Take a Walk on the Wild Side

Hello, Blog Chums!

Here's a piece I wrote a few weeks back for Shelovesmagazine. In case you didn't see it there, I offer it to you now. Actually, if I do say so myself, I think it's one of my better ones. :)  So, read on and then click the link at the end to read the rest over at Sheloves.

I step off the northeast corner of our little farm and into a forest. It’s a small patch of trees really; semi-trucks can be heard barreling down the roads that border two sides of this small Eden. But despite its diminutive size this woodland packs a biodiverse punch. On my arboreal path I have encountered white tale deer, an American beaver, red-legged frogs, rough-skinned newts and birds of copious variety from owls to warblers to heron flying in cruciform overhead. And then there are the trees—magnificent Douglas Firs and towering Western Red Cedars whose branches fall like shawls off the shoulders of giant women.

As I walk amongst these trees I brake spider webs with my face and am reminded ofMary Oliver’s poem and the spider with her “surplus of legs” and injurious glare.

In the fall, when the spiders have grown to the size of coins I walk with a stick, held out like a machete, allowing me to hack my way through the gossamer threads, a hacking which sends the spiders sailing like trapeze artists to safer shores under twigs or leaves. But in spring and early summer I let my face lead the way. The light is usually so dim I don’t see the webs coming, but I walk on anyway, until strings of web and pencil point-sized spiders dangle from my head like Hasidic curls, imply a vow.

And this is my vow: to map this place with my walking. To, every day, wake to the gratuitous wonders served up by the hand of a generous Creator. To breathe in creation, and in that breathing find myself restored, recalibrated.

It sounds very Walden Pond Wonderful, doesn’t it? Walk in the wood, and, voila, a new saner self. It sounds so Walden Pond Wonderful, that even I, an every day forest walker, am tempted to roll my eyes and get on with the daily work of making the world a better place.

But what if I told you that science backs me up on this one? What if I told you that walking in woods lowers the stress hormone cortisol in the brain, while at the same time increasing cerebral blood flow, immune defense and overall mental health—all health benefits that the same amount of walking in the city or on a treadmill do not confer. This is true—studies have shown it, my friends!

.......but wait, there's more!!!......

Read the rest of the article by clicking this link:  Shelovesmagazine


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My Fall Reading List





THE SACRED YEAR: Mapping the Soulscape of Spiritual Practice – How Contemplating Apples, Living in a Cave, and Befriending a Dying Woman Revived My Faith, by Michael Yankoski (Thomas Nelson): This book isn’t shown in my stack because it’s just coming out this week and I’m still awaiting my copy, but I did take a gander at the pre-publication manuscript and am excited to dig in again. Yankoski first hit the book scene ten years ago with the publication of UNDER THE OVERPASS, which tells the story of the four months he spent in intentional homelessness. He is a wonderful storyteller with an eye for the truth and whimsy in any situation. In his newest book he recounts his experiences of living out the Christian faith through disciplines as eclectic as contemplating an apple before eating it to mending socks on a bus. One of my favorite passages deals with his one-week solitary sojourn in a cave on Galiano Island. This is a fabulous book for those wishing to go beyond a simplistic beliefs-driven approach to Christian faith to a robust and embodied experience of the gospel. Check out www.TheSacredYear.com for more information.

CONSIDER THE BIRDS: A Provocative Guide to Birds of the Bible, by Debbie Blue (Abingdon): I confess, I’ve already read this one as well, but have added it to this list because it was truly wonderful and I’m keeping it by my beside a little longer so I can regale my husband with interesting birdy tidbits when he’d rather be drifting off to sleep. Debbie Blue is a bird affectionado, a pastor and a preacher extraordinaire and this book is full of fascinating ornithological facts that become windows into biblical truths. Vultures, pigeons, hens, roosters, pelicans and eagles all make appearances and all show up in unexpected ways. The book jacket says it well: “Debbie Blue offers an edgy, scholarly, and shocking take on these winged messengers to reveal poignant life lessons on desire and gratitude, power and vulnerability, insignificance and importance. Taking a closer look at these unknown or unseen creatures in some of the best-known passages of the Bible, Blue provides us with profound truths about humanity, faith, and God’s mysterious grace.”

WANDERLUST: A History of Walking, by Rebecca Solnit (Penguin): I discovered Rebecca Solnit this summer and feasted on three of her books in just two short weeks. She is a remarkable writer and thinker and is the author of the now classic essay MEN TELL ME THINGS and numerous collections of essays including THE FARAWAY NEARBY which is full of jaw-droppingly gorgeous sentences that made me despair of ever writing anything ever again (why add verbal drivel to the world when Rebecca Solnit has spoken!?). WANDERLUST, says the book jacket, “draws together many histories – of anatomical evolution and city design, of treadmills and labyrinths, of walking clubs and sexual mores – to create a portrait of the range of possibilities for this most basic act…Solnit’s book finds a profound relationship between walking and thinking, walking and culture, and argues for the necessity of preserving the time and space in which to walk in a n evermore automobile-dependent and accelerated world.”

SLOW CHURCH: Cultivating Community in the Slow Way of Jesus (IVP): I’ve had a peek at this book and met one of the authors back in June and am excited by the vision Chris Smith and John Pattison propose and have lived. This vision includes, as the title implies, slowing down to make room for relationships and conversation and true care. The book is not just prescriptive vision, however, it is full of stories about how the Englewood Christian Church in Indianapolis has lived out these principles of connection and availability, which transformed their neighborhood in the process.

THE ROAD IS HOW: A Prairie Pilgrimage through Nature, Desire, and Soul, by Trevor Herriot (Harper Collins): Herriot is an award-winning author and naturalist who hails from the Canadian prairies. The inside jacket says this about this acclaimed book, “Three months after a serious accident, Herriot sets out along an ordinary prairie road, to sort through the questions that rushed into the enforced stillness of healing. Unfolding over three September days, this enchanting narrative reconceives our modern map of desire, spirit, and nature. Meeting farm people who stop to talk, detouring along ralibeds and into field, sitting next to sloughs…we enter a territory where imagination and experience carry us beyond the psychological imprint of our transgressions, coming at last to the soul’s reconnection with a broken land.”

CITY OF GOD: Faith in the Streets, by Sara Miles (Jericho Books): If you read Miles’ earlier books TAKE AND EAT and JESUS FREAK then you know what a wonderful and iconoclastic storyteller she is. CITY OF GOD tells the story of one particular day – Ash Wednesday, 2012 -- when Miles and her fellow parishioners at St. Gregory of Nyssa Episcopal Church in San Francisco hit the streets of the city’s Mission District to distribute ashes to any and all they meet. “CITY OF GOD narrates the events of that Ash Wednesday in vivid detail, exploring the profound implications of touching strangers with a reminder of common mortality. As the story unfolds, Sara also reflects on life in her city over the last two decades, where the people of God suffer and rejoice, building community amid the grit and beauty of the streets.”

BETTER OFF: Two People, One Year, Zero Watts, Flipping the Switch on Technology, by Eric Brende (Harper Perennial): Evidently, living without technology has become an extreme sport, at least that’s what is implied when extreme sportier Jon Krakauer reviews your book on said topic. He writes, “Deftly steering clear of dogma, never sounding like a sanctimonious scold, Eric Brende makes a persuasive case that most of us would enjoy life more by radically minimizing our reliance on modern technology. Better Off is a buoyant, thought-provoking, and very entertaining read.” Good enough for me.

THE THING WITH FEATHERS: The Surprising Lives of Birds and What They Reveal About Being Human, by Noah Strycker (Riverhead Books). Sort of like Debbie Blue’s A Provocative look at Birds of the Bible without the Bible. Stycker is an ornithologist who weaves his personal encounters and vast knowledge of birds into highly readable prose (no small thing for a scientist). Through careful observation of the habits and personalities of birds like the albatross, the penguin, and the bower bird, Strycker ponders everything from the nature of memory and relationships to game theory and intelligence.

DOING GOOD WITHOUT GIVING UP, by Ben Lowe (IVP): Ben is the author of GREEN REVOLUTION and has been at the forefront of the Christian environmental movement for the past ten years. In this book he asks, “How do we [who want to make the world a better place] persevere when the novelty wears off and our enthusiasm runs out?” His answer: faithfulness born out of “key postures and practices for sustaining faithful social action.” Sounds like something anyone in the trenches of social change would do well to read. Check out https://www.ivpress.com/cgi-ivpress/book.pl/code=3679.
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10 Question to Help You Figure Out Where in the World You Are





We care for only what we love.  We love only what we know.  We truly know only what we experience.
                 Steven Boumma-Prediger



The first step toward living lighter -- toward really rolling up your sleeves and caring for creation -- is to get to know yourown place. Ironically, with environmental crises ranging from deforestation in Brazil to desertification in Africa filling the news, it is often easier to know more about places thousands of milesaway than the place right under yourown feet and in front of yourown eyes. Don’t get mewrong:an understanding of worldwide environmental problems is necessary and valuable, but true understanding and experience of yourlocal environment in all its botanical and zoological uniqueness is transformative.

So here’s a challenge: get to know your neighbours.  The guy with the scruffy beard down the street, certainly, but also that bird twittering in the tree at the end of the block. Oh, and learn the name of the tree as well. 

A little quiz to help you get started:

Where in the world are you?


1. What is the name of your watershed?

2. How is your home’s electricity produced?

3. Name five edible native plants in your area.

4. From what direction do winter storms generally come in your region?

5. Where does your garbage go?

6. What are the easiest vegetables to grow in your soil and climate?

7. Name five trees in your neighbourhood. Are any of them native?

8. Name five resident birds in your area.

9. Name five invasive species (either plant or animal) in your neighbourhood.

10. Point north (not a question, I know, but quite a valuable thing to know!).
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The Environment: Home or Hobby?

credit: Etienne Poisson
I visited my Arizona homeland last April and ran into an old friend I hadn’t seen in years. After exchanging the basics -- Where do you live? How many kids do you have? -- we moved on to the “What do you do for a living?” song and dance. When I told her I worked for a conservation organization, my friend, a devout Christian and fine person, looked at me with an expression somewhere between bewilderment and bemusement, and exclaimed, “I’ve never known someone who was into the environment!”

I understand what she meant, of course. She meant “into” the environment like one is “into” a hobby or cause; but, taken literally, the comment begs the question -- what else could one be into? The stratosphere?

There’s nothing else to be in-to, but the environment!

The carbon dioxide exhaled in your next breath will be “recycled” into oxygen by the trees outside your window for your next hour’s breath. The atoms that make up the wonderfully unique and amazing you were once the itty bitty building blocks of birds, bugs, rocks, soil, flowers and/or dinosaurs -- all equally unique and amazing in their own ways. The fact that an atom in your right pinky’s fingernail was once lodged in the hind foot of a three-toed sloth has nothing to do with pantheism or reincarnation (as my friend might fear); it has everything to do with biology.

We are -- part and parcel (and particle) -- creation.

Being “into” the environment isn’t a matter of preference, it’s a matter of placement in the order of things. The environment is not a hobby, it’s our home.
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A Song to Break Your Heart

credit: Kenneth Cole Schneider

Sixty different species of birds regularly visit our farm. Each species sings a unique song (or two...or a thousand).

The Red-eyed Vireo sings 20,000 different songs -- every day!

In contrast, the Song Sparrow, despite the connotations of its name, has a meagre repertoire of just ten songs.

The Dark-eyed Junko is a minimalist, abandoning the frivolity of singing for the utility of morse code, tapping out his calls in snappy clicks.

The Swainson’s Thrush climbs the ladder of her song two rungs at a time, swinging like a trapeze artist from each rung as she goes.

The Barred owl’s daytime call is an escalating shrill so piercing you’d swear he was running his talons across a little blackboard tucked beneath his wing. But you forgive him his spine-tingling alarm when at night the full O of his breathy hoot comes drifting out of the dark like a verbal smoke ring.

The Winter Wren sings as if his life depended on it. Looking like a puff of brown cotton and weighing about as much, ounce for ounce he belts out his song with ten times the power of a crowing rooster.

It’s enough to break your heart.

And mend it.

Who is singing out your window?
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True Confessions and Thoughts on Ecology

Photo: miniCooper93402
     Sometimes I struggle with the importance of the whole environmental stewardship thing. Theologically I’m on board with the centrality of creation care to authentic Christian living, but sometimes my heart wants to perform triage on the needs of the world so I can prioritize my vocational work and financial giving accordingly. On most days malnourished African babies and AIDS sufferers in Asia go to the front of the line while the pretty fish and waving strands of eelgrass can twiddle their thumbs and wait all day to see the doctor as far as I’m concerned.

     But when I perform this kind of triage I’m forgetting the principle on which all conservation is founded. I’m forgetting the fundamental definition of ecology: that everything is interconnected. I might not care about the eelgrass, but the salmon do. And the bears and blue herons need the salmon, not to mention the fisheries, and so it goes, spinning an intricate web of interwoven relationships.

     Brian Brett, in his excellent book Trauma Farm, tells a story which illustrates the rippling aftershocks created when we tamper with one bit of creation’s web. He recounts the devastating results of Chairman Mao’s fateful Four Pests Campaign. It seems that Mao, as part of his Great Leap Forward, decided his nation would be far better off without sparrows, flies, rats and mosquitoes. The latter three seem logical pest suspects, but sweet little House Sparrows? Evidently a sparrow can eat ten pounds of grain a year, landing it on Mao’s most wanted list. Hoping to eradicate this pest from his nation, Mao instructed every citizen of China to kill sparrows on a single spring day in 1958. Over six hundred million dutiful citizens did just this—chasing sparrows from their nests and banging pots to scare them from returning, thus rendering the eggs left behind unviable. What Mao wasn’t told was that while a sparrow can eat ten pounds of grain a year they seldom do; their diet consists mainly of insects, locusts in particular. Within two years China’s crops were overrun by noxious insects, with locusts leading the assault. This, along with several other supposedly ‘scientific’ decisions affecting farming practices, led to China’s famine, which killed over twenty million people.

     Turns out it’s not so easy to say that conservation is a luxury for citizens of wealthy nations who value hiking trails and salmon dinners, not when the survival of the world’s most vulnerable people depends almost entirely on healthy ecosystems to sustain them. Again, this is where the definition of ‘ecology’ is helpful: ‘Eco,’ from the Greek oikos, for household, and logia, for ‘the study of.’ Anyone who has grown up in a household understands that it’s a complicated web of interrelated relationships. (If Mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy, right?) In essence, the word ecology draws attention to the relationships between living things and their environment and implies that if one tinkers with one bit of the world, the effects are felt in radiating ripples throughout the rest of the world. Tug at this bit of creation, to paraphrase John Muir, and you find it is attached to everything else. Even the smallest actions for creation care have implications for the larger web that makes up our larger home.
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