April's buds, showers and emerging greenery freshen a tired landscape with Easter happiness. April means -- daffodils, lilacs, blooming wisteria, wild geraniums, echoes of the returning whippoorwill and at least one hundred and twenty other bird species, honking geese flying north, ground squirrels scurrying about, and young folks just going somewhere, anywhere their fancy leads them. It's the season for sowing spinach, beets, carrots, lettuce, radishes, endive, and of planting tomatoes, broccoli, Chinese cabbage, celery and other seedlings. Those of us living in moderate temperate climates find April mostly frost-free, especially in the month's second half. Go Spring!
A tempted trespass draws one over, just a closeup to sniff a whiff, and to grasp that spring has truly sprung. You do not delay, a multi-colored array, making us resolve once more to stir, giving reason for a garden season.
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Fresh spring beauty flowers, Claytonia virginica.
April 1, 2016 How to Plan Our Work or Free Time
I have no special expertise on planning, but perhaps have a few hints for work during non-stressful "retirement." Here are some simple suggestions:
1. Our time is a gift from God, to whom we ought to show the deepest gratitude; we are not free to idle it away; rather, we bear a responsibility to use it well, whether in work or in leisure.
2. Enjoy what you are doing. It is easier to plan if you look forward to doing it, and if you have some control over the work you are doing. If time is determined by another, then at least plan how it can be used best for the benefit of all.
3. Be concise in what is to be done. This may take writing the plans down so you can check tomorrow or later what you planned to do. Too often, a general good intention is vague, and no plan at all. What do I expect to accomplish? From whom do I seek support to help accomplish the task at hand? Am I fooling myself that this can be achieved in the time allotted?
4. Be flexible in planning. An overly rigid approach, either to subject matter or amount of time spent, may perhaps add the burden of unwelcome tension and stress in life. Accept that the results may not be perfect -- and this is still okay. Be willing to reassess and make changes as time moves along. In other words, do not plan once and only once. Make planning a yearly, monthly, weekly and daily routine. Remember: there will be changes.
5. Be realistic. Only part of the project may be completed in the time frame allowed. Consider how you will have peace of mind if not totally successful. This takes discernment of available resources (talent, assistance, finances, etc.).
6. Accept that plans may be modified. Emergencies arise and we are called to forget the sacred planned time and turn to accept changes as God-given new opportunities. We do not decide the ultimate course of life but are subject, for we do not own our time. Ours is to obey God's will.
7. Is free time allowed? Overplanning can be wrong and maybe even planning is not meant for everyone. Some like to do what comes along with each day and are happy with it. Well, at least that takes a commitment to go unplanned. Some who have little time to live and see no free time in life could still plan and pray for eternal life -- and that is spiritual planning.
8. Consider alternatives. Good planning should permit postponing on occasions with acceptable alternatives. We recall that our futures are not fully in our hands. In God we trust.
Prayers: Lord, give us grace to respect our valuable time, for it slips past so quickly and will not return.
Flowers of a wild peach tree, grown from composted peach pit.
April 2, 2016 Renewed Interest in Cisterns
Cisterns are containers which hold rainwater or runoff from springs or creeks, in which case they may be controlled for potable use or for gardening and secondary use. Beneath the 80-year-old house in which I reside is a 12,000-gallon cistern that supplies water for my herb garden in dry times; it is also used to fill our reflecting pool in the parish meditation area, a hundred yards away. The cistern water is not used for drinking -- but is crystal clear and could be potable after initial boiling.
Cisterns have been used for millennia to store water supplies from a plentiful rainy season for expected periods of drought. Recall that the prophet Jeremiah was dropped into a cistern to halt his preaching practice. Cisterns can be quite useful today in this time of climate change and unpredictable rainfall. Water shortages may be recurring, and cisterns are needed to tide us over droughts.
Placement. Cisterns come in many varieties. Commercial varieties are available in different sizes that can be installed underground or on the surface. Water containers range from rain barrels to constructed varieties of any size or shape, provided they hold water and avoid contamination by proper sealing. Over decades I have constructed numerous cisterns from concrete blocks and careful plastering to seal the water-containing surface. With time and movement of earth some resealing has been necessary.
Caution. Likewise, attention is given to the catchment area, for some roofing materials (asphalt materials, paint or corroded roofing) may leach into the water. Dust and other debris is first washed off in the guttering through a cutoff outlet that discards the first portion of rainwater; save the purer segment of rain fall. Preferably a strainer or filter is located before the entry into the cistern proper, and these can be of elaborate or simple design depending on anticipated water use.
Advantages. Besides sizeable savings on a water bill for auto washing and other use, such as bird baths and animal feeders, the collected rainwater does not contain chlorinated materials present in municipal water; rainwater is superior for garden plants. Experience shows that use of chlorinated water will retard plant growth; it may keep a plant alive but not let it thrive. Furthermore, when domestic water rationing occurs, the cistern may be a godsend. Those concerned about their haircare know that rainwater is preferable for retaining natural color and sheen. Cisterns give a plentiful supply of water in case of fire, whether on the building or in a area suffering from wildfire dangers.
Reference: A. Fritsch & P. Gallimore, Healing Appalachia:Sustainable Living through Appropriate Technology, Ch. 29,
University Press of Kentucky, 2007.
Prayer: Lord, you are the living water. Enhance our respect for water supplies that will add to the quality of our lives.
This is Mercy Sunday in the Holy Year of Mercy. The traditional Christian calls on Jesus' mercy that was shown so vividly when he was walking the roads and streets of Galilee. But the power of his actions is most emphasized in the post resurrection events we hear today; these include his appearances and also in the works that the Apostles perform in his name. God's mercy was (and is) personified both in what occurred then and in the peace that God extends to a troubled world today. We are called to truly believe that peace will come to all with whom we extend God's mercy. This then becomes a miracle of grace in the present moment.
God's power was shown in ancient times in the parting of the Red Sea and providing manna in the desert. But it was not limited to then alone. Each time we have a Mass a miracle occurs to which each of us is a witness through eyes of faith. Also we know that God constantly works wonders in our midst, and keeps us safe from the evils of terrorists and evil of all sorts. God is merciful and quick to forgive, and this willingness has been extended to the Church as Body of Christ. God wants each of us to know that we can be forgiven, that we certainly are forgiven, and that we are permeated with an atmosphere of forgiveness that we can now extend to others. Forgiveness is so wed to that of the miracle of the Resurrection, namely, to forgive is to give new life, just as God gives new life to all believers after mortal death.
Jesus does not work a miracle so that his wonderworking powers might be revealed to his favor; rather Jesus works a miracle as a sign of what God is doing for each and every one of us. God is forgiving, and miracles point to that more wonderful act, which is spiritual and not only physical healing. Through forgiveness, souls are healed, and an atmosphere of merciful forgiveness renews their lives in a profound spiritual manner. God's mercy is marvelous to behold in seeing miracles and hearing the words of forgiveness. We welcome God's mercy that abounds all around.
We often are so close to marvelous events and happenings that we can overlook ordinary wonders. When we forgive another, as did Pope John Paul II his attempted assassin, we have done something wonderful. My cousin, Spanky Fister, journeyed to Florida and went to the prison and forgave in the name of his family the murderer of his brother. This was heroic and a wonder of God's grace at work. How sad to see people who refuse to forgive, especially those close to the victim. But let's glory in those who can forgive and show mercy, for in doing so we give glory in our forgiving God. We partake in a miracle of grace when we forgive others from the bottom of our heart -- and Jesus' heart; glory shines forth.
Prayer: Lord, help us to experience the miracle of your mercy and then bear witness to this in the lives we touch and in those we forgive.
God blesses us in many ways and that is why in gratitude we must extend blessings to others. We are reminded during this holy Easter season that the greatest blessing is Jesus being raised from the dead with the promise if we are faithful, we too can have eternal life. In the troubled world in which we live, the presence of hope that is an unmerited graceful outlook, is a deep blessing to each believer during this period of Easter.
The historic Easter event is a blessing in itself. It punctuates the spring freshness of new life around us. In fact, Christ's resurrection is so utterly important for believers that Sunday, the first day of the week, shows a new beginning of creation in the establishing of the Kingdom of God. The entire season adds affirmation to that Earth-changing event. The readings of Scriptures tell of the freshness of activities by the disciples, who spread the word of Easter throughout the world, beginning in Jerusalem. Today, God's mercy strikes us and inspires us to do something special in this Year of Mercy.
Easter water is a special blessing in itself. It is made holy during that holiest night of the year when the new fire is lit and we announce once more that Christ has risen. The water used to baptize those entering the Church, or special water blessed on Holy Saturday, is worth spreading about. We can take a container of this water home with us and bless fields, garden plots, trees, pets and wildlife, bird nests and feeders, our buildings and even our neighbors and their dogs and cats. This shows outwardly to some degree that the ritual of Easter performed in Church buildings is extended to the world around us. This was always a meaningful experience in my youth; though it was an outward sign of our devotion, we wondered what neighbors thought as we went from field to field asking God's grace on the land's produce that year.
The future Easter glory has already started to shine on our wounded Earth. All things belong to God and any ritual of Easter blessing says once more that we realize this; we depend on divine protection and good will for our current community and the works we do in collaboration with a believing community. The glory of God's handiwork is emerging; we are challenged to make it all the more public so as to give hope to a secular world. We must seize the golden moment; we bring Good News and strive to share our own happiness with others who are often saddened by the cares of life.
We are doubly blessed by being moved to give blessings as part of our proclaiming the Good News. Seeing the blessing of giving blessings brings us closer to the God who draws us forward in time. God has blessed us in many ways expressed in our faith in Easter past, our hope in an Easter to come and our living as Easter people today, with the urge to extend blessing to others all around.
Prayer: Lord, inspire us to renew the face of the Earth and to make this a contagious practice expressed through blessings.
Solar-powered retreat cabin made partially from recycled materials.
April 5, 2016 Recycling Is Good But Not Perfect
The practice of recycling used items is highly regarded in green or environmental circles, and perhaps rightly so. We do need to reuse materials already extracted and processed to some degree, such as metals and plastics. Furthermore, we can learn much from nature, always the best recycler of organic materials, such as yard and much of food wastes that accumulate. Through such recycling we demonstrate the value of resources we use in everyday life.
Compost bins and areas are a higher form of recycling, for they turn organic wastes into humus. With few exceptions, we can place wastes in a container allowing for needed air and moisture, along with friendly bacteria and earthworms; the stage is set for composting. Again, the end result is valuable organic manure that can be used in the flowerbed, around fruit trees, or in the garden for next year's produce. Certainly this composting is far better than dumping the organic material into a landfill, or incinerating it, or discarding it improperly through littering or dumping.
Recycling of plastic and objects of mixed materials has always been problematic. Certainly it is promoted to some degree by commercial interests bent on profitability; they make the non-returnable containers consumers' responsibilities, and regard their task finished and their profits higher. The best practice is not using the material in the first place. The second is that containers become returnable and reuseable. What about non-returnable items already acquired? Nothing should be wasted, and so recycling is an imperfect testimony to renewal of life.
Domestic recycling practice includes sorting and taking paper (including office and newsprint), metals, plastic and glass (where accepted) to a recycling center. It costs far less energy to return an aluminum can to some new aluminum product than to make that product from virgin materials. Many paper products should not have been accepted in the first place, but, once obtained, select a recycling route that is most resource conservative. Good practice is the tapping of a landfill and reusing the trapped or escaping methane being generated as a community energy source.
Our consumer culture is the resource wasting culprit; it encourages a rapid change of fashion and planned obsolescence resulting in discarded clothes, shoes, furnishings, and electronics for new ones (even though there is life left in older products). While respectable clothing is expected for work, worship, or school, still pressure for the latest fashion fuels consumer-based economies. Unfashionable items are shunted to a thrift shop, yard sale, or other places as "charity." Ultimately, shorter-lived products are a disposal burden of those receiving short-lived hand-me-downs. Let's resist rapid fashion changes.
Prayer: Lord, teach us better ways to use the gifts given, or to resist using them in the first place.
April 6, 2016 The Land Remembers: A Healing Blessing
This is why the country is in mourning and all who live in it pine away. (Hosea 4:3)
Land is vulnerable. Wrong done to land or on land leaves a mark -- though this is not indelible, for land like its Creator is forgiving and merciful. We learn from all created things about the immense majesty of God -- every plant and animal, every star and planet. The progress of science proclaims the glory of God, if we open our hearts and mind and discover the greatness locked in nature. Land includes sensations, so says Scripture -- joyful, glorious, shouting, crying and lamenting land. The same holds for the creature/teaching power of the heavens and the plants and animals; this also applies to land itself. Some examples are:
Land is resilient. When respected, this land blooms with goodness and bounty. When something evil has occurred on certain forests, fields or within artifacts based on the land, it remembers, but it is in lament, not in vengeance and hatred.
Land can respond. We who have harmed land though human error are also capable through the mercy of God to assist in bringing back life, resurrection in the fullest sense. Just thinking about what can be done is pioneering work and something that takes courage and foresight. In truth, we do not trip over the wrongdoing and attempt only to see untouched nature in the landscape. In plain view of all who have spiritual vision is the bad practices that have marred the landscape.
Land can be blessed. Several years ago, Bob Sears, SJ, who developed a resurrection-centered spirituality, was invited to come to an illegally disturbed patch of land across the river from our nature center. We went to the area and prayed over the land, asking God for healing and the power of the Almighty to bring about new life. Astoundingly, in a few years the land returned to its natural vegetative growth and could today be regarded as "healed." Truly, other land is more gravely damaged and may take longer or bear lasting scars. However, all land is capable of some form of renewal, even though one must admit that land with mountain tops removed are greater challenges.
Land is inviting. A mission of bringing good news to all creation includes that of blessing damaged lands and the utterance of a plea for forgiveness. Yes, individual agents of change can speak for the entire community, but this most likely does not include the particular culprits who actually did the damage. In so far as we allowed the damage to occur through our civic negligence, we are partly the aggressors through silence and lack of courage. Thus, let us propose a ministry of "healing our Earth" that includes giving a site-blessing, so that healing might be hastened.
Prayer: Lord, help us to observe damaged land and then go as
a small group of concerned citizens and pray for its recovery.
Curious calf greets photographer in overgrazed pasture.
April 7, 2016 Blessing over Damaged Land or Artifact
May the Lord grant us peace now and forever.
In yesterday's reflection we discussed that land that has been damaged cries out for healing. Thus it is fitting that we who want to be effective healers of our wounded Earth develop procedures for bringing a healing process. In so doing we show our compassion for areas that have been harmed and work within the community of general blessings. Piece by piece, our Earth can be healed when it has been a victim of human wrongdoing.
Prayer for victims. The Catholic "Book of Blessings" includes a blessing of a victim of crime or oppression. Earth and its parts have often been victims, and blessings written for "victims" can be given by priest, deacon or by a layperson:
Throughout history God has manifest his love and care for those who have suffered from violence, hatred, and oppression. We commend ______ to the healing mercy of God who binds up all our wounds and enfolds us in his gentle care.
Matthew 10:28-33: -- Do not fear.
Job 3:1-26 -- Lamentation of Job.
Lamentation 3:1-24 -- I am one who knows affliction.
" 3:49-59 -- When I called you came to my aid.
Micah 4:1-4 Every person will sit undisturbed.
Matthew 5:1-10 -- The beatitudes.
" 5:43-48 -- Love your enemies, pray for those who
Luke 10:25-37 -- The Good Samaritan.
Psalm 142:2-3; 4b-5, 6-7.
Intercessions with a response Deliver us from evil, O Lord.
Prayer of blessing (with hands outstretched); Lord God, your own Son was delivered into the hands of the wicked, yet he prayed for his persecutors and overcame hatred with the blood of the cross. Relieve the sufferings of ________; grant him/her peace of mind and a renewed faith in your protection and care. Protect us all from the violence of others, keep us safe from the weapons of hate, and restore to us tranquility and peace. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Response: Amen.
The house or land may be blessed with holy water.
An important additional feature is worth considering by Catholic believers; when a tragedy has occurred such as a murder, or suicide, on a healing occasion I have carried the Blessed Sacrament and blessed the place with the consecrated host. This adds to the power of the blessing itself.
When some of us reach our eighties we strive to bring closure, and yet face the hidden nature of an eternal journey. Unsatisfied human activities await in hopeful discomfort what is to come. We delve into a world of scientific explanation and a theological world wrapped in Mystery, beckoning us forward. Unity thus is not so much intellectual satisfaction, but acceptance of a continuous journey not completed in this life alone. We are created to the divine image and this image in broader ways permeates the universe. Are we beckoned to eternal "rest" or to eternal activity?
The Trinity is for the Christian a divine Mystery; we accept in faith the interaction of three divine persons, a relational action of love that extends into the created universe as well. It seems fitting that a reinforcement of sound in a vibrating body, resonance, could transcend the divine activity and be heard throughout the universe -- a divine call. Eastern Christianity considers the Trinity like the whirling Greek dance of perichoresis, a togetherness that resembles a single moving whole. But the entire created world does not dance -- or does it?
The Big Bang is that instant burst of creative power from when the stars and planets that we know came into being fourteen billion years ago. Astronomy continues to unlock unimaginable distances and energetic bodies that confront us today. Vibrations from the first beginning still resonate or resound. Prehistoric and current harmonies are part of who we are and how we act in our world. Is there an analogy to the Trinity's activity in how we act?
Resonance as scientifically defined by Ilya Prigogine's The End of Certainty: Time, Chaos and the New Laws of Nature, is "The constructive interference that appears when two frequencies in a system are rationally related." These natural entities of any size interact and help designate future paths to be taken; herein lives the ground for irreversibility in nature, the arrow of time, which is what we experience. Resonance is all about us, whether among small particles at the sub-atomic level or among the heavenly bodies. Socially, we resonate with fellow human beings when we communicate with them, with each loving connection adding to the richness of future social possibilities between persons.
Resonance emerges from within various realities, and hints at becoming a unitive activity. This resonance answers the time paradox of the world in which we live; we are not like pendulums moving back and forth with a certain equivalence and predictability. We move forward in time in a non-determined fashion; life is not pre-cast. Prigogine challenges a Newtonian world of physics, for we must sufficiently answer a biological world of evolution. We operate in a world that is an open system. Time is not reversible and as we approach the grand transition we find that in time we move to God.
Prayer: Lord, allow us to yearn for an eternal harmony.
Rock cairn of native stone at garden's edge. Franklin Co., KY.
April 9, 2016Championing Green Gardening
During this year of gardening we will try to reaffirm our commitment to garden environmentally for the sake of new and old readers. Gardening allows us to enter the natural cycles of life and to live sustainable lives. Green gardening ways include:
* Land improvement -- We counter poor ways of exploitation by clearing and protecting productive land and using it well with proper fertilization, covering during winter, and controlling weeds during the growing season.
* Planning -- We resolve to exhibit the most intensive methods for gardening, such as interplanting of one crop while another is maturing. This allows us to use less garden space and grow more produce on a given area and well as reduce effort required.
* Native or heritage seeds and seedlings -- We take care in what we grow by saving, exchanging and purchasing high quality seeds, or foreign varieties that do not tend to escape and become worrisome invasive species.
* Organic gardening methods -- We initiate those methods that do not use synthetic chemical fertilizers or pesticides but use biological or other natural control methods and fertilizing; we favor composting materials. Commercial chemical-free places instinctively attract birds and friendly insects.
* Tools -- We strive to use implements that are energy efficient and do not exceed space demands of the garden plot (no large tractors when hand tools or small implements will suffice),
* Designing -- We consider beautification designs through interplanting of flowers, herbs, berries, fruit, and vegetables. When some design works well, a recorded photo or notation should be made to repeat next year and to encourage others to do the same.
* Watering -- We irrigate with groundwater or rainwater collected in rain barrels or cisterns. Conservative methods of application include selective watering near the plant itself and generally in the evening and early morning.
* Coverings -- We use seasonal extenders such as blankets for starting plants in summer or through the regular non-growing years when frosts and snow are present. These are materials that allow breathing (exchange of air for plants under the cover).
* Crop rotation -- We use practices of rotating what is grown on particular areas year after year in order to discourage pests and plant diseases. Does land need its own sabbatical?
Prayer: Lord, help us respect our garden land and make it fruitful as a sign of our respectful garden practices. Inspire us to share our experiences with neighbors near and far.
Trunk of mighty oak, leafing out in Kentucky spring.
April 10, 2016 Called to Be and Do the Extraordinary
Obedience to God comes before obedience to men. (Acts 5:29)
The Gospel reading (John 21) is the appended chapter. The resurrected Jesus shows his humanness during this fishing episode of the disciples toiling in vain to catch nothing. Jesus appears on the shore and directs them to cast nets elsewhere. They follow his direction and catch an enormous load of fish to the very special number of 153, the sum of the cubes of the three integers (13 + 53 + 33) and the sum of all numbers from 1 to 17. Does this say that Jesus expects extraordinary acts from his disciples?
Peter puts on his garments and jumps into the water -- really, one of Scripture's humorous passages! He goes to Jesus on the shore and finds that he has lit a fire for breakfast and he asks for part of the catch so they can eat together. The invitation is always out for each of us to be closer to Jesus. While he has ascended he is still close if we approach his offers of help. Our own efforts apart from him are seemingly in vain, but if we allow him to come close, we will be fruitful beyond expectation. "None dared ask him who he was."
This extraordinary chapter concludes with Jesus asking Peter to repeat a pledge of service to counter his threefold denial on Good Friday. Our limited word in English for love does not fully convey the conversation. Twice Jesus asks Peter if he loves (agape = love of God for man and man for God) him, and then whether he really loves (philia = affectionate regard and friendship among equals) him. Peter responds with philia each time. Jesus tells Peter that love of friendship must be extended in the extraordinary mission in which he is engaged. We too hear the mandate to Peter and are called to be unique agents of change. Jesus asks Peter to follow him to his death, when others bind him and restrict his mobility, and lead him to his own crucifixion. Peter is called to an extraordinary ending.
The story is called an Appendix to the Gospel, but is it not the life we are called to live? I read this passage to a rather independent 98-year-old ex-school teacher, Virginia, who in the final days of life seemed to hear it really for the first time. This suddenly meant much to her on her last "extraordinary" journey. We are to follow Jesus at all times -- and none of us live totally in the ordinary. In some ways this last part of St. John's Gospel stands alone, and yet it describes our relationship with the risen Lord. Christ is in our midst loving, working and encouraging us to continue in our journey of faith; at times this is tested when tempted to forsake moral obligations and succumb to peer pressure. The Lord calls us individually and in our faith community to grow in age and wisdom.
Prayer: Lord, help us to see that we are called in extraordinary ways and yet you are always near to assist us.
April 11, 2016 Is This the End of the Ages -- Doomsday?
The answer to the title question can be affirmative, and yet we must not be paralyzed by fright; as believers, we see signs as the revelation of the ultimate triumph of good and defeat of evil (meaning of Apocalypse). A recent caller after the Paris terrorist attack last November asked me if I thought it was the end of the ages -- and I said "yes." From the time of the Big Bang to the era of Christ, if that era were placed in a span of a year, it would amount to a mere four seconds; from a geologic standpoint it is "the last of the ages" and imminently expected through the twenty centuries. Although many came on occasion with dramatic predictions of the end, certain periods were prominent:
33-70s -- Expected at any moment with the fall of Jerusalem, the first "Holocaust." Some of the early church stopped working. 249-51 -- The persecution of the Emperor Decius. 302-312 -- The Roman Emperor Diocletian's persecution or the last agony of the Church in the pagan Roman era. 420s-452 -- The Vandal invasion of Northern Africa (Rome's breadbasket) made many see a change of the status quo, along with Attila the Hun's gathering at the gates of the city of Rome. 845 -- Danish Viking invasion of Paris; again a siege of the city occurred in 885-86. Insecurity in many lands led to the belief that the end of the world was near. 1000 -- St. Peter's Church was filled in Rome as the congregation expected the end of time on January 1st at midnight. 1200s -- Invasion of Europe by Mongols and others from the East creating a sense of the end being close at hand. 1345 -- Some thought the Black Death started with the conjunction of Saturn, Jupiter and Mars. It most likely started in Mongolia in 1620 and spread across Asia through rats infected with fleas hosting the bubonic plague; this had a major impact in Europe in 1348 with some 25 million deaths. Pessimism reigned. 1453 -- The fall of Constantinople. The seat of Orthodoxy was captured by the Turks and some forecast the end to be near. 1618-48 -- A destructive war of a religious, dynastic and territorial nature led to the longest and most destructive war to that time and the thought of doomsday. 1789 -- French Revolution turned the monarchical status quo on edge and has some asking whether the end was close; this continued during the years of the Napoleonic Wars until 1815. 1833 -- Intense meteor showers bringing the issue of the end, for stars were predicted "to fall from the heavens." 1914-45 -- Two terrible world wars took enormous numbers of causalities both military and civilian. Death came to innocent populations in many cities through bombings and in concentrated camps through genocidal activities. 2001 to now -- ISIS and other terrorists disrupt civilizations and precipitate mass movement of people; also add to this the threat of dramatic climate change threatening Earth's vitality.
Prayer: Lord, give us the courage to persevere in hope that
terrorism can be conquered and a better world emerge.
Rare sighting of Trillium sessile, with fourth leaf.
April 12, 2016 Henry Clay: A Great Statesman
On this 239th birthday of a noted Kentucky and American Statesman, Henry Clay, it is interesting to celebrate his achievements. Like his lifelong main adversary, Andrew Jackson, our seventh president, Clay moved West after spending his early life on the East Coast; they were both mostly self-educated, and slave-holders though treating slaves well; both have some degree of prejudice against Indians and the English (though Jackson had direct family suffering during the Revolutionary War); both fought in duels; both held some degree of states' rights, though with nationalistic streaks; and both struggled to show their patriotism. However, they differed profoundly in areas of banking, tariffs and internal improvements and military attitudes.
Henry Clay had a long career in government. Though he owned slaves as part of the economic system, as early as 1798 he urged the electors of Fayette County Kentucky to consider emancipation, an issue he favored in varying degrees all his political life. He was a strong proponent of colonization of freed slaves to Africa -- a racial bias. He believed in compromise in the admission of states in 1820 and in tariff issues during the Jackson Administration. His unusually strong speaking ability won for him many friends and also enemies, some of whom remained. His engaging personality and love for social life nuanced those relationships, eventually making him immensely popular. His enormous energy involved caring for a large and sometimes worrisome family (a son dying in the Mexican War which he strongly opposed). He had a successful law profession and engaged in progressive agricultural practices while constantly engaged in statescraft at a very high level in Washington, DC, with much travel involved.
Henry Clay was unable to achieve his ambitious desire to be president. The nation loved and respected him as a statesman but not as president: the "Sage of the West," The Great Compromiser, "The Old Coon." He failed the quest for president in 1828 and 1832 to Jackson, in 1840 to Harrison (Tippacanoe and Tyler too), and the last and greatest disappointment in 1844 to James K. Polk by a narrow vote. While highly gifted in oratory, still his sharp tongue at times cut others deeply. He was more responsible than any other for the emergence of a replacement from the single "National Republican" party into "Whigs" and Jackson's "Democrats."
Though on some major issues such as national improvement he excelled in vision, still his hopes to keep resolving questions through compromise only had limited success as the nation drifted closer and closer to Civil War; some say it would not have come if he had lived another decade. He loved the union and his 1850 Compromise in the Senate took the last ounce of his energy. He was right in opposing the terrible expulsion of the Southeast Indian tribes by Jackson. Amid it all, Henry Clay was a great man. Ref. Robert Remini, Henry Clay: Statesman for the Union, Norton, 1991.
Prayer: Lord, help our leaders to be devoted statespersons.
Small native bee on Sanguinaria canadensis, bloodroot.
April 13, 2016 In Defense of Generalists
Who on Earth should defend a generalist? Perhaps it depends on what the generalist does and says. If it means shunning the act of doing specific things at all times, then there may be something wrong. If it refers to acting responsibly, though as a non-expert, then we may find a place for the generalist among all citizens.
Generalists demand an overview. Too much of our world involves biases and politically correct ways of thinking and talking. In such matters the generalist attempts to gather the various views and weigh them in relation to each other. Moderation in strong political positions may be required in order to hear what opposing stances are attempting to say. Perhaps the generalist can become a compromiser in a good sense of permitting dialogues without labeling and then shutting off debate.
Generalists accept seemingly contrary positions. In arriving at an overview just described, generalists may have to sacrifice due to lack of proclaimed expertise. Experts do not have all answers any more than a "Renaissance" person. Experts are more often called by media to offer their comments. We never hear someone aired on radio or TV as a "generalist" on anything from peace and justice to warfare and prosecution of criminals. However, generalists may arrive at sound conclusions because particular expert biases do not hinder them -- though they also have biases that often color their own decisions.
Generalists are citizens and decisionmakers. Amazingly, the rank-and-file citizens in a democracy are required to have a general background on important civic matters, and yet they qualify as generalists in voting, petitioning and correspondence with political leaders. Generalists have a intuition as to who is better qualified to serve in elected office and who must make difficult decisions for the nation and world. Experts can be called upon for their information and conclusions, but when the chips are down it is the generalist who has to decide who is best to make decisions. All sides need to be heard and weighed.
Theological conclusions demand general knowledge. God creates all things and the image of the Creator shines forth. Many scientific endeavors clarify the foundations and characteristics of the operations of the universe, from micro- to macro-levels along with unfolding the human spirit at work in the world culturally, emotionally, socially, psychologically, philosophically and religiously. Each of these has a long history of experience, along with many individual crafts and professions. No individual has expertise in all these areas, but a generalist may have clues as to how these fit together in a collaborative fashion. The call to bring things together may be more clearly heard by those who are not tied down to particular specialties and biases. It takes someone who stands above the fray.
Prayer: Lord, give us the grace to see the bigger picture.
Beautiful but highly invasive lespedeza, Lespedeza cuneata.
April 14, 2016 Resolve to Do Something about Invasive Species
Today a major environmental threat is the introduction of exotic species, which propagate and spread without natural enemies with suitable climatic and soil conditions. Some think it will be necessary to transpose endangered species from one part of the world to another due to climate change, but this includes risks. Unfortunately, numerous escapees plague our country (e.g., kudzu in the southeast U.S. and Japanese honeysuckle in the broad mid‑range of America). Some invasives are able to travel along access roads into our pristine wilderness areas.
Once present many of these invasives are not easily controlled, as it has been discovered by state and national park personnel. A major contribution by an environmentally concerned volunteer is to help in eradication programs, whether at one's neighborhood or at these public parks. Promote the general ecological rule: be reluctant to introduce new species, for native species are preferred and often vulnerable. When introduced, watch the adaptation with care.
Species can move rapidly to new territory lacking natural control agents. Modern land, sea and air vehicles and vessels exacerbate this invasive species problem. In an age of globalization and an imperfect understanding of spread of species, we have had and even promoted bothersome invasions of a host of unwanted plants (and animals): tree of heaven, bush honeysuckle, Russian olive, burning bush, Japanese barberry, Oriental bittersweet, crown vetch, Japanese honeysuckle, garlic mustard, and on and on. "Wait," you may say, "I like this or that one, the flower, the color, the smell, a verdant look of invaded landscape." However, invasives can harm native species.
No exotic species that is a potential invasive should be introduced unless its growing habits and controls are fully understood. Rest assured, many exotics are not invasive. Here federal and state regulations are needed for commercialization of exotics after environmental impacts are assessed. Culprits include pet and feed stores, nurseries, and home supply centers. Invasive plant species can do harm to natives and even affect wildlife and beneficial insect populations. Diversifying is not necessarily a good practice without proper controls -- and yet it is a goal of some self-styled "naturalists." Don't be fooled!
Sound ecology practices include eradicating already existing invasive species such as kudzu or garlic mustard -- though this takes effort. It can be done through use of goats or uprooting plants, but that is slow work. Pressure nurseries and home sales places to refrain from sales of invasive species, and for regulatory agencies to enforce environmental protective measures already existing. If not, petition for their consideration.
Prayer: Lord, give us foresight to see what can be invasive; help us to support existing control activities.
Yellow violets under pine, Rock Bridge Road, Red River Gorge, KY.
April 15, 2016 Rockclimbing in the Red River Gorge
The eastern portion of my Powell County parish boundaries reaches into the Red River Gorge or the Clifty Wilderness area, an incredibly beautiful part of Appalachia. In some sense this is regarded as the eco-tourist heart of our state and deserves the title. To this rugged area of forests and landscape come thousands during the season starting in spring and continuing to late fall. These tourists from Kentucky and surrounding states enjoy scenery, but the more adventuresome prefer the sport or art of rockclimbing. Yes, some climbers fall at times and that adds to the challenge of those who come prepared for a form of risky activity.
Many of us who love the more foot-secure trails below the fantastic formations prefer to watch those seeking proper toe and finger holds. The sport or art is really one of the more risky practices -- and that is verified by the number of accidents in the Red River Gorge area each year. These are perhaps not the most dangerous of the rockclimbing areas of the world, but they are within a hard day's drive of half of America's population. The proximity brings out those who are not the most skilled, but still think they gain something by scaling the rockwalls of the Eastern U.S. We have here the largest collection of arches and rock shelters east of the Rocky Mountains and the long-term carver, one of America's Red Rivers, is designated "wild" and "scenic."
The mixed assortment of visitors have been more monitored in recent years by the U.S. Forest Service, with registration, rest facilities, and requirements on hiking and camping -- all in a effort to save the untouched beauty of the place. Early Native Americans left few traces except for some petrographs and the faintest hints of lodging in the caves. Visitors today can leave a more explicit reminder of presence in unwelcome ways, though most strive to abide by rules. Yes, some leave spikes in the cliff side to assist the next climber and, if not too numerous, that can assist future climbers. However, there's limits to everything.
Rockclimbing has its risks but is regarded as fun by active folks willing to spend a quick weekend in our wilderness area. As long as they are careful we welcome them, and testify that this is part of everyone's annual natural experience opportunities. Google for directions to get here. Activity depends on a visitor's physical condition; there's something for everyone, from those who exert themselves to reach the crest of Natural Bridge avoiding the chair lift, to those who prefer to go straight up the rockcliffs of designated places. I have thoroughly enjoyed rapelling in these areas and others enjoy hiking and partaking in water sports; others prefer a bout of sightseeing with minimal exertion. And then of course there are the added thrill of black bears present in increasing numbers and sighted. Reference: "Kentucky's Land of the Arches" by Robert H. Ruchhoft.
Prayer: Lord, inspire us to come to enjoy the rugged beauty of your vast landscape and to do this while showing respect.
April 16, 2016 How Much Gardening Equipment Is Needed?
Once, when talking about the glories of composting of our kitchen and yard wastes, one from the audience asked me in all earnest, "What must I buy to start composting?" She meant it! The monetized culture in which we are immersed makes a person think that everything starts commercially, a purchase. However, composting is a natural process taking a little proper placement and some elbow grease; so, in an extended fashion, is general gardening when started at a small scale. Starting out with a large garden operation is a terrible mistake. We need to begin small and manageable, and that takes low investment beyond seeds.
A hoe and a spade may be all that are needed for much of the garden work for beginners, as well as a those of us elders who are limited as to space and energy. You would never guess that little in the way of instruments is really needed by looking at the back portion of many gardening catalogs. Don't let the ads fool you. Certainly additional gear is found most helpful, such as a straw hat and sun-block if working in midday sun, or gloves if hands are overly sensitive. To add to composting a moderate-sized "pitch fork" (multi-prong fork) facilitates mixing in place of the hoe and spade. Add a rake and maybe some small hand tools to prepare beds.
Certainly some container (a barrel or cistern) to store rainwater would be immensely helpful, since we try to avoid use of domestic treated water. Add a sprinkling can, if watering over an area. An assortment of pots, buckets, pans and unused funnels and gallon jugs are reaching the limits of my personal garden tool chest. One can add the cloth coverings and supporting ribs and pins I use to make tents for extended gardening on both ends of the non-growing season. Oh yes, remember to keep unused seeds stored in a container with a firm lid and stored in a dry place.
As there is a gradual sophistication and garden size is increased, the spade/hoe may be replaced by a powered tiller where a trained horse for tilling is not available. Mechanical tillers come in at a wide price range and they vary in size, complexity and tasks to be performed. However, if you desire physical exercise, lean on the trusty hoe and rely less on gasoline or electric‑ powered tools. Think twice before purchase, or agree to share equipment with neighbors, though there could be hidden problems. As for the large mechanical tumbler used for composting, this seems a waste for those who need to do a little extra physical exercise. Some may want veggie cages for training tomato vines along with bean poles.
Pesticides are a difficult subject. Interspersing and rotating crops are a good control agent, along with certain flowers and herbs. Manual picking and disposing of tomato worms are fine on a small scale. Mole traps can be replaced by growing toxic mole beans -- but protect from children and foraging animals.
Prayer: Lord, open us to simple garden methods and protect us from being mesmerized by the commercial world around us.
I will make you a light for the nations, so that my salvation will reach the ends of the earth.
(Isaiah 49:6) (Acts 13:47)
On Shepherd Sunday we look to our calling to be concerned about scattered sheep and to gather them and lead them.
We are called. The Spirit speaks to each of us in a very personal way, for God has a unique relationship with each of us. This involves the place of our calling and the timing as well, the HERE and NOW of my life. This gives a profound variation that shows the creativity of the Spirit at work in our lives. The vocational gift is worthy of gratitude and respect, for we are spiritually blessed and privileged. God is the supreme shepherd of souls and invites us in the caring of the flock under divine care. We take up the act of enlightenment; we become people for others with Jesus, a light to the nations.
We are called to be light. Too many in this world walk in darkness, and they can and do easily stumble by not knowing the way in the night. We are the ones called to walk with them and to reflect the light of Christ in our manner of proceeding. Care must be taken to keep the light of Christ within us through reception of the sacraments. Following our calling does not mean expending energy reinventing the wheel; we have a firm foundation on which to initiate and continue our work. Seeing in a dim manner the light on the horizon allows us to direct our attention and assure ourselves of a bearing that becomes obvious. We do not flounder in darkness, but rather move confidently that the Lord is with us, and we are on a right road leading to salvation.
We are a flock, a team willing to assist each other, lest we stumble as well from the enticing world around us. Individuals can be light, but it is a difficult task working alone. Far better is to work in a group that involves a security found in embracing the love of Christ together with others through celebration. Thus, besides our unique calling we find ourselves in a grand collaboration with others, reenforcing them in their efforts and opening ourselves to have them help us on our journey. It is a social enterprise that involves us all working together.
Christ is the true shepherd. Flocks have coordinating leaders and so it is fitting that while we become shepherds for others, we are willing to be accompanied by a sacrificing servant leader as our model, to encourage us and to help hasten the day of the attainment of our mission. This leader communicates with all of us and keeps us committed to the work we are called to do. We need Pope and Bishops as primary agents of change, and are willing to show them that their coordinating service is appreciated.
Prayer: Lord, help us to allow the flock to thrive in a healthy manner, for we all have an important mission to achieve.
Female northern cardinal, Cardinalis cardinalis on quince blossoms.
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)
April 18, 2016 Keep America Beautiful As a Garden Project
This is Keep America Beautiful Week, along with Earth Day on Saturday. We need to be reminded of the streaks of ugliness caused by human carelessness and greed. Our resolve is to beautify our surroundings in any way possible with renewed intensity. This is not a new idea, but it can involve various approaches worth espousing and practicing. Since 1953, the Washington, DC-based America the Beautiful Fund (ABF) has furnished free allotments of vegetable seed to local lower-income organizations across the country; the fund calls itself the largest community improvement organization in the United States. The ABF organizers are convinced that individuals within small communities can lead the way to brighten the lives of many, without complex organizations.
In this particular week ending with Saturday's Earth Day, we need to couple saving the vitality of our threatened planet with proper environmental practices that make the landscape pleasing. These include tree plantings, highway flower patches, urban homesteading and reclamation of blighted and surface mined areas, and removal of junk and scattered litter. Beautification is not effortless, for it takes extra work to overcome many forms of pollution. Too often America's natural beauty has been marred by unplanned development, excessive congestion, and utter neglect. We certainly do not want what Pope Francis describes as a "pile of filth" to mar our landscape. Beauty is more than in the eye of the beholder; it can be seen and appreciated by the great multitude of citizenry who are always attuned to better means of improvement.
Beauty is a virtue that we strive to recognize and share with our neighbor, for we are interested in cultivating their sense of beauty for a better quality of life for all. Not everyone, especially those immersed in urban blight and congestion, can appreciate the natural beauty of untouched landscape and free- flowing rivers and verdant forests teeming with wildlife. Preserving what we still have in this beautiful land must be accompanied by sprucing up developed areas -- and here gardening becomes a social way of enhancing beauty. We can help influence communities to control billboards, flashing signs and other aspects of unchecked commercial sprawl; this includes consolidation of commercial signs at key highway places giving vital information on location of food, fuel and lodging.
Gardening is a choice low-cost way to beautify landscape. Gardeners are blessed with seeing their efforts blossom into living plants that furnish nourishing domestic produce for ourselves and others. If we are enthusiastic gardeners we are more able to engage in neighborhood improvement for, as said elsewhere, gardening can become contagious in a community. Talk up the practice; plant flowers among veggies and herbs; broadcast results; make a monocultural patch of lawn blossom with colorful variety.
Prayer: Lord, you give us beauty; help us make it spread so
that the quality of life of all can improve together.
This is NOT directed to being a day to "hang out with friends," but rather to dry out clothes; it is directed to all and especially affluent and sophisticated areas of America where people hesitate to expose to neighbors one's shirts, socks and unmentionables. Surprisingly, even though this project has been around for a decade, there are many local ordinances and community regulations that forbid people from using a clothes line to dry their washed articles of daily use. The movement was started by a friend, Alexander Lee, who went on to teach English in China, where he discovered people had never heard of an electric clothes dryer. Line clothes drying is a conservation practice; it has the potential of saving about 6% of America's domestic energy use.
As of a decade ago, some 300,000 American counties, towns, townships and housing groups did not allow folks to dry clothes outdoors on their own property. That number has decreased by approximately one-third, but is still on the books of many places. On the other hand, looked at in a democratic way, citizens have a "right to dry" and freedom-lovers have rallied throughout the country to do what their grandmothers thought of as a positive sign of a hard-day's work. Furthermore, hanging clothes out to dry, especially in April's breezes, allows a refreshing final product, and the dry clothes smell delightful.
Few struggles are clearly won; most go on and on with painful compromises. This one has a focused objective -- let citizens continue to hang their clothes out to dry as done since time immemorial. This regains our freedom, allows us to practice conservation, and gives a good example to others. Why should appliance manufacturers dictate our daily domestic practices? Why be forced into the narrow constraints of mowing our lawns a certain height, eat only choice cuts of red meat, or watch certain sporting events occurring in arenas where the rich have choice seats? Why a current straitjacket on clothes drying? If regulators are embarrassed about what is on clothes lines (reason for such local regulations), encourage them to develop visual barriers.
At times I feel guilt at drying clothes and towels in a convenient electric clothes dryer. In winter the weather discourages us to take wet clothes outside to dry. However. my clothes line is on a back porch. Washing clothes before the sun rises proves challenging. Hanging out can be a statement for neighbors as well as an opportunity to have fresher smelling items. "Hanging out" is a way of viewing the world, of valuing our time, of arranging schedules, and of reminding us that convenience is not the most perfect goal of a life well spent. "Hanging out" is a commitment to a simple lifestyle practice that requires only a low-cost apparatus. Let's champion this practice as a way to reduce climate change.
Prayer: Help us, Lord, to live more simply and show this as Good News that we can share with less energy-conscious neighbors.
Lady bird beetle on spicebush flowers, Lindera benzoin.
April 20, 2016 Encourage Youth to Plant Trees
Tree planting is a good way to involve youth in voluntary efforts, and the fruit of their efforts will be around for a long time, with many benefits. In tree planting, collaborative effort with older and younger people involved in a social enterprise is an ideal. That cooperative spirit extends to choice of several fruit and nut sapling varieties for cross pollination.
Tree planting is a perfect and active way to celebrate Earth Day this coming Saturday. The work can actively involve each young person in digging, setting the sapling, placing dirt around the roots and filling the hole and tamping, watering the planted tree, together with placing a stake to show its location and even inserting a person's name for whom the tree is dedicated. The selection of variety in trees may be an option that involves the youngster, for just any type may not be wise -- and type should be determined before hand. Some trees suffer from pests in a particular area; others need certain climate and types of soil.
Second, the event will be remembered by youngsters years later; the individual will recall that this was a time when a genuine mark was made by one's participation, and the living tree gives testimony to it. Trees can be good memorials and so placing names at the tree gives the planter a sense of making history. In selecting the planting site, have the young ones visualize what the tree will look like when mature, and the foliage is at its fullness; each tree needs room to grow and expand its branches.
Third, the planted trees have many benefits, and youngsters could be asked to recall some of these (shade, wind barrier, fruit and nuts, wood products, wildlife habitat, carbon dioxide sink, provider of oxygen, water retention, soil conditioning, and on and on). The act of planting is a notable environmental deed and gives a sense of hope that the future will be better. Help the young persons to know the variety planted and its particular benefits. Often the fruit and nut trees furnish an oversupply and so preservation techniques are worth discussing.
Fourth, learn about caring for planted trees. Often the youth has access to the site of the planted tree and can be the one entrusted with care -- a key ingredient in responding to the flora and fauna around us, and some protection may be necessary against rabbits or deer. If that first fragile year of growth is a dry one, it is wise to water the sapling at various times. Identifying stakes are needed if the ground around the tree is regularly mowed; often the slip of the mower chops off the sapling in that first year. As the tree grows, pruning is anticipated in order to snip off stray branches so that the tree takes on an attractive shape. All in all, the mere planting is not sufficient for total care of the tree, and this ought to be impressed on the youthful planter.
Prayer: Lord, help us to bring back forests as Earth's lungs,
and to see that individuals have a part to play by tree planting.
God has joined us so closely to the world around us that we feel the desertification of the soil almost as a physical ailment, and the extinction of a species as a painful disfigurement. Pope Francis, Laudato Si'
We come to Wildlife Week this year quite mindful of the threats posed to our wilderness areas through excess development, poaching and general climate change. Elephants are being slaughtered for ivory (population halved in the last 35 years), coral is being damaged by warmer and acidic oceans, and polar bears struggle for survival as their frozen habitat melts away. Something must be done. We must show the same sense of compassion as expressed by the Pope on his recent letter on the Environment.
Wildlife is a good in itself; it is the glory of God's creation and the more we know about flora and fauna, the more we extend gratitude to the Creator. When we befriend wildlife to the degree possible we bless them and all can give greater glory to God. Damaging or reducing wildlife habitat and quality of life becomes a dehumanizing act to which we are held accountable. New access roads and trails should be considered as to environmental impact by minimizing damage to contiguous blocks of wilderness area that are vulnerable and needed for wildlife protection.
Wildlife teaches us lessons. We are called to expand the arena of our classroom; we discover that all creation tells a story that demands respect. This respect reduces our aggressive behavior that can easily harm the world of wildlife. Our eyes are opened to how wildlife uses the environment in a non-destructive way and these lessons are well worth learning and imitating.
Wildlife deserves to flourish. Certainly people wish to hunt for sport, but this is subject more frequent questioning by animal rights groups. On the other hand, supplementing food supplies through reduction of excessive animal population growth (deer and wild turkeys in Mid-America) may allow a more balanced ecosystem for the benefit of all wildlife. Likewise, the proliferation of coyotes that have filled the void of lack of foxes and wolves may reach levels where removal of excess is a necessary practice.
Wildlife presence is enjoyable. Many of us are enchanted by the singing of birds or the scuffle of squirrels. Wildlife can raise our spirits when life becomes too routine. Those visiting zoological parks know this feeling when focusing on the cute Panda cubs, or even lions from a safe distance. Youth should have opportunities to visit and observe areas of natural beauty, with formal educational programs pertaining to native flora and fauna, so that all can come to appreciate nature's enchanting beauty.
Prayer: God of love, show us our place in this world as channels of your love for all creatures of this earth; we know that not one of them is forgotten in your sight. Laudato Si'
April 22, 2016 Earth Day: A Focus on Willingness to Act
On this full pink moon we may celebrate or commiserate over another Earth Day (my 46th). Our mood changes with each successive annual event. There has been a swung from the optimism of earlier times to a more recent pessimistic prognosis. This year, with the distractions of political climate change deniers and terroristic headlines not withstanding, I feel that the middle road of realism is urgently needed. We must change and we can change -- and we present these two sentiments as a coupled pair.
Most are aware that time is short. This applies to life in general, and so urgency is always an underlying element of human endeavors. We need not deny that changes must be made, even though a few in politics still linger with a tale of unbridled optimism for the hidden savior called "technology." The robots can't do it folks, nor the billionaires, nor the commercial promoters of a new device or method. The world knows what must be done and most of the existing know-how is available to make it a better place -- if we have a willingness to change and collaborate in doing so.
A sense of environmental protection is prevailing in the more developed countries and in others as well. However, the move to industrialize India with the use of immense amounts of coal as an energy source bodes badly for further lowering of amounts of carbon dioxide being emitted. A slowing down of the Chinese economy and the move of number one pollution emitter to renewables is a counter weight to the advancement of India and other developing economies at this time. Much depends on efforts after the Paris Conference of last year on whether money will be made available to these developing economies to take on programs that bring renewables to Africa, Asia and Latin America. This year becomes a time of determining what the future will bring -- and we hope climate change concerns will stay in the forefront. In North America the death of the scatter-brained Keystone XL pipeline project is truly permanent -- we hope.
Much still depends on willingness, and we see in the struggle among political candidates that the status quo money is still directed to reducing the advancement of renewable energy and prolonging special favors to the fossil fuel economy. Face it, a consensus has been emerging on what to do, and the technologies exist to effect the changes necessary; however, when we say "will" we are speaking of Big Energy fearful of losing their market share and profits, and herein lies much of the real future of a healthy environmental policy. If the monied interests succeed in this election year, the hopes stated earlier in this reflection fade. We do not want to say partisan politics is involved, but the power elite have inserted it and then gagged our mouths from speaking. Immoral partisan politics is wrong -- and an absolute abomination that must be publicly stated.
Prayer: Lord, give us the courage to face the critical issues
related to the environment and address these forthrightly.
Japanese persimmon blossom on small family orchard.
April 23, 2016 Agribusiness Versus Small Farms
Our food supplies come from two major sources: the agribusiness that produces the grains, bulk foods and even the veggies and fruits in many commercial food markets, and the small farms and garden plots that give us specialty crops and, in rare cases, the major food products among certain farming groups.
Agribusiness is a major enterprise in this country and involves vast fields, migrant labor where intensive, use of commercial fertilizers and pesticides, and monocultural varieties. Such practices require sizeable expenditures of energy for commercial transportation, food processing and marketing. For agribusiness products, one must also include energy costs of the wasted produce in picking, preparation, freight, packaging for market and the marketing process itself. Up to half of agribusiness produce is wasted in the process.
Agribusiness, or corporate farms, include large‑scale feedlots which have livestock crowded in muddy lots and in unhealthy conditions. These are fed anti-biotics and growth hormones, which eventually enter the food supply and lead to lack of potency over time. These corporate farms use heavy equipment which causes soil compaction. The single crop fields of produce, which encourage pests, require heavy doses of chemical pesticides that affect wildlife. The work is tiresome and more favored by migrant laborers at low pay. Some would argue that we could not do without these massive farms and, if regulated, are keys to food security.
Small farms are often quite different. They are cared for and the harvest done within the confines of the farm family. The crops generally lend themselves to organic practices with little or no commercial fertilizers and pesticides. The reawakening to small farms in America is a healthy product of the green revolution. They are geared to home consumption or to small business practices such as Community Supported Agriculture (CSAs). Surplus produce is given away or sold at farmers markets and to small stores. Some folks sell dairy products and eggs to nearby towns and neighbors.
Small farms come closer to the environmental ideal. The energy costs of producing, hauling and processing foods by the large corporations are only part of the picture. One must include the hidden costs of production and upkeep on hauling equipment, roads and bridges, and the cost of building and maintaining processing and marketing facilities. Accounting includes: expenditures for advertisement of food products, time and resources needed to display produce, discarding damaged produce and disposal in landfills, use of pesticides and commercial fertilizers on factory farms, manufacture and maintenance of large-scale agricultural implements and tractors, and maintenance of trucking areas. Agribusiness is costly when amortization is included.
Prayer: Lord, inspire us to promote small farms in our world and to spread the work among many desiring to make a simple living.
April 24, 2016 A New Commandment: Love as Jesus Loves
I give you a new commandment: love one another; just as I have Loved You. (John 13:34)
What does it mean to love God? You shall love Yahweh your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength (Deuteronomy 6:5). Millions of words are spoken, written, or sung about love, and yet love is better expressed in deeds -- to sacrifice for another. We yearn to break out of the prison of self-love, and to go out to others. We want to fly, hang glide, rappel, experience a skipping child's freedom, or leap with a scooter. To love is to be profoundly free, to abandon selfishness and move towards the mystery of God. In the Gospel of John we see Jesus glorified in the act of loving us through sacrifice.
The Second Commandment: Love of Neighbor. Leviticus says, "You must love your neighbor as yourself." The Shema, or prayer of hearing follows immediately after the Ten Commandments. The second passage that Jesus relates to love of God is taken from the "Holiness code" in Leviticus -- the collection of the principles on how to be holy. The two commandments are coupled, because love of God is truly expressed in our love of neighbor, while love of neighbor is not truly expressed unless we recognize the source as love of God. An infinite ocean of love stretches before us. The motivation to love one's neighbor springs from love of God, and the test of authenticity of love of God is found in love of neighbor. In loving our neighbor our love of God grows. We flee from biases and dislikes for certain cultures or races. We are to love all -- radical Muslims, communists, skinheads, those on death row.
Who is that neighbor who Jesus intensely loves? The Good Samaritan parable in St. Luke's Gospel identifies our neighbor, our love of everyone near and far, friends, and those who we are programmed by our culture to dislike. Today the Internet, TV and radio bring neighbors from the other side of the globe into our own living rooms -- a truly global phenomenon. This raises our consciousness to the cries of those Jesus loves, such as our most needy neighbors. Mother Teresa saw urgent need and responded immediately -- thus seeing what catholic means -- universal.
Jesus' love is inclusive and universal. We learn through prayer that Jesus loves each of us with intensity. We realize that this is a forgiving love and mercy and something he calls us to imitate, especially in this year of mercy. To first find his love for us and then pray for the grace to extend these same attitudes of love and mercy to others is the fruit of our spiritual striving. We can't be totally inclusive when we resent and dislike and even at times hate others due to their evil actions. Our own sense of love is challenged by the advance of terroristic activities around us. We resolve for this deeper form of love.
Prayer: Lord, help us live up to the challenge to show love
to others even when hatred abounds in this world.
We can look at the world in which we live in a variety of ways, but which is the right one? News that we hear and see has a strong negative element that makes it "newsworthy" and fills the minds of many with a sense of depression. Is that the choice that we are called to promote among many today?
Doom. Today the mood of doom descends on many with terrorist threats and bombings. Fear is easily generated by those of limited appeal. Apocalypse, as colored by doom, is today's ear-catching oratory. They hold others fast under their control by telling of the evil to come if the audience does not take the narrow road spelled out by the preacher of doom. That has been tried for centuries and to moderate success, especially in perilous times.
Gloom. Certainly, some today point to the elements of the end of times and find examples from the darkening of the sun to the horsemen of death and pestilence on every side. At periods this is appealing such as at the time of the Black Death in the 14th century. Any age could be painted in a negative way if one selects the darkest facts. However we ask whether that is a valid interpretation of Apocalypse, for the passages emphasize courage because God is always with us. Overemphasis on gloom is simply not Scriptural; we are to be filled with joy.
Vroom. High prosperity through optimistic messaging has supporters seeking to escape doomsayers -- but are they realistic? Too often, the messengers are people imbued with a sense that materialism and technology have answers that seem to be destined to succeed in life the gloom from our troubled world. But overoptimism works for a day and then on second thought seems to lack something essential for carrying on with courage. Jesus tells us mustard plants grow slowly and almost unnoticed. Highly personal success is merely a false dream; we need to trust God.
Bloom. The story of a blooming world may seem harder to visualize today, especially when gloom takes a priority. However, springtime is a period when our senses detect a new life of Easter and thus blooming flowers bring future promise. We can halt damage being done; we can defeat terrorism to some degree; we can live with a higher quality of life for all. A blooming of a troubled Earth demands encouraging word and deep respect for the downcast mood of our brothers and sisters in a suffering world. Though the message takes more effort and persuasion than that of doomsayers, it is still possible to raise spirits and be far more realistic.
Where does this leave us? We perhaps must accept that the author of a blooming world is God and not us. Certainly some may be lost in doom, some with the gloom of pessimism, or others with the overexcitement of technological optimism. They are really present. But let's take courage and foster blooming flowers.
Prayer: Lord, help us see natural beauty as a sign of hope.
Volunteer melon from rich compost pit. (*Photo by Sally Ramsdell.)
April 26, 2016 Composting Organic Materials
In this year of gardening we will return to a popular practice that complements the growing of our own produce, namely, composting. It is a good practice to return kitchen, yard and garden wastes to the soil for its refreshment and vitality. There is no better place to construct a composter (see Daily Reflections for November 10, 2008) than in proximity to outdoor garden space. For those with indoor limitations an indoor composter is possible and quite serviceable. Composting is simple, for it is nature's way. This irritates some commercial establishments because they seek to make money on the growing practice of composting, and have now introduced turning and tumbling machines of all sizes. If you are not composting on a massive scale, the turning fork allows for good physical exercise.
Compost returns materials to soil humus through the agency of earthworms and friendly bacteria, provided that conditions such as adequate moisture and air are present. The time it takes to complete the operation depends of the season, the composition, and the arrangement of the compost pile. One trick is to keep the carbon and nitrogen balance for nature to do its own work. Some may wish to add pure diluted urine to the pile for hastening the process. Animal manures are also desirable.
Compose bins may have to be protected from burrowing or other disruptive critters, and contain sufficient earthworms to assist in converting waste to humus. An easy form of outdoor bin involves an open front and overhead, and a three-sided "C" made from discarded untreated and unpainted pallets fastened together on the ends. This allows for rain water from above and air to circulate through slats into the composting materials.
When assembling or maintaining a composting heap, place coarse material such as vines and stalks as a bottom level for improving aeration. Coffee grinds, egg shells, and vegetable peelings can be collected and added periodically. In forested areas a bottom or underground siding of plastic material may be added, to discourage nearby aggressive tree roots from robbing the nutrients. Soil from excavated paths or ditches can be added as well. No meat scraps or greasy materials, please! The wrong garbage additions can attract local varmints, such as raccoons and polecats or rats. Rat screen may be added at bottom and sides and even the use of gates to protect from unwelcome visitors.
Turn occasionally with a pronged pitch fork or tumbler. Protect your earthworms and keep them healthy in a shady place that keeps them relatively cool. You may seek the right variety of earthworms, for there are many. However, native earthworms really are acclimated and serve quite well. Where lacking, native earthworms may be purchased commercially.
Prayer: Lord, give us a sense of nature's way to recycling and inspire us with the energy to assist where we can in simple ways.
We love to hear the sound of a shower on the roof, when rainwater is welcome at the start of the growing year. We imagine silver falling from the heavens. There is a magic here that does not come any other month of the year in this northern temperate zone. In some ways it is a blessing worth recalling in anticipation of the fullness of floral May.
Showers raise our spirits. Youngsters can sometimes not be restrained from wanting to go out in a warm afternoon of showers. We cannot but help being lifted in spirits by the active presence of the splatters that sound like music to our ears. The shower relieves tensions and allows us to sleep better when coming at night; it can add to daytime delight when needed breaking the ordinary humdrum of daily life.
Showers assist new plants. Plants thrive in spring showers that add the moisture required for growth. Sprouting vegetables from seed find such showers when not too heavy, perfect for growing conditions and the promise of a bountiful harvest ahead.
The showers also allow the grass and plants to grow in abundance.
Forest clothed in greenery. This is the time of year when the trees for the most part in a single week or so go from barren to full foliage, as though magic before our eyes. This wonder is always assisted at the proper time by a warm spring shower, reminding us of the dramatic change of the seasons and the promise of what this brings.
Water is God's gift to us. Let's find the many occasions when we can be all the more thankful for the supply of water that gives life to our planet. Showers are moments of joy when we can pause for ever so short a prayer. Water reflections have their place.
Wildlife welcomes showers. Here is nature's own birdbath that is not so much a place as a time. When the shower comes in a warm time, the animals are like us and do not mind becoming a little wet and cleansed by the shower itself.
Showers clean the landscape. Winter has a way of accumulating debris and we all want a fresh start in springtime. Showers are that agent of cleansing that follow March wind's dusty conditions. And then there is salt accumulation on roadways. A good shower at any season cleans the air of accumulated pollution.
Showers enliven all our senses. A shower is heard coming from a distance and then when it arrives is a good sight to behold. There is the feel of springtime when we actually allow ourselves to enter the shower for a little while. And then there is the smell of the atmosphere cleansed of congestion and the taste of good rainwater uncontaminated by chlorinating agents.
Prayer: Thanks, Lord, for the spring beauty of random showers.
April 28, 2016Achieving Local Environmental Results
Responding to local environmental demands requires observant people who know what can be expected. Many local residents do not appreciate the benefits and risks that reside in where they are located. Air or water pollution may be a silent threat, noise is not controlled, congestion creeps up near major highways, visual pollution abounds, and waste materials are not properly sorted and a portion reclaimed. In some ways, damage is more easily perceived than the good that is present; familiarity breeds contempt.
Know the situation. This applies to both bad and good environmental conditions. We can take steps to remedy what is not perfect and we know the resources that can be used to make the corrections. It takes discussion with experts to discover how serious a matter is or whether resources can be properly utilized.
This generally goes beyond individual experience and involves some discussion with those more aware of environmental concerns.
Know Climate and Weather Conditions. Many of us know approximately when the sun rises and sets, but cannot predict exact times before it happens. We become attentive to upcoming severe weather reports by news media and alarmed neighbors. We may be still more observant and know from the feel of the wind what the day's weather will be like, or know ahead when it will rain or frost; we know when to protect ourselves from sunburn or sun stroke; we sense when, where, and what to plant and in some cases then check with the phases of the moon. Being mindful of the sun's position at various times of the year on a given plot helps us plan our garden work better. We soon know where the afternoon shade first appears and how fast it advances, that evenings and mornings are the best time to water plants, and when one makes hay so as not to lose a valuable crop.
Know how to get an anticipated project accepted. Acceptable collaboration is a key and so assent of a wide range of leaders and citizens is imperative. A community project takes effort.
Know how to recruit resources. These needed resources can come from various pools of willing souls; however, to make others share takes enthusiastic persuasion. Some ready sources of volunteers may be schools, churches, scouts, civic organizations and responsible businesses and companies. Those willing to respond deserve recognition and so enlisting local newspapers, radio and TV may help projects to succeed.
Know how to publicize results. It sounds so straight forward. Toot your own horn. Sometimes we spend so much time getting things done that we fail to tell others about the results. Significantly, successful projects deserve being told so others may imitate them.
Prayer: Lord, inspire us to take up the tasks that must be done, and to have the energy and stamina to see them to completion.
Flowers of the ohio buckeye tree, Aesculus glabra.
April 29, 2016 Chemical Warfare Victims' Day
My local residence is about a dozen miles due east and downwind of one of the largest remaining stockpiles of chemical weapons in the world. These date back to the Second World War, some seventy years ago. The destroying process demanded by international treaty two decades ago has been delayed for years; all the while an elaborate incinerating facility to safely dispose of these aging weapons is being completed on the grounds. While no toxic fumes have escaped, we are always to be on the alert and have posted escape routes in every home.
Chemical weaponry deserves being totally banned because of the horror of being gassed or subject to chemicals that reduce mobility or cognitive powers. In the Syrian Civil War, perhaps as many as thousands of citizens were subjected to brutal gas attacks in one area or another. Many have not received proper treatment at this time and live with constant reminders of the immorality of such practices. Some of these are lifelong scars. In my youth our nearest neighbor, Joe Davis (of whom I wrote about elsewhere), had a son who lived for several decades after being gassed during World War One while serving among the American Expeditionary Forces in France. That young veteran was never able to leave an institutional setting because of breathing problems due to chemical poisoning.
The hopes are that the various chemical weapons will be destroyed, with no temptation to use them again. Unfortunately, one of these is common chlorine gas that is manufactured in large quantities by the chemical industry as precursor of numerous synthetic substances and for water purification. This gas when released had horrendous effects on those subject to trench warfare in that ghastly World War One.
Looking out to a broader world of military victimhood we see a host of reminders that the world is plagued by those who suffer from the brutality of others -- and we pray that victims soon return to normal life:
* those in Southeast Asia and parts of Africa who have lost limbs from those infernal land mines hidden in the countryside of former areas of conflict;
* the victims of terrorist attacks in the Middle East and France who suffer and bear marks of nihilistic acts of aggression; * the many civilians who have been frightened, raped and subject to unspeakable atrocities in struggles of this century; and
* migrants hoping to escape the horrors of civil war.
Can anything be done? We can pray for the safe destruction of those aging chemical weapons that are near to this location at the Bluegrass Army Depot; we hope no mishap occurs before the work is completed by an estimated 2021.
Prayer: Lord, may we hasten the day that the chemical weapons age ends, and that true peace comes to this troubled world and to the victims of warfare.
Recount the gardening tips reflected upon this month. A healthy growing garden is testimony to the resilience of our wounded Earth to bounce back and return to proper productivity. An ideal green garden becomes an attraction to birds, frogs, ladybugs and butterflies and pollinating insects of a great variety. The natural cycles of birth, maturation and fruition can go unhindered if chemical pesticides are absent. Collected rainwater is used when irrigation is needed. The land is protected from alien weeds, pests and erosion during non-growing months. The presence of such a vital garden spot refreshes our soul and motivates us to proclaim the Good News, by making the garden the stepping off place for rebuilding a broken world.
Well tended domestic Gardens can be models of sustainability. The act of watching gardens grow heals our bodies through physical exercise and strengthens our will power to bring about change. Tensions are relieved and we are liberated from dependence on commercial processed foods and over consumption of meat and other animal products. Ornamental lawns turned into productive gardens in affluent countries could substitute for loss of arable land to urbanization. Domestic gardens need not be large, for busy people find that smaller is better. Small plots do not need expensive tractors that compact soil and use non‑renewable fuel. Rather, small gardeners use low-cost and easily stored hand tools or small mechanical tillers.
Good environmental practice is needed to counter resource misuse and abuse, the presence of which can easily wear us down and discourage us. We need positive alternatives to counter agribusiness and poor environmental practices. When I returned to Appalachia from Washington, DC in 1977 it became apparent that, in order to keep sane in an environmentally devastated region, a large portion of time had to be allotted for positive landscape improvements through gardening. We need to generate signs of hope to help others begin a renewing process. Exposing threats and damage can be very disheartening and so the garden is one way of instilling a sense that things can get better.
Prayer: Good Lord, you establish balance and harmony on this Earth and invite us to protect and enhance it. Teach us to become caretakers of your creation and to champion environmental ways that bring about improvement for all to see. Prompt us to spread the good news without losing heart, and to make our domestic landscape the launching pad of a more healthy Earth. Show us how to care for all things -- to water sufficiently, to fertilize when needed, to provide proper space for plants to grow, and to practice biodiversity in garden and indoor plants. Allow us to observe and familiarize ourselves with the cycles of nature and of life. Inspire us to participate enthusiastically in the Earth's regenerative process by turning waste into resources for new life. Finally, help us experience your creative Presence in our midst.