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Daily Reflections Earth Healing

Daily Reflections
by Al Fritsch, S.J.


A series of written meditations and reflections



Help to keep Earth Healing Daily Reflections online

March 2009

march 2009 calendar


Copyright 2009 by Al Fritsch

Rue anemone, Thalictrum thalictroides, Woodford Co., KY

  We know the expression that March comes in like a lion and goes out as a lamb. The gusty winter weather, the ever-lingering wind chills, the snows which seem so out-of-season, and the never-ending frosty windshields seem more and more unwelcome. The lion aspect is quite noticeable. However signs of change are in the air. The grass is sprouting. Jonquils brave the late winter to add delight to our color-starved landscape. Under the leaves, the dandelions -- March's heralding plant -- are starting to take on new life and inviting the earliest salad pickings. The willows are coming to life, as are the witch hazel and the serviceberry.

March includes Lent, a somber but hope-filled season. The world awaits peace with a longing; Holy Land residents fervently desire a settlement satisfactory to Palestinians and Israelis alike. Iraq is hopefully quieting down; Afghanistan has battles that never seem to cease. In these times of foreclosures and bankruptcies we think again of people over every status but especially the poor who hurt most in such economic downturns. Things need to be down both locally and globally, and in March with dramatic weather changes these problems seem more urgent.



Central Kentucky's ice storm, 2009
*photo credit)

March 1, 2009  Endure Trials and Temptations

  Trials and temptations are part of life, arising either from within ourselves or from without.  God does not enjoy testing us, but we are allowed to experience some difficult moments.  We are tempted to seek lives of comfort and success, if we but follow the course of least resistance.  At Lent's start we strive to confront these moments that test our will power and commitment.  Adam and Eve are tempted and yield after being blinded into thinking of themselves as little gods.  They become aware of their nakedness and guilt.  Through trials the Israelites are tempted, wander forty years, turn from God, and accept false idols -- and they repent. 

Jesus is tested immediately after his baptism by John who proclaims that here is a very great person.  During this series of tests in the desert Jesus shows himself to be like us in every way but sin.  Although Mark's account of the temptations is brief, both Matthew (4:1-11) and Luke (4: 1-13) speak of three such temptations though in a different sequence.  Unlike our first parents and the Israelites, Jesus resists.  These are the tests that deal with his upcoming public ministry when he announces liberation of captives "with the power of the Spirit within him."  How does Jesus accomplish that short successful ministry?  Father Fitzmyer asks, "Could it not be that Jesus recounted some form of these stories as figurative, parabolic resumes of the seduction latent in diabolic opposition to him and his ministry?" (St. Luke Vol.1, p. 509).

  A major temptation is that material things can give us security.  "Not by bread alone" is the quote from Deuteronomy that Jesus uses in response to the test.  It would be nice to be rich and to be totally secure in a material manner.  "Would that I could have a million dollars and be able to do good."  But worldly goods entice us to "need" more and more such goods.  We are tempted by boats, planes, fast cars, credit cards, and goods of every type.  Poverty may allow a spiritual security not found in overabundance -- even that of bread from stones.

  Positioned on the Temple's pinnacle Jesus endures the temptation to do something famous, dramatic, to have a spectacular entry into public life through the flare for attention, and to be an instant hero.  We dream of soaring among others like a figure skater who floats about effortlessly.  We dream of obtaining fame through deeds of glory.  We are enticed by the pretending world and forget that obedience to God's will is part of the ever deepening mystery of our life's journey.  Turning from reality is tempting.

  We seek power over others and fail to see that this is corrupting.  The splendor of God's creation can mesmerize us, allowing us to be detoured into seeing creatures as idols or the beauty as a diversion.  Rather, we are to be single-hearted and chaste; only in God do we trust. Also see Benedict XVI, Jesus of Nazareth, Chapter Two, "The Temptations of Jesus."

  Prayer:  Lord, lead us not into temptation.







Tracks in the snow
*photo credit)

March  2, 2009  Question Ecological Civil Disobedience

  Some ask me why I am not going to Washington, DC today to participate in a civil disobedience at the coal-fired plant near the Capitol.  Frankly, I am no friend of coal and yet I need to consider the effectiveness and prudence of all options in our quest to come to a renewable energy economy.  Yes, civil disobedience is a potentially sound weapon for attitudinal and cultural change, even though I have never participated in this form of action.   My questions concerning this demonstration include the following:

  1. Should we not give the new administration the time it takes to make the necessary changes?  Many environmentalists are earnestly asking this question.  Outside my window I see six 110-car coal trains a week running our regional coal to Florida and Georgia powerplants.  For better or worse, coal is near to me, even when not dear to me.  Profound and sound changes take time.

  2. Is this form of civil disobedience clear in its aims?  I can see that such action against a planned nuclear powerplant could be justified.  However, without a clear alternative to existing electricity  generators, I find the action unclear and misleading.  Is not the use of coal-source electricity while demonstrating against it the eco-hypocrisy that is holding back our environmental movement?  Does the particular activist refrain from using coal-sourced electricity?  I am currently unable to say no to that.

  3. Are there not longer-term effective types of actions?  Our four decades of public interest work to promote solar and wind energy (The Contrasumers and 99 Ways to a Simple Lifestyle) do not have the immediate appeal or publicity potential of an act of civil disobedience, but they have been essential in helping create a climate where the renewable energy revolution is now able to occur.  Civil disobedience is more press-worthy but is that everything? 

  4. Is the action worth the sacrifice that the individual must make?  If I were to take this action and get arrested I would lose my ministry at the two Manchester federal prisons.  Were I to  abandon these prisoners no one else would take my place.  The same dilemma confronted me in the Vietnam War when serving as an auxiliary chaplain at Great Lakes Naval Base.

  5.  Will the civil disobedience act have the potential to backfire and even deliver the wrong message that could become good ammo for the non-renewable energy people?  Of course, this question can be asked of any public interest action, but some actions are more easily colored by opponents as self-serving.

  Note:  This essay is generated using a computer that uses non-renewable (coal-sourced) energy for electricity.  I guess I could invest in a solar-powered lap top.

  Prayer: Lord give all activists an understanding of the best way to bring meaningful change to our troubled world.







Eastern Bluebird (Sialia sialis) sighting, late February, 2009
*photo credit)

March 3, 2009  Find Winter's Hidden Hope

  What more to do but stay alive

  Holding firm yet steadfast in silvery statuary

  Clinging tight to ashen memories of yestersummer.


  Birds seek shelter from the howling blast

  Bone‑chilled wildlife venturing out when hungry

       from calm brush‑cover;

  Trees, long shed of greenery,

       now stand sentinels of a coming spring.


  Nature sleeps

  But it is now a fitful rest,

  With sap rising

       to bring forth life anew.


  We Christians accept our Lenten fasting,

  Another late winter of playing dead,

  Foreboding of a final winter

making ready for eternal spring.


  Will spring ever come this year?

  Will the sun be strong enough to erase snow drifts?

  Will the season cycles remember to repeat themselves?


  Yes, yes, yes, the hesitant but lengthening day proclaims ‑‑

  Winter is not forever, even if for this moment

it seems to be;

  Earth's cyclic death contains the germ of hidden life.


  The brief span of ice‑crystal mornings

cannot continue indefinitely,

  For each day is longer, sunlight stronger;

and the wind's chill itself will leave us soon.


  Let our hopes be bathed in sunlight. 








Site prepared for building of cold frame
*photo credit)

March 4, 2009   Encourage Temporary Cold Frames

   In these times of financial difficulties and high food prices, some of us cut back on relatively high-cost fresh produce.  One alternative is to extend the vegetable growing season at small cost whether starting things earlier in the spring or keeping things growing late in the autumn.  The temporary cold frame is perfect for such purposes.  Salad greens are ideal candidates for inclusion in the cold frame -- and that includes both spring and fall.  In spring we can get the salad greens started earlier and producing well before the early hot summer commences. The cold frame gives us salad greens through April and May at the spring end and October to much of December on the autumn end.  Certain salad greens like kale and mustard are particularly hardy and can hold up better than others when the temperatures get down to freezing.

  Temporary cold frames include cloth-covered vegetable beds where the warm atmosphere of the day's sunlit landscape is partly retained for the leaf crops growing underneath.  The low-cost temporary cold frame is quite versatile, often being applied to a summer growing area either before or after the traditional growing season.  The covering can be what was termed "tobacco cotton" or synthetic Reemay.  The material needs to be elevated so it does not touch the produce.  However, the space between plant and cover ought to be just enough, for too much space requires more heating and energy retention.  Elevating supports can be a concentric row of hoops made from native bamboo, or metal in the form of bent re-bar or barrel rings.  I fasten down the edges of the covering with wire pins formerly used in tobacco plant beds.

  Actually the hot bed is really a temporary cold frame that starts plants in the dead of winter using the heat from decomposing manure to activate the seeds.  A little later, in February, radishes and certain types of lettuce along with spinach, arugula and mustard get an early start along with a number of the brassicas such as collards, kale and kohlrabi.

  Autumn cold frame contents depend on mid-summer planting.  When blessed with adequate moisture I plant a garden with a dozen types of greens, most of which continue well into the fall, and some into the winter.  In past Octobers, I would transfer kale, collards, arugula, endive, chervil, basil, and dill to a solar greenhouse where they would flourish all winter.  The more winter-hardy greens remain outdoors under protected cover.  When I had access to a greenhouse I could gather arugula rocket, Swiss chard, mustard, collards and other greens in January and February.  Granted, our Kentucky autumns are mild, not turning cold until winter's official start -- and that bodes well for cold frames.

  Prayer:  Provident God, You give us many gifts, and some of these include our ingenuity to furnish produce for ourselves and others.  Help us to champion the low-cost cold frame as a source of  fresh vegetables for our struggling friends and neighbors. 









The gardener's friend, praying mantis
*photo credit)

March 5, 2009 Discover Gardening As Sacred

  Lent is an ideal time to see gardening as a sacred act and opportunity.  Our life's journey is exemplified through gardening -- in the changing seasons, in the waxing and waning of daylight, in the germination, pollination, and maturation of plants, and in the joy of harvesting produce.  A key to healing our Earth is to touch it, just as physical touch can help heal the human body.  Gardening is a means to feel and experience the warmth of our Earth.  We discover how moist or dry is the soil, how granular or fine, how firm or soft, how shallow or deep rooted, how well inhabited with earthworms and other critters.  This sensual communication with Earth leads us back to our origins and ahead to our ultimate destiny -- from dust, and to dust, all with a special spiritual uplifting that goes beyond.  Through gardening we are made whole.

  Some make a clear distinction between religious worship and spiritual practice.  However, deeper spirituality is expressed in our authentic religious worship, and that practice cannot but influence our underlying spirituality.  All believers should be attuned to Earth, for discovering the Creator's hand is part of an authentic and universal religious experience.  Gardening is a spiritual and religious act as part of our journey of faith;  God invites us to enter into the rhythm of nature and the seasons, to understand and appreciate the natural growth, and to respond by cultivating earth in a meaningful and reverential fashion.

  Gardening extends the redeeming action of saving all creation; it engages the soul as well as the body, an act of communion with the Creator, a participation in a total oblation or sacrifice that makes a profane Earth into a holy place.  Gardening can become our participation in the ongoing creation process involving soil, minerals, air, water, seeds, and helpful insects.  Through gardening, we experience birth (planting and watering), life (cultivating and tilling), and final reward (harvest).

  Our modern culture is alienated from Earth through artificial turf, night lighting, blacktop and concrete surfaces, and distance from natural landscapes.  Approximately half the world's people live in urbanized areas, somewhat removed from natural phenomena, unable to touch our Earth easily, and losing their sense of Earth time and Earth space.  How can there be an authentic eco-spirituality, if there is no contact with the soil itself?   We affirm that the garden, the product of gardening, becomes sacred space, giving us a bearing and releasing our life stresses.  It is a space for reflection, for intercommunion, and for hallowing through our special ingredient of human sweat.  It is a repository for all my ancestors' past gardening experience conducted through our acquired skills.  Finally, the garden stands out as a model for others to come, see, taste and imitate.  When this happens gardening becomes a sanctifying act. 

  Prayer:  Teach us, Lord, to understand that the earthy practice of garden has deeper spiritual depths.








Wind turbine, Buffalo Mountain, TN
*photo credit)

March 6, 2009  Bring Wind Power to the Fore

   During the windy month of March we ought to realize that wind power is coming of age in this country and elsewhere.  Worldwide, wind-power installations are expected to triple from 94 gigawatts (GW) (17 currently in the US) to 290 GW in 2012 (or 2.7% of world electric energy generation).  The US is increasing its capacity at 45% per year and China operating from a lower base is doubling its capacity each year.  Wind is the fastest growing energy source with 35% of total new US electric generation capacity in 2007 and 2008 being met by wind power -- and the future is quite bright.  Wind now accounts for 20% of Denmark's electric generation, 10% in Spain and 7% in Germany.  Also Estonia aspires to take a leading role in the coming years.  The race is on to make wind the prime source of renewable energy and hopefully will remove the attention given to biofuels from food crops (corn and sugar).   See January 19, 2009.

  The European Union has championed the move to wind as the primary renewable energy generation source.  The EU says that more jobs arise from wind than from either fossil fuels or nuclear power facilities.  In fact, almost three jobs are created for every megawatt of wind-generated energy produced.  Solar energy even does better than wind by creating about seven and a third jobs for every megawatt of energy from the sun.  This is good news where new jobs are badly needed for rapidly growing populations -- and in our own country that witnessed a loss of 2.5 million jobs last year.

   The Native American newsletter Honor the Earth points out that renewable energy poses a remarkable alternative for Native America.  Quoting from that periodical, "Some 23 Indian reservations in the Great Plains region have as much as 200 gigawatts of wind power potential -- enough potential generating capacity to reduce output from US coal plants by thirty percent and reduce our greenhouse gas emissions from electricity production by twenty-five percent."  Furthermore the periodical adds that the Fort Berthold Reservation on the upper Great Plains has over 17,000 times as much wind power potential as could be used on the reservation.

Wind power has a very bright future, though that differs according to topography.  Kentucky's Black Mountain has areas with wind power ratings of Class Seven (the highest in wind power potential).  Wind's day has come and wind has few bad effects outside of birds and bats killed at various California and Appalachian locations;  these local problems could be remedied through proper placement of the wind generators and installation of devices to scare away the birds that come too close.  Wind critics are not so much bird lovers as non-renewable energy advocates who want to disparage this new and highly environmental competing energy source.  Inadvertently they are supported by second and third home owners who fear that wind generators will possibly disturb their choice landscape views.  Visit the American Wind Energy Association website <www.awea.org>.

  Prayer:  Holy Spirit, teach us the power of wind in our lives.










Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo
*photo credit)


March 7, 2009 Recognize the Art of Pretending

    I'm not a regular fiction reader and doubt if I have read even a handful of novels as part of my weekly book completion since high school and college requirements.  Even those of us who seem fiction-free are caught up with enough fictitious happenings in our lives.  For me, from the earliest childhood, Santa Claus could never have lived at the North Pole because of the climate.  And my parents never pretended he ever did.  He was called an "employee" of the general store who came to visit us annually wearing a frightful mask -- until we figured out which uncle made the annual appearance on Christmas Eve.  Fiction was never emphasized in a Depression-era household where reality was certainly hardly credible.

  We had neighbors who told tall tales of their exploits.  As a youngster I relished rural social events (haying, threshing of wheat, and farm sales) when each of the workers would tend to spin a tale greater than the next fellow's.  Story-telling happened at family social gatherings, reunions, weddings, and funerals.  Warmer weather seemed to fuel these tales with added spice and vigor.  In fact, "stories" have been our mainstay, and the characteristic way of communication in Kentucky.  For us, "stories" may include fibs -- a form of partially fictionalized events that escapes literature, but becomes a verbal history of our people.  We would mention "telling stories" in confession. 

  For us elders, local stories are much more colorful than the staid novels written at secluded resorts and reviewed by prestigious newspapers. I'm convinced that fiction takes on a new life when one grows older, when youthful events are reworked in a patchquilt of detail;  these are colored by just enough truth to keep them from being declared unfit for the gullible.  After such stories are told awhile with conviction, the teller begins to believe they have a divine character.  If retold by another, their authenticity is further verified, and they begin to live an epic-type existence all their own.  In time they become local lore.

  Perhaps funeral eulogies are the local canonizations that go way beyond the person's actual deeds.  We are nice to those who pass on, because we expect the same good deeds when rigor mortis sets in for us.  Besides, when one dies, friends speak up and enemies remain silent;  then truth is stretched and embellished narratives go unchallenged.  Eulogies become the foundation for stories that live on and require repetition if one's name arises in conversation.   When we fail to be critical of tall tales, we become part of the community of the great pretenders, the group of those who want us to believe stories so that these may be gradually honed into a credible format.  Story-telling is an art, based on events, embellished by local color, spoken so as to hold attention, fashioned for the particular audience, and meant to endure.  The problem is that we tend to fail to distinguish fact from fiction.

  Prayer:  Lord, teach us to tell the truth in interesting ways.










Lovely geranium in bloom
*photo by Sally Ramsdell)

March 8, 2009  Participate in the Transfiguration Event

  This is my beloved Son. (Mark 9:2-10)

  We read Mark's Chapter Nine and join Jesus and the disciples as they climb Mount Tabor;  we fall down with the apostles at the transfiguring sight and are as though in a trance; we awaken to the magnificence of the event, Jesus standing between and conversing with Moses, the greatest of the lawgivers, and Elijah, the greatest of the prophets;  we feel privileged just being virtually present and doing no more.  However, let us sincerely ask whether we can do more than just be consoled at Jesus' anticipated victory.  On second thought we realize that our invitation has a purpose:  we are to participate in the event in new ways:  we awaken fully;  we see the light radiating from the event;  we feel the wind on the mountain top;  we hear the voice of approval coming from the heavens through the clouds.  We hear Peter ask to make a memorial at the site; and we resolve to do something meaningful as well.

  He saved us and called us to a holy life, not according to our works but according to his own design  (II Timothy 1:9).  During this Lenten season we realize once more that we are called to participate in a uniquely personal way that only reveals itself through time and prayer effort.  The Giver of life has invited us into the divine family and that means contributing something to the mission of Christ himself.  Certainly we earned no participating role;  rather emerging from the clouds of our unworthiness we discover that God's gifts are given while we are still sinners.  Sincere gratitude becomes the radiant light; the grace of consolation floods the soul in Lent (in contrast to our summer celebration of glory on August 6); we are moved to act.

   All the communities of the Earth shall find blessing in you.  (Genesis 12:3)  The blessing that is God's gift to us is to radiate out from us, anticipating that glory will come from the risen Lord even when not yet realized.  We become enthusiastic even in times of risk -- showing forth the God within.  In being present we allow others to discover the Messiah in whom we believe and live.   Transfiguration calls us to truly be Christ for others.  So much of life is doing things but in Lent we find the transforming power to be Christian according to how the Spirit moves us.

  We become open to God's grace;  we sense the power within that is not from us; we are determined not to hide or deny this power, not to excuse ourselves, not to seek to escape our calling to be holy people.  We start to believe in the power that transforms us and can do so for others.  Being present at the Transfiguration allows us to see the magnificence of the risen Jesus who is Lord in power.  Through the fullness of baptism we enter into this glory, not as an avoidance but realizing that we are called to risk and go to Calvary with Jesus.  This is a glorious opportunity.

  Prayer:  Lord, transform us and our deeds through your glory so that others can perceive your glory shining through our service.









Harbinger of spring, Erigenia bulbosa
*photo credit)

March 9, 2009   Create Tranquil Living Space

   I would watch my dog prepare to bed down by turning around a full revolution before settling down.  Fascinating!  That is supposed to be an ingrained dog instinct to ensure that enemies were not lurking in the vicinity.  We need to turn about also and see what we need for our quality living space, namely, the structures, the utilities, the furnishings, and the surroundings.  This survey applies both to permanent single home dwellers and to those who rotate from summer to winter habitats.

  A person who lives in cooler climates (say, Canada) in summer, and then spends a sizeable portion of time in warmer climates in winter (say, Florida), could actually conserve domestic energy through reduction in heating and air conditioning expenditures by changing locations.  These savings exceed the costs of vehicle fuel moving back and forth -- provided travelers do not make frequent camper trips back and forth to the other location. 

 * Interiors --  In designing a quiet house, consider acoustics and quietness as well as spaciousness, insulation, ventilation, humidity, color and light.  Acoustics may not be a major need after children have flown the coop or after the neighborhood ages.  The best arrangement of rooms may have closets and bathrooms located between bedroom areas, and reading and eating nooks away from television sets.  If sufficient space is available, a "silent" place can be segregated in a basement or away from active areas.  Where space is sparse, a judicious rearrangement of furnishings could allow for some sound-proofing.  Wall hangings and other fabrics can serve as walls to reduce unwanted noise.

  * Exteriors -- Designate living space in quiet external areas near natural running water streams.  New space may be a hobby shed, tool room, tree house, refurbished portion of a garage, extended room on the main building, or an underground den or study.  One may be blessed with a residence with the Mediterranean and Middle Eastern feature of a patio or enclosed space as the center of the quarters, with living space built around it.  Such patio space can be enriched by flowers, trees, or a water fountain; it is a cool gathering place in the warmer months, and a haven for wintering birds to be observed and encouraged.  Not all are so blessed.

  * Retrofitting Homes-- Often people redesign their residences through do-it-yourself projects.  If the goal is a more tranquil surrounding, then it will take time, skill and patience to retrofit the existing structures.  Arrange to keep the place liveable during the retrofitting operation.  Temporary partitions may help to sustain enthusiasm during longer-term construction projects.  First plan and execute easier projects such as additional trellises on porches or balconies;  these may act as insulating barriers to reduce exterior traffic noise, take less building time, and produce increments of progress for all to see and admire.

Prayer:  Lord, help us discover or construct needed silent space.









A retreat cabin, near Norway Lake, Kenton, MI
*photo credit)

March 10, 2009   Search for a Retreat Cabin

  Let us continue yesterday's reflection.  "I've just got to get away."  Many of us say this and mean it.  For some, distancing themselves from their work place is part of staying sane; for others a mere stroll will suffice; still others have the luxury of being near nature and this affords the chance to escape the hassle of work and crowded living conditions.  Maybe the simple getaway place can be built in a cooperative venture with friends who also seek stress reduction through a get-away.

  If a cabin is within the realm of possibility think about keeping it at low cost and maintenance.  If constructing, how about using rough-cut wood, native stone or pressed earth?  Consider yurts for low-cost, non-structural framing, cordwood buildings for forested areas where forest byproducts are abundant, and geodesic dome structures with ample loft space.  Here are some cabin hints:

  *  Use native materials.  Seek to use what can be found in the vicinity (rock, earth, trees, etc.).  From the beginning of civilization most building materials have come from local sources; only in present resource-wasteful times do materials come from distant places.  Stay away from exotic types of dwellings such as straw-bale structures because they are mildew-prone in humid Eastern American climates (see our Special Issues on this website). 

  *  Incorporate simple low-cost designs.  Proper planning could keep the place small, cozy and well-adapted to residents.  The amount of space can be minimized by a loft for sleeping above a lower living, reading, and dining area.  Avoid spacious and lavish abodes, which drain natural resources, and give people wrong attitudes about use of resources.  An adequate upper floor loft may be less spacious than the usual upstairs room, and yet tall enough to have a built-in set of drawers for some clothes, a reading lamp and a book shelf.  Consider solar energy designs and a compost toilet.

  *  Encourage native wildlife.  Preserving as much of the native vegetation as possible will help all wildlife habitat to remain undisturbed.  The exterior could have a shady porch, preferably one with afternoon shading.  Wildlife attractions can be incorporated, e.g., bird feeders, deer salt blocks, or bird blinds.

  *  Achieve relative seclusion.  Those wanting absolute isolation from fellow human beings may search out primitive woods or mountaintops -- but avoid turning these into construction sites and so keep to primitive camping.  Most solitude-seeking retreatants prefer relative seclusion that is limited privacy (maybe near other people).  If two retreat cabins are contemplated, place the second a short distance away, but with a certain added degree of privacy, e.g., separate entrances and patios.  Privacy is enhanced by siting cabins so occupants have different vistas.

  Prayer:  Lord give me the opportunity to retreat to silent outdoor areas that allow me to enhance my spiritual well being.  








Fountain along the Natchez Trace
*photo credit)

March 11, 2009     Why Retire?

  Some would say -- "Give it up; go off and live the rest of your life in leisure.  You have earned your rest.  It's too late to change the world so step back and let it fumble on its merry way."

  As people live longer and enjoy longer spans of good health, ought they not reconsider the concept of retirement?  The experience of these older healthy citizens is very much needed in our world.  Even though millions are losing their jobs, this does not mean less skill and work are needed today, only that hiring resources are more limited.   If the person has a retirement pension that is adequate for meeting ordinary needs, the person is at liberty to assume a low-paying or volunteer position that is not currently open to breadwinners with responsibilities.  Those are the perfect positions for consideration by retirees.

The financial meltdown has forced some retirees to reenter the labor force.  Whether free to work or forced to work at least part time, all ought to regard adequate health as a gift worthy of ongoing gratitude.  We ought to see each new day as an ever more precious and shortening time span.  Thus retirees ought to be moved to plan well and to pace themselves.  Actually they need to see that working is more satisfying than a life of leisure -- golfing, fishing, and playing cards;  these are okay on infrequent occasions but not worth a steady diet.  Such is boring and lacks the excitement in being of service to others.

As our physical energy begins to wane, we may have to be humble enough to take on less stressful activities; exploration may not mean physical journeying; healing may mean taking time for fewer but more lengthy visits;  working may involve mental exercise and less physical exertion; new activities may involve cooperating with others who take the lead role.  Our wounded Earth does not need more retirees; rather it needs the healing touch of active senior citizens who have an important role to play with their acquired skills and wisdom.  Transform a "retirement" community into a center of active support for the needy.

Retirees-turned-service-oriented folks could give their time to numerous activities: staffing volunteer programs, joining boards of directors; helping groups with long-range planning, engaging in political activities such as testifying and letter writing, planting gardens and trees especially with youngsters, helping run church organizations, and visiting the shut-ins.  Even the last group can become more active through prayers and offering of good works.  All ought to retire from meaningless or overtaxing activities; none ought to retire completely.  At a certain grand age we may need to "retire from meetings," which take energy and time.  Instead of coming to a complete stop, let's be wise and select activities that fit our current energy levels.

  Prayer:  Lord show us how to slow down and yet be of benefit to all through the proper activities that we continue to perform.








Gentle sun peeking through pines, a community-planted
project, planted ca. 1972
*photo credit)

March 12, 2009   Plant Trees as a Community Project

  Tree planting is a good way to help heal our troubled Earth.  In the spring of 2004, I helped organize a project of turning pastureland back into woods.  We gave about three hundred students (grades one to eight) at Good Shepherd School in Frankfort an opportunity to plant individual trees, with older students helping younger ones.  We obtained pine, ash and other saplings at a reasonable price from the state forest service.  Afterwards the comments on the planting were most favorable, for the personal involvement made an impression on each planting youngster.  All of us need to touch the soil in a personal way; we experience our own mortality for the trees will outlive us; we need to do something ourselves and not simply hear what others do.

  Each person who plants a tree comes to know the benefits of forested areas:  holding moisture, retarding soil erosion, taking up carbon dioxide, generating oxygen, providing a cooling effect in summer, serving as sanctuary for birds and wildlife, acting as wind breaks, and providing wood for a future generation after we are gone.  An important additional advantage involves enhancing a beautiful site each spring when the various trees come into full bloom.  In fact, the adornment of the property is a major asset worth proclaiming; the ripe fruit and nuts will be an added sign of hospitality.  Finally the presence of trees raises our depressed spirits and allows us to continue our efforts as healers.

  Next to my residence at the Ravenna Catholic Church is about one acre of green space, which includes a north-facing slope that is ideal for an orchard.  In 2005 and again this year various families have assisted in planting fruit trees.  We have already had yields of peaches, mulberries and Enterprise apples that are resistant to our prevalent cedar rust for we are in cedar (native juniper) country.  The cherries, apricots and pears are expected to bear in the coming years.   It is good to have edible fruit because we are surrounded by many non-fruit varieties (except for persimmons and wild cherries) in the midst of the Daniel Boone National Forest.  We need to taste the produce from our land so we can more easily become part of the place where we live.

  Many people see tree planting as an opportunity to dedicate the planted trees in honor of someone who has given great service, has moved away, or has passed on in death.  Dedicated trees could be adorned with special markers naming the people to whom they are dedicated.  Generally fruit trees are short lived;  thus some may desire to plant longer living oaks, walnuts, and hickories.  However, another approach is to replace shorter-lived fruit trees on an ongoing basis.  Whatever procedure is used, each tree planting is a mark of respect for the person remembered.  Resolve to plant a tree this spring either individually or within a group and make this an annual event worth celebrating near Arbor Day.

  Prayer:  Lord, help us to become tree planters and protectors so that in doing so we may become healers of our wounded Earth.









Fagus grandifolia, American beech
*photo credit)

March 13, 2009  Challenge Inconsistent Drug Policies

  On Good Samaritan Day we ask whether we pass the drug victim on our hurried way through life.  The victim of the drug culture is the wounded person hardly noticed on the wayside;  our first natural impulse is to flee from the scene.  I live in an Appalachian area with an immense toll of life due to overuse of drugs.  America's long-running war on drugs costs us over three billion dollars, spent in trying to interdict drug trafficking, from the poppy fields of Afghanistan to the coca-gathering regions of the Andes.  More hundreds of millions are now being directed to combating Mexican drug cartels.  No matter what the efforts drugs are getting to their destinations.

  Some such as Angus McQueen, who has documented the traffic from origin to finish point, say that the task may be better fought through some control and legalization -- a regulation of the traffic, which would deflate drug prices and turn attention from interception to education and drug abatement programs at the consuming end of the route.  Subsistence growing of coca and poppies will continue much as the natives have done for centuries; gatherers will continue to receive their small prices for raw produce.  Big profits occur in processing coca leaves to a cocaine paste, which is sent across immense distances.  Each agent takes a cut in profits that soon mount a hundredfold, as a host of cartel operators get into the act -- from fashioning drugs into sculptured artifacts to paying air travelers to swallow bags of coke.  Then there are the urban marketers cutting or stuffing the smuggled caches with everything from ground glass to aspirin.  At the end is a victim who has borrowed or stolen money to feed the addiction and is down and out -- lying at the wayside and overlooked by passersby.

   The principle of "moderation in all things" does not apply when someone is addicted either to prescription drugs or to lighter drugs such as marijuana, alcohol, and tobacco -- the first totally regulated, the second partly, and the third barely.  Existing sin taxes create a favorable climate for allowing the distilling and tobacco industries to flourish;  law enforcers imprison marijuana growers for producing a material that has far less health impact than tobacco, while our nation forbids the growing of harmless very low-THC hemp varieties for fiber and other beneficial products.

 Our government allows the advertising of legal but often ineffective lucrative medicinal drugs.  That advertising practice increased from fifty five million dollars in 1991 to over three billion today.  All the while the drug companies have disobeyed FDA regulations about 90% of the time in their advertising practice.  The drug industry knows that patients can pressure doctors to prescribe advertized drugs.  See Overdo$ed America by John Abramson for many of the gory details of the drug industry's subversion of research, medical journals, and "experts" themselves.

  Prayer:  Lord, teach us to use all good things in moderation.










  (*photo credit)

March 14, 2009   Sing the Black Mountain Blues

  Julius Caesar was killed through a conspiracy about 2000 years ago on the Ides of March.  But conspiracies continued in various ways down through the centuries.  We are deeply intertwined in a major conspiracy to damage the world, all for the sake of profit-making and with no regard for environmental responsibility.  Here in Appalachia we are forced to witness this in mountain top removal in coal extraction operations.  We witness the damage to the fragile hills and valleys by use of immense earthmoving equipment that skins the surface, throws over the top layers to get valuable coal and leaves a permanent landscape scar.  When done by those who ought to be friends, this is the most unkind cut of all.

  While times are depressing, the current financial downturn has moments of opportunity.  In our regions of long-standing poverty we note that people are able to roll with the punches and even have times of respite to get away from their troubles and sing and smile.  Really it is good for the soul to be light-hearted and trust in the Lord even in hard times.  The most visible conspiracy abroad in our land is that the ones most hurt are those at the top end of the financial spectrum: the bankers, brokers, investment operators, real estate agents, and on and on.  Because these have made risky investments without proper oversight, they are the ones who contributed most to the financial crisis -- and most to the elected legislators who are supposed to do something meaningful for the electorate.  Promoting renewable energy will do more to replace the destruction of mountains than uncovering corporate misdeeds.

  Those receiving the bailouts should be fined for the mess they have caused.  If you want to see the victims of conspiracy, come and walk the hills and hollers of our region and see the ones unemployed, having their vehicles and homes repossessed or forced to declare bankruptcy.  Our impoverished also include our ravaged mountains, which do not benefit from bailouts but rather experience business as usual -- systematic destruction to yield cheap coal that is not charged for environmental costs.  Those of us who thought ourselves immune suddenly wake up to the social dimension of the recession.  We people and mountains suffer at the same time.

  We must expose the greatest needs first and take care of them, not the ones with the highest dollar value.  We sympathize with the Bernard Madoff victims who lost in some cases their life investments.  But we also know full well that some poor folks have suffered proportionately higher costs.  In our effort to find those most in need of help we often find them cheerfully trying to make ends meet.   Why sing the blues?  Because singing makes us notice others and remain resilient, keeps us aware that the better times will come, and simply lifts up our soul for the work of reconstruction.  Yes, sing the blues for that is the introduction to bringing justice to our land.  

  Prayer:  Lord elevate our spirits to see that all troubles are passing, and we are called to help make them pass.



Indian pipe, Monotropa uniflora
*photo credit)

March 15, 2009    Meet the Woman at the Well


     Give me some of that water so that I will never get thirsty. (John 4:15)

     The first time I presented this passage of the Samaritan woman at the well at a retreat was at Milford, Ohio.  Inadvertently I elicited a profound response from a number of retreatants who apparently had internal problems within their respective families.  I had the goal of making retreatants confrontational about spiritual troubles among their own relatives and friends.  I hold that the American culture of remaining silent and thus implicitly allowing all to do what they please is not right.  It is important at least that we tell them that it hurts us deeply.

     American secular culture dictates that all do what they decide and that this is a private matter and their sacred right. Other folks expect us never to interfere.  We may not attempt to force them to do different things, but we can learn from Jesus when it comes to confronting different cultures.  He does not take the detour so often made by Galileans to avoid Samaria;  he takes his disciples straight through Samaria;  he stops at the Samaritan well and speaks to a resident and a woman at that.  But that is just the beginning.  He tells her all about herself by a direct challenge, "Go and call your husband."  Many Americans would like to soften the story, for that interchange is not according to our manner of acting.  It is a delving in private matters in which we have no business.  But let's see the conversation through to completion.  Jesus is gentle;  Jesus is persistent; Jesus is earnest and loving when he says the woman is right that she has no husband, for she has had five and the present is not her husband.

     Let's look deeply at this story, for Jesus' success is so complete in just a few words.  The woman is receptive to the grace of the Lord.  She is honest enough to see that he means her well and so readily acknowledges who she is.  She hastens back to the village as the world's first Christian missionary;  with enthusiasm she tells her people with whom she has been conversing -- the long-awaited Messiah.  The Good News is spoken, heard, and received.  Would that all become bearers of Good News.

     This lesson tells us that we are to do more than silently pray for those loved ones who need reform in their lives.  It means telling others exactly how we feel at this moment in history and doing this in a gentle and forthright way.  How else but through our own unique manner of acting, for that is the best we can do?  Through the grace of our baptism/confirmation the Spirit moves us and directs us in how to act.  We encourage those who are depressed, marginalized and burdened with guilt.  Because we reveal our true feelings they may respond, "I don't want to hurt you, Grandma."  That hurt becomes the occasion to spread Good News and witness to our faith.

     Prayer: Lord give us the courage to speak forthrightly.





Squaw root, Conopholis americana
*photo credit)

March 16, 2009     Revisit Past Predictions

     Today is six weeks after the day when the groundhog either saw or didn't see his shadow.  Was the prediction correct in your locality?  Hardly anyone ever bothers to check.  Let's return to February 2nd.  That day has both religious and unrelated secular significance: the Presentation in the Temple and Groundhog Day.  The lowly groundhog is the only animal dignified with a national day.  As our American tradition goes, if the groundhog sees his shadow he reckons that there will be six more weeks of winter and he returns to his hole.  This animal, also known as the American marmot or woodchuck, lives in a burrow, hibernates in winter, and has a habit of standing on his haunches and surveying the area around his home when he exits.  And while the media observe particular groundhogs, there is absolutely no track record of success.  It may or may not be a harsh late winter -- and sunny February 2nds may have little to do with it.

     Few of us check whether the end-of-year human experts on many issues were right or wrong in their predictions.  I am convinced that any half-soused barfly when asked the same questions as an expert will also be right -- about half the time.  I find some Farmer's Almanac predictions actually funny when I read what the weather should be and actually is.  The prediction is just about what anyone could do.  Some of the past seekers of the future such as Nicolas Nostradamus (1503-66) were so vague about the manner of prediction that there was a wide span open for interpretation.  Thus between not checking and the use of vagueness, the practice continues down through the centuries.  People would like to believe that some people know something about the future, but do they?.

     Future predictions have a little more than half success if couched in certain caveats.  Omit saying January will be hot and your chances go up considerably.  In other words, in normal snow country a prediction of a weekly January snow might be right more than half the time.  To say wet, could mean wet snow or mist, or heavy rain, so one could with careful wording increase the accuracy of predictions beyond the 50% mark.  Great!  As for any fortune-telling, take it all with a grain of salt.  You will feel better and most likely, your guess is as good as the expert, whether a groundhog or human being.

     A desire to know the future is akin to voyeurism, an insatiable appetite for what is beyond our normal reach.  Why can't we be satisfied with what is present and simply hope for what is to come.  Maybe the groundhog's six week prediction has more grounds in scientific fact than some of the expert human predictions of longer range.  But why be so concerned?  We know when the next season will come and let's prepare as usual.  To expect that some have this gnostic insight into spring or summer makes us give them powers, which belong to God.  Let's stay with common sense.

     Prayer:  Lord, let us see the present and expect the normal future.  Sufficient is the day for what it is.




Find the four-leaved clover
*photo by
Hyoung Won Park)

March 17, 2009         Remember St. Patrick and Clover

     Saint Patrick's Day was the day in our state where we were expected to sow our clover and plant our first potatoes.  Usually it was more easier to do the first than the second, for the season was a wee bit too early for root crops.  Maybe the good Saint's day is a good gauge of Irish crops, even though clover was far more native to Ireland than the American potato; later potato's claim to fame occurred because of a famine in the Emerald Isle.

     As a kid I would gaze up at the great stained glass window on the west side of St. Patrick's Church in Maysville and see Patrick holding a clover leaf and teaching natives about the Trinity.  On the east window was the axeman St. Boniface cutting down the tree thought among Germans to be the god of thunder Thor.  This east window was a concession to the half of the parish that had Germanic blood, in a town that in 1910 could not support two ethnic parishes.  Even though our family did not have a drop of Irish blood, our pew was on the Irish side, and I could gaze at the clover more readily than at the Oak of Thor.  I graduated from St. Patrick's, one of the few remaining parish high schools.

     All things said, my Irishisms stop pretty much at the love for white clover, which is so very soft and cool under one's bare feet.  I still hunt for lucky four-leaf clovers and envy people who find them.  Are finders always of Irish blood?  We sowed a variety of clover on the farm:  red clover was beautiful but made a dusty hay in harvesting; sweet or yellow clover was usually mixed with other hay varieties and was somewhat tough; timothy was long and straight stemmed but highly favored by the cattle, and far less dusty; and Korean clover was short, dense and dried into loose and fluffy masses requiring skill to gather and load with a traditional pitchfork.  The white clover was also good for the pasturelands, and cows tended to devour it with greed.  If turned into a wet fresh-clover field, the cows could so overindulge that they would bloat up and possibly die.  My dad saved one cow by stabbing its bloated belly with a sharpened tobacco stick, releasing the gas and allowing her to recover quite quickly.

     Clover is a legume that "fixes" nitrogen from air in the form of nitrogen chemical compounds in the soil.  This fertilizing effect makes clover one of the darlings of the organic farming world.  Some people sow rows of clover for walking paths between plots of berries and vegetables.  Some even attempt to interplant crops in the clover patches.  Although there are beneficial effects, one must remember that in dry times the clover will compete for the limited moisture in the field.  Only later in life did I find out that the blossoms of the white or red clover could be eaten by humans.  These blooms turn out to be good in garnishing salads -- and help bring back so many memories of clover days and hay fields.  Also a happy St. Patrick's Day.  

     Prayer: Lord, teach us to see all things as symbols of deeper mysteries and to respect the plant kingdom as gifts.




A group of women celebrate their 60th birthday
      (photo courtesy of Central City Library)

March 18, 2009   Welcome Baby Boomers to Senior Citizenhood

      For those of us of the Great Depression generation, the advent of the "baby boomers" after the Second World War was a breath of fresh air.  The ones born after that awful War were regarded as a new generation, but the title given to them has both laudatory and pejorative connotations.  Time has moved on relentlessly and after six decades these good folks are now reaching upper middle age with all its aches and pains. Baby boomers are now leaving the labor force and collecting Social Security from the fund they have paid into for decades.  Many are looking forward to "retirement" and more leisure time, though current financial troubles make them think twice.  The baby boomers are numerous, and they live longer than was expected at the advent of the Social Security Program.

     Baby boomers are not characteristically silent;  they are concerned about nutrition and food quality, about affordable housing and road safety, about tax relief and welfare benefits.  Now they are welcoming restaurant discounts for seniors.  With such swelling ranks, baby boomers elevate the term "middle age" into sixty plus years, a period formerly regarded as elderly.  Many of them now have the responsibility of caring for aging living parents in their eighties and nineties, and are aging with parental and family responsibilities. 

     For baby boomers, political perspectives will surely change as they experience a new period that parallels the Great Depression.  Many seniors, both older and newer ones, favor certain choice social issues: health care costs take precedence over educational programs, tax relief over minimum wages, and retirement benefits over work place conditions.  This natural shift in focus is occurring while many of them expect to champion social justice issues at all levels.  We hope a sizeable portion of this aging population will expand their vistas of public interest issues.

     Grouping people into generational categories involves fuzzy boundary lines.  Among my fifty-one first cousins, I have a self-professed baby boomer who talks as though I belong to a distant generation.  The truth is my first cousins on both sides of the family range over a fifty year span -- I baptized one cousin while another was at the time a grandmother.  For some of us these so-called generation differences are a little overdrawn.  Becoming overly set in a certain category may cause many of us to become confused -- not feeling like we belong anywhere.  Perhaps we should avoid naming generations and regard our interests as more universal;  then we don't have to be caught in generational stereotypes.  All of us of all ages need to realize that issues tend to overlap and involve us all in somewhat hidden ways.

     Prayer:  Lord, teach us to realize that we are more a family than a particular interest group within the family. Help us look out for all, not just for ourselves.





Close-up of ash pond
    (photo by Conrad Howard)

March 19, 2009     Consider Ash Ponds and Toxic Substances

     Recently two coal ash storage areas maintained by the Tennessee Valley Authority in the southeast broke loose and inundated homes and leaked into waterways.  Data shows that such storage areas can have toxic materials (including heavy metals such as mercury) from the ash that get into waterways.  Since the contents are massive and cover tens of acres of land, one can expect the problem to become serious when a leak occurs.

     One of the first environmental projects I worked on at the Center for the Study of Responsive Law in 1970 was mercury pollution.  At that time the major worry was sizable amounts in Great Lakes' fish in areas where methyl mercury dissolved in waters in the sludge near outlets from sodium hydroxide-producing chemical facilities.  The mercury-contaminated lake fish could be ingested by human beings and could cause health problems such as Mad Hatters' Disease and other ailments.  In the research I discovered that a sizeable portion of the mercury in the oceans was human induced, resulting from "placer mining" methods to extract precious metals going back several hundred years.  Large quantities of mercury were used, some of which escaped into the environment with production peaking in the latter part of the 19th century.  Over time mercury concerns have expanded to liquid mercury in experimental equipment, to mercury in swordfish, in coatings and paints, in certain older medical formulations, in fillings in teeth, and in coal-fired powerplant emissions (the last is source of 42% of the total mercury released in the atmosphere). 

    The US FDA and the USEPA issued a joint warning on fish consumption asking women of child-bearing age and children to refrain from eating more than 12 ounces of fish per week.  The EPA added that 630,000 newborns each year were at risk of suffering adverse effects on learning and development due to the mother's elevated mercury levels.  The serious concern over mercury health threats flows hot and cold, with more interest at a given period and then neglect the issue for a few years.  After many delays since the 1990 amendments to the 1970 Federal Clean Air Act mandating mercury reduction, the USEPA released proposed rules regulating mercury emissions from coal plants in January, 2004 but the rule was struck down in February, 2008.  Most likely new regulations will be proposed by the government in the coming months. 

     Electricity from coal becomes increasingly expensive when energy sources are expected to pay all environmental damages.  Even so, some 40% of the 126 million tons of coal ash generated each year from powerplants in this country is recycled mainly into concrete for highway construction as well as other products from carpets to bowling balls.  However this reuse of a waste material has its own pollution problems that need to be addressed. 

     Prayer:  Lord, help us to remain concerned about toxic metals that find their way into our environment and threaten our health.






A great spring scene. Bloodroot, Sanguinaria canadensis
*photo credit)

March 20, 2009    Celebrate the Vernal Equinox

     Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, everything in the universe cry out: To the one who sits on the throne and to the lamb be blessing and honor, glory and might, forever and ever.  (Revelations 5:13)

     With springtime, all creation gives praise to God.  We pause and listen to voices of spring and see visions of new life: running streams and beautiful rivers, whispering forests with pink redbud and white dogwood; over one hundred plus species of migratory birds with their blues and reds and yellows as they journey northward; young colts and calves romping in spring; and carpets of wild geranium, phlox, blueflags, fire pink, river orchids and trillium.  We have visions and vivid dreams.  Honor and glory are present and are coming in a final blaze of seasonal splendor.  With springtime joy, we are soon to celebrate Easter with its promises.  

      All creation gives praise, just as all creation cries and laments, expressions profoundly scriptural and deeply embedded in the tradition of the Church.  The sensate planet and all Earth's creatures are gifts from divine bounty, and all are finite and vulnerable in their own way.  These beings revel in their vitality, diversity, complexity, and their participation in the community of all being.  All creation enjoys life, even if but for an instant or for an unhurried moment before a predator attacks.  Our arrival and sojourn on Earth is short, a brief candle.  We prepare to celebrate the upcoming Easter event, the fullness of this spring vision.


                  Spring Has Sprung


      I heard the mockingbird again at daybreak,

         holding a varied tune of all that brings on spring.

      I suddenly realized that time's moved on

          and yet patterns stay put as sort of "winter cling."


       That season's gone and another has slipped in unnoticed.

          Dandelion carpets are now yellow and green.

       The tree buds swell and four‑legged mammals scurry about,

          Nature's hesitant resurrection all color and sheen.


        While we have a mantra about hating winter ‑‑

          and those frosts and flurries past due time

        that threaten apple blooms and early plantings

           and fail to let the mercury climb.


         Nature comes again in fits and starts

           and we, too, have seasonal changes in hymn and song,

         but we become more willing to spring than cling

           to that worn expression ‑‑ "winter's clung too long."


     Prayer:   Lord, prepare us to be Easter people.





Ginseng, Panax quinquefolium
*photo credit)

March 21, 2009     Learn about Virtually Wild Ginseng

     American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolium) is an indigenous wild plant growing in wooded areas of eastern North America.  Ginseng requires a lush, wild habitat beneath the hardwood forest canopy found throughout the eastern part of temperate North America.  Wild ginseng no longer grows in the deforested mountains of China, where a closely related and equally valuable variety (Panax ginseng) grew in the past and was prized for numerous medicinal uses for millennia.  This decline in wild ginseng gathering in Asia has led to widespread use of "cultivated" ginseng.  However, cultivated ginseng has a larger, less medicinally potent root that is not as highly valued as wild ginseng.  High-grade wild or "virtually wild" American ginseng has a proven market that could escalate into the billions of dollars as more affluent Asians seek this luxury.  

     Virtually wild ginseng is grown by sowing cultivated seed stock in wooded areas;  this is done without disturbing the land itself or adding chemical fertilizers or pesticides.  The ginseng plants are protected and left undisturbed for a dozen or so years until reaching maturity.  During the growing period leaves could be harvested each year after seed formation and before frost; these leaves can be dried and sold for tea.  Neither the ginseng leaf nor root market needs much promotion, for Chinese value supposed medicinal properties of wild ginseng and are willing to purchase at least three billion dollars worth of the herb each year -- if available.  Prized wild ginseng root can reach $1,800 a pound.  Ginseng can be grown without clearing for cultivation within existing oak, hickory, maple and poplar stands of the Appalachian Range and beyond (the northern temperate zone of North America).

     Ginseng advocates are convinced that the growing of this crop will furnish small landholders with  steady income, while also saving forest cover as attractive landscape for a budding tourist industry.  However, there are some problems that need to be addressed in order to make virtually wild ginseng a viable economic alternative.  First, the wild turkeys must be controlled, for they take ginseng seed and crush it in their digestive process.   

      Second, wild or virtually wild ginseng needs protection from a host of local and distant poachers who seek to gather the root when owners are not guarding their property.  Virtually wild ginseng requires a number of years to grow to become a harvestable root; thus the protection must be somewhat operative in regions where law enforcement does not regard stealing wild root as worth particular attention.  Ginseng poaching is prevalent, especially in regions where wild ginseng is regarded as "common" property.  Poaching can be controlled through security (alarms or dogs) or through utilized marketing protection practices, which allow only legitimate growers to sell the product through government-controlled channels.

     Prayer:  Lord, help us both to protect and to utilize the gift of ginseng that is considered so helpful to many people.



Cypripedium acaule, lady's slipper. Wolfe Co., Kentucky
*photo credit)

March 22, 2009     Practice Faith as a Public Act     

          'He is a prophet' replied the man.  (John 9:17b)

      Chapter Nine in St. John's Gospel is one of my favorites.  A young blind man who has no one to assist in his own defense, not even his parents, is confronted by hostile people as to how he was cured, and is able to defend Jesus' mission in a most forthright manner.  In the end the religious leaders throw him out of the temple, thus indicating that he is no longer protected as part of a tolerated religion in the Roman Empire.  Essentially, he is condemned.  The now cured man has acquired a new handicap by being proscribed as an outcast.  Now he must stand out from the rest, as a follower who testifies to the mission of Jesus the savior.  Once blind, now he sees spiritually and physically.

     Jim Wallis speaks of our faith as being something public.  In a culture where religious expression or belief is supposed to be a private matter, we must reaffirm with the man born blind that Jesus has done something special for us by making us part of his family -- and thus we experience his sufferings and his mission in some manner.  We are made one with the Risen Lord, and at times we must say so publicly.  Our open acknowledgment of our faith is counter-cultural, being regarded as threatening or embarrassing to those who seek to conform to cultural norms of remaining silent so as not to offend our secular neighbors.  

     Today we are asked to profess our faith in many different circumstances.  We might be against the death penalty, or the current war, or the national death culture -- and we have to say so publicly.  We may have to speak up for life in all its forms and challenge environmental practices that damage our planet.  We have to say that our economic system needs a radical reform.  Silence in such instances is fools' gold, but speaking at the right moment is truly golden.  Are we willing to resist the overwhelmingly secular consensus?  Are we willing to be like the blind man and come forward and acknowledge Christ's presence? 

     What circumstances trigger our public profession of faith?  If asked to go to a wedding we do not think is proper, must we give a false witness?  If asked to serve on a jury, will we say we are against the death penalty? If seeing someone demoted or ostracized, will we speak in their defense?  If a politician does something we don't like, will we let him or her know?  If we don't agree with a policy in our town or state, will we make this known?  If asked to serve in an unjust war, are we willing to refuse?  If given a tax refund using a future generation's money, will we regard this as complicity in theft?  If told to use our precious tax money for wasteful or unjust causes, will we object?  If we see others refused medical care, will we raise this as an issue?  Are we willing to whistleblow?  Are not the public testimony opportunities endless times to profess our faith? 

     Prayer:  Lord give us the courage to speak when we must.








Violet wood-sorrel, Oxalis violacea. Hardin Co., KY
*photo credit)

March 23, 2009       Be Earthhealing Individuals

     This website is named "Earthhealing."  All regular users know  approximately what it means, namely, to focus on meaningful actions, which help heal our wounded planet.  Some are individual actions (here) and some can be done by groups (tomorrow):

      1. Raising a garden -- Healing starts with the soil where we have our first real contact with the wounded planet.  Our local living space is made holy ground through our sweat.  A key to healing our Earth is to touch it, just as physical touch can help heal the human body.  With care, gardening can improve the land.

      2. Planting trees -- We affirm our commitment to heal by a positive act of reforestation;  likewise the tree can be planted as a memorial in honor of someone.  By doing this we make a statement of faith in the process of global revitalization.

      3. Participating in political life -- We ought to know candidates, to vote, and to support elected officials in doing the proper things.  Either on our own or in company with others we can influence legislation for the better at the local, state or national levels through phone, email, letters or personal visits.

      4. Exercising with a low carbon imprint -- Our various forms of recreation can use different amounts of energy depending on how much we drive or what instrument we use.  Some types of exercise such as rowing and hiking near home use virtually none.

      5. Blessing -- We can enhance nature by blessing creatures in a prayerful manner.  In less than two weeks we will have Easter and bless all the fields, trees, plants and animals with Easter water, an ancient tradition that allows us to be closer to others and to pray for their success.  In extending our blessing we obey the command, "Proclaim the good news to all creation" (Mark 16:16).

      6. Ecotouring -- Join others in hiking and enjoying the great outdoors through ecotourist activities that are not harmful to the environment.  All tourism should be green and ecological in nature.

       7. Researching real puzzles -- Many questions are unanswered and need to be investigated.  What do we do about all the ash from powerplants?  How much indirect non-renewable energy does the average person use?  Does the use of corn for biofuel really affect the price of food?  What is the ethnic composition of our country and how does it change with time?

       8. Demonstrating -- As educators at the grassroots we show by example that a commitment to healing is total and consistent with our words.  We may have to return to more explicit demonstrations such as the marching we did in the 1960s and 70s, for Earth's troubles seem to be growing, not diminishing.

     Prayer:  Lord, show us more ways to heal our wounded Earth.





Megaphasma denticrus, Giant Walking Stick
*photo credit)


March 24, 2009       Be Earthhealing Groups

    Not all healing processes are performed on an individual level;  some require group participation for more effective results.

     1. Joint demonstrations -- We need to support like-minded people who protest improper actions or forms of "development" that is really detrimental to the environment. 

     2. Promoting grassroots environmental activities (includes garden and herb clubs) -- Strong environmental groups can have a noticeable effect by drawing attention to pollution practices and working for proper remedies.  Join, support, assist, and spread the good word about these often hard-pressed and under-funded organizations.

     3. Praying as one -- We have in the past gone as a prayer group to strip-mined land and prayed for healing for the wounded land.  This act of earth-healing acknowledges that the land remembers tragedy but is open to new life.

      4. Cleaning the neighborhood --  Cleaning waterways and roadways is better performed by groups.  We can remind fellow workers about the callousness of polluters and the $500 fine if a polluter is caught; we end up cleaning after irresponsible people.  Still as healers a group can achieve things with finesse.

    5. Signing joint statements.  Often better results are obtained when a large number of people show discontent about poor practices or show support for needed positive environmental legislation than when only a few people do.  Get others to join forces.

    6. Raising a concerned family -- Though some rear a family solely as single parents or grandparents, still family enhancement should be a group operation.  The healthy building stone of "family" is a key to healing a broken world that needs to overcome its pervasive discord and work for improvement.    

    7. Designing a green space -- I have helped perform some two hundred environmental resource assessments over the past three decades.  The work is satisfying but strenuous.  By working together we can create models of ecological harmony, and the more that exist, the more environmental consciousness will grow.

    8. Promoting ecojustice -- Many of the wounds of this Earth relate to people who are forced to live near polluting chemical and utility plants or damaged landscape.  Earth's wounds extend to the residents too poor to avoid the path of damage or destruction.  Earth healers recognize the injustices done to Earth and people; these organize together to reestablish justice through political actions.  When a part hurts, the whole hurts;  when one part is healed, that healing extends to an entire community.

     Prayer:  Lord help us work together to heal our wounded Earth.





Ice storm damage, 2009
*photo credit)

March 25, 2009   Live with Potential Disaster?

     My home at Ravenna is in the county adjacent to and downwind from the Bluegrass Army Depot located outside of Richmond, Kentucky.  At that sprawling ordinance storage facility are located outdated chemical shells, perhaps a greater number (not bulk amount) of such weapons of mass destruction than is stored anywhere else in the world.  What could happen?  That is what occasionally crosses our minds.  Would we be alerted soon enough an accident occurs?  One of the scientists working there says we should seek higher ground since the leaked gas stays near the valleys.  Little comfort for shut-ins.

    The people in neighboring Madison County where the depot is located have a local committee that has prodded the Government for years to dispose of the weapons properly as mandated by Congress.  A Treaty calls for the completion of the destruction by 2012 -- but that is now delayed.  Incineration, the traditional manner of disposal, is not regarded by citizen watchdogs and others as sufficiently safe.  Local citizens do not want the materials shipped to another disposal site such as those in Alabama or Utah for fear of a mishap in the transferring process.

     Several chemical procedures are regarded as safer than incineration, especially with respect to the presence of a large population near the depot.  Yes, the methods are costly and putting the safer processes into effect is taking time.  We affected residents are convinced that disposing of those weapons is not high on the list of military security activities in this post-9-11 age -- but it ought to be.   Many of the gas containers are getting old and some have developed leaks that have been caught and contained by placing the old container in larger ones. 

     What does knowing that a catastrophe could occur mean to local residents?  Some consider it sufficient to receive and post the assigned getaway route in mailed out calendars.  Our roads are not that adequate (we have no four-lane highways within our county) nor numerous enough for any large-scale evacuation plan to be highly effective.  Some plan to sit it out by duct-taping around the doors and hoping for the wind to stop blowing.  However, the idea of being subjected to these gases is really beyond comprehension.

     Some ask "What if terrorists would decide the fences could be easily penetrated?  Could they succeed in driving a truck load of explosives to one of the bunkers fairly close to state Route 52, a parallel route on the north side of the depot?   They would have to distinguish between the shelters holding conventional munitions and the more dangerous chemical ones.     Truly we trust the depot's staff to keep us safe.  The cattle graze contentedly over much of the depot's grounds and hay rolls lie about the grounds, an idyllic scene.  C'est la vie!

     Prayers:  Lord, keep us watchful, cool and collected for we are all subject to potential disasters of various sorts. 







Photo taken inside 1950's-era "bomb shelter"
*photo credit)

March 26, 2009   Promote Disaster Alert and Relief Systems                  

      Disasters, whether natural or of human origin, can and do occur.  As the reflection of yesterday indicates, this cause can be something next door to us or rather remote.  We can do some things such as know an emergency escape route, keep a supply of food, or keep a change of clothes and sleeping bag in the car, but that involves personal preparedness.  Many in the neighborhood do not take these elementary steps, and they are not aware that disasters (floods, earthquakes, poison spills, tornadoes, hurricanes, terrorist attacks, etc.) can affect them. 

     Most of us are realists accepting the possibility of a disaster, but not pessimistic enough to say it will happen or optimistic enough to say it will never.  We tend to dismiss a punishment thesis -- as though a wrathful God takes pleasure in permitting a natural disaster.  We learn with time not to stand in the way of natural forces;  that applies to those who are tempted to build on a flood plain or on the slopes of an active volcano -- or who want to live near the beach on a tsunami-prone coastline.  Standing in the path of possible harm is a risk that some take.  Immediately after the 2004 tsunami disaster in Asia former British Prime Minister Tony Blair said that we have a hidden tsunami happening every week on the Sub-Saharan continent;  this happens to infants and others who die from easily preventable diseases.

     Modern communications and transportation networks allow organized response to possible or real disasters to come in two ways: effective early alert systems and immediate relief after disasters occur. 

     Modern communications such as radio, radar, Internet and telephone allow early alerts with various degrees of success.  A hurricane tracking system tells approximately how severe an event may be and where the disaster may occur; this information gives the resident populations time to hunker down or escape.  Had a good global tsunami warning system been fully operative in late 2004, many of the 300,000 victims might still be living today. Granted some disastrous conditions are better predicted than others.  Many volcano eruptions can be predicted with increasing accuracy but earthquake predicting systems are not nearly as predictable.

     Relief depends on both the communication systems just mentioned and modern land, sea and air modes of transportation that can deliver relief supplies such as food, medicine and tents to impacted areas very shortly after the disaster strikes.  After the Katrina disaster the response timing and materials were highly criticized because responsible agencies were expected to do a better job.  The ability of a uniting world to respond to disasters is growing and involves people from many lands -- responses unheard of just a century or so ago.  Thank heavens!

     Prayer:  Lord, allow us to look after our brothers and sisters in all parts of the world through better alert and relief systems.









Crow, on a mission
*photo credit)

March 27, 2009      Review of My Conflict with Crows

     I am tempted to avoid this story even though retold many times.  With age I find it regretful through a growing respect for crows.  It is history to be reviewed, not necessarily repeated.

     Some make pets out of crows; when young on the farm we regarded them as arch-enemies even while admiring them.  Each of us youth would bear arms from our earliest years.  We boasted that game wardens dared not enforce "off hunting seasons" because of our year-round war against the crows.  These creatures may have been here for millennia, but we had pressing economic interests, namely, fields of corn.  And crows loved to either pull up the small seedling in spring or rip open the filling green ear to taste a little of the milky unripe corn in summer.  Our crow warfare was so real that we would never hunt a harmless rabbit or squirrel.

      Crows are smart; they work as sophisticated social units; and they seem to have little regard for the non-crow world around them.  We checked their habit of moving down a corn row when the seed had sprouted, and pulling up plants to get to the seed itself.  We treated seed with a tar that made the seed bitter to the taste.  However, the crows' major offense came in mid-summer when they would settle and tear open a fresh green corn ear and eat a little of it.  One "roasting ear"  was never enough; they would move to another and damage each ear in the process.  

     Crows seemed to know whether we were carrying a stick or a rifle or shotgun.  I think they even knew the range of each firearm.  Several of us plotted to ambush the crows on their return to evening roosting across the Ohio after invading the lush cornfields of our part of Kentucky's Buffalo Trace counties.  We observed that they would fly low over a ridge at a particular time each evening after their foraging, so three of us youth armed with shotguns went late in the afternoon after milking the cows and prepared for an ambush at dusk.  The stream of perhaps a thousand crows could be seen coming from a distance, defiantly cawing; we realized in glee that we could get a number of them with a synchronized volley.  However, the lead crow scout came over head of the incoming wave, saw us, turned a somersault with a peculiar squawk and headed away at right angles.  The entire flock turned and bypassed us by a mile and then returned to their regular path.  We watched in amazement with guns still cocked.

     Some mention crow blinds, stuffed owls and scarecrows, but we discounted such devices.  Our crows would perch on such artifacts.  The best was a dead crow well wired to a pole;  it drove fellow crows nuts trying to remove the corpse; they simply did not feast in corn patches when these fallen birds were present.  We killed crows only in the early spring in nesting season (generally the unsuspecting new generation) and put them on poles.  Was this the best we could do?

     Prayer:  Lord teach us better ways to protect our crops.







An efficient hand-built solar oven
*photo credit)

March 28, 2009       Champion Appropriate Technology

     E.F Schumacher, who wrote Small is Beautiful, is the father of appropriate technology (AT).  In Healing Appalachia we have used the common definition as "technology of production by the masses, making use of the best modern knowledge and experience conducive to decentralization, compatible with the laws of ecology, gentle in its use of scarce resources, and designed to serve human persons instead of making them the servant of machines." 

     Appropriate technology is not specific technologies per se but rather a way of thinking, a favored set of processes, which champions smaller scale means of production.  The person who practices AT is willing to learn from unlikely sources such as primitive cultures and technologies, and desires what is simple to install, operate and maintain.  Such a person  strives for lower costs and greater durability, seeks to use renewable resources and recycled materials, enhances self-reliance at the local level, encourages ownership of the means of production or worker coops, and challenges the inappropriate such as nuclear power and agribusiness.  Such practitioners are convinced that AT promotes equity, self-reliance, stability, and other values. 

     We need more emphasis on AT during difficult financial times because the capital investment for such practices is far less than for other modern high technology practices.  AT allows for interaction and cooperation within a financially stressed community, gives those who are less technologically astute a sense of confidence, and becomes a way to cooperate with others while contributing as much as possible to the general well being of the community.  Today, in this age of tight credit many may feel powerless; they are able to regain a sense of "can do" that was so evident among early pioneers and homesteaders. 

     Although AT fell out of favor in prosperous times following the Carter Administration, it is now returning to serious consideration.  Consider various AT areas such as:

           *  Solar Photovoltaics (August 22, 2008)

           *  Solar Food Drying (October 23, 2008)

           *  Solar Greenhouses  (September 8, 2008)

           *  Green Construction (April 23, 2008)

           *  Backyard Gardening (March 1, 2008)

           *  Composting Toilets  (November 14, 2008)

           *  Clothes Lines  (November 16, 2007

           *  Composting Bins  (June 20, 2006)

           *  Wood Heating (January 17, 2008)

           *  Silent Space  (May 26, 2007)

     See our book  Healing Appalachia:  Sustainable Living through Appropriate Technology, University Press of Kentucky, 2007.

     Prayer:  Lord guide us to ways that are simpler and yet are community building so we help others who are deeply in need.






A tranquil cemetery, Mt. Hebron Methodist Church, Mercer Co., KY
*photo credit)

March 29, 2009         Confront Death to Self

     I tell you most solemnly, unless a wheat grain falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single grain;  but if it dies, it yields a rich harvest.  (John 12:24)

     Going up to Jerusalem is a final journey for Jesus and a confusing one for reluctant disciples who realize that a risk is involved.  Jesus is willing to make sacrifices and even takes life and death risks.  The message is a difficult one for it involves total sacrifice for ultimate success.  That is easier said than done.  Most who read this agree that heroic people may be willing to sacrifice their lives for a cause but "I am no hero."  They are certainly turned off by the modern terrorist with a nearly insane quest for martyrdom through blowing up innocent people. Furthermore, they wonder whether the suffering servant prophecies apply only to the Messiah or include the followers as well.

     Create a clean heart in me, O God.  The first step in dying to self is to have a clean heart, one not filled with love of self to such a degree that we will not risk change.  In such a condition, self preservation is so utterly important that one is blinded to taking the next step of going beyond self-interest.  However, God gives us the means to overcome this barrier.  The prophet Jeremiah (31:31-34) says that God will place "my law within them, and write it upon their hearts."  God prepares our hearts for self-sacrifice and that is something those seeking the Lord find within themselves -- not taught by or imposed by others.  God  is preparing us for our personal mission and this becomes our journey up to Jerusalem.  With a clean heart we overcome the distractions and allurements that can cause us to detour in our journey of faith.

     Beyond the initial preparation we now are open for the calling to take on the role as participant in Christ's mission -- we must launch into service for others, a risky business.  Yes, we do not totally forget our needs;  we must choose proper nourishment and rest, all for the sake both of self and others.  Throughout history some heroic souls have made immense sacrifices, even at the cost of health for the sake of loved ones.  However, the Spirit moves most of us to keep our health sound so others many benefit from what we can do by better performed service.  There are exceptions to this but they are only heroic exceptions, not the norm.  A clean heart acts in harmony with a sound body doing better service for others. 

     To sacrifice requires a metamorphosis, a change in our being from a spiritually immature to a more adult stage, a movement from self to service.  St. Theresa, the Little Flower, prayed that she could bring good things to others after she passed from her very short life -- and that certainly happened through many wonders and miracles.  We seek also that after our often-longer-lives are finished our service can endure and can benefit others.

     Prayer:  Lord, teach us to die to self and our own petty concerns and to open ourselves to live for and serve others.



The art of a flower Janet Powell
(Passiflora incarnata, artistic rendition by Janet Powell)
Creative Commons License  A photo contribution to the Creative Commons.

March 30, 2009         Appreciate Environmental Art

    Today is the 156th birthday of the impressionist, Vincent Van Gogh.  Many of us are impressed by his vivid colors and scenes and may be willing to call him the father of environmental art.  Van Gogh certainly experienced his environment profoundly and attempted to communicate that feeling to others.  However, he would agree that he had no monopoly on environmental art.  In fact, all who try to communicate the depth of feelings about nearby plants, animals, and the world at large through artifacts, could be environmental artists even without the popularity or genius of a Van Gogh.

    I have the privilege of a close friendship with another environmental artist, John Freda, who with his wife Sandra lives, paints and presents art shows out of his Evanston, Illinois, home and studio.  John was instrumental in organizing the largest environmental art show ever assembled;  this occurred at the North American Conference on Christianity and the Environment at North Webster, Indiana, in August, 1987.  As one could surmise, John is both an accomplished artist and an environmental activist who is committed to work for the betterment of our battered Earth and its less-privileged inhabitants.

      What I have learned from those who are engaged in environmental art is that they seek to enhance our impressions of the world around us, and in this more pro-active age they also seek ways to conserve resources and encourage less harmful lifestyles and practices.  Currently, one Eastern Kentucky artist produces scenes to show the terrible toll taken by mountaintop removal (for stripping land for coal) on our Appalachian landscape.  Another painter in Pennsylvania strives to show what abandoned factories do in blighting a community.  These people are inclined to promote causes beyond their immediate artistic circle.  They address the public through their environmental art.

     One side of me says that this crusade is beyond the mission of art, which is to communicate what is within the artist.  However, when artists are part of a total community torn by the destruction all around, is it wrong to portray their efforts as a passing fashion or marginal to the battles at hand?  Their efforts are to arouse the public in a dynamic political atmosphere where people still have a voice in saving our Earth.  We can make important differences, and artists, who are both environmentally inclined and who have a grasp on what needs to be communicated, contribute.

     Environmental art does something more;  it invites the general public to participate in art- or craft-making.  We are on this planet together and few of us give attention to the awesome task of healing our Earth.  What concerned artists do is express that duty in their own unique way.  We are all called to do the same according to our own talents and inclinations.  If we know some, whether young or old, who are inclined to engage in an art form, encourage and support them to develop their abilities to the full.

Prayer:  Lord, help us to communicate what is within us in ways that others can imitate according to their talents.






An afternoon by a stream, near Wartburg, TN
*photo credit)

March 31, 2009               Protect Streams

     A gurgling mountain stream is one of the most wonderful sounds in nature's ongoing concert.  I could rest and listen for hours, if other pressing business did not call.  Riverlets of water hit rocks, diverge and converge with sounds that defy written description.  Those free-flowing channels are some of wild nature's most beautiful assets -- and call for greater appreciation.  They are more than musical sources;  they are waters again becoming potable; they are habitats for fish and wildlife;  they provide clean water to the rivers and lakes that grace our world.

     Keeping streams healthy is part of earth healing.  Different states have regulations relating to stabilizing streambed banks, removing logs and debris from streambeds, digging out stumps and roots, rechanneling streams, and harvesting timber near streams.  We know that new channels will form naturally, especially at times of flooding, but we can help protect streams and their banks from major damage.  We also realize how reasonable these regulations are, when remembering that streamside trees hold banks in place, cool the stream and provide habitat for wildlife.

     Even more waterway particulars are worth considering.  Some people target streambeds as sources of flat rock and gravel for building purposes.  Much depends on how much is desired and whether state regulations prohibit such practices.  When streambanks erode, one should contact state conservation officials before beginning a remedial measure; actions taken may be based on good intentions but may only lead to further and even more serious erosion.  Removing a gravel bar may seem the reasonable thing to do to save the other side of the stream; but stream flow may be slowed down by the bar and the removal will exacerbate erosion.

    Often human activities damage streambeds that now need restoration.  Logging or mining operations or development projects upstream may lead to brush and silt accumulation;  increased paving upstream may increase water flow and downstream streambank erosion;  tree falls may lead to channel change.  Expert advice will always help before taking measures into one's hands.  The USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service and the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation lists seven ways to prevent streambank erosion: 1) keep vehicles and equipment out of streams whenever possible; 2) keep trees and plants along streambanks; 3) remove fallen logs and other woody debris from the stream channel by winching or dragging as soon as possible; 4) provide a water source such as a pond or tank for livestock away from a stream, or provide controlled access to the stream at a stable location; 5) allow your stream to establish a natural path and slope whenever possible; 6) use anchoring trees, rootwads, large rocks, plants and other natural materials to repair eroding banks; and 7) conduct ongoing maintenance to keep small problems from becoming big ones.

     Prayer:  Lord, your psalms show the freshness, hope, and beckoning call of free-flowing streams.  Help us experience living water with all its rich symbolism of shared life with You.


Copyright © 2009 Earth Healing, Inc.  All rights reserved.

Albert J. Fritsch, Director
Janet Powell, Developer
Mary Davis, Editor

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