Retreatants gathered
at the Dominican Sisters of Peace
Heartland Spirituality Center
in Great Bend, Kansas, last week
for a time together
seeing with new eyes
our life on this “Blue Boat Home.”
Peter Mayer‘s song wove through
our days together
as we explored the Universe Story
and how those of us who have grown up
with the creation story
from the Biblical book of Genesis
can find spiritual meaning and purpose
in the continuing story
of this expanding creation.
These clergy and lay Kansans
in the Christian Disciples of Christ Church,
explored the springing natural world
in the evening following a day of light rain,
then spent a day in nature
at the Dominican Sisters’ Heartland Farm.

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Heartland Farm
is a sacred place
because here sustainability
for all
guides their every move.
This is where we at Turtle Rock Farm
first met alpacas
and first set foot in strawbale structures.
Mr. Darcy, Biak Bay and William
eventually moved from Heartland Farm
to Turtle Rock Farm
and we eventually built
a strawbale hermitage.
The women of Heartland Farm
are our sisters in so many ways.

DSCN7028Inside the Straw Bale Art Barn at Heartland Farm

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Sr. Jane introducing retreatants to Heartland Farm

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DSCN7034Making the Cosmic Walk

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Though the Disciples retreatants
had been visiting the monastery in Great Bend
for 15 years on their annual retreats,
they had not ever heard of or visited
Heartland Farm
until this year,
last week.
This is so telling
of where we are as a culture—
economically,
socially,
spiritually.
Creation spirituality
and sustainability
is, for most people, definitely
seeing through new eyes.

This time for the Disciples retreatants
was spent mostly outdoors,
learning the story of the Big Bang
alongside honoring the Genesis creation story;
re-discovering the wonder
in the natural world—
that we too
are part of the natural world;
meeting the gentle, dedicated women
of Heartland Farm.
For some of these courageous people,
the process was unsettling,
challenging, and yet
hope-filled.
Seeing with new eyes
is like that.

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When Ann checked the bee communities
yesterday, she opened the lid
on a mystery.
She found plenty of honey
for their winter food supply.
(And the candy boards
she had made for them,
just in case,
were mostly uneaten.)

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There was plenty of pollen,
indicating the plants had enough water
to provide pollen.
Seven of the hives
were still full of bees.
But in three,
there were no bees,
and only a few dead ones.
She had checked in on them
about a month ago
and all seemed well. Now
they were gone.

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The missing bees
will continue to be a mystery,
but trying to figure out that mystery
is all about helping them
survive these days
of weather pattern changes,
threats to habitat
and the factors causing
colony collapse.
In this case,
perhaps
they couldn’t keep warm for some reason
during a cold snap…
perhaps
the oldest frames had collected
too many toxins in the foundations…
perhaps during these recent
warm days,
they produced so much honey
they thought they were out of room
and moved out…

As much as Ann
and other experienced Oklahoma beekeepers
have learned,
there is always more to learn,
which is why the beekeepers get together
once a month. So far, still early in the year,
many Oklahoma colonies have disappeared.
Here at Turtle Rock Farm,
Ann will replace the oldest foundations,
dark now with toxins,
with new ones. (And she’ll welcome
volunteers to help with this big project!)

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She’s considering planting
Bradford Pear trees nearby
because they would provide
early blossoms.
Already, she uses several natural means
(including laying a piece of micro fiber cloth
on the top of the hive
and using wintergreen oil in sugar water
and candy boards)
to prevent harmful insect invasions.

Like all parts of nature,
the human
and the bee
working together
can bring life to both.
Sweet, golden food
and pollination of other plants
necessary for human food
are the most obvious human benefits
of this relationship.
Too, in discovering the gentle art of beekeeping,
humans have the privilege
of getting to know
the fascinating life of bees,
and, as they come to try to think
like a bee colony so they can offer
them a healthy, safe home,
increase their own empathy.
The wee bee could actually teach humans
that we are interdependent
with all life on the planet.
The wee bee could actually teach humans
to live as if everything we do matters
to all life.
I wonder, and doubt,
that the bee will ever know
its beneficial impacts on humanity.
I hold some hope
that we can help the bee
sustain life.

It’s spring.
Period.
I’ve seen a Kildeer.
Grackles are flying through.
I watched little whitish/yellowish butterflies,
flitting,
mating in flight.
Warm days
and sprouting, blossoming
erupts everywhere:
Vinca, Iris, Day Lilies, Daffodils,
Forsythia, Rose, Redbud, Pear, Apricot…
Even the old Hackberry has buds on it;
a younger one, the one that usually leafs first,
is.

We may get another freeze.
Historically, the last freeze is April 15.
Last year’s last snow was April 14;
it was 26 degrees on April 15
and the last freeze—32 degrees—was April 18.
It could also get hot
quickly. The first triple-digit day last year—
100 degrees—
was May 4. (Thankfully, last year,
we didn’t experience
very many triple-digit days after that.)
Come what may,
these
are spring-savoring days.

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Our next Simpler Living Retreat
is Saturday, March 28.
It may seem a drop in the bucket
these days
to consider that any one of us
living more simply
could help each other, all Earth life.
But imagine what would happen
if each of us started with one change,
and then many of us kept making the changes
that come from caring about healthy life
for all living beings on the planet.
Living Systems Theory
describes the dynamic operating in systems:
all the parts respond to each other
as all the parts do what they do
from the values they contribute
and that’s what results
in the next change in the system.
Imagine that not using paper napkins
and paper towels
and using cloth instead
(yes, I know, they must be washed—
in cold water, with biodegradable soap,
and hung up to dry and folded
without ironing) or
hanging the clothes out to dry,
could make a difference,
but it does—
in several ways.
Saves trees,
which absorb carbon dioxide
and create oxygen;
create beauty
and clouds. Drying the cloths
on the clothesline
uses less fossil fuel,
creates less carbon dioxide
and does my soul good—
and my heart, being outdoors,
watching them flap
gently in the air,
smelling the freshness of the air
on bed sheets and towels…
Every little bit matters
in very many ways,
not the least of which
is adding another smidgeon
of the value of care
into Earth’s living system.

During the retreat,
we’ll consider the causes of our consumptive lifestyles,
take a reflective time to consider shifting priorities,
take inventory about what changes we want to make
next
and enlist the support of others
simplifying their lives.
It’s always an uplifting day.

To register, go to the calendar page
on our website.

We spent the day together
outdoors,
as this was the Contemplation in Nature
retreat—the first here
at Turtle Rock Farm retreat center.
A day to relax into the warm air,
peer into the wide panorama,
pay attention to detail:
waves on the pond,
a chattering gathering of Red-winged Black Birds,
a Chinaberry berry seed…
It was a day to “see with new eyes,”
as if for the first time…
A day to try to imagine
our kinship with all;
to try to grasp
that we are only part
of this one complex, living organism
that is Earth…

DSCN7010Retreatant Watching a Chattering Gathering of Red-winged Blackbirds

I sat
motionless (as motionless as I could
while petting the insistent Maizey)
under my favorite Chinaberry tree
and looked across a familiar meadow
to the familiar Osage Orange trees along Doe Creek,
watched the familiar glide of a Red-Tailed Hawk,
and thrilled
when a Mockingbird
landed in the tree above me,
a silhouette against the sun.
Mockingbird!—
especially familiar.
It stayed awhile and when it flew away
and I began to notice the grass and soil
around me,
and little black balls
with holes in them
and the crinkled faded-gold Chinaberry seeds…
and then realized the black seeds
came from inside the Chinaberry seeds…
and that some thing liked
whatever was inside
the black seeds…

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Later in the day,
we three talked
about what we saw
and admitted to each other
that experiencing our kinship,
taking non-dualism
from thinking to a felt-knowing—
grasping deeply that we are only part
of one living organism—
will take some time,
considerable effort,
plenty more practice,
awareness…

That evening—the first time this year
it was warm enough I could spend Saturday evening
on the porch—I read an article
in “Yes!” magazine
(Spring 2015 “Together with Earth” edition)
by Robin Wall Kimmerer.

Singing whales, talking trees, dancing bees, birds who make art, fish who navigate, plants who learn and remember. We are surrounded by intelligences other than our own, by feathered people and people with leaves. But we’ve forgotten. There are many  forces arrayed to help us forget—even the language we speak.

As a beginning student of her native Anishinaabe language, Kimmerer has discovered there is no word in her language for “it,” as in anything other than human. “It’s impossible to speak of Sugar Maple as ‘it,'” she writes. “We use the same words to address all living beings as we do our family. Because they are our family.

“In indigenous ways of knowing, other species are recognized not only as persons, but also as teachers who inspire how we might live.”

When Kimmerer asked an elder for the proper Anishinaabe word for beings of the living earth, she learned it is Bemaadiziiaaki. Too long a word to take the place of “it” in the English language, she suggests we use the last two letters: “ki.” And that we also speak of other Earth beings as “kin.”

Changing our language can be transformative, she writes:

We can keep ‘it’ to speak of bulldozers and paperclips, but every time we say ‘ki,’ let our words reaffirm our respect and kinship with the more-than-human world. Let us speak of beings of Earth as the ‘kin’ they are.

Here are the words I wrote above, about Mockingbird:

Mockingbird!—
especially familiar.
It stayed awhile and when it flew away
and I began to notice the grass and soil
around me…

Here’s what the passage reads like, using the word “ki” instead of “it:”

Mockingbird!—
especially familiar.
Ki stayed awhile and when ki flew away
and I began to notice the grass and soil
around me…

From past experience,
I’ve come to allow the possibility
that Mockingbird
is one of my teachers.
Mockingbird
came to the top of the Chinaberry tree,
even though I was obviously present.
Ki sat there long in the sun
even though there was another Chinaberry tree
right next to ki,
farther from me.
In the past, Mockingbird
has taught me to use my own voice;
that is always a pertinent reminder.
This day
perhaps Mockingbird,
up against the sky,
then departed,
was what drew me down
to the ground. I wonder…Does ki
eat the stuff
inside the black seed
inside the Chinaberry seed?
Maybe ki brought no message;
maybe, ki was having a snack.
Maybe, Sister Mockingbird…
maybe I know you
and myself
a tiny bit better.

I’ve decided to accept
that this prairie will be dry
mostly
for a long, long time—
maybe always, as my life goes,
except for occasional
floods.
That’s the natural prairie cycle—
drought and flood—
exacerbated,
made extreme (especially the drought times,)
due to global warming.
Giving up expecting
that three-inch rain—
years overdue—
has relieved the tension,
the sense of urgency
I was just barely
keeping at bay.
Wishing for rain
doesn’t seem to produce rain.
So when a slow, light, all-day shower
felled 1/2-inch of water
on the land a few days ago,
I could gladly relish it, without
the angst of wishing,
expecting
more.
I was surprised
next morning
when the sun shone
on the big, old Hackberry tree:
the thick arms
were coated in bright green!
A little water
to glad effect:
moss and lichen, too pale to notice
before the rain,
brightened with moisture.

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Yesterday, Sunday,
Maizey and I walked down the road,
out into the pasture,
past two dried farm ponds,
across a cattle guard into another pasture,
past another, bigger, dried farm pond,
along an old oil field road,
to the flood-control reservoir that was created
by damming Doe Creek.
The reservoir has gone down considerably,
and the outlets are drying.

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Just below the dam,
half a mile downstream,
beavers, for 20 years, lived and created
a beautiful wetlands. Now the creek
is dry; the beavers long-gone.
But yesterday I noticed recent
tree-felling activity
above the reservoir; and one downed log
that seems to be where they supper.
I couldn’t find a beaver dam close-by;
this will require another search
another day. If beavers are active here,
they are dragging the downed trees
a long way.

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I found a large
turtle shell and,
walking home through the pasture,
a village of armadillo homes dug
into the dry soil.

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Perhaps
this land will become more hospitable
to armadillos than turtles
or people.

Monarch on Redbud

Monarch on Redbud Blossoms

The general law is that every species should have opposed species or conditions that limit them so that no single species or group of species would overwhelm the others—something that would assuredly happen if even a bacterium were permitted to reproduce without limitation over a period of time. The law of limits is what makes the functional rapport between the various life-forms an urgent necessity.

That is the difficulty for humans. We must self-limit.

Our entire industrial system can be considered as an effort to escape from the constraints of the natural world. We have created an artificial context for our existence through mechanical invention and the extravagant use of energy.

When we awaken to a realization that the industrial world, as now functioning, can exist for only a brief historical period, we might begin to consider just how we can establish a more sustainable setting for our physical survival and personal fulfillment. We must, obviously, turn from our exploitation of the natural world to consider once again just how the planet functions and where we belong in relation to the other components of the planet.

—Thomas Berry
The Great Work. Our Way Into the Future

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