sustainability


 

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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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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Something comes over us
when we realize it’s time
for the annual Green Connections’
Prairie Dinner and Concert.
No matter how much is going on,
or how long the to-do list grows,
there’s a feeling of gladness
in the air. It’s like we’re smiling
inside, carrying
a secret:
soon, gentle folks will drive up
County Road 90, emerge
from their cars,
relaxed, smiling,
hugging each other,
expectant of
another magical evening.
A casual stroll on the prairie,
visit to the magical-in-itself strawbale and mud hermitage,
maybe a walk on the labyrinth at the top of our hill,
a tour of the fall garden,
hanging out with the goats and alpaca
and then
we go down to the edge of Doe Creek
where Chef Barb of Kam’s Kookery
has laid out an elegant table
of just the beginnings of a five-course sumptuous
local foods dinner
and Woods & Waters best Oklahoma wine.
At table, donned with autumn’s prairie flowers,
our most congenial board members
serve the rest: soup, salad, breads,
great bowls of homegrown vegetables
and heavy platters of Oklahoma beef
cooked to perfection. And finally, some
wonderful confection, just about the time
Earth rolls up and sun disappears. Only
the night air could move us from the table,
that moment of complete gladness…
Well, night air
and the promise of something else
quite extraordinary.
We saunter
down the road and into the old round-top barn,
find places on straw bales,
wrap our hands around mugs of hot cider
and settle in for a concert by our dear old friend
Kyle Dillingham. From that first strike of bow
and string, we are carried into the night
in a way that only his music can.
We never want that to end either.
I remember
one year when Kyle, as if sensing the spell
the music had cast and not wanting to break it,
invited us to follow him as he fiddled us out
to the small bonfire just outside the barn.
We circled round the fire,
there under a canopy of stars,
as he played that hauntingly beautiful melody
in “Ashokun’s Farewell.” We lingered in silence
for a moment then, letting the music last.
Looking up finally, there was the Milky Way.
Two people told us that it was the most important
night of their lives.

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We can’t promise, of course.
We can’t make it happen.
It just seems the elements
are all present
and then something comes into play
that none of us can create
on our own.
For five years, this night
has been magical. Perhaps it will be,
this, the sixth year, as well.

Saturday, 4 October.
Come at 3.
Dinner at 5:30.
Concert following.
The Milky Way is already showing.

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Reserve your place at the table
here: www.greenconnectionsok.org
Deadline: October 1.
This is a fund-raiser for Green Connections
and its work of Earth education.
Transition OKC
is a program of Green Connections.

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