April 2008

We enjoyed visiting with many folks as we participated with an exhibit at the Environmental Expo at Southern Hills Christian Church in Edmond on 27 April. It was their first expo, sponsored by their environmental stewardship committee.

Two church members who learned how to make the four-by-four raised beds at our “Growing Your Own Vegetables in Small Spaces” workshop at Turtle Rock Farm, installed their first-of-several raised beds for a community garden at the church. We are happy to support their good effort.


The irises caught my eye this morning – there, under the old hackberry tree with its thick, sheltering arms. There, next to St. Francis of Assisi – a wooden version, a bird-feeding version, that reminds me daily of the spirit of this man who refused to see things the way most people did. As I walked by on my way back from feeding the cats at the barn, I touched his arm, as I often do, and that’s when I realized I needed to get closer to the irises.

I bent down to really notice them – to look at them in detail. They were so beautiful, I went in the house and got the camera and photographed them. The photograph didn’t capture their exquisite life; I needed to look more deeply. I returned to the house for pencil and journal.

I don’t even know how to draw something as exquisite and complex as an iris. My primitive drawing is marked with lines going out to descriptive paragraphs that describe the flower with words. Still, despite my inadequacies as an artist, the effort of drawing the flower is the important thing. It helped me see it.

The iris has three layers of three sets of petals. The lower petals, the darkest purple, hang down like tongues. These petals have white veins toward the center and short, bright yellow hair in the center of the tongues.

The inner three petals are small, tender, pale lavender and they curl up on the ends. Bending over the top toward each other are three more petals, a mid-shade of purple that protect the three inner, paler petals.

The iris smells sweet, and is sweet – a soft purple, protective canopy for the tenderness inside.

And so I sit beside the iris, here under the hackberry, with its brand new green leaves, full and fresh. This strong, sheltering tree is here because after World War II, when my father was cleaning up the farm with his bulldozer, he noticed this sapling and decided it was in a pretty good spot, there at the northwest corner of the house, and left it.

The irises are here because 21 years ago this week – Earth Day, as a matter of fact – my son was born, and his father planted these irises that morning in celebration of this wonderful new life.

I sit here this morning, under this old hackberry tree, next to the sweet iris, next to St. Francis, deeply glad, knowing that my son, in celebration of his 21 years, will wake up this morning under the canopy of giant redwoods at a camping area in California’s Sequoia National Park.            

26 April 2008


Today I heard about a game called Earthopoly, made by Late for the Sky. Here’s the description from the manufacturer:

Earthopoly is a game that celebrates the earth one turn at a time. Players buy properties, collect carbon credits and trade them for clean air. As they travel the board visiting each impressive land form, they will learn about the planet and pick up go green tips from each deed card. Learn about earth and how to care for it as you play. There is traditional play or one hour version. This game was also created with an attempt to make the game as earth-friendly as possible. All the paper is recyclable. The ink is soy based. The game pieces are either made by nature or completely recyclable.

Sounds like a fun eco-version of Monopoly!

We have lots of games but not many can claim to be eco-friendly and teach players green tips.

I think I will order one for Turtle Rock Farm!

To celebrate Earth Day we planted a redbud tree along the driveway here at Turtle Rock Farm. We will be adding several more in the coming days!

Billings School – 11 April 2008

The school garden looks great. There are radishes to be picked and the plants are getting big and look healthy. Carrots are coming on slowly. The teachers report that the children are very attentive. One will pull back the cover of the hoophouse and another will close it. We’ve had lots of rain and so watering hasn’t been necessary. Hail too – so we’re grateful for the hoop house.

We had planned to plant the plants from the greenhouse – squash, cucumber, tomato. The wind was blowing very hard and we may get a frost the next two nights, so the students will plant the plants next Monday.

We took various plants to the school and worked inside. We taught them how to get to know a plant; to become friends with plants. We introduced the idea with a skit from The Young Naturalist. It showed them that you start with one plant and draw it, which helps you get to know it.

They each had plants at their desks and they drew the plant. We told them it wasn’t about producing a work of art, but getting to know a plant. We walked around the room and showed them how to see. They smelled and touched. We helped them notice that one baby leaf was soft and furry and a larger leaf was getting more prickly. They noticed the hairs on the plants. They smelled chives and lavender and coriander and oregano and tasted these. They smelled other plants that had no smell. They noticed ragged leaves and smooth leaves. Most of them drew more than one plant and began to notice differences.

After about 45 minutes of drawing and noticing, we asked them if they’d made friends with a plant. They all raised their hands. We asked them to describe the plant. They all wanted to do that, and did. They especially loved describing the smells. They noticed a lot about the leaves and loved touching the plants. We asked them if the plants liked to be touched. When a girl talked about the chive plant, she talked about its smell and taste. We asked her to describe the leaves and she looked at it and seemed stumped and said, “It doesn’t have any.” Then she realized that its leaves looked really different from the tomato or the coriander.

We asked them why it’s important to be friends with plants. They had been well-taught by their teachers and told us about the oxygen and carbon dioxide change. We asked them if we can live without plants and they all yelled no. We asked them if there was any other reason to be friends with plants and they said “for food.”

Some had been intimidated by the drawing; said they didn’t know how – but did draw the plants. We asked them how drawing helped them get to know the plant and they said it did because you really had to look at it.

We promised them a “salad party” the day before school is out. They cheered!

I saw a baby woodpecker yesterday.
I saw a baby woodpecker yesterday!

Can you believe it?

I walked out of the house about 6 in the evening and I saw a red-headed woodpecker fly up to the pecan tree. I’m never sure which is better: for the woodpecker to be pecking on the side of the house by my bedroom windows or pecking on the pecan tree. But yesterday it flew up midway in the tree and began investigating the trunk.

Then, right behind it, a little woodpecker flew into the tree. No redhead, but the black and white markings on the wings were the same. It flew up to the top of the tree and began tapping on a thin limb: tree trunk for the adult; tiny limb for the little one.

They each flew to several places on their appropriate-sized spots in the tree, then flew away. It was a too-short viewing for me.

I was so thrilled. I had seen a baby woodpecker!

I’ve never seen a baby woodpecker. Wasn’t looking for one. I don’t think I ever thought about it, but looking back, I guess I assumed young birds stayed out of view until they were fully grown. On second thought, I remember seeing television documentaries about some parent birds pushing their offspring out of the nest to learn to fly. And I’ve found dead baby birds on the ground.

But I’d never seen a young bird alongside its parent learning how to eat.

I noticed that it didn’t come alongside its parent on the main trunk of the pecan tree, but found a thin limb that was more the size of its own beak.

I’m so grateful to have seen a baby woodpecker with its parent in the pecan tree. (Peterson’s Field Guide to Western Birds says that parents are similarly colored, so I don’t know if this was the male or female parent.)

If I am to learn from creation, as I know we must, I ask what it is I am to learn from this close encounter with the woodpeckers.

Most important, I think, is the fact that I saw them. If I weren’t here, I wouldn’t have seen them. If I weren’t at least open to seeing things (and oh, I can’t imagine all that I miss,) I wouldn’t have seen them.

Seeing creation is critical for humans right now. If we human beings don’t see creation – see it deeply and in detail – we will lose our place in it. We must notice, respect and value every single part in the great web of life in which we all live and depend.

And there was another important teaching in the goings-on in that pecan tree last evening. During the brief presence of the woodpeckers, there was a mockingbird sitting on a branch of the pecan tree, singing, singing, singing.

I had heard that mockingbird for the first time last week. When I lived in town, there was a mockingbird that came to sing atop our tv antennae every spring and I loved its company, its song.

When this one showed up last week, I was thrilled and I asked it to stay. Who knows if that, because of our connectedness, and, because I asked, so far, it has.

And so as I was watching the woodpeckers, I was mindful that the mockingbird was also in the tree singing its many songs, the many songs of the bird world. When the woodpeckers flew away, I turned my eyes to it and smiled my respect and gratitude.

The mockingbird sings the song of diversity. It is a song we must hear.

3 April 2008



Mary and Pat spoke at the Oklahoma Sustainability Network Conference in Norman on Earth Literacy and Ecospirituality on March 29th. It was a great conference and a way to connect with people who are interested in making a difference in the way we treat Earth and to teach people about what we are doing here at Turtle Rock Farm Retreat.