April 2009


When guests come to Turtle Rock Farm to participate in our retreats and workshops, we invite them to join in the final preparations of lunch. We usually make a large salad with as much homegrown or locally-grown ingredients as possible, including fruits and vegetables, nuts, olives, legumes, grains, greens, herbs, cheese.

And we ask that they do the chopping in silence so that they can take in the diversity of textures, colors, smells, flavors; to really notice the food they are about to eat and consider all it took to get to this salad bowl and onto their plate; to think about the soil, sun, rain, bees, farmers that helped produce their lunch.

Last Saturday, our guests included a family with two young girls. Ann took the youngest outside to harvest wild onions and herbs for the salad. It was an exciting moment for her as she brought the fistful of onions in, washed off the mud and chopped them as her found-contribution to our lunch.

When we broke the silence as we sat down at table, Mom exclaimed: “We’re going to do that more often!”

Here’s the poem we recite together before we eat:

From air and soil
from bees and sun,
from others’ toil
my bread is won.

And when I bite
the soil, the air,
the bees and light
are still all there.

So I must think
each day afresh
how food and drink
became my flesh.

And then I’ll see
the air, the sun,
the earth, the bee
and me, all one.

— Edna J. Ortez,  Five Loaves and Two Fishes



Yesterday we experienced a wondrous surprise. While eating lunch, I looked up and saw through the living room window thousands of bees flying on the patio. We jumped up from the table and watched as they swarmed the Magnolia tree, piling on top of each other in two balls. Soon, the upper ball collapsed into one giant collection of busy honey bees.



In Natural Beekeeping, Ross Conrad explains why bees swarm:

The natural emitted swarm is A. mellifera’s way of giving birth to a new colony, and it is one of the most fascinating activities in which honey bees engage. It stimulates the human imagination and stirs the soul to witness a swarm issuing forth from a hive in search of a new home. The queen mother and roughly half the workers within a colony will time their departure so that it takes place shortly before one or more new virgin queens, which have been lovingly raised and cared for, are set to hatch out of their birthing cells and take over leadership of the hive. The confidence the swarm shows in itself and the faith it has in the universe’s ability to provide for its future well-being are inspiring. Certainly the mother and her daughters do not make the decision to swarm carelessly, typically timing their move to coincide with conditions when the hive is chock-full of bees, honey, pollen, and brood, and there is plenty of nectar still to be gathered. It makes good sense, after all, to wait until times are plentiful and prosperous before deciding to build a new home and start another family. However, when compared to human parents, the widowed mother bee shows unparalleled generosity of spirit in her actions.

We have just started keeping bees and had on hand one more empty hive. I wasn’t sure if they had left one of our new hives, or if this was a community of bees from somewhere else. I called my mentor and friend, Everett, who came over to get all the bees into the empty hive. He  shook the tree branch so the bees would fall into the box, which they did. And they didn’t fly out. They stayed right in the box as he turned it upside down onto the empty hive. It took a couple of hours for all of the bees to crawl into the new hive.



Everett thinks this was not a swarm from one of our existing hives, but from somewhere else. We’ve never seen a community of bees find a new home and wonder how we got to observe this one. Did they know there were hives in the neighborhood? Is there plenty of food here (we’ve been concerned about that) and if so, did they know that? At some cosmic level, did they know this is a safe place?

We do know two things: Now that they’ve found a home here, we must care for them in the most sustainable ways we can. And we have just witnessed another “soul-stirring” mystery of the wondrous natural world.


It was wonderful timing for us
that a turtle emerged
from its winter home
made its way across the patio
Saturday morning
while two girls were visiting
Turtle Rock Farm
with their parents.

We scared it half to death I’m sure
but then backed off
and watched and waited
for it to feel safe enough
to come out of its shell again
and continue the trek across the patio.
But we grew impatient for it
and concerned how it would ever
traverse the steps
and eventually
lifted it
and set it in the grass.


i thank You God for most this amazing
day;for the leaping greenly spirits of trees
and a blue true dream of sky;and for everything
which is natural which is infinite which is yes

(i who have died am alive again today,
and this is the sun’s birthday;this is the birth
day of life and of love and wings:and of the gay
great happening illimitably earth)

how should tasting touching hearing seeing
breathing any — lifted from the no
of all nothing — human merely being
doubt unimaginable You?

(now the ears of my ears awake and
now the eyes of my eyes are opened)

— E.E. Cummings, 1950


Spent a week in California
visiting my son
who was amused
and pleased
at my constant exclamations:
the flowers!
the light!
the ocean!
California is spectacular:
crystalline light sparkling on the blue water
pelicans diving for fish
dolphins swimming!!!
lemons growing in the backyard
ocean breezes
layers of green and blue in the mountains.
It’s breathtaking,


This morning
back on the prairie
I have been exclaiming
right out loud,
Oh my gosh
Oh my gosh
Oh my gosh.
The breeze blows through the house
drying the vacation clothes hanging on the porch
where a spider has captured a carpenter bee in her web.
The wind chime sings gently.
Birds sing constantly.
The screen door squeaks gently as the breeze catches it.
Hostas barely out of the ground when I left
have quadrupled in size
in what looks to be a celebration of the ability to grow.
Yarrow blossoms.

Earth is remarkably beautiful


A friend recommended the book
Gaviotas: A Village to Reinvent the World
by Alan Weisman.

Front Cover
Just finished it
and now can recommend it myself
It’s the story of a visionary named Paolo Lugari
who, in 1971, founded a village in the harsh savanna
of his native Columbia.
This community, dedicated to sustainability,
still exists today.

its founder said,
is not a model, but a path.
It’s a remarkable, on-going story
that inspires me to continue the path
no matter the hardships,
for they could not be as difficult as the hardships
faced by the Gaviotans,
who show us that
the creative process,
and partnership with the natural world
make a life worth living.

The Gaviotans have invented many devices
and processes used all over the world.
But perhaps their greatest discovery
is how to build a rain forest.
Says Lugari:

There are two hundred-fifty million hectares of savannas like these in South America alone. There’s Africa. The tropical Orient. Places where there’s space and sun and water. If we show the world how to plant them in sustainable forests, we can give people productive lives and maybe absorb enough carbon dioxide to stabilize global warming in the process. This is a gift we can give the world that’s just as important as our sleeve pumps and solar water purifiers. Everywhere else they’re tearing down rain forests. We’re showing how to put them back.

On the Coffee Table at Turtle Rock Farm

On the Coffee Table at Turtle Rock Farm

It’s time we realized that every day is Earth Day.
from Last Child in the Woods
are some ideas about how to do that:

Buy a truckload of dirt for your children to play in. It costs about the same as a video game.

Make your backyard a wildlife area, with birdbath, a bat house, native plants instead of so much lawn. Check out the National Wildlife Federation’s website for backyard ideas.

Get in the habit of going to a Sit Spot. (See our blog posting on Jon Young’s Sit Spot and Wilderness Awareness School.)

With your children, place a scrap board on bare dirt and every now and then lift the board to see who lives there, replacing it carefully.

Encourage your kids to go camping in the backyard.

Be a cloudspotter.

Make the “green hour” a family tradition. Writes Louv: “The National Wildlife Federation recommends that parents give their kids a daily green hour (www.greenhour.org), a time for unstructured play and interaction with the natural world.”

Take a hike.

Go for a walk when the moon is full.

Keep a “wonder bowl,” a place to see nature’s wonders.

Keep a nature journal.


Go harvesting.

Go birding.

Visit a state or national park.

Collect stones.

Louv offers 100 such actions to take, along with a list of good books.
I recommend doing them all,
reading them all,
until Earth Day becomes a state of mind.

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