June comes with a stronger sureness than the earlier months. In April and even May we were never sure whether we would experience the many "winters" of springtime, e.g., serviceberry winter, dogwood, blackberry, or any of the flowering species that must endure a late cold spell. But June is different. It's barefoot time, for winter has surely passed and summer is upon us with all the fury of heat, humidity and rumble of thunder. Amid this intensity, June finds the spring plantings coming to fruition: beets, cabbage, broccoli, cauliflower, peas, cucumbers, chard, zucchini, and more besides. Our landscape explodes with a majestic array of colors, sounds and smells, and we know that the land is truly bountiful. Certainty comes with full summertimes.
You honor us both in Appalachia and in other parts of the world; You are at home in many places and give beauty by your girth. This tells us that we must be at home, all being citizens of our Earth.
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June 1, 2016 Protecting and Assisting Garden Plants
In May we gave special attention to the planting of a variety of vegetables, herbs and flowers to make a colorful array for the growing season. Now the hot June sun is coming and these vulnerable plants may need more protection. Fabric covers can give shade where needed, but that is not enough, for pollinating insects will be needed for cucumbers and many others.
Many gardeners swear by mulch, that soft (Germanic derivative) covering of loose materials, which conserves much needed moisture during the hot summer months, allows air to get to roots, moderates micro-climate susceptible to our temperature climate ups and downs, chokes out the weeds that tend to crowd around vegetables, and provides a covering for the ever-working earthworms. Mulch materials may be of many types: straw, hay, grass cuttings, rotting leaves, shredded newsprint, and even plastic sheet and foam materials.
Green mulching with other vegetables and cover crops are well suited to protect plants from excessive summer sun. Some cover crops, like vetch, serve as a good mulch during the crop's maturation; even when dying back, the cover materials serve as a dry mulch as well. Generally, materials which biodegrade and can become organic compost are better than other types of mulches, such as plastics; black plastic can burn out the roots of veggies, especially in our hot early summer periods.
With some planning, interplanting crops can serve as protection for the emerging ones and still produce well for late spring harvest. This great space saver includes planting tomatoes or peppers in among spring greens or radishes, and as these are harvested the new crop thrives. One can plant beans amid the lettuce or spinach rows and the plants will soon be ready for possible staking just when the last of the spring greens are harvested. Cucumbers and peppers can be interplanted together and the harvest of cucumbers in mid-summer occurs when the peppers are just climbing in height. By September and later these peppers will produce free of the now dead cucumber vines.
Be sensitive about the need for new plants having sufficient moisture to allow for the tender period right after planting. Water close to the plant and then surround up close with the mulch being used. When you return in a day or so you will find the ground under the mulch cover still moist; this guarantees that the plant will thrive. Now also attend to the possible predators that could attack the plant in summertime. Manual removal is better than chemical pesticides if at all possible. If you are to be away for a period this month ask a neighbor or someone in the household to be kind and water the most sensitive plants. Quite a number, including onions and garlic, do well on their own.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to have concern for those living creatures under our control, both animal and plant.
As vacation time looms it is good to enjoy and celebrate our rivers in numerous ways:
1. Beauty -- Rivers for the most part have a natural beauty in the running water, the ways they flow, the meandering of the streams, and the trees, banks and cliffs that decorate them.
2. Bounty -- Rivers offer sources of fish, mussels and other marine life that may not be available otherwise. River shorelines include marshes and vegetative varieties not found elsewhere.
3. Fragility -- We can celebrate what can easily be spoiled, but that has instead been protected or restored through human efforts. So often rivers can be damaged and the heart of celebration is that what has been harmed can be repaired through considerable effort -- a cause of celebration.
4. Harmony -- Rivers enhance an otherwise monotonous landscape and give the necessary ingredient in land/water relationships. Rivers render a pleasant sound through rapid current or waterfalls.
5. Peace and tranquility -- Rivers need not be productive or valued in dollars in order to be a source of enjoyment. In India and elsewhere rivers can even take on a sacred character.
6. Recreation -- Rivers are great places to paddle, row or operate a motor boat, wade, swim or soak, fish or accompany others who like such activities, float and gaze to the heavens over water, or to dangle one's feet in the moving waters. Rivers are often land-locked people's only access to much free flowing water.
7. Respect -- Although fragile, rivers can be mighty and can flood and cause devastation in quite unexpected ways and over extremely short time spans. Drownings occur in rivers and so the life-giving water can bring sudden death. Respect and awe go hand-in-hand in our treatment of wonder-filled but powerful rivers.
8. Transportation -- For centuries, people and goods moved more easily on rivers than on land. While travel modes have improved in the past hundred years, still bulk coal and other materials are moved more economically via river barges.
9. Water source -- Rivers are the vital water sources for many uses, from domestic uses and bathing to hydropower and irrigation. Nations quarrel over water rights, and efforts must be made to divide the use of water throughout the river basin equitably.
10. Value -- Rivers offer so much for all that they attract residents whose riverside properties are more highly valued because of scenic views, soothing sounds and recreation delights.
Prayer: Lord, help us to learn to respect vulnerable rivers.
June 3, 2016 Halt Damage, Repair the Harmed, Make Reparation
On this Feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus we strive to be more like Jesus, who goes ahead of us and leads us in a loving and merciful manner. We are also aware of the need for reclaiming a world that is now in the hands of privilege and exploitation. We are aware that this reclamation includes repair of our planet, damaged by excessive use of fossil fuels and the emissions resulting from combustion. Environmental repair is needed, and this is closely related to the original thrust of the devotion to the loving heart of Jesus. Misdeeds done to our wounded Earth also offend the Creator of all good things. Repair is forthcoming: by halting misdeeds being performed; by making reparation for wounds already inflicted; and by repairing the damaged social order.
Halt the misdeeds. Turn as quickly as possible away from the burning of fossil fuels (coal, oil and natural gas) to renewable forms of energy production. Corrective actions here and now are formidable and require citizen action, both in our community and beyond in our nation and world. As citizens, we petition for agencies to act responsibly and to develop effective regulations to halt pollution, to enforce the regulations, and to pressure world governments to do the same. Our environment is global in scope, and pollution knows no national boundaries. Pressure at local levels can have a ripple effect on regions and nations.
Initiate repair work. The damage to our Earth is a misdeed against the Creator to whom we all need to make repairs, both individually and through collective social responsibility. Reclamation takes on added urgency because wounds to our world require our attention, especially erosion and unreclaimed surface mined areas, brown fields, waste dumps, and water bodies polluted through environmental mismanagement. Such repairs are late in coming but urgently needed, lest our people lose heart. Unfortunately, such physical repair work is costly and often postponed during times of belt-tightening.
Reestablish the social order. This third level is one of deepest spiritual awareness, and yet it must be achieved in order that true healing occurs. Reparation includes pious sacrifices and prayers performed to repair the damage my own sin and that of others has done to our total social order. The world is damaged by misdeeds, and forgiving words are not sufficient. Order needs to be restored when disorder occurs. This goes beyond personal misdeeds and allows us to enter into the saving works of Christ the redeemer. We enter into the saving plan now achieved through a more wonderful re-creation of the order of the local community, region, nation, as a whole and an entire Earth. Reparation shows the worth of what has been damaged by sacrificing through good deeds for what has been so thoughtlessly damaged. We participate in halting damage, repairing the harmed, and through a spiritual Earthhealing process.
Prayer: Lord, give to us the grace to make reparation for the misdeeds done to our wounded Earth.
Rhododendron maximum growing near Middlesboro, KY.
June 4, 2016 The Mountain Rhododendron
The rhododendron (Ericaceae) is the flower of choice for many in Appalachia, and festivals celebrate this large floral family with many species of exquisite colors (e.g. Roan Mountain Festival in Tennessee). And the exquisite rhododendron is not limited to Appalachia but is found in any moist generally alpine terrain in the Northern Hemisphere and even beyond. For instance, the Himalayan region from Kashmir east is blessed with this flower; its greatest diversity is found in southern China, Nepal (national flower is Rhododendron arboreum) and Sikkim (national flower is Rhododendron niveum). Not to be outdone, Appalachia's rhododendron is just as prized and is West Virginia's state flower and even adorns the flag of the "Mountain State." With all due respect, the world loves this flower!
Due to differences in local climatic conditions and topography, the rhododendron blooming season is just as broad-ranging, even within a given region. Thus we are blessed with these prolific native flowers through parts of spring and well into summer. I recall that the southern terminal miles of the Blue Ridge Parkway in Tennessee and North Carolina are flanked by hillsides of the "rose trees" of the hills. Furthermore, many gardens of this region and other parts of our country contain azeleas (a hybrid cousin), the profuse blooms of which herald the floral season in early spring. And an added positive characteristic is that these are most often evergreen bushes giving color during the non-blooming part of the year. Our azelea blooms budded early some years due to a warm March and then are killed before full bloom during an unusually cold mid-April period.
While none of us can say anything against the blazing beauty of the rhododendron, Appalachians have the expression, "They are beautiful to see, but hell to walk through." The picture proves the first; any cross-country hiker in the mountains can testify to the second. The only other negative is that they do not give us an additional edible landscape species. Even the honey from the blooms is known to make people sick and the Greek Xenophon over two millennia ago noted the hallucinogenic effects of certain eastern Mediterranean species of the rhododendron.
The best way for learning more about and enjoying the beauty of this flower is to come and see for yourselves. If you go beyond the photographic and painting stage and want to know more, consider contacting the American Rhododendron Society at Niagara Falls, New York or email <firstname.lastname@example.org>, or call (416) 424-1942. This organization's activities include public education, flower shows, seed exchanges, scientific studies, communication through publications and the Internet, and local and national meetings. Also the organization gives grants for research.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to observe the floral beauty of the mountains and to encourage others to come and admire the gift of the rhododendron.
June 5, 2016Violent Deaths and Sorrow to Loved Ones
It happened that a dead man was being carried out for burial, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow. (Luke 7:12)
Jesus has deep compassion for a mother who is losing her only son. Widowhood has always been fraught with difficulty, but one who loses her means of support has even harder challenges. Think of sorrow within families: parents enduring the burial of dead infants, youth involved in accidents, and young soldiers killed in combat. All too often in this land of great medical advancements and safety standards, the added tale arises involving senseless urban violence and gangland killings of young people -- with sorrowing parents having to endure the burial of their offspring. Violent deaths bring together a compassionate community, newspaper headlines, and often a wider community of sympathy and outpouring.
Some seniors still blessed with good memories must endure seeing their loved ones precede them in death. Often parents say they would far rather had been the one who passed first -- but sometimes that is not the case. Seniors generally do not expect their offspring to precede them in death; pain occurs and is more devastating where widows have no direct social means of support except in their children. In this Gospel story a widow experiences the death of her only son, and Jesus expresses deep sorrow. Perhaps he anticipates as much in his own family? Recall Mary, a widow, standing at the foot of the cross.
Examples of similar stories will continue to haunt us. Today, far too many American youth are gunned down in this manner in both urban and rural parts of America. Blame it on guns or gunners and perhaps blame it on easy access to massive amounts of ammo. Is this a condition so prevalent within our culture that it will remain as part of the American way, because we have little or no control over availability of ammunition clips by those who harm?
As Christians we are to protect precious life and to help give new life through God's power. Can we create conditions in which less violence will occur? Some ninety percent of the annual 45,000 automobile accidents are caused by human error, and in half of the cases the victim's parents will have to go to funerals of their offspring. Must we see repeated the sorrow of one younger than the normal life span passing before their parents? One is one too many. How many could have lived to have a normal life, and yet are cut down before their time? Gangland murders, auto accidents, drug overdoses, and other such incidents will continue, but we could reduce their frequency through meaningful policies that need to be debated and put in place. In such cases we can be christs to those who need not suffer such loses, if we act as responsible citizens and help curb senseless violent occurrences that seem at times to be interwoven in American history.
Prayer: Lord, give us the merciful compassion of Jesus and help us reduce the cases of violence within our fair land.
Snapshot along the Sheltowee Trace in Natural Bridge State Park.
June 6, 2016 Hike the Sheltowee Trace
The older "traces" of mid-America and beyond were often remnants of the ancient Native American trail systems, which were highly used. Many of these earlier inhabitants were well traveled. One of these trails is the approximately 319-mile multiuse Sheltowee Trace that is managed by and on the lands of the Daniel Boone National Forest (a ribbon of land going in a southwesterly direction from northeastern Kentucky to Tennessee). The trail actually goes from northern Rowan County in northeastern Kentucky to Pickett State Park in northern Tennessee. The trail touches such scenic sites as Cave Lake State Park, the Red River Gorge, Natural Bridge State Park, Cumberland Falls State Park, and the Big South Fork National River and Recreation Area. Just listing these natural treasures means that the trail is a perfect one for hiking.
The Sheltowee Trace is quite rugged, but is being improved over time with better markings. Portions are on rural roadways; some are open to more than hikers, and thus in places horses, mountain bikes and even off-road vehicles of certain types are allowed. The connection with five or more recreation-type areas allows for the hiker to refurbish food supplies and other necessities after about one hard day's travel -- a type of amenity that many of us moderate hikers appreciate.
Why the strange trail name? "Sheltowee" means big turtle, a name that was given to Daniel Boone when he was adopted as a son by the chief of the Shawnee nation, Blackfish. Actually, the big turtle is also used as a symbol by various mid-American tribes as a name for the continental land mass (North America) on which they dwell. In an ironic way, once several of us hikers on the Sheltowee Trace came across a squashed tarpon, the victim of an off-road vehicle using, or better, misusing this trail. Unfortunately this tells a story of how the Trace is being threatened by those who do not treat the flora and fauna of the territory with deep respect.
It is amazing what varied sites the Sheltowee Trace includes: mountains and low hills, woodlands and grasslands, coves and caves, rock formations (natural bridges and cliffs) and waterfalls, and a wide variety of flowers and mammals. Kentucky was always known for its abundance of all forms of wildlife, and in the course of hiking this trail many will be observed. One would be well advised to keep a journal or picture collection of the variety of sights.
This early part of June, which includes National Trails Day, is a perfect time to consider hiking on some of the many scenic trails this year. Most parts of our country have trails of equal worth to the Sheltowee that are often well marked for outdoor recreational use. Hiking is a grand form of vacation if you have the energy and time to do so. See <www.sheltoweetrace.com>.
Prayer: Lord, our journey through life can be reenacted in symbolic ways through a good summer hike.
Fifty years ago the publication of Unsafe at Any Speed sparked a serious awakening in our society that launched initiatives and organizations that have dramatically improved our personal health and safety, in the home, workplace, marketplace and the environment..
To celebrate this milestone, and to reflect and renew our civic spirit and resolve we convened an unprecedented gathering of public interest organizers, advocates, experts, and concerned citizens for four days at historic Constitution Hall in Washington DC.
Watch Fr. Al Fritsch and many other speakers at the Breaking Through Power event, held May 23 - 26, 2016. See below!
June 7, 2016 Consider a Poem for the Times: Lazarus' People
Dimming eyes may be a blessing in disguise,
for we fail to see what a well-tuned ear can hear,
the cracking whips, rattling chains, squeaking shackles
Surely, surely they have not returned to haunt us,
for we are prone to make-believe, half-baked lies.
Is allowing destitution condoning slavery too?
Is Dives' doorstep our Internet? Our TV glue?
Are pharisaic calls for liberty hollow indeed,
a greatness trapped in democratic ways, where greed
sequesters much and hides rags, forgetting terror reigns
and even cajoles, holding out empty rice bowls?
The propertied cling to divine right of a king,
and belittle rightful taxes for the wealthy few:
"Let them play the lottery and become rich too;
Let's forget to Whom all wealth truly belongs;
Let's cheapen the "commons" until it is dethroned;
Let's wring out joy and goad the crowd to sing."
Another wide-eyed, hopeless, and hungry wantabe,
"Let's take what is rightly ours by violence or otherwise;
Let's bless the suicidal vest, shoot in the air,
and dare chide Wall Street and the billionaire;
Let all come to see, the treasures are for us all,
the world's poor are our own -- a part of WE."
-- O God of mercy, turn scarlet to white, false hearts true,
the silent to speaking, contented to uneasiness,
and help us, the deaf and blind, for we surely need
listen to Jeremiah's words and see Moses' deed,
for we fail to hear and see and heed.
Our prayerful words need be few -- help us renew!
On the birthday of Frank Lloyd Wright we are drawn to the notable successes of this noted architect. How could we fail to understand that architecture has a role to play in healing our wounded Earth? Thank heavens that architects take their role seriously. Architects have helped us in the past with environmental resource assessments, for they fill a gap lacking in our limited experience. Nevertheless, we may have differences as to the size of structures to be refurbished or to be planned and built. We believe in reuse of existing barns and houses and in constructing the smallest structure that can perform a given task. Even though in principle we all agree in utilizing conservation measures, we may clash with architects over the size issue that is critical in "greenness" of buildings.
Architects are necessary; they strive to build aesthetically pleasing structures on particular land; they visualize the future building's color, shape and blending with surrounding structures and terrain. And they can do so in ways that we, the untrained, would never even conceive -- and that is why there have been notable architects such as F.L. Wright. Good architectual design is all the more critical today in the age of climate change and global warming. During a building's lifetime large amounts of fossil fuels will be required for building materials and, in non-solar buildings, for heating and cooling.
This is also Best Friends Day, and so we realize the value of keeping friendships with architects. We need to recognize their work, acknowledge it, and encourage them to meet the needs of the present age. But architects have their own hopes and ideas and yet are constrained by the wishes of the people who are paying the cost of construction. Like other artists, architects are at the mercy of the ones paying the bills, the sponsors or patrons or holders of the credit cards. A painter will create his or her work of art at relatively low cost, even if not accepted by art enthusiasts at that time. Head-strong artists risk starvation. But the architect's real artistic delight is not plans and designs, but buildings that cost more than paint, brush, and canvas. Their work must be both practical and pleasing, a double challenge.
Many of us would like to have the combined scientific and artistic skills required for creating good architecture. But that is limited to only a few of the talented in our society. These few, in turn, must have the political skill to convince the client of the need for certain innovations and conservation measures and still be able to satisfy the engineering demands of regulators and safety agencies. And then there's governmental zoning and other regulations. What do architects say about ecological advocates for fewer and smaller buildings? More power to the truly green architects in our midst!
Prayer: Lord, guide the architects of our world, for their courage to help design and construct a far greener society.
A senior Kentucky organic gardener with heirloom tomatoes.
June 9, 2016The Wisdom of Seniors
Psalm 90 says that wisdom is knowing the shortness of our lives. Here seniors have an advantage if they are honest with themselves, for life is short by just looking back to youth; it was simply not that long age. On this Senior Citizens' Day the world in which we live should not see seniors as burdens but as treasures, for in many ways they are wiser that those living fewer years. Today, payments for pensions and health care is something elders expect, even when in some affluent cases they certainly do not need extra. However, enough poor elders make us be solicitous.
Our culture never questions some of its wrongheaded assumptions. One of these involves the place of elders in the society in which we live. Elders are more numerous now than they were in the past, for they tend to live longer. In the past, several generations shared the same household domestic and farm tasks to a great degree, and the elder's place was never questioned. But in the hustle and bustle of modern life, the elder, especially when requiring more health care, is thought to become bothersome. In our consumer culture, elderly health needs are seen as a burden and the presence of these people as a hindrance to modern mobility and fast changing habits.
Is an overly pampered younger generation thankless and stiff-necked? Or is that an elder's bias? While religion calls for being humble and bowed before the Almighty, a lack of religious respect extends to a lack of respect for elders -- and younger folks as well. When we fail to pause and give thanks for benefits received, we lack appreciation for gifts given. Those lacking a sense of history regard others as so much flotsam and jetsam (that which is thrown overboard to lighten the cargo on a distressed ship). This culture encourages those who are limited in abilities to pass from the scene, to terminate life, or die mercifully.
Seniors are treasures: their presence reminds us of all our ancestors who sacrificed for us through the years and who make us who we are; these had experience and wisdom so often taken for granted; their sacrifices when offered with the love of God at heart have had immense value in this world starved for lack of gratitude. Gratitude expressed in passing is the final and greatest act of the senior -- departure from this life in a certain quality and style. Even when under total care, cooperation is essential and a final smile is an education for us all.
We need to encourage seniors and testify that their final years can be quality-filled ones; they help heal our wounded earth. When they offer their sufferings and loneliness with Christ on Calvary they help fill up what is wanting in those sufferings. They are extending wisdom to others and should be a major component of a vital community of multigenerational cooperation. The senior who is joyful and thankful shares immense evangelistic treasures.
Prayer: Lord, help us to value the wisdom of elders.
Hummingbirds, leaning to share at feeder. (*Photo by Sally Ramsdell)
June 10, 2016Wisdom Includes Recognizing God's Gifts
Wisdom may be more expressed by senior (yesterday's reflection) but is expected of everyone, especially when faced with a troubled world all around us. Wisdom comes with experience and involves recognizing the presence of gifts of talent and resources given by God. When we exercise our gift of wisdom, we become more godly. We imitate God's wisdom as expressed in the works of creation, and some of us gradually reveal this wisdom through scientific discovery. Our own growth in wisdom is by respectfully accepting these works of the Creator as worthy of praise and thanksgiving throughout our lives.
Being wise is more than a private relationship between God and me; it involves a communal dimension, wherein wisdom is shared with others through my own actions and that of working together with them on cooperative endeavors. Thus wisdom becomes an ever expanding and ultimately a global enterprise -- a working together to build the Kingdom of God. On the other hand, some profess that we are to be detached from this world and relish and love only the things of heaven. One can quote St. Paul who says that "our citizenship is in Heaven" (Phil. 3:20). However, wisdom has a somewhat broader interpretation, for in the Psalms we read, "Teach me to count how few days we have and so gain wisdom of heart" (Psalm 90:12). We learn to cherish what we already have.
Knowing our limitations in the current situation (mortality, limits on resources, and restricted circumstances) is part of wisdom, but this recognition is coupled with the willingness to see opportunities for acting in a most positive manner, even amid the barriers that surround us. The specifics of those opportunities are discovered by keeping our eyes open when we marvel at gifts given. Thus, there is present a simultaneity between what is possible, and what we are willing to do working within barriers and limitations. Perhaps in the course of the activity in which we are engaged, we crave a day when such limitations no longer exist -- and that means the "things of heaven," but right now we are called to do with what we have and "to make hay while the sun shines." Working here and now and being open to what is to come is wise.
Many regard wisdom to be showing how self-sufficient we are and how skilled we are at handling a current situation without exterior assistance. However, such an approach can actually be unwise, for it fails to see the situation properly, and it ignores other resources that may be available to assist in completing the tasks at hand. This failure at seeing and being able to deal with one's own limitations (whether personal or communal) is a popular weakness. Accepting limitations allows us an opportunity to look out to others and ultimately to the Holy Other for help. Obviously, wisdom is a unique gift, for unless we come to terms with barriers we cannot move forward to the goals we seek to achieve in our faith journey.
Prayer: Lord, give us the gift of wisdom so that our healing activities may benefit more of the people of God.
June 11, 2016 Visit the Eco-Tourist Center of Kentucky
Within my parish boundaries is a portion of the Red River Gorge or the Clifty Wilderness area in eastern Kentucky. This area of spectacular rock formations, including two natural bridges, is a magnet for rock climbers and tourists from Kentucky and neighboring states. It is within the area that includes my parish and where I make my annual July retreat. Why not?
One cannot help but be enthralled by the unique natural phenomenon created from water erosion over centuries, as well as the wonderful tree cover and scenery in the neighborhood. Some call it the eco-tourist capital because it has a concentration of beautiful scenes in a colorful commonwealth and a central Appalachian regions. In fact, this area contains the largest collection of arches and rock shelters east of the Rocky Mountains. Red River is Kentucky's only National Wild and Scenic River.
The Native American peoples hunted in these areas and left a small but pronounced imprint in petrographs and in relics left in the cave areas. Daniel Boone and other early pioneers and hunters camped there and enjoyed harvesting much wild game. In the 19th century the area became a source of iron ore (a number of early smelters/furnaces are located here), but the lack of good transportation and plentiful fuel supply led to moving the industry elsewhere. Saltpeter for gunpowder in wars from 1812 to the Civil War came from caves in this area; likewise highly prized timber was exploited in that century and beyond.
In the 20th century, with ownership and management by the U.S. Forest Service, raw material extraction was reduced. However, another threat to the beautiful and pristine rocky areas of the valley occurred when the sites were discovered by hikers, campers and rock climbers. With time the visitor volume grew, and the lack of proper care and toilet facilities had a noticeable impact on the Gorge. People would drink alcoholic beverages and scatter garbage, and each year one or more would wander off and fall from the abrupt cliff borders. I know one person who was permanently injured by a rock thrown by another while he camped under a cliff in the Gorge.
Citizens and the Forest Service personnel became aware of damage being done by uncontrolled visitor impact. Trees were cut for firewood, trash was abandoned, climbing spikes were left on cliff faces, and rock shelters were defaced. Noticeable damage began to appear. So now in the 21st-century, stricter rules have been imposed and the areas have toilet facilities, approved climbing and hiking areas, a ban on camping less than 100 feet from the base of cliffs, and refusal to allow camping in rock shelters. Modest camping and parking fees are now collected; all garbage and leftovers must be packed out; excessive noises are forbidden; and the area is being policed.
Reference: Kentucky's Land of the Arches, Robert H. Ruchhoft
Prayer: Lord, help us respect the landscape around us.
Appalachian Water Reflections
Consider an ideal Father's Day, graduation or wedding gift to be the new table book, Appalachian Water Reflections, now available on Amazon.com. This collection of 85 selected colored and black & white photos is carefully selected from the vast treasure of Warren Brunner and they touch on a variety of themes from lakes and waterfalls to rivers and snow-covered landscapes. On the opposite page of each photo grouped according to the four seasons is a specific reflection and appropriate Scriptural quotation by Al Fritsch. The team says that "Passing through the book is a meditative experience of God's spirit moving across waters within our Appalachian region."
Click here for details!
June 12, 2016 Forgiveness in the Jubilee Year of Mercy
Your faith have saved you; go in peace. (Luke 7:50)
The Jubilee Year of Mercy is that opportunity to ask forgiveness from a merciful God, along with seeking to extend mercy by forgiving those who have offended us in any way.
Believe thatGod forgives. In the Gospel story the sinful woman shows so much love because her sins are forgiven, not the inverse -- that her sins are forgiven because she has shown such great love. God's forgiveness comes first and that gives us pause, for by the grace and love of God we are forgiven. Many people regard their own misdeeds as too great to be forgiven. In one way this shows a sense of humility, but it calls out for mercy.
We must forgive. This is our part of the participation in the "Our Father," as we ask forgiveness in the manner in which we forgive others. That is not an easy thing to do, for many of us harbor very hard feelings to those who offended us. And what about those we offend? I found in prison work that many have thought they were framed or treated more harshly than others. A long festering period of prison was compounded by lack of forgiveness, and this added to a deep crevice that separates them from God.
Forgiving is merciful. Imperfect human beings need a time to start over, for many experience false starts and burdensome detours in life. The mercy of God allows for a precious time of continued life to overcome false starts and find an opportunity to begin again in a better spirit that includes the experience of failure. God is merciful and, with Christ's coming, we find the atmosphere of mercy showing through forgiveness of sinners. The Pharisees could not believe that God's power to forgive could come to an individual who walked and healed others in their midst. That mercy extends today to those with the ordination powers of the sacrament of reconciliation takes faith to believe as well.
Forgiveness is available. Through the sacraments of the Church, those caught in sinfulness have that next chance to live a new life. This power of God's mercy is for all who need it. It is urgent that each one avails themselves of confession in this year.
Make forgiveness available to others. Now add to this the extending of that availability to include those who are imprisoned and who need the mercy of a lenient legal system to reduce and forgive the sentences that prove so burdensome. Our country has far too many prisoners who need the mercy of God in their lives. That is why each of us should petition and work to see that prison terms are reduced, especially for non-violent offenders. The same, to a less demanding degree, ought to be applied to those with massive monetary debts that would give a fresh start in life.
Prayer: Lord, show your mercy once more both to us and to those who we can show mercy through our act of forgiveness.
We tree lovers have favorites; I must confess that one of mine is the Liriodendron tulipifera or the "tulip tree," the commonly known "poplar," or better, the "tulip poplar." It is a mistake to call this tree the yellow poplar (another species). The tulip tree shares the designation (with the Kentucky coffee tree) as the official Kentucky state tree; it has many good qualities:
* Tulip poplars grow fast. The tree is a rapid grower in our part of the country and prefers deep fertile soil; it is normally found in coves and in well-drained areas. The older trees can attain immense girth and some, especially in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, attain a twenty-four to thirty foot circumference.
* Tulip poplars are tall, well shaped and have dense foliage. In Appalachia they can grow to heights of 165 feet and tower over the oaks and maples. Some would object that they are not part of our "edible" landscape (fruit and nut tree varieties), but the flower is a tulip-shaped, cucumber-scented beauty that attracts the honey bees, which can convert nectar into some of the most prized honey of this region. And that is certainly edible.
* Tulip poplar wood is fine grained. This is a favorite for construction and crafting. My dad, a wood carver in his retirement years, liked to work with tulip poplar because of its beautiful yellow and purple streaks, as well as its softness. Also the wood stains easily to various desired shades and hues. Furthermore, the wood does not split or "check" as so many other types do. Yes, poplar shrinks and so has to be dried properly when used for siding on a house. It preserves very well, and in some of the older log cabins of our Commonwealth one can find fairly well preserved logs made from the large tulip poplar trees two centuries ago. Native Americans used the logs of this tree for making canoes, and thus the added name "canoe tree."
* Tulip poplars are less disease-prone than many other species. Knock on wood! So many of our trees in the forest suffer from diseases either present or arriving from other parts of the country or distant lands; these species are so stressed that they are prone to the attacks of opportunistic pests. Let's hope that no new disease will devastate the tulip poplar. These trees are also not subject to wind damage as are many fast-growing varieties.
*Tulip poplars are beautiful. This characteristic is in the mind of the beholder. But tree lovers must admit that this is a very symmetrically shaped tree; it grows tall and graceful; it has even, full foliage that stays for much of the growing season and it blends well in most forests . But no tree is perfect. The tulip popular is great for spring and summer but does not have the fall leaf colors of maples and the sour gum. It's still a winner!
Prayer: Lord, help us see your goodness in the trees about.
"Carhenge" public art project using recycled cars. Alliance, Nebraska.
June 14, 2016Old Car Art -- In Junk Yards
One of the least artistic sights in Kentucky and in many other rural states is a collection of rusty junk vehicles crowded around a house or work shed. What generally brings on these collections is the desire of a mechanically-minded person of limited means to tear out working parts of these worn out and wrecked vehicles that have seen better days. The collections are more often in rural than in urban areas, because urban land is worth more and junk storage is limited and regulated. The dead end of the auto culture is unsightly and thus there is pressure in many communities to construct visual barriers around them. The junk mentality extends to most of us with respect to other cast-offs, and our barriers are file cabinets and closets. Most junkyard owners really have clean up in mind -- they just never get around to it.
Old cars need to be recycled. Due to the past blockage, Havana Cuba is said to be recycling heaven, and is filled with cars made by taking parts from several and combining them to make a serviceable vehicle capable of transporting people and goods. Some folks convert outworn vehicles into auxiliary storage areas, keeping farm and garden supplies and tools away from the elements. Others turn them into food dryers that can prove serviceable in certain locations. Others bury vehicles and make them into small, very low-cost underground cellars, at least as long as the frame and sheeting do not rust through. A few junker buses become homes for the homeless or for animals of various sorts.
And still other vehicles have been turned into works of art in one fashion or another. On two occasions I remember passing "Cadillac Ranch" just west of Amarillo, Texas, on I-40 and seeing once-fashionable cars upended in a symmetrical design, one right after another. It was as though each "caddy" had taken a nose dive into the Great Plains, one following another in procession. In much the same way "Carhenge" was created as the modern stonehenge, located a few miles northeast of Alliance, Nebraska, near to State Route 87. Each artist has attempted to give meaning to a junked up world of countless vehicles, and especially useless vehicles that blot our countryside. More power to them!
The ecologically concerned call for reuse of appliances and cars. But reuse is anathema to consumer producers, for such practices are not profitable. Constantly changing shapes, design and modified functions make items less fit to repurchase -- and thus junkable. The second best practice after reuse is to recycle; metal vehicles are ultimately melted down after the non-metal components have been removed. Some states offer a small fee to clean up sites. One recycler talks about a "steel shortage in America," and that recycling junk vehicles will increase property value, make a little money, beautify the county, solve the steel shortage and provide steel for our armed services. Good reasons!
Prayer: Lord. help us overcome the propensity to collect junk; inspire us to find and reuse what is often thrown away.
We can construct the static model of leadership with which most of us are familiar. It is shaped like the pyramids of Egypt with the leader at the top, and the second, third and other subordinates further down in an ever-expanding base; foot soldiers, who are meant to serve the rest, are at the bottom of the pyramid. It is rigidly constructed and seen easily by others; this leadership model stands out, for all to know who is at the top and from whom all authority flows. Many absolutist kings, companies, and households have used this model of authority and stability for centuries. The model testifies to the structure of hierarchy, which does exist in some fashion in all parts of this universe.
I am no anarchist when it comes to working leadership: we do need structure, but one can doubt that a pyramid is the most perfect model, although it has been around for millennia. Christ's washing of the feet of the disciples introduces another leadership model, and Christ turns a pyramid on its side and makes it mobile like an advancing phalanx. There is certainly a point person, but that person is like the point or head of an arrow shooting through time; the leader is ahead of us and not so much above us. Jesus as leader is willing to suffer for us and die for us, so that we may be of similar service for our fellow human beings and all the creatures of the Earth. This is a dynamic leadership moving outward rather than upward. The body of Christ becomes a mobile formation thrust out on a journey in life and determining its sub-goals while on the road. And Christ is up ahead as the leader.
Two examples of military strategy and tactics illustrate the two triangles, although such examples are imperfect. A vertically directed "pyramid" model was highly operative on the Western Front during the First World War. British chief commander, General Haig, King George V's favorite, was operating a distant headquarters far from the front; he ordered the troops from trenches for small and quite bloody pushes; it involved a stabilized front in costly battle array. A second "arrowhead" leadership model involved the military strategy of Alexander the Great in the battle of Issis and other major engagements. With a small contingent and with himself in the lead ranks, he personally attacked the nerve center of his opponents, with himself in the lead ranks. All the confederated side ranks knew their precise role and fought according to the common goals, making minor decisions for the sake of protecting each other and achieving the final goal of victory.
The world around us needs leaders in all fields who are part of the process and know the participants involved. The notion of bringing leaders from a distant profession or place is harder to justify in today's world. The leader must have a proven track record and this takes hands-on participation with the affected group. Leadership qualities seem ever more demanding.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to be leaders as suffering servants who know their neighbors and are known to participate in the action.
June 16, 2016 The Principle of Subsidiarity and Leadership Choices
At this time in leap year as we approach national elections, a Catholic social action principle would be helpful to keep in mind. The Principle of Subsidiarity states that nothing should be done by a larger or more complex organization, which can be done as well or better by a smaller and simpler one. Placed in the context of leadership: whatever can be better decided at the broader or base level should be relegated to that level. This principle encourages broader democratic procedure, for often the rank and file can better understand what is occurring there than can the people who regard themselves as elite and more privileged. Respect the rank and file, for they know what they need in leaders.
"Authentic Leaders don't micro-manage" is a corollary. However, history tells us that rank and file folks can make mistakes and even make some rather bad choices for leaders because of the herd mentality or by being blinded by emotions of anger or impatience. In these trying times, it is important that all stop and think before acting -- even voting. Yesterday we spoke of an outward thrust of servant leadership and not a distant ruler who stands above others. Participation by a leader in actions in which all take part is ideal.
A leader who has been involved in collaborative efforts is more suited than one who only talks about change from a distance. One who has been collaborating across boundaries whether cultural, political or social is more qualified than one who is set within a single class, or who has a colonialist approach to others, especially those regarded as of a lower status. The leader must regard coming to decisions to be a participative process with a goal of reaching consensus, if that is at all possible.
While coming to leadership is through participation, still the actual implementation may depend on the actions of the chosen leader with consulting assistance. For an operation's vitality and success, all parties ought to think as one and share common longer-term goals and interests -- if that is possible. Assuming this is the case, a group must still sort through a host of intermediate actions and policies that will lead to these goals. Individuals may see important matters differently from leaders, but that is not as prone to friction if leaders are embedded in and coming from the ranks. Leaders must not be far distant in salaries and perks, nor in their sense of power above the ranks.
A servant leader implies concern, not a care-free or indifferent approach of distant rank and file. Shared leadership means that all have a concern about the proper use of time, money and other resources, and ultimate effectiveness for participative leadership involves good stewardship of resources. Protecting and enhancing leaders is a matter of all parties involved, because we all are called to serve, and no one is perfect.
Prayer: Lord, help us to reflect on the best candidates.
June 17, 2016 Gambling in Lottery or For a Better World
Earlier this year a massive lottery with a billion dollar plus prize so captivated millions that the drawing became a national event. Few would concede that a win in such high stakes would create more problems than solutions for the winner. Who wants to be an instant billionaire before friends, relatives and neighbors?
That takes us to the entire field of gambling. Granted, we all take risks in life in economics, sports, and a multitude of activities, but why add an extra one in gambling? Your chance of being hit by lightning is greater than winning a massive jackpot.
One of the greatest conspiracies of the current economic system is the notion that one can get rich fast through gambling --even after the government has taken a major share through taxes. Perhaps, just perhaps, luck could come our way! And we are so pledged to do good with the results. Go to buy gas on payday and watch what happens. Some day-dreaming and working friends peel off five, ten and twenty dollars on the next round of gambling -- and only a modest portion of that money goes to state operations, and a major portion to gambling bosses. Deception reigns supreme!
Why can't people realize this, except that they live in a world of semi-fiction or near total fiction? And one of these fictions is that one can become rich with almost no effort. Fiction looms bigger than reality and dreams crowd out the harshness of ordinary work. But gambling is not the only spice that gives meaning to life, even though it is wildly popular and leads to an addiction that can ruin even the affluent. Gambling dehumanizes and makes one the ward of the state, complacent in not realizing that life is a far more serious gamble, some of the odds of which could be changed by human planned actions.
Gambling makes the capitalist unrealistic dream of wealth stay in the mind, and this crowds out resourcefulness and utilization of limited resources. Shouldn't gambling in all its forms be taxed all the more severely? One problem with this is that the lower income folks suffer most from this regressive tax, for many in these ranks are governed by a craving for quick wealth.
How about returning the fiction-prone to realistic dreams? Take a chance that we could develop a more responsive political system and channel efforts in the direction of political action. Put time and resources into changing the system; wealth should not be redistributed from many poor people to one lucky individual who suddenly gets rich. Invest time and energy and even money into changes through which all can gain the basics of life through equal sharing. Let's gamble to get winners who can change the system. Let's make this a win/win situation wherein ALL the public benefits. Chance and risk take on new meaning as we seek to change the global environment for the better. We risk not succeeding, but it is worth a try and a far more realistic thing to gamble about.
Prayer: Lord, inspire us to take risks to make lives better.
Large flower of the yellow salsify, Tragopogondubius.
June 18, 2016 Love and Respect on Father's Day
God is our father, and Jesus instructs us to address him in the familiar term "Abba," a title that comes closer to "daddy" in English. Our God is the creator and the prime example of all paternity. We are invited into the divine family and thus have all the feelings of being "at home" with God. As we approach Father's Day in this Jubilee Year of Mercy we need to see first how God's love and mercy extends to each of us.
We can match this love in some degree to our earthly fathers who quite often follow the pattern of God the Father, since they strive in imperfect ways to be godly in their actions for us. Fathers are the first to forgive us and to hope that we mature and become better. They are first in love for us -- but there are definitely exceptions in some persons and in some actions of otherwise good but not perfect people who happen to be fathers.
Sons and daughters strive to give acts of caring and love, whether it is the proverbial tie for Father's Day, the card, the hugs and kisses, the kind acts of caring. It is not because of these good deeds that we are rewarded with respect and approbation by the fathers of the world. They do not have to be triggered -- though they sometimes are encouraged to greater acts --by such acts of their offspring. Most often there is that respect that enters into a sense of duty to honor dads, and to do some spontaneous act of love , for it is a history of paternal generosity that triggers our response on this day.
What is so important today is to discover gratitude for the gifts given to us by those who were responsible for our upbringing, and to show thanks for their sacrifices. Our assembling a gift or service that a father will admire is inspired by God, who tells us to give back in a small way that which was given with great generosity. In gratitude for heavenly and earthly fathers, we exude an atmosphere of thankfulness for things given already, not try to manipulate the world so that we can receive more and more gifts. We are to be sincerely grateful for sacrifices made for each of us by fathers and grandparents back through the ages.
Often, more attention is given to motherly love than fatherly love, and more reciprocity is generally shown by the offspring. Quite often a father's love is expressed differently and with less affection and immediacy. It takes time to appreciate a father's love, and only a few gifted people express this well while their fathers are present. What is seen after fathers pass in loving sacrifice and concern becomes more apparent -- but then it's too late. Is it? Maybe we return a father's love through a sacrifice for others, with confident assurance that after we are gone, our love for our father will be manifest in those we assist in some fashion to pass on love. Our heavenly Father knows all of this.
Prayer: Lord, help us to appreciate love for true fatherhood and show it in our merciful and loving relations with others.
Butterflies on summer blossoms. (*Photo by Sally Ramdsell)
June 19, 2016 Accepting One's Cross
If anyone wishes to come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. (Luke 9:23)
Everyone has his or her own cross, whether it be health problems, economic hardships, problem spouse, children or relatives, or food or lodging safety issues. For some the cross may be an inability to get along with people at work or study, or some haunting fear that others do not know. One thing is fairly certain and that is we have our crosses, and that applies to everyone without exception -- though others may laugh at some people's definition of "cross" but it is real all the same.
Know the cross. All too often crosses are borne without others knowing them or even being asked to assist in handling them. Thus the isolation of bearing a cross burdens many people, often because they do not want others to have to increase their own loads at this time. Often, the bearer is unaware that others may find assisting someone to be a way of lightening the load on their own shoulders. Still, the decision to share a cross with others may not be as easily made as one might expect.
Share the cross? This is placed as a question mark when thinking of friends or associates who, one in generosity, does not want to burden anyone. The question mark is not because someone likes to bear alone, but through a regard for others considers the others having enough troubles. Certainly, the questioning is proper and worthy of prayer. This brings us to another sharing that is most worthwhile: Jesus willing to be with us.
Ask Jesus to help. Most people who bear their own crosses find them heavy at times. Some people get discouraged, and here Christian believers have a good suggestion. While not wanting to burden fellow travelers on the Journey of Faith, still we know that Jesus deliberately invites us to come to him and he will bear the cross with us. More companionship with Jesus comes through prayer and sacraments; we are strengthened by the Lord's presence, and we discover a peace of soul even while bearing our unique crosses.
Take added crosses. While we may not want to have others be burdened by our own crosses, still we should be prepared to assist when people wilt under their own heavy loads. In fact, some individuals find the cooperative efforts welcoming and that this unloads them to some degree just to be able to talk about problems with others. Spiritual direction is part of what this is about, for the directee finds solace in a director who listens and gives advice when requested. On our part, taking up another's cross makes our own somewhat lighter. The Christian shows great courage in accepting Jesus' cross of a suffering world.
Prayer: Lord, help us confront our crosses, accept them willingly, ask for divine assistance, and assist others.
Please take note! This reflection is about the favorite wildlife of the month, the Allegheny woodrat, Neotoma magister, not about compulsive human hoarders who bear the same designation. I have experience with both varieties (wildlife and human), but the former encourages a deeper appreciation. Wood or bushy tailed rats come in different sub-species in various parts of the continent. However, they are all native wildlife gifted with high intelligence. In some places where construction has occurred, these woodrats are actually an endangered species. We need to remember that their ancestors were settled here long before the advent of the Europeans and their larger and more despised and prolific "Norwegian" or common rat cousins, who favor urban life to the rural pack rat.
The term "pack" has to do with what they pack in when they build their nests, not with living, traveling, or working in groups or packs. In fact, they are rather solitary and nocturnal creatures. They are sometimes known as trade rats because they are attracted to shiny objects and will substitute a piece of jewelry for a pebble that they are carrying (dropping what they are packing for something that takes their fancy). Items discarded show that woodrats do not have our scale of economic values; one can only guess what is gained or lost when the pack rat visits.
We happened to build the ASPI Nature Center at Livingston, Kentucky in an area where pack rats lived. They soon wanted us to know this. We had a debate over whether we would kill them and decided to do so only if the problem became serious. I was astounded that one of these nocturnal creatures could slip in and peck at (strike with their teeth) a metal jar lid in one direction and thus unscrew it to get to food. I showed the phenomenon to Professor Emeritus Wayne Davis of the University of Kentucky Biology Department and he was utterly surprised. Our patience grew thinner with further rat visits, and so we started to show the woodrats our displeasure. A type of sticky paper arranged so that the centered bait could only be reached by traversing the paper was first used. However to our surprise the pack rat could remove the bait and never get its feet wet. That called for more drastic measures -- over objections from our naturalists. Before it was all over we had some good laughs, with a typed note left "by the rat" ridiculing our manager's attempts.
The truth is that woodrats do not have the propensity to multiply like their non-native cousins. Where possible, they ought to be tolerated as part of the wildlife landscape. Today, woodrats are preyed upon by the rapidly increasing coyote population in this part of the country. They may soon become threatened or even endangered and so we ought to protect them. Certainly they gain our respect -- and I never ever thought I would have a warm feeling for a non-human rat. Now human ones are another story.
Prayers: Lord, help us tolerate and respect all wildlife.
Bear Creek Mound, Mississippian period, along the Natchez Trace.
June 21, 2016 Native Americans and Aboriginal Day
On this first full day of summer we ought to be reminded of the great debt we owe our Native American companions who took good care of our resources; they lived well off of the land without depleting resources. Thus, there was a complex of nations situated before a United States, Mexico and Canada. Unfortunately, much of the records of the past are not well preserved except in some petrographs and artifacts. The deliberate damage and movement of peoples, together with the toll from disease through lack of immunity, all have made records patchy at best.
In the 1970s when I worked in Washington, DC, one unrecognized tribe in southern Maryland asked us Jesuits to see if we could get from the Vatican Library the only written record of their own language. And with many Native American languages threatened, this was and remains most timely. We assisted them in their request.
More permanent records are founds in totem poles, in wampum belts, in carvings and architectural structures, in mounds (for more primitive peoples), in pottery, in buried grave artifacts, in the remnants of trails, and in etchings and signs in stone. The lack of permanence through the use of wood, hides and various fibers is a regrettable fact. Records were more often passed through living traditions in stories from one generation to the next. Existing records show an amazing cultural sophistication that makes its own fascinating study. Our only hope is that much of the living tradition can survive at this time of overpowering American monolithic cultural practices.
So often, Native American youth forget their cultural practices and keep only bare essentials. Languages are dying at an astounding rate. We heard of the death of the last Delaware native speaker; unfortunately it is also the story of one language group disappearing every two weeks. Saving the language and culture of "first nations" is necessary for our collective cultural treasure: place names; food (cooking and preservation); crop-growing techniques; edible and medicinal plants; respect for mountains and forests; water conservation techniques; and manner of working and treating each other in communities.
Unfortunately, one of the only "bright" spots is lucrative gambling on American tribal lands -- and it comes with problems. On many reservations surplus money is funnelled to educational and health services, but unequal distribution can damage community spirit. Income must come from a more solid base than gambling; even thriving casinos are no guarantee that the Native American nations will be independent of the all-embracing European-derived governments. If environmental protection involves protecting plant and animal species from threats and possible extension, so an equal concern must focus on enhancing Native American cultures as well.
Prayer: Lord, help us give special attention to threatened Native American cultures all around us.
Breaking Through Power:
A Historic Civic Mobilization
Celebrating the 50th anniversary year of Ralph Nader’s book Unsafe at Any Speed, the Center for Study of Responsive Law announces four days of civic mobilization at Constitution Hall in Washington, D.C. on May 23, 24, 25 and 26, 2016. Unsafe at Any Speed unleashed fresh energies and sparked the creation of numerous advocacy organizations leading to major consumer, environmental and worker safety protections.
The event has been archived in video form, and can be watched via the following sources: Click here!
Our 259-mile Kentucky River charmed the first European pioneers who saw it in the 1750s -- and still does today. While development and pollution have made a dent in the river's appearance (especially home development above the Palisades), still its setting in the Mountains, the Bluegrass and the Knobs has remained much the same for millennia. The river serves as a major migration route of wildlife. About 40% of the course of this river has scenic limestone cliff palisades that support some of the only native vegetative settings in the Inner Bluegrass Region (big bluestem, wild oats, riverbank goldenrod, shrubby Saint-Johns wort, and tufted hair grass).
The Kentucky River arises in the state's eastern highlands; its watershed of about 7,000 square miles does not extend into other states, although its waters empty into the Ohio River and the Mississippi system. Adding to the Kentucky River's charm are the many contributory streams, creeks and smaller rivers such as the Red, flowing from the scenic Red River Gorge (in my parish boundaries), and the Dix River, spanned by High Bridge. In the nineteenth century, before the Kentucky River was tamed by the construction of fourteen locks and dams to create pooled areas for navigation, the free-running river would flood and carry logs to down stream sawmills. This logging transport period was a wild time that is well narrated by Judge Ralph E. McClanahan, Sr. in "Kentucky's Miniature Nile" (Beattyville, KY: Powell Press, 2001). The Judge also permitted us to make a half-hour videotape of his reminiscences of the River (available in the University of Kentucky Library Special Collections). The Judge lived along the river and served on the Kentucky River Authority board.
Today, I am privileged to live within sight of this famous river, which begins at and near Beattyville where the south, middle and north forks that drain portions of eastern Kentucky join and become the mighty Kentucky. From there to the Ohio River this waterway meanders, adding to its mileage before it ends at Carrollton, Kentucky. The stream has relatively little commercial traffic and is used more by pleasure boats (houseboats, motor boats, yachts and others) than by freight barges.
The Kentucky River furnishes domestic water for about one-sixth of the Commonwealth's population; and thus the need for a good water quality. The basin is blessed by not having heavy upstream agricultural and industrial runoff. The river's greatest economic asset is for recreation/tourism; sight-seeing is the major tourist "activity," and the Kentucky River is an eye-full from start to finish. Water sports are becoming increasingly popular, and fishing has always been important. Row boats compete in places with high powered motorboats, though not to the same extent as on the Ohio River and the lakes further south. Let's hope the Kentucky River retains its charm for future generations.
Prayers: Lord, give us the grace to honor our river heritage.
Prairie tall grasses. Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, Kentucky.
June 23, 2016 Champion Prairie Tall Grasses
Yes, we do have some prairie grasses, but not like neighboring states. Our Kentucky Commonwealth stands at the edge of the Great Plains and, though it had prairie grass before the coming of the white man's plow, still grasslands are not like those across the Ohio River in the "Prairie State" of Illinois. Too often the prairie tall grasses have been converted to other uses. In fact, Illinois has only one hundredth of one percent of its land in prairie at this moment, and other Midwestern states have infinitesimally small amounts as well. There remain only small remnants of what was a ribbon of green across the entire mid-section of North America (about one third of our land and a major portion of central Canada as well).
My own particular connection with these grasses, other than admiring their resilient nature, is that the name "prairie" was apparently applied to grasslands by Jesuit missionaries in the 17th century in what is now our Midwestern states. The early explorer, Pere Marquette, coined the "les belles preries" or beautiful grasslands, following his French tradition. All the early visitors and settlers recognized the beauty and dreamed of fertile flatlands becoming agricultural pastures and cultivated fields.
The major good news is that most of the dominant tall grass species (big bluestem, little bluestem, needlegrass, Indian grass and about 150 other varieties) have not become extinct, and with judicious care could be resown into new native grasslands. And with an expanding interest in ecological ways, one can expect that more and more of the Great Plains will return to prairie grasslands. Each year several new tracts are returned; I am happy to observe the Clinton Franciscans (my early teachers) return some of their Iowa land to prairie wildscape.
What is equally good news is that these lands could support moderate to large herds of buffalo. These natives of the Great Plains are a potential nutritious protein source in a protein-short world of hungry people. I have never been certain whether the dream of a friend, Wes Jackson of Kansas, to harvest the seeds of some of these grasses as a protein source, can actually succeed -- but the production of meat through grazing the grasses is well recognized. Ultimately, Wes' work will be beneficial.
An added benefit that would accrue from the return of the prairie grasses is that their root system is so extensive; some of the carbon from the carbon dioxide that is increasingly given off through fossil fuels combustion can be stored naturally. Some even believe the storage could be greater than the Amazon forests that we hear so much about. The prairie grasses are native; they are able to flourish under the hoofs of the buffalo; they can endure droughts and do not need pesticides or commercial fertilizers in order to flourish. The time to act is now!
Prayer: Lord, help us respect the native plants in our land.
Kalmia latifolia, mountain laurel. Red River Gorge, KY.
June 24, 2016 John, Herald to the Nations
I will make you the light of the nations so that my salvation may reach to the ends of the Earth. (Isaiah 49: 6)
John the Baptist is an important figure in the mission of the Messiah, for he is appointed by God to herald the Good News, Jesus Christ himself. Thus John's birth is important as is his special calling within salvation history. Furthermore, John becomes our own model in how to herald Christ to the rest of the world. John responds whole-heartedly to his calling to be a key prophetic figure in the ushering in of the New Covenant; John is called to be at the right time and place; he responds with his whole being.
Jesus pronounces John's greatness in the great multitude of humanity, for John addresses the people, preaches repentance and preparation for the coming of Christ, and baptizes hearers through a sign of what is to come. John does these things through word and example -- a clear denunciation of evil and a simplicity and humble lifestyle. In performing this prophetic role John is arrested and eventually put to death. The elements of a true Christian witness are present, and yet John does not experience the saving message of Jesus as do the Lord's disciples. John's mission and earthly life involves a paradox; as with saints who were to follow in the great sacrifice of martyrdom, so his willingness to tell the king the truth cost his life and added to his greatness.
Our call to sanctity comes with some of the difficulty that is found in imitating John the Baptist. We too are called to live a simple life and make do on what we have in this age. We must denounce crass materialism. We are called to perform our duties humbly and to see that those whom we serve are far greater than we are -- and yet we must serve them whole-heartedly. We are called to tell the truth in this time of wanton affluence and greed, even when others will deeply dislike us for saying such things. We may not be required to lose our heads over such discussions, but we run some risks all the same.
We are to be a light to the nations. Each of us must have faith in the power of our works, not because they come from our supposed self-generated talents and efforts, but because all power in the risen Lord comes through the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of truth and life. May this website continue to herald Good News like John the Baptist and become a light to the nations. Hopefully, this too is spreading God's Word to all creation (Mark 16:16). We have had no power to introduce or retain the functioning of the Internet, and yet we are here to be a heralding voice in the wilderness, announcing that part of the Lord's message is to heal our troubled Earth. This instrument is even more valuable than was the Roman road network for spreading Good News in the first century A.D. We imitate John the Baptist in seizing the moment.
Prayer: Lord, give us courage to be heralds of the Good News in these times, and to do so with the humility of John the Baptist.
Canine companion, and hearing-ear service dog, Lily.
June 25, 2016 Discover Creature Companions
God gives us human and other companions who assist us on our journey in life. They add to the quality of our lives and in some cases are so special that we call them "spirit creatures."
A few years ago the media told a story about a young girl in Ethiopia who was abducted and taken into the woods and left while ransom was being sought from her parents. Obviously the little girl was distraught and crying, and some lions came close and somewhat consoled and protected her until the search party came and rescued her. What appears to have occurred is that the lions showed a sense of compassion, a feature that can often be found within the natural world when we reach out with love and respect.
We are related to the whole of creation and must extend our sense of respect, kinship and companionship to all. We can opt to see the world as a cold place where dog-eats-dog, or we can find ourselves amidst some friendly huskies on a cold winter night. Our way of approaching creation defines in some way our relationship to the Creator of all. This phenomenon reaches beyond larger sensate animals and pets. When we take a hike in the quiet woods, there is the companionship of rodents, insects, and birds overhead; likewise the plant world is present: the amount of greenery on the trees, the whisper of leaves swaying in the breeze, the color and beauty of the short-lived wild flowers; all lift our hearts to new heights. The plant world speaks if we but listen.
Companionship extends to the vegetables, herbs and flowers in our garden; they sense our warmth and respect. These plants seem to look up and smile; when we water them in dry times, they seem to express gratitude for this vital supplement. Perhaps the landscape around, such as mountains and rivers, are companions that we have a more difficult time relating to. Our book Mountain Moments attempted to address this issue. What about the heavenly bodies and St. Francis' sister moon and brother sun? The first hermit, St. Anthony, lived to be over one hundred in the Egyptian desert and was illiterate; it is recorded that he was able to see God's revelation expressed in the rocks of the desert where he resided. The mountains and the deserts speak, but the language is only heard by those well attuned to companionship of all creatures.
Some record the travails of being lost or marooned in some distant and harsh location. Perhaps their feelings are correctly narrated, since being lost is a distressing experience. We all become panicked one or other time. But most of the time we know our way and have a grand opportunity to take advantage of a tranquil location and a chance to "commune" with nature. Some dismiss such circumstances as poetic extravagance. But this belittles our journey of faith. Far better for us to take the precious moments of finding God in the natural world and thank God along with other creatures for such a discovery.
Prayer: Lord, give us the gift of companionship with nature.
Once the hand is laid on the plough, no one who looks back is fit for the kingdom of God. (Luke 9:62)
This passage in Luke's Gospel describes how Jesus resolves to proceed to Jerusalem and to undergo the trials that are ahead. One example he uses to show this determination is that of a plowman. I never worked the plow with horses, but I recall when young in pre-tractor days that my dad did that hardest of work, namely, ground-breaking with a team of three horses, yes three. He had to hold the plow firmly in the ground and still direct the team. Few occupations demand more energy and concentration than plowing, and Jesus is well aware when he says that ploughmen never look back.
In my school days, George who was ahead by five years, dropped out and decided to follow his own dad in farming. He got a job plowing a field that bordered our route to school. One morning we saw George making a single circular furrow in a ten-acre field with horses, and we cheered him on. In the afternoon we looked about and no George, only the single furrow around the field. George looked back and left farming, at least plowing, forever.
Resolution is needed for success, and this applies also to our journey of faith, in our following of Christ to Jerusalem and beyond. The compelling examples Jesus uses are meant for the disciples, who naturally understand that there is danger and hard work up ahead. Resolute people overcome temptation to take the easy road; they go to less threatening places. Very few of us will have to break ground with horses, but some tasks ahead challenge us. These require an enormous amount of concentration to keep in the right direction. Jesus' Jerusalem journey is our template.
These Daily Reflections contain numerous examples of planning and designing, from preparing for the upcoming year or half year to designing a retreat cabin. Planning is not being resolute in itself, but it furnishes a groundwork for resolute action. We could mistakenly think that being "resolute" is only determining the new course of action, but planning fits the bill as well; it is merely a necessary step. Being resolute involves actualizing the initial determination and carrying it out without faltering. We size up what it takes for the journey and decide we will endure the inevitable road blocks without losing heart. And so we launch out.
Baptism is the launching of our journey of faith. For adults, this follows a period of maturation and learning about the faith and what that journey entails. Answering the Lord's call occurs throughout life and includes the rocky road ahead. But being resolute includes utilizing the fortifying sacraments, the energy to make the trip. The resolute are those who keep their baptismal vows and do not turn back. Do we look back even to see how we did in the first half of this year 2016?
Prayer: Lord, help us strengthen our sense of resolution.
June 27, 2016 Environmental Costs of Face-to-Face Meetings
On rare occasions we are asked to go a distance to an environmental meeting. We know full well that this will cost time and energy resources. This forces us to consider the practice of frequent and distant conferences and other meetings that have become so prevalent in recent years. Are they worth it? Quite often a group's customary business can be handled best by phone, postal mail, email, Skype or electronic conferencing with good results. Granted, a face to face meeting has its synergy that cannot be obtained without physical proximity. But some meetings could be less frequent or substituted, because land and air travel takes much fuel and time. What people often fail to realize is the resource intensity of frequent meetings and also whether they should attend. Frequent meetings deserve questioning:
* Is the meeting necessary, or can the business be handled by phone, email, regular mail or conference calling? Sometimes the question of meetings has to do with a mistaken belief that this is the most important thing that can be done at this particular time. And there are the unspoken social aspects as well. Unfortunately, those who spread this philosophy of frequent assembly often make meetings their excuse for not doing less agreeable desk work.
* Are some of a series of meetings to be avoided and thus the frequency reduced from monthly to bimonthly, or quarterly or semi-annually, or annually to biannually? Regular meeting-goers seldom look beyond economic costs to the less obvious environmental impacts. Instead of conferring by mail on such a matter as the expense of a meeting, the attendees may even propose going to extra meetings to discuss the problem.
* Do the sheer numbers attending a given meeting need to be gathered or could other methods be found to elicit the same dynamics without physical presence? Teleconferencing?
* How distant are the attendees from each other? Shouldn't frequency be partly determined by distance? If all are in a small community and can walk to the meeting, more frequency is tolerated. If attendees come from a distance, what about teleconferencing?
* How open are the meetings? Could not a representative group go and report back to the others about the results of the conference? Modern communications allow various degrees of participation from those present and those at a distance.
* Does the group consider the environmental cost when calculating the feasibility of a given location? If a conservation ethic is being followed, then the meeting's energy expenditure from travel would mean that gatherings should take place in a central place accessible by public transportation.
Prayer: Lord, teach us to be frugal in use of resources and to encourage others to do the same.
Why are some people just as inquisitive as a small child, and continue looking for answers to the relentless puzzles that confront them in life? Perhaps a better question is why do some people stop asking questions? Is it because they have been taunted so often that they start to imagine that they are stupid or simply out of touch with the non-asking majority? Is it because they leave questioning to precocious little kids? Is it because adults are to know it all, or think an issue is not worth knowing, or that they may have been told the answer and forgot what it was? Is it because not asking is supposed to be the sign that I already know it all and don't need to know any more for the duration of life? Don't questions indicate that we do not yet have all the answers?
Are we not in a tradition on the feast of Peter and Paul of joining these great forebears of faith in wondering who it was whom they followed so closely? And where was Jesus going after he departed this life? And how was he calling them to be disciples? What did it take to follow in the footsteps of the master? In what way was discipleship a giving up of self to serve another, even in a different cultural environment? And where do we fit in on our individual and communal quest of faith as those in the faith who follow Peter and Paul on our journey of life?
Why am I here? Wasn't that the question of a third party Vice Presidential candidate in 1992, a comment that drew a multitude of laughs when relayed by late night comics? And yet was not this a rather profound question, the beginning of a theological investigation of our very existence in this time and place? And wasn't this the question my centenarian first teacher asked me at the end of her long life? Why was she left when her friends had all departed? Is this the question asked by many senior citizens? And how do we answer?
Are we starting to conclude that not every question has been
asked -- much less answered? But should such unknown vistas restrain us from asking and continuing to ask questions that seem to deepen in profundity as we age? Why not ask and ask again and again? Is not our constant questioning due to our quest for God? Doesn't it show a certain willingness to move on and to await answers in eternal life? Could we add that asking question then is a matter of practicing our faith rather than some indicator that we do not have enough answers? Does this show our journeys' incompleteness and still our dependence on God who is the true possessor of our time in this life? Will I still have the energy, freshness, ability and hope to ask over and over, until the answers begin to appear as the first streaks of an eternal dawn? You can't answer these questions any better than I, can you?
Prayer: Lord is it so wrong to continue to question, even in our conversation with you? Will you help us to show gentle patience even when we do not yet have the answers?
A variety of garden-saving conservation measures worth considering have appeared over the course of these reflections; on June 1st we mentioned mulching and garden crop interplanting. Let us suggest three more here at the end of the month: cold frames, raised bed, and double-dug garden plots. For those of us with limited garden space, the goal is to raise the most on the smallest space. As our environmental and eco-spirituality grows we become aware that our domestic gardens call each of us to use resources well, for they are valuable and limited. Everything in nature is recycled and so we are willing to compost and mulch.
* Permanent or temporarycold frame and greenhouses provide virtually year-round exercise through seasonal gardening, even in normally non-growing months. Using an attached or free-standing solar greenhouse has the effect of being a seasonal extender in both directions (later autumn and earlier spring use). In milder climates these devices can be used throughout the winter for more hardy plants such as brassicas, Swiss chard, radishes, and certain herbs.
* Raised Bed Gardening -- This technique requires human effort to construct, but has the advantages of saving growing space, producing more per unit garden area than more conventional techniques, and allowing excess water to drain away after heavy rains. The moist, but not inundated, soil is tilled far more quickly than non-raised bed areas. Raised beds permit more aeration of the produce; and they also do not require as much bending over by us older folks. Raised beds may be constructed by bringing in additional top soil or sinking paths around designated bed areas, and then piling the dirt onto the growing area. The growing produce can overhang the paths that are not cultivated and thus space is saved and moisture conserved by the path cover (which can be of a number of organic substances such as clover or straw).
* Double-Dug Plots -- Another high yielding but labor intensive domestic garden technique involves digging down and loosening a lower soil layer below the one foot of topsoil with a multi‑pronged fork. This allows for enhanced root growth and adds aeration to the lower level of the soil. Double‑digging saves on annual tilling demands and the looser soil encourages still more earthworms. On the whole, loosened soil increases yields and thus is a space saver, as is raised bed gardening, for people with limited gardening space.
Other conservation practices are worth considering, including natural pesticide control agents and fertilizing techniques that allow for growing one's own organic vegetables that are more healthy and favored by many. Use of fencing and wire cones for tomatoes and cucumbers can increase yields as well.
Prayer: Lord, help us to become more conscious about techniques that include the garden space itself.
June 30, 2016 Gardener's Desire to Conserve Resources
June is the time of a verdant garden, when things grow by leaps and bounds. Bright red stalks of beets, mole bean stalks and Swiss chard punctuate the greenery, as do the yellow blooms of zucchini, summer squash, and cucumbers, and the faint blossoms on the many tomato vines. From the neighboring berry patches come handfuls of wild black and red raspberries. Wildscape flowers include white and yellow yarrow, baby's breath, the first blooming of wild chicory that gives a blue touch until autumn, and majestic Queen Anne's lace. June is the time of early apples and mulberry, of sight of the delicate pink and white mimosa bloom, and scent of new mown hay and blooming honeysuckle.
Conservation Consciousness. Wasting is wrong, but many of us never consider the moral aspects of resource waste. We will try to halt waste to save money or because the waste itself is unsightly or inconvenient, or just part of our overly packaged and throwaway culture. We throw out food because we do not like inconvenience associated with making leftover dishes. We allow dwellings to waste electricity because no one cares enough to turn off lights. On the other hand, wholesome gardening "waste" can become a resource if we take the time to recycle. We can turn so-called kitchen waste into compost and yard wastes (grass clippings, tree trimmings and discarded weeds) into valuable mulch.
Land Stewardship. Good conservation methods in agriculture (contour plowing, rotation of crops, erosion control, cover crops, and wind breaks) have always been considered a way to teach stewardship of natural resources. We are patiently taught that it takes a long time to make an inch of soil and a moment's negligence to lose it. What is learned through agricultural methods for larger fields also applies to horticulture in smaller plots. We need to be good stewards of the Land and there are good ways.
Time and resource stewardship. Through gardening we learn to budget our working hours, the areas of life with the highest human waste potential. Horticulture, a sub-division of agriculture, offers opportunities to practice this type of time stewardship. First, farmers and gardeners come to recognize that we are on this Earth for a very short time; we must make the best of our limited energy and precious time. We should take time to learn good gardening practices, to put these into effect, to teach them to others, and to collaborate with others when ebbing physical strength requires.
Prayer: Lord, Conservator of all Life, increase our awareness of the precious resources entrusted to us. Teach us to use all material things to the degree they assist us to attain our end, and never to overuse or waste your good resources. Make us stewards of these gifts, aware of our fleeting time and how fragile our gifts. Protect us from becoming a part of this throwaway generation, and make us sensitive to sharing excess with those lacking in basic resources.