February 2013


I think the world is changing.
I see it this week—
this week of unexpected
challenges.
When wet snow and wind
took down power lines,
Kay Rural Electric Cooperative
responded generously—
with detailed information,
on the telephone,
and website updates
several times a day
about their progress
restoring service.
There was unexpected
kindness.

Making the transition
into Medicare
(I know; I don’t seem 65!)
four people
walked me through
the maze of information
toward decisions,
with patience, understanding
and unexpected kindness.

During a visit with loved ones,
we witnessed hospital staff
extend compassionate care,
kindness
beyond imagining.

Headlines not withstanding,
there is quiet evidence
that we are moving
towards life-sustaining community.
Witness too,
this,
from Mary Oliver,
in Thirst:

In the Storm

Some black ducks
were shrugged up
on the shore.
It was snowing

hard, from the east,
and the sea
was in disorder.
Then some sanderlings,

five inches long
with beaks like wire,
flew in,
snowflakes on their backs,

and settled
in a row
behind the ducks—
whose backs were also

covered with snow—
so close
they were all but touching,
they were all but under

the roof of the ducks’ tails,
so the wind, pretty much,
blew over them.
They stayed that way, motionless

for maybe an hour,
then the sanderlings,
each a handful of feathers,
shifted, and were blown away

out over the water
which was still raging.
But, somehow,
they came back

and again the ducks,
like a feathered hedge,
let them
crouch there, and live.

If someone you didn’t know
told you this,
as I am telling you this,
would you believe it?

 Belief isn’t always easy.
But this much I have learned—
if not enough else—
to live with my eyes open.

I know what everyone wants
is a miracle.
This wasn’t a miracle.
Unless, of course, kindness—

as now and again
some rare person has suggested—
is a miracle.
As surely it is.

Last Saturday
several wise people
dedicated to practices
that help sustain life
on the planet,
gathered here
for the first Active Hope retreat.
Using the processes
that ecospirituality teacher
Joanna Macy
has developed in the last 40 years,
we looked at where we are
in our lives
and how to proceed.
Rather than simply hope for change,
we looked at the specific changes
we want to work toward
and the steps we can take
to get there.
As Macy teaches,
this four-step process
consists of expressing gratitude,
honoring our pain for the world,
catching a vision—with new eyes—
and taking the steps needed
to go forward.

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While my desire
is that everyone on the planet
join in this work,
it is extremely wonderful
to do the good work
we did on Saturday
with the group gathered here.

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Our closing
was outside,
dancing our prayer
for the planet—
as Joanna Macy teaches
in The Elm Dance,
created during the years
she was helping people
in Russian villages
following the Chernobyl nuclear
disaster.

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Rain,
most of the day
yesterday.
By 5 p.m.,
two inches!
Then half an hour
of sleet.
Then the snow.

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Two or three inches,
probably.
And wind.
Up on the highway,
electric poles
snapped;
wires,
heavy with wet snow,
downed.
Electricity has been off
21 hours.
For the first time,
we’re using the natural gas-powered
generators,
at both houses.
We’ve gone from blissfully
quiet
with no electrical hum
and chilly rooms,
(that would have been much chillier
without the wood-burning stoves!)
to LOUD,
but warm rooms,
internet,
and safe, refrigerated
food.
It may be awhile
before the electrical service
is restored.
No one has said.
Amidst
the angst of that,
there is sloppy dancing
in the mud!

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In the High Tunnel with an Extra Layer
of Warmth for Cold Nights

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Lettuce, Greens in High Tunnel this Winter

Gardening
in these days of climate warming
has become year-around
work. Ann has been gardening
all winter.
Lettuces and greens
have grown better
in the high tunnel
than anywhere.
We’ve also been eating
carrots, beets, broccoli
grown in the high tunnel.
Using a cloth over the greens
on the coldest nights
has kept the temperature
almost 10 degrees warmer
than the rest of the space
in the unheated,
but toasty,
greenhouse.
She’s enjoyed working
in shirt sleaves
in the warm high tunnel
on the coldest, windiest days.
Recently, she planted potatoes
and strawberry plants
in the high tunnel
and seedlings in the house.
When the time comes,
some seedlings will be planted outdoors
and some in the high tunnel,
which will be covered in shade cloth,
and the sides rolled up
as summer’s scorch approaches.
We’re hoping runoff
from the current rain
and snow (it may be a blizzard)
will fill the Big Pond again
so she can garden
in the raised beds this spring.
Unless the pond fills enough
to cover the water pump
that serves the outside faucets,
she won’t be able to water
plants in the raised beds.
(There’s one faucet
on the house water system
that is close enough to water
plants in the high tunnel.)

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Tomato Seedlings

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Seedlings

The seedlings
are growing well
under the grow lights.
In the past,
their bright, new greenness
has heralded
the coming of the growing season.
It’s different now:
there has been no down-time;
gardening has continued.
So the seedlings
herald the coming
of a different growing season,
producing different foods
than the cold-weather ones.
It will be a busier season,
since there are more summer plants
(beans, tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants,
squash, basil, melons…)—
and more weeds growing
and more insects chewing
and more need for watering
and times of heavy harvesting,
we hope.

Gardening for the pleasure
of seeing food grow
and eating the freshest food
are reasons enough to garden.
But gardening year-round
is about securing a food supply,
and has begun
because summers have become
so hot and dry
that the traditional growing season
has changed drastically.
In what used to be the height
of the growing season,
photosynthesis seems to stop:
plants don’t set fruit.
It isn’t always possible
to harvest enough food
in the summer
to preserve for the entire winter.
On the other hand,
winters are warmer too.
So, with layers of protection,
foods can be grown year-round.
Dehydrating, canning, freezing
as much summer food
might not be as necessary—
which might actually be better, nutritionally:
food grown in winter
is fresher,
less processed.

Perhaps the sprouts
are symbolic too. While unsettling,
and sometimes frightening,
this time of transition
might also be a time of new ways,
nice surprises.

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Maizey was dropped off
at the farm
some years ago—
maybe 12, 13, 15
years ago.
Not long after,
she gave birth,
and one of her (only) litter,
Joe,
still lives with her.

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Maizey Grooming Joe

She is deaf.
You can stand behind her,
call her and call her,
and she won’t turn around.
But if you’re standing behind her
and touch her,
she’ll jump
and then turn around.
So if you want to go on a walk with her,
you have to find her,
wake her up,
look her square in the face
and pat your leg.

She may not have hearing,
but she has a voice.
When she wants to be fed
or petted,
she comes to the back door
and barks.
First, I put food in their bowl.
If she continues to bark,
I know she either wants a biscuit,
or to be petted.
If I offer the biscuit
and she really wants to be petted,
she won’t take the biscuit
until I pet her.
If I offer the biscuit again
and she hasn’t been petted enough,
she refuses the biscuit
until I pet her more.
If I don’t answer the door
when she barks,
she’ll slowly make her way
to the hermitage
and bark at its door,
hoping someone is there
and that they’ll come out and pet her.
Guests figure it out quickly
and willingly oblige her.
If we are standing outside
talking,
she takes advantage of the opportunity
for affection
and, silently,
paws at the closest leg.
When one of us stops petting,
she goes to the next person
and silently paws
their leg.
Everyone
is happy to connect
with this sweet spirit.

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To say
we love her
simply
doesn’t cover it.
Maizey is love.

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Snow fell
most of the day yesterday.
It didn’t accumulate
until during the night
when lightning, thunder
boomed and flashed
and pellets of freezing rain
hit the windows
and covered the trees.
This morning, an inch,
maybe two,
covers the prairie.
There is dripping!

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We are so grateful
to be back in a pattern
of wet—
“drought-denting,”
says our weather guru,
Gary McManus,
of the Oklahoma Mesonet.
Even a dent
feels good,
though some area farmers’
wheat crop has already
been declared,
officially,
“crop failure.”
Wheat fields greened
some
after a good rain
a couple of weeks ago.
But it was the first soaker in months
and the wheat never got a chance
to establish root systems
in the dry soil.
Every drop of this precipitation
is extremely valuable,
as the drought is predicted
to continue.
Every inch of snow
soaking in
is life-giving.

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OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAConversation in high tunnel…

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Two came
on retreat—
stepping aside
from intense work
for a few days of quiet,
rest,
in the peace of the hermitage,
walking on the prairie.
And when I saw them
walking toward
the barn,
I stepped tentatively onto the porch
to greet them;
they were ready to be greeted.
We stood in a warm February morning,
getting to know each other,
and discovered much to talk about,
much of interest to share.
You know when you like others,
and so often
the people who come here
are instant friends.

Next morning a dear friend
brought her husband
and their dear, long-time, out-of-state friend
to visit.
She knew
we would be instant friends.
We talked non-stop,
meeting the animals,
touring the farm
and finally, at table,
sharing information, experiences, ideas
about sustainable farming, living.
We hated to see them go.
Later that day,
we welcomed
another group of dear friends,
who come on retreat
four times a year,
which isn’t enough,
if you ask me.
Again, the sharing
was deep and meaningful
and riddled with good humor
and all-out belly laughs.
We tried to stick to a retreat schedule,
and mostly did,
but the life stories told at table
were so compelling,
so heroic,
so moving,
so inspiring,
that before we could rise from our chairs,
we simply had to pause—
naturally,
silently,
letting soak in
gratitude
for the profound pleasure,
the soul-filling sharing,
the warm gift
of life
on this planet
together.

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