May 2011


Reflections and Rings
in the old trout pond

Prayer is not so much what I do…as it is taking the time to go apart from self-absorption long enough to experience what God is doing in me.

I leave home and cross the dirt road to climb the hill and look a the stars that were there all along apart from my seeing. When I look at them with this new vision, my whole life becomes starstruck, as it were. Thus it is in prayer: we make those gestures that enable us to see what was there all along, the image of God…That image contemplated will enable us to know who we really are. We experience the truth about ourselves in prayer, but then we begin to forget as we descend the hill and cross the road to our ordinary lives again. And so we have to keep making the journey back to the symbolic sand hill; we return lest the image within begins to fade and we find ourselves going around in circles once more, locked onto a false image of who we are. We know we’ve forgotten God’s image when we begin to refuse gestures of ‘crossing over’—gestures like reaching out to others less fortunate, gestures of prayer that are more than self-absorbed whines, gestures of contemplation of the other, from a flower, to a human being, to God.

— Murray Bodo, Landscape of Prayer

Maizey, licking Joe’s ears for him

I don’t like telling
the gruesome parts
of our attempts at sustainable living.
The farm dogs—
Maizey and her son Joe—
were here when my sister Ann and I
moved back a few years ago.
They are wonderful creatures,
companions.
Maizey was dumped here
and gave birth to Joe afterward,
so we don’t know their lineage.
But we know they are, certainly, part bird dog.
And then what do we do?
We come along
and introduce…
birds:
chickens (for their eggs,
their pest management, fertilizer and tilling in the garden)
and guineas (for pest management.)

Joe and Maizey
proudly “caught” and killed
three of our chickens last fall.
We now have eight young chickens
and recently put four of them in the pens
at the barn until they’re old enough
to release into the Alpaca pasture.
We also put four in the movable chicken tractor
in the garden at the pond house.

Last Sunday afternoon,
while a youth group was on a retreat,
we took them out to see the chicks in the garden pen.
Maizey and Joe took a close look too.
Then we went off to do other things
and later when I looked out the kitchen window,
I saw that the chicken coop had been moved away
from the pen.
And I saw Joe’s head in the coop.
We ran,
screaming at them to stop.
We got Joe away from the coop
and shut the door
to keep the chicks inside safe.
But it was too late for one:
Maizey had killed it
and had it in her mouth.
It was a gruesome sight,
and the youth group
experienced one of nature’s
less idyllic moments.

Parker, Zack and Chloe,
as Maizey approaches

We scolded the dogs
and, taking the advice from a farmer friend,
put the dead chicken around Maizey’s neck
for awhile.
She didn’t like it and it wasn’t long
before she removed it.
We removed the chicken—
and made adjustments to the security of the pen.
Again.

Two days later,
the two guineas flew over the alpaca pasture fence.
Evidently the bugs on the other side
were too enticing.
Usually, we can herd the guineas back through a gate,
but they took off in the opposite direction,
having a great time chasing bugs.
We kept Maizey and Joe from them for awhile,
but eventually Joe could stand it no longer
and took off after one.
Both birds flew into trees.
We scolded the dogs again.
And, after an hour or so,
the guineas came down,
and while I kept the dogs distracted,
Ann herded the guineas,
one at a time,
through a series of corral gates
into the safety of the barn and alpaca pasture.

We know, from farmer friends,
that some dogs can be trained
to leave the fowl alone.
But never have we heard
that a bird dog can be trained
to leave fowl alone.
And, really, it seems unfair
to who the dogs are
to scold them,
let alone try to train them to be
different than they are.
We scold them to let them know
we’re displeased with their behavior.
And we will continue to do so
in those moments when we’re
frustrated and grieved.
But there is the food chain,
the web of life,
the great chain of being.
Joe and Maizey
are bird dogs.
And when they see birds,
no matter that their human friends like the birds,
they do what they are built to do.
It’s the way of the natural world.
One wonders
if we can be trained.

Drawing on the prairie

Grandmother and Grandson

Inspecting insect egg sack on stick pulled from wetlands

Two amazing women—
friends who share our mission
to connect with nature—
brought children to Turtle Rock Farm
last weekend.
For three of her grandchildren’s birthdays
this year,
May Lou Bender gifted them with the Earth Plunge retreat.
They came Friday evening
and watched Sun disappear as Earth rolled up.
They listened to a Native American story
about Turtle and Beaver
then grandmother, daughter and grandchildren
made puppets and performed
as Beaver, Turtle, Red-Winged Blackbird, Cricket and Honeybee,
in a story about the wonder of discovering differences.
By then the night had grown dark
and we all watched the stars in the sky
as it grew darker and darker
and more and more stars shown.
Saturday, we explored the prairie,
then the beaver dam and wetlands above Doe Creek.
It was a delight-filled day for all of us.


Helping out – digging a trench

Exploring an island on the Big Pond

On Sunday,
Donna Gilchrist brought the baptism class
from First Christian Church in Pond Creek.
They helped us dig a trench,
move an old manure spreader
and pile pecan logs in the wood pile.
They met the animals on the farm,
picked Mulberries
and explored the big pond in kayaks.
Sitting in the shade on a beautiful, sunny afternoon,
they had reflection time with Donna, their pastor,
who is instilling in them
a sense of wonder.

These two women
understand
the importance of giving children
time to be in nature,
freedom to explore
and lessons on how to observe
and get to know
the natural world that is their home.
Actually, while we were both seminarians,
it was Donna who first introduced me to the idea of ecospirituality—
the idea that the Holy, the Spirit of Life,
is revealed in nature.
Seems so obvious
now.
Mary Lou has understood this for a long time.
She is the person who has come most to Turtle Rock Farm
for personal and programmed retreats.
Her deep commitment to understanding Earth’s systems
and living in a way that promotes the health of all;
her sheer thrill at the discoveries she makes in a pasture
or a pond or a creek,
and her abiding desire that her children and grandchildren
get to know the natural world,
are an inspiration to us.

The only thing more soul-satisfying than spending time in nature by ourselves
is spending time in nature with others—
especially the children,
who are tomorrow’s ecologists.

Mary Lou, grandchildren and TRF staff

Donna and baptism class and parents

Yesterday,
by early afternoon
forecasters predicted
conditions ripe for dangerous tornadoes—
“May 3,” they said;
“Alabama,” they said.
“Joplin,” they said.
Enough said.
Oklahomans remember the power exhibited
on May 3, 1999—
at that time, the largest outbreak of tornadoes
in American history;
little were we able to imagine:
that was only the beginning.

On the heels of this spring’s tornado devastation
in the deep South,
and earlier in the week,
in Joplin,
we were responding uncharacteristically yesterday.
Afternoon appointments were suddenly canceled.
Evening activities were canceled
before the first tornado hit the ground
in mid-afternoon.
This is unusual for Tornado Alley veterans,
who, before 1999, were more than a bit bravado
about not going into safe places during storms.
Never before have I heard Oklahoma’s meteorologists tell listeners
to either get underground or get away from the storm;
hiding in closets inside houses would not suffice
yesterday.
I was in a store in a town
in line with a tornado on the ground
when word came to stop shopping, check out now
or be confined to the dressing room area of the store.
There was a hushed sense of contained panic
in the thickening air.

A half-mile-wide, 150 mph-tornado
tore through our part of the countryside
20 years ago.
We were living in this, the old farmhouse,
and quickly made our way to the newer pondhouse,
to its basement.
The memory of that feeling inside my chest,
the sheer awe I felt,
has not diminished one iota
in 20 years.
Neither have I found words
to explain
the enormous power,
the life,
I observed in that mammoth
as it headed for our house,
which it missed by a mile,
and then crashed on, to the east,
for more than a hundred miles,
hours and hours into the night.

Yesterday, there was so much torrential rain—
“a hurricane of a tornado,” said one meteorologist—
that people driving on Interstate 40 couldn’t see
the half-mile wide, “grinding” tornado crossing their path.
While some people could only take refuge in their closets,
holding the doors shut with all the strength they had,
and survived,
others didn’t.

The air is clear this morning.
The birds here are singing.
We were, this time, 80 miles north of the destruction.
We are mindful of those whose lives
are crushed today.
We are sobered, again,
by the power of the natural world.
We have learned to take storms seriously;
to get out of the way
if we can,
knowing now that, not always,
will we be able to.

But is there more to do?
In recent days,
I heard a news reporters ask a meteorologist
if there is a connection between this year’s string
of epic catastrophes
and global climate change.
“We don’t have enough evidence
to make that connection,” the meteorologist said.
Hear Bill McKibben, journalist and activist,
author of Eaarth: Making a Life on a Tough New Planet,
who’s been studying global climate change
for more than 20 years:

…climatologists have been predicting for years that as we flood the atmosphere with carbon we will also start both drying and flooding the planet, since warm air holds more water vapor than cold air.

In this op-ed piece for The Washington Post,
McKibben cites a little evidence,
in addition to the record tornadoes,
for this pattern of global climate change,
drought and flood,
(what New York Times columnist Tom Friedman
calls “Global wierding.”)

the fires burning across Texas — fires that have burned more of America at this point this year than any wildfires have in previous years. Texas, and adjoining parts of Oklahoma and New Mexico, are drier than they’ve ever been — the drought is worse than that of the Dust Bowl.

this year’s record snowfalls and rainfalls across the Midwest — resulting in record flooding along the Mississippi

unprecedented megafloods in Australia, New Zealand and Pakistan in the past year….the Arctic has melted for the first time in thousands of years

the Amazon has just come through its second hundred-year drought in the past five years…the pine forests across the western part of this continent have been obliterated by a beetle in the past decade

last year’s failed grain harvest from the Russian heat wave, and Queensland’s failed grain harvest from its record flood, and France’s and Germany’s current drought-related crop failures, and the death of the winter wheat crop in Texas

My goodness,
what will it take?
I believe the scientists,
the evidence,
that Earth’s systems
are in great upheaval.
Massive, systemic change—
to cut carbon dioxide in the atmosphere—
is, indeed, daunting.
It is unarguably the greatest challenge
of our lifetime.
Yet, in Oklahoma today,
as I’m sure in Alabama in April
and Joplin too,
and—lest we forget, amidst the tornado rubble—
along the mighty Mississippi,
people are checking on each other,
praying for everyone,
helping each other,
doing hard but necessary work
alongside one another.
This evidence is obvious too:
we human beings
can band together
to do what needs to be done.
Look around:
our capacity for understanding,
for compassion,
for comm-unity,
for change,
is powerful
too.


The air was warm and humid
and there was the sense
that this was one of those May days
that erupts
about suppertime.
And it did:
rain, wind;
fortunately, for us there was no hail
and no tornado.

We have entered a familiar pattern.
Today is cooler, cloudy, blustery.
It will warm
and there likely will be another eruption
this afternoon.
Forecasters have us on alert.
And because this is the year with the most tornadoes,
the deadliest tornadoes,
in the last 50 years,
we are paying attention.
Tornado Alley seems to have expanded
to everywhere.

We ate supper during last evening’s storm,
with one ear tuned to the forecasters,
should we suddenly need to take cover
in the basement.
When the storm passed,
we stepped out into the cold air,
onto the soaked soil
and looked around.
The sky was magnificent:
to the south,
the sky was solidly blue.

To the north,
towering billows of white.
Above us, a sheet of gray.
It was magnificent.

Later,
as Earth met the sun just above our horizon
and the air was golden,
I stepped out again
and looked up
and literally shouted
my wonder:
Mammary clouds! Layers of bubbles in the sky!

And then,
when Earth had hidden the sun,
but not its light,
the bubbly clouds turned pink.

Nature sometimes
seems enormous.
And my response,
perfectly puny.

Bullfrog with a little Cypress on top
last weekend at Turtle Rock Farm’s old trout pond

Two groups of children
visited Turtle Rock Farm
last weekend.
All of us
were intrigued by the bullfrogs.
They sat motionless
as we approached quietly.
We watched them for a long time.
When we finally all decided to move,
we watched them leap into the water.
There were splashes in every direction.
Surprisingly, one jumped
toward us
on the shore.
We approached it, gingerly,
then squatted down in front of it,
eventually gently touching its head
with a stick. It did not move.
Then one of the girls noticed its leg,
where there was a strange red circle.
Our excitement about seeing a bullfrog
so closely
suddenly sunk to concern
and then sadness.
Aware that the toxins in Earth’s atmosphere
are first exhibited in amphibians,
we took note
of this bullfrog’s leg
and its unusual behavior.
One of the adults with us
said a prayer—
for healing for Bullfrog,
for Earth,
and for us to learn how to
take care of our Earth home
and all its inhabitants.

Countenances in the golden light of evening

There is great beauty in how the light takes its leave of the day. From the first blush of dawn, the day is carried everywhere by the light. Time unfolds in light. In the morning, light clears all the outside darkness and the shape of each thing emerges in the brightened emptiness. Light identifies itself completely with the voyage of a day; its transparency puts the day out in the open. There is nowhere for a day to hide; it is exposed every minute to the revelations of light. Perhaps this is why twilight appears gracious; when light abandons the day, it does not believe that it will ever return and consequently permits itself an extravagant valediction in a huge ritual of colour…confronted at evening by the finality of darkness, it turns on every last lamp of colour. It proclaims the eternity of each tree, stone, wave and countenance which it had accompanied during the day.

— John O’Donohue, Beauty, the Invisible Embrace

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