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Daily Reflections Earth Healing

Daily Reflections
by Al Fritsch, S.J.


A series of written meditations and reflections



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Table of Contents: Daily Reflections

October 2008

Copyright © 2008 by Al Fritsch

Daily Reflections Earth Healing print reflection

An autumn morning in Kentucky

  The leaves are turning to a hundred colors and hues, and we know that winter is nigh. Indian summer days are so pleasant that they tempt us to think they will never disappear. It is warm but mosquito-free, a perfect season. We have those nights when the temperature dips and we receive the first frost warning --- sending us scurrying for bags to cover the delicate late summer veggies. Yes, it is time to --

protect the marigolds and impatiens,
move frost sensitive plants to cover,
gather in the crooked squash and pumpkins,
find the last yellow pear tomatoes and the tommy toes,
dig purple turnips and gather fall greens,
sow the hairy vetch and Austrian winter peas,
find ripe orange persimmons sweetened through frost,
press their pulp through a colander for pie filling,
hull walnuts and risk getting the hands stained,
get mentally set for winter weather,
and help the neighbors get ready as well.




Berries of the poke plant, Phytolacca americana
*photo credit)

October 1, 2008   Proclaiming a Redemption-Based Spirituality

     If we are Earth-focused, shouldn't we proclaim a highly popular creation-centered spirituality?  This form of spirituality focuses on the community of all creatures and strives to understand their relationship to other creatures.  Fine so far, but my problem is that the matter does not stop there;  the problem reaches far beyond this insight.  Part of the problem with a CCS is that it is a partial vision, for if CCS people contrast their beliefs with a redemption-centered spirituality and omit the latter they miss the point.  The Earth is in trouble and needs salvation -- and the act of being saved involves redemption, and Christ is involved.

     Redemption-based spiritualities do not let people off the hook.  Yes, all creation is one and to be admired;  but fragmentation has occurred through human fault -- and this fact simply must be addressed, for our wonderful Earth is in trouble.  That unity of all creation emphasized by the CCS is ideal but our world is highly fragmented between rich and poor.  Our society allows the privileged few to control and manipulate resources at the expense of all people.  And this is part of the trouble.

     CCS is often contrasted with a fundamentalistic view of a redemption-centered spirituality, where the salvation of individuals in accepting Jesus Christ as personal savior is the center of all focus and activity.  Again, the redemption-centered approach is not the total picture, but contains profound truths that must be the basis of an integral spirituality.  The very reason we enter into the healing work of Christ is because he invites us to be partners with him, to enter into the work of salvation in ways our ancestors could not imagine.  Today's soteological challenge (grand renewal process) is really of a more immediate concern than championing the CCS approach, for if we do not accept our responsibility, Earth is lost.  What is humanly damaged must be healed in great part through human effort.

     A redemption-based spirituality is necessary in presenting  a positive future for our renewed Earth.  James Lovelock foresees an Armageddon (The Guardian Weekly, March 28, 08), namely 80% of the human race lost by 2100.  Why I question Lovelock's vision is  because of a need for an integrated spirituality based on both creation and redemption, that has a Resurrection-centricity.  We cannot allow Lovelock's prediction to go unchallenged.  The deeper more integral spirituality is that we are empowered through the risen Lord, inspired by the Spirit, and energized by the Eucharist to enter into the saving process of creating a New Heaven and New Earth.  Human beings have damaged our vulnerable Earth through their exercise of wrongly-directed free acts.  Yes, our Creator created all things wonderfully, but even more wonderfully restored them -- and the restoration process is now.

     Prayer:  Lord, teach us the importance of being healers and how we are called to help save our wonderful but wounded Earth.

Help us base our activities on both creation and redemption.




Red spotted purple, Basilarchia astyanax
*photo credit)

October 2, 2008     St. Francis, Patron of Environmentalists


     Francis Bernadone or Francis of Assisi, (1181-1226) is the patron of ecologists and embodies what good ecological practice is all about.  Francis is not an academic but a person who loves creation as God's gifts, sees creatures with a sense of kinship, and initiates a process of preserving and repairing the damage done by neglect to the environment near where he lives.  He prefers deed to word even though preaching the word has been an important aspect of his years of ministry.  The first name of his group is Preachers of Penance -- and his deeds are worth noting:

   1. The Act of Letting Go of All Possessions.   Francis is the son of a rich cloth merchant, a typical medieval newly rich person, who regards dress and the latest styles and colors as a mark of a chosen station in life.  Francis is expected to follow that routine;  however, he rebels early on and does just the opposite.  He gives away all his worldly possessions.  He puts on garments that have the texture of sack cloth, and he wears sandals and not shoes.  He opposes the affluence of his own family and the culture of his day.  In place of affluence, he chooses to be influential without having money or power.  He breaks with the tradition of the budding bourgeoisie or social class of freemen of medieval times, which is emerging with all the smugness, conventionality, and materialistic practices of the dawning age of capitalism.  Instead, his deeds stress a downward mobility, a movement spoken of in the revolutionary Magnificat, which calls for those in high places to come down, and those in low places to move upward.  He embraces Mother Poverty.

      2. Chapel Construction: Rebuilding at the Grassroots.  In 1206 Francis as a young man goes into a neglected Chapel of San Damiano just outside Assisi in Umbria and kneels to pray.  While kneeling before the crucifix, he hears a voice saying three times,  Francis, go and repair my house which, as you see, is falling into ruin.  This begins his program to rebuild unused religious space and to care for small chapels.  After his family disowns him, he resorts to begging.

      The  Portiuncula --  The chapel of our Lady of the Angels is given to Francis early in the 13th century to be repaired as a chapel and made into the first church of the Franciscan Order.  It is now enshrined in the Basilica of St. Mary of the Angels in Assisi.  To start small is not against his commitment to simplicity, and so this humble beginning is that of a wandering mendicant who still sees the need for a home base.  Thus, Francis understands that small "local" chapels are excellent places to worship.  The need to rebuild our Earth is one that starts in our own backyard.  We need to realize that Francis starts on his own --  stone-by-stone -- and others come and help through his example.  He knows the power of local demonstration, and especially when it is something all of us can do.  Francis begins, and others take notice and join in through their cooperative efforts of healing our wounded Earth.







Caring for a pet with a summertime bath
*photo credit)

October 3, 2008        St. Francis (Continued)

     3. The Habit:  Demonstrating the Simple Life.  Francis champions simple garb, begging for the basics, and living a very simple life.  The initial rule of Francis is described by church historian Thomas Bokenkotter as hardly more than throwing together a few of his favorite quotations in the Bible about love and poverty.  He receives a verbal approbation in 1209 and he draws up the first formal rules in 1223.  In contrast to Francis' simple organization, consider the ostentatious lifestyles of the wealthy who are able to hide their escapades by distancing themselves from their own wasteful ways, leaving waste problems to the poor and destitute, and arguing that it is the poor who pollute and the wealthy who have no waste.  Champions of simplicity of lifestyle realize that the affluent deserve more blame than the poor -- the former get tax write-offs for giving charity.

     4. Relationship with Women.  The formation of Francis' second order (of women) has a long history.  About 1212 the noble lady Clare joins the budding group that Francis is forming;  she is initiated into religious life by Francis, but only with immense discretion due to the customs of the time and the opposition of her male relatives.  Here it is evident that a balanced ecology respects the role of women in Society.  Clare plants the seeds of eco-feminism and foresees the place it holds in the total movement of women's liberation and the rise of environmental consciousness.  Women hold a unique position in healing the Earth, for they are often more nurturing and intuitive; in environmental matters they are quicker to begin something when needed.  We must work to overcome major gender barriers and inequalities because the health of the planet depends on nurturing these relationships and working as co-equals in order to heal and save the planet.

    5. Miracles:  Showing kinship among Creatures.  The atmosphere of humility makes Francis regard all of creatures as praising God.  His Canticle of the Creatures calls on Brother Sun and Sister Moon to praise God.  Birds and animals are known to have respected and come close to him.  He preaches to birds and fish, for everything from angels to rocks is part of his family.  Francis is truly catholic in trying to include and magnify -- not belittle -- all.  Among the many wonder stories of Francis is that of the man-eating wolf of Gubbio who terrorizes the townspeople.  He does not want to kill the wolf, but rather is impelled to go and reason with the beast.  The wolf guarantees that, if fed, it will not harm anyone.

      6. Pilgrimage to Holy Land:  Collaborating with Others.  In 1219, Francis makes a pilgrimage to the Holy Land and Egypt and even preaches to the Sultan.  Francis is known for making a wide variety of friends and gains respect through his personality.  He opposes the stance of warfare in place of dialogue and is really the first to open up interreligious interaction.  Today,  The Society for the Protection of Nature in Israel (SPNI) is one interreligious group operating openly in the Middle East and thrives to care for the threatened environment of our Earth.


Aromatic Aster oblongifolius
*photo credit)

October 4, 2008       St. Francis (Continued)

 7. The Crib: Teaching Children Profound Mysteries.  The genius of Francis stands out in his creative act of celebrating the Lord's humble birth through deed and not just word, namely in the presentation of the event with live people and animals.  The custom of erecting cribs is ascribed to him.  In 1223, he obtains permission from Honorius III (1215-1227) to use the crib and the images of the Christ child, Mary, Joseph and Wise Men to re-present the mystery of the nativity -- a creative pedagogical tool.  Today, environmental education attends to children -- the hope of the future.  Children must start a down-to-earth repairing process through caring for animals and plants, constructing nature trails, and planting trees.  The profound mystery of the Incarnation, taught through a simple crib, reveals the marvels of Creation, Redemption, and Renewal -- the threefold or Trinitarian work of Earth caring.  Open wonder, heartfelt vulnerability, and playful enthusiasm recreate the wounded Earth.  Plants and animals reveal creation in its depth, redemption in its need, and renewal in its spirit.

     8. Stigmata:  Welcoming the Marks of the Lord.  Francis' love for Christ is so intense that he is blessed with the marks of the cross on his very person.  This phenomenon, granted to few others, begins in September, 1224 just two years before his death.  He becomes one with the suffering Christ glorified on the cross on his person.  Caring for the Earth must be coupled with social justice issues;  we are hurt by the desecration of the Earth, and we perceive suffering people and suffering Earth in an intimate, unbroken relationship.  We cannot solve the Earth's environmental problems without first solving our social ones.  Eco-suffering becomes a challenge, and when properly understood, becomes an opportunity.  It is our modern day stigmata -- the markings of the crucified Jesus in the Body of Christ in Earth and all sufferers.

    9. Deacon: Serving Others.  Francis is one of the famous deacons in the Church, whose ranks include the martyrs Stephen, Lawrence, and Vincent.  A deacon gives special service to the Church;  Francis fulfills that role perfectly, both through  preaching and in humble service to the poor.  Caretakers of the Earth are concerned about the human family and other creatures;  they do not want to be overlords.  This service includes healing the wounded, preserving the threatened, nurturing the stressed and ailing, and demonstrating to others how they can be of service.  

     10. Smiles: Dancing in Celebration.  Francis loves to celebrate -- to skip down the road when traveling, to smile easily, to sing and converse.  He is lighthearted throughout his life.  He is generous to a fault, poetic, a high-spirited youth who dreams of performing daring deeds of chivalry.  Yes, there was a brief disillusioning career as a soldier.  But by taking on Christ Francis manifests the sheer wonder of God's goodness through song, dance, and an engaging personality.  His love for celebration extends to his growing fellowship, which is so vast today. 




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

October 5, 2008     Counting the Blessings of the Vineyard

     There was a property owner who planted a vineyard, put a hedge around it, dug out a vat, and erected a tower.  (Matthew 21:34)

     The rest of the parable just quoted tells how ungrateful the tenants were and how they mistreated the servants sent to receive the harvest.  Thus this parable has two components:  God's care in creating good things for us all;  our frequent ungratefulness and unwillingness to share the gifts given.  However, when we come to recognize God's gifts in their uniqueness and appreciate them more fully, we enter into the divine family all the more and take part in God's caring exercise over all creation.  We become participating partners through an atmosphere of gratitude -- and this gives us cause to rejoice and celebrate.

     Vineyards are beautiful to behold but never more so than at harvest time.  The spring's new shoots have a certain beauty as do the summer's vines and green clusters, which start the long ripening process.  Harvest time involves work but is also sheer joy when bringing in the fruit of the vine to turn into a product of great value.  It is a sacred moment when we can sing out in gratitude to the creator of all things.  To think that only one planet has yet been found that sustains this bounty of life and that this life is so pleasant to behold -- God's gift to us. 

     Thinking back, each of us can recall bounty at autumn harvest season and we know our feelings are unique.  In fact, we delight when others have such bounty or when we are the ones who are so blessed in our specific locality.  Vineyards take tender loving care in the digging, planting, tending, and harvesting.  Every grape has had its share of this care, an investment of human love. The final product, the wine is more than a purifying agent; rather it is something that has its characteristic aroma, taste, color and feel upon the tongue.  The Lord gives us something to celebrate in the bounty of harvest and has invited us to enhance the gift through our own human efforts.  Wine constantly reminds us that God invites us to enter into the creative process.

     I will always remember the single experience of an Alsatian wine harvest, the weekend festival of the new wine at Saint Hippolyte, the sight of the ripened grapes and the busy laborers preparing for the wine-making process.  It was an experience that my grandparents desired to recreate when they came from the "Old Country" and wanted to start a vineyard here in the Ohio Valley -- the heart of wine-growing America in the 1870s;  here the gentle hilly landscape and climate resembled the land of their birth.  A terrible blight in the vines of the late 1800s cut short their dreams and so they resorted to other types of farming -- and grapes and vineyards were left to the memories alone.  C'est la vie!

     Prayer:  God, giver of all good things, we thank you for these gifts and we show our gratitude through genuine celebration with others. 





Pinesap, Monotropa hypopithys
Pinesap, Monotropa hypopithys
*photo credit)

October 6, 2008    Learning through Autumn Gardening   

    Gardening can be a learning experience -- for both master gardeners and beginners.  The autumn time, as the gardening season winds down, is a good opportunity to review how things went during this past growing season.  Nothing is perfect whether weather or the sprouting or the yield of certain crops.  I had poor spinach and leafy crops but excellent yields of onions, peas, tomatoes and zucchini.  Some things go well and some not so, and we thank God for good things and learn how to improve on the others.  Over time, we come to respect nature by enduring the vicissitudes of the elements, accepting mini-disasters, weighing opportunities to plant other crops, and minimizing crop damage through patience and alternative interplanted crops.

     We learn to master the growing seasons: when to plant, thin, weed, interplant with other vegetables, mulch and harvest.  Proper sequencing of vegetables and herbs becomes second nature, because the master gardener knows the climate, soil conditions, what grows best, and how much space is needed at harvest time.  Together, the experienced and the beginner can rejoice in a satisfactory harvest.  The beginning gardener learns very elementary things when working the soil and advances rapidly in the art  of gardening.  Besides the facts of plant life, all experience a growth in patience and gentleness in dealing with the creature world. 

    The beauty of gardening and the potential for growth in knowledge affects master and student alike, for the garden is a source of expanding wisdom to all, a seed bed for the teacher and learner, but also for the non-committed visitor who does not really fit at first into the teacher/student category.  The garden stands out as a powerful demonstration to all who come near.  Gradually, each interested person is drawn into moving from the level of observer to participant in the mystery of gardening, a mystery that takes on the character of respect for land and all of God's creation.  This relationship expands to healing or restoring the garden plot as a foreshadowing of healing our planet in a cooperative effort.

     Passing gardening experience from expert to inexperienced is an ongoing process.  The well-tended garden becomes a model, a New Eden.  Land becomes more productive and that is exciting, and the excitement spreads to other learners and neighbors.  The starting point is a single location -- a yard, a plot, a neighborhood, an enzymatic point of action.  From there the idea spreads to peopled places -- a town, a county, a state, a region, a country, a planet.  Learned responsibility for a small place becomes accountability for progressively broader environmental areas.  Yes, many simultaneous beginnings will be possible and are occurring right now. 

     Prayer:  Lord, allow us to see that gardening is part of our journey through life;  we always have more to learn and gratitude for what we attempt in every part of the growing season.  Help us see this phenomenon as part of a world movement to heal a planet.




Crossing Lake Barkley from Cadiz, KY
Crossing Lake Barkley from Cadiz, KY
*photo credit)

October 7, 2008      Providing Proper Lighting for All

    As the days get noticeably shorter, October is the perfect time to recheck our lighting, for energy savings by means of lighting is poor conservation if we damage our eyesight in order to save on electricity.  Our eyes need good light to read so we can avoid  any possible strain.  Good lighting can serve as more than an ornamental effect;  it can increase security, general mobility, and close work or reading.  A type of lighting used as a heat source for baby chicks or for keeping pipes from freezing is okay but a poor use of energy;  it shows how wasteful older lighting has been.

    Today we are aware that energy conservation and lighting go hand in hand.  In many domestic establishments the use of energy efficient bulbs proves a major savings.  Some say that the general use of compact flourescents alone would eliminate the need for forty large-sized powerplants in America.  Some state and local governments as well as utilities offer compact flourescents at very low prices, sometimes less than one dollar each.  Remember that incandescent lights burning constantly in Exit signs are small, but the total amount of energy can add up over time.  Timing devices can become big energy savers in institutions where people take little responsibility for lighting, and vacated space is overlooked by maintenance personnel.

     How do you get a nation to change its light bulbs?  If you are coming in and going out, turn off fluorescents only if the room will be vacant for a couple of hours.  Where possible we ought to consider light-colored walls, which assist in reflecting the light for those wishing to read.  Consider doing reading and close work using natural lighting though that become scarcer with the shortening autumn days.  Consider installing natural lighting skylights or moving the chair closer to the window.  Outdoor lighting is necessary for security and for guidance when traveling.  However, too much of a good thing can cause "light pollution," or the glow that keeps us from seeing the Milky Way at night.  So often people add ornamental lighting not only during the holiday season but year-round.  Some of this is especially wasteful, if little attention is given to the inefficient bulbs.  Consider the installation of solar Photovoltaics as a good use of renewable energy sources as well as a means of providing the desired outdoor lighting.

     One saving that is often overlooked is that only sections of a room need to be lit for some operations -- not the whole room.  Often, overhead lights can be replaced by a small desk light or floor reading lamps.  Residents can buy a portable light meter at local electronics outlets and use this device to determine whether enough light is present, not just at or near a window, but at your favorite location for night-reading.  Efficient lighting is at the front line of conservation measures. 

      Prayer:  Lord, You are the light of the world; help each of us to become a source of light to the unenlightened.



walnut juglans nigra
Peering into the treetops along a road lined
with black walnuts (Juglans nigra)

*photo credit)

October 8, 2008       Striving to Be and Remain Debt-Free

      "Believe me, I don't like all these debts."  Such a remark is heard in troubled financial times from a multitude of mortgage holders, credit card users and those unfortunate enough to have acquired a massive health bill.  Indebtedness is not to our liking, but it has much to do with a mentality that is to put off to the future by engaging in unsustainable ways today.  The ill effects of this pay-later mentality are all too obvious today on our local, state, national and global levels. 

     I grew up thinking debts a bad thing, and for thirty-two years ran organizations  that were never in the red.  Being credit card free I suggest the follow rules to stay debt-free:

     1. Plan within your expected budget and try to keep with it.  Set a contingency plan in case the income is less than expected.

Plant gardens for food, defer capital expenses, and undertake do-it-yourself tasks (home repairs) that save money;

     2. Refrain from impulse buying.  Failing to think before one buys is a common cause of some indebtedness.  Ask whether you really need this item or whether it can be deferred until you think about and talk over the proposed purchase.  Many times this impulse can be remedied by existing or far cheaper alternatives;

     3. Avoid credit cards.  Unfortunately today many people say they can't and that says much about our economic system.  People permit themselves to get a ten thousand dollar non-home indebtedness and simply forget that the debts will come due in a short time with their hidden high interest and processing rates.  It is really not that hard to carry cash; doing so makes us more reluctant to buy than when using the handy credit card;

    4. If you are starting up a household consider building in a place where you can do it yourself.  The massive savings from building one's own house even on an incremental level over a decade are astounding.  A house mortgage will take many good years of time and income to pay off.  Amazingly, do-it-yourself building becomes a ticket to a simpler living consciousness;

     5.  Attempt to be less "up-to-date" in everything from electronic gadgetry to automobiles.  Staying with a proven product a little longer amounts to a significant savings over time and makes one less prone to faddish purchases.  We do not need to be wired with the latest cell phone and related amenities.

     6. Think savings and regard them as part of our normal economic life.  If already saddled by a major debt, try to get it refinanced and develop a repayment schedule that is reasonable and stick to it as best you can.  Best wishes!

     Prayer:  Lord teach us that fiscal conservatism is part of my act of faith in the future that we must spread to others, if we are to survive as a people.


Ruellia strepens
Ruellia strepens, Franklin County, KY
*photo credit)

October 9, 2008      Challenging the Slipping Memory

     One of our most precious possessions is memory, and with aging we see it slip in many ways.  Reminders on posted notes of events, people, phone numbers and appointments litter my walls;  they are so many I forget where different reminders are located.  For efficiency I try to counteract memory slippage as follows:

     1. I update the daybook just before the beginning of the month by listing all the activities that I can anticipate for the coming month.  At each weekend I prepare for the coming week and do the same for the day with a time period at the end to recall and thank God for what has been achieved.

     2. I strive to recall things from the past.  The sound mind is the best repository, and it needs exercising at all times.  Youthful memories can become distorted but still are worth recording and going over to sharpen with time and verification by others with better memories.  I remember well ole Joe Davis (Special Issues), who, in turn, remembered the start of the Civil War, which occurred over 147 years ago.  Yes, the numbers of those who know someone who remembered the Civil War are dwindling and we are becoming a remnant.  Memories are fragile, and story-tellers can warp and mold the past with relish, but they are needed.

     3.  I undertake a recall exercise, namely the names of about 3,000 counties, towns, and geographic locations in the United States (one for every hundred thousand people), and when travelling, I recount the names in selected states to ensure retention.  Granted, slippage occurs, but new names compensate.

     4. I realize that memory retention is not an individual task alone.  Communal recall at family gatherings and conversations helps keep the living memory alive among social groups and becomes more valued with aging.   We need to preserve our memory of good times and good people who have passed through our lives.  We need to consider the role of archives in retaining our past with a certain amount of collective respect.  Thus we should set aside places to keep our memorial items for those who follow. 

      5. We have much more today to assist us in recall than did the oral traditions of the past.   Photos are good memory triggers, and these ought to be annotated as to time, place and people.  The same applies to video and audio tapes as well as written records, all kept in places where they can be easily retrieved. 

     6. Certain foods, medicines or natural herbs may help to keep the memory alert.  One elder with good memory takes a sprig of parsley each day.  Maybe there are other health hints but they and their proponents slip my mind.          

     Prayer:  Lord, we thank you that we can recall the great deeds You have done for us, and in this spirit of gratitude we make an effort to keep our sacred memories alive for those who come after.



Lycoperdon pyriforme, puffball fungus
Lycoperdon pyriforme, puffball fungus. 
Cedars of Lebanon State Park. Lebanon, TN.

*photo credit)

October 10, 2008     Burning Down the Place Seventeen Ways

     Unfortunately I have lost the attribution of this listing, but the listing has been in my files for years and any copyright would have lapsed.  During fire prevention month this may be a good reminder of what to avoid.  We can start unwelcome fires when we --

     *  Use a little gasoline to start the fire. 

     *  Hook up the stove to just any chimney.

     * Don't bother reading installation and use instructions.

     *  Don't screw stovepipe sections together.

     * Install the stove ourselves with no prior expertise.

     * Save by not buying a smoke detector or fire extinguisher

     * Stack firewood and kindling close to the stove.

     * Forget about proper floor protection under the stove.

     * Leave stove door open when we go out for more wood.

     * Burn trash in the stove.  Plastic is combustible.

     * Burn imitation logs in your stove.

     * Put our freshly cleaned-out ashes in a grocery sack and set it out on our back porch or wooden stairs.

     * Build a hot fire, load up the firebox, leave the damper wide open, then go to town or go to bed.  Keep peace of mind.

     * Permit the little kids to fool with the fireplace;  they are naturally attracted to fire.

     * Don't inspect and clean out our stovepipe and flue regularly; if it was good last year it will be this year also.

     * If you have a chimney fire, don't call the fire department.  It is an easy way to clean out the chimney.  Creosote build-up is quite combustible.

     * Install a stove in our mobile home, even though it is not UL-listed for such use.

      Note:  These are to be AVOIDED and not followed but that may not be obvious to a few readers.  We really don't want you to start a fire at your home. 

     Prayer:  Lord, teach us how to use fire as you did our forebears -- and to respect its potential for benefit and harm.




Cladonia cristatella, British soldier lichen
Cladonia cristatella, British soldier lichen. Newberry, MI.
*photo credit)

October 11, 2008        Discovering Backyard America

     Tomorrow we celebrate Columbus's "discovery" of America.  We may find it somewhat colonialist to speak of the European discovery as though nothing happened without that awareness.  Perhaps autumn is a good time to "discover" or gain a better awareness of our own locality and what it has to offer.  High fuel prices may facilitate some of these possible discoveries:

     * Wildlife.  Get a bird book and observe the many species that are passing through on points south for the winter.  October is a time in this part of the country when (as in April and May) we see greater variety of semi-tropical species.  It is a time to learn about bugs and spiders that are busy preparing for winter.

     * Trees.  Do we know the names of all the trees of color we are experiencing right now?  In  this part of America we have over one hundred species of native temperate trees and that does not count the exotic ones that have been brought here from elsewhere.

     * Land formations.  As the leaves fall the open landscape becomes more visible and the geological formations become more pronounced.  Take an elementary course in local geology -- rock formations, cliffs, watersheds.

     * Historic sites.  The wanderlust spirit is widespread and needs to be satisfied, especially among young and those young at heart.  Don't overlook local parks, museums, and historic and scenic spots.  Draw a circle of one hundred and fifty miles (three hour drive) and identify sites that you have not visited.  Do a Google search to gather basic information before the venture.

     * Nature ventures.  Take a nature hike to enjoy the scenery, fresh air, sounds, smells and tastes of nature.  Gather some persimmons, elderberries and hickory nuts, the other wild foods that are now in season.  You may prefer to do this by foot or by bike if the roads and your agility permit.  Some may even try it by boat, row boat that is.

     * Festivals.  This is the time of year to go to the fairs and festivals for it is not as uncomfortable as in mid-summer.  If you are lucky you can learn apple drying, honey tastes, herb preservation and soap-making the old fashioned way.

    * Heavens and Earth.  Obtain, borrow or use a telescope and look out at the macrocosm, especially if you live in the shrinking part of America with no light pollution.  An alternative is to look in a microscope at the vast microcosm below our feet.

     * Memories.  Keep a record of your ventures;  they are worth reviewing when weather turns bad and you are temporarily immobile.

     Prayer:  Lord, guide us to discover the variation and grandeur of all the things around us, and to grow in appreciation.




Fagus grandifolia, American Beech
Fagus grandifolia, American Beech. Franklin, TN.
*photo credit)


October 12, 2008         Inviting the Uninvited                  

    Go to the crossroads in the town and invite everyone you can find to the wedding.  (Matthew 22:9)

     We live in a world of the overlooked, the left behind, the marginalized, the little people, and the forgotten.  These are the vast masses who are all too often the uninvited.  If all people were truly invited to the world's bounty and were able to share essential resources, peace would soon come to our troubled planet.  In the modern political and economic system in which we live, some have a special invitation through authorities due to their influence, power or wealth;  others are totally overlooked, and others are not specifically invited and lack that access to what is the commons.  The banquet tables of this world are certainly limited and are filled with expensive things. 

     A banquet includes the following: the gathering of those who are to celebrate; the feasting on special foods; and the socializing that occurs during the feasting:

     The gathering in God's kingdom includes all to come and is not limited to a privileged few.  A democratic procedure means gathering all that are to be found and not really  overlooking anyone.  Melville says in Moby Dick, "I am a man running out of time."  The time is right to make the harvest bounty available for those who are hungry -- for time is of the essence.  A hungry person needs food here and now and so the gathering is imperative.

     The feasting may seem ordinary to some who feast regularly and sumptuously.  If people have different degrees of feasting where some have rich fare and others the most humble, the banquet is not a shared feast.  We are all called to share the bounty in such a manner that food is regarded as a commons benefitting all in adequate proportions.  Feasting on rich foods is to be occasional as a celebration for all, not the daily fare of the privileged. 

     The socializing aspect means that those who are at the table have a responsibility to continue to share as brothers and sisters and to act in a respectful manner.  God prepared this Earth during billions of years for our arrival and presence.  In only an instant of geologic time, we have misused it and grabbed what we can without regard to those who are speechless and hidden from public view or the future generations who are also invited.  God created all so that in some moment, when not required or pressured, we find time to say "thank you."  This free act of thanks, which only human beings can give, is the pinnacle of creative action.  It is time in this urgent moment of social and environmental crisis to return to the banquet table and appreciate the attitude that allows all to enjoy the food that is meant for all the people.  Part of our enjoyment is to be compassionate and respectful of gifts given.

     Prayer:  Oh God, you give to us the abundance of this Earth for our livelihood.  Help us to share this bounty with all people.





Ginseng Panax quinquefolium
Ginseng, Panax quinquefolium,
Vernon Douglas State Nature Preserve.

(*photo credit)

October 13, 2008    Focusing on Ginseng, a Tobacco Substitute      

     Autumn is a good time to start planning for next year.  We are in a part of the country where the dependency on tobacco was once greatest, that is, many small farmers made their living from raising small patches of tobacco.  However, things have changed in the past few years with reduced tobacco sales and outsourcing to foreign lands.  Growers search for a replacement for their lost tobacco livelihood.  This is an opportunity to find some more healthy alternatives and one of these is American ginseng (Panax quinquefolium), a native plant in the eastern United States.

     Virtually-wild ginseng grower, Syl Yunker, tells us that his fresh ginseng (far more weighty than dried roots) brings him an astounding $850 a pound on the current market.  With the rise of fortunes and medium incomes Chinese engage in their ancient relationship to ginseng and strive to obtain ginseng's real and supposed medicinal benefits and are willing to pay.  Air freight can move the local ginseng to these distant markets with ease and so the sky seems the limit.  However, the scattered wild plants need protection, and a market system needs to be accessible to the average small grower or "sanger." 

     Problems do exist for the ginseng growers.  First, there are the free ranging turkeys, for multitudes of these semi-wild birds are proliferating in our country; they like ginseng berries as well as most other forest understory vegetation; they come through as efficient reapers, crush the seeds in their craws and do not pass out the seed intact as do other smaller birds.  Poachers are as much a problem as are turkeys.  Gatherers and growers often do not want to be identified as that will alert poachers who are ready to move in and dig up the ginseng.  This means legitimate growers and gatherers prefer a more private marketing system and yet they need proper marketing information.  Irresponsible poachers are enticed by quoted high prices; these fly-by-nighters can easily retard wild ginseng propagation by gathering immature plant roots and by not waiting until after the seed-bearing period in late summer.

     Both sets of problems can be addressed.  The turkeys are local home-grown meat that is quite healthy as well as plentiful in areas where commercial meat is expensive.  We need to get the hunting season liberalized and extended so that these game animals can become food for our hungry local people.  The poaching problem can be addressed through a registration system, which allows federal marketing cards to authentic growers or harvesters (on lands where permission is obtained to gather wild ginseng properly); then the ginseng can be marketed more publicly with less risk of poachers (who lack proof of registration) being in competition or stealing plants.  However, such a system will take legislative action on both the state and federal level.

     Prayer:  Lord, you have given us many plants that are healthy for us and worth harvesting in sustainable ways.  Teach us how to make better use of the gifts we have around us.    




aster bouquet
Asters in a field, near Cheyenne, Wyoming
(*photo credit)

October 14, 2008    Harvesting Nature's Produce

    With high food prices we need to become familiar with the major wild supplements available to our diets.  Urban wildcrafting is more difficult than the practice in rural and sparsely inhabited areas.  We can gather greens, especially in spring, berries and fruits in summer, nuts and seeds in autumn, and roots in wintertime.  Natives know and gather sustainably so that others can do so later but the selfish ones are not so careful.

     Greens --  Springtime is perfect for nutritious supplements since there are so many in that season.  Still some greens such as plantain and sorrel and can be gathered throughout the growing year.  We need to know which wild plants are edible and nutritious.

     Fruits and Berries -- Mayapples, papaw, mulberries, wild cherries and plums, crabapples, fox grapes, and persimmons are delicious native fruits;  they are generally not subject to becoming overharvested as in the case of roots.  A major portion of wild fruits and berries in our region go unharvested.  Rose hips and sumac tops furnish Vitamin C drinks.  Wild strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries, dew and blackberries, blueberries, and elderberries are available in our part of Kentucky, and many other berries are found elsewhere in America.  Protective gear is recommended in berrying in order to overcome briars and poison ivy and avoid snakes.  Fruits and berries make excellent wine, cobblers and other deserts;  excess produce can be preserved as juices, jams, jellies, frozen treats, or leathers.

     Nuts and seeds -- A great variety of nuts and seeds is produced as nature's way to store fats, oils and proteins for the upcoming winter season.  In October, many nuts are ready for the gathering, once the nut bearing trees are recognized -- hickory nuts, black walnuts, butternuts, hazel nuts, acorns, even chestnuts.  Don't over-gather.  Leave adequate mast for the wildlife, which depend on these delicacies.  Removing walnut hulls can stain the hands, so either wax the hands before beginning or regard the temporary condition as "clean dirt." 

    Wild and Cultivated Roots -- Some natural roots such as sassafras, ginseng, dandelion and wild chicory roots have proven uses as flavorings, medicinal herbs and substitutes for coffee.  In milder climates, root crops can be left in the ground for late harvest -- horseradish, parsnips, carrots, Jerusalem artichokes, turnips and rutabagas -- if mulched in later fall.  Here again a caution is given to the "wildcrafter."  In gathering wild roots, overharvesting can threaten popular species.  Get proper landowner's permission; gather in a sustainable manner so as not to damage the flora on the landscape; and gather only what is needed for use. 

     Prayer:  Lord you give us food in all the seasons, if we but put our mind and heart to discovering these gifts and use them respectfully.




Tobacco farm Nelson County Kentucky
Family-owned tobacco farm in Nelson County, Kentucky
(*photo credit)

October 15, 2008     Preparing for Possible Disasters

    Autumn is preparedness season and so, as we make ready for the winter season, we may review how we would proceed in case of disasters or emergencies, i.e., storms, floods, fires, terrorist attacks and accidents.  At such a time our preparedness will come in handy.  We should think of preparation in terms of four components:  Does the alarm system work?  What do we take quickly with us upon departure?  How do we evacuate the immediate place?  And how do we evacuate from a threatened vicinity?

     * Alarms.  Warning systems are generally in place.  We have such emergency signals here in case a nearby chemical weapons depot should spring a major leak.  In many places radios or phones can be activated in case of emergencies.  Make sure escape routes are known and unencumbered.  Sometimes the sirens or alarm devices are used for other activities or celebrations and they may even be ignored through overuse. Know when these are tested at set times in the month and recognize the noise they make.  Don't buy just any residential fire alarm, but one that alerts you when batteries are low.  Choose from a variety of alarm systems that do not have radioactive materials present as part of the detector devices.     

    * Evacuation supplies -- Some folks like to consider what to take:  their billfolds, medicines, papers, computer materials and necessary clothes, if time allows.  Some people keep an emergency pack at a relatively safe place to pick up quickly;  this may include a bottle of water, flashlight and batteries, small radio, waterproof container and matches, small first aid kit, and flares along with sleeping bags and special clothing.

    * Immediate escape routes -- Provide the place with fire extinguishers, smoke alarms, safe storage of highly combustible solvents, and proper electrical wiring.  Rope ladders in each of the second- or third-story rooms may be a worthwhile addition.    Fire drills are generally practiced at schools several times a year.  These ought to be taken seriously.  Are the disabled able to escape easily from their place of residence?  Put stickers on windows where infants or youth have bedrooms as flags for fire fighters and evacuating personnel.

     * More remote escape routes -- In our county we receive calendars each year showing the assigned routes to be used for evacuation by people in various residential zones in case of emergency at the chemical depot.  It is presumed that all have access to vehicles for such movement and that schools are evacuated by designated school buses.  Senior citizen homes and hospitals are more problematic; we need to volunteer to help in such emergencies. 

     Prayer:  Lord, teach us always to be prepared for what comes in our lives.  Allow us to have the temperament needed to meet the unexpected and to be ready to cope with emergencies and to assist others in time of unexpected need.




Abraham Lincoln's New Salem State Historic Site
Abraham Lincoln: New Salem State Historic Site
(*photo by Mark Spencer)

October 16, 2008    Establishing Local and Family History

     The First Hometown History Primer (America the Beautiful Fund, Washington, DC: Wagner Paperback Library, 1973) suggests the following local history projects, which are still good hints:

     * Keep a diary in some readable format;

     * Assemble a history of your past schooling -- teachers, classmates, class pictures, report cards, programs;

     * Draw a time line with important events from your life listed on it.  Allow places to write in events under each year or decade;

     * Return to your childhood home and your roots;

     * Gather family pictures and give photo albums for presents;

     * Make a family residential map and trace immigration routes;

     * Visit graves of your loved ones;

     * Start a family tree, and commission someone to be the family or local historian.  Remember that for each generation the tree branches all the more -- and record keeping becomes more complex;

     * Make a tape as part of a living oral or video history of the older member of the family to keep for posterity.  Keep and distribute copies;

     * Collect and be sure to pass on family archives, which include documents, special heirlooms, youngster's artwork, baby books, pressed flower reminders of important events and other keepsakes;

     * Record your home place(s) with photographs or paintings.  Detail all aspects of your home life and the surroundings;

     * Make cave art; design a basement wall where graffiti may be allowed and encouraged.  Here the youngsters can record themselves;

     * Have a periodic family reunion at a convenient place where all can assemble relatively easily.  Hopefully this will not just occur at funerals and weddings.

     * Keep a family Bible or other family record up-to-date.  Allowing these records to lapse is a mistake, for our memories lapse as well; and

     * Take a weekend tour to familiar sites and invite friends.  Consider antique shops, an old inn, museums, or a country fair.

     Prayer:  Lord, show us how to have a sense of belonging and yet pass on to others the things we cherish at this time.




Autumn leaves
(*photo credit)

October 17, 2008        Observing Fourth World Day

     The so-called Fourth World is the poorest of the poor and includes people in such lands as Haiti, Somali and a number of the nations of Sub-Saharan Africa.  Often these are failed states where political structures are unable to cope with problems of hunger, disease, inadequate shelter, bad drinking water, and malnutrition.  Here immediate relief must be in the form of direct assistance with every intention to move to longer range development programs when conditions will allow.  We can address Fourth World problems on three fronts: know the immediate poverty problem, resolve to share resources, and give through radical sharing of what we have.

     The primary level is one of experiencing the needy in their hungry condition.  Direct food assistance is never perfect and arguments against putting people into the position of permanent charity cases are often voiced.  We have this problem facing us here in Appalachia in very real ways, and a Christian sense of assisting the needy impels us to act here and now -- for the needy can hardly wait.  If still more information is sought, you may wish to get acquainted with the "Fourth World," an organization dedicated to making the world's poverty problems known to the general public.  For further information visit the website  <www. fourthworld.org>.

     The second level is to become sensitive to what we have in excess -- our own condition of "affluenza," or a condition of using up more than our share of resources.  Since 1950 we Americans have used up more resources than everyone who ever lived on Earth before us;  Americans spend more each year on shoes, watches and jewelry ($80 billion) than on higher education ($65 billion); Americans visit more shopping centers each week than houses of worship; Americans spend nearly $6 trillion a year, more than $21,000 per person, mainly on consumer goods; there are more cars in America than registered drivers; during the 1990s half of all new cars sold were SUVs and light trucks, exempted from federal fuel efficiency standards; and by the time Americans reach seventy, they spend three years of life watching advertisements.  Too much, too much!

The economic slowdown may help us return to our senses.

     Poverty separates the world family and leads to dissention and discord.  We ought to share in a radical manner, replacing luxury expenditures by giving to those who lack essentials of life.  Share a portion of one's food budget to support needy individuals (such as orphans or widows) and live on less either through garden produce or through simpler food choices.  The sharing can be initiated through direct contact with relief agencies: Oxfam, the United Nations Children's Relief Fund, Charitas or Catholic Relief Services, or (my favorite) Catholic Near East Welfare Association <www.cnewa.org> 1011 First Avenue, New York, NY 10022-4195.

     Prayer:  Lord, teach us to enter more deeply into the lives of our suffering sisters and brothers and become one with them through radically sharing our budgets with them.



Kentucky sunset
(*photo credit)

October 18, 2008    Tackling a Turnover of Yard into Garden

     Rising food prices and a growing shortage of foodstuffs in various parts of the world make us more conscious of the need to convert lawn into edible landscape.  But this is always easier said than done.  You may be a gardener but others are not, and it will take effort to make them change their lifestyle.  How do we encourage them to dig up their yard and make this highly cultivated lawn grass into something beneficial for others?

     First, face reality.  A lock-step uniformity exists with lawn care in our country:  lawn type, height, evenness and greenery.  No one wants to deviate from these established norms.   Each community member is expected to conform to the majority -- a lawn-loving crowd.  The neighbor's green lawn adds to the economic value of one's property, and so any deviation in landscape is considered to harm economically all on the block.  Community relations become strained when conformists regard lawns-turned-to-gardens as matters of disarray and deviancy, places filled with unrecognizable plants of various sizes, shapes and colors -- and spaces that change dramatically with the seasons.  For such folks, deviation from modern standards leads to disorderliness.

     Answers are often better understood by youth who catch the point faster than conforming adults.  The seemingly messy or  natural in contrast to artificial landscape may be what birds and butterflies find inviting.  Variety  of vegetables and flowers can be compared to an oil painting in contrast to a totally monocolored board; a grove of various fruit trees is more interesting than a monolithic stand.  A garden in seeming disarray is the beginning of something more natural and challenging.  An advocate of alternative gardening must make the risk of change-over convincing through gentle persuasion.  In fact, meticulous lawn-carers may find modern gardening daunting. "What if people laugh at my gardening?" 

     The gardener brings a social and a technical message, a need to grow one's own food at the risk of being laughed at.  Creative conflict arises from differing concepts of community land use (whether ornamental landscape or vegetable gardens).  This may involve confrontation with various departments of a municipal government -- as happened with a friend in California who was plagued by agencies and neighbors because she installed a native plant xeroscape, which they perceived to be a wild unkept thicket.  In time she convinced the neighbors and other residents on the block to do the same.  Conflicts can become golden opportunities for gardeners to be evangelists and speak for edible landscaping.  Neighbors learn to trade gardening experiences, assistance, and produce.  Gardening confidence grows through growing simple, well-tried veggies in variety (insurance against total failure).   Encouragement is good garden fertilizer and becomes an opportunity to be acquainted better with neighbors.

     Prayer:  Lord, move us to grow our foods so we can be more in touch with the soil and all that that entails.




Turning leaf
(*photo credit)

October 19, 2008        Rendering to Each Its Due  

    Give to Caesar what is Caesar's and give to God what is God's.

                                         (Matthew 22: 15-21)

     With some puzzlement we again hear Jesus calling on us to give attention both to God and Caesar, not to one or other alone.  The Pharisees and Herodians are trying to trick Jesus into saying something they can use against him.  Jesus, in turn, tricks them by asking to see a Caesar-imaged coin, which the pious would not allow near their persons -- yet they prove to be "Caesar people" and they fail to render respect to Jesus.  They hold moneychangers in low esteem for handling Caesar's coinage, yet don't they do this also?  Jesus turns the tables; God and Caesar are each given respect.

     This is really not a separation of powers or attention, but rather the ability to give the proper respect to all in our lives

simultaneously.  At times of immense persecution it is sometimes necessary for a community to isolate itself for the sake of survival, but that is not the ordinary way of living.  Rendering to all the proper respect due actually shows a cooperative work of individual and community efforts, of all levels of government, of civil and church authority.  All individuals have a right to the commons;  thus our respect for the individual means that the privileged need to surrender to the needy some of what is sequestered by them.  Fair taxation is the way to render this justice to all. 

     We need to see that this rendering extends to all levels of government, so that an authoritarian or centralized state does not coopt and undertake what could be done on the local community level.  A proper "rendering" means that the local authority often knows best what is required at that level and can better implement justice on certain matters.  The local community knows best how to maintain a stable community and thus globalizing tendencies can frustrate this more direct rendering of justice.  A principle of subsidiarity (giving more authority to effect change at the lower level in a complex society) ought to be always at work.

     Throughout history conflicts have arisen when some have tried to usurp the authority that really belongs to another.  Often state officials think they are over the religious authority and thus struggles ensue.   Rendering to all one's due respect reminds us of Sir or St.Thomas More, "The Man for All Seasons," who tells why his love and respect for the king makes him want to help the king keep his oath of office (Magna Carta established at Runneymede June 15, 1215).  In Communist China today the battles rage, though gradually the state is coming to see that cooperation and not conflict is the better way to proceed in matters of religion.  Delineating proper areas of authority is the way we can increase respect for all parties in a complex society.

     Prayer:  Lord, teach us to render to all the respect and attention that is needed for a better world in which we live and to know exactly to whom to give this rendering.




Mount Robson, highest point in the Canadian Rockies
(*photo credit)

October 20, 2008  Caring for Ourselves as We Age

     In mid-October we recall that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure and we ought to review some basic prevention measures.  Medical experts advise us to be our own doctors to some extent.  Self-care practices can be taught by health care experts to people with ailments such as arthritis, diabetes, and leukemia.  Whether ill or healthy, all of us can prevent many ailments through the following lifestyle choices: 

    1.  Exercise daily even when outdoor walking is a chore.

    2.  Don't smoke or use tobacco products.   

    3.  Follow a healthy diet and go easy on salt, fat and sugar.

    4.  Use supplements wisely --  Many people are deficient in Vitamins B6 and B12, folic acid, Vitamin D and calcium.

    5.  Drink enough water. 

    6. Avoid excessive exposure to the sun -- This is a spring and summer precaution, but with tanning salons (never) and winter vacations it applies year round.  Stay out of the sun especially in the middle of the day; use effective sunscreen; reduce activity in hotter weather; forget about beach sun worship; take more Vitamin C foods; and wear protective clothes.

    7. Reduce stress -- Everyone needs quiet time to reflect.  As an older lady said, "Sometimes I sits and thinks, and sometimes I just sits."  The where-to and when-to are as important as the how-to, such as meditation, yoga and exercise.  The resting place could be mountains, seashores, wooded resorts, a local park, library, church, backyard, living room (when others are asleep), den, car trip, or tree house.  Accompaniment could include classical music, a soothing fire, running brook or bird singing.

     8. Challenge your mind.

     9. Limit alcohol consumption.

    10. Cultivate satisfying relationships.

    11. Consider preventive medicine -- An axiom that "a little of everything is okay" doesn't apply to powerful drugs.  For small ailments try natural cures.  Whether drugs are prescribed or over-the-counter types, use as prescribed, read labels and avoid drinking alcohol while under medication. 

    12. Don't overexert -- As winter approaches, remember that 1,200 or more Americans die every year from snow-related exercise.  Older folks should refrain from sudden bursts of physical exercise.      The Johns Hopkins Medical Letter, 2001.

     Prayer:  Lord, help us to discern what is best to stay healthy.





A face to face chat with a neighbor's cow
(*photo credit)

October 21, 2008    Conversing with Plants and Animals

     My Aunt Toots confessed to talking to her flowers, and said they seemed to respond, but she was hesitant to tell others about her conversations.  My response was, "Don't we talk to pets, livestock and birds, so why not to plants?"  The creatures around us are sensitive to our own emotions and state of mind.  When we are angry, they sense it;  when afraid, most animals know it; when we show that we are loving and caring, creatures recognize that as well.  In this loving atmosphere we do what our Creator does with all of creation -- we love and find joy being with others.  We are able to communicate that joy and others are able to know and respond in some limited manner.

     If we show appreciation to plants, they certainly respond, somewhat like to a dog that wags its tail at our words of affection.  Our impulse is to find and give an expression of love that becomes a form of communication, our own limited way of entering into their lives.  We find that our troubled Earth is in need of this communication, for communication is an elementary form of healing that is utterly needed.  When we approach the sick bed of a threatened and endangered species, we utter words of cheer and encouragement, something we instinctively do with all kinfolks.

      Some people are harsh task masters trying to extract from other creatures all that is profitable and for their own benefit. This self-centeredness emits bad vibes, which other creatures sense and respond to in defensive ways.  The team does not respond as well to a cursing teamster, nor does the mule to the trainer who uses a two-by-four to get results.  The same for plants;  the one who appreciates gets far more than the one who comes only for profit.  Unfortunately, our world is too filled with curses and mean spirited masters and not enough with loving friends.

      We want to imitate God's way of dealing with all creatures, that is, through love, not self-centered exploitation.  Other creatures are not our slaves, nor are we their overlords -- though we are called to be loving protectors.  We are all companions; we prefer to encourage than threaten;  we desire to imitate Jesus in a more gentle and respectful way of serving others.  Just as Christ is a suffering servants for us, so we become suffering servant for the other creatures of the world and can express this in protective deeds.  Through our action we become more experienced, and others assist in our education by responding to our attention by giving us a sense of joy and appreciation in their presence. The plants and animals give us encouragement by just being here.

     Prayer: Creator of all, help us see the creatures around us, to understand our covenant with them, and take this seriously.  Help us to deepen our kinship relationship with plants and animals with the deepest respect and with hushed voices.  Teach us to love other creatures as You love them, to protect them, to speak for them in prayer and to them in a sign of encouragement.  Let us see this as the conduct of healers of Earth.




A young person taking a break to smoke
(*photo credit)

October 22, 2008      Addressing Tobacco Use

     In our country one-fifth of adults still use tobacco, and sizeable numbers of youngsters are being introduced to the practice of smoking, which could shorten their lives.  At U.S. government estimates, over 400,000 tobacco-related deaths take place in this nation each year.  This induced habit or addiction is not limited to our country alone, but rather is now expanding to other countries at a rapid rate.  

    We hear many excuses for continuing to use tobacco -- "It's easy to stop, since I've done it so often,"  "I can't quit because it is my only vice," "Why mess with my entertainment?" "It's my patriotic duty to the American tobacco economy,"  "I intend to quit -- next year," "Trying to stop me from smoking may be dangerous to your health" and on and on.  Truly, the habit is addictive, but it can be tackled with some difficulty.

     Reasons for smoking -- a form of pleasure and social interchange with others; a way to reduce nervous tension and stress, a control of weight and compulsive eating (which are hard on health as well); a reason for keeping busy or staying awake; a habit far less expensive than other drugs; a good aroma, or a way of keeping growers and processors employed.

     Reasons against smoking -- expensive (could amount to a thousand dollars a year); could cause fires; smells up fabrics; pollutes the indoors; infringes on non-smoker rights; causes wrinkles and shortness of breath, emphysema, lung cancer, lip cancer, throat and larynx cancer; increases the risk of heart disease and susceptibility to colds; and addictive behavior.

     The best way to break the habit is to go cold turkey, for the many gimmicks and aids such as gums and patches have not proven to be very successful.  Various types of assistance can be helpful: a partner who flushes down a cigarette every time one is lit; the testimony of a dying person with lung problems; programs at neighborhood clinics and hospitals; American Lung Association literature; a friend who has broken the habit; a non-smoking travel companion who insists on a smoke-free environment; programs that are purgative in nature; retreat programs and prayers; and patient and consistent encouragement by others who are compassionate.

     Currently I am working on a book, "Tobacco Days," that recounts the almost eight decades of living, working, using, researching, discontinuing and working against tobacco, as well as gives pastoral counseling to tobacco users and discovers lessons from the rise and fall of tobacco products.  Since the time of my youth, there have been sea changes in tobacco acceptance and use -- and I feel I can tell the story as well as anyone else.

     Prayer:  Lord, allow us to see tobacco as a good creature that has been horribly misused by so many of us.  Give us time to understand the lessons learned and to teach these to others.




Pipsissiwa Chimaphila maculata
Pipsissiwa, Chimaphila maculata
(*photo credit)


October 23, 2008     Drying Food with Solar Energy

     Solar food drying is not new, and we are familiar with dried raisins, apricots, apples, prunes and cranberries.  Solar food drying does not have to be reinvented, only popularized as a major food preserving technique -- and October, the ideal month for apple drying, is a perfect time to start.

     A solar food drying device must ensure good air-flow, moisture removal and sufficient warmth (about 110 degrees Fahrenheit) during the process.  This is important for us non-desert dwellers;  we live in areas with relative humidity of 70% or higher on an annual average.  A variety of commercial and low-cost build-your-own food dryers are available.  Solar food dryers work best without direct sunlight to avoid reducing the nutrient content of the drying material.  Ideally, the solar food dryer heats a passing stream of air that carries off the moisture.  The air passes through a duct over a dark colored surface with greatest efficiency obtained when the colored surface, receives maximum sunlight.  Some operators prefer to swivel the dryer and follow the sun, but this takes much time manually or necessitates use of expensive automatic equipment.  Screens are installed over the air openings to keep out insects. 

     Solar dried foods retain their nutritional content better than some cooked and preserved foods because the temperature range for the drying is less than temperatures used for canning.  The process uses renewable energy from the sun and comes at no cost;  drying is easy to perform once the person becomes familiar with the food preparation procedures;  drying reduces preserved product volume and allows for easy storage (no deep freeze costs) and transport, especially for backpackers; and the solar dried products have far fewer spoilage problems than with some home-canned foods.

      With a good food dryer and with the proper weather conditions, one can dry almost any type of moisture-containing food.  It is easier to dry an apple than a tomato with all its juice, but tomato "leathers" can be prepared under special conditions though this is achieved better in desert climates.  More humid climates limit food drying to low moisture-content produce -- apples, pears, onions, carrots, rhubarb, turnips, pumpkins, cauliflower, beans, broccoli, corn, squash, mint, bay leaves, dill, garlic, peppers, ginseng root, basil, parsley, and other herbs.

     For drying, select good produce, which is not overripe but rather just ready to eat.  Start drying the day it is picked.  Some people blanch (hot water or steam) food for a short time before drying to preserve color and texture.  Place the food in the solar dryer on a natural or artificial fiber shelf mat (do not use metal) and close it off overnight, if not thoroughly dried, so as to avoid humid night moisture.  When dried to the desired degree, remove and store in a proper place, which ought to be cool, dark and dry.  The material is prepared to eat by reconstituting with water.

     Prayer: Lord, inspire us to preserve the good things of life.





new albany shale creekbed kentucky
New Albany shale creek bed
(*photo credit)  

October 24, 2008     Questioning During Disarmament Week

     How could I who spent my youthful years with a gun rack near my bed talk about disarmament?  We were raised with firearms and well aware of the constitutional right of every American to bear arms.  At our home we could use those weapons provided we never pointed them at other people.  However, things have changed.  Now I believe many should not have weapons and I have abstained from them for fifty-five years.  Furthermore the right to bear arms ought to be a "communal right" and does not mean that some hothead is allowed an automatic weapon.  If individuals should bear arms, how about allowing them only muzzle loaders as were known by the writers of the Constitution -- not machine guns?

     The communal right to bear arms is understood by the more liberal portion of the Supreme Court.  Police and militia ought to be armed for the protection of the general population and such permission could be broadly interpreted to include volunteer associates who must serve when called on.  Even careful persons who live in isolation and need to guard their property could be able to secure the proper license.  However, the local community should decide what is best -- and many cities see far too many arms in the hands of the careless.  Shouldn't many of these be disarmed?

     Moving to the national level, what about those weapons of mass destruction (WMDs)?  Are we making any effort at reducing and eliminating the nuclear WMDs in our vast arsenal?  Why focus only on Iran and North Korea?  How about making the entire Middle East WMD-free?  Should one be nervous about the slow pace of dismantling of poison gas shells when living down wind (as I am) from the Bluegrass Army Depot -- or other such weapons storage facilities?  Is it right to spend more on American military expenditures (without competing superpowers) than on the military budgets of all the rest of the world combined.  Is the irrational bearing arms policy due to the influence of our military/ industrial complex?  How about tithing all military budgets ($150 billion) for agriculture, potable water, housing, health, education and roads in poorer nations?  Shouldn't we raise the disarmament questions to candidates in the upcoming election?

      Shouldn't more questions help accelerate a growing global consensus for disarmament.  Why do we continue an enormous military commitment to Europe, Korea and Japan?  Can't those countries take care of the needs in the Balkans and their own defenses?  Must we not reduce our military expenditures to help rebuild our own crumbling infrastructure and convert the world to renewable energy? Renewing the face of our troubled Earth requires massive disarmament in order to free up the money to do what has to be done.  A final more theoretical question:  is what is occurring today similar to the higher military expenditures near the end of the Roman Empire?  See Arthur Ferrill, The Fall of the Roman Empire:  The Military Explanation, (Thames and Hudson, 1986).

     Prayer: Lord, help us to love peace and prove it by disarming.





cascade caverns
Point of contact: Sandstone over Limestone
at Cascade Caverns (Carter County, KY)

(*photo credit)

October 25, 2008        Creating a New Eden 

     This is Make a Difference Day and we are called to make a significant difference as a cooperating people.  What we can make as a difference on the grassroots level can be magnified for others and can contribute to a globalized difference.  We create a New Eden when we develop edible landscapes for people or wildlife and see this as an Earthhealing process.  The New Eden is not a survivalist tactic of a remnant people removing themselves from a rapidly deteriorating situation; rather, this approach promises that Earth's community can be saved through healing by concerned people who seek healing for themselves while in the process of healing others.  This process is not trivial, insignificant and even apolitical; rather it is truly a grassroots activity with social, political, economic, and spiritual consequences.

     Through thoughtlessness, we human beings have damaged this planet, polluted its water and air, endangered its wildlife, cut its forests, and littered its countryside with debris.  Awareness of misdeeds should not stifle us as confessing people;  we see these faults and seek restitution through the renewing process. Part of our confession and restitution involves healing for, if we have collectively misused or "stolen" resources from future generations, we now restore them though collective activities.  Original Eden is revisited but with a difference -- we are now empowered to save.  We take on a manageable piece of land (a garden plot) and make it productive.  The challenge is a local scene, but it is in solidarity with the grassroots actions of individuals throughout the world.  The New Eden is a whole Earth-healing enterprise -- a series of interlinking grassroots activities throughout the planet.   

     The New Eden becomes a partly fulfilled promise made to our first parents as they left Eden as narrated in the Book of Genesis.

A Savior will come; we will enter into the saving event.  What we do is a fulfillment of the New Testament parables of the mustard seed and the leaven in the bread.  A garden plot is a leaven, a biological catalyst of sorts.  Our gardening leads to other healers becoming interested, and soon they in turn encourage still more and more.  The New Eden becomes not one place but a patchquilt of cultivated plots, a concatenation of small plots to form a much larger collection of gardens -- a planetary garden.   Through interconnection, these become an extended neighborhood where God's grace is at work through our work.  Thus the New Eden hastens the coming of the emerging Kingdom of God.  The challenge is to create the New Eden through broad-based support and not to expect only experts alone to do the task.  We ought to reflect on the characteristics of Earth healing and see how they relate to our local actions -- the stepping stones for an emerging global garden.

     Prayer:  Lord, teach us the times that are best to reflect on, especially as winter approaches;  likewise teach us when it is best to act and put into effect our plans and objectives when the spring will surely follow.





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

October 26, 2008   Expressing Our Love of God and Neighbor

     From the earliest times I have found it hard to love God with everything I have in my being; the striving for an insight continues. I do note that Jesus ties this command to love God with that of loving our neighbor as ourselves.  Interesting!  Jesus knows something more than we;  we must interconnect the love of God with love of neighbor and not see him or her as to far removed.  We show our wholehearted love of God through an openness to love of neighbor, and our lack of love of neighbor is the indicator that our gas tank of love for God is running low. 

     The recharging of our store of love is involved in neighborly love, not just uttering the words of love, which are more easily said than done.  The difficulty is loving our neighbor whom we can see in all his or her imperfections.  While that person is an indicator of our journey in love, we still look longingly at our goal and source -- the Alpha and Omega of our lives.  Only through inspiration do we discover that the goal of our love is also the source of it and our own efforts cannot create the love;  we can only respond to what is already being offered.  God is love.

     Is loving the ultimate conundrum (a puzzling problem)?  Maybe the solution is that we do not have the power to effect a solution on our own.  For the humble of heart, God is the giver of all good things and certainly love is something good stemming from all Love.  If we are open to God's love realizing our own powerlessness, we discover that each new increment of compassion and care is all due to an openness to the flooding of Love by our Creator.  We enter into others' lives; we begin to love them as we do ourselves.

     As the puzzle begins to unravel, we become ever more grateful to the God who gives all good things, and even come to realize that our gratitude is a gift from God.  As divine gifts become more evident to us, the more we rest in God's goodness and love.  Thus we have not come to love on our own by some human effort, but rather we have come by opening ourselves to God's love through an acknowledgment of our powerlessness.  We realize this in extending the openness to our brothers and sisters wherever they are.  All, not just me or you or our relatives and friends, but all are now part of our love.  The greater our openness, the more God's love floods our soul and we become ever more loving people.

     This new-found loving exercise is not just between me and God but includes our "neighbors." The whole-heartedness extends to them as well, for God loves them dearly.  We are open but we are also limited in what we can do.  Being aware of our limited efforts is a humble way of acknowledging the good in others that we do not envy but rather champion and bless.  We pray that our neighbors will love in turn and we bless them with a good will to achieve deeds that we cannot do alone.  Our love and good will is itself a movement of love and thus we participate in the good they can do.

     Prayer:  Lord give us the openness to love all wholeheartedly.  




bluegrass kentucky KY talon vinyards
A mid-autumn day, blue sky above expansive green field, a brisk wind.
(*photo credit)

October 27, 2008        Dressing for the Season

     The phrase to "always be prepared" seems to be more meaningful in autumn than any other season, especially for those who like to dress informally in summer, and try to make the season extend beyond its limits.  Summer comfort and winter protection, not ostentation and fashion, should always be the primary criteria for clothing choice -- but are they?  Late October is the perfect time to see others under- or over-dressed, and that may be due to false expectations and lack of preparedness. 

     Autumn days catch us off-guard for the foibles of day and night temperatures always keep us guessing between Indian summer heat and October night chills.  We become perplexed as to what to take along when hiking or going to an evening ball game or an event that includes both afternoon sun and evening chilly breezes -- and changing clothes is almost impossible.   Such is the season!  It is easy to say, "Don't chill" and "Don't overheat," for either can lead to common colds or flu.  Being physically fit for the season is somewhat related to our preparedness and the unexpected changes in temperature.  In order to be safe we ought to remember to carry extra protective items: a warm but non-bulky sweater, gloves, warm socks, cap, and even a scarf -- all of which can be stored in a backpack or locker.  The right underclothing is more problematic.

     Hypothermia can occur over a wide range of temperatures while hiking or camping or after plunging into cold water.  The nearest I came to it was on a rainy night after a long bike trip culminating in a five-mile bike climb up Mount Olympia in Washington.  We did not have enough high energy food and we couldn't start a camp fire because all the fuel was damp; we quickly hit the sack but that was not satisfying.  My sleeping bag was not heavy enough, so I began to shiver violently, and we traded sleeping bags after building a thick mattress of skunk cabbage, which smelled bad but provided ground insulation.  I lived through it but resolved to always be prepared. 

    Autumn travel may involve the need for a variety of garments.  A combination of wool and some of the modern thermal wicking synthetic fabrics proves comfortable and helpful in not getting chilled in times of cold weather.  Virtually every time I have gone to Chicago, the windy city, I have forgotten that the temperature is not as balmy as it was where I left.  Over time one solution is to study weather forecasts for destinations before packing and departure.  Take along at least some waterproof plastic sheeting if you don't want to pack the more bulky conventional rain gear.  Winter sweaters, caps, gloves and heavy socks often prove welcome and are a good guarantee against colds.

     Prayer:  Lord give us foresight to see what is needed and to do it for our own health and better performance. 




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

October 28, 2008        Attending the Shut-Ins

      October's brilliant colors are rapidly fading and we prepare for a less colorful November.  Gradually the leaves fall, the sun gives way to misty days, and chilly evenings become the ordinary condition.  It can be a melancholy time for many, and especially difficult for shut-ins.  Their freedom to move about is more restricted, and they expect to see the four walls in the coming winter.  The upcoming two-month holiday season, which really starts in less than a month, is much easier for the more mobile.  For the shut-ins it is a time when it is a little harder to smile.

      Through our visits we can enliven.  Autumn is the time to increase the frequency and duration of visits to shut-ins.  We reaffirm for them the power of their prayers when offering their own sufferings in union with the crucified Jesus -- now extended in space and time through the Sacrifice of the Mass.  Even the acceptance of one's immobility is itself a valuable contribution to the total renewing of our troubled Earth and a participation in the healing process that must occur.  We announce the Good News that each person has much more to do than await the universal condition of inevitable dying;  rather it is far more important to affirm living -- an equally universal aspiration and real possibility.

      Besides giving a spiritual encouragement some of us with energy can actually enhance the surroundings of the shut-ins;  we can do this through a change of decorations with the seasons, through a houseplant brought indoors, through some colorful periodicals or other creative innovations.  Maybe it is a prayer card or a dessert or just a new story that is worth sharing on a visiting occasion.  Truly, we should also encourage the caregivers who spend many hours at modest compensation assisting shut-ins, and doing so with a smile. 

     Life is precious and, while we need not extend it through extraordinary means, we ought to celebrate it when and where we can.  As visitors we share the value of that life, for non-verbally we profess our belief;  shut-ins are quick to realize if we do not regard their lives as of value.  Thus our prayer before a visit is to give genuine and enthusiastic encouragement.  Let's reaffirm to shut-ins that a vocation of acceptance in joy and gratitude is preaching Good News even while shut in.  Suffering offered in union with Jesus is never lost -- for all suffering cheerfully undertaken has immense value.  Our compassion as co-sufferers is transparent, and they grasp our firm belief that we can fill up what is wanting in the suffering of Christ (Col. 1:24) for his body the Church.  The challenge is to extend Good News through enthusiasm, and shut-ins can be key exactly where they are located and without venturing beyond.  Cheerful shut-ins are God's gift to us; their cheerfulness is an inspiration to a tired world; their joy is a blessing.

     Prayer:  Lord, teach us to see your power working among shut-ins so they can preach Good News to those who care for them and come to visit them, and help them do this at this season.




Helping a cat find her way out of a tree

(*photo credit)

October 29, 2008   Choosing When and Where to Use Synthetics 

      Plastics are synthetic polymeric chemical materials generally made from petroleum products and used in a multitude of household and other commercial items today.  While we have come to use and recycle plastic containers and packaging (that certainly weigh less than glass), we realize that synthetics require non-renewable resources as sources and in processing.  While natural products generally require less resource extraction and processing, the natural is not automatically the better.  When and where are we justified in using a synthetic in place of a natural product?  Here are some conditions for consideration: 

     Improve outdoor activity.  Synthetics improve recreational activities such as hiking, biking, and camping by reducing bulk, by protecting better from the elements, and by being more durable as sleeping bags, ponchos, drop cloths, or backpacks.  In some cases natural products are included as part of the equipment and that must be considered as well.

     Wear better and over longer lifetime.  Everyday purely synthetic or mixed synthetic/natural clothing such as socks, gloves, rain wear, swimming wear and underwear may last longer or protect better from sweat or rain.  Many of the newer and better grades of durable glues and sealants fit into this category.

     Are stronger and safer.  Some synthetic materials, such as nylon rope for climbing are a vast improvement over natural fibers.  Certain plastic materials may be able to withstand the weather as well as cloth weather-protecting coverings, and still breathe as do many traditional natural fiber cloth coverings.  Some plastics replace inherently dangerous glass products which are breakable in the hands of infants and others.  Children's recreational equipment such as slides and playpens may be made of plastic without the sharp edges and corrosion  found in metal counterparts.

     Are versatile, easier to store, able to insulate well and are light weight. Many new synthetic buildings materials that do not out-gas (as in the case of mobile home construction materials that emitted formaldehyde) are excellent for covers and roofing, and can be translucent and fairly durable.  The shipping and storage containers may be stronger, lighter in weight and thus take less transport energy, and can be molded to take less space.  Several brands of sidings for greenhouses have many of the qualities for maximizing beneficial radiation as well as durability and are safer to handle.  Styrofoam packing makes good insulation.

     Caution again!  Synthetics and especially plastics may leach plasticizers and solvents, decompose in sunlight and air, be quite combustible, lose their strength, melt at low temperature, and do not easily biodegrade when entering the waste stream. 

     Prayer:  Lord, help us to discern spiritual and physical things, and to know when to use them wisely and well.




Little brown jug, Hexastylis arifolia
Little brown jug, Hexastylis arifolia
    (*photo credit)


October 30, 2008        Greening Tourist Areas

     Mid-autumn is an ideal time for people to come and see our scenic areas here in Appalachia.  While the green of summer wanes, we ought to give special attention to making the region more colorful and yet keep it ecologically green for all seasons.  Some ways to do this may include the following:

     Construction of bike paths.  One of the best additions to our region would be to allow the bikes freer access to scenic sites.  Most of our roadways are far too narrow and dangerous.

     Public transportation accessibility.  Allowing fewer private vehicles to tour parks such as the Great Smoky Mountain National Park by increasing the use of public vehicles;  this would do much to improve air conditions in the Appalachian range.  We should also seek to improve our public transportation in all parts of our region so that non-drivers can experience our region.

     Water cleanup programs.   Many of our streams are well monitored, but volunteer cleanup programs each year assist in giving a better appearance to lakes and free-flowing waterways.

     Reduction of the billboard jungle.  Billboards pollute visibly and yet their messages are sought by many travelers.  Federal and state posted signs for lodging, fuel and food could be more plentiful on all major state and federal highways.  Clustered signs for major and minor lodging and eating places would be an advantage for smaller businesses as well as for the larger ones.  Additional promotion through websites and printed information could replace billboards as a means of informing travelers.

     Off-road vehicles registration.  All too often local residents are plagued by off-road vehicles that trespass, move across barriers and up stream beds, damaging as they go.  All too often there are not enough police to protect from immediate damage, and the culprits expect that they can continue their activities. 

     Solar/wind energy applications.  Reducing the use of non-renewable energy would eventually reduce surface mining of coal, which scars the landscape.  Solar energy will become more prominent with the coming years as non-renewables become more costly.

     Waste pickup.  More recycling centers along with  subsidized and supervised garbage collection facilities will have some effect in beautifying the landscape.  Deposit bottle legislation could assist in reducing litter as well.

     Systematic removal of invasive species.  This would have to be a rather expensive undertaking, especially with reference to kudzu eradication.  Invasive species problems are becoming serious at scenic locations where native species are under attack.       

     Prayer:  Lord, help us to improve our scenic sites.         





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

October 31,  2008   Celebrating the Eve of All Hallows

     Like many Christians I find this day hard to celebrate.  The day has a pagan connotation, design, theme and educational content, and so the darkness of costume and scary conditions are unappealing.  Can we find anything positive here? 

     "Baptizing" --  During the entire history of the Church many feasts originated as existing pagan ones that were transformed by new themes.  Such is Halloween, but what do we celebrate?  The original feast was dark and death dealing (graves, corpses, ghosts, ghouls, skeletons) and this has continued.  Lively talks should coopt the demons and vampires for this is what the feast of all saints has been meant to do.  Yes, this is a challenge.

     * Highlighting --  Give this day special attention and highlight something that is ordinary about life on "Halloween."  One of the best storytelling opportunities is to bring out the best -- Good News -- of people who helped others in some way and were the legions that we wish to honor tomorrow on All Saints Day.

     * Decorating -- Replace drab colors with bright ones, scary scenes with pleasant ones, death with life, replace witch hunts with social party games and treasure searches with discovery games with pleasant but complex clues and routes.

     * Skit performing -- Take costumed tots to visit the ill or shut-ins and have the kids perform a skit and be a treat for them -- "a double treat," not a trick or treat.

     * Caroling -- Public singing does not have to be limited to Christmas or other religious festivities.  Make Halloween a day to spread the word that carols celebrate life in its fullness.

     * Costuming -- Halloween can certainly be celebrated in angelic rather than in demonic ways.  Since tomorrow is a feast day, consider a saint's costume if such can be creatively conceived -- far beyond my abilities, but some can do this well.

     * Story-telling -- The lives of good folks ought to live after them for they vitalize us even after they depart the scene.  The stories are multiple and can include those of recognized saints and heroes or those of people little known outside of a given community.  However, the stories are worth and celebrating.

     * Treating -- At times we suggest treats that are not candy and cookie varieties and these ought to be restated as approved snacks for Halloween even if we are expected to open the door to the traditional trick and treating little ones.  Consider stocking apples and other fruit;  granola bars and baked goods; unadorned popcorn or peanuts; yogurt dips and other treats.  Many parents expect gifts to be wrapped and sealed as a safety measure.

     Prayer:  Lord teach us to be creative especially at Halloween.


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

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

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