The light has changed—
to that cooler, longer-shadowed
golden light
that heralds autumn. Even
on hot days now
the light is autumn’s.
This week
it won’t be hot either.
As we prepare for Green Connections’
Prairie Dinner and Concert,
we wear long sleeves
driving mower and bush hog,
making the last rounds
of the summer. We will
have to hunt for late-blooming
Maximillian Sunflowers
since the 7-footer sunflowers
blossoms are mostly spent.
Migrant birds and butterflies
are sipping from Russian Sage
and Lantana,
picking Hackberries.
It’s the autumnal week
of the Prairie Dinner and Concert.
Chef Kam has made the local foods menu,
the wine is on its way from vineyard to our farm,
tables and chairs reserved
with the City of Billings,
cloths and napkins pressed.
Kyle Dillingham stands at the ready,
fiddles nearby.
Transition OKC’s Community Catalyst Award
glistens, ready for the winner.
We are going to gather on a crisp
autumn Saturday afternoon
to enjoy and celebrate Earth,
promote sustainability,
resiliency,
community.

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Now’s the moment,
if you have yet to reserve
your place at the table:
Go to
the Green Connections website.
See you Saturday!

The day was beautiful:
a cooler, sunny September morning
with no wind. MaryAnn Sonntag taught us
the history of the labyrinth,
various stories about building
and walking
this ancient spiritual phenomenon.
And then we set out,
over the pond dam
through a gauntlet of 7-foot tall
sunflowers
and, at our feet, billowing bunches
of bright yellow Broomweed,
freshly blossomed.
Across the slightly gooey shale
pond channel (it had rained a bit
overnight,) up into the prairie
passed the Turtle Rocks on the hillside
then, atop the prairie,
we paused to take in the 360-degree view
of sky and grass and trees
before making our intentions
and entering the 11-circuit labyrinth
mowed into the tall grass.
As we entered,
MaryAnn began her long, slow, circular walks
around the outside of the labyrinth, holding
us and the energy of the labyrinth,
sometimes holding a bell
that rang softly as she passed.

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Describing what happens
to each
walking the labyrinth
would be to remove something
sacred from them. It’s beyond
words anyway.

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All on this Saturday
had walked labyrinths before.
The prairie labyrinth at Turtle Rock Farm
is different. It’s big. It’s outdoors
under an endless sky,
within tall Blue Stem, tiny flowers at foot;
crickets and cicadea and birds
and sunshine
and clear, soft air.
In such a place,
slowly following the turns
to the center
and out again,
no wonder
there is
connection,
within and without.

Thank you MaryAnn!

Pope Francis said it:
“…nature can be church.”
I am glad to have church
community, of the human kind.
But honestly, I am most in touch
with the beauty, freedom, warmth,
wonder, mystery and challenge of life
when I am outdoors in nature.
Last Sunday morning
I took a walk
on the prairie, stopping first
to visit with a neighboring farmer
driving by in his pickup truck. Talk
here now is about a prospective
wind farm that would spread
across the land we love. Will we never
stop having to face critical,
heart-rending dilemmas?! My answer
to his angst-ridden question—Do I
want to see wind turbines rising
up from the prairie?—was angst-ridden
as well. I don’t want to see the elegant,
haunting roll of the prairie,
that plaintive curve on the eastern horizon,
interrupted. But just there on the western horizon,
look: already
a cell tower, and along a line
180-degrees from there
to the north, oil pump, oil tanks,
a giant, light-saturated truck stop
on Interstate 35 with its roaring double-loaded
18-wheelers, more oil pumps and more
oil tanks. It takes 13 frames in my camera
to chronicle the interruptions on the western curve
of the prairie. And
if it means saving the planet
from disasters and extinctions
due to global warming,
bring on the wind farm. I’ll
further sacrifice
my aesthetic sensibilities.
It was a friendly conversation;
Sunday’s sermon
with an environmental justice message.

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I walked off road then,
across a cattle guard,
over an abandoned oil field road,
westward, out toward a flood control dam
and the reservoir it has created.
Sunflowers, Willows, Cottonwoods,
masses of lavender flowers,
way too much of the shorter ragweed,
broomweed—its masses of tiny bright yellow flowers
just beginning to bloom—
a few deep purple stickery thistles
and, at water’s edge,
two pair of Great White Egrets
fishing.
My heart flashes warmth,
flushes,
thrills.
I watch
then walk, sit
and watch,
then walk
as my heart loosens
from all concern
and I am free to take in sky
and green
and flower
and the gentle breeze
and the play of sunlight on wiggly
Cottonwood leaves, the elegance
of great white birds
with curved necks
and wide wings. Soar I would
if I could and do
anyway.

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Sun is high
as I climb over a barbed wire fence
and walk through thigh-high prairie grasses
towards the house. Water shines
in a small pond,
finally with water,
encircled with sunflowers.

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I stand near the edge,
drinking in the gleam of sparkling water
and when my camera shutter
clicks
something in the tall grass
next to me
makes an unheard-of sound,
like something big emerging
through the suction of mud,
or maybe it was a snarl
or growl. I run.
Never have I been afraid
on the prairie. But I was.
Something unseen, unknown
had warned me.

Church, indeed—
experienced beauty,
love,
connection,
freedom,
social justice teaching:
Humans are here,
a part of this planet.
Because we too
are connected to everything
that is, everything
we do
or don’t do
matters. Consider well,
for all,
our response
to each moment.
And enjoy,
savor,
celebrate.

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This has been a summer
to savor
and remember.
We usually have an abundance
of sunflowers. This year there are
more
and they’re taller—
a gauntlet of bright blooms
seemingly reaching out,
life celebrated.
They bloomed earlier;
the blooms are big and bright
and there are still more
to come.

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Instead of the usual spring and summer
blooms, roses
have not stopped blooming. Neither
has the Lantana,
which the hummingbirds
have preferred over the sugar water
in the red feeders. And why wouldn’t they?
The Russian Sage
is gargantuan,
lifting its fluffy flowers
and attracting bumble bees,
which weigh them down just a bit
as they dabble in the purple blooms.

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The Hackberry tree
has hackberries. Last year
there were none. Plenty
of winter food
for birds and squirrels.

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I’ve been listening to James Taylor’s
new album, “Before This World.”
In one of his songs, “Jolly Springtime,”
he sings of a “come again day.”
I know that this summer,
this rare Oklahoma summer,
is part of the irregularities
and the extremes of weather
during this time of global warming
and climate change. We had a 55-degree
August morning; on one August day,
Iranians experienced a heat index
of 164 degrees.
This was our “come-again” summer.

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Our Latest Newsletter:
An Astonishing Summer at Turtle Rock Farm

There was cloud cover when
we set out, and so the night
was darker than we expected. Light
from flashlights shown
our way across the rickety crossing
at the spillway
and on the mown path
across the dam. High thickets
of sunflowers
created a ghostly green gauntlet
on each side as we passed.
Once we crossed the pond
we doused our flashlights
and walked the path
Ann had mown through the prairie.
We fell into silence
as we walked. Still,
clouds covered the full moon—
full blue moon—
but they couldn’t cover
its white light.
At the top of the prairie,
there was enough light to see
where to enter the labyrinth;
the tall grass walls reflected
enough light
to see the darker path,
make the turns. We walked silently
still,
brushing palms across tall grasses,
passing each other,
following the path,
moving parallel for awhile
before one or the other
made the next turn—friendly,
familiar,
ghostly figures along the path.

Debra had entered the labyrinth first.
She has been a friend for a long time,
through many joy-filled and
tear-filled times. It was she who
first asked if I wanted to walk the labyrinth
in the light of the full moon. That thought
had never occurred to me. Of course
it would occur to Debra,
so steeped in Earth’s beauty
and mystery. As always, there were
mutual insights: she thought moonlight
was the only light under which one
walked the labyrinth. The day she called
to tell me her beloved Danny had died,
she asked me to go out
and walk the labyrinth, which, of course,
I did, not knowing how
that could possibly help.
Here we are
again. This time accompanied
by another dear friend, Rachel.

Debra reached the center first.
Cloud cover had cleared,
and formed an interesting pattern
of stripes, curved gently,
pointing north. Maybe that’s why
everyone laid down in the grass
facing north, eyes
to the sky.
Higher in the east now
the full blue moon
shown bright and clear,
its face glowing.
Silently, we watched stars
and moon
and clouds;
felt the night air cooling.
Safe
inside a bright circle
for a little while,
with stars and moon,
grass and cool air,
dear friends.
We lingered long.
Slowly then
we made the turns
that took us out,
walked down through the prairie—
the quietest of times on the prairie,
when the wind is stilled,
the birds sleeping—
back across the dam,
through the dark flanks of sunflowers,
and home
for ice cold watermelon.

This I know:
There are things
you can only experience
in the darkness—
and by the light of the moon.
The labyrinth—
in moonlight
or daylight—
will take you in,
hold you safely for a little while,
and send you on your way again.
It is necessary
to walk with friends on the path,
at every turn.

DSCN7683Debra and Rachel at prairie labyrinth

In the dry years,
there weren’t many mosquitoes.
Last summer, after several dry years,
even the sunflowers were sparse.
And each dry year,
growing numbers of grasshoppers.
This return-of-the-moisture summer,
many mosquitoes
many sunflowers.
Very, very few grasshoppers.

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The Mimosa,
which I thought would die
three years ago
after it was brutalized by ice,
is now fully resplendent.

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Roses are blooming
again.
Honeysuckle, which usually
by now
is half-eaten by grasshoppers,
has bloomed
again.

Then one recent morning,
as I walk through the grass,
I am horrified by the numbers
of tiny baby grasshoppers
that fling themselves
when my feet pass.
They are legion.
Another morning
I watch five chicken hens
chase a guinea
who had caught
a teenaged grasshopper.
This summer
we get it
all.