June 2008

sphynx moth

A Poplar (or maybe a Modest) Sphynx Moth

white with red moth

White Moth with Intricate Markings


Black Swallowtail Butterfly

These three beautiful flying creatures were all spotted at our farmhouse at Turtle Rock Farm Retreat yesterday, Sunday. The moths were on the side of the house at the back door in the morning. The butterfly arrived while we were sitting on the porch for supper. A guest who was dining with us also saw a hummingbird – the first spotting this year. I set out the hummingbird feeder today.

I looked up names of these creatures. Never identified the little white moth. The big moth that looks like dried leaves is a Sphynx of some sort – either a Poplar or a Modest, I think. In the process, I learned that some adult moths, including the Sphynx, never eat.

Delightful company anyway.

The extravagant gesture is the very stuff of creation. After the one extravagant gesture of creation in the first place, the universe has continued to deal exclusively in extravagances, flinging intricacies and colossi down aeons of emptiness, heaping profusions on profligacies with ever fresh vigor. The whole show has been on fire from the word go! — Annie Dillard



sun coming into view in the morning on the ice

Sun Coming Into View on Icy Pond

harvest time clouds

Harvest Time Clouds

stormy sunset

Stormy Sunset

full orange moon reflecting on the pond

Full Moon Reflected in the Pond


wheat and truck and yellow chair

Wheat Truck Provides Shady Vantage Point

heron fishing

Great Blue Heron Fishing in Oklahoma Farm Pond

Sitting in the wheat stubble in the shade of the wheat truck shortly before Earth rolled up and the sun disappeared below the horizon last evening, I put on my “owl eyes,” as Jon Young teaches in his Wilderness Awareness School. I moved my head to the left and stopped and surveyed the view with my eyes. I moved my head again, and, with the owl eyes, looked at the panorama before me. Next, when I moved my head, I saw the trees that hide the house where I live; only the barn was visible. And when I moved my head again, I saw the oil blossom, the out-of-place mesa. It’s not a view I see often, the view of where I live from the wheat field, and the home terrain is much more rolling, even more lovely from that vantage point.

When I looked below, at the ground, I saw a black beetle. Earlier in the week, as I sat there in the truck-shaded stubble, reading, I looked up to see a small field mouse staring at me. But it disappeared as soon as I saw it. I watched the black beetle, with its feeling antennae working in front of it as it negotiated lumps of dried mud and weeds. It goes in circles, scaling weeds and what must be giant hills, coming out where it started, then trying again. It seems as if it sees with its feelers instead of eyes.

This week during harvest, I’ve seen many turtles, snakes, countless birds, including Canada Geese and a Great Blue Heron fishing motionless and patiently in a pond. I’ve watched a kildere light repeatedly on a fence post, vultures soar overhead and marveled at the energy needed for quail to fly with their short wings. They barely make it off the ground and fly just over the prairie grass. I’ve watched the cattle standing stomach-high all in a row in a farm pond in the heat of the afternoon and grazing all together at the end of the day. I’ve swatted mosquitoes and various sizes and shapes of flies – from the tiniest to the horsiest. I’ve watched grasshoppers and wasps try to find their way out of the wheat truck, though all windows are wide open. I’ve watched the Johnston Grass and the cattail reeds blow in the stiff breeze. And my heart thrilled at the first cicadea’s song of the summer.

This morning, rain came in showers on the hour for three hours – at 5, 6 and 7 a.m. – totaling 6/10ths of an inch of rain and bringing wheat harvest to a halt. More is forecast for tonight and tomorrow. We only had 40 acres left to harvest and it was our worst wheat.

Yesterday, sitting in the breeze that blew through the wheat truck in mid-afternoon, I read this, written by Mabel Dodge Luhan, of Taos, NM, a long time ago and quoted in John E. Carroll’s book Sustainability and Spirituality:

I have never seen a look of anxiety, of exasperation over any kind of weather on an Indian face. Whatever comes in nature they meet it with acceptance as though it were right. They do not know how to resist natural things like drought or hail or cloudburst with anger and hate because they are so much at one with all the elements. They know they are themselves the earth and the rain and the sun, and when the sun sets they feel the peace and rightness of it. They watch the sun going down behind the horizon and they go down with it in a participation with its security and its gentle irrevocable progress that we have no experience of. We watch things happen in Nature as if they were outside us and separate from us but the Indians know they are that which they contemplate…Natural weather just can’t worry them, they have so much faith in Nature and in themselves.

Those words have changed me a little – helped me see again how human-centered we humans are; helped me experience that Earth is a living thing of which we are all part – many parts, but one living thing. I know more surely the black beetle and the mosquito and the heron and the Johnston grass and the wheat and the snake and the quail and the sun and the stars and the rain and we humans are “that which we contemplate” – all one natural world.

Passages to ponder from John E. Carroll’s book  Sustainability and Spirituality:

As most now know, ecology is the study of “oikos,” the home, our home, the only home we have. It is the study of Earth, including ourselves and our place in context within and as a functioning part of Earth. The very important principles of ecology…might be put forth as:

1. Everything is connected to every other thing.

2. Nature knows best.

3. Everything must go somewhere.

4. There’s no such thing as a free lunch.

Carroll also presents these principles in geologian Thomas Berry’s terminology:

1. Everything carries its own uniqueness and individuality, and each reality is distinct (that is, differentiated.)

2. Everything carries the whole numinous divine dimension of the universe within itself.

3. Everything is bonded to everything else.

Carroll further explains Thomas Berry’s teaching:

Seeing the universe as not mechanistic but spiritual, as not merely physical or material, Berry sees the adoption of this sense of the universe as sacred as being the most important work of our time…Berry believes that nothing can ever be separated from anything else, that you can feel isolated but that you can never be isolated. That is why the bonding of things is so powerful; it is the primary law of being.

The only way to live is with the ever-renewing processes of Nature, in an integral life. It is intimacy which is important, not stewardship or veneration. The universe is a subject, not an object – if we don’t accept that, we’re doomed. We must, therefore, reconnect our sympathetic rapport with the natural world and recognize that the world has a spontaneity; it has a soul. Diversity is precious and sacred; the primordial sacred community is the universe, as opposed to the human alone; our first obligation is to have reverence for everything; and the path to the Creator is through the created.

Carroll’s book tells the many stories of communities that have been living out the principles of ecology and the understanding as all of creation as sacred, toward lives of sustainability. One of those is the story of Genesis Farm, begun in New Jersey by Sr. Miriam Therese. For her, living these principles of sustainability includes understanding:

our need for Nature as a vehicle to worship God

the role of the natural world as an assist to the capacity of the human to image and become like God

the necessity of the human to return to her bioregion, her home

the centrality of a sense of community, for it’s only in having each other that people survive

the capacity to see the interiority of the other as revelatory, a type of purity of heart, for when you see God you do not abuse

the entrapment of accumulation

the awareness that agriculture is a priestly activity, that the healing of the soil, the creation of gardens, becomes a role, a priestly one

the importance of attunement in order to bring oneself into obedience to the cycles, the seasons, to weather, nature and so forth

that if the Earth is malnourished or devitalized, how can the food we grow carry the spirit dimension into us

our combine and truck

Our ’81 Combine and “RD” Truck

Sid and the Sullins

Our Lone Combine in the Foreground

And Dust Kicked Up by Neighbors’ Three Machines in the Field Behind

frugal neighbor

Small Combine of Frugal Neighbor

So, here we are arriving to cut our second field of wheat and across the road are custom-cutters with two gargantuan combines and a wheat bin on wheels that a huge tractor pulls alongside the combines which auger the wheat without having to stop cutting. The grain bin is then delivered to an 18-wheeler truck parked on the side of the country road, and the wheat augered into it. They started mid-day and will move on to their second wheat field and cut a good portion of it before the grain gets too damp and they have to quit just before dark.

We will be in this field for two solid days, using a lone 1981 combine and a couple of 70’s trucks. No grain wagon. The combine will have to stop cutting and deliver the grain to the trucks near the entrance to the field because the trucks would get stuck in the soft earth out in the field.

In town, we truck drivers line up to have the wheat weighed, then to dump it, then to weigh the empty truck. The 18-wheelers queue up with us old farm trucks. They probably carry five times what we have in our trucks and they have hoppers underneath to empty the wheat into the elevator. We have to use a hydraulic system that raises the bed slowly and then lowers it again.

The 18-wheelers, with the name of the farm or custom outfit professionally painted on the driver’s door, are shiny and fast. I don’t drive our truck over 35 when it is loaded with wheat and not over 40 when it’s empty. Our farm trucks are rusting and the paint has long ago worn away. Duct tape and wire and caulking are standard. The gears grind unless you double-clutch, the brakes are slow, the hydraulic knobs are temperamental, there is no radio or air conditioning – except through the hand-cranked windows and side vents. I love those side vents.

On the second day in that field, another neighbor shows up to harvest the field next to ours – with three gargantuan combines and the mobile grain bin and the 18-wheelers. In a cloud of dust, they will finish in one afternoon.

The farmers who harvest 1000 acres or 2000 acres or 3000 acres use the big, fast equipment because if they don’t, their wheat will deteriorate. Ours deteriorates too, but we are cutting 400 acres. 400 acres, with old equipment; 2000 acres with mega equipment: this is about economics.

Across the road from the first field we cut, a farmer was using a combine smaller than ours. And one truck. And no grain wagon. We always waved to each other when we passed.

It’s been frustrating, having to stop twice for half a day to make major repairs to the aging combine. At moments, driving the cranky trucks can be challenging.

There are many things about Oklahoma wheat farming that are not sustainable. But I am proud of the continued use of old machinery. Frugality is a sustainable practice.

I’m proud to arrive at the community grain elevator in the gear-grinding, rusting, duct-taped, “RD” (the “F” and “O” are missing from the silver letters on the truck’s hood.) Besides, exposed as we are, wheat chaff stuck to my sunburned arms, I feel closer to the wheat, closer to the land, closer to the dust in the air, closer to the blessed breeze, closer to my frugal neighbors.

Howling Mamma Coyote

Howling Mama Coyote

I wandered up to the oil blossom one afternoon recently – through the swampy pasture, still soppy from the flooding. The oil blossom is a strange geological formation for this area of gently rolling prairie land. It’s kind of a grassy mesa, suddenly rising in the pasture, alongside a creek. It was my paternal grandfather who optimistically called it an oil blossom.

It has been an important place for me. A place both of solitude where I’ve sought refuge from time to time, as well as a place for gathering friends, I’ve often experienced surprising and memorable moments there. This afternoon, there would be another.

I was sitting on one of the lichen- and moss-covered, flat sandstones on the western edge of the oil blossom, looking out across the recently flooded pastures, the giant praying-mantis-like oil pumps and yet-to-be-harvest fields of wheat, when Maisy, the dog who had accompanied me, set off down the hill barking. She had spotted a coyote.

The coyote headed north into the pasture, but when it had run out a little way and crossed over a marshy area, it turned toward the oil blossom, set her front legs firmly in a threatening stance and raised her head to the sky and began to howl. This was surprising. Normally, coyotes aren’t seen in the day and when they are, they hurry off into some hiding place. This coyote made herself seen and known. She barked and howled – clearly agitated, clearly protesting our presence and clearly not going to budge.

I looked down the hill on the north side of the oil blossom and realized there is a second rise and that there, on the other side of that rise is probably her den. At night, we had been hearing a burgeoning den, with young yips joining in the more mature barks and yowls. This, I suspected, is at least one source of that most welcome, moonlight serenade.

Maisy had returned to my side and so we watched this coyote for a long time. She never stopped barking and howling.

Realizing the stress we were causing her, I cut short my stay at the oil blossom and Maisy and I walked the opposite direction of the coyote and headed down the other side of the oil blossom, to the south, across the swampy pasture – one more time, feeling deeply grateful to have experienced the natural world.



Bright Cosmos


Mushroom in the Grass


Mimosa Blossom

Evening Feed

At Evening Feed

Delicate Hosta Blossom

Delicate Hosta Bloom


Gloriosa Daisy

Next Page »