A lone stalk graces an evening autumn sky
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,
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)
Washington Co., KY
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
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.
Eternal rest grant unto them O Lord, and may their souls and the souls of
all the faithfully departed rest in peace.
November 3, 2008 Do We have
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.
Lord, help us to protect our democratic principles.
Perceptive eyes peer through pine branches
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
* 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
* And write down all those campaign
promises to use in confronting elected officials with their promises that
have not been fulfilled.
Lord, help me do the right thing on this election Day.
A collection of autumn leaves (most are sassafras,
November 5, 2008 Post-Election
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
* 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
* 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).
Lord, give to the winning candidates the proper judgment and fortitude to
carry out their offices well.
Ripening fruit of the pawpaw, Asimina triloba
November 6, 2008 Hunting as Sport
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!
Lord, teach us all to respect wildlife, to gather locally grown food, and to
take proper care of weapons.
Leaf of American sycamore, Platanus
November 7, 2008 A Living
Teach me to count how few days we
have and so gain wisdom of heart.
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.
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,
November 8, 2008 Trees and
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
November 10, 2008 Building a Worm
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
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
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
Lord, inspire us to resolve to recycle all our worrisome yard and kitchen
wastes into beneficial humus.
A small tobacco farm, McAfee, KY
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
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.
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
November 12, 2008 Work on a
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.
Lord you are the way; help us make ways for others.
Autumn leaves on limestone
November 13, 2008
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 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
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
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.
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).
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.
Lord, help us to see how false it is to
Black-and-Yellow Lichen Moth, Lychomorpha
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
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
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.
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
November 15, 2008 Preserving Our
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
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
November 16, 2008
Using Our Talents Well
Well done! You are an industrious
and reliable servant.
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.
Lord, give us all the grace to use our talents well.
A quiet evening on the farm
November 17, 2008 Darkness
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
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
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
November 18, 2008 The Turkey, A
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
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"
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
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
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.
President A. Lincoln
19, 1863 at Gettysburg, PA
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
by Sally Ramsdell of the Garden Thymes Herb Club, Irvine, KY)
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
(annual) Leaves for vegetable salads and stews and especially with
(biennial) Seeds for cabbage dishes and sauerkraut and also in
(annual) Leaves and stems for soups, sauces and pickles and seeds as
flavoring in cooked dishes.
(perennial) Leaves for cottage cheese, soups and salads and some
other cooked dishes.
(perennial) Leaves and seed for salads.
(perennial) Leaves and buds for salads, either raw or in cooked
fashion, and roots for hot drinks.
(annual) Stems, leaves and seeds for pickles, salads and dishes and
for flavoring in corn bread.
(perennial) Leaves and seeds for salads, soups, cooked dishes, and cheese.
(perennial) Leaves, top seeds and bulbs for any type of cooking and
available in fresh form much of the year.
(perennial) Roots in fall for cocktail and fish sauce and cold dishes and
(annual) Leaves for tomato dishes and also for use in salads.
(apple, mountain, spearmint and peppermint) (perennial) Leaves green
or dried for sauces, dishes, cold drinks and hot tea and chewed fresh like commercial gum.
(annual) Seeds for cooked dishes and dressings and wild mustard leaves in
(annual) Leaves and bloom for Italian, Greek and Mexican dishes.
(biannual) Leaves and chopped stems for soups and dishes and mixed in
tomato salad dishes.
(perennial) Shoots in spring and early summer for salad, and cooked
(perennial) Leaves before bloom for dishes and stuffing and used
traditionally in homemade sausage.
(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
November 21, 2008
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
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.
Lord, show us how to use the free-flowing waters.
Backyard remnants, after a first frost
November 22, 2008 Winterizing
We get ready for winter in a great
number of ways. The following are suggestions with regard to winterizing a
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.
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)
November 23, 2008
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
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.
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
November 24, 2008
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.
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
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.
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
November 26, 2008
Give Small-Scale Farming a
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
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.
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
Our parents and ancestors now
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
Our American Constitution and Bill
The opportunity to express
Communications and the Internet
Transportation systems and modes
Nutritious food in abundance
The land that is our home
A viable system of justice
The air we breathe
Caregivers and Social services
A roof over our heads
Health care and modern medicines
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
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
November 28, 2008 Shopping
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
* 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
* 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?
Lord, teach us to use our time profitably and well.
Walnut Sphinx Moth (Amorpha juglandis)
November 29, 2008 Gardening and
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
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
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.
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)
November 30, 2008 Active
Lord, let us see your kindness
and grant us your salvation.
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
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.
Lord teach us the blessings of patience and yet to be always active in
staying awake to the needs of all.