The Milky Way

I saw
the Milky Way
last night.

It had been
eight months since
last I’d seen it,

living as I do
in the ambient glow
of a big city,

and living
as I do

But last night,
rocking on the smooth
lap of the sea,

I took three steps
from boat’s cabin
to cockpit

and stepped
the universe.

The Milky Way,
stretched like a spangled net,
snagged me by

my outstretched heart
and tossed me
into the square ladle

of the Big Dipper,
where I lay free floating
and gasping.

And then a silver thread,
cast down from above --
The North Star,

Leading me 
home and into the heart
of all things.


Swimwear for Earthkeepers

credit: Leopostal

My mother-in-law wears a bikini.

She is seventy years old and decades of gravity have done their work. But she wears a bikini nonetheless, with a devil-may-care nonchalance to what others her age are more inclined to cover in sarongs, ruffles and cruise-wear.

She’s my hero.

Her okay-ness with her body has a two-fold source. First, she’s Finnish. Do you know any Finns? Untouched by Puritanical prudishness, Finns share a continental European lack of modesty concerning the body, but to the extreme. While other Europeans are going topless on the warm and sunny beaches of the French Rivera, the Finns are flinging themselves buck naked from their saunas into the SNOW. There’s a reason to take off your shirt in the south of France—it’s hot! But why subject your whole bare self to the crunch and scrape of ice in the dead of winter? Whatever the reason, the point is, Finns are a people profoundly okay with their bodies.

How does this relate to faith and caring for creation?

My mother-in-law is also a devout Christian and I think her embrace of the bikini as her swimwear of choice goes beyond her Finnish heritage to her biblical understanding of creation. She understands that when it says in the Bible that Adam was formed out of the dirt (adama in Hebrew) that she too is a human formed out of humus and that humus is good. She actually believes that when it says, “God saw all that he had made and it was good,” that means her body as well. It also means mountains and trees and iguanas, but one’s body is a great place to start.

Theologically, the idea that the material world is good makes sense—after all, God wouldn’t have taken on a human body if flesh were inherently evil. Christians believe Jesus was fully man and fully God. Yes, he came to redeem the world, but he did so eating and drinking, walking and sleeping. And working. Jesus was a carpenter, for goodness sake—he worked with wood, with callused hands and with sweat in his eyes. Jesus’ full participation in the material world sheds a holy light on all manner of “earthy” jobs, from ditch digging to diaper changing to gardening to fish and frog studying.

This grounding in the goodness of creation has inspired our work with A Rocha ( these past twelve years. While our theological understanding of creation’s goodness has not demanded that any of us don bikinis on a regular basis, it has compelled us to restore salmon streams, grow organic vegetables, and open the wonder of creation to children on field trips. It has also inspired us to pay attention to the world around us, reverently acknowledging the goodness of creation and the Creator who made it.

(Adapted from Planted, Cascade Books, 2013, and used with permission of the author's mother-in-law.)

Minding the Gap

credit: Ashkay Davis

I was walking with a friend around our farm the other day. We were looking at the weeds sprouting in the flower bed I am in charge of maintaining. And I confessed that I like the idea of gardening very much and I even like the act of gardening if there are fellow gardeners sharing the task very near my elbow, but a certain inertia sets in when it’s just me and the hoe. My friend, a fellow artsy-type who works as a filmmaker for an environmental organization, said, “Yes, I like the idea of caring for creation, but I have gaps.”

Perhaps it was simply the psychological balm of congruency, perhaps it was the sisterly intimacy born of confession, but whatever the reason, it felt good to admit and label my shortfall.

I am an earthkeeper. My absolutely favourite form of recreation is going for a walk in the woods. I know the names of most of the birds that visit our farm. The majority of the food I eat is cooked from scratch. But I have gaps.

So, I’ve set myself a gentle goal to mind the gaps, one at a time, and without guilt.

Gap Number One: Canning.

In my nearly 46 years of life I have helped two people can tomatoes. But I have never canned as much as a pea on my own. I like the idea of canning. I like the thought of pots bubbling with berries that will become jam, cupboards packed with peaches preserved in sugary juice, kitchen counters crowded with mason jars full of beans (with the light from the window filtering through all those stalks of green), tables laden with...

Uh, where was I?

How I will mind this gap? I will tap on the door of our housemate, Denise, who was raised by Mennonites and therefore knows how to can everything that might possibly grow in a garden, and I will ask her to help me can something.

Maybe beans.
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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.

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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