Central Kentucky's ice storm, 2009
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).
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.
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
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:
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
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.
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?
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.
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
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.
give all activists an understanding of the best way to bring
meaningful change to our troubled world.
Bluebird (Sialia sialis) sighting, late February, 2009
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.
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
4, 2009 Encourage Temporary Cold Frames
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
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
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
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
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
us, Lord, to understand that the earthy practice of garden has
deeper spiritual depths.
Wind turbine, Buffalo Mountain, TN
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,
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.
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.
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>.
Spirit, teach us the power of wind in our lives.
Turkey, Meleagris gallopavo
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.
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.
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
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.
teach us to tell the truth in interesting ways.
Lovely geranium in bloom
by Sally Ramsdell)
8, 2009 Participate in the Transfiguration Event
This is my beloved Son. (Mark 9:2-10)
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.
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
transform us and our deeds through your glory so that others can
perceive your glory shining through our service.
Harbinger of spring, Erigenia
9, 2009 Create Tranquil Living Space
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.
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
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.
help us discover or construct needed silent space.
A retreat cabin, near Norway Lake,
10, 2009 Search for a Retreat Cabin
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.
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
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
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.
give me the opportunity to retreat to silent outdoor areas that
allow me to enhance my spiritual well being.
Fountain along the Natchez Trace
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
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.
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.
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
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
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
project, planted ca. 1972
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
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.
help us to become tree planters and protectors so that in doing
so we may become healers of our wounded Earth.
Fagus grandifolia, American
13, 2009 Challenge Inconsistent Drug Policies
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.
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
teach us to use all good things in moderation.
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.
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.
elevate our spirits to see that all troubles are passing, and we
are called to help make them pass.
Indian pipe, Monotropa uniflora
15, 2009 Meet
the Woman at the Well
Give me some of that water so that I will never get thirsty.
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
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.
give us the courage to speak forthrightly.
Squaw root, Conopholis americana
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.
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.
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
let us see the present and expect the normal future. Sufficient
is the day for what it is.
Find the four-leaved clover
by Hyoung Won Park)
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
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
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.
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
(photo courtesy of Central City Library)
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.
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.
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)
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.
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).
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
help us to remain concerned about toxic metals that find their
way into our environment and threaten our health.
A great spring scene. Bloodroot,
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
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."
prepare us to be Easter people.
Ginseng, Panax quinquefolium
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
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.
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
22, 2009 Practice Faith as a Public Act
'He is a prophet' replied the man. (John
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.
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
give us the courage to speak when we must.
Violet wood-sorrel, Oxalis
violacea. Hardin Co., KY
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
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
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.
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
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.
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).
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
show us more ways to heal our wounded Earth.
Megaphasma denticrus, Giant
24, 2009 Be
all healing processes are performed on an individual level;
some require group participation for more effective results.
Joint demonstrations -- We need to support like-minded
people who protest improper actions or forms of "development"
that is really detrimental to the environment.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
help us work together to heal our wounded Earth.
Ice storm damage, 2009
25, 2009 Live with Potential Disaster?
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.
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
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
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!
keep us watchful, cool and collected for we are all subject to
potential disasters of various sorts.
Photo taken inside 1950's-era "bomb
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
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
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!
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
27, 2009 Review of My Conflict with Crows
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
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
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?
teach us better ways to protect our crops.
An efficient hand-built solar oven
28, 2009 Champion Appropriate Technology
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.
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
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)
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
Confront Death to Self
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
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.
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.
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.
(Passiflora incarnata, artistic
rendition by Janet Powell)
A photo contribution to the
30, 2009 Appreciate Environmental Art
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.
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
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
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.
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,
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.
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.
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.
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.