February 2009


cattle on wheat

Cattle Grazing on Red Winter Wheat

All winter, we’ve watched nature lie dormant, resting. We’ve watched the light play on the dried prairie grasses, and stood in awe of the glimpses of subtle reds and bronze revealed by the sun. We’ve noticed holes dug in the earth by wintering animals. We’ve watched wintering birds work all day at eating.

And now, Spring comes and the landscape changes and activity increases. If you want to come see, go to our Turtle Rock Farm Retreat website, click on “Workshops and Retreats” and you can sign up for the Encountering the Gifts of Spring Retreat. It’s Saturday, March 21, out here on the prairie in north central Oklahoma. It’s a chance to see Spring, up close.

armadillo hunting - best

I heard something rustling in the leaves
as I walked.
It heard me too,

and splashed hurriedly,

awkwardly
(low-to-the-ground bulk not designed for this)
across the shallow stream
and up the bank.
Then it stopped,
as I had.
An armadillo.
A rather large armadillo.
Its armor,
its nine bands,
its chiseled face
tiny ears,
long tail.
It couldn’t see me
and began again to go about its business
of hunting,
digging for insects.
And so I had the privilege of just watching.

I learn that the armadillo is closely related
to the anteater
and the sloth.

Oh my,
I’m watching a sloth
right here on the creek.
I recently read Kathleen Norris‘ book about
the vice of sloth, acedia.
Though it doesn’t mean to be,
this cousin-of-sloth,
this gorgeous armadillo
is a gift to me.
To watch it is a great gift.
Gift enough.
But there is more:
get about your business
whatever it is
whatever the struggle
in this life.


new calf

February morning
warm enough to sit on the porch
first thing.
It’s hard to imagine that it’s not Spring.
In spite of human warnings
about the possibility of dropping temperatures,
memories of March blizzards,
there are tadpoles in the creek.
Daffodils, full yellow, jarringly bright,
this first explosion of color.
Too, there is a friend’s first sign of Spring:
the coo of turtle doves.
And another friend’s earliest indication:
Mississippi Kites returned from winter trip.

It’s balmy,
moist.
Birds chattering.
Red-winged blackbirds
hanging out in the Hackberry tree above the empty feeder –
“chat – chat- chat, kit – kit” –
a wooden clicky sound, like castinettes.
They sing too,
a flutey, lyrical “un-ka jeeee,”
this chorus in the Hackberry
raising its breakfast song
to a crescendo.

And the baby calves –
a white one born in the north pasture yesterday,
a black one in the pasture across the road this morning.
It’s up and running,
raising its neck and bleating.
There’s nothing like the bleating of a new life
to spring the heart,
however unexpectedly,
back to life.

beaver-cuts

Exploring a creek yesterday,
we first noticed young trees
felled by beavers,
their stumps in pointy peaks,
curvy shavings beside.

beaver trimmings

So we looked for the beaver dam.

beaver dam - closer

It’s been there a long while,
trees, mud, grass stretched across the water
shore to shore
keeping the water level high enough
to cover the entrances to their underwater lodge
and burrows.
And above it,
a large, beautiful wetland.

wetland 1

This is the way the prairie used to be,
when 200 million beavers lived in the continental U.S.,
compared to two million currently.
Their furs were shipped to Europe for top hats,
their oil for medicine and perfume, their tails and flesh a delicacy,
so by the 1840’s, when top hats began to be made of silk,
the beaver was almost extinct.

Alice Outwater, in her book Water – A Natural History,
taught us about the great work of beavers,
whom she calls “Nature’s Hydrologists.”
They dam up a stream or creek,
creating a pool of water upstream
that becomes a powerful wetland ecosystem,
where life teams
and water is purified
and sent downstream at a slower rate.
From the wetlands,
underground aquifers are recharged.

So, Outwater explains, when we killed the beaver,
we destroyed ecosystems,
depleted ground water
and created dirty water.

Beavers are a keystone species, for where beavers build dams the wetlands spread out behind them, providing home and food for dozens of species, from migrating ducks to moose, from fish to frogs to great blue herons.

The wetlands’ underwater world does a remarkable job of cleaning the water. Not only do plantonic bacteria consume the water’s organic conaminants while trillions of tiny phyto-plankton use the inorganics to make food, but the water is cleaned by sedimentation as well. When muddy water from streams and rivers rushes into the stillness of the wetlands, the silt in the water adheres to the stalks of water plants and settles to the bottom. Wetlands clarify water and prevent the soil from washing downstream, and in this fashion fertile meadows build up. The area where a stream once ran becomes covered with a rich blanket of organic matter. When beavers make a series of dams and ponds within a drainage basin, the water cycle in the entire watershed is affected.

wetland 4

So we sit in awe
in the quiet
beside the rich wetland.

This native mixed grass prairie
has been heavily cultivated.
On one side of this creek is a lovely native grass meadow.
On the other is a field of young, bright green Red Winter Wheat.
Modern-day farmers have considered the beaver’s construction
destructive
of trees
and cropland
as the wetland water reaches out onto the fields.
About 25 years ago, the government funded a series of
water reservoirs through the creeks in this part of the prairie,
to help control the release of flood waters in the rainy season.
On this very piece of the prairie,
just north of this beaver-funded wetland,
is one of those dams and reservoirs.

It’s a clash of worldviews, really:
Must we stop to consider nature’s way?
Must we do what we think will make human lives better?
The proximity of these two water resources –
one controlled by humans,
one controlled by beavers –
raises the challenging question we must
continue to live,
about how to live together
so that all can thrive.

Alice Outwater:

By dredging, by damming, by channeling, by tampering with (and in some cases eliminating) the ecological niches where water cleans itself, we have simplified the pathways that water takes through the American landscape, and we have ended up with dirty water…by restoring those elements of the natural world which made the water pristine in the pre-Columbian waterways, we can have clean water once again.

tracks = closeup

I sit gently alongside the beaver dam,
the beautiful wetland
teaming with life.
The quiet, obscure trickle of clear water
along the bank
beneath the beaver dam
is for me, now,
a sacred event.
A Great Blue Heron rises from somewhere close
and I see it fly silently overhead.

gnarl

Each person should try hard to reserve one day out of the week to devote entirely to their practice of mindfulness…a day during which you are completely the master…Every worker in a peace or service community, no matter how urgent its work, has the right to such a day, for without it we will lose ourselves quickly in a life full of worry and action, and our responses will become increasingly useless.

— Thich Nhat Hanh, The Miracle of Mindfulness – A Manual on Meditation

Picked up our Oklahoma Food Coop order last night.
This morning opened a fresh bag of “Nutty Cranberry Granola Cereal.”
The ingredients were marked with one asterik, for “naturally grown ingredient,”
and two asteriks for “local ingredient.”
This is a delicious granola,
prepared by the good folks at Briarberry Farm in Lexington, Oklahoma.

As I poured the chunky cereal into the bowl,
careful to resist pouring a lot,
I was suddenly, and unusually, aware of all it took
to get that granola to that bowl.
Oats,
grown in a field somewhere.
Wheat germ,
grown in a different field somewhere.
Oat bran,
removed from the oat grain.
Dried cranberries,
grown in a far-away bog.
Sunflower seeds,
grown in another field.
(In memory’s eye, I could see the bowed, overly-large seed pods
fringed in yellow.)
Pecans,
from a grove of trees.
Almonds,
from a mammoth California grove
to which thousands of beehives were shipped for pollination duty.
Walnuts – another grove.
Canola oil – another field.
Honey,
made by bees residing in Oklahoma,
(two asteriks)
thoughtfully tended, we imagine, by a happy beekeeper.
Maple Syrup,
from a colder place.
Brown sugar,
cinnamon,
vanilla – from exotic places.

Oh my gosh,
how much soil, sunlight, rain, labor
(and petroleum)
before it got to Lexington, Oklahoma,
the Oklahoma Food Coop warehouse in Oklahoma City,
the fellowship hall of a church in Stillwater where I found it,
and finally the bowl in my kitchen at Turtle Rock Farm.
I covered it with a bit more honey,
from Honey Hill Farm in Edmond, Oklahoma,
and Wagon Creek Creamery yogurt,
from cows and a family in Helena, Oklahoma,
poured myself a tall glass of apple juice from Louisburg, Kansas.
I ground coffee beans grown by farmers in Bolivia,
where they tend their plants under shade
and receive a fair trade for their efforts,
and made a cup of coffee,
to which I added milk,
from a commercial-sized dairy in central Oklahoma.

Mixed the honey, yogurt and granola
and actually paid attention to it as I ate,
to all who created it,
to the delicious, nutty, sweet flavor,
the crunchy texture
made cool and a bit sour by the yogurt.
I was paying attention.
Then the phone rang.
Foolishly, I answered it
and I don’t remember even finishing the rest.

Front Cover

Kathleen Norris, in her most recent book Acedia & Me – A Marriage, Monks, and A Writer’s Life, explains that we are going through a time of acedia. It is not only the “vice,” or “sin,” or condition of individuals, but of our culture. She writes:

I observe acedia flourishing…undetected and unnamed, in the postwar triumph of both weapons-making and consumer manufacturing. An unprecedented array of automobiles, dishwashers, frost-free refrigerators, and gas-powered lawn mowers were brought forth, lavishly promoted and soon regarded as necessities. The pharmaceutical industry grew exponentially to meet a need for medications that could help people cope with undercurrents of anxiety, the fear that this recent prosperity was hollow at the core. Modern conveniences might save people from tedious labor, but they could do nothing to assuage the sense of being in a precarious position in a rapidly changing world. Instead of feeling carefree, many people felt burdened with more and more ‘necessities,’ until they were less able to distinguish between needs and wants, between self-indulgence and self-respect. They became, in short, perfect consumers.

Acedia is boredom with the repetitive. It’s inaction. In old-fashioned terms, it’s sloth. It’s “I don’t care.”

Norris quotes contemporary Benedictine Hugh Feiss who said that “the confused heart, having lost joy within itself, seeks…consolation outside…itself. The more it seeks exterior goods, the more it lacks interior joy to which it can return.”

Norris:

It is indeed acedia’s world when we have so many choices that we grow indifferent to them even as we hunger for still more novelty…We discard real relationships in favor of virtual ones and scarcely notice that being overly concerned with the thread count of cotton sheets and the exotic ingredients of gourmet meals can render us less able to care about those who scrounge for food and have no bed but streets.

How can we be acedic, you might wonder, when we are doing so much? When we are so busy?

Acedia has come so far with us that it easily attaches to our hectic and overburdened schedules. We appear to be anything but slothful, yet that is exactly what we are, as we do more and care less, and feel pressured to do still more…The culture may glorify people who do Pilates at dawn, work their BlackBerrys obsessively on the morning commute, multitask all day at the office, and put a gourmet meal on the table at night after the kids come home from French and fencing lessons, but Wasserstein (Wendy Wasserstein, in Sloth) asks, ‘are these hyperscheduled overactive individuals really creating anything new? Are they guilty of passion in any way? Do they have a new vision for their government? For their community? Or for themselves?’ She suspects that ‘their purpose is to keep themselves so busy, so entrenched in their active lives, that their spirit reaches a permanent state of lethargiosis.’

It’s not a pleasant read, for certain, but, as Norris says, we ignore our acedia at our own peril. The first step: knowing what we are doing, or aren’t doing. We can’t correct a problem we won’t face.

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