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Daily Reflections Earth Healing

Daily Reflections
by Al Fritsch, S.J.


A series of written meditations and reflections



Help to keep Earth Healing Daily Reflections online

November 2008

Copyright © 2008 by Al Fritsch

Carolina Buckthorn (Frangula caroliniana)

  Gratitude is the atmosphere in which we breathe. On special days in November we show special gratitude for those who have gone before us and for the bounty we have received from God. This is a month of closure: mortal life itself, memories of loved one and sacrifices of veterans, and the end of the church year. In the northern temperate zone it is the closure of the growing year through heavy frost and early snows.

In November, skies turn gray, leaves fall, daylight's span shortens, unprotected plants die through freezing, and cold frames keep the late vegetable crops snug. We bring in the lawn chairs and houseplants; we protect the late vegetables; we get ready for the extended holiday season with its turkey, trimmings and special dishes. It is the time we--
cook salsify root like oysters,
prepare kale, collards, and mustard boiled or stir fried, sprinkle almond-like Jerusalem artichoke roots on salads, cut turnips and kohlrabi to eat raw or in a sandwich;
make pumpkin or persimmon pie, and
serve freshly prepared horseradish with cranberry sauce.

A lone stalk graces an evening autumn sky
*photo credit)

November 1, 2008            Many Good Folks     

     Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  (Matthew 5: 3)

     When speaking of saints, we often recall stained glass windows showing stately figures, bearded men with crosses and scrolls, austere ladies holding bouquets or children, and youth with radiant faces ready for martyrdom.  These windows represent notable people from ages past;  they are part of a grand chorus or they just stand in admiration before the throne of God.  Even with such vivid depictions of prominent saints we ought not to overlook the unsung heroes and heroines who are so often the ordinary people, the ones whose faded tombstones or graves have long been shared by others.  Today we honor the countless unnamed, and also our many relatives and friends who have passed on.  They are not widely known, nor have their lives been dramatic, but they too share with others an often unnoticed holiness and love that brings them eternal rest. 

     We prefer there to be a crowd rather than a few individuals who made it.  Those who think only a few are saved, such as a biblical number of 144,000 times twelve tribes (1,728,000) or some other Scripture-based number, miss the point.  In scriptural ages they didn't have large economic numbers, or know dollar amounts of the national debt -- and so didn't even have words for millions, billions and trillions.  What simple times!  Scripture says the numbers are uncounted, so let's rest there.  All saints are a great company with their flowing gowns and uniform appearances that do not distract from the celebration.  They have individuality that is expressed in the degrees of love they carry with them to the gathering, not in costuming or superficial matters.  This vast throng celebrates in unison and though many, they are one in having finally reached the Light where hope now vanishes.

    Inclusiveness allows all of us to consider others as one family.  It is time to be folksy, for we are all part of the Family of God.  Scripture teaches this, "We are God's Children now."  The Church teaches this preference to globalize our family concerns and to extend our love to all races and nationalities.  Racists hesitate and may lack enough love to come to the gathering;  they may have accepted segregation even in churches and find this vast reunion as diminishing their own supposed privileges. 

     Today we remember our own special loved ones whom we sometimes hesitate to call "saints," for we know they were not perfect.  This is the day of unsung heroes and heroines.  We naturally hope that they have completed any degree of needed purification.  Their lives are worth celebrating, for, no matter how difficult their journey, they have endured the struggle.  Their road to heaven is a simple blessing for they are mentioned in the Beatitudes as poor in spirit, hungry, and persecuted.  

     Prayer:  Lord, we thank you for our acquaintances  who give us inspiration through their patient endurance and their sense of gratitude for all the gifts You have given them.





Bergamot (a.k.a. bee balm, oswego tea) Monarda didyma. Washington Co., KY
*photo credit)

November 2, 2008        Diamonds in the Rough

    For if he were not expecting the fallen to rise again, it would have been useless and foolish to pray for them in death.

                       (Second Book of Maccabees 12:44)

    A shining finished jewel starts out as a rough stone that can be easily overlooked by the inexperienced.  This tendency to overlook rough stones extends to human beings as well.  The cutting and the polishing to make a jewel is little compared to the acting, experiencing and seeking forgiveness needed to make a shining gem of a person.  Yes, there are profound differences between the saints in heaven, all souls in purgatory and, as Ronald Knox says, all sorts here on earth.  For only briefly we focus on loved ones who have passed on, the legions of people who paused in mortal life and journeyed on to enter eternal life.   Most cultures honor their deceased and, in fact, that honor partly defines a culture through continued awareness of the deceased.  Native American tribes have often blended ancient rituals with Christian teachings and traditions in respecting the departed.  A number of Earth religions consider the spirits of their deceased as very close at hand.  Some prepare meals, bring flowers, burn candles and incense. 

    Archie was my friend in youth and a good soul.  The only commercial business I ever ran was a summer soft drink stand with Archie.  During the college years, he went his way and I mine.  He had his army stint, got married, raised a family, stayed and worked on the farm, but always kept a wild streak of fast driving and wanting to have fun at all times.  When the new regional airport near Maysville was ready to open, Archie took his boys and their friends for an high speed auto ride down the runway.  The end came more quickly than he thought.  The car hit the end, tumbled in cartwheels, the kids were thrown out and lived, but Archie's earthly sojourn abruptly ended.  I often reflected on his trip to his Maker, and regarded him as a diamond in the rough.  Archie needed a little more time.  It is a comforting thought that it is not either/or but a both/and with that mysterious purgatory.       

     Some journeyers of life linger in hospices and homes for the elderly and prisons;  they are going through their own purgation or purifying period;  they are being bleached to look like the lamb, hopefully by the time of their passing from mortal life.  They are going to the "Light," and caregivers give them support in making this last step.  We pray and keep watch with them on departing, a truly magnificent work of mercy.   Through such experiences we pray that our hour of death may be happy.  We may not want a sudden passing, for we know acquaintances who pass from the scene as victims of an auto wreck or a crime.  We know that their souls need special attention, special repose, special compassion, special prayers for they may not have been prepared to see the Light. 

     Prayer:  Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord, and may their souls and the souls of all the faithfully departed rest in peace.


White snakeroot, Eupatorium rugosum
*photo credit)

November 3, 2008     Do We have Democracy?

     Along with Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny and the Tooth Fairy, an enduring myth of our society is the belief that the United States is a democracy.  By What Authority, Fall 2000 p. 3.

     Quo warranto (by what authority?) is an ancient Latin expression which refers to a sovereign's command to halt continuing exercise of illegitimate privileges and authority.  The phrase captures the spirit of many of us activists in this country today, who regard "we the people" as true sovereigns in a democracy.  We need to question our federal and state officials who give giant business corporations illegitimate authority.  As a group we go on to say that a minority of the giant corporation directors are privileged by this continuing illegitimate authority, and they are backed by police, courts and the military.  We are convinced that it is these illegitimate authorities who today define the public good, deny people our human and constitutional rights, dictate to our communities, and govern the Earth.

    The thesis of this group, "The Program on Corporations, Law and Democracy," is powerful and resonates with many of us.  This is especially true of those who support radical change in governance and who call into question the power of corporations in the globalizing world in which we live.  We question the power of the money, which is used to buy the media space, run the candidates, tell them what the special interests want them to vote for, and essentially take over the government of our country.  The most telling portion of this thesis is that our own myths about democracy are based on small choices, which we think are big ones such as which cereal to purchase or which event to attend this evening.  Bigger concerns such as the corporate control over legislative initiatives seem to go unnoticed.

    The process of democracy is ongoing, a critical word, a revolutionary word.  C. Douglas Lummis in Radical Democracy says that this democracy is a birthright that has been stolen by those who would rule over the people, to add legitimacy to their rule.

The ramifications are immense.  Even in the beginning of the Republic, the Founding Fathers did not see the democratic process in its fullness.  In fact, they postponed facing the slavery issue, which was resolved only with much soul-searching and conflict eighty years later.  They allowed only white landholding males the right to vote in the beginning, and expansion to others took 150 years and then some.  From early on, they allowed corporations to act as persons and thus acquire certain "rights," which have been coupled with accumulated wealth (and power) to this day.  Today this corporate power goes beyond borders and is enveloping the world.  Can the corporations be regulated?  The answer rests in an affirmation of the power that we truly believe rests with the people, the solemn power to stand up and be counted in a way that calls others to attention.  Now is the time to do this.   

     Prayer:  Lord, help us to protect our democratic principles.





Perceptive eyes peer through pine branches

*photo credit)

November 4, 2008       Exercise Citizenship: Vote

     Voting is a privilege, a duty, a responsibility, an exercise of citizenship.  Therefore urging Americans (often half of the potential electorate is idle) to vote is a crucial matter today when we cast ballots for filling high offices.  Should people vote, if they don't first take the time to learn about the candidates?  Some say a careless voter is worse than one who does not vote at all.  The results of careless voting usually reflect the influence of superficial slogans, money, or powerful people or special interests.  Thus the careless voter is in some sense canceling out a wise one.  Voting means more than going to a polling place.  It means reading about and reflecting on the issues and the candidates who seek to bring about needed change.

      It is easy enough to find irrelevant "facts" on candidate's hobbies, tastes and family life.  Where they really stand, and how sound their judgments is another matter.  Too often we vote for looks, names or appearances.  The following are a few suggestions to help sift through the morass of irrelevant data;

     *  Know the key issues well in advance and make your own judgment based on reflection, reading and discussion with others whom you trust;

     *  Are candidates addressing these important issues?  If so, do you actively support them in some way?

     *  Use the Internet or periodicals to obtain further information on a particular person or issue;

    *  Tune out the political commercials on television.  Many are simply incorrect in one way or other and can inadvertently lead to bad choices;

    *  Don't hesitate to ask the candidates questions in person or in writing on the Internet or in a personal letter.  Make your views known through letters to the editor and in commentary;

     * Discuss political matters with acquaintances and encourage them to vote wisely;

    *  On this Election Day encourage those who have not yet cast ballots to vote and even offer them a trip to the polls if they need a ride or assistance in some other way;

    *  Pray, then VOTE -- if you haven't already;

    *  And write down all those campaign promises to use in confronting elected officials with their promises that have not been fulfilled.

     Prayer: Lord, help me do the right thing on this election Day.


A collection of autumn leaves (most are sassafras, Sassafras albidum)

*photo credit)

November 5, 2008        Post-Election Blahs

     This reflection was deliberately created exactly two months before the election so no one would accuse me of specific blahs after the hard-fought 2008 elections.  Life is really not in winning but in vigilance even when things don't go as expected.  After voting in fifteen presidential elections I must confess my candidate won a minority of the times.  My first election and disappointment was at age nineteen when Kentucky was one of the few allowing those between eighteen and twenty-one to vote.  I learned early on that a disappointment should not get us down.  Rather we can resolve to practice good citizenship:

     * Don't over-celebrate (the real results are not yet counted)

or don't cry (for there are still things to do).

     * Did you ever feel that you should have run in place of some winner you do not think is qualified?

     * Resolve to follow the record of the elected official carefully and keep a record (at least a mental one) of promises kept or unkept.

     * Congratulate the victor and offer prayers for success in office whether this person is your choice or not.

     * Resolve to work harder for a defeated candidate of choice and write a letter, if you are convinced the defeated person should run again, giving this person encouragement and congratulations for a hard fought campaign.

     * Single out minor elected officials who should hold a higher position.  Support them.

     * Ask yourself, "Did I vote intelligently?"

     * There was always too much negativism and money poorly spent.  Resolve to support election reform to help with future elections.

     * In discussing matters keep political wrangling to a minimum.

     * Ask a profound question:  Were there too few good candidates

for certain offices?  If so, what can be done about it?

     * At least set some political considerations aside for a little while for the next campaign is at a distance and it is healthy to broaden one's perspective.

     * Get a good night's sleep tonight.  You were up too late last night -- unless you are a another Harry Truman (who slept through his close presidential election count).

     Prayer:  Lord, give to the winning candidates the proper judgment and fortitude to carry out their offices well.




Ripening fruit of the pawpaw, Asimina triloba
*photo credit)

November 6, 2008    Hunting as Sport or Necessity

     Hunting has always been something of a dilemma for me.  Perhaps it was because hunting ambivalence prevailed in my early farm years in Mason County, Kentucky.  We always had enough livestock to butcher for meat, though I knew folks who liked to go for the wild game, kill it and dress it for their sparse table.  And when wildlife was a necessary source of homesteaders' food, hunting was serious work.  As kids we considered work to be hunting crows  (aggressors in our corn fields) and we considered the right to bear arms individually as constitutional.  We deliberately carried our guns when a public notice stated there was no hunting at certain times of the year.  It was a right to economic defense. 

     For me, the clever, destructive and socially sophisticated crows were always in season -- year-round.  They could tell the difference between a gun and a walking stick.  Hunting crows took skill;  rabbit-hunting was child's play at best and unnecessary cruelty at worst. After sixty years I see little value in trying to be a marksman with a 22-rifle or a shotgun.  I have come to dislike sportspeople who hunt only for pleasure.  They can be dangerous because they misuse guns; endanger themselves, companions and cows mistaken for fair game; wound rather than kill the game; do not know boundaries of property; tear down fences in crossing them; and hope no one accuses them of trespassing.  Thank heavens some know how to hunt well and are not the ones who parade buck carcasses bobbing out of open truckbeds.

      Some folks consider themselves too financially strapped to be vegetarians.  That includes homesteaders, the rural and urban poor, those residents in Arctic regions of our country, and bush meat eaters in other lands.  I come from the farming culture that regarded "meat" and "meal" as synonymous.  For many meat eaters, wild game is a portion of the food supply, which varies the menu and affords a low cost substitute for commercial meat cuts.  If we eat what is around us, we truly become "Kentucky" or whatever state we live in.  Those who eat local venison to supplement the food needs of their families are, in my book, quite justified -- and I know such people in our Appalachian region.  Eat what is hunted and thank God for the blessing of nutritious food.  Local wildlife is quite nutritious, organic, homegrown and relatively plentiful.

     In performing environmental resource assessments we found the most frequent urban problem to be uninvited deer and other wildlife.  Certainly wildlife has roamed freely for centuries and regards our property as theirs as well.  Again, a basic homesteading principle is to raise or acquire one's own organic food locally.  When deer, rabbits, geese, and turkeys proliferate for lack of native predators, they prove superior to commercial factory farm-produced meat.  Wildlife is free of antibiotics and growth hormones pumped into feedlot animals.  Eat local products!

     Prayer:  Lord, teach us all to respect wildlife, to gather locally grown food, and to take proper care of weapons.





Leaf of American sycamore, Platanus occidentalis
*photo credit)

November 7, 2008            A Living Will

    Teach me to count how few days we have and so gain wisdom of heart.  
                                     (Psalm 90:12)

    Several times I have rewritten my living will according to revised forms required by our Commonwealth.  It is always a definitive and November-type act adjusting funeral arrangements and songs, filling out forms for donating organs (see November 24), or putting personal files in order.  It is like planting trees;  we will most likely not see the fulfillment of our work.  November is ideal for meditating on "last things" and living wills are some.

     If we knew the Lord were coming to visit, we would certainly straighten up the house and not leave it messed up.  The same can be said for my files.  The Lord is surely coming;  it is a question of when.  Are we prepared?  But what if the wait is prolonged as medical wires and tubes are connected to us, and we find it all the more difficult to undergo the artificial living situation?  Isn't it better to die in dignity, and naturally -- without all the pumps and gadgets that cost someone a fortune?  We poor folks can only afford to live and die naturally -- not artificially.  Today this requires a living will as an insurance.    Even the term "Living Will" is somewhat pretentious, for it seems we have power at a time of our utter powerlessness to do something.  To confront is to place oneself directly in front of something.  Perhaps to meet mortality is nearer to the truth, for we are on the road and death will come before us, even when we attempt to avoid it.  Mortality confronts us, not the other way around.  And yet, planning the last things is more for the sake of those who bury us than for us. 

      Some say we start dying the day we are born, that we are always discovering new ways to let go of the past, and that we always anticipate emerging limitations on our activity.  In early years we avoid the subject of dying, but awareness of our mortality emerges with time, with the passing of loved ones, and with the change of hair color in our respective autumns of life.  We need to be prepared with a streak of humor and good will.  Those certainties, death and taxes, are here and we can help make the latter fairer but can do little about the former.  Accepting the inevitability of death leads to a deeper spirituality.  We face our "few" days left with serenity.  Ancient peoples came, flourished and departed;  so shall we, so let's be prepared.

     Goethe says, "Life is the childhood of our immortality."  Children learn to adjust to the knocks of life and mature with time.  November is meant to be our month for spiritual maturing, when we face and reflect upon the brevity of mortal life.  Let's not  attempt to perish the thought, for it isn't perishable.  Rather than a morbid thought November is when we consider life after death, but let's do it in a balanced way.


     Prayer:  Thanks Lord, for the chance to exercise my will through a living will, one that emphasizes life over death.






Autumn color in the leaf of Virginia creeper, Parthenocissus quinquefolia
*photo credit)

November 8, 2008       Trees and Leaves

     Trees are great seasonal indicators -- at least the temperate deciduous trees are.  Spring blossoms give way to summer foliage and now the colors of autumn are taking leave in preparation for winter's rest.  Trees contain added history with scars of past droughts, tornados and wind storms;  they tell the richness of the soil and they often bear the markings of humans and animals that came and went.  All older trees at the Nature Center I directed in Rockcastle were leaning away from the powerful tornado winds of April, 1974.  Trees are the record of yearly rainfall, show whether they grow close to other trees or in the open, are the remnants of past geological conditions.  Nothing reveals trees better than the sharp early winter wind, when the last leaves fall and the branches stand out in mute testimony to the age, height, strength, and health of the particular tree. 

     In younger years, I hated to see November come.  Within that first week of the month the leaves would ordinarily fall except for those of oaks, which would tenaciously hold on to their leaves through much of winter.  The uncovering of the landscape showed us forest scars and that was so disconcerting after enjoying summer's comforting foliage.  However, maturity allowed me to see the raw beauty of trees spelled out in their size, shape, trunk and bark -- aspects harder to discover when leaf cover is present.  Naked trees seem so vulnerable before the possible ice storms of winter.  Their grays and tans set a mood for the shortened daylight span. 

     We rest assured that these naked trees have year-round utility:  they hold the soil, moderate the climate, provide wood for fuel and a million uses, and give character to the landscape.  Seasonal benefits are better known: sap, fruit, nuts, nests for birds, winter wind breaks formed by evergreens, summer shade from deciduous trees, leaves to replenish the humus of the soil, and rotting logs as nourishment for other forest creatures.

     Certain trees tug at our heart strings.  Cedars have a rich scent, furnish a bushy cover, remind me of Christmases past (for that was our simple, locally grown tree, used to decorate our indoors), and provide cedar logs that furnish material for chests and boxes or used as long-lasting fence posts.  Oaks show strength, stateliness and beautiful shape.  White pines grow fast.  Other trees stand out in their own right: dogwood, serviceberry, and redbud display early blooms; black locust yields white clusters of fragrant blooms in May and also is resistant to rot; maples furnish autumn color and late winter sap; hackberries have rugged bark and heartiness; American chestnuts (when they return in abundance) will furnish mast;  wild plum trees give a fruit of exquisite taste; sour gum's red leaves heralds autumn; sweet gum offers shapely beauty.  Joyce Kilmer says --"Only God can make a tree."  We can make a favorite tree list.

     Prayer:  O God, our Creator, give us a sense of the beauty of the tree and let us observe this at every season of the year.




A tranquil moment, not even a breeze
*photo credit)

November 9, 2008         The Church as Our Home

     I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven...  (Revelation 21:2)

     Today we depart from the Sunday readings in ordinary time and celebrate the dedication of the basilica of St. John Lateran in Rome, the cathedral of the Pope.   This ancient structure was built in the time of Constantine in 328 and dedicated to Our Savior.  Next to this the popes lived for a thousand years and this ancient church was the location of five councils of the Church.  Therefore it holds a special place in our collective spiritual hearts as part of the Christian community that calls for sacred space -- not because God needs it, but because we as human beings need focal points.  St. John Lateran seems old, simple and easily overlooked but it is our ecclesial "home," with all that the familiarity entails. 

     Many of us identify with home under a variety of definitions and ideals:  a home town, a parish church, a school or playground from youth, a residence for a period of time, a region, a nation.  We are home-bound people like passengers on ships that pass the Statue of Liberty, those who attend family reunions and even survivors of conflicts.  Sentimental songs remind us that home is where our heart is.  We pine for the warmth of a past homestead and cherish these historic or cultural past memories, a current sense of belonging and a future promise of rest and relaxation in an eternal home.  We await a New Heaven and a New Earth. 

     Our  Earth is our home or the special place in our lives.  It is our motherland, our birth and tomb.  Thus we are to show respect for our earthly home in a very special way.  And this respect extends to all the other places we call home in our lives.  An atmosphere of respect must extend to the entire human race and all people both living and who have gone before us.

     We are left with a sense of going and coming and still no home is totally satisfactory, because we are people on the road.  Our ultimate home is eternal but contains some of the respect and care we have shown our past home.  The dedication of the particular church shows that we committed to finding a lasting home.  We long for the face of God, and that longing is the very core of our restless quest that will not cease until we find our God. 

     Our common mother church has a special role to play, for it is like Jerusalem and yet is new and different.  We realize that no earthly place can perfectly satisfy our desires.  The presence of a church building (St, John Lateran) awakens within us the importance of the journey we are on in reaching our eternal home, and even in triggering our restlessness while comforting us.

     Prayer:  God, our Father, increase the spiritual gifts You have given your Church, so that your faithful people may continue to grow into the new and eternal Jerusalem. (prayer of the feast)





November 10, 2008    Building a Worm Composting Bin

     The following is a condensation of a pamphlet put out for Home Depot by our web manager, Janet Powell.  It is worth considering, if you currently allow your kitchen wastes to go to a landfill.


     Vermicomposting, or composting with earthworms, is an excellent technique for recycling food and yard waste while generating a nutrient-rich fertilizer for plants.  Vermicomposting bins are inexpensive and easy to construct. 

     One 4x8 foot sheet of 1/2 inch exterior plywood; one 12-foot length and one 15-foot length of 2x4 lumber; 16d galvanized nails, 6d galvanized nails, two galvanized door hinges; one-half liter clear varnish or polyurethane; optional plastic sheets for placing under and over bin; one pound of worms (Eisenia foetida commonly called tiger worms) for every half pound of food wastes produced per day; and bedding for the worms -- moistened shredded newspaper,  cardboard, or brown leaves.

     Using standard carpenter tools, measure and cut the plywood to make one 24x42-inch top, one piece of the same dimensions for the base and two 16x24-inch ends and two 16x42-inch sides.  Cut the 2x4s to make two rectangles and nail with 16d nails at each joint.  Complete the upright framing and nail plywood sides and bottom pieces.  Drill a dozen 1/2 inch holes in the bottom for drainage.  Attach two hinges to the inside of the box frame and then to the remaining plywood piece in such a way that the door stands upright when opened.  Apply two coats of varnish or polyurethane to prolong the box lifetime beyond the five years of an unpainted box.  Place box in any convenient place as long as temperature is more than 50 degrees F (optimum 55-77 degree F).  It is wise to place a plastic sheet under the box.  (Click here for diagrams and alternative ideas)

     Moisten the bedding material for worms.  Excess moisture will drain.  Put wet bedding into the box outdoors and wait until all water has drained.  Add about eight inches bedding to one side of bottom.  Put in worms. In time they will work down into the bedding, away from light.  Dig a small hole in bedding and add vegetable and fruit scraps.  Cover the hole with bedding.  Small amounts of meat can be added in the same way.  Don't add anything inorganic or potentially hazardous materials. 

     Keep your pile moist, but not wet;  if flies are a problem, place more bedding material over the wastes.  Every three to six months move the compost to a side of the bin and add new bedding to the empty side.  Add food wastes to the new bedding only.  Within one month worms will crawl over to the new bedding and the finished compost on the old side can be harvested.  Then add new bedding to the old side.  If ants prove to be a problem, add a small strip of petroleum jelly around top of bin. 

     Prayer:  Lord, inspire us to resolve to recycle all our worrisome yard and kitchen wastes into beneficial humus.




A small tobacco farm, McAfee, KY

*photo credit)

November 11, 2008   Confronting Mortality: The Afterlife

     Armistice was obtained at the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month ninety years ago today.  After the First World War Armistice Day was highlighted annually as a time to remember the veterans and the sacrifices they made, many with their own lives and physical and mental health.  On Armistice Day, our thoughts go back to the millions on both sides of that bloody conflict;  they died on Flanders fields, where the mud and blood mixed.  Like the story of the seven brother martyrs (II Maccabees 7,1-2, 9-14) who held fast to their principles, those soldiers  were willing to sacrifice their all.  For two decades after that war the day was set aside to affirm an enduring  peace.  

     When Christ was confronted by a non-believer in life after death (Luke 20:27-28), he affirmed life -- present and to come.  The resurrection from the dead is an affirmation of a profoundly new life, not solely current earthly living, but something truly new and more lasting.  Karl Rahner speaks of our beginning to die the day we are born.  For some with life-threatening illnesses the prospects are dire or promising, depending on what one believes.  For the healthy, the gusto of the moment is everything.  For the unhealthy each day is an added challenge.

      For northern temperate dwellers, November brings sharper winds, the heralds of profound changes in life's journey.  We imagine that if the year were a lifetime for the average person, each month would be about six or seven years, and thus the "November" of life is when we take notice of the last things.  Granted, few eagerly await the end of mortal life except those who suffer great discomfort or anticipate a meeting with loved ones. The masters of spirituality say we should occasionally consider our own dying.  Western monks in some traditions go out each day and dig a shovel full of dirt from their graves -- as we visitors would observe at Gethsemani Abbey.  Monks gradually dig their own graves.   

     The daily obituary columns act like a drum beat telling us the passing of the neighborhood.  The dream of youth to escape death is an illusion; optimists dismiss talking about death;  pessimists see it all about; realists prepare for their last hour as a normal exercise.  For us in senior years time goes faster and faster.  When you are five years old it takes a fifth of a lifetime for Christmas to roll around; now for us seniors it takes about one or two percent.  Time both speeds up and becomes the more precious. We either begin to await death or find facing it ever more difficult.  We talk of it frequently or we use circumlocutions: "passing on" or "resting place" or the corpse is "asleep."  Shakespeare writes that "cowards die many times before their death."  What we must do is neither overlook nor intensely look.  Rather we ought to face death resolutely and still reaffirm eternal life.  Armistice Day in its reality and false promise reminds us to search for deeper meaning.

     Prayer:  Oh Lord, keep us from being discouraged.  Amid what is unfulfilled prepare us for a life that is changed not ended.



The Cedar Knob trail, a hand-constructed nature trail on the Powell-Kalisz Farm
*photo credit)

November 12, 2008      Work on a Nature Trail

     After the leaves fall we are tempted to say, "Well, that does it for the outdoors this year."  Not so fast.  The opposite may really be the case.  Suitable winter weather is perfect because there is no summer foliage to hinder us.  Late fall and winter are perfect times to build and maintain existing trails.  This is the golden opportunity to assist maintenance crews at financially-strapped private or public nature centers and parks to pick up litter, straighten out trails, halt erosion, or help with signage of all sorts.  November is trail-making and -maintenance month.

     Trail work has many benefits: it is an opportunity to get outdoor exercise; it can be a social event, for it lends itself to group undertakings; it is suitable for people of various physical energy levels; it renders a tangible product, which can be demonstrated to others as a record of achievement; it gives needed assistance to overworked maintenance personnel; it is a non-destructive form of outdoor exercise; and it is an investment for the enjoyment of many future trail users.  To realize these benefits our country needs a more integrated trail system on a par with our enormous highway system.  We could use abandoned railroad right-of-ways and seldom used rural roadways.  Coordinated efforts at local, state and national governmental levels are needed -- to establish camp or lodging sites, post uniform signs and maps, set up safe crossings at busy highways, develop a comprehensive maintenance system, and publicize the benefits in using trails. 

     In trail-making, several simple rules apply:  build a trail after planning and considering whether any disturbance of the land will cause erosion;  lay the trail out on the contour and not up and down slopes;  use chips or sawdust or other coverings, if possible, though transporting these materials may prove a burden;  run the trail so that there are controlled entrances and exits;  place barriers such as "Texas Crossings" (parallel sharp angle passageways through which large livestock cannot maneuver) or fencing where off-road vehicles may penetrate the trail system;  consider different degrees of exertion by trail users;  remove stumbling blocks (boulders, downed tree trunks, roots, half buried fencing); and put up signs to assist visitors who may get lost.

        A proper trail is designed to deliver a complete nature experience, well built to minimize erosion, well equipped with bridges or steps where needed, and well described so the participant will understand all of the notable things worth seeing or even feeling (for blind hikers).  Nature trails may be classified according to various degrees of exertion, so attend to reserving portions for less mobile people.  The trail surface may be hardened by traditional paving or by new plastic substances which mix with soil to form all-season walkways able to accommodate wheelchair users.  Markers, designated signs and audio-tape units prove serviceable when human guides are absent.

     Prayer:  Lord you are the way; help us make ways for others.





Autumn leaves on limestone
*photo credit)

November 13, 2008          Eco-Hypocrisy

     Many people and groups want to proclaim themselves "green" and so promote some particular conservation or renewable energy practice.  Much depends on the effectiveness of the conservation or other measure and the amount of touting.  An SUV driver who takes a bag of recyclables to a recycling center miles away and expends more gasoline in the act than the reuse of recyclables save is perhaps an example -- but it may involve more guilt salving than pretending to others.  Other examples include:

     Energy traders.  Examples are the blooming of "energy credit" and "cap and trade" proposals.  Some pay to retain their consuming ways while helping others save through conservation or renewable energy use.  However, calculating savings is fraught with exaggeration and false expectations.  A beneficiary of the do-gooder may change practices in the course of receiving the money and move up the consumption scale, e.g., credits may allow an Indian village to operate a tv but the tv villagers may see new vehicles or electric appliances and buy them.  In the long-term total energy use expands when the vehicle fuel is included.

     Pale green environmental supporters.  Many supporters do little in conservation measures such as recycling wastes, driving smaller cars or burning more efficient light bulbs.  Rather they prefer to display a calendar or poster from an environmental group, sign letters as to their supposed concern, or even exhibit a green bumper sticker with an appropriate message.

     Invented reasons for air travel.  Some want a luxury vacation but know that air travel releases carbon dioxide and other more toxic emissions.  Although they pretend to be green, theirs and others' flights are not necessary and cause pollution through increased airline use.  Half the conference-going could be replaced by electronic conferencing.

     Scattered homesteaders.  Some like to return to wilderness areas and build a house in a location that should remain untouched; the dwelling thus disturbs the habitat of animals and may even mar the scenic view of the landscape.

     Food faddists.  This group of people have immense concern about their own health and safety and yet they care little about how far the food materials had to be transported in order to reach them.  They may advocate out-of-season produce (some air-shipped from another continent).

     Spacious dwellers.  Many Americans have upscaled their living to such a degree that it has contributed to the mortgage crisis. Some cry about global warming while living in over-sized dwellings or patronizing over-sized places of worship, education, commerce or entertainment.  Their escalating energy bills make no sense.

     Prayer:  Lord, help us to see how false it is to pretend.





Black-and-Yellow Lichen Moth, Lychomorpha pholus
*photo credit)

November 14, 2008   Ten Reasons for Dry Composting Toilets

     1. Major water conservation.  The dry composting toilet is just that -- dry.  Water is not wasted as a carrier of the sewage, since the effective "flushing agent" is sawdust, leaves, dry grass clippings, or other carbonaceous materials.  Instead of using often potable high-quality water to carry waste materials to a sewage disposal plant, the composting operation occurs at the site of deposition and with no carrier water wasted or requiring reprocessing.  Most homes and facilities witness a fifty percent or more drop in domestic water consumption because water is not needed to flush the toilets.

     2. Lower installation cost.  This is a potential savings because some would purchase and still have to install a commercial dry composting toilet.  These commercial ones could cost as much as $5,000 -- much of which is the transport charge for heavy shipping containers.  However, people can build the device themselves for only about $200 - $500 for container materials, chute, seat, fan and ventilation pipes and save construction and hauling charges.  If one considers normal sewer hookup, cost of the commode portion of indoor plumbing, sewer pipes and plumber costs in the installment, along with the cost of specific fixtures, homeowners could realize savings of up to several thousand dollars by building the composting toilet themselves in their own facilities.

     3. Teaching simple living.  The largest hurdle to the popularity of the dry composting toilet is the misunderstanding that this is an old-fashioned outhouse.  Not true!  Outhouse materials do not undergo aerobic decomposition as do the composting toilet's;  rather they generate methane and unpleasant odors.  This misunderstanding carries over into policy-making discussion at the local, state and even national levels.  The safety, low cost, and odor-free nature of these aerobic devices require better information dissemination, and no one is better able to do this than composting toilet owners.  When visitors bring up these points, it becomes opportune to promote utilizing one's discarded materials and not exporting them elsewhere.

     4. Waste emission reduction.  The burden of caring for municipal sewage and for furnishing homes with large amounts of domestic water (used for flushing purposes) is well known.  Sewer systems can and do break down and require costly repairs as well as risk contaminating local streams and waterways.  In poorer rural America "straight pipes" send effluent from bathrooms into creeks and streams; composting toilets eliminate this problem. 

     5. Global warming reduction.  An estimated 5% of all methane, a major global warming agent, is produced by wastewater treatment facilities.  Use of aerobic methods reduces the amount of methane generated by anaerobic decomposition of waste materials.

     6. Retain local economic resources.  Large-scale outside contractors through major municipal water and sewage system construction projects often drain money from localities.  This is especially true in poorer areas where construction firms are not available to build mega-million dollar sewer and waste treatment facilities.  The dry composting toilet may be accompanied by a constructed or artificial wetland, which is a gravel-filled bed covered with wood chips.  Excess water enters the beds and evaporates through the leaves of flowers, bamboo or other plants growing in the chips.  These composting toilet and wetland combinations can be built using local talent and thus the money remains within the community for further circulation.

     7. Maintenance bills decline.  The dry composting toilet has far less chance of breaking down because it is so simple.  If a child drops a toy down the hole, getting it out may take some fishing but doing it doesn't need an expensive plumber.  In fact, there is no plumbing to the non-washing portion of the bathroom -- and thus no need of a plumber. 

     8. Wood waste reduction.  The use of organic matter as a diluting and composting medium could help eliminate the sawdust waste problem in timber processing parts of Appalachia and some other regions.  Wood and other carbonaceous waste products often accumulate and become a water and land contamination problem in themselves.  The greater the number of composting toilets, the smaller the amount of leaves and other such materials that need be sent to hard-pressed and overflowing landfills.      

     9. Composted product reuse.  The resulting composted product looks like sawdust or the carbonaceous materials added, has no odor, and can be safely utilized to enhance organic soil content for shrubs, flowers, lawn, trees, berries and even vegetables and herbs after observing simple safeguards.  The compost is best used on non-root edibles, but after careful heating under plastic in the sun the composted material can be used for root crops.

    10.  Beauty of constructed wetlands.  Composting toilet owners need to consider the greywater which comes from washing hands, dishes and clothes.  Some of this water may get contaminated by dirty diapers or other forms of contamination.  The answer is the constructed wetlands, which can be built as a coupled device to the composting toilet to a size determined by state regulations.  This relatively low-cost system can have enough capacity to handle both greywater (from hand or dish washing operations) and "black water" (what is flushed in the toilet proper).  The required land is far less than for septic tank leach fields, and it can grow beautiful flowers.  In many places the constructed wetlands have substituted for flowerbeds.

     Prayer:   Lord, help us to champion simpler ways of living and to do so even when knowing that some will belittle our efforts.  Give us the fortitude to continue even when the practices run counter to the perceived "proper way" of complex living.


A family of red foxes (Vulpes vulpes) occupy a vacant old home
*photo credit)

November 15, 2008     Preserving Our Wildlife Habitats

       The goal for Earth healers, knowing that biodiversity adds to the total environmental health of our planet, is to encourage a healthy balance in nature. This rich biodiversity is to be protected where it currently exists and, where lost, reestablished through habitat reclamation.  The restorative process could occur on one's private property or at  local, regional or state wilderness areas or at larger tracts at a national or global level.  Ideally nature center grounds, parks and wilderness areas can provide protection and reintroduction of species as well as regulated environmental education for visitors and virtual viewers (books and other literature and films with wide screen viewing).  Such groups as "Friends of the ...Park" perform this service and demonstrate wildlife protection and restoration.

     A declared "Wildlife Habitat" has a special meaning.  Native Americans defined Kentucky as a common hunting grounds for elk, bison, wildcats, mountain lions, squirrel, rabbit, raccoons, skunk, grouse, rattlesnakes and copperheads, catfish, perch and other marine life, along with a host of residential and migratory birds.  Today some of these species can be attracted by salt blocks (for deer), hummingbird feeders or butterfly gardens.  Efforts are needed to protect wildlife threatened by the encroachment of development of all sorts: golf courses, farms, highways and utilities lines cutting through blocks of wilderness.  Even poorly planned nature trails can harm wildlife habitat.  Threats also come to native species from exotic invasive species of plants and animals and from equally invasive ATVs, which destroy the tranquility of wildlife habitats.     

     The Las Cabezas de San Juan Nature Reserve in the northeast tip of Puerto Rico is a 316-acre area under strict governmental control and yet open to the public at given times.  Well publicized regulations minimize damage to the area's three distinct ecological communities.  Platforms allow visitors to come close to but not intrude in the fragile coastal wetlands.  Through binoculars, platform signs, audiotapes and hand-outs visitors receive a wildlife experience without tramping through fragile habitat.

     Threatened wildlife such as the gray wolf in the Rocky Mountains or elk in Appalachia need undisturbed areas.  Bald eagle and bison restoration programs have been successful.  One promising program is to reintroduce bison to depopulating portions of the Great Plains where they formerly roamed.   Wildlife corridors may require modifications for population centers and broad underpasses for migration under existing highways.  Harvesting free-ranging over-populating wildlife at a sustainable rate would yield quality meat for hungry people and preserve the quality of the wildlife of the area.

    Prayer:  Lord, help us see wildlife as fellow creatures in the chain of all being and to make a special effort at protecting them.


A bustling colony of ants

*photo credit)

November 16, 2008           Using Our Talents Well

     Well done!  You are an industrious and reliable servant. (Matthew 25:21)

     At her passing at about fifty, my cousin Margie suddenly became know to all of us as a highly talented person.  We knew she was a first rate nutritionist and helped train many others in the profession at a leading hospital in Cincinnati.  We were unaware that she spent additional time assisting handicapped people to find work at her hospital cafeteria and at similar hospital facilities.  In fact, numerous people owed their employment and sense of self-esteem in part to her patience and encouragement.  In no way did Margie brag about her talents and yet she realized that one of them was her ability to assist others in using their own talents well.

     God gives to each of us many great gifts or talents; when we strive to be humble we do not overlook the talents but thank God for them.  We can do more;  we can share talents and make our talents ways to assist others in utilizing their own.  This becomes a form of radical sharing.  This way of thinking takes into account the purpose for our creation, our free response, the place of the sacraments in our life, and our ever more caring service to others.  And all this involves use of our talents not only individually but in a cooperative manner.

     The thrust of this parable of the talents is to refrain from burying our talents and failing to use them properly.  Here Jesus teaches two things:  the failure to use talents is wrong; and the failure of the less talented, not the more talented, to use gifts properly is also wrong.  Highly talented people who often do not act or do so in a limited way through diffidence, laziness or crippling physical practices can fail.  Jesus talks about our lack of action, not the wrong action once undertaken.  Accepting that everyone has talents is a democratic principle;  failing to encourage them to use them is a weakness of a competitive capitalistic culture that tolerates the "unemployed" as a pool to draw from at will and thus depress wages.  If talents were highly valued, our nation would regard employing the unemployed as a top priority.  All too often lesser talents are overlooked and the person is made to feel powerless.  The passed over are tempted to say, "I will bury and safeguard the talents that I have;  I do not dare to attempt to use them for fear that failure will haunt me." 

     Act, even at the risk of doing so imperfectly.  Jesus knows we can use talents irresponsibly but, as humble people, we can recognize our weaknesses and make needed changes.  Those who never act, who bury their talents and offer no occasion for public interaction need encouragement and even prodding.  One of the successes of the talented is to believe in the democracy of gifts from God and to see these as worthy of fulfillment.  Then using talent well becomes a challenge to help others use theirs as well.    

     Prayer:  Lord, give us all the grace to use our talents well.


A quiet evening on the farm

*photo credit)

November 17, 2008          Darkness Comes

     In this northern temperate zone we note that days are getting shorter.  My dad had three early morning expressions:  September to December 21, "The Days are getting shorter;"  December 21 to sometime in late March, "The Days are short;" and from late March to September, "There is a lot of work to be done."  Now we observe that sunlight wanes and darkness waxes.  Each month is about one hour longer or shorter in daylight, and each day sunrise and sunset are about one minute more or less at dawn and dusk.  This is due to how ancients in the temperate zone defined a length of time as "hour" or "minute."  For agrarian folks who live by daylight, the lengthening and shortening has great meaning for work time. 

     Daylight has always meant much to me due to my agricultural roots.  Furthermore, our Christian religious culture is heavily laden with love of light and fear or dread of darkness.  Psychological differences also exist.  Optimists say that, upon dying, a soul is moving to the light, and pessimists will say a body is buried -- in the dark grave.  Amid such differences there is utter need for light for photosynthetic processes and well-being, and there is need for darkness for the same natural growth processes and well being as well.  Chemical reactions, bodily functions, composting processes and nocturnal animals are active in the dark as well as in periods of light.  Also our bodies are generally primed to rest in darkness whether through daily rhythms of activity and rest.  Darkness of the seasons is needed for plant growth/rest and for animal activity/hibernation.

     The marked accentuation of the seasons in the temperate climate offers us an opportunity to appreciate changes -- in tree and all plant life, in weather conditions, in animal living patterns, and in our own moods and mental state.  When we approach winter, we observe that the elderly find the upcoming season more difficult perhaps due to reduced mobility.  Thus, the shortening of days brings to mind the often-heard question by senior citizens (expecting non-committal responses), "Are you alright?" If the answer is not the expected affirmative, the questioner steps into a muddy puddle of extended personal health narration.  So often the reply involves one's ability to endure winter's harsh conditions.

       Darkness has its human benefits  This is a time to stay  at home, to pile on more blankets, to get to bed earlier without regrets, to start a cozy fire, to focus on plans for the next season, to give attention to straightening up the room, to consider personal health, to think about the bad effects of too much ultraviolet light in longer sunlit seasons, to appreciate light when we have it, to find the ideal time to pray, to look at suffering as something to be both endured and offered in sacrifice, and to hope for the coming of new light and a new season. 

     Prayer:  Divine light, show us how to appreciate and even welcome the rhythm of light and darkness during the seasons.







A flock of wild turkeys, Meleagris gallopavo
*photo credit)

November 18, 2008     The Turkey, A National Bird

     Benjamin Franklin wanted to make the turkey the national bird, but was overruled -- thus we have the bald eagle as national symbol on money and seal.  When young, I could never fathom Franklin's suggestion.  For one thing, there was a dearth of wild turkeys at that time, even though we had plenty of domesticated ones. I remember as a tiny toddler I hated venturing outside at my grandparents' place because they had a so-called tame gobbler Ben who would challenge young children.  Around and around the farm house I ran, with Ben's fluffed up feathers right on my heels.  My vocal commotion broke up the traditional euchre game, and all the players and relatives came pouring out on the porch and howled with laughter at the sight -- until Uncle John ran out and rescued me from ole Ben. I now like baked turkey and hate euchre.

     Now with extended hunting seasons on "wild turkey" in our commonwealth, I am more inclined to understand the prevalence of that type of fowl in early American history -- and its happy or unfortunate return.  Kentucky and other states have reintroduced the game-bred turkey that is larger than truly wild ones and have a far larger appetite for wild plants and seed.  Now we are plagued by too many "wild turkeys" and these are becoming a national problem.  Our nationwide "wild turkey" flock was estimated at seven million at the turn of the century, up over one million from the previous 1995 estimate.  Several times while I have been hiking, female turkeys have challenged me as I have inadvertently gotten too close to their nests and chicks.  The maternal aggression towards intruders may have much to do with their instinctive knowing that the wilderness belongs to them and we are strangers and guests on their landscape.  As for turkeys, they leave much of the summer garden alone except for beans -- a crop broadly-liked by wildlife;  beans need extra protection.

     I think there is a certain beauty to turkeys even though I believe their shaggy heads resemble those of vultures.  Their heads seem awfully small for their bodies but they are really quite crafty and able to adapt to the climate and terrain.  I love their ability to sustain themselves, but it does not come without a cost.  People tell us that many of the endangered understory flowers of Appalachia are part of the turkey's menu;  the valuable ginseng seed is crushed in the turkey craw.  Foraging, ever-expanding bands of turkeys act like vacuum sweepers of the forest understory.  Part of the emerging turkey problem is the lack of natural predators (red fox or wolf) to control the rapidly expanding turkey population.   Maybe the arrival of the coyote from the west will fill the missing niche to some degree.  Only time will tell.  How about giving the turkey co-national status with the bald eagle because it is native, hardy, abundant, able to survive, provides delicious meat for the hungry, and is much at home here?  It exhibits a number of "American" traits.

     Prayer:  Lord, give us the insight to see the benefits of all our wildlife and to champion the good qualities of each species.



Abraham Lincoln's New Salem

November 19, 2008   Reread Lincoln's Gettysburg Address

     During this year of Lincoln leading up to the two hundredth  anniversary of his birth we ought to reflect on the short but historic speech that he made one hundred and forty-five years ago today:

     Fourscore and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on    this continent a new nation, conceived in liberty and     dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

     Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation or any nation so conceived and so dedicated can long      endure.  We are met on a great battlefield of that war.  We     have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final     resting place for those who here gave their lives that this   nation might live.  It is altogether fitting and proper that    we should do so.

     But in a larger sense we can not dedicate -- we can not   consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground.  The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it   far above our poor power to add or detract.  The world will     little note, nor long remember, what we say here, but it will never forget what they did here.  It is for us the living,   rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they      who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.  It is rather      for us to be dedicated here to the great task remaining before     us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion    to that cause for which they gave their full measure of      devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall     have a new birth of freedom -- and that government

                      of the people,

                      by the people,

                      for the people,

     shall not perish from the earth.

                             Given by President A. Lincoln

                             November 19, 1863 at Gettysburg, PA

     Prayer:  Lord teach us to listen to noble words, to treasure them, and to move others through brief and poignant words to a deeper respect for those who sacrifice for us in many ways.



The male Northern Cardinal, Cardinalis cardinalis
*photo by Sally Ramsdell of the Garden Thymes Herb Club, Irvine, KY)

 November 20, 2008      Culinary Herb Growing and Use

    Herbs grow on us.  This year I grew parsley, mint, coriander, garlic, dill and basil, along with some herbs that did not thrive due to our drought conditions.  And then there were the wild herbs that grow on their own and I use: poke, dandelions, sorrel and others.  At home, Mama was the parsley queen, and would grow wonderful bunches for fall dishes and table decorations.  We had horseradish for winter and wild dandelions in early spring. Herbs give that extra taste to a routine meal and the more used the better for adding extra dishes at little effort or expense.  Cooks prefer herbs very near the kitchen door to have easy access to seasonal culinary herbs.  My favorite culinary herbs include:

Type & Use

Basil (annual)  Leaves for vegetable salads and stews and especially with tomato dishes. 

Caraway (biennial)  Seeds for cabbage dishes and sauerkraut and also in cornbread.

Celery (annual) Leaves and stems for soups, sauces and pickles and seeds as flavoring in cooked dishes.

Chives (perennial) Leaves for cottage cheese, soups and salads and some other cooked dishes.

Coriander (perennial) Leaves and seed for salads.

Dandelion (perennial) Leaves and buds for salads, either raw or in cooked fashion, and roots for hot drinks.

Dill (annual) Stems, leaves and seeds for pickles, salads and dishes and for flavoring in corn bread.

Fennel (perennial) Leaves and seeds for salads, soups, cooked dishes, and cheese.

Garlic (perennial) Leaves, top seeds and bulbs for any type of     cooking and available in fresh form much of the year.

Horseradish (perennial) Roots in fall for cocktail and fish sauce and cold dishes and sandwiches.

Marjoram (annual)  Leaves for tomato dishes and also for use in salads.

Mint (apple, mountain, spearmint and peppermint) (perennial) Leaves green or dried for sauces, dishes, cold drinks and hot tea and chewed fresh like commercial gum.

Mustard  (annual) Seeds for cooked dishes and dressings and wild mustard leaves in salads.

Oregano (annual) Leaves and bloom for Italian, Greek and Mexican dishes.

Parsley (biannual) Leaves and chopped stems for soups and dishes and mixed in tomato salad dishes.

Pokeweed (perennial)  Shoots in spring and early summer for salad, and cooked like asparagus.

Sage (perennial) Leaves before bloom for dishes and stuffing and used traditionally in homemade sausage.

Tarragon (perennial) Leaves for herbal vinegar.

    Prayer:  Lord, teach us to eat lower cost foods but to enrich them with the flavor of readily available herbs -- true gifts.




Victoria Kalisz's apple dumpling (click here for recipe)
*photo credit)


November 21, 2008        Micro Hydropower

     In an age when we strive to enlist the contribution of all forms of safe and dependable renewable energy resources some effort ought to be made to consider small-scale hydropower at what is regarded as a "micro" level (less than 100 kilowatt electric generating capacity).  The operation at this scale requires a plentiful flow of water but does not require that rivers are dammed up;  this damming for "small-scale" hydroelectric projects can retard the movement of fish and other marine life.  A moderate size 100-kwh micro hydropower plant could furnish electricity to twenty energy conserving homes that do not use electricity for resistance or space heating.  Average non-electric heated homes have a demand of less than two kw and a peak demand of about five kw. 

     Such non-polluting hydropower plants are renewable energy sources that can replace air and water polluting non-renewable energy sources.  The plant can be built where power would not otherwise be gained from the free flowing water.  It is easily maintained once built and operating.  The payback is relatively rapid, since in an increasing number of states the operator can sell the surplus power back to the utility grid.  Furthermore, there is no need for high-priced dams and lakes that could disturb the forested cover, flood fertile alluvial valleys or disturb the river flow and wildlife migration patterns.  The micro facility is clean and efficient and a good demonstration of green practice.

     Installing a micro hydropower plant takes some effort at design, planning and construction.  Among major problems that have been experienced by vendors, builders and owners are the following: obtaining financing, existence of governmental red tape, resistance of government to design and construction assistance, cost and availability of equipment, utility interface and buy-back rates, price comparison with subsidized non-renewable systems, compliance with all environmental regulations (generally involving water flow), and availability of equipment manufacturers.  Obtaining tax credits and determining potential sites could also be challenges when one has determined to pursue the project.

     Favorable sites exist in many places whether the high-head (large drop) or low-flow facilities.  However not all property holders actually have access to both the best site for the plant and the right-of-way from plant to point of use.  However, where combination source/consumer sites exist, they are begging for use.  Micro hydropower plants need some technical experience to design and construct, and are hardly a do-it-yourself undertaking.  The builder candidate needs to understand federal, state and local regulations.  The federal Public Utility Regulatory Policy Act (PURPA) requires utilities to help provide interconnections with privately owned powerplants, but no standards are set at the Federal level for the interface or for protective equipment at the point of interconnection.  

     Prayer:  Lord, show us how to use the free-flowing waters.





Backyard remnants, after a first frost
*photo credit)

November 22, 2008      Winterizing the Garden

     We get ready for winter in a great number of ways.  The following are suggestions with regard to winterizing a garden:

     Protecting plants from winter's low temperatures is important but less so than protecting them from the blasts of the cold winds.  Temperatures generally peak at mid-afternoon and then decline during the night.  The cold frame maintains a more even temperature throughout the entire twenty-four-hour period.  In the autumn, plant those crops that can withstand colder temperatures.  Take indoors such vegetables as celery or hill them very well.  Of course, most tomatoes are sensitive to cold weather, but tommy toes do quite well in the solar greenhouse even with some lower temperatures.  In almost all cases, the vegetable or herb will continue to thrive for several cooler months with little but wind protection from a cold frame. 

     Cloth crop covers made of cotton or synthetic fibers are sufficient until the weather gets bitterly cold.  Heavy covers of chopped leaves are sufficient for some of the hardy greens.  For more elaborate protection, a solar greenhouse or a permanent cold frame with insulated sides and a south-facing glass cover are recommended.  At the nature center near Livingston, Kentucky, we had a solar greenhouse which also furnishes about 40% of our winter heat on sunny days.  This greenhouse had a 2000-gallon water tank, which stored the heat during the day and released it on wintery nights to help sustain the vegetables.  Milder winters help make these solar greenhouses all the more successful.  With proper protection and captured heat sources, many vegetables can thrive and even grow during winter.

     I leave such root crops as Jerusalem artichokes and onions in the garden until needed, as well as carrots -- except that little varmints will also like to get to them.   A number of favorite winter vegetables include the brassicas (collards, cabbage, kale, broccoli, etc.) along with Swiss chard, parsley, turnips, Japanese radishes, endive, beets, and spinach.   Lettuce will linger but is often the first harvested because frost ruins it.  I have found salsify (oyster plant) endures the winter quite well, and is good for Thanksgiving and Christmas meals when cooked with milk, butter, salt and pepper.  Dandelions are very hardy and are an all around nutritious delicacy, which I have harvested in every winter month, though I often cook them.  Within the solar greenhouse we have grown dill, Swiss chard, tomatoes, mint, and parsley

     One can have vegetables throughout the year, but the autumn is the critical time to prepare for the more difficult winter months.  With some kind of proper protection, most cooler weather plants will keep alive and even thrive.

     Prayer:  Lord teach us always to be prepared and to let this sense of readiness extend into the everyday actions of our lives.





The heart of a black locust log (Robinia pseudoacacia)

*photo credit)

November 23, 2008         Christ the King

     Come. You have my Father's blessing!  Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world.  (Matthew 25: 34)

     At this closing of the church year we read this dramatic passage in St. Matthew's gospel about the final judgment.  Jesus will be seated on his royal throne and all the nations will be assembled before him.  What never fails to astound us is that, if we are among the good, we will be invited to inherit the kingdom prepared from the foundation of the world.  The kingdom is ours in a sense of eternal belonging.  We are also aware that those who see the needy but do nothing for them are "disinvited" or rejected from the Kingdom.  The message is clear;  we must be sensitive to those who suffer all sorts of want: lack of food, drink, or clothing and hospitality to strangers, and lack of care for the imprisoned and those who are ill. 

     We hear this demand for sensitivity either as individuals or as communities.  On the individual level, we can ask ourselves about our own callousness and insensitivity due to selfish fulfillment and the quest for comfort.  Do we forget those who are in dire need because we either see too many or fail to see any through over-attention to personal issues?  The dramatic needs of people who lack essentials were pointed out to us vividly in the recent hurricane season in our Southeast and the Caribbean.  Most of us became sensitive to the anguish of the very poor begging for food and drinking water and a place to get out of the contaminated water.  We assist the victims of these natural disasters in our hemisphere or the Chinese earthquake victims or Burmese flood victims.

     Jesus addresses those who are insensitive to human need;  change your ways for judgment is to come;  reject over affluence and become sensitive to the needs of the poor; give up so that others will have the essentials of life.  We must share radically with those in need (see Reclaiming the Commons on this website).  To paraphrase Lincoln, we cannot continue in a world half slave and half free, half of haves and half of have nots.  We cannot continue to require more and more resources to maintain a military machine to protect those resources expected to keep our affluence intact.  The global situation is rapidly getting intolerable, and the Lord is giving us warnings in the form of the economic, political and physical conditions of our world. 

     Christ is our leader; if we follow him, we will be sensitive to the needs of others and restore a sense of respect for his power and dominion.  We must do all in our power to assist others who are in need.  We cannot be judgmental of them on an individual level, nor can we become too frightened to speak.  With our eyes focused on Jesus we will assist others so as to gain the kingdom some day.

     Prayer:  Lord, keep us sensitive to the needs of all and to see this as a serious responsibility in our own lives.






Giant swallowtail (Papilio cresphontes) in motion

*photo credit)

November 24, 2008        Will Your Organs to Others

     We always have so much to be thankful for and what we so often overlook is our bodily organs.  Our special gratitude can be expressed in this week of Thanksgiving, which is part of the month for confronting our mortality and resolving to share radically with others.  A fellow Jesuit in Milwaukee received a liver transplant from the young victim of an accident.  He invited the parents and relatives of this donor over for a dinner and expressed his deep appreciation for the young man's sacrifice and his own gift of added years of life.  It was a very moving event and suddenly made us understand a little more what radical sharing (organs) means when we give up either our own organs or those of dear ones who pass on unexpectedly.

     The Thanksgiving season is a time to consider the use of our internal and external organs and the realization that many lack properly functioning body parts.  Over time some people's organs become defective and they have to have them removed.  Thanks to modern medical technology the diseased or defective organ can be replaced by a healthy one from a donor (in rare circumstances by a living person with two good kidneys or eyes).  Most often the donor dies suddenly and has given his or her organs for others' use or they are donated by the person who is his or her legal agent.   

     Are we willing to will our organs?  Many of us carry a driver's license or other documentation, which tells that we have permitted the use of organs if we meet sudden death.  Often there is little time to make decisions, since organs must be removed from the corpse, protected and transported to the place of use and reinserted rather quickly.  Cutting that time by a publicly accessible will is crucial to the enhancement of life's functions for another person.  Parting with life suddenly is difficult; considering the prospect is to confront our own mortality in a special way, and that is salutary.  The actual result of our sharing will be the extending of our good will to others and a radical sharing of ourselves with them.

     In rare cases a kidney is needed by a relative or even a stranger, and the donor says,  "The Lord has given me two, and there is only need for one."  Such donations are made by modern heroes and heroines who had no comparable models of old.  In a case recently, one sibling donated a kidney and the donor died and the recipient lives.  In other cases, because organs are so precious we hear about the trafficking in organs from living donors and those condemned to death.  Regulations are thus needed on a global scale.  Organ donation is a sharing, but for most it is after we no longer need that bodily organ.  The question of why keep extra baggage is not regarded as funny since kidneys and eyes do malfunction.  While asking the question of ultimate need is easier said than done, there is something important in even asking it to ourselves.

     Prayer: Lord, allow us to know more how to share what we have. 



Windlass Hill, early prairie sod home along the Oregon-California Trail, Llewellen, NE
*photo credit)

November 25, 2008      Design and Build a Garden Pool

     At times we need to build with our hands and, though winter may not be the best season to build, sometimes late fall and early winter offer windows of opportunity to work outdoors.  One of the least expensive ways to create an outdoor water/land harmonious landscape is to make a garden pool or pond.  Some could settle for a small fish pond but others with sufficient space prefer larger ponds that allow the sounds of amphibians (frogs and creepers) in summer.  When building for frogs, remember to have a gradual and not an abrupt siding so that animals can enter and leave the water at will.   Whether choosing fish or frogs, some simple designs or exotic shapes can be created using plastic or cement or other artificial materials.  If fish are expected to remain through the winter, then make the pool about three feet deep in normal temperate climates -- though this depth is greater than is allowed for pools without fences in some municipalities.  Consider dangers to trespassing youngsters.  Colder climates require deeper pools.

     Many prefer pools that have good sunlight (four to six hours a day).   This may allow the growth of algae, which can prove a maintenance problem.  Consider adding oxygen to water by allowing for a trickle of water -- or use the pool as a basin for a waterfall (much as a fountain effect).  Birds are attracted to the sound of water, and it has soothing effects on the nearby residents.  Pools may be designed in irregular shapes and with nearby plant arrangements along with benches and observation places.  Prepare for various water-attracting animals and plants.  When shrubs, herbs and flowers are arranged nearby, attracted birds and butterflies add an extra richness to the pond area.  A number of wetland plants may decorate the shoreline.  If the pool is in a hot place in summer, consider creating shade through trees or tall bushes or by placing a trellis with vines overhead.  Some use ponds in summer and indoor fish tanks in winter, and consider the systems as complementary.  

     Pools are often surrounded by too many plants.  More often bird experts recommend a clearing on at least one side, so that birds coming for a drink or bath will have a clear view -- something many of them prefer as they are afraid of lurking hawks.  Generally, one situates the pool at a distance from trees, especially those with shallow roots, which seek to penetrate the water container.  Also falling autumn leaves are a maintenance concern for they may clog the pool quite easily.  Quality pool water must be secured.  A solar recirculating system is good for aeration.  Fill the pool if possible with non-chlorinated, non-municipal water from rainwater or ground water sources.  If in colder regions, empty the pool in winter and transfer the inhabitants to an indoor fish tank.  In warmer climates fish can live in a moderate-sized pool throughout the year.

     Prayer:  Lord help us to form a land/water harmony and to appreciate it through the projects we propose and complete.





A late summer view from the photographer's kitchen window
*photo credit)

November 26, 2008      Give Small-Scale Farming a Chance 

     November is a time to consider how we obtain the bounty of the land.  How is this bounty harvested in this land of plenty?  Our nineteenth and early twentieth century American history has been one of small and medium-sized farms and energetic farmers growing the crops that helped feed a nation and world.  However, the scene has changed as we face massive agribusiness ventures, which currently provide a large portion of America's food.  Some emerging problems include higher fuel prices, dieback of honey bees for pollination, and environmental problems related to chemical pesticides, commercial fertilizers and feedlots.  All of these problems raise questions about modern corporate methods.

     In agribusiness ventures, crops are generally cultivated and harvested by farm workers who do back‑breaking tasks for long periods of time at low wages, with poor lodging, no share in the profits, and hazardous (pesticide-contaminated) working conditions.  In small-scale operations, the individual farmer can determine working conditions, can work in a chemical‑ and pesticide‑free area, and is not required to spend long periods of time doing a single operation over and over.  For such a farmer, variety becomes the spice of life.  Through planning and crop specification small-scale farmers and gardeners can convert relatively small amounts of land into high yielding sources of produce. 

      Sprawling American land development threatens our best farmland.  Today, there is one hectare (2.4 acres) of cultivated land per four persons on this planet.  With the natural population increases expected for some time in the foreseeable future, the amount of land per person will decrease further during this century.  One answer to the loss of prime agricultural land is the high‑yielding domestic garden and small-scale farm using abandoned or fragmented land.  About one‑tenth of an acre can supply half of a person's yearly food needs, especially with emphasis on such bulk crops as potatoes or sweet potatoes.  If the person lives on a vegetarian diet, an additional one‑tenth of an acre can grow the extra bulk and special crops needed to meet basic individual human needs.  If the person's diet includes animal products, then considerably more land (at least two or three times as much) is needed to furnish the feed and pasture for livestock.

     "We have in this world," as Gandhi says, "enough for our need but not our greed."  Focusing attention on small-scale agriculture and gardening gives us confidence that basic necessities can be produced on this bountiful Earth.  Many of the world's poor crave enough land to sustain themselves, and yet urbanization quickens; now over half the world's people live in often congested mega-cities.  Often in poorer countries the best farmland is coopted and used for producing luxuries for export (fresh-cut flowers, shrimp, coffee, and beef).  A more sensible policy is more land for growing local essentials.  

     Prayer:  Lord, that they all may have some farmland.




November 27, 2008    A Thanksgiving Checklist and Prayer

    At this Thanksgiving season we again have so many things to be thankful for.  As we gather for a time of celebration, let us remember the many things that come to mind, knowing full well that many more go overlooked and unrecognized:

      Life in its fullness

      Our faith in God and hopes for the future

      Our parents and ancestors now deceased

      Loving people in our lives

      Personal and family health

      The talents we recognize

      Our use of recognized talents

      Our democratic birthright

      Peace in the land

      Law enforcement officers

      Homeland security

      Our American Constitution and Bill of Rights

      The opportunity to express ourselves

      Communications and the Internet

      Transportation systems and modes of travel

      Nutritious food in abundance

      The land that is our home

      A viable system of justice

      The air we breathe 

      Caregivers and Social services personnel

      A roof over our heads

      Health care and modern medicines and technologies

      Church and civic leaders

      A history of caring people

      Personal protection from harm

      Saints and good models to follow


      Livestock and pets of all types

      Oceans and lakes and all bodies of water

      Mountains and hills

      Forests and trees

      Flowers and herbs and vegetables

      All life on this planet

      And the grace to give thanks.

     A Thanksgiving Prayer:     Oh, Just One, the bounty of our land tells us that You have given us so very much.  We beg You too often and we thank You too rarely.  We begin to sense that a pure uncalled-for thanks is a precious moment and grand undertaking, the most blessed action we can undertake.  Thanks for the beginnings of peace and justice in a world.  Thanks for the bounty of the land, the admiration and inspiration of others, the memories of the brightness of springtime, the warmth of summer, the glory of autumn, and the restfulness of winter's blanket.  Thanks for the strength to appreciate the gifts given and for the sensitivity and willingness to share with the needy. 



Water droplets, beautiful jewels, on foliage
*photo credit)

November 28, 2008          Shopping Tips 

     Today is America's premier shopping day.  This essay title involves a problem:  Why do we need tips to shop, if we know what we are going to buy?  Offering tips means acknowledging the impulsive shopping habits of Americans and the need to avoid unnecessary and ill-conceived purchases.  In such a case, stay home and let it be.  Must we join the rush because of panic buying by the maddening commercial buyers?   If we have money, we must spend it;  if we have a mall, we must use it;  if we have a craving, we must fulfill it.  The following tips may not make consumption-oriented economic policy makers happy:

    *  Give services, not purchases.  Consider holiday presents that are not merchandise, such as donations in one's name or services, or homemade items with some of your own heart and soul in the gift.

    *  Rummage around first.  Go to home storage areas and look and see whether needs may be met with items that you don't want to keep, or items that may be a very good gift for a loved one.

    *  Construct the list.  Don't go shopping unless you know precisely what you want.  You may know the item but not the specifics and so end up examining the merchandise.

    *  Look for sales.  Once you have decided to make the trip, it may be best to look in the newspaper or ask around to find out when the best bargains will occur.  It may be the come-ons at Thanksgiving time or the after Christmas sales.  Remember that many stores simply mark up prices and then reduce them to normal through the "sale."  Don't fall for that old trick.

    *  Budget your shopping time.  Those who plan to spend the whole day shopping are prime targets for impulse buying.  But allow enough time, so you won't run over someone in the parking lot, the most dangerous driving space on Earth today.

    *  Use judgment as to the place to go.  I like to patronize local, higher-quality hardware stores, even when it costs more for particular items.  For specific items I prefer to search at junk yards, yard sales and other such operations.  The money stays in the community and the seller is in financial need.  Whether at local higher-quality places or at flea markets, the operation of buying is a civil transaction. 

    *  Refrain from impulse buying.  Some of us see an item and instantly decide it is "just right," and thus buy something that we will regret before we get home.  About half of all buying is by impulse and this is what advertising, front displays, and the words and music of sales pitches are all about.  "Loosen up," they urge, "and buy this one item."  Really?

     Prayer:  Lord, teach us to use our time profitably and well.




Walnut Sphinx Moth (Amorpha juglandis)
*photo credit)

November 29, 2008       Gardening and the Poor

     We tend to share surplus garden vegetables with those who are caught by high food bills and low food budgets.  Sharing garden produce is inherently local or at best a little longer distance for some less perishable food.  In the Middle Ages Saints Isidore (patron of farmers) and his wife Maria were touched by their local poor and shared with them food from their own field and table.  So can we, but can we do more? 

     Since we can hardly share produce with the distant poor, is our concern for them more than an empty gesture?  We know that concern mixed with responsibility can have salutary results.  Some food such as surplus grain, dried milk products and cooking oil is less perishable even if not produced in my garden.  Such food can be stored for a reasonable time and sent as emergency aid to places that suffer from famines, hurricanes, earthquakes and armed conflict.  Foreign storage and distribution facilities continue to be needed and those in solidarity with the world's poor can help prod our governmental representatives to ensure funds for more humanitarian assistance of this sort -- though not garden produce. 

     The goal is locally grown food.  Direct financial grants through charitable agencies can help purchase locally grown food in poor lands and thus subsidize the local growers of perishable garden produce in these lands.  This in turn, gives money to local farming entrepreneurs to furnish more produce for needy neighbors.  Through advocacy and financial support, along with global communications and transportation we can contribute to reducing hunger in many parts of the world.  The more prosperous small-scale farmer is now able to buy fertilizer and tools and thus can grow more and improve the food-growing practices in his or her land.

     Urban gardening using vacant lands, back and front yards, medium strips, roofs, and cemeteries offers many possibilities.  Encouragement could come through proper supervision and help.

     Growing one's own garden is a way to reduce hunger at the grass roots level.   We need to encourage gardening practices and to be so facile that others are able to do the same -- the backyard and barefoot gardener.  In our poor regions of Appalachia we are starting educational programs on food growing, purchasing, preparing and preserving.  Hopefully the experience we gain will be replicated in other places.  A world of active gardeners even within highly industrialized and urbanized regions would help alleviate hunger at local levels in many parts of the world.  Such practices along with necessary seeds and basic tools can go a long way in reducing world hunger. 

     Prayer:  Lord, teach us to share and to free our hearts of selfish allurements.  Help us to share the bounty of our surplus daily bread with the needy throughout the world and encourage others to do the same.



The delicate work of a spider (species unknown)
*photo credit)

November 30, 2008          Active Waiting 

     Lord, let us see your kindness and grant us your salvation.

                                 (Psalm 85:8)

     A new church year is a new beginning; we have hopes of better times ahead with God's help and mercy.  Many people hope in so many ways.  They hope they can be served;  they just stand (or sit) and wait -- in a doctor's office, an airport, a food line, a bureaucrat's office, for the son's return from the War.  We might be surprised that the ones who sit and wait with expectancy give testimony to a better future.  I hate to wait, and yet this is part of being a believer that better things will come about -- if only we have patience. One pre-schooler when asked to be patient replied, "Well my parents are not."  We are all too impatient.

      We are the clay and You are the potter;  we are the work of your hands (Isaiah 64:7).  We are open to what comes and are prepared for how we are to change in order to accept such changes.  By waiting in patience we are molded into the work of God's hands; we become a people who respect the time of maturation and accept that we are undergoing this process right now.  If the prize is big enough, it is worth waiting for.  But waiting in a religious sense is more than just sitting and doing nothing.  Waiting becomes a preparation for the coming of the one expected, and shows us a sense of reverence needed for the one coming, preparedness on our part, and willingness to help others overcome their impatience and learn to wait actively as well.

      Being watchful and waiting makes us keen observers; we can surpass those who wait in a stupor, or those who are too busy to wait.  The truth is, watchful waiting involves a perfect balance of those who are willing and those who await with great expectancy.  Yes we are restless but it is for what is to come.  Jesus tells us that we are to be vigilant at all times, and are not to be paralyzed from fright or distracted by misconduct.  We have begun to participate in the building of a new Heaven and New Earth -- and that is a massive undertaking requiring our planning and activity.  The time is short.  We learn from geology that the Earth is about four billions years old, and that in geological time the human race has appeared and flourished in the last few seconds of that time.  The act of salvation occurs in this last second of geological time, so we must seize the moment.

     Jesus said to his disciples: "Be constantly on the watch! Stay awake!" (Mark 13:33-37).  We do not know the day or hour, and so vigilance is a permanent Christian stance.  Our virtue includes specific knowledge of times and places.  Some occasionally arise who think they know from some mysterious source what will happen, but these are deceptively assuming a power over the ignorant.  Faith requires us to do something more;  we know Jesus saves us but we are part of the saving act with our sense of expectancy.

     Prayer:  Lord teach us the blessings of patience and yet to be always active in staying awake to the needs of all.


Copyright © 2008 Earth Healing, Inc.  All rights reserved.

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

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