September 2010


Sunlight
lit the low-lying fog on the prairie
as I stepped out onto the porch yesterday morning
and heard the red-winged blackbirds.
They were in all the trees,
cedar, hackberry, arborvitae, hedge
and they were up early.
At first I just heard them
in general
all around.
It’s a big sound.
Then I began to listen
to the smaller sounds,
hundreds (thousands?) of them.
A sweet choir
a whistle
trills
chunking sounds.
Suddenly the chunking stops

as if no one’s breathing
just for a moment
then starts again.

If the Mockingbird’s hilarious and beautiful mimicry
is the prairie’s spring song
and the Dove’s coo and clatter,
the Kildere’s haunting call
is the prairie’s summer song,
then the cacophonous melodies of the Red-Winged Blackbird
is winter’s.
I wonder if the prairie grasses and the trees,
the mice and the cottontail rabbits
are as glad for it
as I am.

And I wonder where they are
this morning.

350.org,
founded by Bill McKibben,
is getting the word out
that 350 parts per million of carbon dioxide
is not sustainable for this planet
(and we’re now at 390.)
Last year, on the global day of awareness,
there were 5200 demonstrations
in 181 countries,
including a local foods dinner
at Turtle Rock Farm.2009

This year,
there is a 350.org Global Day of Action
to let leaders know that we’re ready to work
to lower carbon dioxide emissions.
All over the globe
people will be fixing bicycles,
installing solar panels,
working in community gardens,
cooking in solar ovens,
planting trees…
We had planned to dedicate our strawbale hermitage
and plant trees that day
but the hermitage isn’t quite ready,
so we’re going to a neighbor’s tree planting instead.
And you’re all invited to Deb’s!
We’ll gather around 2:30 p.m. on 10/10/10
to plant trees,
clean up creek debris,
paint a 350 sign on the top of a barn
and have a bonfire and supper together.
(It’s a global party too!)

Deb,
who loves Earth as we do,
lives on another nearby Oklahoma Centennial Farm
and her farmer-husband recently died unexpectedly,
so we’re glad to lend whatever help we can
to her family
as they continue to work at planting 350 trees
in Maggie’s Wood,
now dedicated to the fine life
of farmer and high school science teacher
husband, father and friend
Danny Blakely.
Let me know if you want to join us
and I’ll send you directions.

If you can’t join us,
have a Global Day of Action Work Party
of your own
on 10/10/10
or join one already scheduled near you.
Find out how here: 350.org

Hermitage, northeast corner

We are learning a lot about natural building
and we have a lot to learn.
For one thing,
we know this is a beautiful, soulful way to build.
We also know now
how labor-intensive it is.
Saying that it is
a work of love
is putting it mildly:
it is work
and we do it out of and with love
for Earth
or we probably wouldn’t do it at all.
Every trowel of clay, sand and straw
smoothed on the wall
is a gesture of love
and hope
for the planet.

The results are beautiful,
soulful
and good for the conservation
of fossil fuel
which is great for the planet.
Visitors are surprised by
the coolness inside the hermitage
on a hot day.
(Come winter, we expect them to enjoy
the toastiness of the hermitage.)
They notice the earthy smell.
They can’t help but touch the walls
and run their hands over the
smoothed earth plaster.

It’s not finished yet,
but the north walls,
both inside and out,
are finished.
We have electricity and lights
and a ceiling fan.
The composting toilet is in
and the vault that holds the barrels
of compost is secure.
The porch ceiling is being installed today.

Composting toilet, installed in hermitage

Composting Toilet Vault

Truth Window

Truth Window reveals the strawbale and cob wall

The truth window is in.
It’s a tradition for strawbale construction
to leave a bit of the straw bales and cob showing
behind a small door
so people can see
what’s under the earth plaster.
Tom Temple
the designer and builder and our friend
made our truth door out of the wood of a cherry tree.
It speaks more truth
than we thought it would.
It speaks to the hard work,
commitment,
radical changes
Earth needs us to make.
And it reveals
the possibilities,
the beauty
of truth.

Every year
upon returning from The Land Institute‘s
annual Prairie Festival
just outside Salina, Kansas,
I am re-energized
to do the great work
of learning to live as part of
an ecosystem.
This year
I needed the input of the speakers
at the prairie festival
more than ever before.
It’s always been inspiring to hear
the geniuses who are improving
the way we live as part of this ecosystem –
always Wes Jackson,
under whose leadership The Land Institute
is doing the profoundly significant work of
developing perennial grains in polycultures.
I’ve needed the inspiration more this year than ever
because the news about the impacts of Earth’s heating
has been hard to face.
Speakers at prairie festival
always give facts as they see them,
albeit with much good humor
and often with some underlying spiritual sense.
This year wouldn’t be any different.
The facts are grim.
Wes Jackson said it at the end of his talk,
“I think we’re in for bad times.
I’m not an optimist,
but I’m hopeful.”
And so it was the job of all speakers
to state the facts of the ecosystem’s need,
especially in the areas they each work,
and find the hope
in how we can respond.
I implore everyone to read about the work of
Josh Farley, professor and fellow
for the Gund Institute for Ecological Economics
at the University of Vermont;
Scott Russell Sanders,
Pulitzer-prize nominated author
whose latest book A Conservationist Manifesto
speaks to a vision of a cultural shift of consumption to caretaking;
Sandra Steingraber,
ecologist, author
and expert on environmental links to cancer and human health;
Kent Whealy,
co-founder and leader of the Seed Savers Exchange;
Wes Jackson
and Wendell Berry.
Here is the venerable Mr. Berry
on reasons for hope:

We can learn where we are.
We can look around us and see.
We have lost much,
and much remains.
We’re not helpless.
We have the ability to understand land health.
We can restore native perennials.

We can see what we need to do and do it.
Conservation is going on.
We can use land skillfully, frugally
and with affection.

We could benefit from leadership
and educational institutions
but we are learning from active groups,
from the bottom up.
Because of these efforts,
some things are changing
and they can continue to change.

We can have actual conversation,
discussion.
We should state the specifics of what we know
and admit what we don’t know.

We are working
at living a healthy vision
and aren’t doing it perfectly;
but we can achieve
a unity
of vision and work.

I came away from prairie festival
grateful once again
for great minds
and caring hearts
of the likes of Wendell Berry and Wes Jackson.
And I came away
able
to face the grim facts
and re-energized
to move forward
on a path
of hope
that we can
stand together
and care
for this beautiful,
beautiful
planet
and help it live.

Evening Sky, Turtle Rock Farm
15 September 2010

Even though humans as well as the other species are in a stressful situation, few of us are aware of the order of magnitude of what is happening…Disruption of the life process has led to a severe disruption of the human community itself. If social turmoil and international rivalries have evoked significant concern, the disruption of earth’s life systems remains only a vague awareness in the human mind. This is strange indeed when we consider that the disruption of our bioregional communities is leading to a poisoning of the air we breathe, the water we drink, the soil and the seas that provide our food. We seek to remedy our social ills with industrial processes that lead only to further ecological devastation. Indeed our sensitivity to human conflict over the sharing of earth’s resources has distracted us from the imperiled condition of these resources themselves, a peril associated with the loss of topsoil, the destruction of forests, the desertification of fruitful areas, the elimination of wetlands and spawning areas, the exhaustion of aquifers, the salinization of irrigated areas, the damaging of coral reefs…

The most difficult transition to make is from an anthropocentric to a biocentric norm of progress. If there is to be any true progress, then the entire life community must progress. Any progress of the human at the expense of the larger life community must ultimately lead to a diminishment of human life itself. A degraded habitat will produce degraded humans. An enhanced habitat supports an elevated mode of the human. This is evident not only in the economic order, but also throughout the entire range of human affairs. The splendor of earth is in the variety of its land and its seas, its life forms and its atmospheric phenomena; these constitute in color and sound and movement that great symphonic context which has inspired our sense of the divine, given us our emotional and imaginative powers, and evoked from us those entrancing insights that have governed our more sublime moments.

— Thomas Berry, The Dream of the Earth, 1988

An evening rain
and this morning the air is cool
really cool
and softly life-giving
if one can sit still long enough
to feel it wrap around
her face and back and arms
and squeeze out the hot air within
in a deep and free
sigh.
It is sunny too –
cool and sunny-
and the grass sparkles with raindrops
that can hopefully
make their way to the soil
before the wind dries them.
Soft gray and white kittens
shake the wet off their paws
and then are distracted
by grass blowing in the wind
which they try to capture in their paws
then get distracted by each other
and roll around together.
A fairyland kind of fungus
has popped out of the mulch
in the flower bed just off the porch.
The wind chime rings,
the crickets sing
and a few red-winged blackbirds chatter softly.
Mockingbird sends out an alarm.
Surely,
if you’re looking at the bigger picture,
from atop the Hackberry,
an alarm warning is warranted;
but on the porch
this clear, cool, sweet morning,
I give myself a break and
focus only on softness and sparkling
and another embrace of cool air,
for as Hafiz says:

Hafiz knows
The torments and the agonies
That every mind on the way to Annihilation in the Sun
Must endure.

So at night in my prayers I often stop
And ask a thousand angels to join in
And Applaud,

And Applaud
Anything,
Anything in this world
That can bring your heart comfort!

I Heard God Laughing; Renderings of Hafiz, By Daniel Ladinsky

Corey Williams, Executive Director of Sustainable Tulsa
and Dr. James Horne, President and CEO
of the Kerr Center or sustainable Agriculture
Jim Horne is one of our heroes.
We met him in the 80’s
at the Kerr Center for Sustainable Agriculture
outside of Poteau, OK.
That was soon after reading The Unsettling of America
by Wendell Berry
and meeting Mr. Berry,
who served on the Kerr Center board at that time.
It was exciting to learn that right here in Oklahoma
there was a group deeply committed
to finding ways to farm
that avoided chemicals
and tried to restore health to the soil.
They have been using sustainable practices
and teaching farmers what they know
for more than 30 years now.
Jim Horne’s book
(written with Kerr Center’s Maura McDermott)
The Next Green Revolution: Essential Steps to a Sustainable Agriculture
describes his journey from conventional agriculture
to sustainable agriculture
and lays out the ag principles the Kerr Center
operates out of.
So we were delighted
and grateful
that Jim Horne
is the first recipient of
The Henry Bellmon Sustainability Award.
Organized and sponsored by
Sustainable Tulsa
and the Southside Tulsa Rotary,
this award goes to someone dedicated
to environmental stewardship,
economic growth
and quality of life for all.
The Kerr Center,
with Jim’s commitment and leadership,
is a great help
and hope
toward sustainable practices
in this agricultural state.
Thank you Jim.

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