January 2012


Goldfinches at feeder

Goldfinches on the ground


Doves and Red-Winged Blackbirds

Woodpecker and Goldfinch

I want to give myself permission
to spend the entire day
watching and photographing birds
at the feeders.
Whenever they’re feeding,
I want to watch,
unencumbered by any other duties.
I hope I’d be able to see if that Meadowlark—
its head pointed up, on alert—
really is the lookout for the others
as they feast.
I’d be able to watch the Woodpecker
come and go at will,
no matter who else is eating;
see if it’s true
that he always gets to poke his strong beak
into whatever feeder or spot on the ground
he wants; see if it’s true
that even the Red-winged Blackbirds defer to him.
I’d be able to watch long enough
to finally thoroughly take in
that brilliant yellow and fancy black bib
on the breast of the Meadowlark.
I’d be able to try to count all the Goldfinches
I can at one given moment; maybe
I could count more than the twenty, or so,
I’ve counted so far.
I’d be able to watch and see how long it is
they can hang onto the feeder in the wind.
I’d be able to count how many trips to the feeder,
taking one seed at a time,
it takes for the Chickadee to get its fill.
I’d be able to see where the Sparrows and Juncos
while the big birds get their fill.
And maybe I’d be able to figure out how many
pairs of Doves there are in the neighborhood.
I suspect there is nothing more important
to do.
I think I’m going to schedule that day
on—and for—my birthday.
Ah, my heart relaxes
with the thought.


Home Again
Alpaca (in background) take notice

Working away from the farm
for two weeks—
in the beautiful forested hills
of North Carolina and Tennessee—
with people who share their lives
in life-giving ways
was a rich experience,
for which I am grateful.
I was able to share with them
some of the things I’ve learned
about spirituality
and the natural world.
While there,
I became acutely aware
how attuned to
and immersed
I’ve become in the natural world.
I craved fresh air.
I sought moments outside,
and enjoyed the sharp call of the crow,
the silky buds of the Pussywillow,
the grandeur of a huge old Magnolia,
a whiff of Boxwood,
a small branch of lovely Quince—
blooming too early—cut,
brought in and set on a prayer table.

Arriving home again,
I hold in memory the beauties
of that time away,
and embrace
and seem to be embraced by
the wide-open, subtle rise and fall of the prairie.
Pacas and dogs and cats
take notice of my arrival and
—could it be my imagination?—
seem glad to see me.
I am thrilled to see them,
and the rabbits, chickens, guineas—
even rooster—
and the Goldfinches, Sparrows, Doves, Woodpecker,
Meadowlarks, Red-winged Blackbirds, Cardinals, Juncos
at the feeders.

And then Earth rolls up,
the sunlight fades
and the full bowl of sky turns black.
Stars glisten white in the clear air
and a quarter-moon glows brilliantly.
My heart seems about to explode.
Being away this time
helped me realize how profoundly
I’ve been shaped and influenced
by these last four-plus years
back on the prairie.




According to the biblical Jewish and Christian traditions, God created the world for {God’s} glory, out of love; and the crown of creation is not the human being; it is the sabbath. It is true that, as the image of God, the human being has {a} special position in creation. But {the human} stands together with all other earthly and heavenly beings in the same hymn of praise of God’s glory, and in the enjoyment of God’s sabbath pleasure over creation, as God saw that it was good. Even without human beings, the heavens declare the glory of God.


— Jurgen Moltmann
quoted in Earth Gospel

Will Allen of Growing Power

It was a treat to learn about Red Wiggler Worms
and vermi-composting from the master,
Will Allen, of Growing Power.
In Wisconsin they raise a million tons of compost every year and 100,000 pounds of vermi-compost. When they start seeds and shoots they
use vermi-compost mixed 50/50 with coir,
which is coconut fiber.
A natural product, coir holds moisture as peat moss and vermiculite do.

The event was a workshop at the Southern Sustainable Agricultural Working Group (SSAWG) conference in Little Rock, Arkansas.

We took a field trip to the Mabelvale Magnet Middle School,
part of the Delta Garden Study which addresses childhood obesity
in the central and delta regions of Arkansas.
Students grow vegetables both outside and in a greenhouse.
They compost the food from their cafeteria and use the compost,
plus the vermi-compost, in their gardens.
The school and the community are involved in the program.

Gardens in Greenhouse at the School

Students at Mabelvale Magnet Middle School

I learned some new tricks and interesting facts about vermi-compost.
It does not contain any e-coli.
The worms process any bad bacteria, leaving only good bacteria.
Wood chips help in the vermi-compost process
are beneficial, adding fungus to the finished product  and providing beneficial nutrients to the soil.
After four months,
the worms will have created beautiful compost
and there will be four times as many worms!


Arrived in Nashville
to lead a retreat this week
and there were warnings
for tornadoes.
As we gathered
for Vespers and All That Jazz,
there came a thunderstorm,
with wind, lightning and rain.
Buds on trees are bulging.
People here tell me
it should be winter.
Feels like spring
in Oklahoma.
And it feels like home in Oklahoma,
in another way.
As I non-chalantly walked onto the beautiful campus
at Scarritt-Bennet,
now a conference and retreat center,
walking non-chalantly from the hedge alongside one Gothic building
to the hedge alongside another Gothic building,
a possum.

One thing that was not like Oklahoma—
and decidedly Nashville:
a great jazz trio
playing smooth and elegant jazz
during the meditation portions
of Sunday evening Vespers
at Wightman Chapel.


Wildflowers in Oklahoma’s Wichita Mountains

When California was wild, it was one sweet bee garden throughout its entire length, north and south, and all the way across from the snowy Sierra to the ocean. Wherever a bee might fly within the bounds of this virgin wilderness—through the Redwood forests, along the banks of the rivers, along the bluffs and headlands fronting the sea, over valley and plain, park and grove, and deep, leafy glen, or far up the piny slopes of the mountains—throughout every belt and section of climate up to the timber-line, bee flowers bloomed in lavish abundance. Here they grew more or less apart in special sheets and patches of no great size, there in broad, flowing folds hundreds of miles in length—zones of polleny forests, zones of flowery chaparral, stream tangles of rubus and wild rose, sheets of golden compositae, beds of violets, beds of mint, beds of bryanthus and clover, and so on, certain species blooming somewhere all the year round…

The great yellow days circled by uncounted, while I drifted toward the north, observing the countless forms of life thronging about me, lying down almost anywhere on the approach of night. And what glorious botanical beds I had! Oftentimes on awaking I would find several new species leaning over me and looking me full in the face, so that my studies would begin before arising.

— John Muir
The Wilderness World of John Muir

Brooks-Howell is a retirement facility
for United Methodist mission personnel.
Near downtown Asheville, North Carolina,
it is a remarkable place.
It’s where many Deaconesses live.
These are women who were Deaconesses
in the years when they devoted their lives
to their cutting edge ministries
for love and justice
and weren’t permitted to marry.
Community has always been
their family
and so it still is.

Every room,
every hallway,
every sitting area
in this large facility is decorated
with artifacts, gathered from all over the world
by these amazing women
testament to their connecting with all kinds of people
and cultures
and to the fact that they share what they have
with all.
They are women who saw needs
and developed cutting edge programs and organizations
in which they served to see that those needs were met.
They helped run the United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries
and co-founded the United Methodist Committee on Relief.
Professionally trained,
they worked in hospitals, schools,
community centers.
In New Orleans, their free meals
open to everybody
helped inspire school desegregation.
I had breakfast with a woman
who was one of the first women
to become a surgeon. She then taught surgery
in South Korea.
One of my colleagues here for meetings
sat at the piano with the wife of a man
who composed many of the songs my friend
sang in church all the time he was growing up.
He was in tears telling us about
this encounter with greatness.

Officially “retired,”
these women are still involved.
I shared a cup of coffee with a new resident
now chairing the Green Team here.
They are composting, recycling, changing light bulbs,
looking at solar panels…
(This afternoon, we’re touring
Warren Wilson College,
one of the country’s most sustainable colleges.)
These women are still active in local churches
and advocating for justice
in a myriad of ways.
We visiting Deaconesses and Home Missioners
still in “active service”
are on hallowed ground here at Brooks-Howell
among the ones who have gone before us,
who still inspire us.
It is hard to describe the gentle spirit,
the heart for justice
that is palpable in a place
where so many are gathered
who have lived our call.

The retired surgeon
said it best:
“This is a little bit of heaven
for us.”
Indeed it is—
for anyone who steps through the door
into this sacred space
where the saints
have gathered.


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