Saturday, October 3, 2015

The Land Institute

     Last week-end I drove the long drive up I 35 to sweet Salina, Kansas, home of The Land Institute. The Land Institute is a research center working on the development of perennial grains such as wheat, rice and sorghum, to be grown on small, polyculture farms as sustainable alternatives to large monoculture, highly chemically dependent crops that are grown today.  The scientists at TLI are tremendously concerned with maintaining the fertility of the earth's soils and helping stem the loss of massive quantities of topsoil through erosion due to the breakdown of organic matter in the soil as a result of over disturbance and use of chemical additives and herbicides.
    You can see one of the important advantages to growing perennial grains in the picture. Look to the right of the door opening (our right). See that lighter strip going down almost to the ground.  That is a picture of perennial grain and it's roots.  The horizontal line above the door is where ground level would be, with the stems and grain above. All the rest is root mass.  That is one plant.  Imagine the richness and holding power of a field of perennial grains and grasses. On those roots are millions of tiny ecosystems, gathering nutrients, some of them fixing nitrogen, interacting with nutrients and bacteria galore.  All of them working together in the majestic whole which is rich, renewing, life giving soil.
    Every September the Land Institute holds their Prairie Festival.  Speakers at the festival are leaders in their fields science, economics, ecospirituality and more, and bring to the attendees the latest information concerning where we are in the great work of sustaining and protecting our unique biosphere.  When I am able to attend, I am always uplifted and encouraged by hearing what is happening on the cutting edge of their research.  There is a lot of news, positive and negative, concerning the biosphere that never makes it into the evening news cycle.
    We gather in this grand old wooden barn and listen to the speakers. We sit on folding chairs on the dirt floor , where we will have danced together the night before. There is no powerpoint, no suits and ties, no distance between them and us.  No one is putting on a show; the flies and honey bees land on all of us. This is an authentic place.  The scientists and professors, economists, speakers, researchers do their work all year and we do ours and for two days at the end of September we come together to recharge, reconnect and be reminded of the fact that there are many of us in this particular boat. Sometimes we each feel that we alone are paddling.

      You might expect to see many participants from the Boomer generation at something of this type, and you would be correct in that assumption.  But the thing that always thrills my soul is the number of bright, passionate young men and women who come every year.  They listen intently and are eager to discuss the issues with the scientists, each other and those of us who have been involved in this effort for many, many years.  I am excited to see the torch being passed along to these energetic, well educated young people who care deeply for the Earth and our place in the mix.  
      One thing I greatly respect about the people in my children's generation is this: they think, they plan and then they act. There is no sitting around saying something should be done. They do something. Bravo!
 "Train up a child in the way that he should go; and when he is old [grown] he will not depart from it."               Prov. 22:6 Maybe all that work we did on taking care of the earth, the biosphere, back in the 70s, 80s and 90s is bearing good fruit now, with them.  It is their turn and they are more than ready to take the lead in this.  I am so proud of them.


Friday, October 2, 2015

Good Thoughts

      One thing I like about going into nature is that I can step in and be there, without all the various cleaning chores I am obligated to perform while out of nature. Nature has its own cleaning crews and they are very thorough. However, they cannot digest  manmade refuse: metals, plastics, glass, styrofoam. The lessons we learned in Kindergarten stand strong over time (as it says in the old children's song 'The Kindergarten Wall':

1. Don't hurt each other.
2. Clean up your mess.
3. Take a nap every day.
4. Wash before you eat.
5. Hold hands.
6. Stick together.
7. Look, before you cross the street.

    You can phrase those sentiments in more adult words perhaps, but there is nothing childish about the meanings.

Another one I particularly like is #5:

Hold hands.
     Take care of each other; lend a hand whenever you have the opportunity. Better yet, seek the opportunity to do so. We don't need to be so proudly self-reliant do we? There is virtue in reaching out to help lighten someone's load a little. "Here, let me help you with that." What a gloriously gracious phrase which seems to have fallen out of common use.
     We have this day only; this one in which we are now breathing.  Let's find someone to help, in person, today. Look into their eyes and make a connection; especially if that person is a stranger to us. We may have to clean up someone else's mess as well. So be it. Clean it up. Heaven knows there are people who have cleaned up enough of the messes we have made in the course of our lives. You don't think so? Go ask your mother. The other day I heard someone say, "One of the greatest gifts parenthood has given me is this: it forces me to take my focus off myself. What a relief."

     Like a geode, at the center of the stone of parenting lies something extraordinary and surprising:  Love grows through giving service to another. 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

A Day Of Surprises

   Some days are sea green, some are clear and shining, and some can only be called plaid. Today has been a plaid day for me, here at the Blakley homestead on Skeleton Creek. After the usual garden chores, complete with the fresh tomato breakfast, I set about washing the porch.  I have to do this about every two weeks to keep it clear of dust, leaves, blood smudges, mouse tails and such. My cats are mousers, which accounts for their still being alive.

     At the first corner I came upon this guy hiding in an empty bucket. It has been decades since I've seen a tarantula up close. I had forgotten how they hop around, scaring people out of their good judgement.  They're too big to step on (at least for me) so they often earn themselves a swift thunk with a brick or rock. Today I was a friend to all living creatures and he lived to see another day. Creepy.  You notice that I didn't blow that pic up for you? You're welcome.

    While pulling the last of the Johnson Grass out of the Earth Circle, I managed to walk straight into a huge Orb Spider web. Yes, spider in the hair, screaming, visions of a fierce bite….the whole nine yards. (He got a good talking-to, don't you worry.) That little game is getting old.
       I checked on all the young trees in M'sW.  The discovery of the day was that the Burr Oak is finally twice as tall as I am.  It has been growing for ten years and was 4 ft. tall when we planted it.  However, last year it was only about six inches taller than I. This was a banner year for this token oak who, by the way, is not at all native to this part of the state. At this rate I probably won't live to see it tall and majestic. Apparently its growth is somehow randomly connected to the amount of rainfall we receive. That's weird.
     All day, as I worked around the gardens, this little guy with the jaunty cap fussed at me, flitting from trellis to tree branch and back again. He is anxious for his fellow travelers to arrive so the highjinks can commence.  Soon, my little friend; they probably have a long way to fly.

Oh, here is the picture of the front of the house with the new landscaping, as promised.  I plant a few things in there each day. When the kids come out we will plant some bulbs for the Spring bloom.  The soil is not so good underneath, so we will tuck some of that bale of old alfalfa under the much at the same time.  Many hands….  There will also be a little walkway that follows the bottom curve around to the patio under the elm tree, eventually.  Not everyone likes to walk in the wet grass and the mud, so I hear.

     This evening I was wandering down the driveway, under the tunnel of leaves, checking to see if the pecans were ready or if they continued to fall off the tree, unripened. (They're falling green.)  I noticed a butterfly or two, lazily tilting through the air.  Then there were three or four and I finally realized it might be the migration. Could I be so lucky as to have them as guests this year?

     Stopping, I looked straight up….and smiled. While I had been busily studying the ground, the Monarchs had indeed begun to arrive in the leaves above my head.  They hung in clusters, wings fluttering or shut. I stayed to watch until the light was gone, as more and more came fluttering in. They like to rest in groups, as weary travelers often do, as if discussing the days happenings with friends.
      I am delighted to see them again.  Years ago, they used to come through by the thousands, covering every branch; arriving at twilight and gone again by first light. The air would be full of the gentle motion of butterfly wings.
     There are not so many now, but they are still a marvel. I feel honored to have been chosen as a stopping place in their long, long journey south to Mexico.  Did you know there are only 45 acres left uncut in the forest where they overwinter?  I hope they can adjust and move to somewhere else close by.  (This pic is not from my trees.  The light was already too far gone for me to get a good shot, so I borrowed someone else's.)


      Earlier in the afternoon, while dripping some sludge reducer into my smaller lily pond, I managed to kill all the fish. Too heavy handed I suppose. Drat.  The larger pond is fine.  Live and learn…and learn, and learn.  As the sky began its final fade toward darkness, I sat in the prayer garden, watching and listening.  The solar path lights pinged on, as well as the firefly light of the little boy statue.   All of my grandson's have told me they think he is them.  They are all correct in that assumption.  Maggie does not think it is her, however. But she is, without a doubt, the little girl who dances with the stars in her skirt.  Who else could it be?

     I weeded and swept the brick patio today in preparation for Fall Farm Camp, which will begin on my birthday this year.  The air is cool and the crickets and tree hoppers continue to sing their songs. I have the windows open day and night. Sleep is immensely sweet with cool, fresh air moving through the house.  I saw a lone firefly dying on the bricks beside the fountain when I came in this evening.  Farewell, you lovely little light with wings.

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Going In

“I only went out for a walk and finally concluded to stay out till sundown, for going out, I found, was really going in.” John Muir


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Poem: The Circus

Four score and bonuses:
raise the tents, cue the music,
bring up the lights,
find your spot, and climb.

We have twenty years
to find our balance;
to gather information,
perfect our skills,
decide and become.

Twenty more to
run into the wind,
full throttle, unstoppable,
with strong arms and clear eyes.
Our reflexes perfect,
our confidence supreme.
We walk the high wire
take on lions, and
fly without a net.
We may even begin to
imagine a top-hat and tails.

However, at some point
in the third sequence
the gatekeeper begins
collecting tickets;
  a twinge in the back,
    a twice torn knee,
missed catches, hard landings,
genetic betrayals.
We hardly notice the rope
beginning to fray.

Twenty, twenty, twenty, twenty.
Each circuit has its own
strengths and weaknesses,
gains, losses and lessons;
each its price and prizes.

Eventually we step out of the spotlight;
we learn how to listen;
we instruct and encourage,
we watch, walk and water the elephants.

In the end, if we have been
true to our inner lights,
we may have the honor of
lifting some of the very young
out of harm's way.

Friday, September 25, 2015

A Legacy of Song (and a set of strings)


     I can't remember a time when music wasn't a part of my life.  I remember my grandmother playing her old, upright piano when I was young, her soft, pale hands seeming to float over the keys, barely touching them. Sometimes she would put a heavy record on the record player and we grandkids would march around her living room to the straight beats of Sousa marches, pretending to direct the band.
    My mom played us slowly sweet love songs from the war years; singing those bittersweet tunes in her pure, clear voice.  She and I played piano duets together often and had a grand time. My brothers and sister and I were all in the band, so music was constantly leaking out from under closed bedroom doors while we worked on memorizing songs for the field shows. My sister spent many hours a day at the baby grand, practicing Bach, Mozart and Chopin, mastering scales and arpeggios. John Gary and Al Hirt records played in the back room and we sang along with Mitch. Music layered upon music, woven into the minutes of every day, ironed into our shirts.

  When I was 18 years old I picked up a guitar and fell in love; it became a part of who I was from that day to this. I sang at Wesley Foundation lunches, worship services and retreats while I was in college. I sang at the Baptist Student Union and in christian coffee houses. I sang at churches all over Tulsa. I gave up any thoughts of going to medical school; I was hooked on music. My friend Jenny and I practiced our harmonies nightly in our dorm rooms in preparation for going on the road and making it to the big time.  (That didn't happen). I spent a year or two playing to churches around Tulsa in a gospel guitar trio with close, exquisite harmony. I played for all my friends' weddings as well as way too many funerals. It was while singing and playing for a funeral of a relative that I landed my first job teaching music in the schools.  There I sang for classes, concerts, assemblies and plays, I gave lessons after school, I made up songs for my children.


   During that time I also joined a folk group and sang for the Folk Mass at the Catholic church for the next fifteen years. We went into the recording studio and made a couple of tapes.  Music was the way I connected to everything Holy.  All three of my children took turns singing and playing with the folk group as well.  Thinking back, I realize that all of my dearest friends are people with whom I have made music in one way or another.
      I lead choirs, made up choreography, wrote plays, taught ballroom dance to fifth graders, played for hundreds of instrumental and vocal solos at contests,  taught thousands of children how to play the ukelele, the recorder, the piano, their voice. Through all of that, my guitar was there with me, in the classroom and out of it. Here is my favorite son, Able Worth, playing Christmas carols on my guitar. Yes, I started him on guitar too, and he went on to become a much better guitarist than I have ever been. He used to come up to my classroom and play demonstrations for my students.

     After I retired from teaching and Danny died, the music seemed to die as well.  I couldn't sing for quite a while; didn't want to sing. I played the piano only enough to make up lullabies for my grandchildren but had no desire to pick up the guitar again. I would see it sitting there and refuse to open the case. Singing with a guitar is an intimate thing to me, deeply emotional. Emotional things as well as beautiful music were things that could break through my defenses and bring me to tears, so I stayed away from them. I missed the guitar but didn't want to play. For a while I even thought I was done with music, finished with that part of my life. I had moved on to a different phase. I studied and learned a lot about spices during that time so my son and I could open our spice shop. It was interesting.

     A couple of summers ago I found myself at a spiritual retreat in the mountains of New Mexico. The group was very warm and open and we became close in that short time we had together. Someone had a guitar there and I picked it up to try a couple of songs, just for the heck of it. It felt good to wrap my arms around the wood again. By the end of the week I had worked up the courage to sing some songs around the campfire for the group. It was the first time I had sung in public in three years; a breakthrough moment for me.

                                              Uke time at Farm Camp with the Grands

      Last Spring a friend invited me to come to a sing-along group that was forming with some of her friends in The City (OKC).  It was not to be a performing group this time, just some friends sharing the old songs or some new ones if we wanted to.  I went, and took my guitar.  Lifting it out of its case, pulling the strap across my shoulder, settling my fingers on the strings; all of it was achingly familiar,  like finding a long lost treasure; a homecoming.  I had to turn my back and pretend to be studying a picture on the wall until my eyes cleared.
     We meet once a month now, this group, and I am coming to know these new friends better and better.  I like them. They are good people. We remember the same things, have lived through the same things, and know the words to all the same songs: folk songs and protest songs, silly songs: The Eagles, Peter Paul and Mary, Bob Dylan, John Denver, Joan Baez, Judy Collins, Jim Croce, Leonard Cohen, Simon and Garfunkel, The Beetles.  You probably know the lineup and could sing right along with us. I enjoy playing and the harder chords are coming back into my hands. The other guitarist plays a 12 string and knows all the licks I never took the time to master. It's great.
     Last week I drove into Enid and spent an afternoon singing the songs from the Folk Group days with an old friend who was in the group as well. We hadn't sung together for ten years at least, yet were perfectly in sync with each other, remembering interesting, quirky things we had done on different songs, taking turns singing harmony. On one song we got through a verse or two and suddenly realized that neither one of us was singing the melody. That was someone else's part and we weren't even sure how it went. We smiled a lot and sounded amazing (in our own heads at least).  It was good therapy. I think we may do it again, letting her daughters sing and play along with us if they choose to.


     This morning, for the first time in years, I woke up with a song playing in my head; something that used to happen every single day of my life.  I had to smile, and then laugh out loud.  Music is finding me, saving me, giving me a voice again.