Oklahoma


 

The first year (seven years ago)
we started Turtle Rock Farm Retreat Center,
so many Monarch Butterflies
covered the leaves of trees
along Zig Zag Lane
that we thought the leaves
were flying;
we held our breath
in awe and wonder.

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Monarchs on Zig Zag Lane, 1 October 2007

We haven’t see that many
since.
And last weekend
at The Land Institute’s Prairie Festival
we learned why.
Ted Burk, an entomologist
at Creighton University,
has made the study of Monarch
butterflies his life work.
The only plant where Monarch
caterpillars feed
is the Milk Weed.
Due to changes in habitat,
changes in agriculture,
specifically the widespread use
of Roundup,
Milk Weed is hard to find.
Half of Milk Weed lives in the corn belt.
With Round Up-ready corn,
everything but the Round Up-ready corn
dies.
Eighty-five percent of the corn belt Milk Weed
is gone.
Last year,
the Monarch population was down 97 percent
from 20 years ago.
There used to be 50 billion butterflies
over 50 acres. Last winter,
there were 30 million butterflies
and they fit in 15 acres.
So, it is no wonder
we have not seen so many Monarchs.
Last year, several enjoyed
the Russian Sage at the Farm House.

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In Russian Sage, 30 September 2013

This week, as Ann mowed
the pasture down by Doe Creek
where we will set the table Saturday
for the Green Connections’ Prairie Dinner,
she was excited to see flashes of orange flutterings
amid the Chinaberry trees.
There is a Monarch migration this year!
Small, but sure.


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There were fewer this morning,
but every bit as wondrous.
A gentle breeze loosened yellowed
Chinaberry leaves. They twirled and tumbled
silently to the grass.
Grasshoppers sprang.
A small Orb Spinner sat still,
waiting
in its web.
And just as silently,
a few Monarchs hung from leaves
and fluttered occasionally,
their orange wings vibrant in the sun,
gorgeous against the blue sky.

I can’t describe the grief I hold
for them—
for us—
at the prospect of them going extinct,
disappearing
from the planet.

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Soon as I filled
the dry bird bath yesterday morning
three Blue Jays
flew in immediately to drink,
as if they’d been waiting.
This morning
there are six.
I don’t know if they’re passing through
or here to stay. I learn
their migratory patterns
are hard to learn. And,
that they have strong family
bonds—and that they don’t
eat other birds’ eggs,
as they’ve been accused of doing;
and, that they are not as dominating
as they’ve been accused of being.
Cardinals, Mourning Doves
and Woodpeckers all are known
to harass Blue Jays. I’ve seen this.
The beautiful Red-Bellied Woodpecker
gets his way, always…
with the resident Blue Jay couple,
the Red-Winged Blackbirds,
the Cardinals…

The Blue Jays are beautiful.
I hope they stay,
every one.

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Ann Zimmerman

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We go to the Prairie Festival
at The Land Institute
the end of September every year
to dance a little to barn dance music,
hear other great homemade music,
enjoy art,
eat some food made with perennial grain,
visit with people deeply committed
to a healthy planet for all,
learn more about the prairie’s natural systems,
and the progress of creating perennial polycultures
on the prairie
and to listen to some of the most intelligent and wise
people on the planet.

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Wes Jackson

This year, we once again experienced all this,
plus a beautiful bonfire under the stars
and the morning sky on Sunday—
a prayer in itself—
fittingly,
as this year’s theme was about spirituality’s role
in environmental care/the land ethic.
The thing that was different this year
is that we came away
differently.
We always come away inspired,
affirmed
and energized for our work.
This year, we trust that will still happen,
but first
we have to process a little more,
take some time to sit with,
let sink in—
and grieve—
the state of life on the planet.
This year,
instead of just hearing the devastating news
of species extinction and other impacts
of global warming and climate change,
we were invited to take it into our hearts
before deciding,
again,
what is our role in change-making.
Ah…the work of spirituality. No wonder
people avoid it.
And so we did,
are still. It’s critical work:
if we don’t face the problems,
grieve the problems,
we won’t have the courage, commitment
and endurance
to do the work required of us;
we won’t choose
what our particular role is
in helping life, all life, along.
And help we must,
one speaker said,
or we damage our souls.

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We will surely
be inspired,
energized
soon.
Returning home to the prairie
gives us wide space for grieving the state of the planet,
and every reason to do so….
a Monarch (they are diminishing) floating by,
“extreme” drought,
three Blue Jays in the birdbath the second it is filled…
the gorgeous sky,
an old Hackberry,
tall prairie grass, waving its autumn colors…

There is no way to even begin to share
the high points of the speakers’ comments.
Eventually, recordings of their talks
will be available on The Land Institute website.
And many have written articles and books.
I recommend reading:
Robert Jensen
Bill Vitek
Ellen Davis
Ted Burk
The Land Institute founder and President
Wes Jackson

And remember we’re here
at Turtle Rock Farm
to support, encourage,
sit with,
walk with on the prairie.
Our next Active Hope retreat
is scheduled for October 18.

The cycles of nature
are intriguing.

Last winter,
mice invaded the high tunnel garden
and ate onion tops,
lettuce, kale, broccoli.
Ann trapped 50 of them.
They are at it again
this fall, nibbling away
at new shoots
which never get a chance
to grow.
Now, the mice are invading
our houses. (Yes, we have cats—
a few; fewer, since the coyotes
have been feasting on them.)
We are trapping,
but now the cute little critters
ignore the traps.
Thank you Tricia Dameron,
for reminding us of peppermint oil.
That—a few drops on cotton—
seems to be working.
We are cheering Red-Tailed Hawks,
hoping they prefer mice to the chickens.
But we haven’t seen enough of the big birds,
evidently, to make a dent in the mouse
population. Did see a snake
on the porch, a rather
large one, but they sleep
all winter,
so doubt they’ll be much help as
cold weather comes.
You’d think with more mice
we’d have more of the beings
that feed on mice. But
nature’s cycles seem out-of-kilter,
out of balance.
As predicted.

A friend in Oklahoma City
had heard it too. So we
went lurking about
the yard following the unfamiliar
and pretty
sound. The trees
along Doe Creek
are so thick,
birds are hard to see.
So we saw glimpses. That perky tail:
a wren? Never could I capture
a photograph,
but she identified the song,
we think, on Cornell’s Bird Lab
website. Yes, we think,
a wren.
Back at the farm,
crickets are still keeping the beat.
Wind chimes are ringing more
now, that the air has cooled.
Seems the hens and roosters
in the barnyard
are saying more,
and saying more
more loudly.
And then
this morning,
in the dark,
a deep rumbling
followed by a soft rain.
When I walked out
into the golden light of morning,
the chilly air,
Red Bellied Woodpecker
called his chucky warning from atop
an electric pole.
A few nights, I’ve heard a barn owl
hoo-hoo-ing. This damp morning,
Mockingbird pours song.
It’s nature’s Goodbye
Summer Hello Autumn
Symphony.

 

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It was a good day
in downtown Oklahoma City
Sunday afternoon.
Oklahomans who show their concern
about a warming planet
have gathered before.
But never as such a large
and diverse
crowd.
Hard to know the number
exactly. Perhaps between
300 and 400,
which is huge,
historically,
in this fossil-fuel producing
state; this state represented
in the U.S. Senate by the man
who literally wrote the book
on climate change denial,
calling it a “hoax.”
There were many groups,
some representing specific issues
around climate change.
There were groups historically
committed to protecting the natural world.
There were members of several religious groups
and churches marching.
There were indigenous people.
Of course Turtle Rock Farm,
who helped organize the event,
was glad to carry our banner
and the flag—that iconic image
of the beautiful blue marble
floating in space.
We joined with many friends
and colleagues.

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For an afternoon,
all these groups—
and many individuals—
came together,
to tell Oklahoma
government and corporate leaders:
Climate change is real.
It is caused predominantly by humans.
All humans must engage with the solutions.
We’re ready.

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The coming together
on a glorious September Sunday afternoon
heralds a new age
in Oklahoma’s consciousness,
in Oklahomans’ courage
to go public
with their concern for the environment.
Working together now,
we the people
are our greatest hope
for our continued life
on Planet Home.

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The prairie is still green,
a strange and wonderful sight
for this time of year. Frequent
little rains—strange
and wonderful—have brought just enough
moisture for that. Can’t get a shovel
in the soil though.
Our large, sweeping notions
of signs of the seasons
must give way now,
thanks to global warming
and climate change,
to noticing more closely;
to paying attention to the discrepancies,
the details that are different.
Familiar patterns are
vanishing.

Tree leaves yet to turn
(though some are falling,)
the green view across the prairie,
but…
three mornings ago,
I heard a most welcome sound:
that raspy “fee-bee, fee-bee,
fee-bee.” It is Phoebe,
returned.

This morning I heard,
for the first time since spring,
winter’s chatter
in the tops of the trees
south of the house.
It was a flock of Red-Winged Blackbirds
returned.

Too this morning,
I heard Cardinal—
not summer’s chirp,
but its winter song:
“Right-cheer, right-cheer,
right-cheer.”

Looks like early summer,
sounds like winter’s
coming.

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