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Daily Reflections Earth Healing

Daily Reflections
by Al Fritsch, S.J.

A series of written meditations and reflections

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May, 2017

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Copyright © 2017 by Al Fritsch

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May Reflections, 2017

     May's lengthening days bring flowers, from the "Run of the Roses on Derby Day to decorated cemeteries on Memorial weekend.  May is beauty for its own sake, the color, shape and smells of flowers and garden herbs and vegetables all adding pleasure to the beholder's eyes, nostrils, taste buds and fingers working the garden soil.  Flowers and veggies blend together in May: sprouting radishes and Chinese cabbage, spinach, Swiss chard, lettuce, red-stemmed beet greens, spreading cabbages, broccoli, kohlrabi and blooming chives.  It's a season of unique tastes -- uncontaminated, sun-ripened strawberries and rhubarb pie, sour cherries, ox-eyed daisies, iris, blackberry blossoms, peonies, poppies, rocket larkspur, scented black locust, and Kentucky coffee trees blooms.


                      Your presence is unobtrusive;
                        Residents seem to overlook
                          your foliage amid the green;
                       But your fruit is perfect delight.

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Jacob's ladder.
(*photo credit)

May 1, 2017           Joseph the Worker

    May Day has a long history, much of which we do not appreciate if we did not grow up with English May poles and with military/ worker celebrations.  In the Soviet era, this was a day demonstrating the military power of the USSR.  But traditions tend to fade, though this is still a "workers" day in some countries.  However, there is further remembrance on the first of May, and that is of "St. Joseph the worker," a twentieth century Christian response to Communism.  Here those of us with Joseph in our name find comfort.  The biblical Old Testament Joseph, with his coat of many colors, stands out as a forgiving figure; the New Testament Joseph, spouse of Mary, was tried in many ways and yet remained true to his calling with family duties: journeys to Bethlehem, then to Egypt, and then back again to Nazareth -- an honest working man who raises his family through all sorts of hardships.

    Joseph is more than a carpenter -- and that is not said with disrespect for that noble profession.  Joseph is the just one, a worker-turned-protector of the entire human family -- the Church.  He is the patron of those who make their living by their sweat and labor and who give a wholehearted response to his special calling.  He is not known to have left a single recorded word, but he remains very prominent in rearing the child Jesus through faithfulness and kindness -- and then he drops from sight with only the memory, "Was this not the son of Joseph and do we not know his family?" Joseph's humble life is a target for those who disbelieve Jesus, for how could a Messiah come from such a simple household?

    Joseph is thrust into a pivotal position in the coming and revelation of the Messiah, yet he is a tradesman from hill country without degrees or wealth or fame of any sort -- except that his roots were the House of David from whose family the Messiah was to spring.  Nobility in many ways but without special privilege!  He buys turtle doves, the sacrificial gift of poor folks, when he and Mary present Christ in the Temple.  He takes the family faithfully each year to the Temple for the festivals.  He is the breadwinner and has to make a living in a challenging land and trying times.  Wood is scarce, and so carpentry involves making buildings, furniture, doors, and a multitude of items by skillful and conservative use of materials.

     Prayer: A Worker's Ode to Joy.  O God, fill our eyes and hearts with the beauty that our work produces in this vast world of continued activity.  Let the sheer delight of making a living uplift us above a world scarred by human-made ugliness and uniformity.  While we cannot repair all wounds, we still can beautify a small part of our harmed environment.  Give us insight into what this scarred planet can become.  Let today's delights be wordless praise to You.  Touch and cultivate the workshops of our hearts; fill them with grandeur; and allow them to grow in an eternal love that will last forever.  Let this year's production be the foreshadowing of eternal delight.  Joyfully, joyfully, we exult You in the glorious month of May, Mary and Joseph's month.

Earthhealing.info at People's Climate March. April 29, 2017, Washington, DC.






Dobsonfly (Megaloptera:Corydalidae), biological indicator of water quality
(*photo credit)

May 2, 2017        The Value of Mulching

     Will the summer of 2017 break another heat record as has occurred for the past decade?  Yes, this is mulching season, nature's best way of conserving precious water when the hotter days increase evaporation and wilt plants.  Many gardeners swear by mulch, that soft (the Germanic derivative) covering of loose materials, which conserves much needed moisture during the hot summer months, allows air to get to roots, moderates the temperatures, which are susceptible to our temperate climate ups and downs, chokes out the weeds that tend to crowd around vegetables, and provides a covering for the earthworms which work the soil.  Mulching advocates will leave the mulch on all year and even interplant in it the next year.  They will testify that nature works from the top down, and thus the mulch should not be turned over but, rather, added to after the plants die down each year. 

    I came to mulching late because we did not did little of this at my farm except for the strawberries.  We did put some straw laden with manure on certain wintering crops such as rhubarb and horseradish, but never during the actual growing season for the ordinary vegetables.  Perhaps it was the size of such a project, while we had so much other farm work to do, that kept us from mulching.  Now I have been converted, and use straw or dry leaves for many of the crops that last to cover crop plantings in the autumn, and in May and June I mulch beans, peas, cucumber, tomato, okra, squash and other planted crops.  We have experimented with green mulch (hairy vetch) for tomatoes to control weeds and fix nitrogen.

     Mulch materials (natural and artificial) may be of many types and include straw, hay, grass cuttings, rotting leaves, shredded newsprint, and even plastic sheet and foam materials.  Don't use fresh sawdust, for this withdraws nitrogen from the beds.  When used over, organic and vegetative mulch can be composted into the soil.  Organic materials will eventually compost, whereas black plastic users have the sun-ravished plastic residue to contend with when the growing season is over.  Certainly, black plastic can stimulate crop growth in spring, but could burn the root system and plants when the sun gets into the 90s in mid-summer. 

     I intend to stay with only natural mulches, which allow air and moisture to enter and leave.  When one uncovers the natural mulch, one finds an environment that is cool and moist, thus keeping some of the sub-surface moisture from escaping and allowing it to be used by the growing plants.  The nearby bare ground is quite dry and hot, and a place where persistent weeds, which can weather the hot sun, seem to thrive even with little moisture.  Let's put weeding behind us and give more attention to making the vegetables thrive in mulch, especially as summer approaches.

     Prayer: Lord, teach us to be gentle in everything we do, to anticipate where needs will occur, and to make the effort to provide for the more fragile things of life. 







Solar panel installation at St. Elizabeth of Hungary church, Ravenna, KY.

May 3, 2017             Why Solar Churches?

    As we move to a renewable energy economy we wonder how much the churches themselves should be participants in this needed movement.  Here are some reasons that can be mustered for defending the placement of solar photovoltaic units on church buildings:

     Stewardship.  First, they are signs of the parish practicing stewardship of church resources.  The solar application will save electricity costs with a payback in a decade or so -- and then add money for other bills.

     Community inspiration.  This is a notice that each institution within a local community should contribute to the transition to a renewable economy and that it should be done ASAP for the sake of the planet's immediate health.

     Church witness.  Solarizing the buildings becomes a testimony to other church groups in the community to do the same, and thus becomes a means of preaching without being pushy or self-righteous in the manner of presentation.

     Renewable advancement.  In regions where fossil fuels have in the past been a mainstay of the economic system, solar panels can be seen visibly as a movement to a new economy that offers employment for those installing the devices.

     Ecclesial catalyst.  By advertising the presence of this solar application in religious periodicals and other media, this becomes a prod for them to undertake similar projects; they are invited to affirm that the words of environmental church leaders are being implemented in concrete ways.

     Theological message.  Utilizing solar energy speaks in a theological manner of the care for creation without simply stating this in word and then failing to act accordingly -- and thus be blamed for some form of hypocrisy.

     Sign of Beauty.  The visibility of the solar panels are a form of beautification, which some naysayers will attempt to disparage; however, the parish says this is the new fashion, worthy of demonstration for all the world to see as human-made beauty.

     Affirmation.  By being a leader, especially in areas where solar is not readily utilized by institutions, the presence of the solar arrays tells a secular world that our church is on the side of progress in changing to a renewable energy economy.

     Uplift of spirit.  The parish is willing to take a first step in areas of improvement and thus the parishioners themselves can take pride in being catalysts for change in the area.  Fossil fuels will no longer be used to light this property.

     Prayer: Lord, teach us to be first in a non-competitive way.







Chives, in bloom
*photo credit)

May 4, 2017            Space Tourism

     When this issue was first considered a few years back, a rich American named Dennis Tito had given the Russian space agency twenty million dollars for a ride to the new space laboratory being built in outer space.  He called himself the "first space tourist," but that has been contested.  On December 2, 1990, Toyohiro Akiyama, a reporter for the Japanese television station TBS traveled on the same type of Soyuz rocket as Tito, and docked with Mir -- at a cost of millions of dollars.  In 1991, Helen Sharman also traveled to Mir.  However, it was not just the Russians who commercialized the space program.  In 1985, NASA launched Senator Jake Garn aboard the space shuttle Discovery.  And then there was Senator John Glenn's second ride in his senior role.  Space travel has takers, only taxpayers are reluctant to be the givers.  New companies are now seeing space age profits and want into the act.

     Space agencies are now thinking commercial, and it will only be time before the rich and famous play space shuttling -- most at hidden taxpayer expense.  Just such high-roller tourists were riding in another type of vehicle, an American submarine, when it accidentally struck and sank a small Japanese fishing expedition near Hawaii and killed nine including some young students.  The Russians want to commercialize the space program as do other nations, but is this really a good idea?  Space tourism is inherently costly and risky.  Furthermore it is like all travel in the beginning; it is a "journey" (with difficulties associated).

     The "journey" in Columbus's voyages and the Lewis and Clark expedition and other such discovery ventures involved the risk to human safety and the possibility that disaster could occur -- as did happen in travels that had no return, such as Amelia Earhart's air flight around the world in the 1930s and the first trans-Australian trek in 1861.  Space is that last travel frontier, since most of the areas of this planet have been trampled upon except ocean floor.  Explorers take risks to play the odds. 

     Space travel is different: all travelers live on artificial life support systems; all need multi-million dollar send-offs at immense public expense; and all must have technical backup from programs and agencies that cost the taxpayers billions of dollars.  Why should a few people be subsidized at the expense of the taxpayer, and why should the various international agencies allow this distracting commercial tourism?  Research exploration is one thing; pure pleasure trips are another.  Allowing space tourists to enter the picture contaminates research efforts, is inherently costly beyond immediate estimates; these tourists radiate privilege and distract from the research purposes of the program.  Priorities must always come first, and giving an African child with little educational opportunity good schooling is better than space tourism.  Space tourists never pay full fare; they get in the way.

     Prayer: Lord, keep us looking down to Earth for the priorities that need to be addressed in our troubled world.








Black locust (Robinia pseudoacacia) in bloom,
against backdrop of stormy sky
(*photo credit)

May 5, 2017        Defend the Roadless Forest

      According to the World Bank a decline of total forestland is a serious matter dropping from 31.8% of global land surface area in 1990 to 30.8% in 2015 (4 billion hectares or slightly less than 10 billion acres).  Some 7.5% of this total is American forestland and much is privately owned; still the U.S. Forest Service watches over about a quarter of the American forest area.  The founder of the U.S. Forest Service, Gifford Pinchot, said at its creation in 1905 that federal forests are intended to provide the "greatest good for the greatest number for the longest time."  His basic message was well-founded, but at times the forest logging practices have challenged the quest for longevity.  One cannot allow some of the most influential to cut timber, mine, or graze cattle and call it "for the greatest number."  Unfortunately, the so-called wise-users regard commercial resource extraction as "proper" land use.  But is it?  Is not the potential of sight-seeing by tourists of far greater economic value than the extraction of timber?  Does viewing forests from photos or YouTube and engaging in virtual forest tours also add hidden value to woodlands?  

     Environmentalists have consistently pointed out over the past few decades that protected areas, which are free from ecologically disruptive uses, are necessary ingredients in a long-term biodiversity strategy.  Some of our national forests contain unique but fragile areas such as wild and scenic rivers, cliffs and exquisite rock formations, habitats for migratory birds, and whole sections of land that are still primitive and roadless.  However one of the most contentious struggles in recent years has been whether these pristine areas (23 million hectares of forest lands) are to be cut through by an extended forest road system for fire protection and unspoken resource exploitation. 

     A new conservation program implemented a few years ago is now threatened.  That program during its preparation received 1.6 million comments, more than any other Federal rule-making on forest issues.  It required a ban on further road construction in the national forests and greater restrictions on timber harvest in the roadless forested areas.  However, the wise-users have taken exception, and thrown their weight around, calling the new restrictions a "federal land lockup."  On the other hand, protective restrictions, if put into effect before the forests are totally parceled and broken apart, have the effect of saving vast bio-reserves for the future.  Such conditions are strictly within the original philosophical purview of Pinchot.  Each of us ought to monitor our nearest national forest.  Let's devote time each year to knowing the forest better and to appreciating the wildlife they contain.  Where open to visitors, hike during every season and especially appreciate spring wildflowers and autumn colors.  

     Prayer: Creator of the forests of this world, help us to see the value of the gift you have given to us; help us keep the stretches of wooded areas pristine and to value them in themselves.






Tulip poplar flower and leaf, Liriodendron tulipifera
(*photo credit)

May 6, 2017        Thirteen Ways to Save Energy

     Today with the need to curb greenhouse gases, a move to reduce energy expenditures is always welcome:

     * Curb driving and share rides;

     * Drive electric and smaller cars for travel savings;

     * Go solar electric ASAP;

     * Reduce domestic space.  Next to the vehicle type and size, the residence or work place is a major determinant of energy use.  More heating and cooling space requires more energy use, so let's minimize our so-called space needs; 

     * Comfort zones are worth establishing.  Know what temperature is comfortable for occupants, and then extend that five degrees lower in winter and five higher in summer.  Consider a thermostat.

     * Use LEDs and other energy-saving lighting instead of incandescent bulbs, especially in areas where lights are left on, such as exit lighting or night lighting areas.  Merely turning them on and off may prove an extra cost. Timer switches do pay;

     * Insulate more for it always pays;

     * Plant trees; these are excellent for windbreaks and shade;   

     * Wash and dry conservatively.  If you must use a dish washer, rinse dishes with cold water before use, make sure the machine is full and allow to air dry.  Wash clothes with warm or cold water and soak heavily soiled clothing before washing; wait for a full load before washing; dry clothes outdoors when weather permits; if using a clothes dryer, keep lint screen and outside vent clean and dry clothes in consecutive batches to economize energy;

     * Cook with less energy.  Boiling potatoes in larger batches saves energy; turn off the oven a little before completion and allow residual energy to finish the job; consider a solar oven -- a real energy saver; and shift to cold dishes in summer;

     * Vent air naturally.  Employ fans in place of air conditioning, especially for airing out on cooler summer mornings;

     * Turn down hot water temperature.  Use a booster for dish washing and keep any hot water tank well insulated.  Think again and act solar, especially with a hot water heater; and

     * Buy energy efficient electric appliances.  Avoid unneeded electric items; read energy efficiency information when buying new appliances; and realize microwave energy savings.

     Prayer: Lord, help us live simply so others can simply live.


Will Trump Change on Energy Issues?

     The first hundred days of this current administration have come and gone.  Some changes from Trump campaign promises to current national policy have occurred.  However, it is foolhardy to expect major turnarounds from DT; he has been leased by the Koch brothers and their dreams of hundreds of billions from Canadian tar sands and other dirty fossil fuel sources.  This covey of Big Oil profiteers does not allow him to change, even if he saw the light of tens of thousands of American jobs for renewable energy workers. 

    I do pray that he and Rich Perry (Dept. of Energy) and others see the light and join a conservationist society by working for a renewable energy economy.  Certainly it would be a win/win situation for all but the BIG OIL Grandees.  Miracles happen and the bunch is not totally doctrinaire, being influenced by an assortment of individuals who could steer a fumbling administration different directions.  In these times nothing is impossible; we have learned since November to expect the unforeseen -- but don't count on it, for the stakes are far too high.  Wishful thinking could lead to catastrophe, as great as a North Korean war would be. 

    We cannot be lulled into climate change denial or bland acceptance that recent deniers will suddenly have a change of heart; nor ought we to see that experts can predict the way to a rosy future.  Nor can we turn to other allurements along with a hope that God will solve our problems (it is tempting God for us to expect a divine miracle to correct the mess we are bringing on ourselves).  We are called to be socially responsible and that means correcting our individual and collective faults and doing so in a forthright manner, acting with divine inspiration.

     Jesus did not expect that all alienated Scribes and Pharisees would change, even when he invited them through confrontation; some did.  Our situation involves alienated powerful climate change deniers, but the confrontational approach is quite justified for so much is at stake, namely life and death of a planet.  In no way should we relent, even if some movement in a sane direction comes to light.  Perhaps the crack will come in seeing that solar jobs are over twice those of coal ones, and a jobs argument will move the administration to endorse renewables (wind, solar, hydro and geothermal).  Commitment to renewables means that we welcome every step and demand the environmental toddler to immediately take another step.  If we don't, advancing climate change will soon become a self-fulfilling feedback-loop; when permafrost starts melting in the Arctic, the released methane will accelerate the greenhouse effect at an ever accelerating rate. 

     We must be unrelenting, that is, watchful for any clues that DT has distanced himself from the power of the Koch Brothers and other fellow billionaires.  Social change is welcome, but the goal is equality in both control of resources and proper use of them.  Being too gentle is status quo delight, but poor environmentalism.






Photo from Jim Morgan and Teresa Maurer, Round Mountain Farm.

May 7, 2017        Tending Sheep: Protecting the Commons

                   I am the good shepherd.   (John 10:14)

     We again observe Good Shepherd Sunday during Eastertide.  The richness of shepherding is always amazing, for it seems so straight-forward and yet it takes sincerity and skill.  We can look at Jesus as the gate of a sheepfold and as shepherd (John 10; Heb. 13:20); we can reflect on ourselves as stray sheep now gathered under the shepherd (I Peter 2:20-25); when we wander, the Lord brings us back.  We are called to be like Jesus, and thus herders of sheep.  Let's follow the example of good shepherds and tend the little flocks in our own care. 

     Interestingly enough, the English commons were where the sheep grazed, but from the fifteenth century forward these common lands were enclosed at the behest of a privileged few wealthy nobles.  That process of enclosure did not stop there however; an infringement on many aspects of the world's commons has continued down to this day and includes concentration of resources by a privileged few who shut out the poor of the world around them.

     Shepherding is a learned experience.  Shepherding requires continual vigilance and a willingness to go out on a limb to protect those entrusted to our care.  We must stay awake and we must be willing to engage in action, and to do so at a moment's notice.  We extend Christ's shepherding power by coming to the flock that was scattered in the taking over of the commons: the air, water, oceans, wilderness, wildlife, space above, silent areas, air waves, intellectual commons, instruments of transportation and communications and even the financial resources that make people who they are.  Commons are meant for all the people -- and yet they are often seized by a privileged few. 

     Lost sheep and pastures do occur.  We must never regard the loss of commons to the privileged few to be irrevocable.  As shepherds of the commons we are to confront those who react to the stealing of what belongs to all the people as a form of hidden terrorism.  Loss comes in succumbing to violence, and part of our being gentle shepherds is to say that not violent revolution is the proper route to return of the lost pasture lands -- the commons. 

     Agents of change regain the scattered flock.  Part of our faith response is that by being shepherds we tend to the entire flock and that means those who are helpless, homeless and destitute.  They are sheep without a shepherd, and so we look to Jesus for direction.  We learn that the way to being like him is to be willing to sacrifice for the flock -- even to the point of life itself.  Agents of change are leaven, catalysts, those who are points of light, shepherds.  All this we learn by our sacramental closeness to the Good Shepherd.

Prayer: Lord, you are the Good Shepherd and you ask us to follow you in this profession.  Give us the courage to do so.








Emerging blooms of the garden hyacinth.
(*photo credit)

May 8, 2017                   Peace Poles

    How good, how delightful it is for all to live together like brothers ...and sisters:   (Psalm 133:1)

    I remember the bright sunny May eighth, 1945, clearly.  It began as a crisp clear morning and the school bus got about a mile from my home and had engine trouble.  Mr. Lurdy, the driver, was under the bus and the kids were milling around on the country road when we heard the Maysville whistles four miles away blowing wildly -- V-E Day; "Victory in Europe."  Since we knew classes would be cancelled, we persuaded the good-natured driver (once the engine was running again) to retrace the route and take us back home.  He did, for he too rejoiced, with a son serving in the European Theater of the War.  And so my siblings and I raced into the distant field to tell Daddy and the hired man, Ed Thompson, that the war was partly over -- at least over in Europe.

     Peace-making is a public anticipated act.  Peace is always desired, especially when we are immersed in that longest lasting conflict in Afghanistan.  Each of the world's peaceable peoples -- those fond of or promoting peace in some fashion -- needs to be ever more publicly committed to ensure that peace is established and endures.  A public and evident symbol helps confirm our commitment.  In recent years, some individuals and groups have installed or displayed peace poles, signs or medals or some other identification in places where people can easily observe them.  Earlier tribes and groups had their peace flags and markings, showing neighbors that they were not warring but welcoming others into their territory.

    The recently popular "peace pole" is just such a peace marking; it is usually a wooden shaft in much the shape of the Washington Monument, with four sides each speaking of peace in different languages.  It is the sign of the universal yearning of the human heart.  This peace pole can be installed with a special occasion or ceremony, thus making it a more fitting commitment on the part of the installing individual or group.  Let others see and imitate the example.  Often a peace blessing is printed on the pole that points upward to the Almighty and to the need for a unity of scattered peoples with the One Creator of all peace. 

     Little things go a long way to enhancing commitment.  We must strive to re-establish peace by redoubling our efforts to speak up for the oppressed anywhere in the world.  While engaged in a struggle against terror we must recommit ourselves to peace.  Our inner peace can be a ripple effect embracing the planet's surface. A peace pole is a beginning -- prominent, polished and decorated with flowers.  But peace is not automatic; it takes an effort, and this means verbal commitments, actions, prayers and confrontation of a military/industrial complex that looks to warfare.

     Prayer: Lord, make me an instrument of peace; where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is discord, peace.










Taxus canadensis, uncommon eastern Kentucky sighting. Rowan County.
(*photo credit)

May 9, 2017             Endangered Species

     Endangered Species Day reminds us of a persistent problem.  Recalling the story of each species and the long evolutionary history of its development makes us wonder where we fit as protector of God's majestic creation.  Unfortunately, some extinctions have occurred before our eyes, e.g., the death of the last passenger pigeon at the Cincinnati zoo in 1915. 

     In rare cases some species are gone forever -- and suddenly an individual crops up in the recesses of a forested area.  Continuing the existence of rare finds can still be problematic.  However, both numerous plant and animal species are in steep decline, ironically at a time when we know much more about protecting and preserving endangered species.  How do we control the insatiable appetite for forest products in areas of greatest plant diversity -- the tropical forest?  How do we keep human intruders and pollution away from the planet's spectacular coral reefs, which are virtually all in danger, according to the opinion of marine biologists?  How do we preserve bird habitats and resting places of migratory birds, which are in steep decline, according to the counts of the bird watchers? 

     Poaching for animal parts must be identified and curbed, e.g., elephant ivory, tiger parts, and furs from many threatened small mammals.  However, poachers can be aggressive and police sufficient and empowered to halt the practice.   Whales, the largest of Earth's creatures and really warm-blooded mammals, are threatened as species; these impressive animals are generally gentle and playful among themselves and with others; they travel in pods (herds) along traditional migratory routes at speeds of about 6 knots (or twice as fast as human beings normally walk) and can go for bursts at up to 15-20 knots.  The largest, the blue whale, weighs 200 tons and is larger than 30 mature elephants.  But many people have not been kind to these creatures.  Modern hunting techniques with sonar, long-range harpoons and factory ships have changed the adventure of Moby Dick into first-class barbaric slaughter for delights, industrial oils, animal feed, fertilizer, perfume and shampoo ingredients.  Most of the ten species of great whales have been reduced to extinction, even with global whaling bans and restrictions by the International Whaling Commission. 

    Most Americans do not have direct contact with exotic mammals, whether elephants or whales, but we do know that large or small, many of these species are threatened or endangered.  The message needs to be publicized, especially when threats to species are occurring near development of green space and forested areas, and the use of motorized recreational vehicles.  Help in a bird counting project.  Advocate for endangered species through letter writing, talks, and articles.  Support the Endangered Species Coalition <www.stopextinction.org> or similar groups.

     Prayer: God, You created all that inhabit this planet.  Help us to be their protectors as part of our compassion and mission.









Purplerocket, Iodanthus pinnatifidus
(*photo credit)

May 10, 2017                Floral Gardens 

    It is possible to have a highly productive garden interspersed and accentuated by the beauty of zinnias, cosmos, begonias and marigolds.  Note that flowers selected for domestic gardens need not be entirely of a native variety, but can also include naturalized or traditional flowers, which, if allowed to grow and flourish, will not be invasive.  Some species, such as jonquils or tiger lilies, will continue flowering in a homestead site long after the buildings have disappeared.  However, these are not problematic invasive species; they bloom at a given season and then die back, allowing pastureland to yield normal vegetation throughout the growing season.  

     Adding flowers to vegetable-producing plots may have more than an aesthetic purpose.  Some beautiful flowers or their leaves can be eaten in salad (nasturtium or certain lilies); others are natural pest retardant agents (marigold); and still others are attractants of harmful insects (evening primroses attract Japanese beetles and the beetles can be easily collected from the plants).  Many colorful flowers attract hummingbirds or butterflies, which also add beauty and a sense of integrity to the total garden plant/animal community.  Some people use the summer garden as a place for storing and invigorating indoor houseplants, and then bring them indoors when frost arrives.

     Successful flower gardening requires some care in selecting varieties, sowing and planting, weeding, and in collecting seed or transplanting bulbs.  A small additional space may be required for such flowers, and these can easily be intermingled among a wide variety of vegetables and herbs.  The scent of certain herbs, such as basil or the mints, enhances the total garden environment.  In rare cases, such as with daffodils, the highly toxic bulb may be mistaken for members of the onion family; do not grow these flowers where there could be mistaken identity.

     If wildscape and floral/vegetable gardens exist side by side, it is always difficult to answer requests for cutting wildflowers.  Such bouquet gatherings may distract from the total beauty of the landscape.  We are generally less reluctant to cut cultivated flowers than wildflowers for decorating homes, worship space and special events.  A general principle is only harvest wildflowers where they are invasive or naturalized (ox-eyed daisies, Queen Anne's lace or wild chicory).  Good ecology includes incorporating beauty into our damaged environment through landscaping, architecture, visual arts and performing arts.  Flowers help heal us, brighten our lives, and stimulate our creativity.  We need decoration, color, and floral scents. (Reference: Ecological Design, Sim Van der Ryn and Stuart Cowan [Island Press, 1995]).

     Prayer: O God, allow us to see the beauty of creation in the flowers that bloom for awhile and then pass on.  Let their passing moment remind us of our limited time to flourish; encourage us to bask, while flourishing, in the mystery of your creative beauty.









Ladies' tresses, Spiranthes diluvialis. Near Cheyenne, WY.
(*photo credit)

May 11, 2017       Coping with Information Overload

     Information comes to us from many sources: Internet news and Google, television, radio, newspapers, periodicals, e-mail messages, phone calls, conversations, billboard advertisements, private conversation, Facebook, sermons, lectures, adult education courses, textbooks, flyers, historic signs, public service announcements, soapbox orators and on and on.  How can we cope with this deluge of information, some invited and some thrust upon us unwillingly?  The bombardment is like going in haste through an immense World's Fair with little time for digesting each display.  Here are some ways of coping with this information overload:

     * Select information outlets wisely -- Often we allow the information bombardment because we have no criteria for selection.  We end up hearing a variety of sources with much repeated and little new content.  We can become addicted to certain news media and think we must hear or see them at particular times of day or night and sometimes with ever greater frequency; 

     * Close off ads -- This is easier said than done, for many advertisements strike us when we are least expecting them.  Making a deliberate effort to curb ads and placing the phone on a no call list are most helpful practices;

     * Select periodicals and books -- There are many quality periodicals that give in-depth reporting that goes beyond general sound-bites and news briefs.  Our desire for such longer term sources of knowledge gets us out of the habit of wanting to be wired for immediate news at all times -- and the stress that goes with this constant barrage of information;

     * Use the Internet Carefully -- Avoid social media chat rooms; curb unwanted e-mails, especially the junk that can be stopped through aggressive action.  Here again we can become addicted.  Limiting ourselves in content and time is most helpful to prevent information overload;

   * Reduce calling -- We sometimes mix social needs with excuses.  Do we really need to keep up with every happening at the instant it occurs?  Being wired and connected may be a safety measure, but being abreast of social media also consumes valuable time; and

   * Establish reflection time -- Put aside time for reflection during the day or night and at select periods during the year, when all forms of information are curbed and silence reigns supreme.  Periodic solitude is a blessing.  Yes, we need time to process all the information we have received, and this needs planned periods. 

     Prayer: Word of God, become our constant source of what is important in our lives.  Help us to avoid the frivolous, the rumor, the gossip, the unimportant, and rather to concentrate on what is more wholesome.  Give us a discerning spirit so that we can avoid what will clutter our minds and prove a major distraction.










Cherry tree, with fruit.
(* photo by Sally Ramsdell)

May 12, 2017         Multipurpose Cemeteries

     Many American cemeteries are green with lawn grass and trees, but some older ones have become so congested that they are now a forest of marble and granite monuments -- and a crop of weeds; family plots are neglected and in a sorry state because near relatives have died out and no one is immediately connected.  The upcoming Memorial Day allows us to review our "own" cemetery situation.  Visiting cemeteries and bringing children to them to gently acquaint them with the natural process of passing on of friends and loved ones is a good and salutary act.  Leaving living or even plastic bouquets shows thoughtfulness, and adds color to the place.  Some, during this season or nearer All Soul's Day in November, have family reunions in cemeteries, but that tradition is dying out.  Our mobile culture tends to overlook the cemetery. 

     Once on an early Saturday morning in 1972 I was ejected for jogging in the Arlington National Cemetery, a section of my favorite Washington, DC weekend running route.  I argued a little with the guard and said that I suspected that John Kennedy and most of those buried there would smile and approve of joggers in this solemn area.  Why so somber about a place of rest?  Jogging is certainly different from boozing or lovemaking in the graveyard, or stripping coal from around or under Appalachian cemeteries.  Consider engaging in recreation among the cemetery trees (even edible fruit and nut varieties) and flowers, even carrying on community gardening in less congested cemetery areas. 

     Community cleanup days just before the Memorial Day weekend or on the weekend are perfect times for respecting the dead and showing that love extends from the community through the years.  Urge cleaning crews to remove the brambles and brush, straighten up the stones, add better fencing, and install gates, especially for small cemeteries without guards, so they can be closed when not used for burials or visits.  Protection is certainly a desired ingredient -- and cemetery managers and park officials could work together so cemeteries could become good parks.

     The greening process could go beyond annual clean-ups and include opening the place to greenspace advocates, walking and jogging paths, a host of various trees planted at key locations, picnic areas in unused space, even proper restroom areas and potable water sources.  Cemetery caretakers can testify to how much time it takes to mow and weed-eat around raised gravestones so low lying grave markers are preferred.  Abandoned portions of cemeteries could be turned into wildscape and devoted to growing spurges and other perennials.  Make cemeteries into sacred space.  Privacy barriers of shrubs and evergreens would be delineated as areas with meditation benches, appropriate memorials and statues where custom allows.  Attract birds as well.  Make the cemetery friendly and able to be used to a moderate degree by everyone.

     Prayer: Lord, teach us to use our space well and to make it so that many most can enjoy it -- even space where loved ones rest. 









Blossom of the blackberry.
(*photo credit)

May 13, 2017     The Way, the Truth and the Life

          I am the way, the truth and the life.  (John 14:6) 

     Christ, the way: 
our direct route to salvation;
the moral virtues to be lived -- The Way;
the road map that we imitate on our journey of faith;  the gate of heaven and access to God the Father;
the path by which the Father is known to the world (John 1:18; 12:45; 14:9);
the trail of suffering that follows the way of the cross;
the venture to save others;   
the passage into the New Covenant;
the journey that we take together;
the focus point of our earthly travels;
the highway directed heavenward;
the opening to future glory.

     Christ, the truth:
the teacher par excellence;
the message found in a person;
the compass of our intellectual pursuits;
the quest of our constant questioning;
the faithful witness to the Father;
the eternal Word made flesh;
the willingness to go to great lengths;
the good works shown to all;
the Good News proclaimed to all creation;
the personification of our worship "in spirit and truth" (John 4:23);
the kairos or the acceptable time of opportunity;
the pleasure of the Father.

    Christ the life:
serving all;
knowing the Father present in the Son;
offering to others as Body of Christ;     
celebrating on major occasions;
suffering with those who are persecuted;
witnessing to the Good News;
staying enthusiastic;
giving the Bread of Life;             
dying so others may have life;
forgiving and healing;
sending the Paraclite;
being eternal Love.

Let's Stop Pretending; A Catastrophe Is Looming

     Loyal Readers: don't tire, for it is a deeper spirituality to face reality without losing the enthusiasm for a confrontational fight.  Keep up the battle!  Some would be tempted to say climate change is not as bad as predictions make it out to be.  But that is pretending.  The first months of this year have been the hottest or second hottest in 137 years of modern record keeping. 

     One problem that besets our culture is that fiction writers are honored far more so than writers of reality.  First, it is easier to write fiction, with movie rights and other possibilities. For them it is exciting to create a character who never gets checked for veracity: the romping of a fertile imagination. Certainly a literary argument for development of character and highlighting issues is offered, but reality is that real climate is changing and heading to a possible catastrophe, while many of us selfishly hope for a delay in our lifetime.

     The choice before us is death or life: death at the hands of fossil fuel profiteers or life with a renewable energy economy and fair taxes on the wealthy who "own" much of this world that belongs to all the people.  This choice of death and life is stark, but must be seen from the uneasy position of being realists in this age.  We are called to give up the allurements that cast us down into the realms of pretending; false busyness distracts one from serious matters at hand.  But serious matters tire the watchful, and simply as human beings we become fatigued -- if not revitalized by a praying community and Sacramental life.  Some would say "sheer grit carries me through," but that is part of the pretending and fiction that can hamper our vigilance.  Being human, we get tired and must find true rest in the Lord.

    Authentic spirituality demands a proper balance of sufficient rest and meaningful action.  Our rest may include good meals, plenty of sleep, times for exercise and recreation, and even periods with nothing planned.  In fact, a rhythm of rest and work can become a key ingredient of a prayerful life.  We are to find the time to say "yes" to what must be done and that means confronting in a courageous fashion the fossil fuel tigers who exhibit such power today.  Confrontational reality demands moments to relax and rest.  Who knows, the other daily reflections could prove to be a tonic.  Variation for a time is relaxing and eases any strain on the relentless battle before us.  A further aid to each is to recruit companions for the environmental tasks ahead.  We are not lone wolves; we need collaboration at this time.

     A note:  Sometimes pretending is a form of relaxation but must be seen as such.  A sharp realism demands a dynamic tension: we relax so we can work better.  Some forms of relaxation are helpful and some could be addictive or detrimental to health, e.g., smoke breaks.  Sharpness in today's battle to save our endangered Earth requires finding good ways to relieve tension.  How about prayer?









Delicate flower near the garden's edge.
(*photo credit)

May 14, 2017        Mother's Day: Love from Love

          "I will make all things new."  (Revelation 21:5)

    I once met a person who was asked to lead us around a woman's monastery during our environmental resource assessment of the property in Virginia.  He had been an orphan and had lived on the grounds since the age of four.  He was over eighty and yet he mentioned three times during the course of the six-hour work tour that his mother had abandoned him.  Love spurned left a deep wound after all his many years.  On Mother's Day, we can all be thankful for mothers who nurture, feed, and care for their children with love -- and pray that all do.  A world cannot long endure without a mother's love.  When we make the final eternal journey all we can carry is the love in our hearts -- often fostered by our mothers. 

    We see the setting as the Last Supper when Jesus speaks of glorification.  We come to our last moments of mortal life and our love is a lasting mark lacking credit cards and achievements, for we are naked on leaving as naked on coming into this world.  We take to the throne of the Most High our love for God and others, a love that in its start is a pure gift from God.  That love is ever made new when we carry the love of God through the person of Jesus with us on our journey of faith.  How well do we transform that love into our own?  We strive to love God with our whole heart and soul and mind and strength, and yet we need God's help to actualize our own loving acts.  God within us is a dynamo of fire, and the more we share love, the more we are aware of God within.

    We reflect on that love which can shine through the dark clouds of hatred.  At Auschwitz a half century ago, Father Maximilian Kolbe (to whom Pope John Paul II said he owed his own vocation) volunteered to die in place of another prisoner.  At forty-seven Maximilian gave all as a volunteer to replace a married man with family.  St. John Paul, at Maximilian's canonization in 1982, said, “Greater love has no man than this that he lay down his life for his friends."  St. Maximilian took Jesus at his word and lived and loved according to the prompting and the situation that called for love to replace hate.  The man he replaced in the concentration camp was present at his canonization along with his family.

    The second great commandment is to love our neighbor as ourselves (Leviticus 19:18).  Most people love themselves but rather than using ourselves as gauges, we look for loving models to imitate.  We receive a new commandment to love as Christ loved us.  Most of us can find our own Mother's love as a model of unselfish love.  Expressing this love is a measure of how God's love is growing within us.  One way to express love today is to remember all mothers of the world.  If our mother has left us an "orphan" and passed on to the Lord, let's turn attention to other mothers, especially those striving to raise their children properly.

     Prayer: Thank you Lord, for giving us the gift of a mother's love that serves as a model of what we need to extend to the world.







Seedling finds a path through weathered rock.
(*photo credit)

May 15, 2017        Alternative Justice Approaches

     Several facts emerge in regard to our current American prison practices: the cost of incarceration is very high; America incarcerates a higher percentage of its population than does any other advanced nation (one percent of U.S. residents); the prisons are overcrowded and not totally effective when it comes to corrective programs; private prisons are an abomination to be phased out; and many prisoners especially non-violent offenders should simply not be in prison and could benefit from lower-cost alternative justice approaches.  A host of alternatives have been suggested that need careful evaluation.  Some of these include:

     * Half-way houses and treatment centers for non-violent drug offenders.  Imprisoning many prisoners with drug problems is equivalent to the outmoded debtors' prisons of previous ages and is simply not workable nor beneficial to the drug victims;

     * Work-release programs where non-violent offenders can work off their sentencing through community projects and service work without the need to house the prisoner as such.  Sentences can be served in very meaningful ways.  Often, the work situation is paid for by the non-profit sector, which benefits from the free labor of the captive prisoners;

     * Work camps much in the model of the 1930s conservation camps, where ex-prisoners assist in rebuilding the infrastructure of recreational parks, summer camps, research facilities, museums, historic sites, retreat centers, playgrounds, bike and hiking trails, housing projects for lower income people, national and state reforestation projects, damaged environmental areas, and urban blighted areas;

     * Monitored home care for those who cannot work due to illness or age and are not regarded as violent.  The ex-prisoner may be required to wear GPS devices that can tell exactly where they are at a given time.  The monitoring from central command places would still be far cheaper than incarcerating such mild prisoners, who are elderly or infirm and who would otherwise require expensive prison care facilities;

     * Early release programs for non-violent, non-drug offenses with monitoring in the above manner and still with stringent reporting procedures.  This is being started at some state levels.  Most minimum security prisoners could fit into this category; and 

     * Modification of sentencing guidelines to allow for exceptions so that some sentences could be reduced to community service and monitoring.

     Prayer: Lord, teach us that to liberate prisoners is extending your mercy to all the human family.  Help us to become a forgiving people bent on giving to prisoners the best possibilities of rehabilitation -- thus testifying for renewal of life for all.









Fresh blossoms of ornamental flowering dogwood.
(*photo credit)

May 16, 2017    Vegetative Art: Beautifying the Surroundings

      Beautifying our surroundings comes quite naturally to those who desire to enhance the environment.  We strive to add color to the landscape in many ways and to attract birds to nest in attractive surroundings.  Some may seek to promote wildlife landscapes, which include ornamentals like holly or scarlet maples for autumn color or irises for this time of year.  There are thousands of ways to make the setting a more livable one and much depends on the ingenuity and creativity of those charged with maintaining their landscape.

     In addition to their homestead flower plots, my peasant Uncle Peter and Aunt Alberta always added a row of gladiolus to their otherwise quite productive and practical vegetable garden.  They were frugal farming folks in our Kentucky hills, who used horses to operate farm machinery and lived very simple lives.  However, they deliberately added beauty down the middle of their half-acre garden, giving color and life to what otherwise looked like any ordinary vegetable garden.  When a youngster, I couldn't understand the reason for all of these flowers, and the added attention these two farmer/gardeners gave to them.  Now I do.  All I have to do is look about the countryside and see the attention to monocultural lawns, and I understand the need to combine flowers with landscape.

     Art is found in galleries, museums and places of distinction but also in ordinary growing places.  Through creative imagination and efforts vegetative art comes alive; similarly, a garden with flowers interspersed is a living art piece, demanding the skills of designer, gardener and artist all in one.  The landscape is a canvas on which the aesthetically-minded painter develops his or her seasonal picture of changing color and contrast.  The ever-changing landscape becomes a stained glass window with the sun playing off at different angles at different times of the day.  The plant selection, arrangement and vegetative growth are the medium of art, becoming part of good composition through proper design and anticipated time of blooming.  Birds, butterflies and even human neighbors are attracted to this vegetative art form.  A vast variation in expression is part of the power of that attraction, which is accentuated by color, fragrances and touch.  The fruit, berries, vegetables, and herbs are aromatic and tasteful and pleasant to behold and hold. 

     All of our senses are called forth as artists; we discover new sacred space where our hearts and minds are turned to the Mystery of our Creator.  We need not choose an ornamental that is exotic or pricey; simply deciding on the ordinary and enhancing it is an entry into the Mystery of sacred space.  We become co-creators of sacred space that includes sights (flowers), sounds (birds and bees), smells (fragrances), tastes (edibles present), and touches (the many plants present of varied texture). 

     Prayer: Lord, teach us to be artists of our environment and to become models for others to follow.








Polystichum acrostichoides, common Kentucky fern.
(*photo credit)

May 17, 2017     Hastening a Fossil Fuel Economy

    Time is running out and the planet calls for a new economy.  In the span of one decade we have moved from a "crisis" in remaining stocks of petroleum to a generous supply of replacement natural gas and an urgent need to change from a fossil fuel to a renewable energy economy.  When the mockingbird sings outside and the pleasant May breezes blow, things seem okay, but are they?  It may appear a leisurely time, but actually an urgency for radical change stares us in the face.  Even the fracking craze in America is turning us from a fuel-short to a fuel-surplus economy without considering the effects of energy efficiency, and that over half of the new electricity sources are renewables (mostly wind and solar). 

     The other major fuel source substitute is not helping the advance of the renewable energy economy.  It is natural gas, that has leakage problems in drilling, pumping, processing, storage and utility.  This escaping methane yields a greater greenhouse effect than burning coal or petroleum, with all their side effects. It is certainly not a panacea, but an intermediate step on the path for renewables that can be less glamorous if a carbon tax was leveled on ALL fossil fuel consumption.  The environment deserves such a move.  While natural gas is cheaper than coal and leads to its demise, actually solar and wind are now becoming cost competitive and deserve aggressive promotion as national and global policy. 

     Leave petroleum outside of the fuel mix and use it only for production of suitable plastic and other synthetic materials.  Some say there are 210 billion barrels of petroleum still to be discovered, and 1,000 billion left to be extracted.  There are a half million wells in the world, but in the United States 80% of oil wells produce less than three barrels a day.  Biofuels derived from corn is really a scam when used for fuel -- for petroleum fueled farm machinery is used to grow corn in the first place.  It is time to hit Big Oil by divesting non-profits and other institutions of the petroleum shares and making it harder for oil to compete with renewables and to become stranded investments.

     So-called cheap coal has been costly, for unseen environmental costs were omitted in the sales price (mountaintop removal, safety to miners, various air pollutants).  Thousands of acres have been stripped of forested vegetation and their topsoil pushed into the valleys while the coal was being removed seam by seam.  The players have gone bankrupt with the CEOs taking fortunes with them and leaving the loyal miners with no pensions.  Mountains gave beauty to towns now marred by stripped ugliness.  People forget that land is more than just a geographic location; its condition is essential to a culture.  By destroying the mountains, protective cover, wildlife habitats and general landscape, one destroys the will of a community to continue to exist.  Coal must stay underground. 

     Prayer: Lord, teach us to be honest and tell the story of what is happening in a still highly fossil fuel economy.  Give us the courage to change our way of sharing fuel resources with others.










Peonies passed through generations.
(*photo credit)

May 18, 2017       Become a Green Gardener

    When I returned to Appalachia from Washington, DC, in 1977 it became apparent that our environmentally devastated region required that we spend half of our time on advocacy work and the other half on positive alternatives, namely, solar and appropriate technology demonstration such as raising worthwhile gardens.  Good gardening practice is a sure sign that people, who are concerned about the environment, can experience sustainable living.  Healthy gardens require a practiced green thumb, willingness to work, and an observing eye.  Gardeners know success depends on other factors as well: sufficient land, well-turned soil, proper nutrients, a supply of mulch, sufficient moisture, and attractive circumstances for friendly pollinators.  A readiness to maintain a garden allows entrance into the natural cycles of birth, maturation, fruition and dying/recycling and thus makes us more environmentally friendly.

     Green gardeners plan a series of interplantings that allow some quick growing veggies such as spring onions, lettuce, other greens or radishes to come to maturity; this happens while the slower growing brassicas or tomatoes are gradually establishing themselves.  The early growers serve as living mulch for the later plants.  Where possible, green gardeners use native or heritage seed and seedlings and avoid invasive non-native plants.  They initiate organic gardening methods by not using commercial chemical fertilizers or pesticides; instead, composted kitchen and yard wastes along with cured animal manures become fertilizing ingredients.  Gardening is done with small, energy efficient implements -- and elbow grease.  Seasonal extenders (cold frames and greenhouses) permit year-round green gardening.  Finally, green gardeners discover crop rotation and allow land to have a rest.

     Regard green gardening as a gentle countermeasure to agribusiness, requiring far less non-renewable fuel.  The corporate enterprise of food production (feedlots, corporate farms, etc.) requires considerable expenditures of energy for commercial transportation, food processing, and marketing.  Agribusiness results in large quantities of wasted produce in picking, preparation, freight, packaging for market and the marketing process itself.  Experts say half of agribusiness produce is wasted, while all unused green garden products can be recycled through composting.  Corporate farms use heavy equipment causing soil compaction and their monocropping methods encourage pests, which they control by ever heavier doses of chemical pesticides.

     Green gardeners are able to feel the wind, tell when it will rain or frost, when the sun will rise or what it will be like at mid-day, when it will soon frost, and how to extend the growing season on both ends.  They may wish to learn moon signs when planting.  They are mindful of the sun's position at various times of the year, knowing where the afternoon shade first appears.

     Prayer: Lord, teach us to become environmentally green by learning to touch the soil and to praise you in creation.










Enjoying a skyward view from the forest floor.
(*photo credit)

May 19, 2017       Championing Old-Growth Forests

    Our colleague on many projects, the late Mary Davis, devoted a considerable part of a very busy life of environmental writing and advocacy to the Eastern American Old-Growth Forest.  She documented where the forest is located, the state of the quality of the stands, changes occurring, and ways to preserve and make the value of this threatened national treasure known to the rest of the country and world.  She showed that the old-growth forest predated us by millennia, and its demise could happen before our eyes.

     In addition to all the values we list for forests in general elsewhere, one may add enhancement of carbon sequestration (accumulation of carbon in forests instead of in the atmosphere where it leads to greenhouse effects and climate warming).  These older more pristine forests tell us much about the moderation of our earth's climate through trees.  After the advent of trees 370 million years ago, the trees helped reduce the carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere from 10% to 1% some 50 million years later.  Animal life thrived, and excess carbon was stored in the ground as coal and oil, too much of which has been released through combustion in recent centuries.  Old growth forests also improve soil stability, water flow, flora and fauna diversity, enhance management opportunities, and increase property values.

    Mark Harmon of Oregon State University states that replacement of older forests by younger ones will result in a net release of carbon into the atmosphere.  Other scholars say that forests do not really store a significant amount of carbon relative to the amount being lost until they approach maturity (150 plus-year-old trees).  Then it is permanently stored in soil in the long-term storage of dead logs and snags.  On the other hand, new-growth forests reduce the transfer of carbon to the permanent store of carbon in the soil organic matter, and do not serve exactly like old growth ones.

     Old-growth forests are a biological patrimony to be respected and held sacred -- and their true worth has not been fully evaluated.  Certainly, large amounts of carbon are stored in live wood, coarse woody debris and in the soil in old forests, far surpassing the young forests, which have small amounts of such storage.  Even old forests which have been disturbed by fire, high winds, and insect infestation can still accumulate carbon even after some mishaps and even logging. 

     Old-growth forests are treasures which enhance the Earth's biological equilibrium, and their destruction could have drastic effects.  Thus we should strive to continue the presence of the few tracts of old growth forest in our world.  We are grateful that Mary spent time and energy in championing the old growth forest through four decades of dedicated work.

     Prayer: Lord, teach us to value the living heritage that is all around us, and to see the value that it gives our planet.  If we respect forest old-growth, we enhance respect for all elders.










Edible weed, common chickweed, Stellaria media.
(*photo credit)

May 20, 2017            Weeds Can Be Controlled

      Weeds are unwanted plants, which have a way of getting in the face of the farmer, gardener and lawn tender.  Some "weeds" are actually classified as wildflowers (creeping or tall buttercup, morning glory, sorrel, jimsonweed, wild geranium, sow thistle, violets, trumpet creeper, yarrow) and some are wild edibles (dandelion, lambs-quarters, wild garlic, poke, wild mustard, mint, violet, and chickweed).  A third category includes vegetables that can become persistent with time (oyster plant or salsify, purslane, Jerusalem artichokes).  Much depends on whether we appreciate friendly weeds and learn to live with them.  One thing to remember when they are near or in our gardens and greenspaces: weeds do not need watering and nursing; they thrive on their own in flood or drought, for they are native, naturalized and truly hardy.

     Like other forms of wildlife, weeds can be controlled by cutting back through harvesting either as flowers or as edible plants.  Also they can be reduced by chopping out and turned into mulch.  Some weeds need special attention because they can spread toxins from their roots which inhibit the growth of other desired cultivars (e.g., shepherd's purse).  Quite often the more edible weeds are best at this time of the year when used as spring greens either raw or cooked -- and they will soon become too tough to eat.  The glory of these types of edible plant-weeds is that they generally have deeper root systems than do the introduced vegetable and herb cultivars, and thus need less cultivation and little if any watering during dry times.  They can activate minerals from the subsoil that are beneficial.  Many of us give special attention to supplementing our spring cooking with available "weeds" or greens. 

     Weeds are highly controlled through mulching of the vegetables and flowers (see special reflection on May 2nd).  Barbara Pleasant in The Gardener's Weed Book: Earth-Safe Controls, Storey Publishing (1996) lists a number of practical tips for managing your weeds, with some explanation for each suggestion:

* Make your garden the right size for your management;
* Don't weed where you walk (instead grow clovers and other beneficial plants);
* Look for competitive varieties -- large seeds that sprout quickly, large leaves, towering heights, early maturing, high yielding varieties;
* Control weeds early and consistently;
* Pull when wet; cultivate when dry; and
* Get them before they seed.

     Prayer: Lord, teach us to live with the weeds around us, to use them as best we can, and to be patient and tolerate of those we cannot part with too easily.  Let us accept that there are unwanted things in our lives and let them be the challenges that we face creatively and with a certain patience and equanimity.

 The Terrorism of Gross Inequality

     As part of our continued weekly reflections on the effects of Trump's anti-environmental crusade, we ought to look at the damage done by the background pressure on DT and his Administration.  He is beholden to a covey of billionaires including the Koch brothers and others, following the party line to promote tar sands exploitation in Alberta province and offshore oil exploration.

     We hear far too often of terrorists' acts of shootings, bombings, and driving vehicles into crowds in towns.  Too much!  But we never consider that any poor parent facing a sick or malnourished child in many unfortunate places experiences terror in being unable to treat that poor offspring.  This is an unreported form of terrorism and the warning of such scenes is disturbing.  Food and health insecurity stalks many in Appalachia with greater numbers in other parts, especially in Africa and Asia.

     Who speaks for the right to secure sources of proper health and food -- basic human rights?  Who is to blame for the silence? Yes, those in power deserve some; they who benefit from lax tax policies and think they can own all they grasp in lenient lands.  And does blame include us for allowing such differences in wealth to exist when all have a right to the world's commons?  Justice weighs on all in a democratic society, and to bother the privileged few with so much is really a spiritual "privilege" through our Baptism.  Climate change and inequality are closely bound and yet most would say a mere switch from fossil fuels to renewables is all that is required.  Are we going to allow them to control the renewables as well?

     Thus, blame to some degree is shared by those who have and by those who want control over distribution, not necessarily for a selfish individual ownership but for all.  Much of past failure to recapture that wealth for the commons is the vast majority in a profit-driven society who wants to become rich and admire those who have, rather than seeing the culture as championing privileged wealth.  Justice for the insecure means a commitment to work first among social justice activists and then progressively incorporating all people of good will.  

     Yes, we must accept the more widespread existence of terrorism in our midst and make effective changes.  A focusing on the poor by an alert citizenry: know the situation, petition for redress, contact legislators, pressure policy makers, comment in public media, and support those willing to speak out in these threatening times.  A paralyzed Congress fearful of offending the autocratic wealth that rules this country must come to life through our encouragement and persistence.  We cannot afford to give up, for our ultimate commitment is a New Heaven and a New Earth.  We must speak for the voiceless and especially those terrorized by food and health insecurity.  Their cries for food and health care ring in our ears.  May we have the courage to respond.









Reflections in a garden pool.
(*photo credit)

May 21, 2017    Resurrection-Centered Spirituality

     Let all the Earth cry out to God with joy.  (Psalm 66)

     The Lord's resurrection is at the center of Christian activism and should be of our spirituality.  All creation is restored in Christ and gives glory to the Creator.  We are companions of the risen Lord and in gratitude assist others through service and sharing with them.  The Resurrection answers a false criticism that Christian tradition is antagonistic to environmental concerns.  Actually, Christians glory in the divine work in all creation and that revelation includes scientific research and development.  Natural theology (see Romans 1:20) is an integral part of an authentic eco-spirituality, which has the following basic characteristics: a) respect for all creation, b) openness to others' efforts and sufferings, and c) sharing a cooperative enterprise by all believers.  Resurrection is a key.

     Some people's spirituality is focused on all of creation -- the majesty and complex forms, the diversity of all beings, and the part that we play in the web of life.  These are the Creation-Centered folks, who are praised for their reverence for all the beings on the planet; but sometimes they overlook a redemption aspect needed by all believers.  Within the creation-centered approach is broad enough to include a wide range of beliefs.  Some believers, on the other hand, emphasize human sin, the need for repentance, the saving power of Christ, and the importance of Christ's redemptive act on Calvary, namely a Redemption-Centered Spirituality; their emphasis is on individual salvation and the need for forgiveness for misdeeds. 

     Both Creation and Redemption spiritualities have good aspects.  The first focuses on the interrelationships of all creatures but does not deal with redemptive theology; the second places emphasis on the individual person's relationship to God but may overlook a broader creation.  However, both spiritualities can be preserved without diminishment through a Resurrection-Centered Spirituality.

     During the Easter season one should emphasize the need for healing our wounded Earth and her threatened inhabitants.  We are invited to enter into both creative and redemptive acts as members of God's family; we die with Christ in our suffering so we can live with him in a new creation -- a Resurrection-inspired movement with the sense of victory and creative growth.  We look again at an eco-spirituality that is truly in tune with the time and place, the environment.  How can it be monolithic (a narrow approach), if it is filled with the creativity of the Spirit?  With the change of seasons and places it is best to proclaim an eco-spirituality through the seasons.  We need to include all creatures and the saving and healing of our wounded and fragile Earth.  Let us find our own eco-spirituality the glory of God's creation that inspires us to work for the restoration of all in Christ.

     Prayer: Let us pray with Isaiah -- Speak out with a voice of joy; let it be heard to the ends of the Earth. (Is.48:20)








Sea meets sky.
(*photo credit)

May 22, 2017    Our Oceans and Seas: The Last Frontiers

    World Maritime Day is the perfect time for all of us, even those of us living far from the ocean, to think about the four-fifths of the Earth's surface, the vast oceans, which comprise the last frontier.  First we should appreciate this oceanic commons meant for all people, not just those who live with coastlines.  Second, we should regard the precious heritage of the oceans as fragile and worthy of special protection through proper safeguards and regulations.  Lastly, ocean resources if properly regulated could benefit all, especially the poorer nations.

     The ocean floor is the great unexplored frontier and is only now being mapped.  Most of us are unaware of the mountains and valleys on that floor, or the ocean currents and how they moderate the weather of the globe.  We are often ignorant of the immense resources found in the vast oceanic floor space such as minerals, natural gas and oil reserves.  We are just starting to see how much we depend on the oceans for recycling excess carbon dioxide and how limited are the fisheries in these vast bodies of water.  To its credit, the U.S. has established conservation zones for wildlife protection including the 2016 addition of the Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument west of the Hawaiian Island, bringing the total monument area to 582,578 square miles.

     In the battles over the "United Nations Convention on the Law of the Seas" three decades ago, it was the United States who led the fight to keep out international laws governing the oceans.  Much of this opposition has been motivated by business interests who do not want international agencies to dictate how the oceans are to be exploited; some focus on potential petroleum and natural gas reserves; others see the potential for gathering manganese from the floor of the oceans; still others desire ocean seaweed cultivation as a potential food source for the world's hungry; and finally some talk about the potential for ocean thermal and wind farm power generation.  Should the United Nations not protect the entire oceans (not just our U.S. exclusion zones) from factory fishing operations, which can easily deplete global fish resources?

     The oceans are a precious commons, which could benefit all people.  Shipping takes much of the world's commerce at least part way over the oceans -- and thus all benefit.  How about registering all ocean-going vessels through an international agency -- not by small-nation "regulatory" havens?  The fees collected could help support a Global Maritime Corps, an international ocean police force that would protect the ocean and sea lanes and the straits that become bottlenecks and havens for pirates, something one would never have suspected in this century.  This force could monitor environmental conditions of shipping, fine those engaged in illegal dumping, and inspect the sea worthiness of all shipping.

     Prayer: Lord, help us see the vast oceans as worthy of our special protection and a commons we need to protect for the benefit of all, especially the world's powerless. 









Northern river otter (Lontra canadensis), making a comeback in Kentucky.
(*photo credit)

May 23, 2017           Meetings, Meetings

     When will an institution die?  Some say in the middle of an unjustified meeting.  One thing that gets trying as we get older and realize that our patience is wearing thin -- is the "grand meeting."  It is true that some folks more than others like this form of socializing and make believe work.  Furthermore, our worse side can come out when meetings go too long or are too frequent.  Meetings tax us with preparation, the logistics of getting there and on time, the need to behave properly and stay awake, and the added demands from what emerges from the meeting itself.  Quite often we endure a meeting and think of other ways that the same effect could have been obtained without the travel and time spent.  Too often the interpersonal dynamics of a proposed meeting are as negative as positive.  Some basic questions are worth asking: 

     Justification?  Is it necessary?  Amazingly, quite often a meeting occurs because it is a periodic repeat of something that was helpful in the past, and thus is thought to be repeatable.  Identify compulsive meeting-goers and make sure they can justify the efforts to organize and bring about one more meeting.

     Other ways of doing interactive business -- Can the meeting be reduced to one-to-one situations where business can be carried out and results passed on to others through rapid communication?  Will a well thought out letter or even several quick emails suffice?  What about conference calls in place of meetings?  What about teleconferencing events?  Does the travel cost in money and natural resources call for good if not perfect alternatives?

     Other people to represent our cause -- Since some people are better at meetings than others, is it not better to let them represent us rather than everyone having to go?

Select the type and ground rules -- What about refusing to co-sponsor non-participative conferences, that is, those where a selected group of people are expected to be speakers and most of the rest the listeners?  How about allowing all to have a voice in some smaller breakout working groups? 

     Physical and mental condition of the meeting-goer -- Are we able to attend and give this meeting our full attention?  Many mistakes are made when people are not fully fit to attend and this proves burdensome to all who go.  It is far better to recognize that one is unable to attend with full attention and thus find a way to avoid the meeting

     Awareness -- Will the meeting succeed in what is intended?
Honesty and planning could stop half the meetings of the world.

     Prayer: Lord, save us from the purgatory of the meeting that should never occur, that lasts too long, that brings out the worst in people, and that is too poorly conducted.   











Young eastern cottontail, Sylvilagus floridanus.
(*photo credit)

May 24, 2017     All Tourism Needs to be Ecological

    Tourism has become a major business in this world, amounting to over a trillion dollars a year, though this does not mean the money is evenly distributed in all regions.  While this is a form of service industry where people who perform the services may have a one-to-one relationship with others, still negative aspects of irresponsible tourism exist: the tourists are most often the wealthier portion of populations with over-expectations; the volume of tourism in certain places exceeds the carrying capacity of the eco-system; it takes precious fuel resources for tourists to reach distant destinations; the tourist dollar goes disproportionately to corporate motels, travel agencies and carriers; lack of regulation of tourist activities in host countries is often at the expense of the environment through accelerated littering and harvesting of wild plants; and brash attitudes of tourists may generate some resentment among residents of tourist areas. 

     Much of the tourism, which is supposed to be ecologically conscious (ecotourism), involves resource-expensive air travel and going in large numbers to exotic places and fragile areas, thus eventually "trashing" the places.  We need to look at green parameters for all tourism, not just areas that some regard as "green" and environmentally friendly.  The following are some general rules for tourism:

     * Stay close to home for most of the tourist activities, traveling longer distances only rarely in life;

     * Establish the carrying capacity of given fragile areas and insist that these limits be honored and that facilities be available for servicing tourists who do come.  Provide proper signage to ensure proper conduct by tourists.  Develop all tourist destinations within ecological assessment parameters that honor greenspace, wildlife habitat, forested areas, and fragile wilderness areas.  When areas are too fragile, no intrusive human activity should be allowed;

     * Only green recreational activities should be allowed to all tourists (see March 31, 2017);

     * Tourist educational materials should be made available explaining the immense treasure of the region's flora and fauna as well as cultural and geological highlights;

     * Tourist guides need to be trained on ecological matters or at least know where environmental resources are available; and

     * Efforts should be made to restore damaged areas by the use of trail associations, voluntary organizations, or tourist industry licenses and fees.

     Prayer: Lord, teach us to walk gently on this fragile planet and that we teach others to do the same.









Eastern black swallowtail, Papilio polyxenes.
(*photo credit)

May 25, 2017      Large- and Small-Scale Hydropower

    At the turn of the twentieth century the early electric grids were furnished with electricity from hydropower (e.g., Niagara Falls), a renewable energy source.  As electric demand increased the coal, other fossil fuels and nuclear power filled the gap and hydropower continued but a far less important actor on the fuel source scene.  Perhaps it is a good time to refocus on this energy source and tap existing dams and flowing currents that are overlooked all as an effort to reduce greenhouse gases and usher in the renewable energy economy as a varied energy mix. 

     Some countries utilized large-scale hydropower potential for a long time such as Switzerland.  Costa Rico hopes to become the first carbon-free nation (though Vatican City with its tiny size may have already taken that distinction); much of this Central American state's current electricity comes from hydropower.  However, with expanding electricity, needs as occur virtually everywhere, new sources will have to come from accompanying renewables such as solar, wind and specific biofuel waste products, especially to meet the rapidly growing demand for air conditioning in developing countries (usage globally should rise by four-fifths by the year 2100). 

    Hydropower is not immune from environmental problems, although this electricity source does not have toxic emissions as do non-renewables such as coal, petroleum and natural gas.  China is finding out some environmental disadvantages from its Three Gorges Project.  Waterways are shut off by dams that can change the migration patterns of marine life; river flow patterns are changed and silt needed downstream is collected behind the dams; valuable farming areas are permanently flooded; lake siltation causes a limit to the effectiveness of the particular large- or even medium- scale hydropower project; and the hydro source is dependent on the vicissitudes of climate and weather patterns. 

     Small-scale hydropower projects have greater environmental potential, for in many cases there is no need to build new impoundments, only tapping the flow of free-flowing streams or currently existing dams.  Very small-scale (micro hydropower) units run on relatively small amounts of water flow even though that flow may vary at different times of the year.  The principle is to channel the normal flow into a turbine and the same type of generating unit as at larger facilities, and the water is the channeled without impoundment, which is the key to less environmental impact.  Lock and dam complexes are now being utilized as a ready and clean source of electricity.  Advocates estimate that hydropower could be doubled as a contributor in the U.S. mixed energy source, if existing techniques for harnessing hydropower were implemented in the next decade.

     Prayer: Lord, Your word in Scripture speaks often of the good graces of free-flowing water from the tapped rock to the flowing Jordan.  Help us to see the many benefits of flowing water.








Nest of carolina wren, Thryothorus ludovicianus.
(*photo credit)

May 26, 2017      Destroy Remaining Chemical Weapons

    Students of the First World War read stories of gassed soldiers and gruesome tales of men gasping for breath in the trenches on the Western Front from chlorine clouds.  The many survivors with permanent scars lived out their lives in pain and suffering.  ISIS has no qualms of using chlorine today to gas others.  During the last century, cruelty of chemical weapons has led to efforts to restrict and ban their use.  However, chemical weapons were manufactured by the United States through the first half of the twentieth century, and thus our country has accumulated a vast array of projectiles at various sites, some of which remain today.  Treaty obligations stated the weapons would be eliminated by 2012 (long gone). 

    I live fifteen miles downwind from one of the largest caches of stored chemical weapons in the world at the Bluegrass Army Depot near Richmond, Kentucky.  Each year we in Estill County are dutifully sent scenic calendars with evacuation routes and plans just in case something terrible happens before or during the chemical storage and disposal process.  This site is within fifty miles of half a million people.  Original proposals to transport the aging weapons to another less populated site were declared fraught with accident possibilities.  Incineration of the weapons was also considered but many voiced concern about the safety of this process.  Safer chemical methods have been proposed and are now being brought to fruition though the actual disposal will not start for another year or so.  However, with any method what does safety or super safety mean?  Some 99%+ safety is not enough; the method of disposal must approach and come up to 100% -- and that is very difficult to achieve.  Although far behind schedule for disposal, the delays and studies may prove beneficial -- we hope.

     Ongoing inaction in disposal is not in the public interest, for the risk continues to rise as weapons age and leaks are possible.  Recent containment methods require inserting each leaking projectile into a larger-size leak-proof container -- but this is no permanent solution.  Any disposal method devised is subject to human error even though some are safer and some less costly.  The dangers are before us and so escape routes should be clearly marked and the nearby residents well aware that mishaps can happen -- especially if there is a severe earthquake. 

     The Environmental Impact Statements for each disposal method give the public a general knowledge of the reliability of the method selected for disposal of the weapons.  Citizens have a right to know what could possibly happen, what end products will or could be produced, and effects from escaping materials.  They also must know when the disposal process is initiated, how well it operates, and whether any glitches result, which may affect human health and safety.  We pray that all goes well as has happened so far.

     Prayer: Lord, protect us and those who are disposing of chemical weapons.  Help us rid the world of such devices ASAP.








Bleeding heart flowers in the garden.
(*photo by Sally Ramsdell)

May 27, 2017       Eight Reasons for Reducing Lawns

    Finicky neighbors will give you what appear at first to be good reasons for mowing the lawn.  They include community tidiness and well being, neighborhood rules and expectations, and the effects of neighbors exercising together (though a riding mower is hardly meant for physical exertion).  At least, the opportunity for full spectrum sunlight and fresh air makes the practice of such mowing beneficial.  However, these lawn promoters dismiss or overlook some good reasons why one ought to consider cutting back on lawn size:

     One -- A "meadow" of uncut wildflowers and plants may be more beautiful, and it takes far less attention and care once started.  True, the beauty is in the eye of the beholder;

     Two -- The wildscape that is created from the lawn can be an attracting haven and protective zone for wildlife and birds.  The manicured lawn, that symbol of old English aristocracy and wealth, is replaced by a "wildscape," a symbol of a better understanding of the Earth and its resources, as well as good land stewardship;

    Three -- Grass lawns may take up to 18-20 gallons of water per square foot per year -- if the local government even allows water to be used on lawns in dry times.  This periodic soaking is a significant urban water use, which is not really necessary except for exotic grasses that find it hard to flourish in a particular climate and soil.  Native plants used for ground cover take far less water and are deep-rooted and hearty throughout dry summers;

    Four -- One-seventh of the herbicides and pesticides in the United States are used on domestic lawns, and sometimes these must be applied with protective suits and respiratory masks.  And this says volumes about poisons being present where kids play;

    Five -- What is your lawn maintenance time worth?  Why must someone engage in hot weather in such a silly exercise as riding a lawn mower?  Millions of other things are more worthwhile;

    Six -- Eliminating a lawn creates extra space for herbal plots, flowerbeds, vegetable growing, compost bins, recreational areas, private zones for rest and relaxation, bird feeders, and water fountains and pools;

     Seven -- Trees can be planted in place of lawn to shade the yard and thus lower the temperature of grounds and house in summer and to act as windbreaks for retention of heat in winter; and

     Eight -- Caring for the freed lawn space causes far less noise and air pollution than does the lawn, which requires "convenient" motorized devices (lawn mowers and leaf blowers) to keep the lawn conventional and uniform.

     Prayer: Lord, help us to use our greenspace well and to find use for growing gardens for healthy and accessible food.

Stop Fooling Poor Folks: Coal Ain't Comin' Back 

     One of the deepest disturbances during the election year was the trumpeting that coal would come back.  This deliberately false set of hopes has played on voters in poor coal communities with a tragedy that a reasonable glance at the energy situation would refute.  This false hope could be directly laid at the feet of DT. 

     Myth: Get rid of regs and coal will return.  Anyone with common sense realizes that coal's demise is due to several factors of which environmental regs are only part.  Natural gas through fracking technologies is cheaper and easier to install; energy markets are not expanding that rapidly; automation is partly to blame for the decline in 40 years from 250,000 miners to 59,000; and renewable alternatives such as solar hire triple the number of workers as employed in coal.  Unfortunately, experienced miners cannot easily fill renewable energy jobs any more than blacksmiths could become mechanics in going from horse to an auto economy.

     Myth: clean coal is on the way.  This is a falsehood that has endured for the past few decades.  It takes tens of millions for coal demo plants that work -- if money is forthcoming.  Wind generators cost far less than clean coal and there is the costly problem of miners getting black lung, now reaching epidemic proportions with taxpayers picking up an immense health bill.

     Myth: Look, coal is returning.  In 2004 I looked out the window and saw seven 110-car coal trains a day at our major Ravenna switching year; there were even one a week a year ago.  However, during this Administration there are no coal trains.  Empty promises will not bring them back.  A few highly automated mines may reopen in Appalachia, but the trend is downward, going from 49% of U.S. electric generation at the turn of the century to 30.4% (preliminary figures of 2016 by the USEIA).  Whether this current percentage will plateau in coming years is problematic.

     Myth: Coal can hold its own.  Not true.  The future is in renewables, though Big Oil and Big Coal will do all in their power to extend their life for years, all to the detriment of Mother Earth suffering from climate change that will plague future generations.  The stock value of coal firms has declined by 90% with little expected rebound; oil stocks decline at a slower pace.

     Myth: Good times will return for coal.  Wishful thinking!  How good were miner accidents, black lung, polluting coal dust and gas emissions, unreclaimed strip-mine sites, mountaintops removed, and huge ash piles needing tending?  The past was not perfect even for communities with busy mines. 

     Renewable energy sources will replace coal and hopefully halt the march of climate change.  Good spirituality is knowing where one stands and not fooling people into unfulfilled dreams.  Would the current Administration please take note?








Little Wood Satyr Butterfly, Megisto cymela.
(*photo credit)

May 28, 2017     A Case Against Idle Observation 

     Why are you... standing here looking at the Sky?
                            (Acts 1:11)

    We keep looking to the heavens, and wonder, "Why did he leave us physically?"  The resurrected Jesus could have moved about and walked the Earth showing everyone that a 2000-year-old was resurrected, alive and well.  However, with spiritual maturity we realize that this would not have elicited faith but a fearful sense of someone who is quite quaint walking among us.  God wants more from us than fright or fearful separation; God wants us to be close to him and to freely move to loving kinship.  Christ comes among us; he teaches, and he suffers, dies and rises for us; he blesses us and ascends beyond our sight.  And the Holy Spirit comes at Pentecost to inspire us to be other christs.  Jesus is ahead of us in time, and we are invited to follow and to make this journey of faith, not of fear and distance, but one of community fellowship.

    We need to prepare for Christ's coming.  There was a California adobe-maker at the Franciscan mission of San Luis Rey near Oceanside; he appeared overjoyed that our environmental resource assessment video crew showed a great interest in his skill at repeating the ancient adobe-making art.  Unfortunately, we never returned to record his skills, and in some way the painstaking experience he acquired was lost to the record.  We ought to see that the work of preparing our Earth involves the contribution of many people with experience and that this experience is of value.  We prepare for Christ to come again; the total Easter event allows us to participate in making the "New Heaven and New Earth."

     Jesus does not leave us alone; he is sacramentally present; he shines forth from every creature; he is with us when we pray.  But we would like a still closer connection and thus his departure has been bittersweet.  As spiritual novices, we hate to see him go, and yet he must so that the Spirit may come and be with us.  We are to carry on his work, empowered by the Spirit to prepare for his final coming.  We believers today, like the Apostles before us, are often slow learners.  At the moment of the Ascension, the disciples ask whether the Messiah is going to be the anticipated political leader.  It takes a Pentecost to clarify their minds to see that "Messiah" means something more, one having a suffering servant role.  "Go out to the whole world and baptize them in the Name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit;” we become evangelical in taking on that servant role.  Jesus is soon coming, but we help bring on this Day of the Lord.  This is not seen as a foreboding time; rather, this is a welcoming time to prepare for his coming and to put our heart and soul into the task -- not idly speculating nor looking about as mere observers.  We are active.

     Prayer: Lord, keep us from standing idly by; help us to act responsibly in preparing for your coming in glory.  We gradually realize that you give us a mission, but we are reluctant to take on this unique role of spreading the Word.  Give us needed courage.










Old Bott Cemetery
Woodford Co., Kentucky cemetery.
(*photo credit)

May 29, 2017       Visit Cemeteries

    Memorial Day is more than a day of the Indianapolis auto races.  More importantly, today we remember those who have sacrificed their lives for their country.  We direct memorial events to our service people, but also we turn attention to all the departed who have sacrificed for us in some way.  Gratitude is shown by a visit to a neighboring cemetery.

     Knowing that it is good to do -- The memorial visit is so symbolically rich that we and others benefit, even if we have no immediate connections with the cemetery visited.  Maybe we cannot travel to the family cemetery today, but at least this is a good day to resolve to visit it when time permits.  The visit will prove to be more enlightening and pleasant than is often anticipated, and that is because the visit brings back such wonderful memories of the loved ones whose remains are resting there.

     Offering comforting words -- Quite often when visiting a cemetery we have an opportunity to say a pleasant word to others who are visiting also even when striving not to be intrusive.  Just an exchanged smile or nod, a few words or a pleasant exchange could make a difference by lifting the sadness of unacquainted visitors. 

     Fulfilling promises -- Sometime near Memorial Day I strive to place a bunch of daisies at the grave of my maternal grandmother.  She said if the relatives did no more than place a few wild daisies she would be satisfied.  I have bestowed this personal duty on a younger cousin to carry on when I'm gone.  Many Europeans consider grave care as a major family obligation, though it has gone out of fashion with many Americans.  In parts of Europe, when a grave ceases to be decorated, it may be declared abandoned and may be reused and the bones placed in a special church ossuary.   

    Respecting family roots -- Our roots go way back in our history.  It has taken a lot of sweat and care to bring us to where we are.  We show our appreciation for those efforts when we revisit a grave site and say a prayer for the repose of the soul of noble ancestors or friends buried there. 

    Accepting our own mortality -- Visiting a cemetery is a moment for reflection.  Someday it will be my turn awaiting a visit.  For the young this seems so remote, but as we advance in age the reality becomes more apparent with each personal added ache and pain -- and obituary notice.  Such visits are bittersweet, for it is learning to cope with death at a personal level.  They remind us to designate our own funeral arrangements; that is really charitable to survivors who would have to guess what we would like when such instructions go unrecorded.

     Prayer: Lord, teach us to remember sacred moments and people in our lives.  Help us to recall the sacrifices of all our loved ones who gave so much of their lives so that we might have a better world.  Inspire us to appreciate the self-sacrifice of others.











Periodical cicada - Magicicada cassini - Brood XIV - 2008
Periodical cicada, Magicicada cassini. Brood X Kentucky emergence, 2017.
     (*photo credit)

May 30, 2017        Twelve Ways to Save Water

     One -- Install dry composting toilets.  Since this is the way to save half of the domestic water consumption in a place, appropriate technology conservationists will rank them the number one choice.  These devices save money, are easily maintained, do not require potable or high quality water for flushing, and are free of odor or unpleasantness of any fashion when properly constructed and maintained.  A major domestic waste source (sewage) is eliminated, and potable water, which is often turned into sewage and then returned to potability, does not have to become a problem or embarrassment to environmentally-conscious people.

     Two -- Save rainwater.  Rainwater is ideal to store for the non-rainy day.  The storage systems are relatively low-cost, can be easily maintained when properly built, and are a source of high-quality water, which surpasses chlorinated water for promoting plant growth.  Infrequent showers during droughts augment the cistern supply.  Rainwater can also be caught for use in the heat-retaining tanks in greenhouses.  For potable cistern water, install a simple water purifying system and seal from outside seepage.     

    Three -- Apply targeted irrigation techniques.  Agriculture is America's number one use of water, and those states with higher irrigation such as Idaho rank first in per capita consumption.  Sizeable water amounts are required in dry times for gardening.  A triage (three-part priority according to beneficial care) system of watering can be initiated in dry times: saving the most sensitive (young plants, greens and those ready to bear); giving moderate additional water to hearty longer-lived plants; and allowing a portion of plants (such as okra, onions and Jerusalem artichokes) to go unwatered because they can weather the drought.  In small gardens, water by hand or hose in the evenings at twilight or very early in the morning, so the plants can have maximum moisture before evaporation.  Apply water at the roots, not over the foliage.  Some gardeners insert pipes beside tomato plants and others bury gallon milk jugs with pinholes in the corners.  The jugs are placed equidistant from two or four peppers, tomatoes or squash hills.

     Four -- Install low-flow devices.  Such commercially available and federally mandated devices are needed for existing flush toilets and household water faucets.  Appropriate technologists prefer compost toilets and recognize that the low-flusher has a number of standard plumbing problems.  Low-flow shower devices deliver less water in a mist or spray-like manner over a wider washable surface area and can be highly effective while at the same time using less water.  

     Five -- Reuse graywater.  The term "graywater" is contrasted with sewage or "black" water, and is water from kitchen and bathroom sinks.  These systems can be installed at low-cost, are durable, easily maintained, and can produce good flowerbeds.  Conservation-conscious folks can even use graywater to wash cars.      

     Six -- Recirculate water used at fountains. 

     Seven -- Modify individual hand washing/teeth cleaning practices.  Individuals use differing amounts of water for brushing teeth or washing hands.  Using large amounts of water at one washing gets utensils and containers less clean than three smaller amounts in sequence.  Sinks in public facilities that only deliver a set amount of water for a short time, are far more water conserving than sinks with manually-operated faucets.

    Eight -- Wash heavier loads rather than multiple lighter ones.  Many people use the clothes washer and dryer at short intervals, and that is in part due to the limited number of certain items (socks, towels, etc.).  Buy a larger supply of frequently used clothing and articles and wash them less frequently.  To switch from frequent washing to washing only when a full load accumulates can often lead to saving half of the wash water at only the inconvenience of having dirty clothes stored longer.  Besides, this approach can require far less time and save energy and money when using a commercial laundromat.

     Nine -- Practice lawn water conservation.  This is another practice that has immense potential for saving water.  A person who washes off sidewalk debris with a strong spray stream from a garden hose is accomplishing a task that could easily be done by a broom. Xeroscape lawn growing methods which emphasize native plants lead to sizeable water savings over time.  Native plants are preferable to more fragile non-native lawn coverings.  Wildscapes using native plants may result in additional water savings.

    Ten -- Take military showers.  "Wet down, soap down and rinse off" is an old adage, which is soon forgotten in times of apparently plentiful water supply.  Decide between a cleansing shower and a long-term shower/massage, which wastes water, namely, a difference between a five-minute and a twenty-minute shower, or a three gallon and a twenty-gallon shower.  Reduce shower time by lathering hair with cold water before beginning the shower proper. 

    Eleven -- Fixing leaking plumbing hardly needs to be emphasized to conservation conscious people, because most do not hesitate to have a leaky faucet repaired.  However, we often ignore slow leaks. A faucet may drip only drip one or two drops per second, but could lead to accumulated wastes of 20+ gallons of water a day, and deplete a thousand-gallon storage tank in two months.

    Twelve -- Use dehumidifier water.  For people in very dry areas, this may seem a small conservation measure, but it adds up in humid areas and in summer, even when there is dry weather outdoors.  Homemakers find that dehumidifiers and air conditioners can collect water that can be used for plants or watering pets.

     Prayer: Lord, teach us who are saved through the gift of water (for Baptism) to learn to save the gift of water (for domestic use).








Newly-emerged apple blossom.
     (*photo credit)

May 31, 2017         Reflecting on the Magnificat

    Some of us regard Mary's prayer at the Visit to her cousin Elizabeth as one of the most revolutionary prayers in all of Scripture, and its importance is recognized by its recitation each evening in the official prayer of the Church.    

    My soul proclaims the greatness of the Lord...  The entire being of Mary and of each of us and all creation manifests God's majesty.  We, along with her, give full assent -- a magnificat or letting it be.

    ... and my spirit exalts in God my Savior; this is the ultimate saving deed of the God who saves all of us in our troubled and unworthy conditions. 

    ... because God has looked on this lowly handmaid.  Mary recognizes her own station before God and yet knows she has a very unique task to perform.  We need to see the balance between our lowliness and our exalted calling to assist others.

    Yes, from this day forward all generations will call me blessed,...  Mary is blessed, and recognizes God's blessing on her and that this blessing is regarded by others in calling her blessed.  In seeing blessings to Mary we discover blessings to us.

    ... for the Almighty has done great things for me.  This applies to each of us as well.  We can respond in freely spoken word and freely performed deed.  Mary's humility consists in the greatness of God's gifts, not in what she has done, but in what God has done for her.  The more we recognize divine gifts given to us, the more we are open to doing great things, and to seeing that God has already done great things for, in, and through us.  

    Holy is God's name,...  All in God-fearing reverence shout "holy," and the exaltation is also an openness to extend the glory of that name.

    Your mercy reaches from age to age for those who fear you.  And this mercy applies in all times and across the breadth of creation.

    You have shown the power of your arm,... Here is the first part of the spiritual revolution, for God's is a spiritual power, not measured in military muscle or corporate might, but in the realms of the power of the Spirit.

    You have routed the proud of heart.  Victory will come with the humble and not those who are proud.

    You have pulled down princes from their thrones and exalted the lowly.  Mary is able to turn the tables on this world's order in the assent to and then the birth of Christ.  She nurtures him to be who he is to become.  Hers is a whispered wish, a telling of fact, a song of praise of the God who does all and is in all.  It is far greater than the song popular during the American Revolutionary War -- "The World turned upside down," when Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown in 1781.

    The hungry you have filled with good things, the rich sent empty away.  Those in destitution are to be enabled to receive sufficient amounts of the essentials needed for life.  This applies to all people seeking God's favor, and especially to all of threatened and endangered creators.

    You have come to the help of Israel your servant, mindful of your mercy ...  Mary comes to the help of her kinswoman Elizabeth and extends the mercy of God in the good deed performed now for her cousin.  As a young lady she goes many miles to aid that daughter of Israel who is to bring forth John the Baptist.  To aid one person is to aid the total people.

    According to the promise made to our ancestors -- of your mercy to Abraham and Sarah and their descendants forever.  We participate in the covenant of God's love.  We may say the "Hail Mary" many times, but do we understand the power of these words?  Be there, Mary, at the hour of our death.  Be with us in our historical moment of faith, our moment of greatest need.  Become our promise and our fulfillment.  The Magnificat is a promise of great things to come.



Copyright © 2017 Earth Healing, Inc. All rights reserved.

Earth Healing team:
Albert J. Fritsch, Director
Charlie Fritsch
Janet Powell
Mark Spencer

Excerpts from the JERUSALEM BIBLE, copyright © 1966 by Darton, Longman & Todd, Ltd. and Doubleday & Company, Inc.  Reprinted by permission of the publisher.

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