July 2011

Evening Sun on the Horizon
over Turtle Rock Farm Last Night

I am convinced that religion, rightly rooted in its context and reflecting truth, can be a powerful force for corrective environmental action. Religious communities can play a central role in the ending of the old and the birth of what is yet to be. We have long recognized what even some scientists are now saying: that we live in a physical, psychic, spiritual universe, and that everyone, and everything, is holy, a mode of divine presence. In every area of life—how we structure our societies; build our cities; grow and harvest food; develop our economics, and our educational and legal systems; arrange our forms of government; what we do with toxic wastes; how we organize our health care systems—the way we understand our connection to all of life is of fundamental importance to devising a way of life that is mutually enhancing for all.

“Environmental Magazine” ran a cover story in 2004, asking whether religion can save the environment. I think we have to understand that ecology—this study of wholeness—can save religion, too. The diversity and complexity of the cosmos is the context and the model we can emulate in this important time for the reformation of religions all over the world. If we can nestle our truth in the natural order…we will have a vibrant faith, a relevant faith with an important message for our time. This encompassing theology is the filter that will allow us to see what we are doing to this planet and what it really means for our future, our near future. With our hearts and our minds in the right place, we will act differently on behalf of earth’s integrity.

The past can guide us, the foundational stories of our faiths can guide us, if we recognize that our understanding is always evolving. It is that evolutionary view to which science and all the rest of life calls us. That is my prayer and my hope: to have the courage enough to let the old way of understanding die and allow the new to be born.

— Tom Carr, in Claiming Earth as Common Ground by Andrea Cohen-Kiener


It was a joy
to spend the morning
with children at a summer program
at First United Methodist Church
in Sterling, Oklahoma.
We learned how to use
a jewelers’ loupe
to look more closely
at pine cones, honey comb, dragonfly wings.
It’s a great pleasure to watch
a child—or adult—bring the object from nature
into view.
There is always an “Oh!” or “Wow!”
when they suddenly see
what they couldn’t see
without the magnification.

Checking the butter and chocolate melting in the solar oven

We set up a solar oven—
made of cardboard, aluminum foil and glass—
to melt butter and chocolate
for brownies.
And while the sun was doing its good work,
and with jewelers’ loupe in hand,
we took a nature walk
around the neighborhood.

Getting to know a tree

Once the idea is planted
to see
what’s around us,
there are wonderful discoveries.
We found a cicadea shell
and the shell of a bird’s egg.
We also found some human-made things
that didn’t belong in the natural world.

By the time the sun had melted
the chocolate and butter,
we were warming up too
and came inside the church
to finish the brownie batter,
which we then placed
in a black pot with a glass lid
in the solar oven.

Inside again, we listened to the story
about the “Woman Who Married the Frog”
and learned about treating animals
with respect.
Then the children decorated tote bags
that they can use for shopping.

We made several trips outside
to check on the brownies,
adjusting the oven to catch every available
ray of sunshine.
The temperature inside the oven
was 200 degrees
by the time we took the brownies out.
They were cooked to perfection
and the children enjoyed taking their parents
and siblings outside
to show them the solar oven.
It gave new meaning to the phrase,
“cooking over a hot stove.”
And it was a pleasure to hear them tell their families
that they’d cooked with the sun’s energy.

The Little Fish Pond, first year

A couple of years ago,
when I read about water gardening
and tried to figure out how to put a little fish pond
off to the side of the front porch at the farmhouse,
the design I preferred
was to establish a wildlife pool.
But, I added a few non-native plants
(like water lilies)
and four goldfish.
I have enjoyed the pond immensely,
including the four goldfish,
which, because they have grown,
I have assumed were happy
with their home.
They made it fine through a frigid winter patch
when the water froze—
obviously, not all the way to the bottom
of the pools.
And they’ve fared well
this extremely hot weather,
happy in the algae-rich waters
fed by the pond’s location
in the bright sun most of the day.
The water lilies
have bloomed beautiful lemony blossoms
this summer.
Seeing them is a balm,
as heat and grasshoppers
have devastated many of the nearby plants,
including the Hackberry trees
whose yellowing leaves fall
way too early
and float on the water.

I have been thrilled
to watch the little pond’s
community evolve,
delighted to see other creatures
make their home
in the little pond by the porch:
I smile when I see little frogs
poke their eyes out of the water
and sun on the lily pads
or the rocks along the edge.
I’ve happily watched a thin snake
wriggle its way up the bottom pool,
over the rocky ledge
and into the upper pool.

As the prairie has dried out this summer,
as the creeks and farm ponds
have gone dry,
new residents have moved
into the little pond by the porch.
One needs to consider
as many possible scenarios
as one can,
or at least be open to whatever develops
when one wishes
for a wildlife pond.
A very large,
very long,
perhaps very hungry, snake
came visiting a week or so ago.
And now there are no goldfish.
Too, a very large bullfrog
has come to live in the little pond by the porch,
startling me
when, unseen, it suddenly
jumped and splashed big
into the water as I stood nearby.

It’s exciting to watch
and learn
from this little community
just off the front porch.
I am amazed
how the living world
every single day.

Wildlife Pool, now

Alpaca, Pygmy Goat, Chickens, Kittens

and just outside, the Guineas

Early in the summer,
once the Guineas had learned
to stay (most of the time) in the alpaca pen;
the two new sets of teenaged hens
had become accustomed to the barn
and the adjoining alpaca pen;
and William, the third alpaca to be added
to the gang, was more acclimated,
we opened up the barn
and the corral
so that everyone,
Pygmy Goats included,
would have access
to everything—except,
we hoped,
the rabbit village.

the two sets of chickens
moved out into the pasture
during the day.
They mingle a bit,
but tend to stay in their
brooder families.
The Alpaca slowly
found their way into the greener grasses
(the goats haven’t been so interested in the Bermuda)
of the goat pen.
The goats are everywhere,
including the rabbit village.
They hop up onto the straw bale walls
and jump down into the rabbit village
and partake of the rabbit’s feed,
which we now have hidden in a rabbit burrow.
The goats also eat the chicken feed,
which we’ve finally managed to hide
above their heads
where they can’t hop
yet where the chickens can fly.
The alpaca also now,
these extremely hot days,
keep to the shade of the barn
and the eastern breeze that blows through
in the afternoon.
We douse them with water,
they roll in the dust
and create a cooling layer of mud
on their fleece.
The chickens nestle down
into the cooler dirt floor of the barn,
alongside a family of kittens.
The community of animals
is now living together,
except at night,
when we shut the gates
and everyone goes to their pens.

I don’t know why,
exactly, this appeals to us.
Maybe because they seem to get along.
They seem to share.
I don’t know if they mean to,
but they do.
Of course, we’re there to see that
everyone gets needed nourishment and hydration.
But we like having a part
in this community of creatures;
creatures who are so unique
and yet able to share space.

Yesterday evening,
the sky darkened in the north
and then east.
Lightning flashed in the deep blue sky.
The storm had passed us.
But once in awhile
I got a whiff
of rain.
I was surprised
how deeply glad I was
just to have a whiff
and to know
that somewhere
water was falling
on this parched earth.
It didn’t even have to be
right here.
I was grateful.

I asked earth
to share water with us,
with as much land as possible.
I sat on the porch all evening
enjoying a cooler breeze,
now from the east.

About 1 a.m.
I heard thunder and saw lightning
This morning,
rain has fallen.
Everything is damp.
It wasn’t a lot,
maybe a little over a tenth of an inch.
There was a rainbow
in the west.
It’s still cloudy
and there are sprinkles
now and then.

Thank you Earth.

This morning’s rainbow.

This sense of connection, this feeling of being ‘part of,’ this awareness of the preciousness of life—for me, this is the crux of spiritual values and the core of environmental activism.

We are in a relationship with the trash mountain. We are its creators. We are in a relationship with Indonesian sweatshops and burning Amazon forest lands. Our appetites fuel these things. We are in a relationship with nitrogen runoff into the Chesapeake Bay and carbon emissions emanating from the caravan of eighteen-wheelers that whiz across our nation daily. It is how we gain our daily bread that requires and supports these things. We are precipitating a change in the very climate, land and water that sustain us.

We are connected to all of this. When we are unconscious of it, we are less aware of who and what we are. When we are disconnected from it, we have no motive to behave differently. The double-edged sword of the preciousness of life is this: We are a tiny part of the whole of the cosmos, and we are a tiny part of these destructive systems.

As a human being, I am concerned about what these messes mean for my health and our children’s future. As a religious person, I am concerned about what it all means about our state of awareness, our spirit, and our faithfulness to our purpose. Can we be responsible cocreators with God when we despoil and destroy the very life-sustaining capacity of Earth? The sickness in our bodies—the asthmas and cancers—are calling our attention. The physical problems point us to the spiritual misalignment.

…Climate change is pervasive and global. It is well under way…Climate change is just the issue that is big enough to prove to us—once and for all—that we are connected.

–Andrea Cohen-Kiener, Claiming Earth as Common Ground. The Ecological Crisis Through the Lens of Faith

Ann in the north garden

This is the fourth year
for the north garden.
Every year,
more organic matter
has been added to the soil.
Every year,
Ann adds alpaca manure,
and shredded leaves.
She covers the ground
with cardboard and straw
to keep the soil cool and damp
and block the weeds.
She plants a cover crop in the fall
to replenish the nitrogen
and provide green manure in the spring.
She does not let a drop of chemical
fall on the plants or the soil,
eliminating pests by hand.
And this year,
in spite of the winds, hot temperatures
and drought,
the garden is the best it’s ever been.
She is watering it judiciously,
but with the heavy mulching,
she doesn’t water but every few days
even in the hot and dry weather.
(One brief mid-afternoon surprise shower
brought hot rain
that actually scorched the green beans.
Now the grasshoppers are chomping
their way through what remains
of those plants.)

So from her careful,
diligent care of the garden
(and the prodigious use of cherished water)
Ann is now harvesting
lots of cantaloupe
We eat them this year
and share them
with a deep sense
of gratitude
and awe.

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