Daring to Love Your Neighbour

I share a farm with five other families, a few singles, two cows and lots of chickens. Our farm balances on the crest of suburbia. As in, across the street from our muddy fields lie 600 cookie-cutter homes, almost all built within the past five years.

Back in December, as an expression of neighbourly cheer and communal togetherness, we decided to go Christmas carolling in this brand-spanking-new neighbourhood. We put up flyers on neighbourhood mailboxes and invited them for hot apple cider before and after the wassailing.
The first two homes we approached proved very promising. We belted out Frosty the Snowman with gusto and the children laughed and the moms’ eyes sparkled.

This was such a good idea! We would be like pied pipers spreading neighbourly affection! This was sure to become a cherished neighbourhood tradition and all our neighbours would sing our praises because we had started it!

The next string of houses proved not so promising. People opened their doors a crack and then slammed them shut. Some peeked out their front door windows and then walked away without a smile. The saddest moment came when we met a woman on the sidewalk. She emerged from her car, donning party clothes and had a gift in hand. As our paths crossed, someone in our group started singing We Wish You a Merry Christmas and we all joined in. In response, this woman tucked her chin into her chest, stared straight down at the ground and sped past us, ducking into the house without a glance or smile. Our voices died out like a record player that had been unplugged.

Read the rest of this post at Shelovesmagazine.com


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!).

Holy Ground

credit: Betsy Jean
When Moses stood at the burning bush God told him to take off his shoes because the place where he was standing was holy ground.

Holy Ground.

What made it holy, of course, was the presence of God, manifested in flaming shrubbery. But what if God, being everywhere (as Christian doctrine teaches us), makes every place holy? What if every bush dances with the flames of God’s presence, but our eyes are just not calibrated to see it?


What if that mud Jesus caked a blind man’s eyes with somehow aided his prayer for healing?


What if the name “Adam” which comes from the Hebrew word meaning “red clay” isn't just an interesting literary device?

Adam – Mud Man. Earth Child. Earthling.

Biologist Hayman Hartman claims that the reason there is life on earth, and not, say, on the moon or mars, is the existence of clay. His claims are complicated, having to do with iron and organic compounds and crystal structures, but in essence, he claims it’s clay that holds the blueprint for life. Isn’t that interesting?

Look down.

You are standing on holy ground.
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Who Speaks for the Trees?

I watched a forest felled last week. First I heard the rumble of a large machine, then the cracking of wood splintering, then a shivering balance and the fall of a tree appearing both ponderously heavy and bizarrely weightless as it toppled in slow motion, seemingly drawn to earth as much by subjected surrender as by gravity.

I had been standing near the garden outside my home on Kingfisher Farm when this occurred.  The forest in question ran along the 5 acres of our eastern border.  Most of the trees were alders – weeds of the tree world, but also home to squirrels, raccoons, and countless birds including a pair of Barred owls that called regularly to us from across the fence.

Three different envoys of farmmates pleaded with our new neighbour to leave a few trees standing – the cherry that draped over the fence onto our land, but especially the towering cedars on the slope toward the pond. But our case was made in vain -- every tree came down. In as sense our pleading was hypocritical -- our own gardens and pastures were once a tangle of Firs and ferns and our houses are built of wood. And so we pause and lament, recognizing both our own culpability in creation’s destruction as well as the potency of our technology which can destroy in a few days what had flourished for centuries. And we recommit ourselves to know our place, to steward it well, and live in peace.

Blessed Stillness

credit:  Brooke McAllister

I woke this morning with my “to do” list playing a loop track in my brain. It’s longer than usual and my insides felt tight as a result. But remembering the words of my gurus (Martin Luther: “I find I have so much to do that I must spend two hours a day in prayer;” and the equally sage Anne Lamott: “Keep moving or you die.”), I pushed myself outside for a quick walk before tackling the tasks of the day.

I strolled off our property and into the adjacent woods. The first thing that struck me, besides the tangle of green that has burst into being in the last few weeks, was birdsong -- so clear and bright and immediate it seemed each bird had an amplifier on his little scissor mouth. The woods were full of throaty exuberance. “Listen to me! I’m a bird!” each one seemed to be trumpeting.

Then it was off the woodland trail and down to the Little Campbell River to a bench my farmmates have dubbed “the Listening Bench” where I go to, well, listen. My practice is to sit quietly and practice the presence of God through contemplative prayer – be present to the Presence that finds me there. I hadn’t been sitting for more than three minutes when he came. In the river’s current, brown from the recent rains, a bigger brown – a square face, flat ears, sturdy body and wide flat tail, like a flipped rudder. A beaver. Four seconds and he was gone – carried swiftly downstream and out of view.

The whole incident -- the temptation to tackle “to do's”, the invitation to stillness, the blessings of the birds and beaver -- put in mind of a Mary Oliver poem:

It Was Early
(from Evidence)

It was early,
 which has always been my hour
  to begin looking
   at the world

and of course,
 even in the darkness,
  to begin
   listening into it,

 under the pines
  where the owl lives
    and sometimes calls out

as I walk by,
 as he did
  on this morning.
   So many gifts!

What do they mean?
 In the marshes
  where the pink light
   was just arriving

the mink
 with his bristle tail
  was stalking
   the soft-eared mice,

and in the pines
 the cones were heavy,
  each one
   ordained to open.

Sometimes I need
 only to stand
  wherever I am
   to be blessed.

Little mink, let me watch you.
  Little mice, run and run.
   Dear pine cone, let me hold you
    as you open.


Robins for Supper

     I grew up in Arizona. But every summer from the time I was eight until I was eighteen my family made a three day trek to my grandparents’ home on Orcas Island in Washington State’s Puget Sound. Every bit of those summers was magical. The temperate rain forest of the island was a tangled green so lush it almost hurt my eyes. Parched from the previous twelve months in the desert, my sister, brother and I gulped it down in great verdant draughts. We spent nearly every daylit moment outside, scrambling along deer trails, prying limpets off rocks to use as bait to catch rock cod, building tree houses in sturdy Douglas Firs, and, as teenagers, sitting for hours at the ocean’s edge contemplating the mysterious workings of the universe.

     And we came back, one by one, like a stone skipped along the Northwest coast, touching down in Seattle, the Skagit Valley and Vancouver, BC. This was my mother’s gift -- not just the days of driving -- but the long-term gift of taking us to a place that each summer tethered an invisible strand to our imaginations, until one day the combined strength of those strands created an irresistible pull that would draw us back and tie us down, each one, firmly to the Pacific Coast, far from her.

     Those strands were woven by Orcas, the place, but also by the people—and two people in particular: my grandparents’ neighbours, Frank and Dorothy Richardson. Frank was a retired professor of ornithology who looked strikingly like Leo Tolstoy, and Dorothy was a homemaker with a graduate degree in biology and crinkly fairy godmother eyes. They both were slight and ate like birds. They also ate birds. Not just chickens and turkeys: they ate little birds. They ate robins. Or at least, they ate one robin. We entered their kitchen one afternoon—unannounced as usual—just as they were clearing their dishes from lunch. We were surprised by the teeny bones on their plates. In response to our bewildered expressions, they explained that a robin had flown into their car windshield while they’d been driving back from town, and, not wanting it to go to waste, they had brought it home, cooked it and ate it. I myself have yet to eat roadkill, but I appreciate the amazing commitment to conservation it represents. There’s a First Nations-esque respect and love for creation in their unwillingness to waste what lost its life, if not at their hands, then at their windshield.

     The Richardsons’ approached the entire natural world with this degree of care and concern. They never once sat down and lectured us on the evils of clear cuts or the plight of endangered species; they simply invited us into their lives. We caught Lingcod from their rowboat, pulled carrots in their organic garden, paddled along the coast in their hand built kayaks, hiked along woodland trails and learned (momentarily) the Latin names for wild orchids, and when need arose used their outhouse so as not to waste the precious “indoor” water which they had collected from their rooftop.

     The combination of Orcas Island’s wild beauty and the Richardsons’ friendship packed a double punch, which formed in me a deep love for creation, even the creation of my desert homeland. That love transformed into conviction and became an impetus for caring for creation in both my everyday and vocational life.
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