April 2014


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Grassland is greening.
Barn swallows have returned,
skimming low over the pasture grass
for bugs,
flying in and out the barn
through a small space
near the ceiling
opened just for them.
I have missed their air shows—
flying fast,
making sudden turns
without losing each other.
On warmer days
a Cardinal bathes
in the bird bath.
Characteristically, only some
April days are warm.
Low temperatures and gusty winds
remind us
that it’s only April
and summer will arrive soon enough.
Characteristically, a mid-month freeze
determined that there will be no
fruits this year, except,
maybe, apples.
Lower limbs on the big old Hackberry tree
had to start over
after the freeze. Its recently-unfurled tenderness
succumbed, dried, dropped
and now sprouts
again.

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Early flower blooms
hang tough in the north wind.
The wind chime on the front porch
is rarely quiet,
but the old barn roof is silent today,
at last,
with the help of a neighbor
who yesterday stood in those gusts
to tack down banging tin.
Baby chicks are hatching
in the incubator—
10 now—
rescued from the hen community’s
30-plus-egg nest
when the devoted mamma who had been sitting
for three weeks
got locked out of the coop. There were
so many eggs
and the fertile ones have been hatched
so intermittently
that the lock-out turns out
to have been a fortunate thing
because she wouldn’t have sat
as long as this process has taken.
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United Methodist Women March for Economic Justice

[★]Marching for Economic Justice in Louisville, Ky. during Assembly 2014
Deaconesses consecrated at Assembly 2014 in Louisville
Consecrating 26 new deaconesses at Assembly 2014

Every four years
thousands of women
gather
at United Methodist Women’s
Assembly.
They come to learn,
to worship together,
to be together
as a sisterhood
and to recharge themselves
for their work in mission
with women, children and youth
around the world.
The United Methodist Women
support the work of deaconesses
and home missioners (men,)
of which I am one—deaconess,
that is. My work is in
ecospirituality and environmental justice
based here at Turtle Rock Farm.
So it was with great excitement
that I looked forward to Assembly 2014
last week in Louisville, KY. Time with
others in the deaconess/home missioner
community, is always a nourishing joy.
Though we had an evening together for fun
and to welcome the 26 new deaconesses,
as usual, much of our time together
is spent learning and working, working and learning.
Being together is especially a joy because
of our lifetime commitment to doing the work
of love and justice. Diverse as we are,
we hold this in common
and it is a lifeline, a loving bond
that holds strong
even when we are apart,
which is most of the time. So, being together,
strengthening that bond,
is a cherished gift.

We deaconesses and home missioners
worked in many aspects of Assembly this year.
Workshops are a key component.
United Methodist Women value
education and the 6500 women at this year’s event
had to make choices about which of the 125
workshops they would attend. Then they had to
get to them early enough to get a seat! Perhaps
this speaks to the quality of the education
but it also speaks to the eagerness of the women
to be engaged in learning about the plight
of people suffering around the world,
about effective programs
and about ways they can nurture themselves
for the work of being in the world,
alongside its suffering.
My area of concern—the planet and all life here—
was a focus this year
as UMW has established a new program
for environmental and economic justice
called Be Just Be Green.
I was thrilled to get to present
a workshop titled “Tending Mind, Body,
Heart and Earth.”

While deaconesses are called to cutting edge ministry,
and there is an expectation that we will be doing the work
of love and justice that is on the edge,
(that isn’t mainstream yet,
but we think should be,)
it doesn’t mean it’s a comfortable place to be.
As women filled the meeting room
and I was aware of what I was about to guide them into,
there was a bit of trepidation. But no way out of this for me.
I had only two hours
to guide this room full of
dedicated, eager-to-learn women
from around the US,
into an experience
of recognizing, remembering
that we, as only a part of the great web of life,
are interconnected
and interdependent with all life on the planet.
I wondered if they would stay connected
with the guided meditations
that take us back to our beginnings
that I was about to walk them into.
I wondered if they would notice
I wasn’t using traditional church language
to speak of the wonders of the natural world;
I wondered if they would get up and leave the room
as we handed them each a raisin
and invited them into a mindfulness practice.
I wondered if they would see the connection
between our daily practice of mindfulness
and noticing the natural world that is our home,
and the spiritual life they probably came into the room
hoping to tend.
In the initial workshop and a second a day later,
the women (average age of a UMW member is mid-60’s)
engaged deeply. They shared with each other
their awe of the natural world. They all remembered places
of wonder that they love and they spoke of them
with affection, and sadness. They engaged in meditations that took them back
to thinking about our beginnings, a hint of our time with fins and gills.
They ate the raisins mindfully,
experiencing the explosion of raisin in their mouth
as they have never experienced a single raisin ever.
They took notes about how to do spiritual practices
that keep them in touch with the natural world
that is our home and they asked
for more
information,
connection.

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20140426_162502Taking the Cosmic Walk at UMW Assembly 2014

And then,
in the prayer and meditation room
that deaconesses and home missioners
tended,
more United Methodist Women came
to take the Cosmic Walk.
We began with the story in Genesis and then stepped
into more of the story—
that moment 14 billion years ago
“from that place that was no-place,
from that time that was no-time,
the cosmos flared forth
in a silent blaze of inconceivable brilliance.”
Silently,
the women listened
as the storyline was laid out before them
and then silently,
they each walked it themselves.
Afterward we sang
of our “Blue Boat Home
and we talked about this experience.
They expressed their awe.
They expressed the stunning awareness
that we are a small part in this story.
And these United Methodist Women
expressed our significant human part
in trashing
in such a short period
what has taken millions of years
to evolve.
There it is: evolutionary thinking—
the process I so feared alluding to—
much less, saying outright—
in the company of hundreds
of middle-aged women.
I should not have been afraid.

Every year around the time of our birthdays,
local units of United Methodist Women
sign and send greeting cards
to deaconesses, home missioners
and others serving in the UM mission field.
We get greetings from hundreds of people.
They all say thank you and send prayers
for our work.
Grateful, I often wonder if they really know
what we are doing;
what we are thinking and teaching
here, at Turtle Rock Farm: A Center for Sustainability,
Spirituality and Healing.
Maybe it’s because we are doing so
in the “reddest of the red states
that I fear people will confront or maybe attack
us for our work in sustainability,
for our teaching of the wondrous process of evolution
(after all, all my bumper stickers have disappeared off my car;
there were crumpled beer cans left inside my mailbox!)
But Assembly is not a red place.
(And neither is the Oklahoma UMW,
which supports our work in various ways.)
The United Methodist Women—
while extremely diverse as well—
is, I do now deeply believe,
supportive of the cutting edge work
of standing with all in the world
who need support, power, healing,
including the planet and all non-human life here.
I couldn’t be more proud,
or more grateful.

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Our friend Dave Conrad
leads the Earth Drum Circle
annually at our Earth Day Festival.
It starts with laughter
and moves towards
soulful,
as Dave invites us to speak
through the drum
individually
and collectively;
as we listen to our inner rhythm
and connect with the group’s changing rhythms.
That happened again this year.
And then Dave joined
George, Sylvan and Dale
in the round-top barn,
with its wonderful acoustics,
and they played sweet music
into the day.
(This all happened
after the skunk’s early-morning visit.)
Now, Dave sends a poem—
“Earth Day”—
that we’d like to share:

Arched timbers, there for half a dozen decades,
Keep aloft the sky of sheets of corrugated steel,
That crown this cathedral’s bales of hay,
Bags of feed, an old truck, a tractor.

Perfumed with grass, livestock and a resident,
Black with white stripe, seen leaving for the day.
This day celebrates the land that surrounds us,
Here to know the holy in a new way.

Calloused fingertips fret flat wound strings,
And the sound hole speaks, harmony’s voice,
Tells of years, stories  rhymed, words to notes,
Long hours seem timeless, lost with friends.

Each sound sent, from wood, steel,
Move the air, like breathing, whispering in our ears.
To memories only, never to be again alive,
Yet live forever, a group gathered, music shared.

Joy and sadness, sung to the earth, drums beat,
Resonance released, a celebration of our world.
Hope rejoined, that we find our best, for us,
For our world, journey together, dust to dust.

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DSCN3689Cochin Rooster

They are shy,
the Chinese chickens
called Cochin—
staying in the smallest pen,
until we urged them out
into the larger barn community.
They began to move about
some.
Still, they seem to like
each other best,
and cozy corners.
which is where we often found them,
together.
After a few weeks,
they had yet to find their way
up and over and out
the chicken and guinea door.
So Ann made it safe for them
to exit ground level
out into the goat pen.
(In other words, she moved the goats
into the alpaca pen
to use as their daylight home.)
With some enabling,
the Cochins walked into the sunshine
and began pecking at the grass.
It wasn’t long
before they retreated back into the pen
(the hen, before I had photographed her)
but they don’t have direct access to the barn now
and surely the sunshine
and the goodies in the soil
will beckon them
and they will enjoy the outdoors
as much as the other chickens.
Maybe.
The one thing we know
about the natural world—
every single being in the natural world—
is that nothing is predictable.
Nature surprises
at every turn.
Something new emerges
as the parts
respond to each other.
So thank you,
dear chickens,
dear guineas:
you are great teachers.

From personal experience,
we know
that when you photograph
or draw
or write
what you see in the natural world
you see it more intricately,
thoroughly
and tumble into
wonder
more surely.
Our friend Jane Taylor
is a gifted observer
because she writes
and what she writes
is deeply beautiful.
So we are thrilled
that she is coming to Turtle Rock Farm
to lead a writing workshop
May 3.

Here’s how she describes the day:

This is a day-long workshop for new and experienced writers who want to explore or deepen his or her understanding of poetry as a lyrical form. Form will be a guide, but not a strict rule.  Emphasis will be on the mysteries of language, our relationships to the earth, and on listening, discovery, and compassionate sharing. The Owl will serve, as she has over the ages, to remind us of the mythologies we encounter and carry with us in our daily lives. You are invited to spend an extraordinary day at Turtle Rock. Wear your comfortable clothes and shoes for possible hiking. Bring your ordinary stories and be transformed in a natural circle of writers.

You can register on our website.

Consider joining us.
We look forward to a wonderful day,
and all that emerges.

Here’s one of Jane’s published poems:

Watercolors                         
             signed N. Bird, 1967.
A pile of watercolor painting tied with string
and I begin to barter for them
as though they were meant for me,
these unframed 10x16 giant holy cards,

holy cards sans halos, saints, enraptured faces.
I see the holiness of bare and bark-white trees.
They breathe in their nakedness and make
the winter winter.
They are watered by a stream that dreams 
of resting soon in ice, 
if the washy gray-green clouds are true.
I believe they are.
I know the likeness isn’t perfect.
Perhaps the sycamore (we call the button-wood) 
should thicken toward the base, 
be more deeply furrowed.
But I believe this watercolor world. I see
there is no bird, no red of hope, no cardinal
quiet in the branch, not even a blackbird wing 
to take us into spring before the hardest freeze.
If only I knew how to stand the cold, and wait,
and paint that kind of white, 
that true and lonely blue.
 
                                    Jane Vincent Taylor
                                            Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
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Workshop leader is Jane Vincent Taylor. Jane has a Master’s in Creative Writing from University of Central Oklahoma, a Master of Library Science and a BA in Women’s Studies from O.U.  She lives in Oklahoma City. She is a Virginia Center for Creative Arts Fellow. Journal publications include Red Cedar Review, Nimrod, Whetstone, Enigmatist, Red Plains Review, Calyx, Flyway, Third Wednesday, Rhino, and many others. Jane also teaches writing at Ghost Ranch, Abique, NM. Recent publications and activities are posted at janevincenttaylor.blogspot.com.

DSCN3620Eagle Nest is in center of photograph

It was a quiet Easter afternoon
down on Red Rock Creek
where a Bald Eagle couple
have made their home.
Their two eaglets are growing;
we can see them clearly now in the high nest.

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Mom and Dad were perched
nearby
side-by-side,
talking to the eaglets.
A little while after I began observing them,
one of the eaglets
spread its wings,
then spread its wings again.
There was more communication—
a loud squeaking sound from parents;
rapid-fire squeaking from youngsters.
Then Mom and Dad flew farther away,
perching near each other
in another tree.

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Our first observation of this family
was in mid-March.
At that time, we could only hear the eaglets.
We don’t know when they hatched.
Typically, eagles learn to fly at two months
and leave the nest at four to six months.
They keep their dark feathers
for five years,
before growing out the white feathers
that have caused humans to call them
“bald.”
Mom and Dad have made this
quiet neighborhood their home
and most likely will raise their next family
here, in this nest.

When the eaglets’ calls grew louder,
one of the parents
flew back
and kept watch
on a branch closer to the nest.

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A human family
came to watch
for a few minutes.
Townspeople make regular visits.
There is a reverential air
there—
we humans
in awe
of the beauty
in the Eagles’ simple domesticity.

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I’ve been to Earth Day celebrations
on the east coast—Washington, D.C.’s mall—
and the west coast—Topanga Canyon, California.
They may be bigger
with more educational opportunities,
more music, more food, more people
(and less wind,)
but I dearly love celebrating Earth
here on the prairie
at Turtle Rock Farm.
Chickens and guineas scratching around for insects,
goats and alpacas munching away in their pastures,
Red-Winged Blackbirds calling from tree tops,
Maizey greeting guests…
Transition OKC team members
helping people make seed bombs,
Lisa Piccolo explaining about natural fibers,
helping people learn to weave them;
Renee Hoover showing the beautiful belt
she made from the alpacas’ fleece
and demonstrating Cherokee finger weaving…
Bruce Johnson and Barbara Hagan
teaching about energy with their hand-cranked generator
and cracking TRF black walnuts and pecans for tasting…
learning about fighting legislation
that would fine Oklahoma residents who install solar and wind systems…
Dave Conrad leading an Earth Drum Circle…
George, Sylvan and Dale
making sweet homemade music in the round-top…
lunching on corn grilled in the husk (and kept warm in a solar oven)
and the delicious Bison hot dogs from Wichita Buffalo Company
labyrinth walking…
porch sittin’…
making the Cosmic Walk…

Together,
with all ages of people
who care about
and celebrate
our planet home…
in a soft place…
a thin place…
It was a day
when our humanity
was showing!

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