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Daily Reflections Earth Healing

Daily Reflections
by Al Fritsch, S.J.


A series of written meditations and reflections



Sustainable Living Through Appropriate Technology

by Al Fritsch & Paul Gallimore

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Table of Contents: Daily Reflections


May 2007


Copyright © 2007 by Al Fritsch

Daily Reflections Earth Healing print reflection

Cypripedium acaule, pink lady's slipper
Laurel County, Kentucky

  May Reflections

May enters with trumpet blasts, for spring has truly sprung in our part of the world. It arrives with its heavily scented black locust blooms, a proliferation of roses, irises and poppies, the underpinning of lilies of the valley and the last of the many wildflowers of April. The second floral carpet includes those that thrive under the unfolding canopy of green such as the black-eyed Susans and the may-apples. This is the time of the blooming blackberry, the apple and the pear. This is the season of the first hay harvest and the freshly tilled fields of sprouting corn and soybeans; it is the period to plant tomatoes and to await the first beans, cucumbers and cabbage. All is ready for a growth spurt of this full flowering month.

This year the flowers budded and the leaves came out earlier -- tulips in late March and heavy foliage in early April. The may-apple growth came three weeks early and even the birds seem a little confused about the early spring particularly since some unexpected freezing weather touched the landscape in the first week of April and killed the early fruit blossoms. It has been an unpredictable spring. What will the rest of 2007 bring?


May 1, 2007         Wildfires and Forest Life


   Scorced earth turtle wildfire

    Scorched earth, forest floor after wildfire.  Cumberland Gap National Historical Park.
    (*photo credit)

    At the beginning of May we celebrate "Be Kind to Animals and Wildflowers Week."  One way to show this kindness is to preserve the habitat of the wild flora and fauna with which we are blessed.  Without a healthy habitat these plants and animals cannot survive.  An earlier essay, "Forest Fires" (August 5, 2006), mentioned human residences in forested areas and the problems associated with human impacts caused by arsonists and careless visitors.  Threats exist.  However, somewhat overlooked was the impact on individual wildflowers and wildlife that inhabit these threatened areas.  Without forest cover these plants and animals cannot survive and flourish, as experts are quick to tell us.

     What must we do beyond preventing forest devastation?  For one thing, we should strive to experience the woodlands through hiking, provided we do so in a non-polluting manner.  We could "walk the woods" through a written travelogue or through photos or a motion picture or the Internet -- a virtual tour.  What we come to appreciate should take us one step farther to a growing concern about our wildlife.  Let's take the second step of learning about the major threats to woodlands.  When we realize that off-road vehicles can smash some very rare wild orchids, we are moved to take steps to stop them.  The same holds true for misplaced timber harvesting and other forms of so-called development and human operations that impact wilderness.

     What becomes evident is that a wildfire can suddenly cause immense damage to woodlands.  These fires come quickly (either by human cause or by lightning), and burn too fast for animals to find means of escape by burrowing in, flying away or escaping on hoof.  From what I have experienced, forest fires are terrifying, unpredictable and, once started, make us feel quite powerless.  They destroy far more than the trees themselves.  The biotic life is highly disturbed and, with the exception of a few plants and animals that have adapted to frequent fires, many species are wiped out in the fire-damaged area.

     The serious danger of wildfires during this growing season makes us seek measures to reduce their impact: minimize campfires in the woods and never leave them unattended;  promote adequate police protection of forestlands; report infringements of existing regulations; cease outdoor burning when that is forbidden; stand up for the expansion of protected wilderness areas and support the limiting of human activities in designated areas; halt wildflower, ginseng, and wildlife poaching in both public and private woodlands; encourage the reintroduction of species in burnt-over territory; and plant trees in burnt over and heavily deforested regions.  Certainly no one of us can do all of these things, but at least we can plant trees as an initial gesture of concern.  In this way, we show respect for the wildlife that live in these fragile areas -- and we can do so as an act of kindness to the wildlife struggling to survive there.


May 2, 2007            Going "Cold Turkey"

  Little brown jug, Hexastylis arifolia 

    Little brown jug, Hexastylis arifolia
    (*photo credit)

   The expression  "going cold turkey" (gct) refers to changing one's practices without using medicines or medical services.  With tobacco addiction, "gct" refers to refraining from using nicotine patches or gums or certain medicines in order to break with the addictive habit of smoking.  Some tobacco people say, "If you want to quit smoking, consider chewing." They hold that certain smokeless tobacco products are less harmful than others and that these contain far fewer milligrams of cancer-causing nitrosamines.  But chewing or snuff taking are temptations that do not address the basic addictiveness of tobacco.  In fact, recent research has found that cold turkey is more likely to result in remaining abstinent than is taking nicotine-products, which are not really coming to terms with addictive behavior.

     Actually more people experience "cold turkeyhood" than is at first imagined.  When people are hospitalized or imprisoned, they no longer have access to the abusive substances.  In federal prisons today the inmates are not permitted to smoke and so they have gone cold turkey whether they want to or not.  Sometimes the process involves the suffering associated with withdrawal, but that is not life-threatening (as is the practice of smoking), only somewhat painful.  In an age when many have little tolerance for pain, this cold turkey process becomes a monumental event.  But in the entire order of things, the pain of "gct"is little compared with the suffering of a smoker undergoing cancer treatment and the terminal stages of lung cancer.   

     Coupling the process of "gct" with unfamiliar or pleasant alternative events can be one practical way to effect success.  I broke with smoking by taking a trip out west with non-smokers in 1983, and the unfamiliar landscape and mountains helped alleviate the pain and reenforce the new tobacco-free habit.  My suggestion as one who endured this thirty-five years ago is to break clean and to do so with the assistance of others who do not smoke.  This is meant as advice both for smokers who are trying to quit and for those setting up conditions for encouraging their smoking friends to break the habit once and for all.  In fact, a gradualist approach of using patches or gums or chewing tobacco is a non-verbal communication to the addicted person that the caregiver does not believe the smoker will stop.

     Amazingly, I have found that quite a number of people who are receiving medical treatments for smoking-related diseases will not quit even in terminal stages.  When they are gently quizzed as to current practices, they say that it is too late, or that terminating their practice will not help.  "Why stop now?"  Besides, they find the smoking habit is a valuable crutch now, as it has been for some time while their health has been gradually eroding.  A combination of denial, justification, and pure addiction stares them in the face.  Far better to target those who are still in good health as the prime candidates for going cold turkey.  Good luck on your efforts.


May 3, 2007            Ministry of Healing

   natures terrarium

   Unintentional terrarium, developed inside old bottle left behind the in the forest. 
    (*photo credit)


  Ministry is doing something of service for another.  Our Earth is not a paying customer apart from the priceless gift of natural beauty that it gives to each of us.  Ministry in healing our troubled Earth is a payback, something that we owe to the planet, not an opportunity to make money off a sick victim. 

     Care-giving has now become so institutionalized that one might expect that the caregiver needs a certification, degree, certificate, and on-going educational experience in order to be an "earth-healer."  I suspect one way is to invent the title Doctor of Earth Healing and to have an educational enterprise confer the "DEH" degree for some sum of money to all who feel the need for a doctorate in an emerging field.  Wouldn't that be a racket that many could see through, like commercials for obtaining a degree for a 'few hundred dollars?  I recently received a computerized bill from a therapy center I had never heard to be paid instantly to the amount of "ALBERT" and wondered who the poor computer puncher was who developed such an odd billing.  I discovered there were over forty thousand such mistakes with that one billing.  Misplaced professionalism is not healing;  instead, it makes us sick.

     In what does this new form of healing ministry consist?  As with healers who direct their work to human beings, Earthhealing involves a number of characteristics: awareness and compassion for those who hurt (even beyond the human sphere); patience and effort required to understand what is happening; knowledge and creativity in formulating remedies based on the best experience; willingness to get one's hands dirty and not just expect others to do something; enthusiasm to assist in bringing others into the healing ministry; and hope that ultimate victory may be obtained.      

     Each of these characteristics is worth pondering and is found in the course of reading "Eco-Spirituality through the Seasons" on this website.  Awareness means that one does not deny the reality of environmental degradation and the phenomenon of global warming and climate change.  Compassion means that we  suffer vicariously and strive to assist all victims -- flora, fauna and especially people (eco-justice is one with social justice).   Listening and learning means that we must take the time to understand the emerging sickness.  And the result must be a down-to-earth spirituality that impels us to become involved without excuse or seek to escape from the work ahead.  Enthusiasm is contagious and thus we need to inspire others to join us as Earthhealers, for the task is too great for just a few hands.

     Victory can and must be obtained for the sake of the family of all beings.  We are one with others and in that oneness we desire to see continuation of planetary life in all its forms.  We do not want to see extinction, whether it be cultures and languages or endangered plant and animal species.  We are confident that today's trends can be reversed -- but it takes a living hope to bring all this about. 


May 4, 2007            Two Faces of Kentucky

   tree gall CODIT

   Tree oddity, a large gall near breast height of a tree.
(*photo credit)

     This weekend is the famous Kentucky Derby and the Queen of England is going to be in attendance.  She likes our Commonwealth and has visited it at certain times to enjoy the hospitality of Kentucky horse people.  I guess she knows the Bluegrass State quite well and even feels comfortable here.  This makes us reflect on that one side of Kentucky -- the side of wealth and affluence.  We are aware that John Kennedy and Lyndon Johnson also came to the Eastern portions of Kentucky to squat on porches and talk to those who were beset by poverty.  How could one area (and ours is among the lower third in size among the fifty states) have such contrasts in such relatively short distances of less than one hundred miles? 

     The Queen is arriving and going up to our "golden triangle" of Louisville-Lexington-Northern Kentucky, where much of the wealth is concentrated.  The triangle is not really "up," for topographically all portions of that area are downstream from the highlands and headwaters of the Licking and Kentucky Rivers.  The "up" refers to social status, and this is still a very status-conscious state.  The flag of the Commonwealth has a pioneer with a coonskin cap standing and facing a stately aristocrat in a business suit;  they are shaking hands.  Under this is a motto, "United We Stand."  Well, yes to some degree, but standing has different meanings and it needs further definition so that all people share in the resources of a particular place -- but some have a greater standing than others. 

     I think the founding fathers of our country would find the social divisions in our noble state as being hard to visualize at the start of the 21st century.  But in retrospect, it may be an honest microcosm of our world.  We have a divided world and the status symbols tell of a deeper reality -- of people who strive to entertain the wealthy and notable and seek to shut out the poor and shabby;  of some who have the best and the greatest and others who cannot afford health care;  of some who live in splendid retirement comfort and others who must work sixty hours a week and don't dare object for fear of losing their jobs.

     Kentucky is beautiful and has many resources that are not equally distributed.  Though a fair share of that natural beauty has been found in eastern Kentucky with its plentiful wildflowers and immense herds, flocks, and coveys of wildlife, still some people do not regard this of equal value to manicured horse farms with painted, plank wood fences (from eastern forests) and barns.  Both forests and horse farms are greenspace and both are under attack from different forces: the former from coal and timber operations and the latter from developers wanting to expand housing developments and shopping centers.  For us to stand united means that we take into consideration both of these problem areas and view them as of equal importance.  Environmental solutions are easier to tackle when we see the entire commonwealth as just that -- a wealth that has its commons that must be respected by all, and for all.


May 5, 2007           The Horse Culture

    thoroughbreds keeneland kentucky bluegrass

    Thoroughbreds in the early morning light
(*photo credit)


  Every year on the first Saturday of May a Kentuckian's fancy turns to horses.  Horses are and have always been a part of our culture.  I grew up on a farm with horses but they were the plodding work type except for "ole Babe" who was a retiree allowed to be ridden by us youngsters.  Babe was my grandmother's gift to my dad, and I will never forget his grieving when the horse passed at a ripe old age of thirty. 

     The Babe story could be replicated frequently in our Commonwealth.  I recall the more aristocratic riding horses of our more aristocratic neighbors, the work horse that took loads of wheat to the threshing machine, the horses that were used to plow the fields, the horses in simpler times that would come up to the plank fences at race horse farms to allow the passengers of a parked vehicle to pet their noses and offer them apples.  We had the places on main street that still had posts for reining the horses with buggies, and these posts were often given a fresh coat of black paint.  We heard tales of a trusted horse taking the intoxicated owner back home while he napped.  We knew how horses became family members of sorts.  Horse culture, from the smell of their manure to the coarse feel of their tails as they hit you when swatting flies is deep, very deep in our collective memory.  The rapid transfer from horse to auto culture came at a great price.

     I guess all these remembrances of our horse culture hit us harder on Derby Day.  In order to exercise a fidelity to that culture we learn the names of Derby runners, place bets, watch the three-minute act on television, and talk to friends about whether we chose the winner to friends on Monday.  A number will actually observe the event in person (see yesterday's mention).  It is an annual event that gives us pause.  And we have a heightened sense of interest this year because of the upcoming 2010 World Equestrian Games that will soon occur near Lexington at "The Horse Park," a place most Kentuckians are proud of.

     Family friends, the Brodts, bequeathed the senior Mr. Brodt's blacksmithing equipment to that horse park -- and so a little bit of my neighborhood is present there.  When I see buggies and horse drawn farm equipment in museums today, I know that I am a senior citizen -- especially since we used these types of museum pieces in my early work-horse years.  For some, these pieces being displayed seem ancient, but for many of us they were integral parts of a culture that seems at times to be fading.  In fact, some friends such as Wendell Berry still use work horses, though I for one did not really like to work the horses, or even to become an accomplished horse rider.  But even without that personal touch, every Derby Day I do recall the horse age, when during the busy work day we would pause to let the horses get their wind.  It was a slower time and one that is missed by the modern get-up-and-go culture.  Horses gave quality to our life, and on this day I put that "gave" into the present and future tense.  May that culture continue with us.


May 6, 2007               Renew!

    coltsfoot Tussilago farfara

   Resident aliens, transplanted coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara)
(*photo credit)

  Declare this with cries of joy and proclaim it,

        and send it out to the ends of the Earth. (Isaiah 48:20)       

     No one of us is condemned to remain in the rut that we helped to create for ourselves.  "Renewal" is a word that comes back to haunt us time and again because the first time we said it we thought all would become new by merely speaking.  All can never be new, for the old is deeply with us -- and in some ways we ought to be thankful for we have much of that history within.  But to renew is to enter into a metamorphosis, or change to a new form like a tadpole to a frog.  Amazingly the transformations in nature are often dramatic, such as when seed grows to seedling and then to mature plant.  As we watch this growth occur in nature, we become aware that we undergo change, and we are expected to change most dramatically within the spiritual realms where our destiny lies.

     As we know from St. John's Gospel, peace is God's gift to us.  This means that we receive a gift of loving peace even though we may fail to see it as transformative.  In this Easter season when we celebrate new life, we recommit ourselves to peace, a peace that cannot remain dormant, a hidden treasure.  If left unused it will tarnish.  Rather, the gift of peace can become spiritually transformative;  we can become a new person in the Lord, and we see that this can empower us to become public, to go out of ourselves.

     One aspect of renewal is to see all others as part of our own family.  What affects us in our local community with its joys, sorrows and concerns is also meant to reach beyond the narrow confines of our local community.  So often, we allow others to define the narrow limits of our concerns and make us turn either within ourselves or within our immediate surroundings.  Renewal may mean just what the call of Isaiah is saying -- declare it, proclaim it, send it out.  And what is this "it" except the Good News that we are set free?  We realize that this divine gift of peace is truly something new and something to declare and proclaim. 

     We are to change a world that thinks in terms of conflicting parties and policies to one of seeing all people as part of the human family.  Hurt touches us all.  What makes someone else cry and suffer begins to make us all cry and suffer.  And what brings us individually the joy of God's peace is something that must be shared with all other members in the human family.  The process of renewal is not just a metamorphosis that stops at the individual subject.  As part of the human family my renewal is our renewal, a contagious internal action that does not stop within, but touches those near and then others and others.  Today, the call is to renew our lives in this high springtime of 2007;  we are coming to realize that this is not a private matter.  We are one human family and the gift of peace is to be shared among all.  Renewal is meant for the whole world even when it starts within you or me.  In today's world this peace cannot rest within; it must go out to all the ends of Earth.  


May 7, 2007      Some Reasons to Emphasize Herbs    

   Lee County Virginia

    Cross the heartland. Weathered black barn against a backdrop of the Appalachian Mountains.
   (*photo credit)


  Again we celebrate National Herb Week, and this becomes a good opportunity to say something about gardening once more, for herbs are garden plants and deserve promotion:

     * Herbs grow easily without any extra effort and can be raised organically quite easily.  I find that the mint I started last year  only needs to be controlled -- not coaxed to grow; and in early spring it is starting to supply fresh herbal tea leaves for the next seven months of this year.  If one could add this up it could be shone as to be an economic bonus as a substitute for coffee.

     *  Outdoor herbs can enliven the flower beds and garden in general with many of them dissuading insects of various types and serving as a natural pest retardant.

     * Many healthy herbs can be taken indoors when frost comes in the autumn, and the potted plants can give a good scent and furnish sprigs for embellishment of dishes throughout the winter period.  They can enliven the indoors as much as they did the garden.

     * Herbs come in such variety that they teach us to strive for variety in the garden plot and in the extra space throughout the yard.  Some herbs like sun and some shade, and so a little prior knowledge of where to plant is important.  Give each its proper place. 

     * Herbs can be dried easily and used throughout the year for cuisine flavoring that we have not tried before.  And when researching old recipes, we find the names of herbs that we know little about, leading up to expand our garden varieties.  And who knows, with a new herb every year we could be herb experts in a few decades.  I have grown a dozen varieties but should have been at five dozen by now.

     * Once sprouted, herbs seldom disappoint us.  They prove quite dependable and can withstand drought, heat and rainfall.  They are often able to endure when veggies have hard times.

     *  Many herbs have age-old medicinal benefits but, except for parsley and poke, I hesitate to recommend them.  These herbs have a long medical history that can prove interesting, but we realize that some can be overdosed just as can commercial medicines.  And without a knowledgeable account of these various herbal cures, we could be on a slippery slope to causing readers to over-consume.

     * For the most part, herbs are gentle plants and prove good companions to other plants both flowers and vegetables.  Basil and parsley grow well next to tomatoes.  There are exceptions, for fennel does not like other plants, and from personal experience I know that others do not thrive near fennel -- no matter how much I like its taste when gathered.  Let's hope we learn still more about the wonders of the herbal world.


May 8, 2007           The Hermitage Experience

    Evening grosbeak Coccothraustes vespertinus

   Evening grosbeak (Coccothraustes vespertinus) feathers
(*photo credit)


     Many people desire to get away from noise and congestion, and thus are looking for places to go for a short period of relative isolation.  They often prefer a wilderness that is close to nature and that is subject to the least possible disturbance.  Some will find this an inviting experience and remember it for a long period as "just what the doctor ordered."  Others may desire a slightly more inhabited or civilized place in proximity to neighbors through fears of being alone at night or during the day.  Thus allowances must be made, and you may desire a companion to be near when having a hermitage experience.

     Hermitages are isolated places generally designed for a single inhabitant but often are near other dwellings for like-minded  hermits.  Hermitages were quite popular in the 4th and 5th centuries A.D. while the Roman Empire was crumbling.  Some liken our current age to that of a crumbling civilization, and thus the concept of a hermitage experience -- even though for a brief period of time -- seems highly inviting. 

     Why our interest here?  Nature experiences are quite important for healing our Earth.  The healer needs time to reharmonize with Earth, and this cannot be achieved simply by reading books or spending time on the Internet.  Getting out to nature is a necessity, and many do this on weekend hikes and while on holiday.  We crave time alone with God and the Almighty's creation.  Hermitages furnish possibilities for people who aspire to become good healers and offer opportunities analogous to ongoing professional education.  See a partial listing of twenty-five accessible cabins in seventeen different American states in the Special Issues area of this Website.  Being able to have a hermitage experience even for a single overnight can be a godsend.

     Some people expect the amenities of home life, and these expectations may include all the various aspects of a consumer culture:  automatic heating and cooling, water access, flush toilet facilities, cooking facilities or prepared meals, laundry and room service, and on and on.  Part of the hermitage experience ought to be living even more simply than someone is accustomed to and still realizing that even this condition is perhaps better than what a quarter if not half of the world's population lives with.  So the expectations are not all met, but what we do find has a certain purifying effect upon us, for we can learn to appreciate what our culture so often takes for granted. 

     Some of the listed hermitages such as established retreat centers are near food services, and others are more rustic.  Choose wisely.  A possible hermitage exercise includes calculating how much of the world's resources that we normally use could be conserved by living simply.  Another hermitage exercise is mustering arguments for living more simply and considering how these could be presented to affluent friends.  How about designing a hermitage or assisting another in building one? 



May 9, 2007         Constructing a Retreat Cabin

  Lee county Virginia homestead

     Small homestead, Lee County, Virginia
(*photo credit)


  Many of the following ideas are taken from personal experience and from observing a number of retreat cabins and hermitages in the course of performing environmental resource assessments in various parts of the United States: 

     Determining --  Some want to have a getaway that will not require considerable maintenance.  The owners cannot afford a complete second home; they want the cabin to be very simple so they can be near nature and enjoy it.

     Siting -- If there are choices of sites, choose one that is in a relatively isolated place with some vista at least nearby, and one that is not too difficult to access.  Even if materials need to be packed in for the last several hundred feet, consider not allowing immediate automobile access.  This more or less guarantees seclusion and privacy and discourages trespassing when the site is not used.

     Planning afar and ahead --  Construction costs escalate if building from scratch.  One solution is to equip the site chosen with a temporary lodging in the form of a platform on which one puts a tent for a year or so.  If the site turns out to be unsuitable for some reason, one can relocate it or double up and use another's facility when unoccupied.  When the final site proves satisfying and a more permanent structure is decided upon, consider and look into a variety of structures that use native materials that are near at hand.  You may prefer a cordwood building, yurt, dome, or other structure. Some of these can be built rather quickly and others take more time.  Part of planning ahead consists of making a basic structure at one time and completing the furnishing in a second period.

     Determining --  Consider how much solar energy for passive heating and hot water heating (showerbags may be sufficient), some sort of water catchment system, nearby planting and tree care,  pathway siting and lighting, and installing a compost toilet in a separate or attached building (which could serve as a mini-greenhouse also). 

     Designing --  When the location and the type of structure are determined, consider economizing interior space and thus reducing the size of the structure to the least possible while still furnishing basic comfort.  A sleeping loft overhead is a great space saver.  Amazingly, a one hundred square-foot structure can be spacious when properly furnished with essentials only.

     Furnishing --  Generally the best economy of space is a walk-in prayer/living space with easy chair, table, small sink and closet; the upstairs loft, accessed by ladder, could have a mattress and some place for hanging clothes and little else.  When this structure is furnished with necessities, it will be a welcoming place to come and spend time.    

     See Healing Appalachia: Sustainable Living through Appropriate Technology   -- just released with notice on this website. 


May 10, 2007              Tree Markings

   bench tree Native American Americans

    Bench tree, possibly marked by Native Americans.
    (*photo credit)


     Trees have been marked for centuries in order to convey a message.  In come cases, the Native Americans marked trees much like road signs in order to alert travelers to upcoming dangers or tell them in which direction to turn.  The photograph shows one of these so-called "bench" trees that has lived for a number of centuries and still tells a somewhat hidden story in its notation.  Trees were also marked in early pioneer days, and 18th and 19th century legal deeds will often refer to marked oaks or other old trees as signals for boundaries or turns in the border line.  At that time with their limited resources it was the best marking they could do.

     We know that a number of the early hunters and trappers took a cue from the Native Americans and produced their graffiti by marking trees with their names or some other specific signs.  This is true of Daniel Boone and others, and their tree markings are still highly prized.  Even as kids, we thought it nice to leave our marks on rocks, concrete and even trees that could possibly endure for others to see.  What moves children and modern graffiti artists?  A deeper question is whether people get some pleasure in making a mark in public.  What about the use of this computer and this essay?  Why a mark for others to see and understand?

     Leaving one's mark on the world, in which all one experiences is like a dense forest, will often be best achieved by something like a tree marking.  It is much like the pre-historic art found in caves.  The need to communicate runs deep, very deep.  To take an idea that we know or desire to tell and transfer this to something that is more permanent than a spoken word is part of being human and social.  We try to make a mark that others can follow and gain some knowledge from.  When the design of the sign is as recognizable as possible, adding color and flourish increases the feeling that the sign conveys.  The biographers note that Isaac Jogues, the Jesuit martyred by the Mohawks in the 17th century, and his French companions marked trees with crosses.  The cross is an instrument of torture and a popular sign of Christian faith, just as the fish was a sign in the early century catacombs for Jogues' ancestors in the faith.  The cross is still a powerful symbol today for all who profess to be Christians.

     Today, we may not have to make signs by marking trees, but we can plant trees so as to tell others of the need to reforest a damaged landscape.  The modern markings are the planted trees themselves.  We have other ways to communicate that are just as  intelligible or more, and may last as long or longer than the tree markings of old.  The planting of trees (and refraining from marking them) improves the health of trees that are under considerable stress.  We don't have to skin their bark.  Our love of nature will allow us to leave them in their present condition.  Maybe we should mark (post) the woodland areas so others will not come and damage the trees that are present. 


May 11, 2007             Hemp Cultivation?

   Honey locust Gleditsia triacanthos

    Honey locust, Gleditsia triacanthos thorns
    (*photo credit)


  Everyone should be able to change his mind occasionally and this I must do on the subject of hemp.  I once co-authored an article on why we should not promote hemp again.  But with time my opinion is changing.  Maybe we need to think again about cultivating hemp here.  Consider that at one time Kentucky was the hemp-growing center of the country, and the plant's natural fiber and seeds have an off-quoted 25,000 uses.  Realize that hemp is being grown in many others nations at this time;  British farmers now see hemp as a way to make paper and save trees and halt the waste of forest resources.

     I remember hemp-growing in the Second World War.  Our country promoted it (after its abolition in the 1930s) when the Philippine source was lost to the Japanese in 1942.  Hemp was  grown on the Archibald Church farm next to ours, and the stalks had to be cut by hand (without mechanization at that time) and "shocked" like corn stalks until dried for the mills.  For years after this growing spree, the wild hemp would cover the roadsides -- a cheap smoke as a substitute for its cousin marijuana.  And the relationship was given as the reason it is illegal, for hemp is difficult to distinguish from marijuana from a distance.  Actually, it was first forbidden in the early part of the 20th century, not because of drug concerns, but because it was competing with new synthetic fibers including DuPont's Nylon.  Whatever the reasons, the illegality of cultivating this proven natural fiber and source for protein and other good things stands on very flimsy ground.  Some come into the Commonwealth to promote the growing of hemp again, find a few radical supporters, and get an article in the local newspaper, but hemp production remains banned. 

     Two reasons for my initial opposition to renewed hemp cultivation turn out to be easily refuted.  The first reason is confusion with marijuana.  This is not a major problem.  Any hemp-grower as opposed to the "pot" growers would be quite public, and anyone could check the cultivating and harvesting activities of growers.  Don't expect neighbors to remain silent if pot and hemp are mixed in a field -- not in Kentucky.  Besides, pot growers would not want hemp contamination.  The second reason is that the "slave labor" due to lack of mechanization practiced in the past would be replaced by a massive mechanization of cutting and drying machinery, which would allow only the big growers to perform the operation.  But most of agriculture is witnessing this major mechanization today -- and one answer is joint community machines that can be shared or rented as has been the practice with other agricultural machines. 

     These weak objections should not stand in the way of the possibility of replacing synthetic fibers with natural fibers.  The market exists; farmers need added income; hemp is ecologically friendly;  little is required in commercial pesticides and fertilizers; and the history of an "early start" does favor a return to hemp.  Yes, the time for hemp has come.


May 12, 2007             Migratory Birds

   White-throated sparrow Zonotrichia albicollis

   White-throated sparrow, Zonotrichia albicollis
Winter resident in Kentucky from mid-October to May. Breeds in wildlands with coniferous or mixed
  coniferous-deciduous forests, mostly in Canada and the far northern U.S.
  (*photo credit)


     Many Western hemisphere species of birds migrate each year to warm winter homes in the south and then back to here in summertime.  A majority are songbirds but some are shore birds, raptors and waterfowl.  Most of us are aware that the cliff swallows of San Juan Capistrano, California, return to the Mission each year around March 19th and depart around October 23rd -- a 5,000 mile trip to Argentina.  This feat is not unique, for an estimated 350 species are migrants, all to abundance of food -- flying insects, fruits and nectar.  One expert volunteer counted over 200 varieties of birds passing through or residing near the ASPI Nature Center at Livingston, Kentucky, in one springtime alone. 

     Other bird species are more permanent and remain around us year round.  We may expect that both migratory and non-migratory birds could have difficulties with our changing and troubled world.  Those that migrate see resting places diminished through development, and thus they are less protected in crucial times when they are on the road from one destination to another.  Furthermore, their wilderness end points may be undergoing changes, and thus they must make major adjustments on either end of the route.  Being "migratory" they are more able to move about even when some habitats become damaged.  The birds that remain also have adjustment problems, but are better able to avoid fires and floods than many less mobile land-based wildlife.

     Though birds are more mobile, still those who count birds report declines in population of various species due to the damage and destruction of either terminus or the resting places on the route itself.  However, those who know from previous bird counts tell us that a number of species are in decline, though hopefully that is a temporary matter.  The experts cite not only the paving over and destruction of habitat but also the presence of pesticides and herbicides that reduce the birds' food supply and often kill the birds themselves.  One development that we would hardly expect is that shade coffee-growing tracts in Latin America have been replaced by "sun" coffee plantations and the latter are home to far fewer birds.  The shade had proved to be a food source and habitat for some of these summer bird species that we easily recognize.

     Migratory birds are regarded as a key indicator of the health of our environment -- like the canary in the coal mine.  They give us a true sense of spring with their arrival and gladden the hearts of all after winter's drought in birdsong.  And their appetite is especially voracious since it does take effort to travel such distances, and our part of the country is a major flyway. Just as our major highways need rest stops, so do the flyways for the migratory birds.  We customize nests for bluebirds and those for the Carolina wren;  so we should make somewhat more generic resting places where birds are able to feed and not be disturbed by cats and other aggressive species.  They need a quiet temporary lodging that is chemical free, and such lodging is the most hospitable deed we can do for them.  Let's hope they can continue to pass through.


  mom's hands

   Mother with hand-sewn quilt, "Bow-Tie" pattern
   (*photo credit)

May 13, 2007       

                 HANDS OF APPALACHIA

                    Al Fritsch, S.J.


Patty cake in new life lease,

 reach for young hands soft as fleece,

 both outstretched to catch the geese,

 always moving in a play's release.


Hands of gesture, joy increased,

 drumming hands at a dancing feast,

 swirling, whirling, time's own yeast,

 till fiddlers in the wee hours cease.


Welcome hands, beckon the meek,

 signing hands when one can't speak

 holding hands at love's first streak,

 tear-soaked when all hopes turn bleak.


Work life makes its mark on all

 wide or narrow, large or small,

 calloused hands, stamp a miner's call,

 scarred hands, uncover a sudden fall.


Diamond rings no better adorn

 tell-tale hands poor widows scorn,

 which picked beans and shucked corn,

 tucked shyly under an apron torn.


Aging grace needs to unfold.

 hands fever-warmed, good as gold,

 beckoning the kinfolks' hold,

 shriveled hands that'll soon turn cold.


God give us strength, renew this land

 where pioneers plowed, and Indians ran.

 Let clinched fist be forever banned,

 offering instead a helping hand.


May 14, 2007         What's Wrong with Billionaires?

   Dame's Rocket Hesperis matronalis

   Dame's Rocket (Hesperis matronalis)
   (*photo credit)

I am using the same title of an essay by Arthur C. Brooks that appeared in the March 19, 2007, issue of the Wall Street Journal.  Believe me, the contents and our conclusions are vastly different.  Brooks begins by noting the expansion of the emerging billionaire community to 946 this year.  He tells that the New York Times says that one of these super-rich people (Larry Ellison) has to spend $183,000 an hour constantly to keep from growing all the richer.  The author apparently wants to calm the alarm that many of us have over this gigantic sweeping of the commons into the hands of a few -- even though the company of this elite few grows by the tens or fifties each year.  The essay goes on to tell how these super-accumulators are also super-givers and that there is satisfaction in such charity.  What is never discussed is that this giving is a power play and that this, like the greed to accumulate, is something that gives a certain transitory satisfaction as well.  If one is not beholden to the people to whom the commons belongs, but can make decisions on who is to benefit from the wealth acquired, this becomes a subtle exerting of power.  Guess who decides who benefits?  Someone who dares question the largesse is going to receive few benefits from the super-giver. 

     To answer the question -- there is nothing inherently wrong with billionaires as such.  Assuming they made their wealth in a "legally acceptable manner," it is not for us to cast judgment on their money-making skills.  However, many of us still hear the words of Jesus about the chances of the wealthy getting to heaven as less than that of a camel passing through the eye of a needle.  And he did not live in an age of billionaires.  Retention, not acquisition brings on consideration of this dire prediction.  And even their retention of wealth is not their own fault as such.  Is it not we citizens of our nation and our world who have allowed the commons to be taken over by these new nobility and have allowed them to acquire, retain, and dispense this immense wealth to their own satisfaction?  Power has been granted to them through the ignorance, indifference or false understanding of what is the "commons" or the wealth of all the people, whether expressed in land, money or natural resources of any sort.  We have given to them the power, mainly by not taxing their billions for the common good; and we are to blame.

     Some of us, like many early Americans, still oppose massive wealth.  Many of us are against the divine right of kings.  But are we also against the divine right of billionaires?  We allow them to continue in their condition (whether of happiness or misery) without doing anything about it.  As far as their acquiring goes, that may even be laudatory if they put many people to work through their prospering businesses.  What we are challenging is their political/social/economic power to retain and exercise that wealth to their own choosing.  This is wrong in every sense of the word.  Benjamin Franklin attempted to insert a restriction on excessive wealth in the Pennsylvania constitution, but failed.  He would have been shocked at the vast accumulation of wealth in today's world.


May 15, 2007          The Glory or Fate of Coral Reefs

   birds nest earth healing daily reflections

   Bird's nest in cradle of tree
   (*photo credit)

  I am a news junkie and have been so since I was eight years old in post-Pearl Harbor 1942;  I would hurry home to read the newspaper to find out whether the British Eighth Army had stopped Rommel's Panzers before the Suez Canal.  And Tobruk held firmly, and the terrible war began to take on a more optimistic note.  From that early age until this year, that state of being a junkie continued, but I must confess that it has ceased now.  The book, Coral: A Pessimist in Paradise by Steve Jones does little to allay this current condition.  And I mention this here a week before Biodiversity and Maritime Day. 

     I have never experienced a coral reef through snorkeling or other means and so am limited in such observations.  All I know of coral is a chunk that appears in certain aquarium web sites, or the photos in "National Geographic" with coral formations in a blaze of glory and color.  We hear that the Great Barrier Reef off the eastern coast of Australia is the only biological structure that can be seen from space.  We know that other continents are also blessed with coral in some form or other.  What is evident is that there is an immense area of beauty that many of us less traveled humans have not yet laid eyes upon. 

     Jones defuses the vision of sugar plum corals to talk about how these areas of maritime life have been subject to the vicissitudes of other disasters and catastrophes.  And his pessimism spills over into other related subjects as well.  Coral has always been part of the history of our planet and the scientists tell us through core drilling that the buildup is like the rings of a tree, each dating various events in the coral's extended growth.  Many coral reefs are now in serious trouble, and the massive flowering of the beauty of these living structures is now meeting death through pollution and the consequences of global warming.  Is this the final growth layer for many of these reefs?  Some students of coral life would say so.  Is the minute addition of each living depositor that contributed to building the coral structure over long periods of time now in vain?  Are we to await the inevitable death of coral in many parts of the world?

     Is there any good news when it comes to coral?  Unfortunately, I am unable to discover any.  Jones says that "human ingenuity revealed the intricate workings of coral reefs, but it has also spelled their ruin."  My only fear is that it may not be too late.  Recording the beauty of corals should encourage all of us to redouble our efforts to halt pollution of our oceans and the global warming effects we are beginning to observe.  Maybe the coral is the record of things past that must be preserved as living evidence of what beauty God has wrought.  To accept coral's  doom is to accept the deterioration of our planet -- and we must not acquiesce to this.  Coral stimulates within us the impulse to take charge of the fate of our Earth and change it for the better.  It is not too late and we must not let pessimists have the last word. 





May 16, 2007                Biking Benefits

   Bernheim Forest and Arboretum

    Prairie near sunset, Bernheim Forest and Arboretum
    (*photo credit)


  We have discussed bicycling in the past on "National Bike to Work Day."  In highly congested regions and in places with narrow roads with some truck traffic, this can be dangerous.  However, apart from these safety precautions, one must again cite the advantages of increased bicycle use in commuting to schools and places of work.  We notice that high schools today have very large parking lots filled with cars driven by the juniors and seniors, now able to drive and living not far from the schools.  It is the thing to do.  The same holds true for those workers who live up to a few miles from their place of work.  Consider how many of these workers and students would be so much better off if they biked not just for one day but as a routine?  Maybe not all could do this, but a large number could and would receive many benefits in return:

     * Physical exercise -- First, remember that biking is good exercise, something that many workers and students lack due to the culture in which we find ourselves.  Modern students are often driven right up to the door of the gym.  Biking gives us fresh air and full spectrum sunlight as well as tone to muscles and control on our weight.

     * Energy conservation -- Biking takes muscle energy of which we normally have an excess, and saves on automotive fuel, which is becoming increasingly scarce.  Let's not forget that each of us contributes to the heavy drain on the limited world supply of petroleum, and every little bit of conservation helps.

     * Good ecological practice --  Biking to work is a green means of transportation.  Why not stop air pollution when we have an opportunity?  So often the auto trip to work could be avoided in favor of non-polluting walking or biking.  Each of us must make this decision, which is in part determined by the location of our residence, travel route, and our personal health.  And the choice for biking is one for the health of our neighbor as much as for each biker.

     * Sound economics -- Biking is economical, for a bike mile costs very little except the amortization on the equipment, which costs only a fraction of what an average automobile costs.  Tires cost less, maintenance is virtually non existent, and, all around, a bike proves beyond a doubt to be the cheapest way to travel more quickly than walking. 

     * Improved outlook -- Those who go outdoors at virtually any time of day return and have a fresher approach to the work in which they are engaged.  The break relieves stress, improves the entire personal psychology, and ultimately allows for better social relations.  Biking as an exercise allows for the same "break" like conditions and allows for a fresh start.  How about observing a Bike to Work Day today -- that is for those of you who do not work where you live?


May 17, 2007              The Trusty Hound Dog

   hound dog farm

    An old friend on the farm, Boyle County, Kentucky
(*photo credit)


 I only had the companionship of one hound dog in my life and will testify to his immense value.  Upon further reflection one must say that hound dogs (beagles, bloodhounds, foxhounds, etc.) are not the most beautiful animals and yet they come in handy so often that "our best friend" can be much more than just a pet (see "Best Friends Day and Dogs," June 8, 2006).  Let me give a listing that applies to all dogs with the olfactory senses of the best of dogs -- the hound dog.

     * Hunting -- The dog was truly needed in an age when hunting was more than a sport and was needed to help provide meat for people surviving in harsh climates.  The hound dog could sniff out a mammal and allow the hunter much needed game for "burgoo" (a stew composed of a variety of varmints and whatever vegetables were at hand -- the original pioneer dish of life).  

     * Tracking -- The hound dog was sent out after escapees so often in the past and even in the present that no scientific or technical device has ever been found to equal the ability to catch a scent and lead the law to the culprit.

     * Searching -- So often people are lost in the wilderness and the only rapid way to find the trail and keep it is a good dog. Here hounds come in handy, along with other breeds of dogs as well.  The personal articles of the lost person give the basic scent, and the dog keeps this in mind while hunting.  This ability has resulted in some dramatic rescues including one in North Carolina a few weeks ago of a young missing boy scout. 

     Alerting --  Most dogs will raise enough so alarm that one knows when a visitor is present.  The better dog is naturally friendly and is aware of the distinction between an honest visitor and a prowler.  That was the talent of the "dogs of war" during the days of trench warfare in the Great War (World War I), and that is what any isolated homestead wants from its watchdogs.

     Defending -- Everyone wants a watch dog that is not naturally vicious and yet when the proper time arrives will defend its keepers and their property.  Just the ability not to bark and run but to stand and bark will do much to stand in the way of an approaching hungry mammal or human thief.  And an even more welcome characteristic is the dog who will defend all when the chips are down.

     Being a Companion -- Sometimes when the weather is wrong and news always seem bad, a dog knows just when to come up for petting and to show that all is not lost -- trust and love still exist in this troubled world -- and that's appreciated.

     Beautifying --  No old hound dog ever won a beauty contest but beauty is in the eyes of the beholder.  Many mountain people would confer "beauty" in a hound dog's ugliness and accept it as such.


May 18, 2007                Road Rage

   Pipsissiwa Chimaphila maculata

   Pipsissiwa, Chimaphila maculata
(*photo credit)


     We are preparing for another driving season as Memorial Day approaches.  Maybe it is good for us to review our driving habits and find out just how prepared we are for the little mistakes and lacks of courtesy by other drivers -- or at least how we perceive them to be, when we are tired and upset.  Some now confess road rage, something unheard of in the 19th century, though on a rare occasion one buggy driver may have gotten irritated by another.  Unfortunately, road rage is all too frequent today, and we hear of curses, hostile looks and signs, fights, mistreatment of vehicles and pets, and even murders on the congested highways today.  Road rage is common, and the conditions that precipitate it even more so.  I do not often experience and never take any pleasure in urban congestion, and I'm impatient enough to become a public "rager," if that is the word for it.

     While working on a future book called "Sounds and Silence," I realized that road sounds could enhance this rage, though I am uncertain whether there are any studies on the subject.  Sirens and horns may aggravate the circumstances;  the constant drum beat of hard rock that vibrates from other vehicles as we sit at a stop light, or the mere sound of constant traffic could put people in the mood to be impatient and angry -- and thus willing to take it out on the driver who busts into the line of waiting cars or fails to give the proper signal. 

     One frustrating sight today is seeing folks talking on cell phones or sending a text message while driving.  Some states are taking notice and enacting new regulations against such practices.  Instances can accumulate and blur into one when the next roadway peccadillo is observed.  Drivers' patience becomes shorter and then comes the proverbial straw that breaks the camel's back.  The traffic stalls and comes to a complete stop, or inches along at starts and stops for miles.  Nerves fray.  The next guy says something that is taken as an insult, and so you do unto him one better than what he did to you, and the exchange escalates rapidly.  He stops his inching vehicle, gets out and comes over with his fist clenched.  You have several alternatives:  show the nearby car drivers that you are not afraid and accept the confrontation; roll up the windows, lock the doors and call 911; exit by the other door and abandon the vehicle;  beckon for the passenger to take over and confront the aggressor;  speak in a mild manner and ask the approaching person to pray with you;  offer a toast; or consider the entire scene as a nightmare.

     What is evident is that road rage simmers over time, breaks into the open under certain conditions quite suddenly, can take quite dramatic turns in an instant, and involves a pure stranger.

But we ought to prepare ourselves, for we could be the ones who precipitate some of the difficulties.  Avoid congestion, but when it occurs say a prayer;  turn to music that is one beat slower than your heart beat; and smile, for others will love you for it.  A good deal of humor goes a long way. At least that is my resolve.



May 19, 2007    A Fee for the Carbon Content of Fuels

   Groundpine Lycopodium obscurum

    Groundpine, Lycopodium obscurum
(*photo credit)

  A letter sent to U.S. senators and representatives follows --

     Given the immense scope and immediacy of the problems of global climate change, it is necessary to employ a broad range of strategies to significantly reduce total energy use and to encourage the rapidly expanded use of non-fossil and non-nuclear renewable sources of energy.  The mix of policies should include much tighter mandatory efficiency standards for vehicles, appliances, lighting, buildings, electricity generation, and industrial processes as well as the required use of renewable energy for electricity, transportation fuels, and heating and cooling.

     Greatly increased tax incentives to encourage the use of energy efficient and renewable energy technologies as well as much higher levels of funding for research, development, and -- particularly -- procurement and deployment of sustainable energy technologies are also needed.  In addition, however, some form of user fee based on the carbon content of fuels is essential.

     A carbon fee is arguably the most transparent, universal, equitable, understandable, and immediate way to internalize the true environmental cost of consuming the fossil fuels that contribute to climate change.  Such a fee is also relatively easy to administer and makes the best use of the marketplace to encourage a rapid shift in energy use away from coal, oil, and gas towards more energy-efficient and/or renewable energy sources.

     We recognize the concern that such a fee could, initially, pose some hardship for lower-income consumers and therefore believe that it should be accompanied by tax-shifting - and possibly revenue-neutral - offsets such as reductions in payroll or other taxes, larger tax credits for lower-income citizens, or increases in programs such as weatherization and mass transit that directly assist citizens to reduce their total energy use.  Thoughtfully crafted offsets could actually produce net benefits for recipients.

     In addition, a portion of a carbon fee could be earmarked for a dedicated fund to invest in, and encourage, expanded use of energy efficient and renewable energy technologies or for other important social purposes such as deficit reduction.

     However designed, though, we believe that some form of carbon fee must be made a key element of a wider strategy for addressing climate change and it should be among the measures considered and enacted by the U.S. Congress in the very near term......

     We appreciate your consideration of these views and look forward to working with you on this most important issue.

     Signed by Al Fritsch for Earth Healing with 100 others public interest groups and individuals.  


May 20, 2007       Ascension Involves the Practical

   new albany shale creekbed kentucky

    New Albany shale creek bed
(*photo credit)  

  Why are you standing there looking at the Sky? (Acts 1)

          The disciples went out to the Mount of Olives and there Jesus departed from them -- but they were left looking up to heaven, apparently leaderless and left to become apostles on their own.  Do we allow ourselves to get into similar "do it yourself" scenarios?  Jesus is off to prepare a place for us.  We are asked to take on the task of saving and refurbishing this Earth and that is an awesome task that we can hardly shirk.  So we can hardly afford to stand around expecting others to do our work.  We have responsibilities to raise a family, make a living, assist our neighbor, and exercise the right to vote and improve our government.  At times, we will be expected to join in respectful silence, but then there are the multitude of times when we must take responsibility for what we do ourselves.

     It is always easy to talk about what needs to be done and what others should do (for us).  Talking over and about something and doing it ourselves are quite different operations, as anyone would admit who plans and then builds a house or who plans and then plants a garden, or who prepares for a child and then undertakes child raising after the newcomer's birth.  Thinking about something and doing it are quite different operations.  What looked so black and white in the planning stage, turns out to have much gray in it demanding new opportunities for decision-making.

     Jesus departs from us at the Ascension but is never far from us in the Holy Eucharist.  In some ways he is up ahead of us in time, and we are invited to follow his example.  What we are called to do is prepare for his coming in ways that we can do it best.  We must become practical in the fullest sense of the word for housekeeping is a practical art.  Our Earth is the "ecos," in which we practice the art of building anew.  We do more than passively await the promised "New Heaven and a New Earth."  We follow the instruction of St. Peter in his Second Letter and hasten the day of the Lord's coming.  The Holy Spirit inspires us here and now.

     Jesus promises that we will have a power to achieve all the things that need to be done.  Today, we see environmental degradation and the emerging climactic changes due to global warming.  We see the rise of billionaires and the suppression of our democratic ways of controlling them and redistributing their riches;  we see immense wealth and grinding poverty side by side.  The challenges seem overwhelming.  What can we do?  In one instance we stand gazing to heaven like the disciples hoping for the power of the Messiah to come and crush all the world's evils.  But the good spirit tells us to be on with the tasks ahead of us.  Our Christian spirituality is to be practical.  Saintliness does not mean going off to ponder the happenings of the world from a distance.  Rather, we are to immerse ourselves in the here and now.  We re empowered, so we can roll up our sleeves and get on with the task before us.  Sky-gazing should be brief at best. 


May 21, 2007           Noise Awareness Week  

    mother cow with calf

   Mother cow with newborn, Campbell County, Kentucky
(*photo credit)

  We need to take measures to become more quiet in our own home, our personal life and our communities.  But as citizens we can do more than take personal measures, for much of the noise around us has damaged our commons of silence, and infringing noise-makers have taken something away  without our consent.  The idea of a Noise Awareness Day or Week is not new but it is of limited observance.  A London, England, based organization is promoting this week and we ought to help expand the awareness message.  Several suggestions for getting further awareness include: 

     * Support the Noise Pollution Clearinghouse (NPC) that is raising awareness of noise pollution and is helping communities take back the commons from those "acting like noise bullies."  The NPC has built a library of resources and tools concerning noise pollution.  See <www.nonoise.org>.

     * Organize locally.  Though national and larger groups need our support, better noise abatement at the local level can have telling effects in an age when so many other global environmental problems compete for the federal government's attention.  Starting small at the grassroots has a far better track record, for dampening noise is a local problem in many places.   Letters-to-the-editor allow people to become aware that others suffer in much the same way with noise problems -- though they often remain silent.  Noise-makers ought to be exposed and pressure should be exerted on enforcing existing regulations.  Challenge bull horn politicians or commercial organizations to quiet down their advertising and show them that it can actually be counterproductive to what they seek to achieve.   

     * Seek co-sponsorship of community events.  A major health group is in favor of publicizing the effects of noise pollution, namely, those who are selling hearing aids and are into audio-health and noise prevention.  Furthermore, hearing-impaired people may be willing to assist in some community projects.

     * Initiate school projects to audit the neighborhood as a way of making youth aware of the dangers of noise and in order to expose the sources of local noise problems.  Grade schoolers can be encouraged to do recordings with noise meters as local science projects.  Quiet is like motherhood and apple pie.  Who will challenge it?  Thus unlike other environmental subjects that can be partisan in nature due to existing legislation, noise is an accepted pollution topic and becomes a gateway to enter into still other environmental issues.  Youth will feel self-conscious because they are noise-makers even when they know they should be acting differently.  Many conscientious citizens have their own personal stories, so in this matter participants are easier to find.                    

     * Publicity.  Internet coverage of noise concerns could have a salutary effect within a community.  Radio public service announcements are the best low-cost method of spreading the word.


May 22, 2007      The Harmony of Sounds and Silence

   Scouring rush Equisetum hyemale

     Scouring rush, Equisetum hyemale
(*photo credit)

 About a decade ago I was conversing with my public-interest colleague, Art Purcell, and he agreed that a book on noise pollution and what we must do about it is highly needed in our world.  We conversed about this subject off and on for these nine or so years; finally he has promised a preface and I am spending some spare time assembling a future book on the subject.  It is moving along quite well, based on the insight that we suffer from more than just a series of discordant sounds that seem to grow louder every year.  We are losing our precious silence and now seem to be terrified when sound is absent.  Rather than appreciating the harmony of sound and silence, each with its proper place, many in our midst demand continued sound and more sound -- which in its assault is beginning to bring on deafness.

     The goal of this book is not to replace this drumming noise by total silence, for that does not bring on a complete harmony.  Rather, the goal towards which we are working is to tone down the volume, change to more concordant sound, and reestablish moments of silence in our lives. 

     Why tone sound down?  Some like modern music, and who are we to infringe on their freedom of speech?  Perhaps the best reason is that sound carries to others who do not like it, and sensitivity requires that sound sources be controlled.  But that is not enough.  Medical experts agree that excessive sounds harm the ear drums and lead to emotional problems that will affect the audiences for the rest of their lives.  Just like smoking or drug abuse, excessive noise is harmful not only to the primary hearers but to those who must endure second-hand noise.  The literature is replete with examples, and most people have personal experiences with loud noises causing  ringing in the ears and temporary deafness.  The degree of discomfort from such conditions depends on the degree of noise assault suffered by each victim.  Hearing is a wonderful and precious sense.  Why harm it in any way?

     Toning down and becoming sensitive to noise is one very important step towards a return to harmony in our world.  Another and far more difficult exercise for those addicted to loud sound is to break away and accept or endure periods of silence.  In many cultures people speak, and then remain silent for periods of time -- just being present to one another in silence.  The measured words are important, but so are the pauses between the words.  In an opposite vein are those who are chattering at all times in a nervous manner.  In this modern age cell phone users are an example of this -- they need to be in constant communication and to regard the absence of speech as an undesirable situation.  This void makes them feel uneasy and even frightened.  How many are there who do not handle silence well and are impelled to keep busy talking?   Still all of us with the gift of hearing are faced with the invitation to accept moments of quiet as part of the harmony of life.  Will we neglect to do so?  That is one of the concerns that this book will attempt to address.  


May 23, 2007             Noise Assaults Us

   Taxus canadensis Kentucky Carter County

   Taxus canadensis, rare Kentucky native plant, Carter County
   (*photo credit)

  No one likes noise, at least some forms of it.  The classical music lover may flee from the hard rock band.  But so will the hard rock lover flee from an argumentative household with its abusive language and loud voices.  What is evident is that all people attempt to flee when that is possible and corrective measures are impossible, because some sounds are uncomfortable.

     Loud unwelcome noise.  In an age of traffic noise and sirens, leaf blowers and jack hammers, motorcycles and jet skis, airplanes overhead, and blaring radios and televisions, we are often unable to flee too far, for the air waves are filled with sounds from so many amplified sources.  Modern technology seems to trumpet the success of filling in and defeating silence with so-called gratifying noise.  Some of this we must endure because it is part of our work.  The clanging and roar of industrial machines have been endured throughout the industrial revolution and are regarded as part of the price of a living wage.  Over time social progressives pressed for the reduction of these noises, and so noise pollution standards were enacted and enforced in many major industries. There are decibel limits for periods of time, and certain protective measures are required for those who must work close to noisy sources.

     Background noise.  Discounting the terrible toll that loud noises do to our ears, especially those of higher decibel levels and at close proximity, what do unwanted noises at a greater distance do over time?  We may boast that we can endure the urban sounds around us and pride ourselves on not being startled and frightened like others who are unfamiliar with these particular sounds.  But the impact of incessant noise is to fray our nerves, increase the stress on our hearts, and impair our learning abilities. Studies show that students of similar age groups do better in quieter surroundings.  Noise hurts most of us and reduces our attention span.  Noise leads to family disturbances and social unrest, and makes for a less enjoyable environment.  Noise reduces the quality of our lives even when we would never admit it.

     Lack of silence.  If major noises startle us and harm our auditory senses, and insistent background noises reduce the quality of our lives, what does the absence of silence do to us?   We may overlook this third aspect of noise pollution for a simple reason -- the chatter that we generate seems to be a replacement for loud or background noises and thus a welcome relief.  However, the persistent sounds still seem to fill the waking -- and sometimes sleeping -- periods of life.  For some, especially those who are immersed in continual background noise, moments of silence are frightening.  People become so accustomed to noise that they say they are uncomfortable with silence.  To be alone is equated with silence and that enters into the lurking concept of death.  Few value the moment of silence, the time to find God, the opportunity for inner reflection, the chance to come to know oneself.  And this is part of the terrible toll of noise pollution.




May 24, 2007           Noise Sensitivity

   vernal pond

   Vernal pond, Tygart State Forest
(*photo credit)

 During noise awareness week, we need to consider the fact that everyone should develop a sensitivity to noise and to the need for sound punctuated with times of silence.  This twofold aspect to noise sensitivity is like appreciation of good music -- for that is part of the harmony found in the life of activity and rest.  What is important is that we recognize and cultivate that sensitivity and understand that it reaches beyond the individual and personal and involves both reducing noise (tomorrow's reflection) and creating silent space (the day after tomorrow's reflection). 

     Granted, some people are more sensitive to noise than others.  That could be due to any number of reasons:  very delicate auditory senses that are affected by discordant sounds; the lack of proper rest and a realization that activity must be coupled with silent time and space;  pressure to produce results and an inability to concentrate due to noise; an awareness of having suffered or knowing someone who has suffered hearing loss resulting from excessive noise; a sentimental longing for a quieter period of life; or a distaste for certain forms of urban noise or  modern music and their aftereffects. 

     It may be argued that this sensitivity is a natural protective mechanism for all of us, and that people normally seek harmony in life even when some feel powerless to bring about this needed situation.  One recourse is to flee from the noise source and thus regain the precious time and space needed to harmonize one's life.  Another is to say nothing about noise hoping that one can learn to adjust and cope with the assaults present.  There is often an intimidation by those who make the noise as though that is part of their freedom of speech, and those who question such an exercise are simply out of touch with the times.       

     With time, people acquire a deeper sensitivity and are able to judge when noises are too loud.  This may involve operating a standard noise meter or coming to an estimation of the degree of the noise impact.  People gain good judgment as to where noises originate and who is the source.  At this stage the sensitive person can withdraw and hide or run, or remain silent through lack of boldness.  On the other hand, a mounting sensitivity could make one an activist who seeks to address the causes, who takes time to reduce noise that is under his or her control, and who will use forms of creativity to expand the areas and times of silence in one's life and that of the community. 

     In this last level of sensitivity to noise we need to first pinpoint carefully the sources of noise, quiet down our immediate surroundings, and then move out to the wider community which needs to address noise and silent zones.  Insensitivity is the fruit of noise-making and self-centeredness;  sensitivity is the fruit of awareness, boldness and creative efforts to reduce existing noise and create silent and harmonious alternatives.


May 25, 2007        Ten Ways to Reduce Noise

   bract fungus tree

    Bract (fungus) on tree
(*photo credit) 

   Each of us can contribute to reducing the amount of noise in the world around us.  Perhaps you are looking for ways to communicate your concern to noisy people around you, provided you are not aggressively assaulted in your noble attempts.  Here are some sample actions:

     1. Turn down the volume.  We are all becoming a little more deaf and so we turn up the volume to hear better, but that can create a noise problem for others around us.  We are not just to become sensitive to noise ourselves, but to what affects others and whether our own practices interfere. 

     2. Consider the use of head phones.  When wanting to listen to music or discussion that others would find irritating, personal head phones may prove to be a welcome answer.

     3. Get rid of snow blowers and leaf blowers.  There are few things so noisy and so easily replaced by muscle and good exercise.

     4. Do the same for noisy hair dryers and the like.

     5. Can the grass mowing be done with a muscle-powered mower?

Most often it is the people who need the exercise who go out on weekday or Saturday evenings to mow the lawn while riding about seated on a power mower.  Really these often overweight specimens are fooling themselves if they think they are getting more than some fresh air and sunlight.  Even if someone objects to the exertion, the push mower gives exercise and saves fuel all at the same time.  Many modern hand mowers are quite easy to maneuver, but the secret is not to let the grass get too long.  Also think about turning hard-to-mow spaces into wildscape.

     6. Turn lawn into wildscape and thus avoid mowing.

     7. Strive to limit cell phone use.  This advice can be expected from someone such as myself who sees little use for such devices except in a 911 emergency situation.  If the person beside you is incessantly talking on the cell phone, either muster the courage to convey your annoyance or, if possible, move elsewhere.  Often cell phone users speak loudly.  If they are driving and calling you,  tell them you must hang up and not risk their safety and that of others on the road.

     8. Switch to soft music.

     9. Reduce the volume of doorbells, home phones, timers for the microwave, safety and fire alarms, clock alarms, and the radio.  Turn off the tv when not watched.  And what else can be turned off?

     10. Support community efforts at noise regulations such as curfews, limits to motorcycles and ATVs, times for lawn mowing and leaf blowing, and limits on the use of motor boats and jet skis.


May 26, 2007       Ten Ways to Create Silent Space

   travertine limestone kentucky

    Travertine on Limestone, Carter Caves State Park
(*photo credit)

 As said previously, noise pollution needs to be attacked on several fronts simultaneously.  At the very time we focus attention on reducing discordant and loud noises, we should be thinking up ways to create silent space within ourselves, within a household, in our times of day, week, month, year or longer, and within the local community. 

     1. Create silent space within yourself (see "Praying from the Heart: Sacred Space," March 11, 2004).

     2. Allot silence space within the home especially when residents have different tastes and habits.  Fix a quiet room with its own acoustical materials for those who wish to listen to something while others prefer to remain in silence.  Even egg cartons tastefully dyed and arranged can be low-cost materials for quieting the special room or nook.

     3. Take rest breaks during the work day to gain strength and energy to keep on top of the assignments at hand.

     4. Sleep should be in a silent place where one is undisturbed.

     5. The Sabbath rest is quite important in our lives.  Take off on the day of rest and truly do something that is restful.  Remember, it is also a day of prayer.

     6.  Create some sacred space in your life, a place where with minimal noise the different senses can harmonize with the sights, sounds, smells, tastes and feelings of nature.  Visit this space when the need calls.

     7.  An annual retreat is a time to ask questions about the way your life is going.  It is important that this be made in a quiet setting where you can focus on your life in a meaningful manner.

     8. A vacation is a time for relaxation and some quiet time. A trip that involves busy airports, noisy cities, crowds of tourists, and much highway travel is hardly the silent space that is needed to recoup and regain and strengthen one's interior harmony and well being. 

     9.  Where noise is a major factor, some forms of sound barrier are possible either for the individual property or for a larger residential community.  These vary in type of material, degree of maintenance, height, and manner of construction. 

     10. Make sure hospitals and other institutions are designated as quiet zones in your community and that the regulations are enforced.  When development plans call for zoning changes, ensure that noise pollution is considered.


May 27, 2007          A Time to be Silent


   Kentucky farmhouse

   Old farmhouse, Rowan County, Kentucky
(*photo credit)

   There is a time for everything under heaven, even on the feast of Pentecost when the disciples burst forth full of spiritual energy and preached to the crowds outside.  Each heard the message in his own language and thus the gift of tongues was manifest to the crowds and to the whole world.  If such is the wind and fury of Pentecost, why talk about silence on a day like this?  Pentecost is a season of proclaiming Good News - not of being wordless.

      To say there is this time to speak does not mean we chatter incessantly like cell phone users bent on constant communication with other unfortunate souls who are equally compulsive.  Both parties need periods of silent time.  What we have been saying throughout this past week is that there are times to speak and times to be silent -- and a peaceful and harmonized person knows when to do each.  A disturbed soul has a compulsion to speak when all has already been said.

     Silence may be called for.  Jesus taught his disciples at length and the crowds who came to hear his message.  He called Herod a fox, then when Jesus was brought to him at the time of trial before the Calvary event, he remained silent.  Do we find this surprising?  It was not a time to say things in one's own defense, and Jesus' entire teaching mission involved speaking the truth, although he did steal away for evenings of silence with his Father.  But Jesus did not waste his words before one who only wanted to ridicule him.  In such a case silence was and is golden.

     Silence can be political.  Pentecost impels us to spread the Good News.  Yes, at times we must speak, and to remain silent when we must speak is itself taking a political side.  Silence when we ought to speak is to shirking a citizen responsibility; this speechlessness has no place in the life of those who receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit and, like the disciples, are to carry the message to public places. 

     Silence is needed when we must listen.  The impulse may be to spout out words, but there are times when we need to hear what others have to say so that we can gain some knowledge of a situation.  Here our silence is deliberate and active.

     Some remain silent in order to allow others to speak on their behalf.  There are times when we must encourage others to speak on our behalf.  We must do so because some are impulsively desirous to present the views of others even when those people may be able to say something more meaningful on a given subject.  Allowing others to speak is part of being a team or "church."  Their gifts must also be encouraged.  Have we ever heard two or more of the active types trying to compete with others in a news event?  Actually we hear neither.  Let one speak for the rest and, even though the silent one could say it differently, let it be so.  If a corrective is called for, let's hope this can be done with kindness and good will.  There is a moment for everything under heaven. 

May 28, 2007        Memorial Day and Memories                  


   cemetery tombstone tree

    Tombstone from 1860.  Downing Family Cemetery. Lexington, Kentucky
(*photo credit)

   On one day a year we should give special remembrance to the many who have done so much in our own lives and have also passed on to the Lord.  We often consider Memorial Day as a holiday and forget its serious side.  Or we remember some people and forget the rest of those we ought to remember.

     Military remembrances --  It is generally a day to remember the fighting men and women who defended our country.  And there are good reasons for being respectful.  Not all the wars of our past are remembered with devotion but some are valued and should appreciate the spirit and willingness of the often-young warriors, no matter what we think of the current war.

     Family remembrances --  Our feeble memories should not forget our own families, and that is why we often couple Decoration Day with Memorial Day -- a time to remember relatives who have gone before us and whose names and important dates are found on tomb stones in the family cemetery.  We say a special prayer for their souls and recall important events in their lives.  So often, we know little about our ancestors beyond two or so generations.  With all the tools now available (Internet information, national census data, etc,) we are more able to extend that knowledge and share it with others in the family.

     Friend remembrances --  As we advance in age, more and more of the friends that we knew in youth, or at various times in life, pass on to the next world.  We remain, separated from the company that included these noble souls.  Today, on this holiday,  friends also should be remembered in prayers and a toast.  Perhaps we could resolve to send a note of remembrance to their spouse or other loved ones.

     Neighbor remembrances -- Expanding our remembrances to the neighborhood will incorporate the acquaintances who were not really special friends but have died this past year.  We realize that their next of kin are finding today to be a bittersweet holiday, and our special remembrances in the form of a greeting or phone call would be deeply appreciated by those who grieve.

     Educator remembrances -- Others who do not fit into any of the above four categories go back in time many years for adults and especially seniors -- and memories are becoming faded.  Today at the time of graduations and commencements we also remember that the educators of our past put up with much to shape us into who we are.  They also deserve a special remembrance even when we do not fully remember all of them or their particular names.  Let us accept one fact that our memories are getting rusty and trust that the Lord knows our good intentions and extends to them the blessings that we now give.


May 29, 2007           Globish: Going Half Way


  corbin sandstone

    Honeycomb appearance of the Corbin Sandstone
(*photo credit)

    In the December 22, 2006, issue of the Guardian Weekly, Robert McCrum discusses what is termed "Globish-English-lite;" this he states, is becoming the universal language of the business world.  This is not "pidgin" or a broken English used by the unlearned in some parts of the world, but rather the language that non-Anglophone business-persons speak among themselves.   This language conceived by Jean-Paul Nerriere is regarded as a "world dialect of the third millennium;" it is simplified and unidiomatic and is called "Globish."  This English-lite 1,500-word vocabulary resembles what I.A. Richards did with 850-word "Basic English" for use in China in the 1920s.  Another attempt was "Anglic," but this lacked the use of English words in their common spelling, looks terribly unfamiliar to many, and is a chore for English speakers to spell.  

     I liked the concept of basic English but found it quite incomplete even when idioms used were based on the chosen words.  I have toyed with the idea of just what these people are doing -- simplifying English and encouraging native English-users to remain within the limits especially when speaking with non-Anglophones. It would be so much better if we were to limit our language so that others who are not native English speakers could communicate more easily.  And of course we ought to slow down when speaking.  Why must all the burden of speaking in our nuanced and complex language rest with others?  Let's keep words basic and simple for maximum understanding.

     Interestingly, I have worked as a hobby on a basic English for years and have a number of versions.  The current one that will appear in our Special Issues in a short while will be a little more nuanced than a mere listing of 1,500 words.  My listing of 1,500 basic-Globish words is drawn from various listings and includes all words that have been added to and omitted from the original Globish listing.  A secondary listing of some added American words would be of interest when people are visiting our country (foods, governmental terms, etc.).  A regional listing could follow at a later date with names of plants and animals. 

     What is my hope?  It is very big one, namely, to use only "basic Globish" in these reflections.  Some will say that it will be a deliberate "straightjacketing" of the subjects that are being addressed.  That is why it will take some time to select those words that prove most necessary and to decide which to omit.  Our normal vocabulary is about ten thousand words with numerous occasional exceptions when discussing one or another technical subject. One approach is to use more than the basic words, but to define the additional words by using basic ones.  I am expressing a future goal and for the benefit of a wide variety of people who read these reflections and consider English as a second language (we had readers from ninety-four countries last month).  May this become a correct manner of speaking in a company of non-English-speaking people.  Why not go half way?


May 30, 2007         The Gifts of the Holy Spirit

   cascade caverns

    Point of contact: Sandstone over Limestone at Cascade Caverns
(*photo credit)

 ...And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. (Acts 2:38)

     On the feast of Joan of Arc, a very gifted young French maiden, we could start a Pentecost season set of reflections (in June) on the gifts of the Holy Spirit in our own lives.   

   A shoot springs from the stock of Jesse,

   a scion thrusts from his roots:

   on him the spirit of Yahweh rests,

   a spirit of wisdom and insight,

   a spirit of counsel and power,

   a spirit of knowledge and fear of Yahweh.

   (The fear of Yahweh is his breath.)      (Isaiah 11:1-2)

     Ordinarily we consider the gifts of the Holy Spirit as personal gifts meant for our individual sanctification;  they make us open to be disposed and inspired by the Spirit in our journey of faith.  The community of believers also recognized another area of gifts, that of the "charismata," the extraordinary favors, granted for the help of another (I Cor. 12: 6-11; I Cor. 12: 28-31;  Rom. 12: 6-8) such as the speaking in tongues.  However these two sets of gifts are closely associated.

     Sanctification is more than a purely private relationship between God and me;  it involves a communal dimension, wherein the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit are shared in some way with our neighbor through example and encouragement for their benefit and spiritual growth.  Thus sanctification is a communal and even a global enterprise, for it must be truly "catholic" in outreach -- a building up of the Kingdom of God of which we are catalysts in our own way. 

                Roman Rite Prayer at Confirmation

      All powerful God, Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,

     by water and the Holy Spirit

     you freed your sons and daughters from sin

     and gave them new life.

     Send your Holy Spirit upon them

     to be their helper and guide.

     Give them the spirit of wisdom and understanding,

     the spirit of right judgment and courage,

     the spirit of knowledge and reverence.

     Fill them with the spirit of wonder and awe in your presence.

     We ask this through Christ our Lord.

     The gifts of the Holy Spirit may be applied in a very real sense to our ongoing relationships with others within our community of faith.  The long six-month season of Pentecost that ends the first of December is the time when we seek to improve our practice of these gifts.  During this span of time we ought to reflect on the seven gifts and make them part of our everyday life. 


May 31, 2007     Public Citizen Health Research Group

   bluegrass kentucky KY talon vinyards 

   Bluegrass skies, blue sky above expansive green field.   
(*photo credit)

     The organization that we will give special attention to this month is the Public Citizen Health Research Group.  This public interest organization was founded by Ralph Nader and Sidney Wolfe, a medical doctor, in 1971 and has the purpose of fighting for the public's health, and giving consumers more control over decisions that affect their health. 

     Besides a series of actions, alerts, testimonies, and other public interest activities, the group has reached the public through a series of books and newsletters.  Its book, Worst Pills, Best Pills has sold over 2.3 million copies in the past few years and can be ordered at <www.citizen.org/HLFEB7>

     The group's February "Health Letter" contains the following articles:   

           *  Medicaid @ 40: Why It Matters

           *  Work and Wellness: Collusion or Collision?

           *  FDA Should Not Seek More Drug Company Money, Should Get All Funding from U.S. Treasury

           *  Conflicts of Interest:  An Issue That Will Not Go Away

           *  Product Recalls -- Drugs or Supplements -- Consumer Products (27 ranging from all terrain vehicles to strollers

           *  Conflicts of Interest Among Clinical Investigators

           *  Essay:  What's Making Us Sick Is an Epidemic of Diagnoses (reprint from January 2, 2007)               New York Times

     A reader might be tempted to think this material is directed at health care professionals.  However the subject, the content and the style will all appeal to a wide variety of concerned citizens.  Health affects us all and, if the pill-pushers and others are right, over half of us suffer from the "medicalization" of everyday life where insomnia and sadness become sleep disorder and depression -- and on and on.  We Americans suffer from the highest health care costs in the world, but we are not the most healthy by any means.  We all need to help control these costs before they overwhelm us, and we all need to use more common sense to protect our individual and group health and safety.  The Health Research Group has been nobly attempting to do just that through the past thirty-six years.

            Address:  Public Citizen Health Research Group

                      1600 20th Street, N.W.

                      Washington, DC  20009



Copyright © 2007 Earth Healing, Inc.  All rights reserved..d..

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

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