Eastern bluebird, Sialia sialis.
March 1, 2018 Support the "Rails-to-Trails" Program
With the coming of spring many turn to outdoor hiking and biking. Consider contacting the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy (RTC), a highly successful conservationist organization with 160,000 members and active supporters. RTC promotes both use of trails from abandoned or unused railroad right-of-ways for hiking, biking and some horseback riding; furthermore, RTC helps create and maintain these recreational systems. The idea started small but now embraces 2,039 open rail-trails for a total of 22,873 miles along with 778 rail-trail projects for a total of 8,353 miles. However, this effort only constitutes about one-quarter of the abandoned railroad mileage in this country.
The heyday of railroads is over, though some passenger trains are making a comeback. Even though my parents could go to visit relatives in remote locations by rail in the early part of the twentieth century, that same feat by rail is almost impossible today. The passenger and freight trains have given way to autos and trucks. Since 1916, the 300,000 miles of railroad track have been reduced by half. The total track mileage decline is lessening, for freight is far more economic and environmental than by truck -- and passenger growth is slowly rising again.
The rails-to-trails concept does not necessarily convert the track permanently to other uses, since a trail keeps the bridges, road cuts, etc. in place. In fact, the conversion to trails is a way of preserving the corridors from other forms of development (buildings, fields, green space, streets, etc.), which would make it virtually impossible to reestablish a rail right-of-way without spending loads of money. A trail could revert to a railroad in response to future rapid transit or freight demand, but it gets excellent use in hiking in a secluded and scenic environment.
Rails-to-trails (RTC) goals include initiating as many projects as possible, and even railroad lovers see this as something advantageous in the longer run. The goal of more physical-exercise routes also includes a network of trails, which would span the U.S. This is also good for civic pride and tourist dollars as well. The RTC says that one-third of the trail system already exists, while another one-third is under public ownership and the remainder under private control. The project is ambitious.
Another goal is creation of a "railbank," which preserves the corridors intact for possible future transport uses. No railroad has returned a trail to its former use, but it could be done. Billions of dollars have been spent on our interstate highway system but hikers or bikers cannot use it. Our infrastructure improvement should include deference to hikers by sponsoring a national trail system. Resource conservation makes this a win-win situation -- more travel and less non-renewable energy use. Contact Rails-to- Trails Conservancy for details on the Internet.
Prayer: Lord, help us be resource-conscious in what we use.
Lady bird beetle on eastern Wyoming granite outcrop.
March 2, 2018 Resistance and Civil Disobedience
In the past year or so the U.S. environmental movement has been challenged by the current Administration in hostile ways never before experienced. At times it is becoming necessary to resist acts that perpetuate the fossil fuel economy currently at the outdated behest of billionaire profiteers; these continue greed at the expense of our people; the political/economic power is formidable. This drives us to ask hard questions about resistance:
1. Is resistance to the anti-environmental activities limited to studying and voicing opposition to issues, conversing with concerned citizens, petitioning, writing letters and emails, lobbying legislators, and supporting those groups taking legal means such as lawsuits? What about such civil disobedience methods such as sit-ins and trespassing?
2. Where does prayer fit in to personal decisions as to the degree of activism by a resource limited individual due to age, immobility, physical and mental condition, or immediate personal relationships? Shouldn't advice be sought from those sympathetic and willing to stand up for justice?
3. Should discernment involve a systematic approach? Does this involve a period of quality time to weigh all options? I can see that such action against a governmental agency could have publicity benefits but also could backfire and offer ammo for those defending the status quo? For a good discernment both positive and negative aspects should be given non-biased consideration.
4. Are there popular types of resistance? Our half century 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 as does an act of civil disobedience, but they have been essential in helping create a climate where a renewable energy revolution is now able to occur. Civil disobedience is more press-worthy; this leads to popularity.
5. Is the disobedience worth the sacrifice that the individual must make? If I were to make an act of civil disobedience I may lose the status enjoyed in society or a ministry that would be withdrawn due to the action. On the other hand, when being more advanced in age this may be the most effective action, for the aged are considered beyond their effectiveness -- but they may reach a stage when their action is regarded as worthy of imitating.
6. What are the long-term benefits of halting a pipeline or closing down a polluting powerplant? If this becomes a challenge to a corrupt economic/political system, then the long-term effects could be significant -- and truly deserving of dramatic resistance. Symbolic action has a power that must be weighed in itself.
Prayer: Lord, give all activists an understanding of the best way to bring meaningful change to our troubled world.
Fighting for Equality is a Long-Term Issue
This is being written with a heavy heart on the day the U.S. House of Representatives passes by a narrow vote the so-called Tax Reform Legislation -- the very height of canonized secularity. Inevitably in a day or so the Senate will follow suit and for those of us seeking fair taxes, this will be an equally unhappy day. We are witnessing the most massive transfer of money (one and a half trillion dollars) from the tax burden of future generations to the richest Americans today. And this occurs with the cynical "holiday gift" to all citizens -- many of whom will receive greater taxes. Actually, this is payback to a privileged class who monetarily supported legislators lobbying the measure into final passage. Still a few brave words are worth repeating.
Stay ready. We return to the issue at hand that will remain a focus through the year 2018, namely equal sharing of resources so that all benefit. Truly fair taxes on the wealthy could furnish the billions of dollars needed to repair a national infrastructure that includes roads, bridges, railroads, schools, waterway systems and airports for all people, not the added riches for the few at the top of the heap. Realism seems to recede along with the magic; it’s the hope that the wealthy will be generous and invest in opportunities for the others. It is a false dream with no solid basis in economic reality -- and it must be countered this year -- now. The time is right; let's not delay in our calling.
Stay focused. The materialistic culture that surrounds us would have us believe that new electronic gadgets, driverless vehicles, cybercurrencies and lotteries of immense prizes are the allurements worth focusing on, in that unrealistic scramble to get ahead of our neighbor and be singularly above the herd. Why the scramble except that it distracts us from the horror of those impoverished by debts who cannot easily free themselves, much less the growing indebtedness of their grandkids. Instead we must retreat to more realistic demands by mustering with God's help our mental, physical and spiritual powers. We can win; we can make this a fair place where all share Earth's bounty. We need not applaud the wealthy as though this is a charitable deed. We must leave the current Monopoly game where a few own all the hotels and the rest seek desperately to land on rent-free spaces.
Stay radical. Let's not relent and pretend that the status quo will remain forever. Thinking about the roots of the unfair conditions need not be regarded as daydreaming; it is a radical endeavor. This is the proper thing to do; we continue to repeat that we will not rest with the inequality of the current Administration atmosphere -- and we say this with a determined heart dedicated to the good of all citizens, especially those soon to be called on to sacrifice their incomes and care packages so that the wealthy prosper. We have to bring forth change.
Stay sober. What goes up must come down and it may be with a resounding crash. We must be prepared and not lose heart, and that is not possible if we are swayed by our particular allurements. The world has a way of offering cheap intoxicating substances all in the guise of healthy entertainment. We must assist each other not to bite for them but to keep a clear vision on what must be done. The unfair quality of the status quo can be purged and a democratic process be implemented where fruits are shared by all. It is what is meant by being spiritual at this time, and we enter into collective gatherings of likeminded religious folks as well.
Stay challenging. The class system of extreme wealth and the rest would like for us to bicker among ourselves and to caution that we must not envy those with riches. The trick on their part is to make it a bit of wrongdoing to want change that requires a part of the wealth. It must be a collective sharing, not one in place of another selfish soul. The status quo involves an effort to make a secular society where the false challenge is to get quick riches and forget the Common Good. We are challenged to refute the philosophy of individual prosperity at the expense of others -- and elitism that is fostered in schools and churches and homes. The goal of sharing is certainly countercultural, but certainly not anti-American. A true conservative citizen must be one who wants lower debt and fairer taxes and participation by all.
Stay balanced. Yes, those of us engaged in the battle for quality can become hot under the collar and tempted to do violence, but true believers must restrain themselves so as not to waste energy needed for profound change. Continue to pray humbly for the power to act; register and enter politics; run for office or encourage others to do the same; vote and monitor the elected; realize that the future can be shaped differently and that each of us can contribute to this; raise the spirits of others who seem dejected; and reaffirm publicly that the System must change and soon before all hell breaks loose by the indebted and dissatisfied majority. Help install a new "credit rating" based on sharing resources.
Stay encouraging. Lastly, affirm that it pays to write and read this exhortation. If we are motivated not to lose faith in our democratic system then we can win. The temptation of the past year has been one of capitulating to the secular world around us and remaining silent, hoping that things will pass for the better. The encouragement means that we are the stimulus to bring change and it can't be done alone; we must stay together in the efforts. To give up is to accept that wealth not only influences the present but also the future. To move forward is to make a future that is beyond for the believer beyond the immediate horizon.
Christmas fern cluster atop Corbin sandstone. Whitley Co., KY.
March 3, 2018 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.
Indoor-grown geranium in bloom.
March 4, 2018 Conversing with 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 people to do what they please. To oppose a creeping relativism 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. Many 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 people. Jesus does not take the detour so often made by Galileans to avoid Samaria; he leads 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 loves her and 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 just met -- 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 with loved ones.
Prayer: Lord, give us the courage to speak forthrightly.
Drops of morning dew on leaf of tender brassica.
March 5, 2018 Discover Gardening as Sacred
Lent is an ideal time to see gardening as a sacred act and opportunity. Our life's journey can be easily 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 warm vibrations of Earth. We discover the condition of 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 returns us to our origins and leads us to our ultimate destiny -- from dust, and to dust, all with a special spiritual uplifting that goes beyond.
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 practice within our journey of faith; God invites us to enter into the rhythm of nature and the seasons, to understand and appreciate 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 invites us into participating 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 urban culture is alienated from Earth through artificial turf, night lighting, blacktop and concrete surfaces, and distance from natural landscapes. Within the past decade over half of the world's people now live in urbanized areas, somewhat removed from natural phenomena, unable to touch our Earth easily, and weakening a 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 gardening has deep spiritual significance.
Buffalo Mountain wind farm, TN.
March 6, 2018 Defend Solar and Windpower against Naysayers
During the windy month of March we ought to realize that wind power is coming of age in this country and elsewhere but it still has its critics who want to slow its advance. For its progress see "Celebrate Windpower in America" on January 19th. The statistics both in this country and in the world were shown to be clearly growing and the fastest growing energy source.
However, critics associated with the current Administration continue to badmouth both wind and solar; they define these energy sources as intermittent and it's true, but these low-cost and highly environmentally friendly sources must be coupled with others including such renewable sources as geothermal, hydropower and tidal that have a more continuous flow. Furthermore, rapidly improving storage technologies are allowing solar and wind energy excess to be more easily reserved for the off-times. In fact, the coupling of storage and renewables have be used successfully at domestic levels for years, and now is being incorporated in large wind and solar farm undertakings.
Unpleasantness: Environmental sounds and sights have been mentioned. Wind is called "disturbing" due to its swishing sound when up close; this isn't a health hazard by any means and could be completely avoided by good soundproofing of a domestic interior or learning to like the sound. Those wishing an undisturbed viewscape need a change of viewpoint; a wind farm on or off shore will make the scene perhaps as colorful as Holland's windmills. Current solar arrays can be well designed and enhance structural integrity.
Environmental costs: Wind turbine rotate and solar farms can have heated surfaces. Certainly wildlife and especially birds and bats are killed by turbine at various California and inland locations. We can't stop driving because of road-kill; nor can we guarantee that some birds may be in unfortunate circumstances. However many local problems are remedied through proper placement of the wind generators and installation of devices to scare away birds coming too close. While solar arrays and wind farms do take up space, the first can make good use of urban parking space, unproductive arid areas, and roof space; furthermore, wind farms can have double use as both cropland and pasture in 90% of the wind-farm area, and with virtually no added inconvenience.
Employment loss: The loss of fossil fuel jobs has been a sore point. 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 jobs for every megawatt of energy from the sun.
Renewable is a fad: This is the most easily refuted. Wind is competitive and solar is dropping rapidly. They're here to stay.
Prayer: Holy Spirit, teach us to speak truth with confidence.
Blooming viburnum with syrphid fly (Syrphidae), a bee mimic.
March 7, 2018 Recognize the Art of Pretending
I'm not a fiction reader and doubt if I have read even a handful of novels as part of my book-a-week since high school and college requirements. Even those of us who seem fiction-free are caught up with too many 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 Christmas Eve appearance. Fiction was never emphasized in a Depression-era household where reality was novel enough in itself.
On the other hand, 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 adult attendee would spin a tale greater than the previous 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 because of a mixture of falsehood.
For us elders, local stories are much more colorful than the staid novels written at secluded resorts and reviewed by prestigious periodicals. I'm convinced that fiction takes on a new life when one grows older and unbelievable things happen in real life. With fermentation, youthful events are embellished in a patchquilt of refined detail; these are colored by enough truth to keep them from being unfit for the gullible. After such stories are told awhile with conviction, the teller begins to believe them. If retold by another, their authenticity is further verified, and they begin to live an epic-type existence of local folklore.
Perhaps funeral eulogies are meant to glorify the departed's actual deeds. We are nice to those who pass on, because we expect a special legacy when rigor mortis sets in for us. Besides, when one dies, friends speak up and enemies remain silent; then truth is stretched and narratives go unchallenged. Eulogies become the foundation for stories that live on and require repetition if one's name arises in conversation -- and the feeling of saying good things persist. When we fail to be critical of tall tales, we become part of a community of great pretenders, those who seek to hone their stories into a more credible format. Story-telling is an art, based on events, embellished by local color, told to hold attention, fashioned for a particular audience, and meant to endure. Our problem is to fail to distinguish fact from fiction.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to tell the truth in interesting ways and to allow bad features to die with us -- untold.
Groundpine, Lycopodium obscurum. Red River Gorge, KY.
March 8, 2018 Living with Potential Disaster
My home here 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 of such weapons of mass destruction in the world. What could potentially happen? That is what occasionally crosses my mind. Would we be alerted soon enough when an unthinkable accident occurs? Some experts say to 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 deadline came and went. The traditional incineration manner of disposal was not regarded by citizen watchdogs and others as sufficiently safe. Local citizens did not want materials shipped to another disposal site such as those in Alabama or Utah for fear of a mishap in the transferring process.
However a specific chemical procedure is regarded as safer than incineration, especially with respect to the presence of a large population near the depot. Yes, the method is costly and putting the safer process into effect is taking time and tens of millions of dollars as the site now being built and tested. We affected nearby residents are convinced that disposing of those weapons is lower on the list of military security activities in this post-9-11 age of terrorist attacks. Many of the gas containers are aging and some have developed leaks that have been caught and contained by placing leaking containers 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 annual mailed 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 immediately effective. Some plan to sit it out by duct-taping around the doors and hoping for the wind stops blowing. However, the idea of being subjected to these gases is really beyond comprehension -- and so is never discussed. We trust!
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. Cattle graze contentedly over much of the depot's grounds and hay rolls lie about the grounds, an idyllic scene.
Prayers: Lord, keep us watchful, cool and prayerful, for we are all subject to potential disasters when least expected.
A continent-wide collection of rocks in home "geology garden."
March 9, 2018 Design 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, utilities, furnishings, and surroundings. This survey applies to permanent single home dwellers and those with other habitats. Even in modest homes rearrangement can be beneficial.
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 from one to the other location. Design green space:
* 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 include ample closets and bathrooms located next to 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 surfaces 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 folks 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 admire.
Prayer: Lord, help us discover or construct needed silent space.
Climate Change Denial is Very Harmful
As we approach the 49th Earth Day next month, our American environmentally concerned community is acutely aware that the world's first major polluter has withdrawn from a global effort by the Paris Climate Accord to work together. In a land where fiction and reality get confused, where national indebtedness is overlooked, where debt burdens create a new slavery, and where the infrastructure crumbles, little notion is given to moving alone in the world around us. Do we deserve a Twitterized semi-literate leader with his withering assaults on the environmental framework that has taken a half century to construct? The current national situation is so bad that any reference to environmental damage is deliberately excised from the literature coming from the various federal departments and agencies (Department of Justice, Environmental Protection Agency, Department of Interior, etc.).
The failure is acknowledging wrongdoing. A moral crisis grips our nation, going unacknowledged and yet is behind actions of the climate change deniers. How could profitable and "successful" Big Energy distributors do anything wrong? They energize America and are benefactors; so-called pollution is overdrawn and injury and death to plants, animals and even human beings comes from other sources. From deniers' viewpoints one defends the status quo.
Harm is being done by profiteers. This environmental harm that has been documented is real, not fiction. Increased respiratory problems, polluted rivers, and toxic wastes have been documented in many regions for over a half century, even before the first Earth Day. Virtually the entire scientific community and responsible world leaders are in agreement with respect to rising levels of greenhouse gases. However, amid what appears to be a near consensus there are the naysayers, well financed by Big Energy, who deny damage and have their corner of the mass media extended debate, along with the ear of the president; this prolongs the status quo while allowing for greater profits. Earth be damned!
Denial is compounding harm. The powerful and imprudent risk moving our world to a truly catastrophic condition. The acceleration of melting icesheets and glaciers, the rapidly rising oceans that could inundate living space of hundreds of millions, and the growing frequency of extreme weather conditions cannot be dismissed as a future problem. Note that strategies used by Big Tobacco in the 20th century to hold back smoking regulations in order to continue high levels of tobacco sales and profits became a blight in health history. And history repeats itself, but at far greater costs. Yes, 3,000,000 die of smoking causes each year, but these are unfortunate individual and addictive choices. Big Energy differs from Big Tobacco in that choices affecting viability of the planet itself haves become the issue. Where are the pro-lifers?!
U.S. official Denial is especially harmful. In early June, 2018 President Trump made public notice of withdrawing the United States from the Paris Climate Accord, which agreement incidentally now has the acceptance of all other nations. The unprecedented U.S. action has had ongoing consequences that are not healthy in a world threatened by this catastrophic disaster of increased global temperature and melting ice. The national responses to the Accord are voluntary and require efforts on the part of each government. If the world' first major polluter and grand contributor to the impending disaster walks away, what do you think this does to the entire environmental compliance network? A number of hesitant nations say, "If the richest nation gets off scot free, why should we sacrifice to reduce our fossil fuel consumption?" Unilateral presidential action does nothing but bolster billionaire profiteers.
Harm is to promote supposed unresolved debate. The scientific consensus stands in vivid testimony against the bunch of deniers with all their ill-gotten space to speak. To pretend there are still questions unanswered and so to preserve the status quo is a sham of major proportions -- for life of Earth herself is at stake. Delay is profit-laden and nothing more. This pretended scientific debate is propagated by a media hoping for a debate. What is not often stated is that more environmentally benign and cheaper renewable energy sources (wind, solar, hydro from electricity generation's start, etc.) exist and are thriving. With a level playing field these sources could readily replace fossil fuels.
President controlled by Big Energy. Trump's claim to electability was independent wealth along with notoriety. However, Big Energy works in a business-like fashion and that appeals to Trump and company. The President is impressed by others of privileged wealth and power who regard greed as a virtue and "success" as the ticket to influence a trickle-down prone audience. Trump is under the thumb of Koch Brothers and Big Energy high rollers; he is not independent; he will continue their policies as long as possible and here is where the continued harm dampens the efforts of the global moral community.
Tolerating harm is harmful. Citizens must not put off to a future day changes in government. That is because this perpetrates the harm of withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord. An attitude that he who holds power has the right to rule as he sees fit does not apply when the actions taken are immoral and even verging on suicidal (in Pope Francis' words) of the planet. Tolerating denial as a co-equal debate partner leads to indifference on the part of citizenry who can be tempted to abandon the struggle.
World leadership is at stake. The Paris Climate Accord starves for consensus. Refusal by the U.S. to join the community of nations has profound ramifications on the success of this issue. How can our country be a leader in civil rights and democratic liberties if it fails here to bear responsibility for current environmental problems -- which it helped to cause? This involves a profound national embarrassment and a lost opportunity to work globally on critical environmental issues facing all humankind.
A retreat cabin, near Norway Lake, Kenton, MI.
March 10, 2018 Consider 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; 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 low 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. Hints include:
* Use native materials. Seek to use what can be found in the vicinity (rock, earth, trees, etc.). From the beginning of civilization 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 for 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. Design with solar energy and a compost toilet.
* Encourage native wildlife. Preserving as much of the native vegetation as possible will help the 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 us opportunities to be able to have retreats in quiet natural areas that enhance our spiritual life.
Small green caterpillar, Operophtera brumata.
March 11, 2018 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 is cured by Jesus has no one to assist in his own defense (not even his parents); he is confronted by hostile people who doubt his original affliction. At the end the religious leaders throw the blind man 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 forced to take a life-threatening risk; he 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 but must face barriers in life.
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's troubled world offers many opportunities to profess our faith publicly. We might be against the death penalty, or the current war, or the national death culture -- and we have to say so before the world. We may have to speak up for life in all its forms and challenge environmental practices that damage our planet. Yes, our economic system needs a radical reform but that is deeply unpopular. 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 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 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 we open to a public testimony opportunity for professing our faith?
Prayer: Lord, give us the courage to speak when we must.
Planting wild plums, Prunus americana.
March 12, 2018 Plant Trees and Berries as a Community Project
Tree planting is a good way to help heal our troubled Earth. Once when serving as a priest in Frankfort, I organized 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 we received favorable comments on the planting action. Personal involvement made an impression on each young planter.
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. Early in my 14-year tenure various families obtained and assisted in planting fruit and nut trees. We have already had yields of peaches, mulberries, grapes, raspberries, blueberries and Enterprise apples that are resistant to our prevalent cedar rust, for we are in cedar (native juniper) country. Cherries, apricots and pears have been more problematic. It is good to have edible produce 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 fruit of our land to be anchored in 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, pecans, walnuts, and hickories. That is what we are doing. 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 persons remembered. Resolve to plant a tree either individually or as 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.
Revisiting the lenten rose, "hardy helebore," as the season progresses.
March 13, 2018 Challenge Inconsistent Drug Policies
On Good Samaritan Involvement Day we ask whether we overlook the drug victim on our hurried journey through life. The victim of the drug culture is a wounded person overlooked at 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 both legal and prescribed. America's long-running war on drugs costs us over three billion dollars a year, spent controlling and in trying to interdict drug trafficking, from poppy fields of Afghanistan to coca-gathering regions of the Andes and to meth labs here in America. No matter what the efforts drugs still reach their intended destinations, the willing consumer.
Those who document drug traffic from origin to finish point, say that controls may be achieved through some control and legalization -- a regulation that would deflate drug prices and turn attention from interception to education and drug abatement programs at the consuming end. Marijuana is being considered in this manner today in more and more states. Subsistence growing of coca and poppies will continue much as the natives have done for centuries. Big profits occur in processing drugs and through the distribution process. Each agent takes a cut in profits that soon mount a hundredfold, as a host of cartel operators get into the act. Then there are the rural or urban marketers cutting or stuffing the smuggled caches or pills. Ultimately, the victim who has borrowed or stolen money to feed the addiction is lying at 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 alcohol distilling and tobacco growing to flourish; law enforcers have imprisoned marijuana growers for producing a material that has far less health impact than tobacco, while our nation has forbidden very low-THC hemp varieties for fiber and other beneficial products -- but now that is starting to change for hemp growers in Kentucky.
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 face the problems of our age: the permissive sense of chemical and medicinal use of materials to which few show the respect that is due.
Preparing cold frames for early planting, with canine helper.
March 14, 2018 Encourage Temporary Cold Frames
When the weather becomes cooler garden produce needs protection, but what when early spring crops appear? Perhaps we need to extend the growing season in late winter and springtime as well. The temporary cold frame is perfect for such purposes. Salad greens are ideal candidates for inclusion in the cold frame, especially those that lived through the winter and now are coming back to life and must also be protected from late spring heat in order to stay tender. The cold frame is also most beneficial to allowing the early seedling to be protected against those late frosts that can retard spring produce. Certain salad greens like kale, Swiss chard, and collards are particularly hardy and can hold up better than others when the temperatures vary over a wide range. However, in spring, autumn-planted mustard quickly goes to seed, whereas kale, Swiss Chard and collards are far slower.
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 both protect from excessive cold and heat. 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 cover edges with wire pins formerly used in tobacco plant beds.
At this time of year the cold frames serve several purposes depending on the actual weather conditions. Radishes have a better chance of not going quickly to seed. Delicate lettuce can be protected as can spinach, arugula, and endive. The outdoor settings of brassicas such as cabbage, Brussels sprouts, broccoli and kohlrabi may benefit from the coverings as well though they are able to endure the cold weather quite well.
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. However, the continued protection in spring has benefits as well.
Prayer: Provident God, you give us many gifts, and some of these include our ingenuity to furnish produce for ourselves and others the fresh foods that we need.
Revisiting an Appalachian stream, as spring approaches.
March 15, 2018 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 have been forced to witness this in mountaintop removal in coal extraction operations, though the process is slowing with the demise of coal. The fragile hills and valleys have been transformed by immense earthmoving equipment that skinned the surface, threw over top layers to get valuable "black gold" and leave permanent landscape scars. When done by those who ought to be friendly associates, these are the most unkind cuts of all.
Now coal mining is on the decline and well-paying jobs are scarce. Long-standing regional poverty has toughened a people able to roll with the punches and even have time to make music and sing. 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 at risk to lose in times of troubles are those involved in fossil fuel finances: the bankers, brokers, investment operators, real estate agents, and on and on. Because these have made risky investments, they are the ones who contribute most to a financial downturn -- and they remind elected legislators about monetary favors received. Ultimately, the cure is to replace fossil fuels with a renewable energy economy.
Those receiving bailouts or golden parachutes for past CEO service 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. Those with black lung disease have been paying a price which has been omitted as environmental "costs." In fact, the mining would never have occurred if the hidden expenses had been levied throughout the coal-mining operations.
The economic system has its burdens; the poor who have had to endure them have had much to lose over time. However, there is a treasure in these hills in people who have never lost their sense of self worth and love of home. Poor folks all too often resort to song -- a type that reflects their conditions but also a sense of endurance and hope that times and conditions will improve. The scars of coal extraction will remain, for healing of Earth is a long slow process. 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, singing the blues is the introduction to bringing justice to our land -- and that is truly earthhealing.
Prayer: Lord, elevate our spirits to see that all troubles are passing, and we are called to help make them pass.
Wild chives emerge as seasonal snow melts.
March 16, 2018 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 of religious and unrelated secular significance: Candlemas 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 news media observe a particular groundhog, there is absolutely no track record of success. It may be a harsh late winter -- and sunny Groundhog Day has 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 something wanted but 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 a little skeptical and learn to be contented all the same.
Prayer: Lord, let us accept the present and await the future. Sufficient is the day for what it is -- with trust in you.
Approaches to Overcome the Wrongful U.S. Withdrawal
How can we as citizens bring about change to the current U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord? Approaches suggested here need not be considered as singularly satisfying, but should be considered simultaneously in conjunction with others.
Approach the perpetrator. Persuasion may still work though this is not so easy due to characters involved. The first is to get to the perpetrator (President Trump) and through some form of persuasion bring about change. This is obviously the most clearly directed step unless the hardened position is based not on individual private judgment but by pressure from those regarded by the perpetrator as of immense influence and power. This is where billionaires who befriend the president apply behind the scenes pressure that seeks to justify past individual action of a distracted leader who doesn't grasp the gravity of the situation.
Global political bargaining. The decision to withdraw was only "unilateral" from a leadership perspective; really a covey of Big Energy executives and investors who backed up President Trump. Thus the power of big money dictated the decision, and this for the privileged overrules the moral balance of world opinion speaking to save our planet from destruction. French President Macron says that "business bargaining" to lower U.S. contributed funds for the Accord is simply out of the question; such is not negotiable and rightly so. Why should the number one polluting nation be "left off the hook" because it has a hard-nosed businessman in the helm who wants to maximize profits for fellow deniers? Why not enter the community of nations and pay fair shares -- a practice apparently foreign to this White House?
National politics. To challenge denial of global warming through a change of administration would involve impeachment; however, withdrawal from the Accord would never be regarded as sufficient to start the proceedings -- and time is of the essence. We cannot tarry in this crisis, and other issues could blur the efforts at cooperating in the Accord by a new leader. Do we have the luxury to await a future election in 2020? A major change in the legislative branch this year could bring some soul-searching and an outside chance of horse trading with a weakened Trump Administration. A faint sign of hope is that the commitment to previous policies has changed in the past year. Certainly, the national situation is quite fluid.
State and local activities. Immediately after the President's June 2018 decision the airwaves filled with progressive state and local leaders vowing to carry on the climate change agenda through actions on those levels even without national assistance. Governor Jerry Brown announced what California intends to do; Brown and other leaders went to the 2017 climate change international meeting. Certainly these state and local efforts are extremely beneficial to the global problem, but unfortunately they are still piecemeal in manner and lack a national unified effort. Change of lower level energy policies are salutary and report after report say they are having an effect, but is it fast enough? The listing of cities and upcoming renewable energy goals is now positive news. It is more fashionable for localities and for industries and businesses within them to announce dates when they will be carbon-free, or half way there. See Sun Day weekly and quarterly reports.
Individuals, especially among younger students and groups, are joining forces and abstaining from fossil fuel driven practices; they choose electric and hybrid vehicles and greener lodging facilities. The drive to eat less meat and animal products and cut back on resource-rich foods has longer-term results. The problem is the inherent weakness of limited volunteerism. One must face reality in a culture of consumer maximization and overuse of resources in everything from food choices to electronic devices. A national problem exists and a multitude is excusing itself through added recycling and reduced meat consumption. However, this does not get at today's deeper environmental issues. Gravity works down and trickle-up local efforts are harder to effect.
Market forces play a bigger role than many of us care to acknowledge. That is because the prices of renewables are certainly becoming more competitive with fossil fuels -- and are increasingly being chosen for economic reasons. Furthermore, the cost of coal when including both environmental pollution and the emerging cost of the black lung epidemic among coal miners is making the occupation extremely costly; lung replacements are in the millions of dollars. Coal cannot withstand the market competition without governmental assistance in the long run. How long will it take Congress to arrive at this fact? Fossil fuel days are numbered even while prolonged by Big Energy efforts.
Urgency to act. It is evident that the numerous approaches listed above take too long given the current climate. Renewable energy sources are coming but far too slowly, and individual conservationist practices have to contend with the counter effects by affluent groups demanding more meat and higher resource foods. All have some sort of limitations which needs addressing. Let us look more closely at how we can affect each of the various areas of activity through our moral actions and still try to reach ways of influencing change at the national level ASAP. The nation must arise to this crisis but that is not easy.
Moral persuasion is powerful. Looking at this from a broader standpoint not of time but of moral insight should move us to persuade leaders in this country to break silence. All of us must speak out and those with greater influence must be even louder. It is time to consider the withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord as not a done deal but something that could be corrected to the benefit of all. The current Administration could change its anti-environmental stance to the favor of bi-partisan agreement -- and this rests in the realm of some possibility in uncertain times.
A field of lush, green clover.
March 17, 2018 St. Patrick and Clover
Saint Patrick's Day is the day in our state where we are expected to sow our clover and plant our first potatoes. Usually it is more easier to do the first than the second, for the season is often a wee bit too early for root crops. Maybe the good Saint's day is a good gauge of Irish crops, even though clover is far more native to Ireland than the American potato; 19th century potato's claim to fame occurred because of a famous famine.
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 Thor, the god of thunder. 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 (the Alsace French did not like the Germans), and I could gaze at the clover more readily than at the Thor tree.
All things said, my Celtophilia stops 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? In our farming days we sowed a variety of clover: 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. Otherwise she would have died suddenly.
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 clover for walking paths between plots of berries and vegetables. Some interplant crops in clover patches. However, in dry times clover competes for limited moisture in the field. Only later in life did I find out that blossoms of the white or red clover could be eaten by humans; these turn out to be good for garnishing salads -- and help bring back so many memories of clover days and hay fields. Have 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 wonderful gifts.
March 18, 2018 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 sense that a terrible risk is involved. Jesus predicts the hostile reception that awaits the party. His message is a difficult one for it involves total sacrifice -- even death -- for ultimate success. Most who read this agree that heroic people may be willing to sacrifice their lives for a cause but add that "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 followers as well.
Create a clean heart in me, O God. Jesus shows us that the first step in dying to self is to have a clean heart, one not filled with love of self. 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 unique 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 physical 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 our better performed service. There are heroic exceptions to this, 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 selfless 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 good works can endure and 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.
A mid-March view of the hills of Appalachia, Harlan Co., KY.
March 19, 2018 Coal Ash Ponds and Toxic Substances
A few years ago 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 stored contents are massive and cover tens of acres of land, one can expect serious problems when leaks occur.
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 preparing material 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 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. One cannot expect the current Administration to be concerned about environmental mercury.
While less and less electricity is coming from coal, still a sizeable contribution is expected from this source in the next two decades. There will be continued coal ash production. Some 40% of the 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; the remainder has been and continues to be major environmental concern. And without some further recycling the problem will continue in the future.
Prayer: Lord, help us to remain concerned about toxic metals
that find their way into our environment and threaten our health.
Blue sky on a Wyoming mountaintop.
March 20, 2018 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 blaze of seasonal splendor. With springtime joy, we are preparing to celebrate Easter with all 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 a blissful moment before a predator attacks. Our arrival and sojourn on Earth is short, a brief candle. We prepare to celebrate an eternal 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 become Easter people.
American ginseng, Panax quinquefolius. Nelson Co., KY.
March 21, 2018 Learn about Virtually Wild Ginseng
American Ginseng (Panax quinquefolius) 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) 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 Asian market that could escalate into billions of dollars.
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 within 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, unlike the digestive process of smaller birds that drop unbroken seeds.
Second, wild or virtually wild ginseng needs protection from a host of local and distant poachers who seek to gather ginseng when unguarded. Virtually wild ginseng requires a number of years to grow to become a harvestable root; thus the protection must be somewhat effective 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. See our YouTube Video on virtually wild ginseng featuring expert Syl Yunker.
Prayer: Lord, help us both to protect and to utilize the gift of ginseng that is considered so helpful to many people.
Morning sun through pine grove.
March 22, 2018 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 wander on its merry way."
As people live longer and enjoy longer spans of good health, ought they not reconsider the life of the retired? However, the experience of these older healthy citizens is very much needed in our world. Even though millions reach "mandatory" retirement age, 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 current cost of living 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 needed to work as a gift worthy of ongoing gratitude. Each new day is all the more precious in an ever shortening time span. Thus potential 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, i.e., golfing, fishing, and playing cards. These are pleasurable on occasions, but not worthy of a steady diet. Such leisure 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; sick calls may mean taking time for fewer but more meaningful visits; working may involve mental exercise and less physical exertion; new activities may include 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 target group (shut-ins) can become more active through prayers for others. 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.
Pinesap, Monotropa hypopitys.
March 23, 2018 Become 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. Furthermore, trees can be planted as memorials in honor of special people; by doing this we make a statement of faith in the process of global revitalization.
3. Participating in political life -- We ought to support candidates, vote, and encourage elected officials to show justice in all their dealings. Quite often on our own we can influence legislation for the better at the local, state or national levels through phone, email, letters, lobbying or personal confrontation.
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 no resources.
5. Blessing -- We can enhance nature by blessing creatures in a prayerful manner. Within ten days we will celebrate 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 use of corn for biofuel really affect the price of food? How is the Triune God manifested in what we do?
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 resistance in order to show the weaknesses and injustices of the current Administration.
Prayer: Lord, show me and other activists positive ways to heal our wounded Earth according to the resources at hand.
Confronting Climate Change Deniers Now
Some will say the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord has occurred and we must move on. However, withdrawing was not a one-time occurrence set in stone without consequences; unfortunately, this silence could be dismissed as misplaced tolerance. However, withdrawal is still having a critical effect and must be confronted by responsible citizenry when possible. Continued fossil fuel use is leading the world to catastrophe. A nation fooled by the mirage of its own greatness could consider itself big enough to refuse to cooperate in the Accord with other nations, but that is a mistake that must be exposed. We can hardly wait for one or other of green-type approaches to work. The pronouncement from a confused leader with major problems who only listens to super-rich profiteers cannot be dismissed too easily.
The ongoing effects of this withdrawal decision, which could be reversed, are monumental. A people steeped in fiction and indebtedness has little grasp of reality and the potential harm this withdrawal may cause. Denial leads to excuses for not acting and, when excuses fail, people turn in order to preserve psychic health to other issues. A deep spirituality is one that faces raw reality and is still able to sustain peace of mind while engaged in corrective action. Yes, catastrophe stares us in the face with goals of carbon dioxide and other greenhouse gas reductions not being met. Many prefer to tolerate denials, excuses and escapes rather than embark on a program of direct confrontation. We must be encouraged to spell out this harm associated with withdrawal from the Accord and to take direct actions to bring about change.
Preferably, taking direct action does not mean engaging the deniers as though they have valid intellectual reasons for their hesitancy to join forces. The fact is that conceding to talking points is precisely what the profiteers desire so that the extending of fossil fuel profiteering will occur as long as possible. Their motives are not honest debate but delay of meaningful action to bring about a renewable energy economy. Thus, this is not a rerun on the causes of the climate change that have been laid out by 99% of climate expert scientists. Risks plainly demonstrated by this community along with melting glaciers and ice sheets, rising acidification and ocean levels, greater frequency of extreme weather conditions, and increasing summer temperature records result in only one moral judgment: even if remotely overrated, prudence demands taking remedial action.
Media confrontation. Unfortunately, climate change deniers have a grasp on some major media outlets, sporting events, and popular cultural expressions, which help promote their status quo position. While this tolerance and perpetuation of monetary power continues, the denial has a certain ill-gotten hold on the citizenry and is tolerated as though a reasonable position. Here opposition within the media (Internet social networks) as well as academic debate, letters to the editor, media presentations, and opinion essays are of utmost importance. However, this is not a purely intellectual exercise between two equals, but rather the exposure of a sham and why it is so utterly costly to the environment.
Legal actions. One must not forget the power of the existing laws on the books and how worthwhile it is to bring lawsuits to require adherence to those existing regulations. The vast case load of environmental law must not be overlooked, nor the ones pressing these forward forgotten. The non-profits bringing these deserve our continued support.
Political opposition. Support or defeat of the various protagonists is a longer term approach to bringing about change, and this applies directly to those favoring or opposing withdrawal from the Accord. Support of that Accord is a key reason for choices to the upcoming 2018 midterm election and the 2020 general election. Change must come through the more legitimate electorial process and proper legislation, and not through violent action. Must we afford to wait so long?
Investor opposition. Opposition to Big Energy through persuading investors to go elsewhere has been partly successful, but not enough to halt the widespread profiteers and to change the federal policy of subsidizing fossil fuel producers. To a degree this is working but, with the ups and downs of the market place, this could become a long-term solution after considerable environmental damage has occurred.
Petitions, marches and demonstrations. One must ask when the matters are so serious whether conventional confrontations from the media, electorial process, and investor choices are sufficient. Our country is the only nation as such that officially denies climate change, and this Administration has forced all agencies working within it to refuse to participate or even mention climate change in their activities. This is a disastrous condition that is frankly intolerable. Our problem is that dramatic marches and citizen action can only endure so long without become a tiring effect with resulting reduction in numbers.
Continued citizen actions. We can directly confront a system that is unsustainable through petitions, letter writing, lectures, organizing and legal actions. It is utterly important at this time that such confrontation is encouraged and undertaken by an aroused citizenry that is willing to bear responsibility. Every effort must be made to show that these actions can have a cumulative effect in bringing about change. Relentless citizen involvement will ultimately pay off. Encouragement comes through positive efforts, and the more we do to change the current national situation the greater our national contribution to curbing climate change. Authentic change takes a variety of approaches, both tried in the past and still to be conceived in the future. These need to work simultaneously for the best results. We cannot afford to tire in our efforts.
Hidden "walking stick," Diapheromera femorata.
March 24, 2018 Become Earthhealing Groups
Not all earthhealing processes are performed effectively at an individual level; some require group participation:
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. Resistance is needed.
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 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 earthhealing 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 litterer is caught; we end up cleaning after irresponsible people. Still as healers, groups can achieve joint projects with finesse.
5. Signing joint petitions -- 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 on issues.
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 worked as a team to perform over 200 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 models 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. What about the flooding and extreme weather conditions to poor folks resulting from climate change? 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, then healing extends to an entire community.
Prayer: Lord, help us work together to heal our wounded Earth, especially in this time of severe climate change.
Common chickweed, Stellaria media.
March 25, 2018 Palm Sunday: Hollow Shouts of Adulation
Today Christians wave palm branches and sing Hosanna to the King of kings. How sincere is this gesture? This demonstration comes five days before the awful Calvary event. Only too often in life we say that victory has occurred long before the struggle is over; take the official close of hostilities in Iraq in May, 2003. Maybe we want victory so badly that we warp realities to shout that it has now occurred -- and the Middle East conflict continues. A review of that first Palm Sunday unveils a profound message: those who shouted victory could be fickle; by the following Friday some of the same voices would shout, "Crucify him." How could people change so fast, but is it part of being human? Some attitudes betray similar fickleness and other weaknesses:
"Be with me, Lord," and then we turn our backs on God's goodness and separate ourselves through sinfulness.
"We have the world's greatest health system," and then we find that the American system is far down the list, on almost every count below that of the other industrialized nations. The biggest claim to fame is that it is the most expensive and still fails to cover millions of people.
"I'm saved, are you?" This is actually tainted by the sin of presumption, a sin against the Holy Spirit. Where is the journey of faith that ought to be carried out in fear and trembling?
"We are blessed because of who we are." Instead of this misplaced exceptionalism, we are truly blessed by the goodness of the Almighty. Rather, we need to express gratitude for gifts given and for the opportunity to share these with people in other lands.
"I'm happy, are you?" This is somewhat hard to prove and our hesitancy might be taken as an indictment of us. Happiness exudes from the whole person and is not a verbal affirmation or denial. Too many people show times of depression and such a glum face that it is hard during times of woe to say happiness flourishes.
"We are secure." This is a wishful expression betraying an underlying insecurity. Many live in the fear that there will be a repeat of 9-11 or that someone with an infectious virus will turn it loose on an unsuspecting urban population.
"We work harder than the poor who can care for themselves." The facts show the poor are quite often hard-working people with deep debts due to excessive health co-pays or student indebtedness.
"The rich deserve more tax breaks." So they lobby!
Prayer: Lord, we prepare for Holy Week with a sincere heart and a knowledge that we need to do better in the way we act. Help us to know exactly who we are and how we can improve. Give us the insight to correct our faults and prepare for Easter.
The beginnings of an anvil cloud formation?
March 26, 2018 Promote Disaster Alert and Relief Systems
Disasters, whether natural or of human origin, can and do occur. As the reflection on March 8 indicates, this effect can be something next door to us or rather remote. We can be responsible such as know an emergency escape route, store 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 to us or optimistic enough to say it will never happen to us. We tend to dismiss a thesis that a wrathful God causes disasters. On the other hand, we respect the power of natural forces. Is this done by those who build on a flood plain or on the slopes of an active volcano, or who 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 living on the Asiatic, oceanic and African coastlines might still be living. Granted, some disastrous events are better predicted than others. Many volcano eruptions can be predicted with increasing accuracy but earthquake predicting systems are not nearly as accurate.
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 in New Orleans, response timing and materials delivery were highly criticized because responsible agencies were expected to act more quickly. The ability of a uniting world to respond instantly to disasters is growing and involves people from many lands -- responses unheard of just a century or so ago. The same applies to relief to victims from numerous terrorist events that seem to occur with greater frequency in this decade.
Prayer: Lord, allow us to look after our brothers and sisters in all parts of the world through better alert and relief systems.
American crow, Corvus brachyrhynchos.
March 27, 2018 Review My Conflict with Crows
I am tempted to avoid this story even though retold by me many times. With age I find it regretful through a growing respect for crows. It is history to be reviewed, not necessarily repeated, for with years my respect for all birds has deeply increased.
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 even in preteen 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 real; hunting a poor rabbit was not even good sport.
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 River 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 hundreds of 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 ahead 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 deterrent 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. Right?
Prayer: Lord, teach us better ways to protect our crops.
Trillium sessile. Lebanon, TN.
March 28, 2018 Spy Wednesday
No one likes to be spied upon but does our complacency lead to this happening in various sinister ways, even when we don't have much to hide? We might say we live such unimportant lives that we would like to be a target of a spy, provided it does not involve violence. However, what makes this daydream somewhat less appealing is the reality that we are being spied upon -- but as individual potential consumers in a large mass of spied-upon Internet users; we are targets of potential commerce. And, to be sure, this spying does violence to our own privacy rights.
Computer users now have something more than just SPAM and viruses to worry about. Spyware is out there ready to burrow into our utmost privacy to find out all about us, namely, what our interests are, what we tend to buy, the size and composition of our family, our friends and connections, and how we spend our leisure time. Our personal history is now becoming available to those who want to use e-mail logging data for their own commercial advantages. Whether we like it or not, we are the target of these business ventures -- all for the great god of capitalism. Can we do anything about it, or must we reluctantly accept the erosion of our privacy as part of the price of globalization and ready Internet access? Without hesitation we reveal our Social Security number upon demand from a bank or motel or business office. Note that when first given, these Social Security numbers were to be only available to governmental agencies for official business, but that was six decades ago, and times have changed.
We are all out there hitchhiking on the highway of www, a mixed blessing at best. It is such a joy to connect with a friend in Asia. But greater access to others carries risks and perils.
We open ourselves to being spied upon not by someone listening with hidden earphones but through impersonal listening devices, which analyze, compile and spit out messages with hardly any human input associated with the operation. It is at first reassuring to know that efficient anti-spyware is on the market. However, rest assured that some hacker is right now working to beat the current system. This draws us into the infinite game of overcoming one obstacle and then finding another one just over the crest. The Internet is open to misuse.
Is there something even more sinister and not nearly as hidden? Is it the level of control now being imposed on our people, what Sheldon S. Wolin calls the anonymity of the corporate state, or inverted totalitarianism? Wolin holds that in no period of American history has our democracy been in such peril or has the possibility of totalitarianism been so real. He says our way of life is over. Our profligate consumption is over; our economy has collapsed. Are we within a corporate state? When we dare to speak are we becoming marginalized and ignored?
Prayer: Lord, help us keep our eyes open, our options clear, and our spirits high so we can help make this a freer world.
Halberd leaf yellow violet, Viola hastata. Red River Gorge, KY.
March 29, 2018 Nursing Homes
On Holy Thursday we think about what makes this a special holy day: the Lord washed the feet of the disciples on this evening. Caregiving is all sorts of service that goes beyond washing feet but in equally humble ways includes all of our special talents -- and demands our cheerfulness and dedication. Our caregiving can approach the heroic when people who are abandoned or mentally ill do not appreciate what we do for them. Nursing facilities are really a rather recent invention and have resulted in moving people from active lives, often in a home environment, to those senior places at the end of life's journey. Cheerfulness amid mixed reception and often lack of gratitude is a challenge for staff at nursing facilities -- and often the work is hard and the pay low.
The senior citizen picture, like all national institutional fields, is spotty with some areas better than others. As health care costs rise, the nursing facilities are squeezed. That was evident a few years back when some of us tried to get such nursing facilities to introduce gardening among more able members. One group said, "We let our garden manager go because we can't afford such a position now." Some private nursing homes are going beyond removing the specialty folks; they are cutting into the lean of the facility itself. That is why different states are striving to set standards for operation for all nursing facilities, standards that guarantee minimal care for occupants. Federal and state governments try to trim ballooning costs but it is the defenseless elderly clients who are no longer able to lobby for their own interests. Horror stories about neglect exist.
Ideally, every home should welcome elders in the extended family. Spatial and working restraints limit those options in so many homes. In others, people do not want to or cannot attend to their elderly relatives and thus the nursing facility becomes the only viable option. Assisted living is sufficient for some, but with age and major health problems total health care is needed. This institutionalized option becomes more desirable when the nursing home residents are loved and cared for as a family.
In some places this is the case, and the facility becomes a haven for the weak and neglected and those requiring more care than home dwellers can provide for their loved ones. The facilities need to be a decent place with proper oversight that ensures they are clean, fire-proof, sufficiently heated in winter, provided with space to move about and generally cheerful. Such facilities may require public funds but these are no greater than a fraction of one percent of our national military expenditures. As grateful citizens we owe our elders a decent conclusion to their earthly sojourn. Honor our parents and elders! It's the least we can do.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to care in a special way for those in nursing homes, both through direct loving service and as citizens in ensuring that funding and oversight are adequate for their needs.
Purple cress, Cardamine douglassii, native Appalachian wildflower.
March 30, 2018 Calvary and Human Wounds
Imagine the mixture of the sounds of Calvary with the crowds in their jeering and boisterous jostling and loud irreverent conversation. Curses and catcalls. Yet in the shadows of the cross are the few who pray in silent whispers with Mary his Mother. The terrifying scene is too unsightly to gaze on for long. The dark clouds are swirling in a foreboding manner, punctuated by lightning flashes all about. The Earth trembles knowing a monumental event is occurring.
We smell the sweat of the unwashed at the garbage heap called "Calvary;" we taste sour wine and death in the making; if we listen intensely, we hear the central figures of all who are suffering -- the suffering Body of Christ today. They are coming to their final dying words and their final hours. The final curtain call of life and the ultimate cry of peoples form the chorus call of the dying. Here we experience the Calvary event extended in space and time. Today and every day this year about two hundred thousand people come to the most important moment of their lives, that day written on a granite slab in a cemetery. Thus we hear their words --
"You will be with me in paradise" hears the one who stands up for justice and knows that there is nothing to take beyond death's door but the love stored up over the years.
"Why have you forsaken me?" pleads the abandoned, the homeless, the refugee, the ones with no place to turn to or go.
"Forgive them" pray the bloodied victims of abuse in one of many forms, who still have the sense of mercy in their hearts.
"Here is your mother," offers a dying AIDS victim to her whimpering child soon to be among 13 million orphans.
"I thirst" comes from a million parched throats and those who would die to have one more addictive drink.
"It is consummated" mumble those on the battlefields, the cancer wards, the hospices and the dying beds of a million places.
"Father, into your hands I commend my spirit," are the final words of people who have courageously battled the wasting diseases of our age. It is their final will, their leaving mortal life in composure, their preparation to have the Spirit sweep them up.
Prayer: Jesus be with us. It's silent now, blessed silence, when we pay respects in nods and hugs and few words, for we are speechless in the midst of death that has occurred, and with fleeting memories of a divine life spent in total sacrifice. Even the Earth seems exhausted after its own upheavals and convulsions, and the respectful silence comes after its cries of anguish as total desolation sets in. We now say good bye, so we can come back on Sunday when you rise on Easter morn.
A Plea to Church leaders
A plea to confront climate change deniers is directed to all religious leaders, especially those who have the ear of the President. Some Evangelicals and others feel close to President Trump, so there is an opportunity to speak about one of the greatest moral issues: climate change. This President, as unique among the entire global top leadership community, opposes the Paris Climate Accord of 2016. That act is the greatest anti-life action by any President; yet his apparent friends remain silent. Where are the Prosperity Christians who agree on pro-life issues? Is the silence on climate issues because the Trump position agrees with Big Energy billionaires who continue Fossil Fuel profiteering as long as possible? Are you leaders willing to risk losing donations from wealthier climate change deniers?
You who are prosperity religion leaders are obviously smart and materially successful. Do you dare attack Big Energy and the large profits that demand extending the highly federally subsidized fossil fuel economy to as long as possible -- much like Big Tobacco did for several decades in the 20th century? Would you dare to offend the Koch Brothers or those shadow wealthy folks who furnish you with fast vehicles and high priced wrist watches? Don't you smile with encouragement when Trump appoints likeable judges or promise to extend his good will to migrants or subsidies to forgotten Middle East minorities? But where are you on the greatest anti-life attack by a leader in this century, I mean if you totally ignore his act of withdrawal from the Paris Climate Accord? To allow the damage to our planet on which all life depends is the purest and clearest act of the culture of death. And you remain silent! How dare you?
I challenge you to mention to Trump the major issue of our globe's viability. Though this may go against your selected evangelistic or fundamentalistic principles, it may bring you to the arena of the true prophet with all the risks and the loss of desired privilege. Choose life, for God's sake, and life means the life of this planet. Don't become a covey of sycophants. You have access to the President so now use it well. I do not envy your position for I am virtually immobile and in old age do not have the energy to hopefully change the President's mind. But you might be able to. U.S. environmental leadership is utterly needed, something that states and local governments attempt but cannot do alone. As major polluter, the U.S. has a moral obligation to support curbing greenhouse gases and avoid potential catastrophe.
We are not speaking about legislation and the Johnson Amendment, but rather about the unilateral action of our U.S. President. If you are a religious community leader, then please act as such and engage in the singular issue of our time, so needed to save our threatened Earth. You can make a difference through moral persuasion. Planetary life is at stake, and pro-lifers should be in the forefront of this environmental crisis.
Lily-of-the-valley, Convallaria majalis, in the spring garden.
March 31, 2018 Resurrection and the Garden
Christ rose to new life in a garden and we are reminded how this contrasted with Eden, a pristine garden damaged by human misdeed. If going from human fault to new life has a garden setting, so should our growth in spiritual life be in and through a garden setting. Garden Week next month is a perfect time to celebrate a resurrection-centered spirituality and to discover the garden as a setting for our renewal of spiritual life.
* Gardens give life. The seeds need planting and tender loving care and thus we are instrumental in allowing the flora to flourish. Gardening is an ongoing project from start to harvest and requires cultivation and a sort of entering into the growing cycle. While God is the giver of all life, we are the ones who enhance life through our efforts, and we thus become givers. The produce of the garden gives us life as well, for we become our own growing land. Thus, gardens root us in our local community.
* Gardens are for sharing. We share the produce that we grow both with the needy and with other gardeners in order to increase variety; we share the expertise that we acquire with those who are beginners or who need encouragement; and we share the principle of growing our own food and becoming self-sustainable to an ever deepening degree.
* Gardens are attractive to passersby and to butterflies, birds and other wildlife. In fact, gardens are so attractive that they need protection. In recent years I found accidentally that planting borders of mustard has the effect of keeping rabbits and other critters out -- and there are other methods as well.
* Gardens are opportunities for all. Gardening is welcomed by a variety of people such as senior citizens who do not want to completely cease working outdoors. It is the wonder of watching plants grow and mature and knowing that the results of our efforts are visible. This gardening experience convinces us that we can still give life, share and make beautiful artifacts, that is, gardens themselves.
* Gardens cement relationships. Gardeners have so much in common that the mutually shared activity is a type of bonding. Many regard recreation as winning and losing in some game or sport; here, all can gain and still have a good time in a shared exercise. A certain competitiveness is possible, not to defeat another, but to excel over one's previous efforts. It must not become plot against plot, for plants don't like all this turf fighting.
* Gardens are schools for learning. Those who assist and those who visit learn where the food comes from, the effort and care it takes to grow, and the need for gardeners to become sensitive to local and seasonal weather conditions.
Prayer: Lord, make my place a garden of renewed life.