending back
acquired items, which you do not want to lug around or carry back.
Pack for comfort and not for style. One traveler suggestion
often heard is to pack clothes that match with all other clothing
carried. Unmatched clothing is the bane of the fashion-conscious
traveler. Put heavier items such as shoes at the bottom. Use
their empty spaces for socks and other small articles. Remember
that well-packed items do not wrinkle. For rugged travel consider
some older items, which can be discarded before returning. Wear or
carry outside of the packing case the bulkier coat or jacket.
Consider light weight underwear and shirts. Take a "fanny pack"
with necessary items and passports. Upon returning, review how the
travel went and what was unused and unnecessary.
Prayer: Lord teach us to travel lightly in life so that we
carry only our love with us when we cross the great divide to your
Discarded empty bottle, found in the forest. Cumberland Gap National
April 9, 2008 Expose the Epidemic of Consumption
The popularity of our current consumption patterns is hard to
break by mere voluntary means. This leads to the firm conviction
that voluntary actions show changes to be possible, but strict
regulatory legislation is needed to actualize them. The voluntary
requires tolerance; the regulatory, a firm commitment that could be
highly unpopular but can be effective.
A consumer-products media underlies the consumption epidemic.
I have watched only one hour of television this year and was
astounded by seeing over one dozen advertisements for medicine;
yes, we live in a prescription-drugged culture. Why all of these
since it takes a doctor to do the prescribing? Simply put, the ads
soften the public to taking more and more. Rather than being
curative in approach, the media prepares a gullible public for more
and more consumption of drugs and all other items as well. Their
message is to consume more and more for the economy's sake.
Such consumption practices are not just concentrated in
America and Western Europe; they are spreading to the Pacific Rim,
to other parts of Asia and to wherever wealth accumulates among
middle class individuals or those groups with any amount of
spending money. The scourge of consumerism spreads globally as an
epidemic, threatening the lives of people, requiring immense
amounts of resources, the processing of which emits more and more
carbon dioxide and air and water pollutants as well. The practices
seem so innocuous taken one by one and yet the totality is
something startling. The coming decades will make or break this
planet, for the practices are unsustainable even while more and
more people want to enter consumer ranks. Our only hope for the
planet is that the impending recession will reduce the rate of
consumption of goods so that the world may have the breathing time
to look at things in a more healthy manner.
What do we do about epidemics? Several things are in order:
expose the fact that over-consumption is occurring; tell the raw
details about its seriousness in scooping up resources, from copper
to rain forests, from petroleum to maritime fish stock; show that
alternatives for a higher quality of life are more beneficial; see
what you can do to avoid the epidemic so as to stay healthy through
less consumption; warn others what such practices do to the human
person as well as to the community and planet; try to find ways to
frustrate the epidemic in any manner possible; and start a process
of healing when that is possible. This procedure is certainly not
a small order but it is doable.
Prayer: Lord, enhance the movements of those who see that
unsustainable over-consumption is a disaster that must be exposed.
Give courage to those who preach a message of simpler and higher
quality living and help them spread this message even when it is
counter to the culture of consumption. Make them prophets of a
better world to come.
Cordwood home, Appalachia - Science in the Public Interest.
April 10, 2008 Learn about a Cordwood Building
At the Habitat Exposition in Vancouver, Canada, in 1976 one of
the major attractions was a model cordwood dwelling used in the
bitter cold of the Prairie Provinces. It was supposed to keep
residents snug and warm and required little fuel to heat, even in
the characteristic sub-zero winter temperatures of Saskatchewan.
Besides having good insulating walls, such a building is cheap to
build, easy to construct even by one person without assistance, and
beautiful. The cordwood building doesn't need extra supports or
indoor walls (cordwood about sixteen inches thick serves as both
inner and outer surface as well as support), is easy to preserve,
can be built without the need to lug heavy logs and, with proper
care, can last a long time. One needs a supply of forest timber,
with evergreens (especially red cedar) preferred.
ASPI's first cordwood building, which has served well for over
a quarter of a century, was built with white oak that was
"recycled": and the trees had been cut on neighboring tornado-
damaged U.S. Forest Service land and allowed to dry. The fairly
well preserved logs were available, and so with permission, we
hauled them out, debarked them and cut them into sixteen-inch
lengths. We built the entire one thousand square foot building
with an ample loft of equal area, for about six thousand dollars,
including dry composting toilet; this price was for extra
materials and some labor, though half of the construction was
through volunteer labor. Later on, ASPI converted a mobile home
into a second cordwood building by using scrap ends of pine posts,
which we cut to twelve-inch lengths. Details are found in Cordwood
Building: The State of the Art by Rob Roy.
Most who live in cordwood buildings testify that they are
wonderful places to live, pray, study and work. There is
something special in a building that is quite warm in winter and
quite cool in much of the summer months. In our long hot summers
some dehumidifying or air cooling may be needed. The building
holds heat with its ample insulation in the walls and ceiling and
with the energy mass of the concrete slab floor. Some protective
measures must be taken to discourage wood bees from laying their
eggs in the wood walls. Estimates are that even without protection
it would take a century or more for structural damage to occur. A
natural wood preservative (half and half mixture of turpentine and
linseed oil with a little paraffin added) applied every three years
deters these pesky insects. When considering building a cordwood
structure note the simplicity and beauty; also consider the
ability to generate a good forest feeling for those wishing to go
for a vacation or a retreat in the woods. It is an exciting place
for both youth and adults to enjoy a nature experience. However,
when planning for size remember that the thick walls take up much
space and so there is a certain economy of space when the structure
size is expanded to a moderate degree.
Prayer: Lord teach us to find the materials to make model
buildings for people to copy when constructing their own homes.
Star chickweed, Stellaria pubera.
April 11, 2008 Plan before You Build
"We shape our buildings; thereafter they shape us."
Winston Churchill, Time, Sept. 12, 1960
Construction planning becomes a chore for many people. It
puts our dreams in permanent print and shows us our limitations in
financial resources, imagination, and motives. People spend much
time planning their dream house or their business establishment.
Some do this on solid grounds through observation of what exists
and by consulting professional folks. Others plan their future
buildings on the quicksand of unrealistic mental dreams. We are
what we build, just as much as we are what we eat. While all eat,
some never venture to build, and there are right and wrong reasons
for not building on our own.
Take a middle course. Good planners who are aware of their
own needs and those of the planet should consider a middle ground
in construction size and shape -- as in all their lifestyle
decisions -- between limits on construction for the homeless on the
lower end of the quantitative resource scale and excessive
affluence on the other end. We must be constantly reminded that
spatial "needs" have become inflated during the past two decades,
with people desiring more space than they need; remember, excessive
structure is not good for occupants or for the Earth itself.
Should one build small or large, of limited or long-range
duration? We need not follow the person who was a pro-bono
architectural advisor for my first nature center building; he
wanted to build a structure about five hundred feet high so all
would know where appropriate technology is being practiced and what
it is. However, this was much beyond the little means we could
muster and, while it would be nice if it lasted a thousand years as
he wished, that was just beyond my limited capacities. It was
simply not appropriate.
My approach to building only what is needed, and building it
in the smallest possible space, needs an added modification: build
small but adequately enough to satisfy immediate needs. Once we
built a building for interns with recycled materials on a hillside.
Everything had to be carried several hundred feet uphill to a
beautiful wooded site, but we did not have long timbers to tie in
the building's frame. Some time later in the mid-1990s we had a
terrible wind storm and the intern building twisted and shifted to
such a degree that it became unsafe to continue using it. We
thought the cost of rebuilding foundations of reenforced concrete
would be too expensive and thus tore down the building. Looking
back, we realized that it was simply under-constructed, and thus
did not resist the wind. In the long run, it did not waste
materials (because they were donated), but it did take resources to
construct and then tear down the building after that windstorm.
Prayer: Lord teach us to plan our lives and not to build on
quicksand or in ways that make reconstruction too costly.
Indian pipe, Monotropa uniflora.
April 12, 2008 Teach-in Tips for Global Warming Day
Teachers tell us that teach-ins on Global Warming Day are
nothing like the emotion-laden events of the Vietnam conflict three
decades ago. How come? There is a great difference: the 1960s war
issue directed criticism towards outside sources -- Viet Cong,
American military, the president, etc.; this global warming has
the unpleasant aspect of pointing directly at us, what we have done
(in over-use of resources) and what we are now doing as a
collective consumer population. Resolution demands more than
demonstration against others. Who wants to take blame and change
a lifestyle that is so sacrosanct?
Some who neglect the teach-in mentality say we can do little;
others know that we can make a difference through change of living
practices such as:
1. Use renewable energy (solar or wind) applications and at
least dry clothes outdoors when possible;
2. Recycle waste materials and practice resource conservation
such as saving water, reducing spatial needs and using
energy efficient light bulbs;
3. Grow a backyard garden in an organic manner using
composted materials from kitchen and yard wastes;
4. Drive less, take vacations closer to home, car pool, and
use public transportation when possible;
5. Watch what is eaten by using less meat and resource
intensive processed foods, prepare meals from local
produce and conserve cooking energy;
6. Practice good personal health habits, use moderation in all
things, refrain from overuse of chemicals and avoid
7. Champion green recreation practices and do physical
exercise on a daily basis;
8. Engage in civic and communities activities such as voting,
supporting recycling programs and fighting
9. Observe, monitor and promote native wildlife of all types.
Every category of items listed here becomes a good subject
for an extensive teach-in, for the information is not always self-
evident and teaching could result in meaningful personal changes.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to become involved in healing our
wounded Earth by looking into our own personal lifestyle practices
in regard to resource use.
This work is licensed under a
||A portrait of Shakertown Bessie (sheep). A photo
contribution by Janet Powell to the Creative Commons.
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License
April 13, 2008 Tending Sheep: The Commons
I am the good shepherd. (John 10:14)
We again observe Good Shepherd Sunday during Eastertide. The
richness of shepherding is always amazing, for it seems so
straight-forward. We can look at Jesus as the gate of a sheepfold
and as shepherd (John 10; Heb. 13:20); we can reflect on ourselves
as stray sheep now gathered under the shepherd (I Peter 2:20-25);
when we wander, the Lord brings us back. We are called to be like
Jesus, and thus herders of sheep; and those tending the flock, with
special emphasis on leading shepherds, have charge over a committed
flock as well.
Interestingly enough, the English commons were where the sheep
grazed, but from the fifteenth century forward these common lands
were enclosed at the behest of a privileged few wealthy nobles.
That process of enclosure did not stop there however; an
infringement on many aspects of the world's commons has continued
down to this day and includes concentration of resources by a
privileged few who shut out the poor of the world around us.
Shepherding is a learned experience. Shepherding requires
continual vigilance and a willingness to go out on a limb to
protect those entrusted to our care. We must stay awake and we
must be willing to engage in action and to do so at a moment's
notice. We extend Christ's shepherding power by coming to the
flock that was scattered in the taking over of the commons: the
air, water, oceans, wilderness, wildlife, space above, silent
areas, air waves, intellectual commons, instruments of
transportation and communications and even the financial resources
that make people who they are. Commons that are meant for all the
people -- and yet they are often seized by a privileged few.
Lost sheep do occur. We must never regard the loss of sheep
(commons) to the privileged few to be irrevocable. As shepherds of
the commons we are to confront those who react to the stealing of
the commons in violent ways. Loss comes in succumbing to violence,
and part of our being gentle shepherds is to say that non-violence
and not violent revolution is the proper route to return of the
pasture lands -- the commons.
Agents of change regain the scattered flock. Part of our
faith response is that by being shepherds we tend to the entire
flock and that means those who are helpless, homeless and
destitute. They are like sheep without a shepherd and need
direction. We now return to the security of working with Jesus,
the great shepherd. We learn that the way to being like him is to
be willing to sacrifice for the flock -- even to the point of life
itself. Agents of change are leaven, catalysts, those who are
points of light, shepherds. All this we learn by our sacramental
closeness to the Good Shepherd.
Prayer: Lord, You are the Good Shepherd and You ask us to
follow you in this profession. Give us the courage to do so.
Knob Creek Farm, Hodgenville, Kentucky.
In an 1860 letter Lincoln said, "The place on Knob Creek ...
I remember very well; but I was not born there .... My earliest
recollection, however, is of the Knob Creek place."
(*photo by Mark Spencer)
April 14, 2008 Lingering Cool Weather
In our temperate climate spring often comes in fits and starts
with some lingering of cold weather in and through April. In these
parts of America we talk about different "winters," which means
unseasonably colder times when one or more of the various
succession of blossoms have unfolded. The Appalachian
"Serviceberry Winter" is one of the earlier ones since that tree
blooms very early. There are both "Redbud Winter" and "Dogwood
Winter," which can sometimes overlap because both trees are
blooming at the same time. "Black Locust Winter" in early May is
succeeded by "Blackberry Winter" in mid-May, one of the last of
the possible springtime winters, but these come even later in areas
where the blackberry blooming moves on towards June. Some of these
designated "winters" are dependent on land elevation, proximity to
water bodies, and overall geographic location.
Late frosts have a killing effect on the blooming fruit trees
(2007 was one of those bad fruit years in these parts), and thus
many people deliberately plant these trees on north-facing slopes
that are cooler (and thus have a slower blooming trees) than west-
or south-facing ones. Some people are as sensitive to the quirks
of April weather as are the plants; they are preparing for the warm
days of spring and then the weather turns bad one more time. Their
spirits are suddenly depressed. The "winters" of springtime can be
discomforting to those anticipating a frost-free growing season,
especially when they have to cover the new vegetable and flower
plants at night. Adults can be like impatient children who want
all to go well right now. A healthier outlook is to expect that
spring includes the unexpected and to keep a sense of humor.
Weather can do more than just linger for a few days or weeks.
About one time every other century the lingering continued through
the growing season and summer never came; the grass grew but the
other grain crops did not mature properly, and disaster faced the
world for want of warm weather. One such period was in the 1630s
and others of a milder degree in the early 1800s. It is possible
that with all the current greenhouse effects, this condition of an
occasional winter-in-summer may not occur again in our lifetimes --
but don't count on it even with all this global warming talk and
evidence. Weather quirks do happen.
Be prepared for the worst: don't store winter clothes too
soon; keep the space heating units ready for the unexpected; have
plenty of covering materials to go out on the garden plants; hold
off from planting tomatoes and other frost-sensitive plants until
later, and then have the protective materials just in case; watch
for temperature drops; return pots of flowers to the greenhouse on
cool evenings; and keep cheerful even when returning to winter
clothes for a short span of time. Pray the weather warms for we
need this year's crop harvests to feed a hungry world.
Prayer: Lord, help us to expect the worst, give thanks for
the best, and accept all that comes with a magnanimous spirit.
A gathering of youth, learning about soil conservation.
April 15, 2008 Encourage Youth to Act Environmentally
Enough, if something from our hands has power
To live, and act, and serve the future hour. William Wordsworth
Knowing the environmental situation is necessary before coming
to solutions. Young people can take the first steps to improvement
of academic properties. Establishing "profiles" of actual
environmental situations can be an undertaking for which students,
working with faculty supervision receive credit.
Food Waste Profile. Actually weigh the food waste in a
cafeteria before considering composting options. Often the volume
of food waste is so great that composting is made difficult. Food
wastes may be curbed through the way food is served (reducing the
size of portions) or through an educational program to allow
leftovers to go to the poor. From such waste profiles, youth get
an understanding of the need for conservation of resources.
Energy Profile. Young people in schools can audit and report
to the school management on energy use for classrooms and various
areas of the building. Computerized monitoring for energy use may
utilize an AC watt/hour meter costing approximately $100. Larger
computerized hard-wired devices can check the flow of electricity
to all parts of an institution. However, the auditing work and
resulting profile by the smaller meter has a potentially greater
educational value, because it involves more student observers and
is more easily understood. Once the profile has been established,
ways of cutting costs such as turning off unused electrical devices
or installing more efficient lighting devices can be proposed.
Transportation Profile. Youth can check on traffic flow on a
campus (or at a church or other institution), the number of parking
places available, how many of each are filled at various times, and
at what points overcrowded conditions exist. Auditors can seek and
discover ways to reduce the "peak load" parking, so that valuable
green space does not have to be sacrificed through blacktopping.
This reduction in parking could be achieved through restrictive
auto use, car pooling, alternative parking, and schedule changes.
Wildlife Inventory. Biology classes can report on the number
of birds or mammals on parts of a campus, and discover wildlife
pests that need to be controlled. From such inventories, the
observers learn the need for wildlife sanctuaries.
Space Profile. Constructed indoor space has expanded
enormously in recent years, and some complaints about lack of space
are not well founded. Monitoring use of indoor space allows such
possibilities as multiple use of given areas. Classrooms can
double for non-class time activities, thus saving energy for
heating and cooling and reducing the need for more buildings.
Prayer: Lord, help us to encourage others to be watchful for
what can be done in greener ways through using fewer resources.
Intricacies of the past.
April 16, 2008 Reclaiming the Commons: What Believers Can Do
Global warming and the environmental crisis are directly related to
concentration of wealth and power in the hands of a privileged few. This
concentration is accelerating today and is due in great part to the
permissiveness of democratic governments who favor the wealthy
obtaining and retaining common resources that belong to all the
inhabitants of this planet. This nation, in its early history,
abandoned royal nobility, but we have gradually accepted a nobility
of wealth, which has expanded immensely in recent decades. This
acceptance has eroded our democratic process and led many people in
other countries to scramble to imitate the wasteful practices of
overly affluent Americans to the detriment of everyone.
In Reclaiming the Commons: What Believers Can Do, we examine the
current situation and propose means of remedying it. To tackle the
problem, we apply to it a collective discernment process, similar to
what individuals may go through in coming to important life
decisions. In Section One, we look at where we have missed the mark
in our use of resources, which are a gift from our Creator for the
benefit of all. We outline the catastrophic conditions that trigger
our decision-making process; we seek to define the barriers that
hinder our reclaiming the commons by looking at the grassroots level
at which we live and work; we extend this to the concrete situation
of lack of finances, which hinders our work. Section Two focuses on
the commons and its enclosure with emphasis on American historical
land tenure and continued threats to the commons through modern
technological innovation. The collective “ours” goes beyond an
individual ”mine” or “yours.” Preserving resources demands ideal
commoners and citizens who become agents of change.
The second half of the book deals with the redistribution of the
commons. In Section Three we look at the process of redistribution.
Here the question arises as to whether the wealthy are to give up
resources voluntarily or citizens to take them forcefully. The
resolution of misuse of resources requires the full use of our
democratic practices, which lead to non-violent creative change and
especially to fair taxes. We consider the social, economic,
political, cultural and religious issues related to resource
redistribution from the standpoint of interactive layers of
governance from local to global. Finally, in Section Four we
describe a series of organizations on various levels, ranging from
individual and local to international and global that will help us
to reclaim the common resources through a new motivation.
Global warming is our wake-up call; current practices and ways of
conceiving our relationship with the rest of the world are not
sufficient; something new is needed and we Americans should be in
the forefront as active citizens willing to take risks in bringing
about change. Leadership means a new form of “privilege” that is
both satisfying for all and worth the effort. We are privileged to
live in this age with its risks and opportunities—and service should
be our hallmark. We can become catalysts of a new global movement,
but that is only possible if we live according to the best American
Faith in the future is God’s gift and our new found willingness to
seek it is a gift from God as well. Through a hope-filled approach
we find that the journey of faith is difficult but we can gain
assistance—and by taking responsibility for the future we are
enlivened. Those who believe in an afterlife have an explicit
motivating force that helps expand that future to others, a
motivation that goes far beyond merely seeking material profit.
We dedicate this book to Pope Benedict XVI, who shares a concern
about the poor and the environment and who is visiting America
[ Click here to read
Reclaiming the Commons: What Believers Can Do ]
Twinleaf, Jeffersonia diphylla.
April 17, 2008 Space Versus Down-to-Earth Costs
We often hear the costs of Star Wars programs as $50 billion
plus, and wonder where have our priorities gone. Is everything
with the word "space" in it supposed to be as good as motherhood
and apple pie? Is some of this space hype meant to keep high
priced research labs functioning using limited tax money?
Certainly there is interest in learning whether life has ever
existed on Mars; we know that probes occur on that somewhat barren
planet as scientists hunt for traces of moisture. However, it is
the research cost that astounds us. Having been trained in
science, I am supposed to favor space research of whatever type --
but not if it is too costly. Conservation ought to trump research.
What about the billions it costs to operate a scientific space
station? No one has even totaled what such an ongoing venture with
its joy-riding millionaires will actually cost well into the future
without really touching anyone but the researchers. Modest efforts
at stemming the tide of tropical diseases such as malaria, AIDS and
tuberculosis have been quite successful in recent years, but these
need billions more dollars to touch all the afflicted people
counted in the tens of millions. Some say fund both, but
thoughtful rationing of limited research funding is necessary, for
the money pot is finite and some money meets more essential needs.
What's first, needs of the destitute or needs of space programs?
Being down-to-Earth requires a certain spirituality which
challenges us to be more in tune with reality. If we allow the
commercial interests related to space to have their way, the rich
will get richer and the poor will be overlooked. Aren't these
dreamers and rocket-shooters just avoiding reality because it is so
hard to look in the face of emaciated children or the twelve
million orphans of AIDS? Here rests the sin of Affluence -- the
great inability to face reality and to really see people who are
hungry or naked or homeless. And this insensitivity forgets about
unpleasantness and depresses compassion. The end result is that
various lofty goals may seem meaningful because the lobbying
efforts are partly satisfied -- but few destitute people have the
access or ability to lobby.
Policy-makers are quite often on the affluent end of the
economic spectrum and place priorities where they feel most
comfortable. Some space programs allow pampered rich folks to buy
twenty-five million dollar trips on Soyuz rockets and to be funded
to plan alternative abodes on distant planets. They promote a
fictionalized science that allows escape from the problems of this
troubled Earth and the misery of her masses. What about the
taxpayers who have to foot the bill for all that space-programming,
space defense, space travel, and alternative space living? Let's
get back down-to-Earth and stay focused on down to earth problems.
Prayer: God, give us grace to see what must be done for those
who suffer in our midst, and do not let us be blind to their needs.
April 18, 2008 Celebrate Citizen Monitors: Modern Paul Reveres
Before the Battle of Concord and the start of the
Revolutionary War (April, 1775) a group of select "minutemen" were
organized and willing to be on the lookout for an impending attack
by the British troops. The concept of emerging interdependent
colonies someday becoming the United States was being threatened --
and patriots were organized to anticipate the attack and warn the
local citizens about this threat. So much for early American
history. But we too must be willing to meet threats to the
wholeness of our Earth community, and this takes vigilance and as
great a commitment as was needed in 1775.
What is a citizen monitor, a modern Paul Revere? This is a
person who has other occupations or is retired and who has a
special concern about a given public interest issue. He or she
wants to make sure society or the environment is not harmed by the
greed or mistakes of some individuals or corporations. This
citizen monitor fills in the cracks in our system where official
guardians are not present or living up to their duties. Citizen
monitors can work on: military and general welfare (e.g.,
reporting drug abuse or illicit drug trade); social welfare (e.g.,
researching misuse of food stamps); political activities (watching
at polling places), and public health (e.g., reporting cases of
such threats as "Foot-and-Mouth disease"). In all these examples
we see risks involved, which ought to be exposed. Monitoring is
not easy, and many will fly from the task at hand.
Responsibility for monitoring falls upon all the citizenry and
becomes a matter of individual responsibility. This occurs when
inspired people take on the task of being alert, of looking into
the matter, of being prepared for the worst, and of taking public
or private steps to either stop the practice or call the higher
authority's attention to the misdeed or malpractice. We are
disgusted when people see but turn the other way and do not report
matters. Here the monitor is expected to speak up and report
misdoings at a moment's notice -- the minute person.
In the 1980s and 1990s a group called the Mountain Stream
Monitors did a heroic job of keeping West Virginia rivers and
streams clean for fishing and general enjoyment. Citizens were
given field experience in simple water chemistry and monitoring and
testing of aquatic life. Using basic tools the alerted folks went
into the streams and traced the contamination of watersheds to the
polluting source whether coal mine, processing plant or oil well.
Results were reported to the proper enforcement authorities. Over
time other water monitoring programs sprang up and furnished
training usually on local or institutional levels. Monitoring also
includes forest watchers, soil conservation people, litter and
illegal waste reporters and others. This month we celebrate all
the citizen monitors in our land. May they be vigilant.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to be watchful, today's minute folks
who do not fall asleep at their citizens' tasks.
A long-abandoned tunnel.
April 19, 2008 National Hanging Out Day
Since I first gave a daily reflection on hanging out clothes to
dry in 2004 I have become more convinced by Alexander Lee and his
growing movement, Project Laundry List (PLL). New England is now
taking hold of the issue, especially New Hampshire and Vermont;
the New York Times has had three articles and the Wall Street
Journal has had a front page spread. PLL has been described in
many other news outlets, written and electronic. What looked
somewhat far-fetched in 2004 is now accepted as a legitimate form
of resource conservation that can potentially save about six
percent of domestic energy use.
Some 300,000 counties, towns, townships and housing groups do
not allow folks to dry clothes outdoors on their own property. The
agencies regard it as tacky, embarrassing or old-fashioned.
However, PLL is adamant that people have the "right to dry" and has
rallied freedom-loving New Englanders and many others to see that
this right deserves some effort to achieve. Besides saving energy
it is a way to keep clothes fresh. Hanging things out to dry
especially in the breezes of April seems so refreshing, and the dry
clothes smell good besides.
Few struggles are clearly won; most go on and on with painful
compromises. This one has a focused objective -- let the citizens
hang their clothes out to dry as has been done since time
immemorial. It is an issue to regain a past freedom, a resource
conservation issue, a local issue, a symbol of what we have all
struggled for centuries to attain. Why should appliance
manufacturers dictate our daily domestic practices? Why should we
be forced into the narrow constraints of mowing our lawns a certain
number of inches high, or eat only choice cuts of red meat, or
watch only certain sporting events occurring in arenas where the
rich have choice seats? Why the strait jacket on clothes drying?
If regulators are embarrassed about what is on clothes lines, (the
main reason for the regulations, let them build visual barriers.
I use a clothes line on bright sunny days. Cold or
threatening days like washing clothes before the sun rises are
challenging. We must all face the conveniences we employ and come
to the realization that much of our use of electricity has to do
with saving time and effort. "Hanging out" then involves more than
just laundry. It is a way of viewing the world, of valuing our
time, of arranging schedules, and of drying the imperfect articles
with their stains and holes in the secrecy of the white drying
appliance. Hanging out is a commitment to a simple lifestyle,
striving to find a place in an overly complex world. Yes, amid
such thoughts it is good to have people who make this day worth
remembering, imitating, and celebrating. How about joining PLL
Prayer: Thank you, Lord for inspiring creative people to take
on what seem to be trivial issues, that are found to be quite
important. And thank You for the time to hang out our things.
A lovely day in the woods. Franklin County, Kentucky.
April 20, 2008 The Way, the Truth and the Life
I am the way, the truth and the life. (John 14:6)
Christ, the way:
our direct route to salvation;
the moral virtues to be lived -- The Way;
the road map that we imitate on our Journey of faith;
the gate of heaven and access to God the Father;
the path by which the Father is known to the world
(John 1:18; 12:45; 14:9);
the trail of suffering that follows the way of the
the venture to save others;
the passage into the New Covenant;
the journey that we take together;
the focus point of our earthly travels;
the highway directed heavenward;
the opening to future glory.
Christ, the truth:
the teacher par excellence;
the message found in a person;
the compass of our intellectual pursuits;
the quest of our constant questioning;
the faithful witness to the Father;
the eternal Word made flesh;
the willingness to go to great lengths;
the good works shown to all;
the Good News proclaimed to all creation;
the personification of our worship "in spirit and truth"
the kairos or the acceptable time of opportunity;
the pleasure of the Father;
Christ the life:
knowing the Father present in the Son;
offering to others as Body of Christ;
celebrating on major occasions;
suffering with those who are persecuted;
witnessing to the Good News;
giving the Bread of Life;
dying so others may have life;
forgiving and healing;
sending the Paraclite;
being eternal Love.
Take a closer look for small but marvelous wildflowers on the forest
April 21, 2008 Honor the Elders
The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest
wilderness. (John Muir)
On this birthday of John Muir (born 1837) we consider the well
worn paths of our elders. Elderhood comes far too quickly, but it
comes amid golden anniversaries, reunions, address changes to
warmer places, obituaries of classmates and friends, and all the
activities associated with aging and retirement. I prefer to avoid
the "R" word and, like many, cling to practices that have been
suitable throughout my middle years. But the age of wisdom brings
some benefits, which our more youthful leaning society members
often overlook. What society ends up doing is expecting the same
thing for all age groups from dashing hither and thither, to
meetings, to undertaking the same physical or mental exercises.
Slowing down is not in the books of everyday life, which actually
should allow for time to wax and wane.
Somehow the elders are expected to be like middle age people
and attend the same programs, endure continuing education classes,
and sit and listen attentively to the same lectures without nodding
off. Face it, conferences, workshops, and other gatherings where
an old fellow is expected to act like a passive student have no
attraction when one is past seventy years. Those days are long
past. Lecturers date from the Middle Ages and beyond, when there
was not enough writing or reading material in schools for learners,
and taking notes was utterly important. But libraries, e-mails,
informational web sites and readily available periodicals and books
have changed all of that. I say often, "Please honor my age by not
making me a warm body for some event -- even though the sponsors
sincerely hope for a larger audience." Elders should know what
will be profitable for them and their choices need to be honored.
Honor comes in different ways. First, there is respect, that
is, allowing the older person to frame and express an opinion that
recalls past episodes and historic precedents. What elders bring
to the current discussion is experience, which is never given its
proper weight. Second, there is the desire for all to slow down
and not be in a hurry, and the elder is to show that this is an
important aspect of life -- just taking it easy and seeing some
value there, for over stress is not good. Third, the elder should
be selective about what is worth taking into account and learning
rather than remain unfocused and receptive to all kinds of novel
attractions; there are simply more important things in life than
what is the most eye-catching. Fourth, there is the time for
interchange to which old age has its own unique contribution;
unfortunately, sequestering the elders into senior citizen villages
has reduced the degree of this interchange considerably.
Prayer: Lord teach us to be patient with the society in which
we live. Allow us to speak as elders having a special role in
ordinary life -- not retiring but remaining untiring in an effort
to bring about peace and justice.
April 22, 2008 Think Organic Green
On the 38th Earth Day we should think "green"? And what better
way is there to think green than to use food, which is free of
chemical pesticides and synthetic fertilizers? Our foods need to
be uncontaminated and that can best be done by controlling the
input -- by growing our own. Today, more and more fresh produce
comes from distant states and lands, and much of this slips past an
overburdened food quality surveillance system. Chemical
contamination from pesticides is an ever increasing concern, as
regulatory agencies are hard pressed to monitor residual chemicals
on fresh produce. Chemical pesticides are highly toxic and can be
easily mishandled; they are especially harmful to people with
chemical sensitivities (about one in seven people); they can harm
friendly garden creatures; they are not easily stored or disposed
of and they contaminate the soil. Conversely, organic (pesticide-
free) gardening techniques are less costly, easier to handle, and
environmentally friendly. Organic produce may not always look
perfect, but food safety is more important than the shiny and waxy
appearance of chemically-contaminated food supplies.
What about the consumers who find themselves excused from
growing things? Even the elderly and ill can grow potted plants.
However others regard growing things as too condescending for it
takes time from a busy life. Since gardening can play a role in
balancing our physical and mental states with the opportunity for
fresh air and full-spectrum sunlight, we discover that those who
excuse themselves may need easy lessons to get started. The
following hints may help prod the budding gardener:
* Start small -- Taking on too much garden space may prove to
be a burden. One-hundred square feet is a nice start. Double it
if you have more energy or if you get someone with a tiller to do
the original difficult task of stirring up the ground.
* Keep working -- Generally seeding, planting, weeding,
cultivating, and harvesting take time and one has to expect that
spending a little time throughout the growing year is important.
* Determine variety -- Don't plant too much of a good thing
unless you plan to preserve the excess produce. How much room a
plant will it take and is it a good companion to other plants all
around it? (See April 16).
* Extend the growing season -- Expect to cover the late
growing plants in autumn at time of frost.
* Make beds beautiful -- Interplant with flowers for color and
to dissuade pests from attacking the vegetables.
* Take notes -- This is a learning experience worth recording.
Prayer: Lord, help all to celebrate Earth Day and make it
meaningful in their lives and their connections with Mother Earth.
Yellow trout lily, Erythronium americanum.
April 23, 2008 Green Construction Suggestions
The following points apply to all new construction, once the
decision that a building project needs to be undertaken has been
Since 1970, Americans have doubled the amount of residential,
worship, educational and commercial space per capita. The trend
towards ever more "necessary" space is a major ecological burden on
our limited Earth. Extra space means extra energy and other
resources for heating, cooling, building, cleaning and maintenance
and repair. Most people do not realize that there is a comfort
range between destitution (chronic space shortage) and over-
affluence (or too much space). A wise green construction principle
is to build only the space needed to attain the end result desired.
Older people want quality living that is accessible and handy
space, not excessive room. Having things smaller can be more cozy
and comforting, as is discovered in underused "mcmansions."
Determine to construct with local building materials (brick,
stone, sand, pressed earth, wood, etc.). Some recycled building
materials can be obtained in excellent condition virtually
everywhere. Reusing windows and frames, flooring and other
components is good economy and a model practice for others to
follow, at a time when most prefer higher-priced but often lower-
quality new products.
Solar, wind or geothermal energy should be considered in the
final operation of green buildings. Where possible, make use of
unobstructed southern exposures in siting the building. Consider
passive solar space design, heat retaining materials, solar
photovoltaic arrays, solar water heating units, and solar
greenhouse additions. Use native grasses, flowers and shrubs where
possible around the grounds. Plant native or naturalized trees
with preference for deciduous shade trees on the south and
southeast and evergreens on the sides from which winter winds come
(generally north and west). See
Energy and resource conserving measures should be undertaken,
especially using energy efficient double-pane windows with proper
glazing. Thermal insulation requirements should be met in full to
help reduce heating and cooling bills. Choose appliances with
their energy efficiency rating in mind. Make compact fluorescent
lighting the primary mode of lighting for rooms, corridors, exit
signs, etc., in order to achieve maximum energy efficiency. Where
possible, berm or inset new construction into hillsides to allow
for the use of earth as an insulating material and as a possible
heat source. Conserve water by using low-flow devices for toilets,
showers and faucets. Consider a rainwater cistern for watering
houseplants, flower beds and herbal areas. Recycle gray water for
Prayer: Lord, teach us to do all things well, to build within
our own means, and to respect our fragile planet in doing so.
A hydropower plant, Lake McConaughy, Nebraska.
April 24, 2008 Hydropower: Large and Small
Normally, when we think of April in Kentucky, we remember the
light misty rains and quick showers, which keep the grass damp and
the soil moist most of the month. Though dry Aprils do occur, in
normal years the creeks flow with the abundant rainfall, Thus this
is a good time to harness power from the free-flowing streams
wherever they may be.
Some countries have utilized larger scale hydropower potential
for up to a century or more. Switzerland is a good example. Costa
Rico hopes to become the first carbon-free nation (though Vatican
City with its tiny size may have already taken that distinction);
much of this Central American state's current electricity comes
from hydropower. However, with expanding electricity, needs as
occur virtually everywhere, new sources will have to come from
accompanying renewables such as solar, wind and specific biofuel
Hydropower is not immune from environmental problems, although
this electricity source does not have toxic emissions as do non-
renewables such as petroleum and natural gas. China is finding out
some environmental disadvantages from its Three Gorges Project.
Waterways are shut off by dams that can change the migration
patterns of marine life; river flow patterns are changed and silt
needed downstream is collected behind the dams; valuable farming
areas are permanently flooded; lake siltation causes a limit to the
effectiveness of the particular large or even medium scale
hydropower project; the hydro source is dependent on the
vicissitudes of climate and weather patterns.
Small-scale hydropower projects have greater environmental
potential for there may be no need to build an impoundment
specifically for electricity generation. One must realize that
small-scale (micro hydropower) units run on relatively small
amounts of water flow even though that flow may vary at different
times of the year. The principle is to channel the normal flow
into a turbine and the same type of generating unit as at larger
facilities, and the water is the channelled without impoundment,
which is the key to less environmental impact. Another micro
hydropower alternative energy source is the overflow from existing
farm or fish ponds, which occurs during rainy periods. The
electricity-generating system can be intertied with existing
electric utilities and can furnish excess electricity that is
compensated for through state net metering programs. Small-scale
hydropower becomes a contributor to the total energy source mix.
Sustainable Living Through Appropriate Technology
Prayer: Lord, Your word in Scripture speaks often of the good
graces of free-flowing water from the tapped rock to the flowing
Jordan. Help us to see the benefits of flowing water in the
current world where electricity needs abound and renewable energy
is so needed.
Squirrel corn, Dicentra canadensis.
April 25, 2008 The Question
Sometimes we are faced with the existential question that
comes to mind as we consider our place in this passing world. It
just occurs at an unexpected time or place. Why? We can become
quite philosophical about things -- who we are, why we are here,
and what the world would be like without our being. I suspect that
more people treat the existential question(s) than want to admit
it, for we are people of wondering minds and a restlessness for
God. However, that question just appears as out of no where and
must give way to the practical pursuits that we are experiencing --
going back to work, driving the car, making the meal, answering the
phone. But it keeps coming back and never seems to strictly go
To be or not to be is not the question,
rather it is "to be or to do?"
I find it hard to just be
when there is so much to do.
I know it is more perfect to be
than to do, but
is it wrong to be a Martha
in this busy world?
It is a question,
unless we realize that some
of us are called to do,
so that we may someday be.
Prayer: O Creator of all things, You make us who we are --
beings in this changing world. Change can be so disconcerting for
us, for we must be and become simultaneously -- and to focus on
such an existential question seems beyond us, even when it remains
in the hidden recesses of our mind. Make us aware that the
constant pulls of stopping to reflect and continuing to do things
are competing parts of our life in its present condition. Help us
to want to rest in You alone, and that is what draws us forward
into an eternal future -- when the existential question is finally
Shining Clubmoss, Lycopodium lucidulum.
April 26, 2008 Murphy's Law in Appalachia
* In the Appalachians, if it can go wrong, it will; if it can
go right, it might -- but don't count on it.
* A person who's proud to be a "hillbilly," doesn't know a bad
word from a good one.
* Learn to tell Appalachian weather; don't listen to
* Don't expect to be canonized here while alive. People don't
take easily to "living saints."
* The world's largest occupation is Monday Morning Quarter-
backing -- even for those of us who don't follow football.
* Some outside travelers who come to Appalachia would be
better off going to a zoo. Remember, it's not nice to stare at
* It's okay to be a tourist. Just admit it, and offer to pay
for an Appalachian experience. Of course, mountain folks won't
take anything, but it is proper to offer anyway.
* No one's dumber than those huntin' for dumb folks. The rest
of us are standing behind the "no hunting" sign.
* In Appalachia, if you imagine something's wrong, it's worse.
* "I don't care to" means in Appalachian "yes, I will."
* Caution: the one you're talking to is most likely related
to the one you're talking about.
* These hills have seen every kind of crook, and buried all of
* Molasses are, not is.
* Here, the three most hated things are waspers, whispers and
* Appalachia is where we pronounce "tower" like "tire," and
"tire" like "tar," and "tar" somewhat like "tower."
* Like the rest of the world, Appalachians often leave their
junk around, but we don't like outsiders bringing their junk here
in order to get a tax write-off and avoid disposal fees.
* The scenery is a resource; see it, but don't touch it.
* You're welcome to a mess of wild greens, but don't make a
mess in collecting them.
A Grandmother's favorite primrose.
April 27, 2008 Resurrection-Centered Spirituality
Let all the Earth cry out to God with joy. (Psalm 66)
Those who care for our Earth seek a personal spirituality,
which engenders respect and professes service for all, even for
plants and animals. This answers a false criticism that the
Christian tradition is antagonistic to environmental concerns.
Actually, Christian tradition proclaims a natural revelation
discovered through observing the divine hand in creation as seen by
all with the eyes of faith, and confirmed through scientific
research and development that takes an effort. Natural theology
(Romans 1:20) is an integral part of an authentic eco-spirituality
which has the following basic characteristics: a) respect for all
creation, b) openness to others' efforts and sufferings, and c)
sharing a cooperative enterprise by all of good faith.
Some people's spirituality is focused on all of creation --
the majesty and complex forms, the diversity of all beings, and the
part that we play in the web of life. These are the creation-
centered folks, who are praised for their reverence for all the
beings on the planet; but sometimes they overlook a redemption
approach. Within the creation-centered approach is an ecumenism
including people of various backgrounds who have an ecological
concern that is so needed today. Some believers, on the other
hand, emphasize human sin, the need for repentance, the saving
power of Christ, and the importance of Christ's redemptive act on
Calvary, namely a redemption-centered spirituality; their emphasis
is on individual salvation and the spiritual traveler looks to
God's merciful love of all and the need for forgiveness. Both
Creation and Redemption spiritualities have good aspects. The
first focuses on the interrelationships of all creatures but does
not deal with redemptive suffering; the second places emphasis on
the individual person's relationship to God. However, both
spiritualities can be preserved without diminishment through a
During the Easter season one should emphasize the need for
healing our wounded Earth and her threatened inhabitants. We are
invited to enter into both creative and redemptive acts as members
of God's family; we die with Christ in our suffering so we can live
with him in a new creation -- a Resurrection-inspired movement with
the sense of victory and creative growth. In this spirit of
resurrection we could look again at an eco-spirituality that is
truly in tune with the time and place, the environment. How can it
be monolithic (single approach), if it is filled with the
creativity of the Spirit? With the change of seasons and places it
is best to proclaim an eco-spirituality through the seasons (see
Special Issues on this website). We need to include all creatures
and the saving and healing of our wounded and fragile Earth. Let
us find our own eco-spirituality that includes all tasks.
Prayer: Let us pray with Isaiah -- Speak out with a voice of
joy; let it be heard to the ends of the Earth. (Is.48:20)
A natural arrangement of pebbles in a creek, Woodford Co., KY.
April 28, 2008 List Ways to Save Time
Some speak of wanting to forget the clock and live without any
scheduling through periods of unplanned activity or inactivity.
Certainly periods of rest and even unplanned use of time are
important whether called free time, weekends, extra space or
vacations. Rest periods make for good health and well being -- and
even enhance our planned activities. The following are a number of
ways to enhance the rhythm of rest and work:
* Tithe time for planning. The best time saving comes through
planning on a yearly, monthly, weekly and daily level. Consider
this as part of work and schedule both rest time and work periods.
* Meditate and exercise together. We need daily physical
exercise and also meditation time. If the exercise has an
automatic component (such as walking or using an exercise machine),
it becomes a perfect time to pray.
* Carry ample reading material. A doctor's visit or waiting
for someone is perfect for keeping up with reading. If an
unexpected storm makes an abrupt change of plans, reading material
will reduce stress and make the wait more pleasant.
* Don't watch television. At least curb it substantially and
get your news from radio early in the morning-wake-up or during
driving or other periods during the day; radio allows for
simultaneous activities to be performed.
* Do chores in batches. Buy groceries only once or twice a
month, do less frequent laundry through larger clothing supply, and
cook in larger batches that save both energy and time.
* Early to rise. Much productive work can be done in the very
early hours before the world becomes busy and intrudes on your
time. While I would never say all productive people are early
risers, they do have solid lengths of work time.
* Do real puzzles. All must keep their minds occupied. I have
found that many of my writings are the results of having a puzzle
that is real life and worth solving over a work/leisure period.
* Cut down on meetings. I have retired from meetings, not
work. All organizers of such events find this heresy, but meetings
are often excuses for those who do not want to work.
* Socialize intensely but infrequently. Much can be said for
partying at times -- and it's good for sanity and social life.
This even applies for compulsive email writers.
* Let your fingers do the walking. Phone calls save trips.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to count how few days we have and so
gain wisdom of heart. (Psalm 90:12)
Overlooking a wild river, British Columbia.
April 29, 2008 Make a Pilgrimage
A great majority of religious believers belong to communities,
which aspire to go on a pilgrimage at least once in a lifetime or
even on a more frequent basis if possible. Mecca, the Ganges
River and Lourdes are quite different places, but all are
destinations for Moslems, Hindus or Catholic Christians. Several
suggestions may be in order if you want to be a pilgrim in 2008:
* Why? Develop or discern a good reason -- not just that others
take pilgrimages, and you would like to do the same. Decide that
this is a special time for favors received, a sense of unfulfilled
duty, a new start in life, a desire to cope with a life-threatening
illness, a reparation for a past life, or for accompanying a
relative or friend who desires such a pilgrimage.
* Where? Determine the destination carefully after proper
discernment. Once decided, read and learn about the place, the
weather at the time of year and any barriers to making the trip.
* When and how long? Do you have or are you willing to take the
time for such travel? Some religious traditions have set times of
the year for such events, and the more seasonal liturgical groups
will render certain festive occasions as ideal. All in all, choose
a time that will give maximum spiritual reward and that is an
adequate span so the trip does not have to be hurried. If other
matters are pressing, it may be best to postpone the pilgrimage to
a later time when less distracted.
* By what means? Plan the mode of travel well in advance. The
mode should be the best to convey a spiritual benefit to you. How
luxurious do you want the travel to be? (Many regard the journey
as a time of sacrifice even in regard to accommodations.) Pilgrims
of earlier times had some very arduous options, which included
foot, horse or mule, or sailing ship. We can still choose between
land vehicles (public or private), air and sea -- though some still
make pilgrimages on foot or, for the final span, even on knees.
* With whom? Some opt to travel in a group, though they may
not know fellow pilgrims personally. In fact, they may prefer it
that way so there will be fewer distractions, and they can give
more to the spiritual goals ahead. Others want certain companions.
* What to pack? Travel as light as possible without causing a
major inconvenience by failing to bring the clothes that are
needed. We ultra-light packers (see April 8) sometimes end up
doing without or finding little time to rewash basic items.
Consider adding materials for reading and for sharing with others.
Take along literature on the places to be traveled through and the
destination. Add a daybook for keeping notes, and plan to share
the religious experience with others.
Prayer: Lord, inspire us to exemplify in a spiritual way our
journey in life through a pilgrimage when the time is right.
Ring-necked snake, Diadophis puntatus.
April 30, 2008 Encourage Volunteer Activity
Springtime seems a good time to volunteer to go out and help
others. Most of us prefer to donate some time to assist others.
Over time I have served as a prison chaplain, and this past
volunteer work has been recognized by the institution served, which
appreciates the vital role that volunteers play in the lives of
those needing extra care. To serve others is truly a privilege.
Often the care-receiver is a double victim, and must suffer both
from the unfortunate circumstances of disablement and from the lack
of opportunities to help others through being able to volunteer.
To the promoter: It is unfair to sincere volunteers to invite
them to come to a situation without their knowing what to expect.
So often a little preparation beforehand or during the early stages
of the work would greatly improve the ultimate achievements of the
volunteers. They desire to give well and lack of experience can be
a handicap. Discourage someone who is not ready for a particular
volunteer experience so no disappointment will occur.
To the sponsor: Shortcomings can be avoided by a few simple
steps: clearly define roles and expectations; provide proper and
satisfactory supervision, especially at the beginning; make sure to
explain that the volunteer mission is not to change policy or
goals; give good preparation for cultural and economic differences
between caregiver and receiver; make the main motivation the care
given; make it clear that the volunteer or intern should not
expect any special treatment; and review the work done and thank
the volunteers upon their departure.
To the volunteer: Know what you are getting into, and take
any preparation seriously. Don't expect to do more than what can
be done. Make sure beforehand that your help is really needed and
cannot be done better and more effectively by a more local or
immediately available group; be aware that volunteering sometimes
saves money, and so don't let this work be a substitute for paid
staff while supervisors get cushy salaries; have expectations that
are realistic, and welcome the added benefits that are unexpected,
such as new friends or a better understanding of a situation; enter
more as a learner than as a teacher, and don't refrain from asking
for help. Misunderstandings may arise as to available resources.
Keep a journal of the experience, and share it with others.
To the care-receivers. You have a role to play in making the
volunteer experience a cooperative venture. Consider both the care
giver and yourself as care receiver as equals and anticipate an
experience in which all benefit. Give immediate feedback in a
charitable manner so the volunteer sees when and where he or she
are needed. List the shared benefits and thank the volunteer for
coming to help. If possible keep some form of contact.
Prayer: Lord, thank You for the generosity of all around us,
those who seek helpers, those who assist others and those who need
to show appreciation for all the service given.