Imaging & Reimagining Art Exhibit

This exhibition came on the heels of Chelsea’s six-week cross-country bicycle ride for her work as communications and outreach coordinator at Kairos Earth. During her trip, Chelsea considered the individual’s relationship to place by collecting interviews and photographs. Portraits of bare feet standing on a beloved piece of ground convey literal connections to the earth, while candid interview documentation brings each individual’s story into conversation with one another. These photos, interviews, and reflections are currently being compiled into a book.

Curbing environmental degradation requires efforts beyond political activism and conservation. There must be a transformation in our understanding of our relationship to the earth, one that stems from our personal experiences of the places we know best. Imaging & Reimagining sought to explore the artist’s role in documenting — and enabling others to document — one’s experience of place. Through photographic contributions or participation in story sharing, the local community was challenged with the following questions: How does place exist in memory and imagination? What is the role of storytelling and narrative in how we imagine place?

Featuring photographs from the bike ride, an artist talk, live music, poetry, and audience storytelling, the event was a great success!

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Traditions of Transition

Just in time for Halloween, we are pleased to feature this post from Johanna Young about some of our autumn rituals and transitions.


Leaves have turned from green to caramel, butterscotch and rich cranberry. The forest floor is littered with an abundance of leaf, seed, fuzz and stick.

An ancient longing calls us from the earth, lulling us to sleep.

Transitions.

In the Northern Hemisphere we call this seasonal transitionfall. If you stop, look and listen you may notice the loudest sound is the wind rushing through the dried leaves which clatter on their branches. Songbirds have migrated South, ducks have headed for the coast, and other mammals which hibernate are digging dens or frantically scurrying to collect nuts to store. Frogs and turtles are deep in mud. For humans it is a time for dozing off in front of hearth fires and warming toes by wood stoves.

At Church of the Woods in early fall, several of us gathered by a bonfire to watch the sherbet lunar eclipse. Its now a month later and the moon is reaching full once again. Halloween approaches and soon Christians will celebrate All SoulsDay and All SaintsDay, marking the mid-point of the season heading towards winter. Lawns are decorated with pumpkins and ghouls of Halloween.

For the ancient Celts 2,000 years ago, October 31st was New Year Samhain a day to honor the departed when it was widely believed the dead would return to the land of the living. Bonfires were part of this celebration. Sacrifices and offerings were performed. For the Celts, Samhain signified the end of harvest and the advent of winter. Many of the customs we observe today as part of  Halloween, such as dressing up in costume and treats, have their roots in this ancient Celtic festival.

Eventually, as Christianity spread into the regions of Europe and Great Britain where Celts dwelt, Samhain was taken over by Christian practices that many observe today on All SaintsDay (November 1st) and All Souls Day (November 2nd). Halloween has become its secular cousin.

In both traditions lies a common thread – this season signifies a time where we come face to face with the natural cycle of life and death of all things.

Rainier Marie Rilke writes in his poem Autumn:

The leaves fall, fall as if from far away,

Like withered things from gardens deep in sky;

They fall with gestures of renunciation.

And through the night the heavy earth fall too,

Down from the stars, into loneliness.

And we all fall. This hand must fall.

Look everywhere: it is the lot of all

It is also a time to notice the earth, stripped to its barest elements.

What can we notice as we step outside into the growing chill of dark mornings? What can we see and hear as we step beyond the threshold of our warm homes, and listen to the wind? Perhaps we might discover the beauty of the bark of trees, once camouflaged by green and thicket, or admire the stature and texture of the trees, the softness of the forest floor under our feet, the persistence of chipmunks with cheeks stuffed with seed.

Feast on the deep reds giving way to earth tones.

Poet and author John ODonaghue writes in Anam Cara: Each day is a journey. We come out of the night into the day. All creativity awakens at this primal threshold where light and darkness test and bless each other. You only discover balance in your life when you learn to trust the flow of this ancient rhythm. The Celtic people had a deep sense of the circular nature of our journey.(p. 5)

Fall invites us to this journey in the dark.

 
 


Fall’s Peak: Solo Backpacking in Baxter State Park

We always love Wendy Weiger’s photojournals! Here are some beautiful photographs and reflections from her latest expedition into Baxter State Park: 


In early September, I discovered Wassataquoik Lake, a wild and intensely beautiful stretch of water that lies between Wassataquoik and South Pogy Mountains, north of the Katahdin massif, in the heart of Baxter State Park. It’s roughly a nine-mile hike from the nearest parking lot, at Roaring Brook. Because there are only two lean-tos, one at each end of the lake, campers are guaranteed solitude. I decided to return for the final days of Baxter’s fall season. This past summer was a challenging one, with multiple deaths in my church community, including an especially dear friend who had become “surrogate family” after my mother’s passing last year. I’m also in a transitional period in my life’s work, as I move toward completion of my revised book manuscript and consider future directions. I felt I needed a few days of quiet contemplation. From long experience, I know that when I go alone into the woods with my heart full of questions and I listen carefully for answers, I am never disappointed. And so I hoisted my pack and set off for Wassataquoik Lake…

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An iconic view of Mount Katahdin rising above the West Branch of the Penobscot River, taken from Abol Bridge on the Golden Road (a gravel logging road). Thoreau camped in this vicinity before his 1846 ascent of the mountain. 

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Swamp maples growing at the edge of a wetland along the Golden Road, near the southern gate to Baxter State Park.

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After leaving my car at Roaring Brook, I headed north via the Wassataquoik Stream Trail. I took this photo at the point where hikers ford the stream. I was delighted that peak foliage ran a week later than usual this year; when I made my camping reservations, I expected that I would miss the fall’s brightest colors. What a blessing, in this case, to be proven wrong!

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I spent my first night in a lean-to at Russell Pond. I slept well after my hike in, though the yipping and yowling of a pack of coyotes pierced my slumber sometime in the middle of the night. I set my alarm to wake up early…one of my favorite things about Russell is the sunrise view. (7:05 AM October 13)

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The view evolved as the sun rose higher, clouds flowed across the sky, and mist swirled over the pond surface. (7:31 AM October 13)

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After a pleasant morning at Russell Pond, paddling around the pond and visiting with the resident ranger and his wife, I set off along the Wassataquoik Lake Trail. I stopped for a late lunch at Deep Pond. A gentle rain began to fall, and in the gray light, a lone maple stood out like a flame against a background of dark green conifers. On the far shore of the pond, a cow moose appeared (too distant to photograph), then she wandered back into the cover of the forest. An odd sound came repeatedly from her direction, something I had never heard before…it’s hard to describe, but it was a relatively high-pitched (at least for a moose) nasal-sounding utterance lasting a couple of seconds. Was it related to the ongoing rut, part of the “language of love” between bulls and cows?

 

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The rain enhanced the colors of fallen leaves along the trail.

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It was dusk when I arrived at my lean-to at the western end of Wassataquoik Lake. As I paused along the shore, a beaver swam by, expressing his annoyance at my intrusion with a loud slap of his tail on the water. The weather remained showery, so I made a cozy nest for myself in the lean-to, then settled down to enjoy a dinner of (canned) chicken, (stovetop) stuffing, and (instant) lemon pudding…not bad for backpacking fare! In the cool weather of fall, I’m willing to haul a bit more weight so that I can be comfortable at night…a warmer sleeping bag, more substantial food, a little saw for firewood. I didn’t weigh my pack…the truth is I thought it might be better if I didn’t know the number…but I’m guessing it was about 45 pounds when I started (the return trip was a bit lighter because I’d eaten most of the food).

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I went down to “my” shore early the next morning to watch the progression of dawn colors. (6:50 AM October 14)

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The lean-to made a wonderful home-in-the-woods for three nights. There was a nice fire ring with convenient benches; a canoe was parked on the shore just below (the little closet on the side of the lean-to holds life vests); the lake provided an excellent water source, though it had to be purified (beavers carry parasites that can infect humans); there was plenty of downed dry wood for fires in the surrounding forest. And there was indeed solitude. On my last night in the lean-to, I was the only human on Wassataquoik Lake (on the previous two nights, there was just one other solo camper at the other end of the lake, about 2 miles away). At Russell Pond, about 4 miles distant, there were three people (judging from hiking registers on my way out). And that was it.

12022610_1042734572425468_5250354368663409002_o The view of trees and lake from inside my lean-to.

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The view got even better when I stepped outside. (The mountain across Wassataquoik Lake is South Pogy.)

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The short path from the lean-to down to the lake shore showed plenty of color.

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The view to the northwest from “my” shore. A trail climbs the nubble of rock in the center of the photo; I followed it up to a spectacular view (to be shown later—so stay tuned!).

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The trail to the viewpoint led through yellow woods. 

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Just a mile from my lean-to, I reached this rocky ledge. Wassataquoik Lake stretches out below, with South Pogy Mountain to the left and Wassataquoik Mountain to the right.

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Green Falls was an easy hike of less than a mile down the lake from my lean-to.

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For much of my stay, it was too windy for me to solo paddle the tandem canoe (I might have managed it with a double-bladed paddle, if one had been available). But when the wind slowed down, I shuttled across Wassataquoik Lake to gather firewood; there was a point across from my lean-to where the canopy formed by living trees sheltered a treasure trove of downed dry wood. I was rewarded with this view in the short term, and in the longer term, I enjoyed a warm bright campfire in the crisp darkness of a mid-October evening. 

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After three nights at Wassataquoik Lake, it was time to hike the eleven-plus miles back to my car at Roaring Brook. I paused at the southeastern tip of the lake for a final view (Wassataquoik Mountain is on the left, South Pogy Mountain on the right).

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When I got back to Russell Pond, I found the tamaracks were turning golden. Tamaracks—deciduous conifers—provide a final phase of autumn color after the maples and birches have lost most of their leaves. 

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During my time in the park, strong gusty winds stripped leaves off the trees, covering trails with a colorful carpet for my return journey.

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Nature’s extravagance amazes me…producing such beauty to be trampled underfoot.

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As I had done on my hike in four days earlier, I forded Wassataquoik Stream on my way back out. The cold water reached above my knees; it was a chilly business on a showery day with the air temperature probably in the upper forties. The gray light evoked a mood that felt a bit melancholy, but at the same time very peaceful…a sense that nature was gently moving into the dormancy of winter…and as it turned out, the first snow of the season fell that night.

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As I neared Roaring Brook, my car, and my return to conventional reality, dusk fell. I stopped at the Whidden Ponds for a view of the Katahdin massif. There was a faint sliver—just a whisper—of a waxing crescent moon above Pamola (so faint that it’s only visible if this photo is enlarged). When I got back to the Roaring Brook ranger station, the building was dark; the fall camping season was over. I was likely the last human to visit Wassataquoik Lake for several months. Perhaps some hardy winter traveler will snowshoe in from Russell Pond in January or February. But for now, the lake belongs solely to the moose and coyote, the chickadee and raven, the beaver in his shoreline lodge, the brook trout and Arctic char that swim in its cold depths. I know I will think of Wassataquoik Lake often, wishing I could be there to witness the daily progress of the seasons.

 



Storytelling Pt. II

Part II of II Chelsea wrote for Inhabiting the Anthropocene:


 

Last summer I rode 2,500 miles across the country, interviewing people about “the sacred” and our human connection to land and place. This is the second of two posts about my experiences–if you want to start with the first one click here.

Wes Jackson’s ‘Becoming Native’

“The wilderness of the Sierra will disappear unless little pieces of nonwilderness become intensely loved by lots of people.” – Wes Jackson, Becoming Native to This Place

A challenging aspect of my bicycle ride from Minneapolis to Seattle this summer was the growing awareness that many of the small towns of the plains that we cycled through and past — towns like Malta, Montana, which I discussed in Part I — are places whose better days, economically speaking, are far behind them and receding ever further. They are places where grain elevators are silent gray giants, or places that were once sites of booming industry, but which are now made up of abandoned store-fronts and aging populations. They are places that you encounter and can’t help but think, “I’m glad I don’t live here.” And can’t help but ask, “Why do people stay?”

Indeed, what does it mean to inhabit an increasingly forgotten place? To live in a place where habitation first and foremost involves simply choosing not to leave?

In his book, Becoming Native to This Place (Counterpoint, 1996), Wes Jackson speaks of the need for the return to local, integrated, and agricultural modes of living and inhabiting. We must, he argues, “search for a less extractive and polluting economic order, so that we may fit agriculture into the economy of a sustainable culture, [where] community becomes the locus and metaphor for both agriculture and culture” (p. 103).

For Jackson, the Anthropocene is replete with practices of consumption driven by the desire for wealth and economic growth. What’s more, we’re entrenched in practices of a removed, scientific logic which yields an objectified understanding of the world in order to more precisely deconstruct it–intellectually and physically. As Aldo Leopold said: “Everybody knows…that the autumn landscape in the north woods is the land, plus a red maple, plus a ruffed grouse. In terms of conventional physics, the grouse represents only a millionth of either the mass or the energy of an acre. Yet subtract the grouse and the whole thing is dead…there has been an ecological death, the significance of which is inexpressible in term of contemporary science.” (A Sand County Almanac, Oxford University Press, 1949.)

The teeny (and getting teenier) town of Steinauer, Nebraska, where my family is originally from.

As human activity continues to impact our earth and impinge on its habitability, these economic and scientific practices continue to fundamentally and dangerously alienate us from nature. We have forgotten the “ecological arrangements that shaped us” (Jackson, p. 60), and instead “have sent our topsoil, our fossil water, our oil, our gas, our coal, and our children into that black hole called the economy” (p. 12).

And so, Jackson writes, our alienation is a call to a transformation of consciousness, to a fundamental change in our current practices of habitation. We must return to our native practices of integration and interpenetration with our earth and its ecosystems. A cadre of “homecomers” and “new pioneers” must re-inhabit these rural, forgotten places and tend the land, because “we cannot avoid participating in the creation, and it is in agriculture, far and away our largest and most basic artifact, that human culture and the creation totally interpenetrate” (p. 103).

Whether or not Jackson’s call for a great reverse-migration from urban population centers back to the countryside is a viable one is a question for another essay. Jackson does, however, raise important insights about the ways in which transformations in our perception of place can transform our practices of habitation. As he says, “either all the earth is holy or none is. Either every square foot of it deserves our respect or none does” (p. 67). If we are able to see all land as holy, as something to be respected — in sum, as sacred — we will be more inclined to treat it with respect.

Storytelling as a Deliberate Practice of Habitation

A necessary part of our intelligence is on the line as the oral tradition becomes less and less important. There was a time throughout our land when it was common for stories to be told and retold, a most valuable exercise, for the story retold is the story reexamined over and over again at different levels of intellectual and emotional growth. – Wes Jackson

I witnessed small instances of the ethos Jackson articulates along my route. Places like Garfield County, Montana, which initially seemed undesirable in my (unfair) judgment, were — as the result of even a brief conversation and interview — made more desirable, given greater value. All it took was having people who lived there tell me a story that conveyed their relationship to that place.


John and Margaret, ages 90 and 87 — “the oldest couple walkin’ around Napoleon, North Dakota” — refused to answer any of my questions until they had sung me 20 minutes worth of German songs from their childhood. They both grew up on farms outside of Napoleon, speaking only German until they entered school, part of a cultural group in North Dakota now referred to as “the Germans from Russia.” Father John Odero, who moved from his home in Kenya to the tiny town of Bolwus, Minnesota, where he is a missioner in the St. Cloud Diocese, gave me a tour of the large garden he tends behind his church where he has planted many of his native Kenyan crops. “Back at home we try as much as we can to share whatever we have with people. People might be poor in other ways but the little they have they will have to share with other people. They will not let somebody go hungry, but they will see that they share and that’s their happiness, that’s their joy.”

Lisa Cline-Person talked at length about growing up on her family’s ranch. “The elevation was such that I could climb up there and I could see forever. I could see the Big Horn mountains and I could watch the sunset and I could look down on the buildings. And it was a really strange feeling because I felt separate up there from people, but I felt very connected to everything around me. My dad died when I was 15 years old and if I wanted to go connect with him I wouldn’t go to the cemetery, I would go there.” She wept when she told me that when her family lost that ranch, she felt it “like a death.”

These small moments, these snatches of memory, these transfers of imagination were simple and real and powerful. They brought the places they were told about to life, certainly in the minds of those who were telling these stories, but in my mind as well.

Narratives of Change, Choice & Imagination

So back to our foundational questions: How do perceptions and knowledge of a place affect the habitability of that place? If we transform how we perceive and imagine a place, how will that affect our lived practices of habitation there?

In the moments I just shared with you I understood why people choose to stay, choose to continue to inhabit these places which, at first glance, might appear to lack culture, lack pizazz, lack things to do. Perceptions of a place as loved, cared for, as a place to be rooted in – have a profound role in making those places habitable, even if from outside perspectives they do not seem to offer much of a life.

Sometimes, of course, people stay because they do not have the means to go elsewhere. Habitability in the Anthropocene rings strongly of privilege. The walls close in more slowly and less dramatically when you can easily make the choice to inhabit elsewhere. We’ve long known that the poorest among us will fare the worst in the face of our changing climate.

prairie grass smallBut habitability can also ring of love and relationship. People stay often because of this deep bond that has grown strong because their ancestors and then they and then their children farmed the land. Because the skies and the grass and the way the air smells like sage in the rain are old and dear friends.

We live in a time when our perceptions of place will change whether we want them to or not; when we will have to find new practices of habitation whether through ‘becoming native’ or otherwise; when the stories we have and tell about where and how we live will take on new plot twists and less predictable endings.

Inhabiting the Anthropocene will mean that we will be continually faced with choices which will continue to affect the habitability of our planet. As we come to grips with that fact, what can we learn from those who approach their homes first with an attitude of love and care, of tending the land, of staying put? What can we learn from the practice of telling others our stories about the places we live in and love? What can we learn from listening to these stories?


Storytelling & Relationship to Place

Below is the first in a two-part series Chelsea is writing for the blog, Inhabiting the Anthropocene. You can find the original post HERE


A Sense of the Sacred

‘Sacred’ is a word that has not been uttered often enough in discussions of conservation and climate change. In the sphere of religion, it is too often considered in the context of the churched rituals where it is most perceived to be present.

Not growing up religious myself, ‘sacred’ felt for a very long time like yet another heavy, “God-y” word, something I could perhaps analyze and observe but never comfortably participate in.

My relationship to the word has changed a great deal since I began working for a non-profit called Kairos Earth whose mission it is to “renew an understanding of the earth as sacred in both religious practice and practical action to conserve the earth.” We attempt both to insert ‘sacred’ into conservation conversations and to pull it out from behind the walls of churches.

Happily for our work, Pope Francis’ recent encyclical, Laudato Si’, has made great strides in popularizing the notion that the sacred is inseparable from our human relationship to the earth. In his postlast week on Laudato Si’, Stephen Weldon highlights Francis’ sense of an “integral ecology” which perceives “deep relationships between our actions toward the natural environment, our actions toward other human beings, and our own spiritual welfare.” Relations that, we can say, are sacred.

‘Sacred’ still feels heavy to me, but less now in the sense of religious rigidity and increasingly in the sense of evoking something profound and profoundly important.

Nonetheless, it was not without a good amount of trepidation that I took this word with me on a 2,500 mile bicycle trip this summer, and began asking a broad spectrum of folks — religious leaders, conservationists, state employees, community members, paleontologists — to tell me quite personal stories about their relationship to place and whether they considered that to be something sacred.

I began collecting definitions of this word from people I encountered along the first week of my ride from Harpswell, ME to Burlington, VT. Here are several of those definitions:

Essential, inviolate, irreplaceable, embodying highest value.

Sacred is set apart: touched by and infused with the creator. 

Something to be respected, cared for, revered.

An experiential sense, a sense of reverence and openness to God and life.

Across the spectrum from entirely religious to entirely secular, every single person I spoke with had something to say about ‘sacred’ and its connection to place. They said it with an ease and eagerness that often surprised even themselves. They said it as though they had never been asked but had always known exactly what to say. (Here is something I wrote about that first leg of my journey.)

Giants on the Plains

I stood under a graying sky on First Avenue in Malta, Montana, brushing persistent tendrils of hair out of my line of sight, checking my camera and double-checking the time. The wind was unquestionably picking up now, ushering in dark clouds. But the rain hadn’t started falling and I was early, so I lingered a moment to take in my surroundings.

grain elevator smallTo my right towered a corrugated steel-coated grain elevator and adjoining silos —
odd gray giants. Despite growing up in Nebraska and Oklahoma, I was raised an urbanite, forever tucked away in college towns, never attaining any real farming or agrarian knowledge. My move to Boston four years ago didn’t help. So it was nothing new that I couldn’t get an accurate read on this particular agricultural relic.

Or was it a relic? There it stood, sturdy and opaque, majestic and ambiguous. Was it operational? Or, like so many others I had seen over the past several weeks, was it a skeletal shout-out to better economic times, now long past — a once living beast, now fossilized in the landscape, an embedded footprint of history in a community now struggling to adapt to a new era?

Alas, mum’s the word with grain equipment when you’re a city slicker and new to town.

With a sigh, my lingering questions and I turned to instead gaze up at the odd giant to our left — a neon green and orange Brontosaurus. She stared indifferently over my head and I followed her long neck, turning to face an electric blue triceratops that was, somewhat disconcertingly, staring directly back at me with a frozen, head-tilting frown.

Abuzz with beasts and full of questions, I walked between these echoes of extinction and headed up the steps to the Great Plains Dinosaur Museum & Field Station to meet and interview someone who might have some answers for me.

Age-Old Questions for the Anthropocene

Lingering questions, urgent questions, and as-yet unarticulated questions about our planet’s mounting ecological crisis — one which continues to vastly surpass efforts and strategies to counter it — were the impetus for embarking on a six-week bicycle ride and interview project across the country this summer.

The foundational questions for this project were: How do the stories and narratives that we tell about ourselves have the potential to affect our way of being in the world? And: How do our perceptions and experiential knowledge shape our reality and affect our behavior?

When cast through the prism of the challenge we face of living in the Anthropocene,  the questions became: How do perceptions and knowledge of place affect the habitability of that place? And: If we transform how we perceive and imagine place, how will that affect our lived practices of habitation?

And of course, what does it mean to think of and treat a place as sacred?

I sought to capture tales of personal experience, intimate memories, small glimpses of perception, articulations of relationships to landscape. It struck me that stories, memories and local knowledge were perhaps the best forms in which to collect such information.

bike mail box smallSo, questions in tow, I hopped on my red bicycle in early June and rode from Maine to Vermont and then from Minneapolis to Seattle, stopping along the way to speak to people about their connection to place, community, landscape, and earth. In many cases, asking people simply, “Why do you love this place?”

The Dinosaur Doctor 

Dr. Freedman-Fowler, paleontologist, greeted me just past the rack of dinosaur-themed postcards inside the museum. I was somewhat flustered (per usual) and she was gracious and patient as I explained the project once more in person (we had been communicating over e-mail). She offered to give me the official tour of the museum and we spent 30 minutes walking through displays of fossils, geological maps, and placards of local history. Beneath its big skies and vast tracts of farm and ranch land, Montana, I learned, is absolutely chock-full of dinosaurs .

Quite obviously a brilliant woman, the doctor seemed slightly disappointed to be giving the same old tour to yet another person who had a dearth of scientific knowledge and was unable to truly engage her on the topic she loved most. Admittedly, I was more than a little glazed over after a mere half-hour of struggling to keep up with big words about big eras. (I tried to redeem myself by boasting about having a “cousin who just got her PhD in geochemistry” but, alas, I couldn’t remember a blessed other detail about her degree or research, apart from the fact that it involved dust and ash).

However, at the end of the tour I asked Dr. Freedman-Fowler a question that surprised her: “What about your work and living in this place do you find to be sacred?”

Throughout the course of the trip I was nervous about asking this “sacred” question, particularly when posed to scientists and conservationists. Clearly a little unfamiliar with using the word herself, Dr. Fowler began answering slowly and carefully, and then with seriousness and conviction, and then with joy. Watch the footage: there is a noticeable change in her body language, there is a light present in her face.

“It’s so spacious out here. There’s so few people. One of the places that we collect dinosaur fossils is down in Garfield County. I read in a book a statistic that the population of Garfield county is so sparse that if Manhattan had the population density of Garfield County, there would be 5 people living on the entire island of Manhattan. That’s how spacious is it out here. And so when you go out, and you’re doing field work, and digging up these dinosaurs, you’re out in the middle of nowhere and you know that there’s no human within miles of you, and that the particular part of the land that you’re walking on – maybe no human has ever walked on. And so you’re just kind of isolated. There’s nothing but you and peace and quiet. You hear birds chirping and the crickets…and the breeze. And so it’s the life of the surface and then the fossils that are coming out, and just no human interference. It’s just all natural. It’s very peaceful.”

And this is the core of what this project is about. This is the momentary capture of that love of place.

After purchasing several fossil-themed postcards, I descended the museum steps, glanced one more time at the dinosaurs to my left and the silos to my right, seeing each of them in a slightly new, slightly better-informed light. Some of my questions had been answered. Others had arisen.


Stay tuned for Pt. II next week!


Open House Photos!

 

We had a wonderful Open House day of hikes, trail work, fantastic food, church services, and watching the lunar eclipse around a bonfire! Check out some photos here:

Photo credit: Kelly Short (THANK YOU!) 


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Why it Matters to be a Church of the Woods

As we approach this first birthday of Church of the Woods, I have been reflecting on what happens at Church of the Woods and why it matters, at this time in history, to be a church that is in and of the woods.

Here are a few reflections on the central elements of our practice at Church of the Woods, salted with commentary from Pope Francis’ recent encyclical, Laudate Si’:

Encounter  Church of the Woods provides an opportunity for a direct encounter with peace, beauty and wonder, all aspects of the divine mystery we call God. Following the patron saint of ecology, St. Francis and his namesake Pope Francis, Church of the Woods “invites us to see nature as a magnificent book in which God speaks to us and grants us a glimpse of his infinite beauty and goodness.” (Laudate Si’, 12)

In a world where such encounters with divine mystery and beauty are rare or absent, setting aside places and times for such direct encounter is essential. And in a time when the human relationship with nature is so often one of destruction and self-gratification to the point of global devastation, it is essential to break down the walls (including church walls) that separate people from nature and be reminded that “we are not disconnected from the rest of creatures, but joined in a splendid universal communion.” (220)

Contemplation  All too rarely, in our frantic world, do we take time to be still and to listen deeply. The biblical accounts of Jesus’s life repeatedly tell us that Jesus left the crowds, and even his disciples, and went alone up the mountain or into the wild places to pray.

We believe this is such a fundamental practice — and so foreign to most people in our culture — that we spend about 30 minutes in the middle of our service in silence and stillness in the woods.

“Inner peace is closely related to care for ecology and for the common good…Nature is filled with words of love, but how can we listen to them amid constant noise , interminable and nerve-wracking distractions, or the cult of appearances?… An integral ecology includes taking time to recover a serene harmony with creation, reflecting on our lifestyle and our ideals, and contemplating the Creator who lives among us…” (225)

Eucharist  The heart of the Christian ritual and mystery is the act of eating holy food. The radical belief that God took on physical form as a human creature reveals the union of the material world with divine truth and love. Accordingly, Holy Eucharist — Thanksgiving — is at the center of our service at Church of the Woods.

“Grace, which tends to manifest itself tangibly, found unsurpassable expression when God himself became man and gave himself as food for his creatures. The Lord, in the culmination of the mystery of the Incarnation, chose to reach our intimate depths through a fragment of matter… Joined to the incarnate Son, present in the Eucharist, the whole cosmos gives thanks to God. Indeed, the Eucharist itself is an act of cosmic love.” (236)

In keeping with this radical understanding of Holy Communion as an act of love and thanksgiving with and for the whole cosmos, at Church of the Woods we share the first morsel of holy bread and the last sip of holy wine with the Earth herself. It is a joy to see the other creatures of God, led by the ants, carrying away tiny fragments of embodied love. The mystery of divine love is intended for all the creatures of God.

Community  It is utterly obvious, at Church of the Woods, that the community gathered together in prayer consists not only of human beings. We come together and form a worshipping community of people, trees, birds, ants, chipmunks, ferns, rocks, wind… each present in its own way with its  own voice. We are reminded that we are but one part of the whole creation and that we live in community with many other forms of life and being.

“[T]he world, created according to the divine model, is a web of relationships. Creatures turn toward God, and in turn it is proper to every living being to tend toward other things, so that throughout the universe we can find any number of constant and secretly interwoven relationships.” (240)

As human beings, we have separated ourselves from the rest of the natural world in the false belief that everything exists to serve and support us. Our understanding of community has become poorer as a result. The radical reawakening to our proper place in the cosmos that is needed can only begin when we realize that community is broader and deeper than we can know.

Rejoicing and giving thanks!  As humans, unique among all creatures, our ability to shape the world is a gift — one that sometimes we use well and sometimes we use very badly.

What humans also uniquely do is purposefully give thanks and sing. Life is a gift, nature is a gift, our own existence is a gift. Along with shaping the world, we are distinct in our ability to sing praise and thanksgiving to the source of all gifts. In the woods and in all of our lives, may we become grateful, joyful, bearers of divine love!

“Let us sing as we go. May our struggles and our concern for this planet never take away the joy of our hope…Praise be to him” (244, 245)

Hallelujah!


Rev. Steve Blackmer

 



A View from the Covered Bridge: Final Weeks

As Norman brings his year of daily reflections on the Ottauquechee River to a close, he ponders what it has meant to repeatedly ask the river, “What is it like for you?”


I began this river journal on September 27, 2014, with the intention of carrying it through for one year. With that plan in mind, I have three weeks and a day left before I finish.

My question of the Ottauquechee was and is, “What is it like for you?”  This must be an open-ended question.  The very nature of a river denies the idea of closure.  Of course, the river had a beginning, and will have an end, a lifetime beyond our comprehension.  Does the river have an experience?  For thousands of years, human beings took it for granted that rivers had spirits, conscious of what it did, even intending what occurred within and just beyond its banks.  We call this superstition.

In this age of human-caused damage to the Earth, the exercise of assigning a spirit to natural realities like rivers may have a surprising value.  Rivers have many characteristics we assign to sentient beings: movement, complex chemistry, acute responsiveness to its surroundings, voices, to name a few.

Whether conscious or not, rivers have a being: moving, speaking, nurturing, sometimes destroying.

Granting in the imagination a conscious being to the river, and asking the question – What is it like for you? – may allow us to know the river in ways we could not otherwise.  For sure, if we persist, we will meet the river in unexpected ways.

In the next weeks, as I bring this journal to a close, I will try to share the ways I have met the Ottauquechee, and admit the mysteries that remain.

Today, artists met the river from their perspectives, along the bank, near the bend before the now-dwindling rapids.


From: A View from the Covered Bridge