Ellen Davis — The Poetry of Creatures (with Wendell Berry)
November 24, 2011

How we see the world is how we value it, says Ellen Davis. And poetry is a way to rediscover the lost art of being creatures. An hour of learning and slowing down, with the "Mad Farmer" poems of Wendell Berry and a new way to take in the "poetry" of Genesis.

(photo: Luke McGowan)


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Selected Poems

"The Contrariness of the Mad Farmer"

by Wendell Berry
[text and audio]

"How to Be a Poet"

by Wendell Berry
[text and audio]

"The Man Born to Farming"

by Wendell Berry
[text and audio]

"The Peace of Wild Things"

by Wendell Berry
[text and audio]

"Sabbaths - 1979, IV"

by Wendell Berry
[text and audio]

"Sabbaths - 1985, I"

by Wendell Berry
[text and audio]

Pertinent Posts from the On Being Blog

In his new book, Parker Palmer takes a deep and wise look at the loss of values that have impoverished American democracy and public life. He discusses healing the heart of democracy and the five habits necessary in moving forward. Our extended correspondence interview with the Quaker elder and educator.

Which piece of music would you choose to complement Wendell Berry reading his poems?

Wendell Berry shares his wisdom on the 2010 BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in this 4-minute video.

A video clip of Joel Salatin in Food Inc prompted by Ellen Davis' comments on the stewardship of land.

About the Image

"Day Three of Creation"

(photo: Luke McGowan)

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I doubt I am qualified to identify interesting topics other than to first express my deepest thanks to you. You touch my heart. The story about the earth and Ellen Davis took me to a place that I go everyday.

I live in a city. The land has been wounded and ripped. And yet I celebrate its healing when I see it.

I ride my bike to work and everywhere I go. I practice Yoga while riding along the river and through beautiful urban wilderness. The spirit is so powerful and yet as I watch people in their cars they are isolated.

I am doing some research on cycling and have found one does not see it as exercise first, rather exercise is secondary. What is almost always first it satisfaction and mental health. I would have to agree.

The bicycle as a means of transportation is fascinating. For example it was the ball bearing that makes cycling 75times more efficient than walking or running. The energy contained in one gallon of gasoline is enough to propell an average cyclist 1,200 - 1,300 miles.

Most interesting is the fact that ironicly we have reached a point where our free ways are restricting our freedom. Consider that the Phillips Neighborhood in Minneapolis, one of the poorer ones, is completly surrounded by freeways, like walls. Human beings can not get across the massive intersections ... our children's grazing pastures have shrunk from 5 miles to less than 5 feet.

Just some thoughts.

In blessing and prayer we keep ourselves grounded in community and love


The follwing thoughts came to mind after listening to this remarkable program. Thank you kindly for posting this interview with Ms. Davis interwoven with Wendell Berry's poems!

Placed Creatures Inconsiderate of Place?

What good is there in arguing for the Creation
over evolution, for example, if we are dependent on
and supportive of an economy, like our current one,
that desecrates the sacred work of the Maker?

We all share some level of guilt in this.
The question is how willing are we
to set our hearts, minds and lives apart
from the destructive economy
and move towards a peaceable, sustainable one?

A better economy, a more biblical one,
would be based on prudence,
on conserving and preserving
and founded on the principle that all

God-given riches have limits
that must be considered
lest we continue to be excessive
and wasteful, merely visceral
contumaceous consumers
rather than grateful children.

~Brian Lowry

When living in the spiritual realm, I really don't think of myself as a creature at all. In fact, I don't think of myself at all. I borrow from Democritus on such matters. I am just a bunch of atoms bouncing around with other atoms.

Let me begin by saying I am a sixty two year old male with two sons and a wife of 34 years. I suffered a cardiac arrest on Oct. 25, 2009 and ten days later returned home with a stint in my LAD and buckets of pills. Prior to my incident I had written poetry. I have never taken a class on poetry nor have I read a book on poetry. Poetry, for me, has always served as a way to put my dreams on paper so I might better understand what is going on in my unconscious self. You might say I have used it as a form of therapy.The only people who have ever read my poetry are my wife, my sons, and a few very close friends. After my incident the muses didn't visit until this week. It really didn't bother me; however, on occasion I would long for a visit.

What does this have to do with Ellen Davis, Krista Tippett, or Karen Armstrong,Wendell Barry, or nature. Ellen Davis and Wendell Berry I had never heard of until today(that's how cool I am)...thanks Krista. Krista, I have listened to for years. Long enough ago that I would email Krista and she had time to respond. Ah! those halcyon days. Karen Armstrong's "A History of God" was read by a book club I participate in back several years ago. Everyone in the group admires KA but several fall into the "groupie" category. So when her new book came out it was a must read. I went along thinking "whatever could that lady have left to say." She said enough in her other books to exhaust a hundred brains! Long story short her "A Case for God" won my all time "dog eared page" award and I suggested to the group that we spend a year on the book one chapter per meeting.

And now on to nature and Karen's gift to me. I have found a major argument Karen makes in this new book concerns ritual...the acting out of myth. I grew up in the Episcopal Church and always was moved by the liturgy. It is something I have missed since leaving the church some twenty years ago. Karen's thing about ritual bugged me. I personally feel we all live out our own myths in our unconscious everyday. Thai's what makes us who we are. But a conscious instigation of a ritual was something I was missing. I suppose taking a walk, or reading poetry, or listening to music or Krista could be considered rituals but I wanted another. Something that would make Karen leave me alone. I have long been an admirer of William James and his essay "The Psychology of Belief." He said, to paraphrase, "If you hear or do something repeatedly without it being disputed, you come to see it as true be it true or not." Hence, the Muslims pray five times a day, the Catholics pray the rosary and on and on. People get up and run every morning believing it is good for them when it could be ruining their knees. So committing yourself to repeated ritual can be "salvation" or it can be a very dangerous thing to do. It is scary, kinda like jumping off a cliff...metaphorically speaking.

Several years ago one of the members of our book group suggested that each of us write down our personal "ten commandments", or aphorisms, and bring them to the next meeting. We did so, spent five or ten minutes reading them, and POOF on to something else. I kept mine and would pull them out periodically, read them, and think what a great job I did on them. Then one day about a month or so ago I thought EUREKA!, I can read these aloud to myself each morning in the garden and create my own ritual. But I thought that if William James and Karen are right then that's what I will become without even being aware of it. That's scary! This thing was full of Meister Eckhart, The Gospel of Thomas, the gospel of Luke, TS Elliot, Emily Dickinson, Arthur Schopenhauer, Robert Frost, Dante Alighieri, and Walt Whitman. If you read the biographies of those folks, they all were a little nuts. Did I want to read them aloud to myself everyday and become a part of what they were? I reread the whole thing several times and decided that they all touched me at a deep level so why not!
You gotta be somebody.

So I began my ritual about a month ago, sitting under the Crepe Myrtles in my garden and reading aloud to myself. I don't know why I decided to read aloud. It just seemed to work. Sometimes I would be joined by a Carolina Wren skittering about unusually close, I thought. But the "ritual' did clear my mind of clutter and allow the day to start clean. Sometimes I would stop reciting all together and just watch the leaves of the Crepe Myrtles sway in the wind. It's different watching the leaves with a mind clear of clutter...very different. And then one day, apart from the garden, I thought of looking up at those leaves and experienced the beginning of a poem. I pulled over in a Starbucks parking lot and wrote the words down so I would not forget them - "Looking up beneath a tree, all that's there we do not see." I went inside, bought a cup of coffee, returned to the car and finished the poem. The muse had returned!!! I twitched it a little that evening in my hotel room, very little.

Beneath a Tree

Looking up beneath a tree
All that's there we cannot see

A lifeless bough still casting shade
Below onto a lifeless grave
As death serves death
We go our way

And higher up among the limbs
New life springs forth without a sin
To greet the Sun and kiss the rain
Unaware of life's great pain

There's wisdom here up in this tree
Yet seldom is it seen by thee
We rush and tumble downs life's path
We miss the beauty and the wrath

A tree, lives more of life than we

The tree sees death among its shoots
Yet still does feed up from its roots
For this tree knows that birth and death
Spring from the mind at mans request

This Cosmic tree that knows no time
Is free to let the seasons rhyme

So look straight up beneath the tree
And see that now's Eternity

So I give Karen's ritual bug, that would not leave me alone, credit for the return of the muse...THANK YOU! And I give Krista and Ellen and Wendell credit for inspiring me to write this missive. And I give the Karen "groupies" in my book club credit for my reading of her latest book. And I thank that contrary and terribly independent muse for coming back around and taking over for a few moments. It only takes a few.

I'll have to admit that my eyesight isn't that great, but I looked at the picture on the webpage and thought that it was the roots of a big tree. When I finally took a good look at the picture and saw that it was actually human feet, it all made sense. That is how I feel, rooted to the earth, like a tree, even though I am able to move about.

Some days, I feel so at one with everything around me here in this wooded place. I cannot stare long enough at the trees, at how they offer themselves up to the whims of the wind as it tosses their leaves about, teasingly on calm days, forcefully during storms. I just finished reading Henry David Thoreau's "Faith In A Seed," his last published work dealing with his studies of the natural world written at a time that some of his critics saw as his abandonment of literature. What they didn't know was that this work, in which Thoreau's passion for nature is undeniable, was an affirmation of the close relationship that he believed exists between nature and words and that he made his dogma.

As a writer and one who has enjoyed a lifelong love affair with nature, I see myself, not only as the current steward of this wee bit of land, but also as its chronicler, as the one who will not allow the world to ignore its existence or to minimize its role, however humble and miniscule, in the greater plan. From the dew-dropped spider webs in early morning to the golden light in the pines in late afternoon, this place, as do all such places, sings to nature's perfection, to the deliberateness of her brush, as she continues to delight us with a symmetry that we, despite our best intentions, are incapable of.

I will go on, looking away in spite of myself, if only long enough to get the words down, hoping that I didn't miss the red-tailed hawk gliding by or the pileated woodpecker boring a hole in that distant maple. I'll tear myself away just long enough to share this experience with those who care to know, and then, in a mad rush, go back to my perch beneath the trees or at my window, where I will look, and look, and look again, if only to have something to take with me on my journey.

The most recent time I had the felt experience of being a creature within nature was driving on the old country road to our home. Even in our rural neck of the woods, the coutnry is now being crisscrossed with wide straight fast roads that remove you from the experience of the land. But on this occasion I drove the old narrow slow way, the way that clings tightly to the real lay of the land, following each twist and turn, each hill and valley, you run with the creek and then suddenly soar up on the ridge. I know that road and driving it with the knowledge and experience of many years, I am there in the land.

Weekend traffic of airplanes taking off from JFK and LGA roar in swift succession this Sunday evening over my little patch of urban earth at the outer edge of New York City. But I also hear the raindrops falling and birds singing, and the nest of an Eastern Mockingbird with its energetic chicks cheeping. I rejoice in a small perennial garden in its June glory, and the creatures that visit my flowers; pollinators critters in many shapes and sizes, honeybees, butterflies, and hummingbirds, as well as the little snails snakes and toads that live here.

How desperately I need these signs of life and connection today and everyday. Especially important to avoid despair while the oil flow billows and unimaginable ecological disaster is unfolding relentlessly.

Has anyone read (in the July issue of Harper's Magazine) Stephen Stoll's piece in Harper's 'Notebook' section titled "Agrarian Anxieties"?

Another worthwhile related read is David Bentley Hart's "Athiest Delusions" published by Yale Press. From this volume's back cover: "In this learned, provocative , and sophisticated book, Hart presents a frontal challenge to the New Atheists' misrepresentations of the Christian past, arguing that the genuinely human values of modernity have their historic roots in Christianity."

Thanks so much for the slight hope evoked by your conversation with Ellen Davis in the "Life and Poetry of Creatures" program since I have been feeling horribly misplaced on the Earth, or at least feel that I have worn out my welcome upon it. The disaster in the Gulf has made me terribly depressed and despairing that as an ongoing oil consumer, powerless to overcome my nasty petroleum habit, my prolonged existence can be nothing but a continuing blight on the planet; my every carbon footprint crushing innocent creatures and plants underfoot despite my best efforts to consume less and walk lighter. Recently I have been making plans once my family obligations are complete to exercise my right to forcibly remove my footprints forever from the beleaguered land since nothing I can hope to do to assist my fellow creatures seems sufficient to undo the damage done to the planet to date, and what my continued existence will wreak in the next 20-30 years I can be expected to live even if I never again take an airplane flight, or stop using my car completely. Ms. Davis’ suggestion that the Gulf disaster is awakening awareness by others of their own responsibility and obligation to rein in or at least moderate further damage occasioned by their feckless daily consumption mitigated some of my own acute and painful awareness of my portion of responsibility for depredation of the Earth in the inevitable support of my own survival. Becoming a vegetarian, training as an animal disaster rescue volunteer (even traveling to the Gulf once to perform this service), and limiting my use of petroleum products has not forestalled the horror of Deepsea Horizon, or the inevitable destruction of many animals (and whole species) in the Gulf region. At the very least, however, media coverage of the Gulf’s spreading tree of destruction and its many sorrowful branches is difficult to avoid, and such wide coverage hopefully will lead to awareness and knowledge even by the most clueless or obstinate humans among us who cannot avoid the images and stories of the destroyed habitat of the region; the wrecked livelihoods of fishing or tourism and supporting businesses in the region; the closing of schools and public services for remaining residents due to loss of taxes from other families forced to quit the region; of the surrender of beloved animal family members to overwhelmed Gulf shelters, etc. But while I may or may not be able to sustain and integrate the anguish which overwhelms me with each of these news stories, perhaps the consciousness of such ecological and human destruction is beginning to make a dent in the previously-impervious consciences of other freely-consuming Americans. I have shaved off my hair to send to the Gulf partly to fill booms to soak up oil as a matter of "practical theology", but I have also done this as a sign of mourning for the spiritual life I wish I had to better sustain me in such grief.

I wonder where this interpretation of the creation story was hiding out while our species was taking dominion and screwing it all up. Also, it seems that this is only part of the problem with the story, or our interpretation- bring forth and multiply could use another translation as well, perhaps one we could screen onto re-usable shopping bags. saying the problem has been with our interpretation of the text rather than the text itself feels unsatisfying- somehow it feels like ducking responsibility in a convoluted sense. what are we to make of god's fury at those who refuse to honor the periodic commandments to commit genocide that one reads in the ot? maybe what we and our planet need is not another reading of this book, but rather it's relocation from our bookshelves, libraries and hotel room bedside table drawers to the blue bin curbside.

When I Am, when I fully let go my thoughts and simply feel myself alive, I am simply human, humus, soil. I feel a great longing to lay deep in cool grass and be utterly consumed by the fragrance of loam and loess, which rises to call me back into the Mother. I am no longer creature, but endometrial cradle, a single seed whose essence is released into the vapor of earth to join that of all the living and yet to come.

Why do our ethical feelings need to be vetted by scripture to know that damaging the earth is the wrong way to live? Wendell Berry walks on this "mangled land" and obviously a Voice comes to him about the harm, disorder, and violence that has occurred. There is talk in this program of the language of the heart. How about listening to that heart instead of needing to find in a book a justification for seeking justice for the land? If the Great Mystery is immanent in the world, is it possible that a voice comes to us not only in scripture, but if we listen... when we contemplate the Gulf? Ellen Davis states that in all our cultures the question of possession of the land gets separated from the question of care. All? Eurocentric. And this same person gives the advice to listen to and to meet in order to overcome inaccurate perspectives. Perhaps more vivid than reading the Book would be to listen to and to meet some Lakota. Watch their children wave out the car window and say, "Hello, prairie dog people!"

"The first form of love is lostness"
The first form of love is lostness,
a spending form and a growing one.

I was a root, spending the seed
And eating dark metal and stone.
With hairs of hunger I groped
From the little that I was, for the only home.

I was a root and my ugly and
Unfinished self was the first form of love

In embryonic passion in the earth.

And eating dark metal and stone
I broke through lostness,
With cells gulping into the dwelling,
The dwelling the cells knew was there,
The only home,
The home whose threshold
Is thrown from an explosion.

I came for this in the first form of love,
Lost and losing,
And it brought me in
And made of me
The second form of love.

A June Morning

Cool yet, the sun
Only just appearing
In a radiant chariot to the East.
Vibrant, the gold and pink
Originating from its silver center—
Pastel blue, lightly clouded,
Paints the sky's eternal arc.
Lazy misty hills, purple
Dull green, brown, and cobalt
Rise above rich emerald
Fringe of nearer trees,
Trees and hills yet unfeeling
Of sunshine's growing embrace;
Mountains beyond, stiff, majestic
Marbled white and shades of rock
Gleam crisp in fresh light.
Slanted shadows, glowing leaves,
Everything slathered in gold
Flowers granted remarkable wealth
By June's Midas's touch
Fleeting, the moment,
Though no eye that has seen it
Will dare forget the gilded earth.

Rather than a picture painted with photos or words, I'd like to paint a picture via video. The following spliced segments from that portion of the BBC program "Planet Earth", labeled "The Future", speak most eloquently to me about the need to act to save our planet, to care for our land and its species.

I am a biological life form, similar in carbon-based makeup to all other biological life forms on the planet. I am called, human, a term derived from the stem, humus or soil. I am intimately connected to the natural world. I can feel the earth, the trees and grass, soil and wind. I smell nature, sense it deep in my bones, and I am comforted by knowing that I belong here. I am awestruck at the beauty and fragility of creation and my most fundamental nature is an extension of the cosmological life force. This,I have always known.

My role while here is to treat nature with the care that I would treat myself. She not only sustains me - all of us - she is us. We are as cells within her glorious organism. We should be oxygen carrying cells - life promoters, not cancer cells.

We've let the back acre of the yard go wild. We own it ... I mean, the bank owns it. If the officers of the bank wanted to, they could probably make me "tidy it up". Their fundamental concern is the market value of the property, how many dollars the land is worth. I have concern for that, too, of course. But there is value for us in letting the land simply be. Wild birds nest and feed there; foxes and coyotes and deer hide there; red and gray squirrels and rabbits have made their homes there, which has attracted a redtail and his mate. The wild land presses against the "lawn" and it's a challenge to hold the line, but even that is a welcome task as it keeps me conscious of the strength and vitality of nature, and of the ultimate futility of my human resistance to its wild impulses. My labors as "husband" of the land are the price I pay to participate in a small way in what remains of local fecundity. Can a television infomercial or rerun, or "hangin' out" on Facebook, compare with the sudden breeze of a hawk swooping through the wild air to snag a mourning dove on the fly?

Foolish Faith
March 18, 2009

It’s the very definition of insanity, you know, to do something over and again and expect that somehow next time will be different. Yet I don’t feel insane, I feel blissful. Once again I‘m trying to naturalize plants to the wild, restoring what too many cattle and too much neglect did to the land at Osage Moon.

There’ve been pockets here and there that made it, osage trees that sprang up where we tossed the wrinkled green balls of our barn bois d’arc, tiny patches of grape hyacinth I’d pocked beneath a tree, pecan saplings from nuts we scattered that the critters somehow missed. But there were also pond plants dug up by wild pigs and many a transplanted tree stomped by cows that invade from the neighbors’ land.

Yet here I am, risking the vagaries of weather and wildlife, blotting from my mind the plant toll of last year’s droughts taking obedient plants from my yard in Dallas and digging them into soil here that I’ve rejuvenated with compost and lava sand. Lovingly raised from seed, viney pigeonberry shrubs now flop and cover the ground with heart-shaped leaves and lovely red berries easy for ground birds to eat. Small turks’ caps, grown from seed gathered in my neighbor’s garden bed, promise a summer of audacious cardinal flowers and phallic yellow stamens.

Into the ground they go, in the shade fencerow alongside my rural cabin. Those plants themselves will someday be, like their city cousins, a nursery for seeds and berries. That fertile bounty will be wildscaped in the far reaches of the property, planted with the same foolish faith. Each garden bed, each hopeful plant, serves as a tiny ark, restoring species and diversity to this 75 acres of land.

My husband works in acres at a time, using the old Ford tractor to take out sterile Bermuda grass pasture and put in native grasses. Their unruly profile of strappy leaves and colorful forbs taunts the nearby submissive fields, clipped into hay or stomped by cows. Wave after wave of grasses ripen and shower their seeds, far more food than the wildlife could ever eat, fertility for the sheer joy of it.

What are we keeping it for, this 75-acre ark? To be ready for when all people come to their senses and live in cooperation and balance with each other, the land and its inhabitants? Or is it for that time beyond us? If humanity crashes and burns the planet and civilization fall into rubble, will this land be the seed from which nature reasserts herself?

Seeds of Abundance
for Autumn Equinox 2009

It was one of those brilliant autumn in days North Texas. The strident summer Sun had mellowed to just the right brightness, yet it was still t-shirt weather warm. The August doldrums had moved off and there was a breeze again. My husband Scooter and I were driving down country roads looking at rural land. Clean green air streamed through the open windows of the car.

Pleasant enough, but even so it was just one cattle farm after another, enlivened only by the dark wash of trees along the creeks and gullies. The constant grazing of cows had tamped down the grasses into obedient shortness, a palatable sameness. The fields were forever juvenile, the grasses never allowed to seed, without potential, without hope, thwarted lives kept in constraint.


Then we came around a bend to see the sharp vertical plumes of a native prairie grass, brushy bluestem, the rust-colored filaments shining gold in the sunset glow. We had to pull over and stare. Decades ago the landowner planted Bermuda, a tropical grass, on top of the native prairie. The aggressive grass dominated the land, making a monoculture that was good for cows and bad for everything else.

Then the owner went away, and the animals, too. Neglect was all nature needed. The native seeds still remembered, even though it had been 50 years, and the bullish brushy bluestem is always one of the first. Seeds are the memory of plants. From the dark silent rest in the dank soil, bluestem seeds still yearned for their original prairie days, struggling to the surface to pierce the Bermuda and find the light.

We fell in love with the land that day and convinced the absentee landowner to sell. We stripped off the Bermuda cover and replaced it with native grasses and wildflowers. Compared to the surrounding lands, it’s a riot of waist high strappy leaves and fall seed flumes that strive even higher, and rowdy with a variety of life -– birds, butterflies and a myriad of unseen rodents and rabbits. Yet even today, it’s adorned with the yellow autumn blooms of goldenrod, a forb we did not plant, whose seeds languished in the soil until they remembered, too.


On this planet life is dependent on plants. The greenery here creates most of the air, much of the soil, and anchors the entire food chain. Compared to the huge biomass and energy value of plants, we animals are stowaways. We live on a plant-et. Everywhere but the desert and arctic, plants are busily, rampantly, enthusiastically and luxuriantly procreating. Their sole purpose is to transform the Sun’s endless energy through photosynthesis so that they can grow, mature and cast seeds to the winds.

Seeds. If you went outside and dug up a square inch of soil, put it in a sheltered place and gave it light and moisture, it would sprout from seeds contained in the soil. If you cut down those tiny plants, seeds would sprout again, and again, over and over for 60 years. Only after many decades would the bank of seeds held in that small square of soil be exhausted.

Now that’s abundance. Plants make far more seeds, and berries and fruits, than they need to reproduce, more than the birds and bugs and animals could ever eat. Plants make seeds for the life of it, because reckless fertility is what they do. They concentrate the energy of sunlight and make it tangible in seeds, giving totally without thinking of reward, without possession or attachment to outcome. Plants live to give and give to live. The lesson of plants is clear: creative fertility is the overriding principle of this planet.


Consider the sunflower, its radiant yellow petals framing a center packed tight with the familiar grey seed. The seeds swirl out in a parabolic spiral, Fermat's spiral. The spiral’s dimensions reflect the Fibonacci numbers sequence, the basis of the golden ratio, a formula of height to depth and width that underlies much of classical painting, sculpture and architecture. Math and light, beauty and biology, all simply to make a seed.

Every seed is both a completion and a beginning. The grasses in my meadow pause at the climax of their process, seed plumes flush in the autumn sun, shining in potential, radiant in maturity, proclaiming a life well lived. Then they release their seeds into the wind, water and soil, confident that whatever may come, however many years may pass, they too will rise to remember the Sun once more.

Posted by Amy Martin ~ www.moonlady.com

As I neared home, driving back from Mom’s this evening, I had a growing sense of anticipation as I peered up at the glowing sky, iridescent with the evening sun. I knew I had to try to capture the loveliness of it, so I began pulling over every few yards or so to step out with my camera and point it up at the treetops and at the sky . . . doubting as I did that I would be able to show the world what it looked like to my own eyes. So then, when I came over the top of a hill, I laughed at the irony of the double rainbow that suddenly shone in front of me; it just seemed too fitting that I had been ready to capture something and then, there in front of me, that photo op just “dropped form heaven,” as it were :-)

Sorry for the second submission guys (I often feel I post/email way too much relative to everyone else), but it occurred to me that something I'd once written about a dream does seem somewhat relevant, given it is about the relationship between two people and the land. I thought I'd share it too, in the event you might like it.

Awake at my Mac at roughly 3 am again, wrapped in my robe browsing the web, after waking from a dream of a girl in a garden. And when I don't have any time related signpost I have to shoot for on waking, dreams don't evaporate quickly, but get mixed up with other thoughts produced on the spot, that I recall when getting up, the first being of a scene from a movie I saw many many years ago now called "The Unbearable Lightness of Being", based on a novel by Milan Kundera that I bought many years thereafter. It's been so long since I've seen it, that I can't be sure I recall the scene accurately, but it was one of those "3-D" scenes for me, that stand out as "real" rather than fictional, and given the way the world seems to me these days, it seems an even more appealing real than usual. The movie revolves around both a couple, Tomáš and Tereza (a surgeon and a photographer), and a penumbra of personal events overlapping the years just prior to and after the invasion of Czechoslovakia by the USSR in the sixties. Circumstances basically smash their lives. Toward the end of the film they're taken in by a farmer, when circumstances no longer permit them a city life. By that time Tomáš is much older, maybe around my age, and has long since been forced by events to give up the thing he felt himself meant for, the life of a surgeon.

Now the scene I had in my head soon after waking, which may or may not be in the film exactly as described, is of Tomáš with a grin on a tractor in a field, watched by Tereza with hand poised over brow, shielding her face from the sun while working in a garden. It stood out as a "3-D" scene for me because it was so obvious they were happy, in the context of everything that had happened, working that land, and it seemed not only believable, but inevitable in that context. It's one of those rare film scenes that felt almost preternatural, that's stuck with me all these years. I don't know if it would feel that way on seeing it again, but I'd like to think so. Many years ago I named a succession of workplace computers I used "Mephisto", the name the jovial farmer of that place gave to his beer drinking pig, it bringing associations to mind of Tomáš and Tereza and that faraway farm place.

On the weekend I'd picked up a copy of "Scientific American Mind" magazine (August/Sept 2008 edition), with an article describing how the brain lights up in so many depression breaking places when the hands are used to carry out goal oriented activities, like gardening or cooking or the kind of day to day work you find in Amish places, elaborating on why that might explain the sizable increased incidence of depression in the latter half of the twentieth century as compared to the first, with so many life conveniences replacing the kinds of goal directed hand task activities that in the early part of the century everyone was steeped in. So I do think the idea of happiness, found in that aforementioned Tomáš and Tereza context, is more than just a romantic notion. There is something to it, maybe contributing in part to that "3-D" feel I had when I first saw that scene, an intuitive grasp of the truth of the happiness revealed within it.

It's the only home we have - if we trash it, or allow others to do so, what then?

About 10,000 years ago our species appointed itself volunteer stewards. The learning curve has become more vertical as the centuries progress - the Sumerians over-irrigated their lands and now it is too high in saline for crops. More recently crops were sprayed ... See Morewith DDT; that error was caught just in time. Perhaps there is hope.

I do not pretend to "own" land. If anything, the land - being far older and vaster than I - owns me. And so it is my prerogative to care for it as long and as well as I can.

But then I am a Pantheist and others may not understand this viewpoint.

I am so lucky. I got to go to Aruba last week for my vacation. If any place on Earth could prosper without petroleum, it would be Aruba. The constant trade winds are so strong the divi-divi trees are all bent over. The sun energy is non stop. There are 10 shiny new giant wind turbines up on a ridge along the shore. There is a giant desalination plant making all the water for this little desert island in the Caribbean Ocean.
But, and there are still buts, the wind turbines are not producing electricity, according to the omlette chief in the hotel, due to "politics." Also, there is also a giant oil refinery puffing away in low gear on the island, awaiting a new financial bail out, according to the local newspaper.
Despite the buts, I found so much beauty and rest in Aruba, "One happay island.". I had time time draw two pictures, my first attempts at this kind of artistic expression in many years. My late husband was the family artist; I was the art appreciator. Now that he is gone, I have to make my own art.
Please enjoy my chalk pastel image of Casabiri Rocks in Aruba. It was done in Aruba while sitting in the warming sun, looking out at the beauty of the moment.

You are welcome to use any of the images in my Snapfish album; the link is in the URL below.

(The following may seem ridiculously simplistic, but ..)
I've noticed that when I scatter leftover food - the fruit/veggie peelings, strawberry tops, stale bread, etc. - into my back yard, more birds and squirrels come; of course we enjoy watching them.
Of course, they're hungry (duh! :) I hope that doesn't make them weaker.
Sometimes I wonder if we over-complicate things. Do we actually need all these major processes, such as composting? If we are aware of re-using and sending things back from whence they came, doesn't that help - at least somewhat?


I am a farmer and writer and also computer illiterate. I am trying to send a copy of an essay I wrote in about 2000 about the prairie winter sky. I think I have it in the area labelled "upload your image or video here". Hope you can find it. Thanks for the opportunity.

Hi James, I'd love to read your essay. I am currently appreciating a Midwest winter but all the while dreaming of Western prairies. Did you have luck uploading it?

I have come to understand the meaning of land and its ownership through my participation in an urban community garden. It is located at the edge of the city, in an "edgy" neighborhood and is run by marginalized folks who regularly live "on the edge."

I care as deeply for this shared piece of land as I do the land I have title for. Before work, at 6 am, I visit to weed, water, mulch and revel in the sun as it drys the dew and awakens the bees. I have the place to myself and even though I do not own it, it owns me. I welcome each new bud and tiny vegetable as if it were my own child. I mourn each bug bite and hate when Fall drops in to stay and I have to put my little plot to bed for the winter.

Part of the reason I love this land so much is the people who share it with me. When I started with it, I knew no one. But now the African-American man who has grown collards there for 60 years shares his farming secrets with me. The man from Romania greets me as an old friend and the Hungarians water my plot when I am on vacation. The old Italian man who was in a camp during the war advises me on wine-making, grapes and apple diseases.

I think that each time I visit, the land has a lesson to share, whether it is from nature or from my gardening neighbors. I discover that a tiny plot in a so-called "bad" neigborhood has the power to make me happy all day, to feel like I have won the lottery every day and to know that the God that I usually suspect is not there IS there in that moment. The red of the Romas, the yellow of the peppers and the purple of the eggplants color my garden and my life.

I may just borrow it for the season but it stays with me all year.

I'm at an age, between 60 and 70, when mortality, which has been walking quietly behind me all my life, has moved a bit closer and occasionally taps me on the shoulder. It's harder to ignore her, what with the crackling knees, aching back, crosshatch of wrinkles that slowly assert themselves. But most mornings, I drive 5 minutes to a small, wild park – just a set of mown paths through a rolling meadow down to a pond, an oak and hickory woods, a marsh. As I amble with my camera beneath the walnut trees, or allow my eyes to slip across the soft grass swaying with wildflowers, I can, for a short time anyway, stop caring about my own demise. With care and luck, the trees will continue on, whispering their leaf talk for 5 months and sleeping for six. The black-eyed Susans and daisies will rise each summer to stare wide-eyed into the sky. The wood duck will glide again and again across the pond with tiny grey puffballs churning along behind her. Some other explorer will come face to face with the hilarious visage of an orange butterfly as it probes for a drink on the topknot of a thistle or spot a jaunty katydid glancing her way before ascending a cattail. And all of that comforts me somehow. I feel mortality over my shoulder there too, of course, but in those moments, I greet her – not warmly but with no rancor. For just a moment, she pauses and then we move on, until she decides to open the door.

The Lark

JULIET Wilt thou be gone? it is not yet near day/It was the nightingale, and not the lark/That pierced the fearful hollow of thine ear/Nightly she sings on yon pomegranate-tree/Believe me, love, it was the nightingale.

ROMEO It was the lark, the herald of the morn/No nightingale: look, love, what envious streaks/Do lace the severing clouds in yonder east/Night's candles are burnt out, and jocund day/Stands tiptoe on the misty mountain tops.

I think it’s safe to say that most of the literate world, millions of people, over the last few hundred years know this scene and the words. But do they know the lark?

First, there is a little white house in western Wyoming, built in 1915 by my grandfather for my grandmother before their marriage. She, a schoolteacher, furnished the house as her dowry. As all good romances should go, Beatrice was a beautiful young woman with many suitors but John Royal won her, in good part, by prancing his black stallion by the school house several times a day. True story.

My grandmother was an ardent gardener. Her house was surrounded with flower beds and the yard was landscaped with Lilac bushes, ornamental fruit trees and surrounded by Karaganda and Jasmine hedges that still scent the early summer nights like a tale by Scheherazade. It is a paradise for birds.

Shakespeare’s lark is the common robin, the bright-eyed “red-breast” that hops the summer lawns of all North America. If asked if there is anything remarkable about the bird some people might say that they fiercely defend their nests by swooping passersby. But any early riser who sleeps with their window open would surely recognize the robin as the lark of the world’s most famous lovers, on the first morning of their star-crossed romance.

The robin’s first chirp comes with the first blink of dawn—a line of light so faint that the early riser has to stare for a moment to define it on the horizon. That first bird is soon joined by others and the chorus builds. And builds. In the natural world of medieval Europe the monks described this in their Bestiary as “an exaltation of larks”. Perfect.

There is a grand lilac bush not far from the window of the rear bedroom of that little house my grandfather built for his new wife. The spruce tree he planted not far from the lilac is now some sixty feet tall and the two of them have long been traditionally favorite places for robins to nest and shelter for the night.

When I am in that bedroom, the first robin’s chirp sends a thrill through me and I instantly rise to a state that is neither awake nor asleep. The composition builds, delicately at first, then joyfully, triumphantly, and in those few minutes I feel as though I am in a suspended state. I suspect that the movements describing the Ascension in the requiems of Mozart, Bach, and others found their original inspiration in an “exaltation of larks”.

July 5, 2010
Jones beach. It needs a better name, a great beach name like Mystic, Cancun, or Bali. Jones. “There’s something happening and you don’t know what it is…” But sit on shore after six o’clock looking out to England and you know what it is. Here are my daughters, Holly and Catherine, 15 and 16, still playing in the sand, a couple of weeks ago when the water was still spring cold but the air was all summer.

In this moment I am refreshed with the earth’s presence. The salt in the air, the relentless sound of the surf providing the restoration of my dream that becomes my prayer and I think, “Surely this is enough for us. This is grace. What else do you really need?”

For the last two summers, I have visited The Nature Conservancy's Pine Butte Guest Ranch on the Rocky Mountain Front in Montana. The Ranch, in operation since 1929 (1979 by the Conservancy), is nestled in the mountains with a beautiful stream running through it and provides its guests with naturalist-led walks and horseback rides. The sounds of water and wind, the sights of mountains, trees and prairie, the smell of home-baked bread and crisp air--all these have had a restorative affect on me. I return to my urban life, 1,000 miles from the Ranch, and the Ranch remains with me--easing my worries and cares and allowing me to let go of the things I have little or no control over. I guess you'd call that "nirvana". I have a sense of the bigger picture--that there is a big world out there and that I, as an individual, am merely a steward of nature and, more frequently, an observer of her splendor. I will do my best in my lifetime to keep my footprint small, to be philanthropic to the causes that matter to me--and hopefully, places like the Rocky Mountain Front and all the plants and animals within it--will be there long into the future to refresh me and so many others on life's journey.

It is a hot beating July day, I load up my small bucket, my large bucket, and a sprinkling can into a push cart and slowly slosh my way downhill to the garden. The "garden" is in the middle of nowhere, next to a busy highway, next to a chain link fence, rising up like an island of vegetation in an empty lot. Right now it's waving at me, big green elephant ears (pumpkin leaves) never fail to greet me cheerfully and the long supple strokes of "ballerina arms" (corn leaves) and then the symphony of Foxtail grasses which when moved by wind might sound like the chimes of a xylophone if audible.

The garden has no name yet, no actual purpose was intended other than what it's teaching me and slowly bringing me face to face with a small neighborhood of children, parents and retired folks who all seem to have the same question for me:
" How are the pumpkins?" Pumpkins have stolen the show, won the good hearts of neighbors and created an instant tradition. It is only my 2nd year of growing these pumpkins but the tremendous response has made me feel that I am an old timer at this.

The secret to charming the whole world is pumpkins. Remember they turned into a magic coach for Cinderella? Well, they are still magic, transcending my garden from a dumpy lot to a fairytale of rural sweetness. These pumpkins would not be here if it weren't for Butch George. He is the last working farmer in my hometown of Northville. I went out to visit his beautiful patch in October of 2008 and fell to swooning. Pumpkins are the last remaining field crop in our town that can be sold directly from the field to the consumer, or rather to all the thousands of neighbors Butch now has who have moved into subdivisions built on the land he had to sell to survive taxes.

I thanked Butch for all his efforts and brought home 3 big pumpkins I called "buffaloes" There was one that I favored and by the first snowfall I took it into the garage to store for the winter. I the spring I gathered the seeds from half thawed pumpkin carcass.I had a brown paper bag nearly full of pumpkin seeds in 2 days. I sowed only half those seeds and even that may have been overstated for Butch's buffaloes roam ecstatically. The city brought me a load of compost so that I could start fresh, spreading the compost mountains, as soft as the dirt was, it was still an adventure, I sifted out a small pyramid of trash, especially all the plastic materials that do not rot if thrown away.

The pumpkin garden is not only visited by neighbors but by people who drive by on the highway to have a look, construction workers, city workers, and plenty of wildlife, from the overly indulging honeybees coated in pumpkin pollen grains (bright orange, of course!)to the curious groundhogs.

For me, pumpkins were the answer to fixing some of the emptiness that I found here that mirrored a larger way of life in the suburb and of how we treat and use our landscapes. Pumpkins said immediately what I felt. It was a way for me to honor the rural heritage of my community, especially farmers like Butch, and it was a way to understand neighborliness on a deeper level, being able to share my values and commitment to garden for the good of all, as a resource, and guide to a healthier relationships with a shared landscape.

This year I have added purple beans and open pollinated corn. There's a blackberry hedge where I gather the ripe fruits now for a wonderful flavored tea I learned to make. I have prairie flowers that hug the garden and attract many pollinators and insects that I longed to see such as ladybugs. The amount of insect life must be enormous for there are always dragonflies hunting here in flashes of blue, black green and chocolate brown. The real surprise was a half wild rose that bloomed in a startling red color, a bonus plant donated from the compost heap. I call her "Cinderella" and she waits upon her pumpkins in a sort of fairytale like quality among all these rugged and handsome plants of agriculture and prairie.

Dear SoF:
Years ago (circa 1970 at the first Earth Day celebration) I saw a poster with a simple, apolitical, but non-ambiguous, simple, straightforward reminder: "Good Planets Are Hard to Find". Recently, I had a graphic design company in Arkansas convert my interpretation of what that message would look like today. The attached is the spare tire cover on the back of my Honda CR-V. It has gotten plenty of notice on the road, especially since I commute daily ~ 40 miles round trip to my teaching job in Boston. Makes the time spent in traffic seem not quite such a waste of time. // Tony Toto

Owed to the Peaceful Valley Farm

We've known each other more than 50 years.

When we met, you were mature and I was but a boy of seven.

Your birth long preceded that legal patchwork of land grants in the 1760s.

For you witnessed millennia of Native Americans, then the colonial revolution, and statehood twice.

All the while nurturing persimmons, raspberries, mushrooms, and walnuts for sharing.

You graciously energized the woods and fields for lumber, pulpwood, grain and pasture.

Along the creek at Julep Bend you harnessed the coolness from each summer night for the town's elite to use the next day, in an age before refrigeration (no less appreciated now by Angus and Dorset).

You clothed yourself variously in trees and grass, and snow and leaves and mud, as fit your seasons.

For scores of years, you lured portions of the rainbow down to earth as colorful surprise encounters with Pheasants, Orioles, Hummingbirds, Woodpeckers and Herons.

Your pond offered Bass, Blue Gill and fleeting views of the trailing halves of Painted Turtles, the other half drenched in freedom.

You brought me daily solace and income, a honeymoon retreat and encounters with far away balloon launchers, whose hopeful notes were attached.

You kept me active posting your perimeter, and warmed me twice, as I gathered the woody cellulose you intended to recycle on your forest floor.

As recompense for a half century of kindness and friendship to me, a great debt is owed.

Thus, I pledge to shun the lure of development, and pray our 2 sons will do the same.

This body of work was inspired by a special place. The Old Boston Neck Road, now a hidden path, was once a major highway during colonial times, is no longer an important thorough fair. It is over grown and winds through hardwood trees and underbrush. The magic for me, however, lies with the dry walls that run on either side of this old road. Stones, seemingly inert material, for me are gems that constantly change color with time of day or each season. The thousand times I have walked here, I wonder, who designed and built these structures and with what inconceivable effort? The energy and beauty found in stone reminds me of the biblical expression the living stone. With calligraphic brush stroke my process is a leap of faith that it will evoke a sensation of implied realism through gesture and the layering of colors using oils on canvas. I recognize that this process is a partnership between the art materials and myself. I frequently enjoy composing my work on two, three, four, five canvas format in an effort to extend the image. Breaks in the space between each panel are like the musical reference indicating a rest between measures. My work reflects a variation of compositions inspired by these walls, the seasons, the natural surroundings of southern Rhode Island.

The following is one of a series of ten images and meditations on the ways and places we might experience the Holy. The collection is called, "God in All: A Gallery of Discovery" which I created through relief printmaking and the help of a letterpress printmaker in 2000.
Here is the image and an adapted reflection from the title: "God in Nature" by Cara B. Hochhalter

What is it about a wildflower in the woods, a lake at dawn, or a magnificent tree that fills us with a hushed tranquility that is surely Sacred? Natural beauty seems to be the reflection of life's soul. Could it be that as we observe, we recognize our oneness in the greatest of God's gifts, life itself?
Once while drawing endangered flowers in the Olympic Mountains, a fog arose filling the breathtaking view with a moist silence. I hugged the earth and began to hear birds relaying their calls. The sweet fragrance of the earth, the intricate patterns of the flowers and the distant sounds merged into one another filling me with the tremendous joy of Creation. May we ensure a future for this transcendent beauty of our natural world.

I sometimes think of myself as a "suburban naturalist"...........A few years ago my husband and I submitted information to the Nature Conservancy and became a certified "Backyard Wildlife Habitat". We have less than a half acre of land (including our house) and have kept about a fourth or so wild, which means that all form of life is welcome back there....... We affectionately refer to it as the "back 40". We rarely enter it, leaving it for the resident groundhogs, birds, wild turkeys (we had a female with 11 young this summer), and deer (2 fawns were born within feet of our house until they were able to stand and the doe moved them to the "back 40"). We've had Red-Tailed hawks nest as well as a Great Horned Owl two consecutive summers and we've seen fox and coyote passing through as well. In the midst of our populated suburban landscape (we are 16 miles from NYC) our wildness is a haven for us as well as the animals that choose to be here. As I write this the doe walks past my window. The sunlight hightlights her ears transparent orange as she passes. She pauses to sniff the air and stares directly at me. In the winter I call the deer each day and throw apples to them. I call them "Darlins". Some of our neighbors, on the other hand, are supporting the deer "hunts" that have begun this past year, another scheduled for November of this year. The wildness, the animals, the variation of vegetation all keep me grounded and connected in a very necessary way in this area of the country that is fast-paced, technologically dependent, and over-crowded. Thanks for the opportunity to reflect and share the bounty we have in our lives. Elaine Spieler Jones

from sap in an amputated sycamore

trunk, maimed a story high, secondary
branches make shade while palm sized

leaves stir orchard grass air. Titmouse
and chickadee take refuge there, within

a statuesque tree formed from a stump capped
with creeper like a chimney no longer in use.

Mottled bark wraps working limbs, sparse
on the east side to neighbor a dogwood.

Up the main west offshoot, one arm stretches,
elbow bends up, protruding, then tenders more

boughs to capture all possible light from the day,
as intended. Tonight fireflies will crack darkness,

like children with sparklers, bright and clear,
then linger in the sanctum of a sycamore stump.

This is a poem I wrote recently in honor of my father, who some 30 years ago trusted me, a 15-year-old girl, to help him with one of the toughest jobs on our small family farm in Arkansas: hauling hay.

Hauling Hay

The summer sun blazed, but farmers think at least two seasons ahead:
winter was on your mind, when the cows follow in steam, bellowing,
looking to you for forage. The boys had already left home, launching themselves
back to Texas from our small farm, to find their own way. Mom and I alone

were left behind to be your helpers; truthfully, though, we weren't much help,
and more often you just worked longer, bending your brown back
to the extra chores. But it was time to bring in hay bales for winter;
strong as you were, you couldn't haul it alone. At fifteen, I was it.

So before sunrise, while it was still cool (but not for long), you drove us
to a local hayfield in your embarrassingly orange Dodge, homemade hay rack
reaching up from the top of the bed, measuring high the work ahead.
Side by side as the sun climbed to the top of the hay rack, then beyond,

we worked and sweated, swinging arms in that ancient rhythm,
bringing in the harvest. I did not know I could be so strong;
I surprised us both, matching you bale for bale. We did not talk,
saving our energy for the endless field before us. Sun and dust,

horseflies and gnats, ice water and sweat, the small relief of sitting
while you drove to the next row. That was our world that day.
We loaded the rack to the top, then climbed into the truck for the trip home.
I think I slept. Too soon, the aching work began in reverse:

to load the hay bales into the barn loft. I almost cried then, but rejected tears
as useless, and settled once more into the work that must be done:
catch, turn, stack, turn to catch again. No thought of work's ending and rest beyond;
only the work itself existed. Staggering home in firefly darkness,

I knew I had visited only for a day the bone-deep work of your life,
and felt pride to have shared it. In the moments before exhaustion won,
I heard you tell Mom, "She worked like a man," and smiled. You meant it well.
And next morning: "I'm proud of you." Into whatever darkness has come,

that day has blazed its light; whenever soul's winter came bellowing hunger,
that day has fed me with its truth: be strong, keep your head down,
keep working, there is more to be done, do it and be done.
The strength that surprised came from you: pride, stubbornness, love.
I have done no finer work than that day hauling hay with you.


George Boxley settled in Indiana after escaping a Virginia jail accused of fomenting a sabotaged slave rebellion in 1816. As his great great great great grandson, I have stood on Vinegar Hill in Ireland and smelled the coals of Wolftone with vivid memories of the deaths of the sons of Joseph Kennedy. On Mount Olympus I penned thoughts of democracy. On the Old North Bridge of Concord, freedom rushed in my veins. I walked the mountains of Ruby Ridge and spoke to preachers on Mnt. Carmel while watching the tomb of a children’s school bus behind a federal fence. I paced the FEMA concentration camps near Frisco, Texas. Worked triage at a post office across from the Alfred P. Murrah Federal building in Oklahoma City.

But I lost my faith in my country when the New London Supreme Court case allowed private parties the right to private property via eminent domain. My family lost property to urban renewal to be given to the son of a former mayor. My country has no borders, my country has no Liberty, my country is no more.

I would love to collaborate with you in this or in any other project that you would graciously include my work. Your show is my 'church' on Sunday mornings!

This is a general overview of what I do but I have more images and verse. Please contact me if you want to focus on any particular aspect and receive more information from me!!


My subject of majestic vistas and portrayal of changing light echo the themes of the Luminist painters of the nineteenth century. But my work draws inspiration from other sources as well. I combine classical and contemporary. I incorporate my experience with exotic places and ancient cultures and explore concerns of perspective, scale and the passage of time.

I have long been influenced by Eastern Art and Philosophy. My extended horizontal formats and sequential series of canvases are inspired by the Chinese hand scroll and Japanese screen upon which a story unfolds.

But Eastern thought came alive for me in the American West. The I Ching [Chinese Book of Changes], which I had studied for years, draws wisdom from archetypal situations in Nature. By immersing myself in the wilderness, I was surrounded by the very phenomena upon which the ancient text is based: Thunder comes from the Earth, A Lake at the foot of the Mountain, Wind on the Water and so on. I began to paint these ‘changes’.

Thirteen summers spent with a Lakota family, camping on their land in the hills of South Dakota instilled in me an intimate connection to and deep respect for the Elements-physical and metaphysical. I came to know the spirit of the thunder, grass, wind.

This led to extensive exploration of wild American territories from New Mexico to Alaska.

I continue today to seek out the world's wild places from Equator to Arctic, to intuit the mysteries of Nature, and to preserve these sights and insights on canvas.

My paintings serve as meditations that reconnect us to nature and help to heal mind, body and planet.

Recently I have been writing Tanka verse to accompany my visual art and have included a duet composed on the occasion of a friend's death but one that expresses universal meaning. [PDF attached]

Meditations on Nature:

Art healing mind, body, planet


Farmers run through my family tree like ants in a honey spill. My father tells me his feet are so flat because of all the plowing he had to do, today when I see him stomping along behind his walker, hunched and head down I wonder if he plowing in his mind. The old farm where the seven siblings grew up is sold, I'm not sure if it's turned into condos or government subsidized corn. I live on the left coast on the very edge of the continent, there are lots of farms here and lots of farmer's markets. It must a hard life, but the farmers I meet seem pretty happy. I feel indebted to each one as I pay for my vegetable purchases. In the backyard I have to grow something, I must to keep my thin family history alive. This summer I'm growing pumpkins for winter consumption. Something bright and orange to eat when the days are short.

This is the river that runs through my city. Living in a city, it is easy to slip into disconnection -- from the land, from green things growing, from the stars, from silence.

By the 20th century my river was unswimmable due to the toxins pouring out of mills that lined its banks and the sewers that flowed into it. In the 60s a determined campaign to clean the river began to grow, one that took forty years to flower. In 2007 the first sanctioned swim race in five decades was held. No one had to get tetanus shots afterwards.

Walking or biking along my river is sometimes the only way I can reconnect with the natural world, the only way I can find peace in this bustling metropolis.

In the night garden
Gaia breathes-
her life force moves
up from the earth
through trunks of trees
to branches reaching
for moon, for stars-
caught in lacy lattices
of leaves-

In my garden at night, I can almost hear the plants growing.
I go there in times of trouble.It is my sanctuary.

I passed this field numerous times during the day. Each time I thought, “there are some beautiful things happening with the trees and the light in that field.” But we seemed to have a lot to do that day, so I set my longing aside. Towards the end of the day I began to notice that the light and cloud configurations were getting more and more beautiful. My longing intensified. Finally I picked up my camera and went. I spent an hour or two walking the field, taking pictures. At times I just stood and watched the light change over the cropped grass and the trees and the stone walls. The display was beautiful. As the sun set the clouds moved across the sky and the trees and the grass and the stone walls were picked out by the low angle light. The clouds reflected every kind of evening color and at times settled into a brooding steely blue-gray with the orange pink tones of rock and wall and trees bathed in the late afternoon light of the sun reaching in below them. Not far away, large, strident, dominating homes rise in the landscape. Jarring and arrogant, they diminish the beauty around them. The houses are as tall as they are allowed to be and located at the tops of hills with commanding views of the landscape and the sea beyond. More and more the landscape is filled with these homes. More about the I and the me of right here and right now, than the us and the we of long running time and relationship. The field is a construct of a different kind. In the patience of the us and the we of long running time and relationship, the compromise of the field has taken shape. The product of human beings and nature working together over long stretches of time. We are, I have decided, what we value. When we value the expression of the I and the me, and the ability to command, we become, more often than not, a sore, an open wound, in the fabric of nature. And because we don’t like what we’ve become, we spend a lot of time distracting ourselves with television and shopping malls and big ugly homes. And we replace intimate knowledge and relationship with command and commanding view. As a new year begins and we pick our way through the ashes of the I and the me in the right here and right now drifting heavily to the ground, it may be useful to pause for a moment and consider our direction. The planet has not stopped being beautiful. The doors to the us and the we of long running time and relationship are, as they always have been, open. May we have the courage and wisdom to walk through. Written shortly after the first of the year 2008

I consider myself a food advocate. I feel that it's very important to know where as much of your food comes from, as possible, and that means eating as much local, possibly organic, food as you can get your hands on. There are two things in my life that epitomize this: when my family goes 50 miles each way to a small organic dairy farm to get fresh, raw, organic, grass-fed milk, and our families vegetable garden that me, my siblings, our families and my mother tends to at our mother's house. What I love about these experiences is how they have brought all of us closer together, because all of us participate in both of these activities, and it allows us to keep in contact and spend time together when we might not have without them. I also feel like we are passing on a family tradition to our children, and I say this because it was my grandfather who originally had a vegetable garden when we were growing up, and we spent many summers with our grandparents, so we were always helping out in the garden. I will always remember how much better the veggies from his garden tasted compared to the ones from the store. My family finally started our ouwn garden when my grandfather became to old to have one anymore. On the other hand my father's family, I have to give the credit to fostering a love of good food in me, and this has enabled me to understand the value of eating local food, because it tastes 100 times better then anything from the store, and it tastes even better if it's from your own garden, and you get the added benefit of helping out a small local farmer and the environment. It's because of these two experiences growing up that have made me the the eater I am today, and I hope that in passing these experiences on to my daughter she will understand their value and pass them on to her children.

I don't own this Place - I was 10 when my family moved there - 23 when my parents sold it and moved away; I was already gone of course. It continues to have a strong hold on me however, even today when I'm just around the corner from age 70. Living only an hour from the Place allows me to "return" whenever the desire to be there has built up to the bursting point.

Because the Place is a 42-acre farm, I have to trespass to get into it, especially to the bottom of the canyon which would be the back edge of the farm - this is where my mind goes when it needs nurturing. Writing this - I'm there this moment. The little creek is making music passing over the rocks I once carefully lifted up in search of crawdads - when it was my Place. Imagine that! The same rocks. All those years - still participating in the water music.

Not all is unchanged though. A few years ago I trespassed into the canyon to see its colors on a good fall day. It had been several years since I'd visited - I was at the bursting point for the Place. I needed the dirt road lined with old pine and fir trees, screeching jays, the near-absolute silence. But what to my wondering eyes should appear but …… junked cars, trashed trucks and even a gutted motor home (its toilet sitting on the side of the old road) all this within yards of the creek, blackberry vines growing over their rusting hoods and through their oily motors.

It took a few months at home before the disgust of that sight moved me to start calling for help: a regional government, land use people with the state, this agency, that department. Each person suggested another person. then one day someone called me back! I gave her directions to the canyon. She’d “look into it.” Months later I received a copy of a letter the agency had sent to the property owner citing a law that junked vehicles can’t be there.

The next spring I returned, this time trespassing in from the other side of the canyon - I really didn’t want to get caught this time. The vehicles were gone. The saplings had begun to overgrow the oily dirt and gravel where the “junk yard” had once stood. That day I hiked further up the creek than I had ever gone - finding the waterfall I’d only heard about in my childhood. Same old rocks, same music, same peace.

High (6200 feet) on the Western Slope of the Colorado Rockies on the side of Grand Mesa lies Cedaredge, an historic community of apple and other fruit growers. Small farmers in the past have pulled out orchards and turned their acreages into plots for retirees' homes. Some entrepeneurs have planted vinyards and wineries have resulted. Others with small plots of land have begun to grow vegetables along with the grass fed beef, sheep, and dairy cattle. Many thoughtful families have taken advantage of Colorado's conservation easements to protect their land from development.

Personally, we chose this place to retire because of its access to abundant water resources (Grand Mesa watershed) and its agreeable climate. The winters are milder than some realize and the summers are cooler. It soon became apparent that with our 1/2 acre we had space to supply ourselves with some fresh vegetables and fruit. So 4 years ago at the age of 63 and 65, we built a raised bed garden (fenced because of deer and rabbit populations). This year we had an abundant crop of strawberries, and are producing broccoli, carrots, onions, beans, snap peas, lettuce, spinach, tomatoes, and squash---all from a 12 x 12 space and enough to freeze for winter use and some to give away to the neighbors.

Having been educational professionals in a former life, we have found that growing a garden is fundamentally the same as "growing kids". Given the right environment and care with time and patience, positive results are possible and probable.

Thank you for focusing on the sustainability movement. We are also participating in a free trade purchase of coffee, chocoate, tea, and nuts through Equal Exchange as part of a church project. That's another story for another time!

Mark and Wilma Reever

I wrote this after my father died two years ago. He and my mom lived at the time on the farm my great grandfather bought 100 years before. The land which may be passed on to others has been a part of our family for four generations and I can feel it!

Fields of Earth, Field of Love

The ground, the earth, dirt, acreage, the fields - are its names.

My home sits on it. Our roads lay across it.
It is one of life’s dimensions

For a century my family has planted in it, and harvested on it.
It has provided them with sustenance and life.

Labor has been given to it
and its fruits have been received with relief and thanks.

From it - corn and soybeans, hay and alfalfa, apples and pears, beans and tomatoes, watermelons and cantaloupe, cherries and peas have been grown and eaten and sold and enjoyed.

Beauty is seen in the growth on its acres. The tassels of corn and leaves of soybeans sway in the wind and tickle the heart.

Some of its produce is given only for joy. Marigolds, petunias, tulips, impatiens, gladiolas, geraniums and lobelia to name a few.

Now it is home for my father.
It is a blanket to hold him safe,
till we all live as joy forever in God’s field of love.

I came to this country from Northern England wherein I was blessed with the most beautiful of surroundings that of the LAKE DISTRICT. With Beatrix Potter and John Ruskin as former fellow citizens of this exquisite countryside how could I not be aware of the wonder of the natural environment and the animals who inhabited the land and lakes! I brought this respect for the land, the animals and the ocean with me to Southern California. After university I became more involved with the nascent animal welfare movement and found that the moment I learned that an animal had to be slaughtered for it to be on my plate, something about which I had never thought of consciencously previously, I ceased to consume that animal. Soon I was a practicing vegetarian and after viewing so many documentaries on the immoral and inhumane factory farm industry I came to be an active animal rights advocate. I support many such groups with time and donations and am appalled at how indifferent many of my fellow citizens are at the cost of animal life and health to their over- consumming lives. I am ashamed that so many are indifferent to the pain of creatures who give their lives so that some individual can consume their body. I condemn those large industries that cause so much anguish to animals and who participate in the growing obescity concerns of our nation. I am so deeply grateful for those authors who ponder these important questions from a health, environmental or ethics point of view for they all add to the vital conversation that must and is demanding attention by consummers, farmers and scientists. Barbara Kinsolvers book will add to my vast and growing library of intelligent and insightful questions and some answers as to how to live a good and meaningful life.

"Creation" – a production of Church of Holy Family’s Sr. EYC Art Group (Chapel Hill, NC)

Think about it: how would you tell the story of Creation, using paint? But first, linger in the stories of God’s creative work: Genesis 1, Genesis 2, Job 38-41, Psalm 148, and Psalm 19. Learn from the painted depictions of Creation produced by the church past. Walk about the physical Creation, mindful of its Creator. What motifs and details must be included to tell the Creation story well? What details delight you, invoke awe, and teach you about God’s work in Creation? What images will help your viewers see themselves within and part of God’s Creation? These are the questions in which the high school youth and leaders in Church of the Holy Family’s Sr. EYC Art Group have been immersed over the last year.

It is my hope and prayer that this project and the resulting painting are a means of training our youth and the wider parish to wonder wisely about God’s work in creation and how their lives fit within the story of Creation. -Paul Cizek, Youth Minister, Church of the Holy Family


Voices on the Radio

is the Amos Ragan Kearns Distinguished Professor of Bible and Practical Theology at the Duke University Divinity School and the author of Scripture, Culture, and Agriculture.

Berry is a farmer, poet, and moral essayist who has published more than 40 books. He lives in Port William, Kentucky.

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Host/Producer: Krista Tippett

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This sustainability feature is supported by the Kendeda Sustainability Fund of the Tides Foundation.