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We look forward to January first with some
celebration of what has gone before, and with some trepidation as to
what may be coming. It is a time of truly mixed emotion as we
prepare for the worst part of winter, which will seem endless before
the end of this month. January is known for its rosy fireplaces and
external snowdrifts, its icicles hanging over the roadcuts, and its
wildlife tracks in the snow. It is the time of graceful art forms
playing off the naked trees in early sunrise or late evening sunset.
It is the time our breath clouds so suddenly and the snow crunches
so distinctly on a very cold night. It is the time of the hoot owl
and the bright red cardinal living off the largess of the land.
January is the month of the white carnation or the snowdrop and of
National Soup Month. January is the time when many roots start to
grow, and the sap stirs and gets ready to rise. In our northern
temperate zone nature is coming alive. It is hard to say many good
things about January, but it is a time of great possibilities -- and
that gives us the clue that there is much more in store for 2006.
Let's make the best of this month.
January 1, 2006 A Day of Peace
On January the First, we close out the old year and begin the
new in a renewed sense of seriousness. We seek to start this new
year on a renewed quest for peace in our hearts and in our land and
world. The joys of the Prince of Peace are still on our lips as
the octave of Christmas comes to an end. We strive to pause and
pray for peace throughout the world: peace in the Middle East,
peace in Africa, peace in Iraq, peace in the Balkans, peace in
areas struck by terrorists in 2005, peace in Appalachia with its
drug problems, peace in the environment, peace among those who are
leaders, peace in our parishes, our families, and finally peace in
our own hearts.
Peace and war. Peace means the absence of conflicts. But we
live in a world of immense military spending, huge standing armies,
and continued development of sophisticated weaponry, of which our
own country is the leading culprit. It is as though the weapons
industry determines the policies of our country and world.
The Iraq War. Why do we have 155,000 American young people in
harms way in Iraq? Is it due to the presence of weapons of mass
destruction? Obviously not, and that is better known now by most
of the country than it was in 2003. Was it to establish democracy
in a corrupt regime? Should we set ourselves as arbiter of the
world's governments? And stability has not yet occurred after tens
of billions of dollars and over two thousand dead Americans along
with tens of thousands of Iraqi. If not those, then what? Was it
because Iraq's sands lie over the second largest oil reserve in the
world, and it is there for the pumping? We're getting warmer, but
we now realize that the insurgency can blow up pipelines.
A pull out? A minority of us Americans opposed the war in
2002 for the precise reasons that now concern us. We knew it would
be difficult to leave, but experts point out that chaos is
inevitable whether we stay or go. There never was a free state
called Iraq and not even a conceivable one until the end of the
First World War. A people must want to be a nation for they cannot
be joined by outside bureaucrats thousands of miles away. If a
major portion does not want a nation, then why continue the
struggle? Iraq was created by the western powers through the
breakup of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War.
The Kurds, Sunnis and Shias have never united and will not now
under such trying circumstances. Military control by one group
over others does not guarantee true nationhood.
A graceful end. We Americans must admit failure. Let those
who are better trusted help guide the territory's resources to
complete development. Americans are not trusted by a great number
of the region's people, and it may be many years before we regain
their trust. If conflict continues, it will most likely not be any
worse than the current situation. We pray the transition will be
as peaceful as possible.
January 2, 2006 An Earthhealing Program Report
During 2005, Earthhealing went from a website to a non-profit
corporation in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. Through materials,
design, and publicity we have grown from about 60,000 visits in
2004 to over 300,000 visits in 2005 -- and these are coming from 65
different countries. We try to convey a sense of our own interests
from both a technical and spiritual perspective through the Daily
Reflections, the longer Special Topics, the books and reports, and
occasional essays on related matters. The subject matter is
intentionally quite broad because we do not view the healing of the
Earth from a narrow technical perspective. Rather, many facets
need to be at work (art, home economics, conservation, gardening,
etc.) and divergent interests need to converge to a single goal.
Outlook. During the year 2006 we hope to provide our
readership the following:
* Ongoing Daily Reflections beyond the 730 presented to date.
Past contributions are easily retrieved on the calendar shown at
the site. No two essays are the same, and that is becoming a
little more trying as the easier topics are expended;
* Expanded publicity through the use of the existing search
engines. We have a fair representation on various subjects, which
allow people to visit the site easily for a variety of reasons;
* Additional Special Topics. This is a unique service that is
a forthright presentation of controversial topics that are worthy
of discussion. The fact is that some environmental issues are not
clear cut and that is the reason for Gray Matter in the Green;
* A link to the Environmental Resource Assessment Service;
* The book Ethnic Atlas of the United States in electronically
saleable format through Pay Pal and announcements about forthcoming
books such as one on Appropriate Technology in Appalachia now being
prepared for publication by the University Press of Kentucky; and
* The preparation of a book, tentatively entitled An Eco-
Spirituality Through the Seasons, on a month-by-month installment
with invited reader comment.
In gratitude. We want to thank our readers for their
interest, loyalty, support, and positive comments. Global
communications are the best way to serve the movement to heal our
wounded Earth and to start a planetary process of bringing about
change through traditionally environmentally benign and appropriate
technologies. Special thanks to Janet Powell for maintaining this
site and for photographs, which set off each month with an artistic
flair, a needed component in healing the Earth. Also thanks to
Mary Davis who gives valuable service through her editing work.
And a special thanks to the Kentucky Jesuit Mission Community for
supporting these efforts.
January 3, 2006 Preparing for an Ice Storm
The local Appalachian sages tell me to cut open a persimmon
seed and look inside. If the image on the pulp is a spoon it will
snow heavily this winter, if a knife it will be icy, and if a fork
it will be more or less mild. I finally got the seed cut open and
found a knife. Should we prepare for a possible ice storm -- if I
trust the persimmon for weather forecasting. During the past
three years I have lived near severe ice storms and yet have not
experienced the disagreeable effects of broken powerlines and
virtually impassable roads. Being without electricity is serious
in a world that depends on it for lights, heat, cooking and
computer. The need to get out and minister to others makes the
possible road conditions somewhat ominous. And "black ice" has
proved just as fatal as the stuff that one can more clearly see.
Winter ice is often possible, but we can make general
preparations. Now is the time when stored solar energy is of
paramount importance to individual homes. But many do not have
this alternative energy source, so other needed preparations should
be considered by all:
* Store an ample supply of ready-to-eat food that is both
healthy and satisfying (canned vegetables, crackers, peanut butter,
tuna, citrus fruit, apples, quick energy food, dried fruit, etc.).
In case of no heat, these items could be eaten for nutrition and
energy without warming.
* Keep a small reserve of water for drinking and for other
* Have extra blankets, flashlight and batteries, a battery
radio, and mechanical can opener (necessary to mention in this age
of domestic automation) and possibly a kerosene heater.
* Have on the shelf a few good books for daylight reading when
all else is inoperative.
* Venture outside well dressed and with proper shoes for
traction. The venture is only if necessary to check on the welfare
of neighbors and for necessities.
* An iced in automobile is sometimes a challenge to enter and
prepare for emergencies. Cars that are not protected by a garage
should have one or more doors left unlocked in case of ice.
* Clean the steps, paths and sidewalks when weather permits
for easy access. Sand, ash and other materials may be helpful, but
the best is physical removal of the ice.
* Give special attention to your pets and also to the local
wildlife if you have a habit of feeding the birds,
* Stay put except in emergencies and keep a positive spirit.
January 4, 2006 The Resilient Mountains?
Why the question mark? Our mountains are old; they have
endured the movements of the Earth's crust, the ice ages, and
severe storms. Mountains change but slowly and they seem to have
a power to heal themselves with each new assault, to bounce back,
to return to normalcy. Some of this takes place over long periods
of time but some occurs over a shorter term which can be easily
detected by an astute observer.
When driving through the countryside we note that the scars of
previous road clearings and surface mining operations start to heal
over and that old building sites revert back to forested areas. I
recall near Livingston a small saw mill of the late 1970s, which
has now almost completely disappeared, covered by small trees and
bushes. Virginia creeper returns as do blackberry canes and black
locust shoots and then the tulip poplar and more hearty types of
trees. The mountains again take on a greenery though often that
demands much time, for healing severe wounds is a long slow
The question mark is due to some of the recent assaults on our
mountains by misguided human efforts. In this modern age we have
replaced the axe, oxen, pick and shovel with highly mechanized
means of extracting coal and wood resources, namely, heavy trucks,
backhoes, and massive earth-moving equipment. These compact the
soil, tear down entire mountains, and destroy the forest cover so
needed to offer a sponge-like mat in the event of heavy rains.
This brings us again to the question mark. Resilience is not a
miraculous happening; it does require ordinary natural processes
to work over time. The question is whether human mistreatment can
actually determine whether a landscape bounces back. We do know
that lush and fertile plains in Africa and the Middle East have
been turned into desert through human action. Could that happen
As St. Peter says in his Second Letter, we must hasten the
coming of the New Heaven and the New Earth. That hastening fits in
with our more cooperative activities in relation to the mountains.
The resilience of the mountains may be a work of nature, but the
direction of nature for better or worse in now in our hands and we
do more than observe from a distance. We participate in renewing
the hills around us. We give them new life and vitality. But we
can best do that by refraining from earthmoving endeavors and by
adopting a policy of getting our energy from wind or solar
alternatives, which will leave the mountains intact, and allow them
to truly be resilient.
We mountain dwellers are moved by the characteristics of the
land in which we live. We are shaped by the same forces that shape
the hills and valleys. When we accept our lives and adjust to
normal life circumstances, we too are resilient people who can
bounce back after mishaps. When we mistreat ourselves and turn
from the Lord, we lose that power just as our mountains perhaps do.
January 5, 2006 99 WAYS TO PREPARE APPLES
The best way to eat an apple is unprepared but, if you must,
Apple and Brown Rice Pilaf
Apple and Carrot Casserole
Apple and Wilted Lettuce Salad
Apple Barley Pilaf
Apple Beet Salad
Apple Blue Cheese Slaw
Apple Brown Betty
Apple Butter Bread
Apple Buttermilk Bread
Apple Cabbage Salad
Appalachian Stack Cake
Easy Applesauce Cake
Fresh Apple Cake
Monticello Apple Cake
Apple Cheese and Walnut Salad
Apple Chicken Stir-Fry
Apple Cinnamon Yogurt Muffins
Apple Curry Rice
Apple Fennel Soup
Apple Grape Salad
Apple Halibut Kabob
Apple Honey Shake
Apple Mint Jelly
Apple Oat Bran Muffins
Apple Onion Soup Gratin
Apple Pasta Salad
Apple Pesto Potato Salad
Apple Pecan Crumb Pie
Apple Raisin and Nut Sauce
Apple Raspberry Salad
Apple, Roast Beef and Watercress Salad
Apple Turkey Saute
Apple Yogurt Trifle
Baked Whole Apples
Breakfast Apple-Citrus Compote
Brown Bag Apple Salad
California Chicken Salad
Camptown Races Baked Apples
Chinese-Style Apple Salad
Citrus Apple Danish
Crunchy Apple Salsa with Grilled Chicken
Crunchy Apple Stir-Fry
Crunchy Apple Walnut Salad
Flammekuche with Apples
Fresh Fruit Compote
Fritsch Apple Breakfast 3 fried apples in pan, pour batter
for 6 buttermilk pancakes and an egg.
Serve when crisp/brown with syrup.
Glazed Apples and Raisins
Golden Apple Oatmeal
Golden Apple Stuffed Fillets
Golden Apples and Yams
Golden Sliced Baked Apples
Greens with Apple Fritters and Roquefort
Honey Baked Apples
Lunch Box Apple Bean Salad
Orange Poached Apples
Quick Apple Crisp
Sauteed Apple Slices with Apricot Sauce
Scalloped Virginia Apples
Slow-Cooked Apple Butter
Smoked Turkey, Apple and Pecan Salad
Speedy Squash Soup
Spicy Chicken and Apple Salad
Squash and Apple Bake
Sturgeon and Caviar, Gala Apples and Verjus Vinaigrette
Summer Apple Compote
Sweet Potatoes and Apples
Taffy Apple Salad
Turkey Waldorf Salad
Virginia Apple Joy Cake
Virginia Green Apple Bake
Virginia Apple Smothered Pork Chops
Waldorf Rice Salad
Williamsburg Apple Cream Cheese
January 6, 2006 Needed: Wise Men in the East
Wisdom is in short supply in our country. We need to pray in
a special way for those who can gaze at the stars and who will go
out of their way to find the Prince of Peace.
Stargazing. I have not spent much time stargazing since my
youth; that may be because the hills are so enclosing and we lack
the broad expanse of the Great Plains. My bias for hills and
mountains has made me overlook the joy of looking at the big sky,
as I recall on passing through Montana. Out in the deserts of the
Middle East the wise men studied the stars quite well and they
followed the movement of that certain one that seemed to be
beckoning them to yonder places. We need people who can both look
out at the stars and be practical enough to get necessary things
done -- that combination of dreaming about peace and a deliberate
movement to the reality of peace.
Middle East wisdom means accepting the reality of the Middle
East situation. A confederation of semi-independent states in Iraq
would allow the Kurds to go their separate way, the Shias to have
their state in the south of the country, and the Sunnis to remain
in the middle. And there could be enough oil revenues to be shared
by all parties. Forcing these disparate groups into a single state
with all the memories of former control by Sunnis is simply unwise
-- but how do we tell that to an Administration bent on warfare to
attain its own enlightened goals?
Really the same such program may have to be worked out for the
Holy Land itself. The Palestinian Authority and Israel could form
a confederation and share some of the duties of government. The
land is too small to divide it up abruptly and build walls
exclusively on Palestinian territory. What has occurred in Gaza
needs now to be repeated on the West Bank, and in a spirit of trust
the two sides could come together and live as brothers and sisters.
On the other hand, the spiral of retaliation for each injustice
done by the other will only postpone true peace -- and the
continuation of retaliatory conditions is truly unwise. Like
shared oil reserves, the lucrative tourist potential of the Holy
Land could benefit both Palestinians and Israelis alike.
The third area needing an atmosphere of wisdom is the building
of the state of Kurdistan out of the four nations in which Kurds
reside, namely Iraq, Turkey, Syria, and Iran. However, none of
these nations want to give up part of its sovereignty. And so the
sores continue and the region remains unstabilized. A smaller
nation with satisfied residents is of greater importance than a
larger country with people seeking liberation. The third problem
area does not lend itself to total federation, though it may work
in Iraq. The Turks may prove the hardest nut to crack, but their
desire to enter the European Union could be the bargaining chip
needed to bring autonomy to the Kurds of Turkey.
Today we need Magi in the East to bring
the message of Peace to
that troubled region.
January 7, 2006 One Year and On-Line
At the start of 2005 I really went on-line in a more realistic
manner. Yes, for years I have used a computer for word processing,
and prior to 2005 could use email indirectly. And we have the
Earthhealing Program giving personal reflections. However,
January, 2005, was when we set up a second computer alongside my
trusty word processor, which I could then keep immune from SPAM and
Daily information. The Internet is now an everyday fixture
for world and national news, local and regional weather,
connections with friends and relatives, and other such immediate
contact points. It is the way to track the progress of a snow
storm heading this direction in the next few hours. It keeps us
abreast of the latest news without waiting for a newspaper or the
evening news broadcast.
Email. For me, the number of electronic messages went from
about one hundred per year relayed from my web manager to three
thousand per year received personally. I compose and send a
sizeable and growing number of replies, and find that the Internet
is certainly faster for both domestic and especially foreign
mailings. There's still the reluctance to discuss emotional issues
electronically, for we often need to change the statement, and we
have some precious time when writing the person or group by letter.
Email does save considerably on paper when bulletins and reports
are now sent electronically. We can save trees!
Search engines. The need to find basic information on a
person or organization is now quite often met by Google and other
search engines. The results are not perfect but they give clues to
allow us to research further. Now we can do the research ourselves
without bothering others. It is often fast and to the point.
Map quest. The Internet permits us to figure routes that are
better when traveling. I often allow my general knowledge of the
U.S. Interstate System to dictate the routes to travel, and that
may be somewhat limited. Working out the details in advance helps
set up schedules and calculate travel time with more precision.
Rationale for the change of heart. You can train old dogs to
do new tricks and I'm one to prove it. Once I was over the
Internet hurdles and able to safeguard my writing from unforeseen
viruses, I did take the Internet more seriously. It is a rapid
means to reach large numbers of people, and seems to be very much
in keeping with the entire philosophical thrust of the Earthhealing
Program. The Internet saves time and energy. That does not mean
that all of the complex system's vulnerabilities can be ignored or
diminished. But we can take proper safeguards and still gain much
from more intense use of the Internet system. It has a hidden
power to bring us all closer together, and that is so needed in
saving our planet Earth.
January 8, 2006 Epiphany, A Universal Celebration
If on any day of the year we celebrate our world wide
togetherness in Christ, today is that day. The wise men came from
the East to begin this universal recognition; they laid their
simple gifts at his feet and did homage; they initiated a
celebration which continues down through the ages.
The manifestation of Christ on this Sunday starts at the
International Dateline in the Pacific and includes the flourishing
churches of Oceania and the Philippines, those many scattered bits
of land on which the glory of God is first announced each day. The
Earth continues to revolve and morning comes to the church
communities often hidden and underground in China, those in
Vietnam, Japan, and Korea, strong devout churches with a
Christianity implanted in the ancient cultures of Asia. Then on
and on the planetary revolution goes, and Indian people are
awakened in Kerala and other parts of the sub-continent. Then the
sun arises in the land of Christ, in war-torn Iraq and in the small
but vital churches of the Middle East, struggling in a sea of
Moslem culture. Then day begins in Africa with its immensely
blooming faith and its filled churches and vigorous singing and
dancing. Joy finds its way in darkest Africa and out into the
islands of the Atlantic. And the new sun streams into the stained
glass of cathedrals in Europe, less crowded but just as majestic
and filled with a history of divine worship and chants. And then
finally the sun comes to our Western Hemisphere with its churches
from Alaska to the tip of Argentina.
On this Sunday Christian worship is being celebrated all over
the world in over 200 nations; a sense of catholicity and
universality fills us on this feast day. When we reflect on the
worldwide Scope of Christianity (about one-third of the people of
the world) we know that the healing word has gone out to the ends
of the Earth and to all creatures. We are called to heal and that
makes us other Christs to the world's inhabitants. Christ
proclaimed the word and healed the sick; we carry on by doing the
same thing. The difference today over previous centuries, which
spread the word as well, is that we know in an instant that a plane
crash has occurred or that the bird flu could affect an entire
globe. We know that Malawi people are starving and need help and
that we are the ones to pressure our governments to show compassion
for these people. Today we can speak to a missionary on the other
side of the Earth over the Internet and in 15 minutes get word that
would have taken months back in the 1700s. The Earth is the same
size but rapid communications and transportation make us closer.
Universality takes on new meaning in our age and it also
brings with it added responsibilities. We are more together than
ever; we share the ills and joys of others; and we do this best by
helping to satisfy basic needs. Let us each walk in solemn
procession with the Magi from the East and bring gifts that can be
shared with all who are in need. Now our celebration can become
all the more genuine.
January 9, 2006 Hospice Programs
This month we honor the hospice workers of our land.
We don't often give serious thought to the modern hospice
program unless some of our close loved ones approach the moment of
passing from this world. People want a more familiar and homey
place to die than the institutional setting of a hospital. They
prefer to be surrounded by loved ones who help them through the
dying process, who embrace them in the final struggle, and tell
them that it is all right to pass on to God.
Two months ago when our 95 year old mother approached her
final time on Earth, the people at the nursing home recommended
that the hospice program begin. And the family was very pleased
with the professional care of the nurses who ran this program.
They were smiling, attentive and willing to help the dying person
through these last important moments with dignity and respect.
Often when these programs are conducted at one's home, the
primary caregiver is the close relative or friend who is nearest to
the dying person. The hospice workers regard themselves as of
service -- of which they are trained and willing to be. Hospice
work includes some of the best of human nursing service, careful
attention to pain control, and willingness to be always present.
In this final hospice period other types of medicine not related to
pain relief are usually withdrawn and the person is removed from
unnecessary tubes and apparatus that simply stand in the way of the
Hospice care is quite often but not always removed from
hospitals as such. In one Milwaukee hospice program, some two-
thirds of the patients were able to die in the familiar settings of
their own homes; while those who returned to a hospital setting
ordinarily did so for a few days or, at most, a few weeks. Some
hospitals now have hospice units which are quite comfortable, less
institutional, and decorated in a home-like fashion.
Hospice is as much for the rest of the family as for the dying
patient. The process of dying is natural though many family
members remain in a state of denial. These members would like to
do something to bring further life to the person; they feel guilt,
pain and helplessness all wrapped into one. The hospice workers
instill a sense of courage and compassion, while making all aware
that the end is approaching. Family members and friends can accept
the person's condition and comfort the dying person by showing that
acceptance and willingness to part with the person at death's door.
For further information contact:
* National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization
* Hospice foundation of America <www.hospicefoundation.org>
January 10, 2006 Shale Oil: Myth or Reality
A recent Economist article (December 3, 2005) spoke about
Canada having a reported 180 billion barrels of proven oil
reserves, of which 95% are in oil sands. The current maddening
quest for fuel alternatives to more readily available petroleum
supplies goes to great lengths. The oil sands are being processed
with a reasonable degree of success, but one alternative fuel for
the soon-to-be-outmoded internal combustion engine is more pie-in-
the-sky, namely the immense reserves of oil shale.
In the early 1980s oil shale was touted as the fuel of the
future. According to estimates trillions of barrels of
hydrocarbons were trapped in both eastern and western North
American oil shale fields. The first experimental plant in western
Colorado was closed down in 1982 due to operating costs and water
shortages. At that time considerable attention was given to the
Devonian Shale outcropping in Kentucky, Indiana, Ohio, and
Tennessee. These eastern fields were estimated to contain 400
billion to 2.6 trillion barrels of oil. At that time we sponsored
a conference and asked some pertinent questions of interest to
Won't the strip mine operations require removal of ten tons of
overburden for every one of shale oil? And then of that one-tenth
portion of shale only a small portion is the actual oil? Aren't
highly productive farm lands involved in these potentially minable
oil shale fields? Won't the water aquifers so needed for high
quality water for industrial processes and domestic consumption be
contaminated by such large-scale mining operations? What about air
pollution in the processing?
We asked further questions about quick development, property
values, trailer camps, lag time between development and returns,
and social disruption through large-scale oil shale development.
But these social and environmental issues pale when compared to the
question -- is oil shale processing using current technology a net
energy loser? Put bluntly, without governmental subsidy such a
project would not have a ghost of a chance, because when one takes
into account the materials to produce mining equipment, the mining
and processing operation and the fuel entailed along with all the
reclamation required, the project would not really add fuel, but be
a government-subsidized alternative fuel for inherently wasteful
fuel consuming technologies. Shale oil would be the epitome of our
dysfunctional energy policy, a functioning operation not yielding
net energy gain.
Nothing came of those oil shale plans. Thank heavens, for
tapping oil shale through classical technological methods bordered
on insanity. Today we may move to the less technologically
difficult oil sands, but unlocking shale oil from the massive rocky
fields is beyond current reach. Let's focus on far better sources
of energy such as wind and solar. Yes, there's carbon in "them
there rocks," but leave it for a better technology to take it out.
January 11, 2006 Respect Planet Earth
Respect is lacking in our land in so many ways, and this has
been often pointed out in these reflections. This extended
disrespect for self, our neighbor, other cultures, and other
creatures extends to the Earth itself. If we are seeking to heal
the Earth, we must be willing to regain self-respect and that of
other people. Titles may be misused by the entitled but can be a
form of respect. I've cared little what people call me, but once
a volunteer kept calling me by my first name and his former
professor as Doctor; and I asked him to reflect on this fact. He
called the other by a title because he paid a high price to be
educated in some subject, whereas I had something on the
environment to give free of charge, and there was no respect. The
difference is more than economics; it involved the subject matter
Many people think it is okay to disrespect our planet. These
people regard the Earth as free and something they are entitled to,
and thus it has no need of respect; they are owed the free air and
pure water and clean landscape. They find no sense of
responsibility, which is a response or return for the gift of Earth
Primitive peoples may be far more "developed" when it comes to
respecting creation. Native Americans would only harvest every
fourth ginseng plant; they ask forgiveness and show thanks for the
animal killed to provide food; they consider it necessary to walk
gently on the fragile Earth; they do not gather more than what is
needed for the coming season -- and share what is gathered. But
this respect went deeper and involved all cultures including our
own. Our forebears gave deep respect for God's creation.
How do we recover this sense of respect? Much has to do with
a return of reverence in religion -- the bowing before the Holy
Name, the silence in the presence of the Lord, the moment before a
prayer that is a recollection, the folding of hands, the sincerity
of the handshake of peace. Reverence extends to the privacy of
people in their own lives, to the respect for their wishes and yet
the firm demand that all share with others.
Without a profound sense of respect, we are unable to
appreciate the outrage of disrespect. When we waste electricity,
that is a form of disrespect; when we throw into a waste can what
could be recycled in our backyard, that is a form of disrespect;
when we use too much water, that is disrespect; when we look down
on those who try to live more simply, that is disrespect; when we
purchase a car for looks and exclude fuel efficiency, that is
disrespectful. Healers of the Earth must be respectful people, but
it takes time and a growing sensitivity to become more respectful.
It does not happen in a day. We are people who need to learn to
extend the arena of respect to the universe -- and that is what is
most lacking in the informality of our country. How can we ever
become more ecological, if we do not respect life in all its forms?
January 12, 2006 Dress for Warmth: Wear Long Underwear
The editor says I must be hunting desperately for new topics
(after 730 different ones) when I introduce underwear. The reason
may not seem so obvious to other parts of the frigid or temperate
world, but many Americans never wear long underwear in the depth of
winter. They expect places to be toasty. And of course they are
more subject to flu and colds than are the sufficiently dressed.
It is winter. We have already said that we must "Dress for
the Season" (October 27, 2004), and January in much of North
America means putting on added layers of clothing. The unfortunate
part of winter is that we must put them on and then, when sweaty
and hot, take them off. It is all part of living with higher
heated temperatures indoors. So much depends on the when and where
of the weather. When the season is as cold as it can get in much
of North America this month it is again time to look over the
clothes we have at our disposal. So much extra clothing is turned
over to the charity groups (St. Vincent de Paul Society, Goodwill,
or others) that in most of America we can easily get extra articles
if need be. Very few places are removed from some free gloves,
socks, turtleneck sweaters, caps, scarfs, -- and long underwear.
Answer complaints. Some simply refuse to wear different
clothing in winter than in summer -- and they sometimes shiver and
complain about the cold. The best answer about keeping a lower
thermometer in the building is threefold: it's economic, it's
ecological; and it's healthy.
Synthetic or natural? The fabrics differ in durability,
warmth, and comfort. The environmental purists may say use only
natural fiber (cotton, wool, linen, or silk); others will argue
that even these natural fibers come to us after undergoing an
expenditure of energy, because it generally took non-renewable
fuels to grow, spin, fabricate, transport, and market the materials
used to keep us warm. Rather than being overly picky, remember
that a garment that lasts several winters may be worth the non-
renewable energy investment, if the mixed fiber is longer wearing
and delivers warmth and comfort when it is desired. The energy
saved by turning down the thermometer far exceeds any investment of
non-renewable energy to make a synthetic material.
Dress warmly for bed. What we say about going about during
the work or study day also applies when resting at night. Sleep
warmly, and that does not necessarily mean an overly heated
bedroom. The same thing applies here. It is far more healthy to
sleep warmly with covers and it saves precious resources and money
by keeping the house cool. We had an unheated upstairs bedroom
when growing up and learned to expect this for winter. The secret
was plenty of blankets and comforts.
Turn down the thermometer. Dressing warmly allows us to
reduce the heat and live just as well. Try it. It's healthy; it's
economical; it's ecological.
January 13, 2006 Stephen Foster Day
Now this is truly a first, the first reflection on a composer.
Though I listen to much classical music, it is the folk songster
Stephen Foster who wins the honor. Why? Because this 19th-century
composer came to Kentucky and wrote the haunting melody "My Ole
Kentucky Home." We sang it as a family two months ago outside the
cemetery chapel for Mama Fritsch's funeral, and it always brings on
what it says not to do, namely, to weep no more for my "ole
We sang many of Foster's songs in our home around the piano or
accompanied by guitar at family gatherings and homecomings. Song
was part of our life and somehow Stephen Foster was at the heart of
it. Our family loved music and had much talent (I'm an exception);
we always enjoyed renditions of "Camptown Racetrack," "Jeanie with
the Light Brown Hair," "I come from Alabama," and especially "Ole
Black Joe," my mom's favorite, which we sang to her as a prelude to
the "Prayers of the Dying." Our many spiritual songs set the
overall atmosphere, but the Foster songs were good introductions.
And my siblings remember the lyrics as well as the melodies.
Singing goes way back in our family history. Homilies and
eulogies unite us in word and mind, but song unites us in our heart
and spirit, a tighter bonding than any other. The reason Stephen
Foster's songs have endured though written 150 years ago is that
they touched a chord that united us as a scattered family trying to
hold things together. It is sentimentality at its more dignified
moment, folksiness in matters too serious to declare in serious
discourse, and images of happy days gone by that will not return.
Today, we really honor all composers for they bring out to us
those notes of music in their own heads and heart; they
communicate to us a little of the beginning of the New Heaven where
the chorus will sing glory to the Almighty in a never ending
melody. Music is heavenly, and composers have that mysterious
manner of capturing it in a special way, in allowing the angels to
descend and the listeners to briefly ascend to the heavenly court.
For those of us who manifest illiteracy as to musical notation, we
find musical compositions mysterious and gratifying. That is why
we give them recognition and honor.
Music heals the soul in time of sorrow; music elevates us
above our ordinary selves; music refreshes us in untold ways. We
would not be totally human without music. We will also honor
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart who has a January birthday, but his music
fits into an entirely different category of personal enjoyment. My
first preference is for the composer who was socially sensitive but
perhaps would be surprised to know that he would gladden American
hearts, 180 years after his birth. Such are his songs of the ante-
bellum south and a touching spiritual lament. Yes, we Kentuckians
tend to honor our adopted son, Stephen Collins Foster. Few other
people have the power to convey us back to the happy days of youth
with such compassionate gusto.
January 14, 2006 Snow as Healer
Today two years ago (1/14/04) the essay dealt with enduring a
snow storm. But wait a moment. Let's see the gentle healing side
of snow. It is not really a threat unless we are unprepared. When
we look out at a wounded and scarred countryside the morning after
a substantial snowfall, we see the spotless covering on an
otherwise naked landscape, and this makes us want to leave it alone
in all its new-found dignity. For one brief moment we are tempted
to hope it will stay forever. The landscape deserves its rest and
peace -- and the snow cover makes it an honorable place.
Snow as necessary. Snow for those of us who have suffered a
drought in 2005 is a welcome addition of moisture to the desiccated
hills. It offers a gentle protection against forest fires and
eventually much needed water for growth later in the year. Snow
thus is more a blessing and not a curse or something to fear. We
appreciate how westerners pray for the abundance of snow during
their winter season, for then the spring brooks will give them
water. For them, snow is the key to the Earth's plenty.
Snow as playful. Snow offers the youthful, whether young or
old, a time to romp and play. I remember watching two grown men
from tropical lands, who had never experienced snow, walk out and
roll in it and laugh and carry on like two-year olds. Snow does
something to the spirit; it is just that we older folks know that
after the initial exuberance, the snow gets us cold and it can melt
and get us wet. For the untried, it is all like moving about in
the clouds. Snow is more than a blessing; it is a dash of heaven
on Earth. I believe some of the best times I have had playing
outdoors were bobsled rides down the snow-covered hills of
Kentucky. The climb back up the hills required exertion, but the
ride down was beyond description. The ride gave a sense of flying,
of freedom, of pure abandon from the gravity of concern.
Snow as soothing. I think there is no greater experience of
silence than the falling snowflakes in the tranquility of a winter
day. The touching of the leaves gives just enough local noise to
emphasize the deeper silence when all the ordinary noises of the
countryside are almost totally muffled. We become alone with
nature at work; we are walking in a wonderland; we are
experiencing God at work with the paintbrush. And it is good for
Snow is overwhelming. They tell us the pattern of every
snowflake is different. Let's say the tiny fraction of all snow
flakes recorded has never included a matched and no one has
catalogued all of these few recorded patterns. All snowflakes may
be different, or they appear to be and that uniqueness magnifies
the sense of mystery n a snow fall. The Creator could make every
flake different, but that is something we will never answer on this
Earth. Maybe that should be our first question in heaven -- Are
all snowflakes different? However, a better opening remark should
be, "Thanks, Lord, for the snow; we needed it."
January 15, 2006 Samuel, Samuel
"Here I am" (I Samuel 3:4)
God's call to Samuel is one of the most touching episodes in
Holy Scripture. Many wonderful elements appear in the short
passage. Samuel is an innocent young person who is very responsive
to the call of another; thus he goes immediately to answer the
voice thinking it comes from the old man Eli. But Eli did not
call, and still at the second call Samuel goes again, and still Eli
denies that he has called. One could have guessed that a less
responsive and devoted person would have said "to heck with it. I'm
going to continue sleeping." All the while we see this from the
viewpoint of the old man Eli. He was also disturbed twice and then
a third time and only then, in the depths of his good heart, Eli
realizes that it is God who is calling Samuel. The lamp of God has
not yet gone out. Eli is enlightened even when only able to see
dimly; he tells Samuel to answer, "Speak, Yahweh, your servant is
listening." The old man's integrity and closeness to the Lord is
what allows this confusion in communication to become clarified.
Failures in response. So often we all miss the cue and fail
to see that the younger person has an authentic call from God. We
fail to direct the person to be open for responding when it comes.
It takes as much grace to know that another has a call from God as
it does to respond to the call. Would that all people knew that
God constantly calls their near and dear ones, and that they should
assist in responding by encouraging the called person to listen
attentively to God's message for them.
Individual call. The call from God is unique to each
individual. It is one of the most important parts of our journey of
faith. Too often we fail to see that this call is ongoing and not
just a one-time thing. But often the authenticity of the call is
denied, and so we stumble on in the darkness. To hear and listen
takes a special grace, and also the openness and willingness to
respond as it did for Samuel. We are all called and our degree of
generosity to respond is what we seek to increase.
Repeated call. So often we expect that a call comes but once.
That is not the case. God's call comes both in unexpected ways at
definite times and it constantly occurs on new occasions and under
different conditions in our lives. As we grow older, more limited,
and less active, a different set of calls can be heard provided we
are open and able to receive the message.
Crisis in vocations. I really wonder if there is such a
crisis or whether it is misinterpreted. Maybe many are not open to
God's calling and so we do not have enough personnel to tend to the
needs within the Church and elsewhere. Maybe the call is going out
and others are unable to help distinguish the call and encourage
people to respond. In the latter case, the crisis, if it exists,
is not necessarily with the young as with elders who do not
recognize authentic vocations and assist in the response.
January 16, 2006 Racial Discrimination
This weekend we celebrate the birthday of Martin Luther King.
To be true to his legacy we need to examine ourselves to see
whether we harbor hidden racial biases that must be rooted out. I
grew up near Washington, Kentucky, where Harriet Beecher Stowe
observed the selling of black folks on a slave block and wrote
Uncle Tom's Cabin. Here in Washington was a jail that housed
recaptured underground railroad refugees. In this county was the
slave still pen preserved where these refugees were kept before
returning them to the slaveholder.
We tried to tackle racial differences but grew up in a
segregated part of America in the 1940s. It would make me angry to
see our lily white school bus pass up the black neighbors, and this
segregation injustice stuck with me. I remember we had a family
discussion and decided that black workers could sit at the dinner
table with us, which was a real break with local tradition. It
became evident with time that I respected my elders of any race
because I found so many black people to be truly wise,
compassionate and forgiving; but that could have been a bit of
reverse stereotyping -- that is placing in a race good
characteristics that belonged really to various individuals. But
we were being forced to reexamine things we never thought about and
that were deep in our Southern or Border psyche.
The struggle that we have had as people coming from the
horrible effects of a slave society is still with us to some
degree. Discrimination still exists though it is disappearing, as
we have seen two Secretaries of State who are black. We have
esteemed judges, coaches, clergy, inventors, scientists, and others
who challenge our misconceptions about the endowments of different
races. What we frankly came to with heroic people like Rosa Parks
or Martin Luther King is the non-violent and stately manner of
pushing back the barriers of race -- and done within the growing
understanding of what the land of the free and the brave really was
meant to be.
I beg pardon on this day for the times I overheard a racial
slur or joke and either laughed or did not challenge it; I am
sorry for the times we overlooked the needs of black people when we
could have given them special attention; I beg pardon for all of
my race who looked down upon, enslaved, segregated, lynched, and
disparaged members of another race. What is so comforting is that
many people are quick to forgive and allow us to move forward in
this imperfect world of different races, creeds and colors.
We cannot just look back. Forgiveness means we look ahead.
The past is an experience that will not be repeated. We are a
country that is drawn now to forsake its past imperfections, no
matter how dreadful they were. We are people who must make a fresh
start. Racial discrimination is over. We are one people now and
that means we are deeply committed to redressing past wrongs. On
this day we reaffirm that commitment.
January 17, 2006 Can We Impose Democracy?
On this birthday of Benjamin Franklin, a founding father of
our Republic, it may be appropriate to ask a searching question --
can we impose democracy on others? The question is somewhat like
can one impose goodness or sanctity on another human being or
group? Our sense of fairness and freedom would be quick to say
that it is impossible. Somehow freedom and democracy go hand-in-
hand. Protecting and safeguarding that freedom is paramount. Thus
we need to look critically at our own existing democracy and so the
questioning essay of November 10, 2004, "Do We Have Democracy?".
Freedom is not the license to do entirely what one pleases.
Democracies require some regulation for the sake of protection of
individual and community freedoms. To impose a restriction is not
necessarily anti-democratic, for we are in an imperfect world in
which some try to take advantage of other free agents. If
restrictions are to safeguard and protect the freedom of all, then
some measures are required; restrictions on an individual's
personal expression only become necessary when that expression
infringes on the rights of another. Imposition then has a role to
play within a democratic process -- but does it have a role to play
before democracy is even introduced?
Democracy as a system of governance springs from the will of
a people who sense their natural desire to express freedom in
various forms. The tragedy now being experienced in Iraq has
resulted in the attempt to impose that form of government on a
people (if even a single group) that has no experience with
democracy and does not have the internal ability to make it
flourish. No matter how much people appreciate their traditional
democratic procedures of governance, they must realize that
democratization is difficult process taking years to mature from
History is our best teacher about the progress of democratic
process; unfortunately, the proponents of the current Iraq policy
were not enlightened by that history. Certain procedures and
policies can certainly hasten democratic process, but inherent
antagonism between warring factions can also seriously retard that
process -- and some of the Middle East factions know this very
well. Their power rests in what they can do in a negative manner
in the democratic process. They do not want to be controlled and
they mistrust this western approach to democratic nation-building.
Whether an outside military power can successfully control the
negative groups existing in such troubled territory as the so-
called state of Iraq is highly problematic. Since the destruction
of the Ottoman Empire at the end of the First World War, western
countries have tried to set up a state out of three original
provinces, but to impose democratic nationhood on such an
artificial collection is nearly impossible. Maybe no one can even
impose democracy under any circumstance. Even Benjamin Franklin
and most of our founding fathers would agree.
January 18, 2006 The Cob House
Often we have reflected on low-cost, environmentally benign
buildings made often with local materials with which people at ASPI
or Long Branch Environmental Education Center have had direct
experience: "Consider a Cordwood Building" (April 20, 2004) and "A
Retreat Cabin" (March 10, 2005), as well as on popular buildings
that we do not judge to be fit for Appalachia, namely, the straw
bale house (see Special Issues). Now we treat an ancient building
method from a wide sweep of the globe that combines a mixture of
clay, sand and chopped straw for the walls. Proponents say that
when properly constructed it holds up quite well even in reasonably
severe earthquakes. Interestingly, a cob building is actually
stronger than one made from brick or block, because it contains no
weak straight-line mortar joints, but rather is one monolithic unit
reinforced by straw.
Among the advantages of this type of construction is that the
thick earthen walls serve as excellent thermal mass and insulation
to keep buildings naturally warm in the winter and cool in the
summer. Cob buildings can easily be adapted to passive solar
design to ensure ample warmth during the heating season. Various
earth plasters can be used as finishes for the wall surfaces, and
attention must be paid to designing sufficient eaves around the
perimeter of the building to protect against driving rain, and to
ensure that unwanted summer sun does not cause overheating.
The building can be constructed in a barn-raising-style effort
where everyone in the community, young and old alike, skilled and
unskilled, can join in the art and craft of sculpting the
structures walls. Raised doors, windows, and other building
materials are easily woven into the cob structure's overall form.
Potential cob builders do, however, need to take into account that
cob mixing and applying can be a labor intensive and time consuming
project. But all of the materials can come from local sources, and
after all, the building itself will be fully biodegradable with no
harmful residues left in the environment.
The monolithic nature of cob wall construction and the walls'
often curvilinear form have given cob buildings their reputation
for being highly earthquake resistant. Reference: The Stanley Park
Earthen Architecture Project, Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada
To further increase its earthquake resistance, one architect has
suggested tying a concrete or wooden bond beam across the top of
the walls to the foundation with sleeved and tensioned vertical
rods on four foot centers. One may wish to research further and
pull up on the Internet the work of John Fordice Cob Project at
The cob house is built with local materials and, although
labor intensive, it does involve lower capital investment. And
these houses can be well designed and beautiful to behold.
January 19, 2006 Winter Garden Planning
For the compulsive planners and those itching to look beyond
the snow drifts to a growing garden, this is the time to do some
planning, some of which could prove quite fruitful in the coming
months. Furthermore, the planning exercise itself is a way to
prepare for the first good day of the growing year.
* Composting. Improve the composting situation when time
permits. The processing of both kitchen and garden wastes can
always be made better.
* Selection of varieties. Plan the thirty vegetables of 2006.
Review which ones did not do well last year and which ones could be
substitute for a previous variety. Maybe it is time to add a few
perennials (herbs and vegetables) to lessen the work and number of
annuals needed. Which wild plants (poke, sorrel, violets,
dandelions, etc.) should be included in the varieties allowed in
* Seed procurement. Use a few seed catalogs to help with
reflections and the orders.
* Total space. Decide how much ground will be tilled in the
spring. Was the garden too small or too large? In case of a
return of dry conditions in 2006, is there a watering system
available for irrigation?
* Locating plots? Deciding on the exact location of
vegetables is too restrictive; it is better to have some
flexibility to benefit from success of existing varieties and to
provide space for interplanting. Flexibility in gardening has
always proved better from the standpoint of creativity. The
imagination needs as much space as do the vegetables.
* Record keeping. It is nice to keep exact records of total
yields but this does get cumbersome, especially when giving some of
the produce away. It can work but it requires a measuring device
and notebook. Comparing yields does prove helpful in succeeding
* Soil amendment. Now is the time to procure some wood ash
for sprinkling on the garden to add needed minerals. Take care not
to over-apply the ashes. Can some extra organic materials be
obtained as well? Consider where to obtain materials and how much
investment needs to be made during this coming growing season.
* Promotion. Gardening is something personal and something
for the community as well. What is a way to get others involved in
growing their own produce this year? There is a lot of open yard
space that could use a garden. How do we encourage others to take
on the practice?
January 20, 2006 Joe Davis
I always regretted that I was unable to spend more time with
our neighbor across the road in the big brick house. Joe Davis was
ancient (going on ninety when I was ten). But Joe had a great
memory and would like to tell tales of his own youth. He really
thought that with my middle name, Joseph, I was named after him.
So much for his little world. When he was my age, the Civil War
was raging and he is the only person who remembered that war whom
I ever knew. I have now put down his remembrances in the form of
an occasional essay in this website and hope it will be part of a
future book on wars and our family. In case you do not read it,
I'll at least introduce Joe Davis to you.
His gait was extremely slow, and it would take a half hour for
him to come the quarter of a mile to our house. He wore one of
those dressy straw hats from the 1920s. Mama would be told he was
coming, and she would designate me to sit down and entertain him.
That was a pleasure because he liked to entertain with stories that
would make one wonder if they were not partly dreams. He tailored
his stories to the age I was during the Second World War (the
period he told his stories) and that made them all the more real at
the time. Mr. Davis impressed upon me years later that we all need
to communicate the tales of the very old to the very young. We
should record them in some fashion for otherwise they will be lost.
That is part of carrying on sacred tradition, and it fills the
imagination of the young with reverence and awe to hear what
happened in ages past -- quite ancient to a youngster. I was able
to know something of the War between the States which took place
over 140 years ago. That's an awesome span in human memory.
Without Mr. Davis' natural storytelling finesse we would have
lost much. From that time until now, I glory in the struggles that
went on in our border state, where families were divided and some
went to fight on one side and some on the other. That is what
happened in his family, and he must have thought about it many
years later when one of his sons was shell-shocked in the First
World War and never really recovered. Joe knew the horrors of war,
the fright when John Hunt Morgan's raiders came into the country
hunting for horses, the lack of knowledge of where his father was
when fighting, the tearing apart of his close-knit family when his
relatives went to war for the other side. It is amazing how the
complexity of the Civil War remains so vivid in Kentucky's psyche.
In the summer of 1943 we lost both our grandpa who lived two
miles away and Mr. Davis. They both left indelible marks on us.
Years later when I returned to do research on the Davis graves and
the Davis homeplace near the Lewis County border, I was overwhelmed
by the fragility of human history. Joe and his wife had nine
children but apparently no grandchildren, and so that part of
family tradition was lost to them. Maybe my recollections are the
last ones of a Civil War period recorded, for fewer persons
remember someone who experienced that strife. But we should all
resolve to record those precious memories of the past.
January 21, 2006 National Hug Day
Last year we spoke on this day about hugging trees and
protecting the forest (my span extending from outreached fingertip
to fingertip is exactly six feet, and hugging is a form of
silvicultural measurement). However, we can go further and say it
is time in this cold, cold world to hug people who need some
affection at this time: the death of a loved one, the return after
a long absence, the report of grave illness, the child or spouse
who anticipates a little attention, the thanks to someone who gives
a gift or a kind word, the thank you for a little gesture of good
will, the reward for doing a good job, the return home from work or
study, or just the opportunity to give a sincere prayer of peace.
In normal times and places the hug is welcome, but not
always, for strangers may be offended at being hugged by another
whom they do not know. Hugging does have to have a certain
preparation, a breaking into the personal space of another with an
embrace. Most would know just when to do a hug and when not to.
Those who are emotionally immature may want a hug from a stranger
or with less pretense than others -- and they are more right than
wrong. A young child learning to walk is a candidate for a hug as
Time is right. Why make this a national day except that in
the cold of a less than half-spent winter, the need for a hug seems
far greater than it does in the heat of summer or the warm breezes
of spring or fall. Winter is more the hugging season: we hug the
muffler, the doll, the fireplace, and the bed covers and we hug
people very much at this time of year as well. Hugging is more
universal than one would at first anticipate. And it is not wrong
to promote hugging at least one day a year. A warmth and
endearment exudes from one "hugee" to another and this is
reciprocated. Maybe the act will become contagious.
A resolution. I don't advocate seeking out any random
candidates and giving them a hug. You might get arrested. It may
not even be a day when the opportunity arises. Better is the
resolution: find the occasion when a genuine hug is needed and
respond in a genuine manner so that the other party knows your own
More than human. As with the tree that was mentioned last
year on this day, so the world of animals deserves hugs at the
right time and place, Most black bears would not want you to drop
everything and run up and hug them. But maybe your dog or cat
would appreciate the gesture as much as any other type of treat.
In a more general manner, we hug the garden or the landscape by
moving about through it and observing where we can improve the
grounds through cultivation and additional plantings in the coming
months. Hugging is opening ourselves to others, whether human or
non-human. Hugging is opening our arms to say a prayer and
extending the gesture to the entire threatened Earth on which we
January 22, 2006 Jonah
Jonah stands in special ways because he is a true reformer and
we need these in our world today. Remembering Jonah in association
with a whale is like remembering a speaker through his cab ride to
the talk. Jonah is a prophet, one of a great variety and he
suffers from being disobedient in his manner of coming to his
mission. He is called to go to Nineveh a vast city and yet he goes
off to Tarshish -- the ends of the Earth. There is a lot of non-
history here, but the Good Book still tells a parable or amusing
story that in some way resembles our own lives. Jonah finally
listens to the call to convert Nineveh after being in a storm. He
is thrown reluctantly into the sea by those who have a certain
respect for him and his God, is rescued by a whale, comes to land,
goes about his designated but delayed mission, and complains
because of the success of the mission.
The theological story is that reforms are needed especially in
the life of the prophet himself. God is love and mercy, slow to
anger and of great compassion at the slightest sign of repentance.
God accepts people where they are. The last part of the story is
the hardest to understand. Jonah's work is completed and
successful and yet he sits outside the city expecting to die.
There he sits and God has mercy on him and allows a castor bean
plant (Ricinus communis) to grow and shade him -- a good choice
since these beautiful but poisonous plants grow so rapidly. It
dies and he faces the scorching sun again wanting to die. God
tries to teach him that mercy is necessary even for people (old and
young) as well as for all the brute animals.
The Jonah story has application for us:
* There is humor with God, and we are able to laugh at
ourselves and with the Lord, if we are going to ever come to
* God is merciful to all and so should we be to those who
fault another -- to protagonists and antagonists in Iraq or the
Balkans or the Holy Land or Indonesia or Nepal.
* God's love and mercy extends to the brute animals as well;
these are included in calculating the extent of repentance by the
Nineveh community -- a remarkable assessment.
* The human prophet fails to see the urgency to bring about
reform in a troubled time and to fully appreciate the mission that
is being undertaken.
* Repentance is paramount to the world in which we live for
the harm done is very deep and our need to hear the calling is very
* We are but servants in the service of our God, and that
should be its own satisfaction.
January 23, 2006 Book-writing
In 2004 we mentioned that this is Handwriting Day. Let's take
this date a step further and reflect on the turning of handwritten
notes into books. Some do it themselves through typewriter or
lately through computer and word processing, but a few stalwarts
still convert handwriting into books with the approval of a willing
publisher. However, given the specifications for modern manuscript
submission, it's a wonder any publisher approves handwritten
Book creation. I have spent an inordinate amount of time
writing books about half of which have now been published and some
are in long standing revisions before publication. Books simply
last longer than other forms of writing and that is one reason many
of us seek to put our writings into that media format. They are
kept in libraries and on the book shelves of more serious
citizenry. During 2006 Paul Gallimore and I will be moving our
book on Appalachian appropriate technology through the academic
publishing stage and we can affirm that it takes more effort than
electronic publishing. But it is certainly worth the effort for
the publisher can reach people we would not otherwise contact.
Book Publishing. Some will not write a book without having a
publisher firmly lined up before beginning. That is fine if one
has a story to tell that is very popular. The difficulty rests
with people whose books will have limited runs. The book is not
yet conceived and so the would-be author would not recognize the
type of publisher who would want to market it. I know many budding
authors who go no farther because they have no publisher. That can
be an excuse for not writing down a draft copy to see what it looks
like. After one outlines a book it may become evident that it can
go no further. It's a stark revelation, but we know the truth can
sometimes hurt. At other times we are unable to convince our
limited list of publishers, and yet we are impelled to write down
our words. Thank heavens non-traditional publishing is possible.
Independent publishing. It can work well just as the film
"The Passion of Christ" worked well though independently produced.
Much depends on the final publicity. I knew a fairly good writer
who swore most books are never read so he reproduced his only for
friends he was sure would read it.
Internet publishing. Having said this about the publishing
media it is wise to consider the Internet for highly specialized
subjects, which will not have large press runs. Through the rather
thorough search engines, people today can reach subject areas to
which they would not have access except on a hit-and-miss basis
through browsing in bookstores and catalogs. Often the search is
so much faster, and Google can give us a clue that will allow us to
get an added book or two in the research process. For those with
credit cards even the purchase can now be made on-line. All of
this convenience helps the specialist writer who may never convince
a publisher that the book is going to sell well.
January 24, 2006 National Hobby Month
It is fitting that January is the month for hobbies for those
who collect stamps, coins, or other items would see this winter
time as prime focus period for expanding their activities. Many
people have hobbies and regard them as major parts of their life's
added joy. Confirmed hobbyists plan for the next step, appraise
what they have, and share their excitement with others. The
hobbyist with a single focus may feel lost if unable to pursue this
activity; for sure, my more or less single hobby is gardening and
it's slow in January. That impels me to choose another.
Diversion or sub-division of work. Hobbyists can be divided
between those who regard the hobby as part of their vocation and
those who see it as a diversion from the duties and mainstream
activities. Both approaches have merit. In the former category
may be writers who regard the hobby as a sub-portion of the total
enterprise. In the second category, a physician who takes time off
on weekends to fish may see this hobby as a necessary diversion for
psychic and physical health. So did President Franklin Roosevelt
who took stamp collecting seriously but regarded it as a diversion
from the massive task of commander-in-chief at the time of war.
Collecting as a hobby. I once was an avid stamp collector but
later decided that it took too much time and was not something a
poor person should be so involved in. I almost gave away (for $25)
the 12,000 stamp collection and later regretted it for its value
could have accrued much over time. But after I entered the
Jesuits, the stamp collecting allurement never returned, even
though I see very beautiful postage stamps being issued by many
countries in recent years. In fact, I began to look down on
collectors as sort of capitalistic victims who should be working
for museums rather than on individual collections. Only too often
collections at private homes have gone up in smoke or been stolen.
If the collection is important, do it for the public's enjoyment.
Choosing environmentally benign hobbies. If one is trying to
influence individuals to choose a hobby, try to set some good
parameters for their choices. The better hobbies are not heavy
users of natural resources (birdwatching at home is one thing;
going all over the world to watch exotic birds is another). It is
better that the hobby is social rather than individual. This is a
difficult call because some want a hobby that will take them away
from the mainstream in which they deal every day. However,
individualistic hobbies can be socialized by attending meetings or
joining hobby clubs; gardening can include the neighbors.
Green hobbies? No one has assembled a listing of hobbies
according to resource use, travel time, ecological content, etc.
Such a list could be similar to our rating of forms of recreation
(see March 22, 2004 for "Green Recreation Activities"). Some
hobbies could be related to retirement years and public interest
work such as initiating recycling centers or cleaning up the
littered landscape. Whatever you do, choose well.
January 25, 2006 Explore Midlife Options
On St. Paul's Day we recall that this highly talented person
abruptly changed his career in midstream. Maybe some of our
readers or those they associate with are looking for changes as
well, though they may prefer not to be struck from a horse to find
one. Here are some suggestions to help you or your acquaintance
through the process:
* Pray over the matter and start this reflection process prior
to making a major commitment, because the lack of employment may
put extra stress on the seeker. If joblessness is already a part
of this consideration, then act with deliberate speed. Some prefer
a stopgap position to tide them over while the reflection process
occurs. The prayer could include a personal Ignatian retreat that
is specifically meant for people choosing a new way of living.
* Don't feel that the change is a betrayal of parents,
teachers and others who guided you to past careers. In fact, the
experience of the past will most likely be a major support for the
new option. You are not alone, for some estimate that possibly a
majority of working people change their careers in the course of
their lives. Early retirees fit this category and often spend more
time in the new job than in the original. Midlife now comes later
and people can normally look ahead to many years.
* If you have the luxury of time to choose, then examine a
number of options and check them out. Discern well for otherwise
you will regret the mistake. A job counselor may be appropriate as
well, if you are quite serious about the new occupation. A
volunteer position needs discernment, but not as much as for a
career, as the time investment is far less.
* Consider an environmental position, if you have the talent
and are drawn to the work. The Earth is under immense assault and
the number of experienced people filling key posts is limited.
You may also be drawn to a church service position and can actually
combine the two options into one.
* Before making the final decision, it may be beneficial for
you to spend some time at the new location in order to test your
comparability with co-workers. Things may look rosy until you
start helping in the nitty gritty tasks at hand and find that grass
always seems greener on the other side of the fence.
* Try to come to the decision with the aid of friends who may
be willing to point out something that you are simply missing in
the enthusiasm of the moment. If they are truly friends, their
wisdom should prove quite valuable even in midlife. Don't buy the
attitude that you trusted another for the first career and it now
has no appeal. Blaming someone else for the mistake is overly
stressful. You are better able to ask a wider range of confidants
at midlife. And who is to say what will come of the new decision?
January 26, 2006 Small is Beautiful
E.F. Schumacher, through his book Small is Beautiful, became
known as the father of appropriate technology; I respect his
creative inspiration. My Schumacher ancestors came from the part
of Germany where he was born, so I regard him also as a distant
cousin. The thesis of the book is that smaller and often forgotten
technologies that are people friendly and environmentally benign
can be key to improvement in a world that holds higher
sophistication and complexity to be the gateway to development and
progress. With the risk of repeating some of the narrative of
earlier reflections, I would like to reemphasize a number of ways
in which the smaller can also be the beautiful:
* A small handtool is perfect for a small garden where
motorized vehicles could compact the soil, and the cost of
acquiring and maintaining these devices is beyond the small income
of the gardener;
* A small house is easier to maintain as well as to heat in
winter and cool in summer and thus is better suited for people of
limited income or energy levels;
* A smaller car can be operated at less expense and may prove
more efficient than a larger one;
* A smaller wardrobe is more adaptable and takes up far less
storage space, which may be at a premium;
* A smaller occupational responsibility may allow the worker
to spend more time with the family and in the development of local
social relationships, which are also important to human life;
* A smaller agenda allows the participants to spend more time
in leisure and less under stress;
* A smaller gathering will allow the leaders to address
individual needs and to talk in a more familiar fashion directly to
* Smaller expectations allow us to be more humble in what we
are looking for and thus have less chance of disappointments;
* A shortened life expectancy may permit a person to live more
meaningfully each passing moment;
* A smaller roll to play allows people to concentrate more
fully on doing what is called to be done and doing it better;
* A smaller pristine natural area (even when not desired) may
show forth its beauty to a more intense degree, allowing us to
prize the surviving wilderness with greater attention and concern.
However, in this last case the smaller plot may be more prone to
disruption than a larger one.
January 27, 2006 Seven Ways to Combat Stress
I do have stressful times but not too many. Some of my ways
of reducing stress are worth sharing:
* Listen to classical music. On this birthday of Wolfgang
Amadeus Mozart I find his classical music to be about the most
soothing. When overly stressed, one of the most relaxing ways to
settle down is to tune in to the almost totally classical station
at Eastern Kentucky University. Just about any of the multitude of
musicians will offer satisfaction, but some music is so enlivening
that it becomes distracting -- and that may not be what is needed
in stressful times.
* Do some meditation. A short diversion to additional prayer
is a way to relieve stress. To remain perfectly still and attempt
to turn the mind to God causes stress to evaporate. What becomes
evident is that when I speak out loud to the Lord, I feel the
company of another and stressful conditions suddenly disappear.
Sometimes a combination of classical music and meditation is
helpful. Fast tempo music and singing of arias prove too
distracting for me.
* Take a brisk walk or jog. This outdoor exercise opens the
door to fresh air and possible full spectrum sunlight. This is
another good way to relieve stress. A three-mile run is just what
the doctor ordered -- and mine said to continue running as long as
I watch where my feet go. The uneven parkland on which I run has
resulted in three or four tumbles but always in the grass. I may
not remain so lucky.
* Phone a friend. A phone call allows one to know that other
people in this world have far greater troubles and concerns. Why
my stress? I don't know whether comparison should be that way, but
we often find our stress is nothing compared with that of others.
* Work on an essay. It is amazing that getting one's mind
on another subject is a way to relieve stress. Concentration is
okay whereas distraction is not. Taking up a puzzling subject and
finding references to the issue is a way to abandon the stressful
rut and move out from there to one's own creativity.
* Check the weather. If this seems strange, it shouldn't be.
I have found that I can get quite stressed by a sudden drop in the
barometer. That may be somewhat individualistic but weather
conditions may set moods. A study of the correlation between
weather and great happenings in history -- victories and defeats in
battle, peace conferences, and inventions -- could make a good
* Get additional rest and sleep. Too often it is not additional
activity (jogging, working or phoning) that can relieve stress as
much as obtaining a little more rest than an overly busy life
January 28, 2006 Chinese New Year
Tomorrow one will hear the firecrackers in the Chinatowns of
North America. The Chinese are celebrating within one of the
oldest continuous cultures in the world, and they are proud of it -
- and they have much to celebrate.
In some ways we Americans may regret the ascendancy of China
in the 21st century, but then we had our moments of glory for a
hundred years and it is time to make room for others. The 1.2
billion Chinese are nothing to ignore. Their muscles are big and
their rising financial reserves are formidable. When the Chinese
reach our levels of consumption, one wonders whether the world can
endure it. Certainly, we are told that air and water pollution is
appearing throughout that rapidly industrializing nation. Today
the Chinese are scouring the world hunting for energy and other
resources to meet their insatiable appetite for petroleum, iron ore
and minerals of every type. They are going to Sudan, Libya, Gabon,
Nigeria, and another six African lands, both helping with
development projects and buying up resources.
The Chinese have moved beyond their traditional isolationist
policies to reach out to other countries of the world. But in
becoming global they are picking up some of the bad habits of the
rest of the world -- environmental degradation, a rapidly expanding
automobile economy, a space program, rampant consumerism and large
malls, expanding HIV and AIDS infection, heavy use of tobacco, and
a disparity between the urban well off and the rural poor.
Although they remain within a controlled Communist economy, the
Chinese wink at some of the Marxist principles of strict equality
of the masses. For better or worse, they are taking on the
position that some are more equal than others when it comes to
It is best for us to celebrate this Chinese New Year tomorrow
for we are happy that age-old starvation in China has become a
thing of the past, and that government managers are being made
accountable in that vast land. We are delighted that the Chinese
took upon themselves to act as ombudsmen in the American dispute
with North Korea. We take them on their word that human rights
will be guaranteed in the new China but that seems to have a way to
go still. We hope and pray that the Chinese government will allow
freedom of religion and not continue to sponsor "churches" which
must toe the line. Maybe the prisons will be opened and the
political prisoners released. That is the hope as we come closer
to the Olympics, which will soon occur in China.
The transformation must occur in China. The stimulus is to be
more like the rest of the world and to fit more into the community
of nations. This will hopefully bring China to soften its stands
on certain issues of free exercise of press, speech and religion.
Maybe the day is coming when China will have its velvet, orange or
another colored revolution, and a gradual internal transition to
greater freedom will occur. We all await this Chinese New Year.
January 29, 2006 He Spoke with Authority
The people were spellbound by his teaching because he taught
with authority and not like the scribes. (Mark 1:22)
The promise of raising up prophets is found in Deuteronomy
18:15-20. God bestows a prophetic voice so people can hear and see
that God's grace is at work, calling people back to the ways of the
Lord. The prophetic ministry is especially needed in times of
troubles and so God did not abandon us but gives us that prophetic
ministry within our Church community and among baptized Christians.
History shows us that in every age of the Church that authority has
been exercised for better or worse. Truly some people such as
Martin Luther King will rise up and speak in a more prophetic
manner, but on the whole it is the voice of a Church as community
that is invested with the authority of Christ in troubled times.
Christ spoke with authority in a way that others did not, and
the contrast was what brought people closer to him. These people
were thirsting for his word, and Jesus never ignored a genuine
request. The passage (Mark 1:21-28) is a fast moving narrative of
the amazement of the hearers and the disruption of the unclean
spirit shrieking. It is not a quiet event at all; it is a
troubled event, a moment when authority is needed in order to take
command of the situation. And Jesus as always responds with the
fullest sense of authority. Christ speaks with authority because
he acts with authority. His words and deeds are joined. To merely
preach and defer to others to act weakens the authority of the
speaker. Jesus always speaks and acts (preaches and drives out the
unclean spirit), a pattern repeated throughout his public life.
Authority in the Church. Authority comes through Baptism and
the other sacraments. People who dislike the Church will seek to
demean that authority, as though authority of itself is not in
keeping with a free spirit. But authority means that what Christ
confers on his Church continues down through the ages. When people
want someone or an organization to speak up for the poor and the
disadvantaged it is good that some can speak with authority. When
people misuse that authority and speak in an authoritarian manner,
it weakens the whole structure and the atmosphere in which true
authority should always spring forth.
Authority among Christian people. Each of us is baptized as
priest, prophet and king, and these offices have an authority
associated with their functioning. We often overlook our own role
as people charged with taking responsibility. When we are
committed to bringing forth change, we can do so with an authority
given to us by the Lord. Others will soon see this in the way we
speak. But like Jesus, we must also act, for to speak without
acting has a hollow sound. The two must be in unison, for in so
doing the fullness of Christ's authority to shine forth in our
lives appears. We are not to be authoritarian and glorify the
power of authority within us; rather we must humbly see God's
authority shining through us in our words and actions.
January 30, 2006 Improving Gas Mileage
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Federal Trade
Commission have given a series of hints to help consumers curb the
high costs of gasoline at this time of $2 to $3 fuel.
Hold to slower speeds. Each 5 miles per hour one drives over
60 is like paying an additional $0.15 per gallon for the gasoline.
Jump starts and stops also are inefficient. Unnecessarily idling
wastes fuel as well.
Combine trips. The EPA and FTC say that several short trips
taken from a cold start can use twice as much fuel as one trip
covering the same distance when the engine is warm. A little
planning will go a long way in allowing drivers to combine trips
and get more accomplished each time the car is used.
Select the right octane level. This suggestion is more
evident to most drivers today because of the high price of fuels.
However, some still over-purchase higher octane fuels. Unless the
car is knocking, the use of higher octane is a waste of money.
Keep the auto well maintained. Keep the engine tuned and on
a regular checkup routine. Keep tires properly inflated and
aligned -- this can increase mileage about 3%. Use the recommended
grade of oil and change on a regular schedule; the friction-
reducing additives in motor oil can improve gasoline efficiency.
Be wary of "gas-saving" gadgets. EPA has checked out over 100
of these commercial devices and finds that very few enhancers and
fuel line magnets provide any extra efficiency benefit. Check
Consider vehicle or fuel alternatives. More and more hybrid
(electric/gas) vehicles are now appearing on the market (see
February 5, 2004). Many of these operate in the 40 to 60 miles per
gallon range, and they are improving with each year. However, the
popularity of these vehicles make them harder to purchase instantly
because of the large number of back orders. And they are often
more expensive. See DOE's Alternative Fuels Data Center
FTC rules require labels on all new Alternate Fuel Vehicles
(designated by DOE as those fueled by methanol, ethanol, compressed
natural gas, liquified petroleum gas, electricity and others) to
give the vehicle's estimated cruising range and general descriptive
information. These alternative fuel vehicles may reduce harmful
pollutants and exhaust emissions; however there is concern that
this new line of vehicles that use alternative fuels do not travel
as far gallon-for-gallon as gasoline-powered vehicles.
January 31, 2006 The Yurt
Appropriate technologists agree that ideas should come from
all parts of the world, but bulk resources (water, food, building
materials, and fuel) should be obtained from places close at hand.
This is because it takes little to transfer an idea but much in
resources to carry fuel long distances. This appropriate
technology principle apples to the yurt, a type of building used in
Mongolia which involves a structure held like the staves of a
barrel and covered with hides. Mongolians take these down and
reassemble them quite rapidly, and they travel with the herds.
The Yurt Foundation popularized these types of structures in
North America and we built one at ASPI in 1982. A platform was
built with plywood on treated posts. The siding of this circular
building consists of two layers of rough cut pine boards with
insulation between them; the entire structure is held together with
a steel cable at the junction of the siding and the eaves of the
The Yurt Foundation proposed a roof composed of 23 ribs made
of plywood that fit together with a ring at the peak and that are
covered with a skylight as well as with clear glass or Plexiglas at
the lower end of each rib. The key is constructing the basic
building in such a way that the cable holds the walls. After that,
most of the construction is quite simple. We found that the use of
ribs for the roof was actually attractive, but it did not hold well
in a severe wind storm; thus we developed our own roof made of
interlaced pine slabs, covered with heavy tar paper. That is not
as rigid but holds well during wind storms.
Yurts can fill a variety of uses. The Mountain Institute in
eastern West Virginia has a beautiful double-deck yurt that acts as
the nerve center and office of their establishment. The upper
floor of this large yurt is a large room for housing interns for
short periods of time. The Institute also has a number of smaller
yurts on the grounds that serve as storage buildings and cabins for
Our ASPI yurt has been used for intern housing even during the
winter -- though it is not completely winterized. It is insulated
but does not have a heating stove within it. During the summer the
ASPI yurt has proved to be an ideal retreat cabin and housing for
short periods of time. It is surrounded by shade trees and is
Promoting yurts is not a great necessity, but it is important
to recognize that other cultures have excellent building ideas.
Yurts can be built rapidly and at very low cost. In an age when
people need housing for limited periods due to migration or natural
disasters, the yurt is an ideal structure and deserves serious