• Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

    Join 292 other followers

  • Blog Stats

    • 322,027 hits

‘This Fragile Earth, Our Island Home’ and the Legacy of Howard E. Galley

Earth.space.com

This morning on Twitter I discovered that someone was trying to steal credit for the most distinctive phrase in the 1979 Book of Common Prayer.

It was an honest mistake and it’s since been corrected. But it was in an article by the official Episcopal News Service, and I couldn’t let it stand.

Howard E. Galley, Jr. wrote Eucharistic Prayer C late one night in 1974, upon returning to his office at the Episcopal Church Center (“815”) after leading an evening group for Church Army trainees at the General Theological Seminary in New York. I was one of his students in that yearlong training course. After graduation and a lengthy internship, we were commissioned as Evangelists with a national preaching license.

It was a busy year for Howard; a satisfying and productive year. His main job was shepherding an entirely new version of the American Prayer Book. The English version of the BCP, first published in 1549 shortly after the death of King Henry VIII, is a classic of English literature which has guided the worship and nourished the souls of Anglicans worldwide for centuries. The original Book has only two equals: the Authorized King James Version of the Bible and the collected works of William Shakespeare.

God faue the Kyng, indeed.

God faue the Kyng, indeed.

Howard Galley was up to the task.

His job title at Church headquarters was “Assistant to the Coordinator for Prayer Book Revision.” The coordinator was a diplomat, priest-scholar and liturgist named Fr. Leo Malania, whose day job was serving on the faculty of the Mercer School of Theology in the Diocese of Long Island, New York.

What this meant in practical terms was that Leo had a big clean office at “815,” where he showed up occasionally when the Standing Liturgical Commission had a meeting. As his assistant, Howard Galley did all the day-to-day work, in a smaller office piled with papers, charts, journals, magazines, correpondence, books and workbooks and notebooks.

Leo was the star; Howard wrote the script. Leo would breeze in from Long Island, shoot his scenes, and leave. By all accounts he was a great actor in this lengthy production, from roughly 1968 to 1980. It was the most important work in the Episcopal Church during the 1970s, and no one could have led it but him. He was a former assistant to the Secretary-General of the United Nations and a renowned liturgical expert with international contacts at the highest levels of scholarship in the Vatican, the World Council of Churches, Orthodoxy and other top church bodies. His was the name that ultimately carried the day.

But the actual coordinator was Howard.

So imagine how plucked I was to discover this ENS article today, attributing Howard’s finest writing to some retired bishop named Atkinson at a church in Virginia. I never heard of this guy before, but I was not surprised to see someone else credited for Howard’s seminal work.

I fired off a tweet when I saw the article, and soon was contacted by the ENS reporter, Lynette Wilson. She told me she had based her article, which is about stewardship of the Earth, on something she was told concerning the authorship by someone at that church in Virginia. Apparently this Bishop Atkinson was so taken by Howard’s phrasing of Eucharistic Prayer C and the theology embedded in it, and spoke of it so often, that in time local people started attributing the prayer to him. The bishop must have been a wonderful teacher.

But he did not write that prayer. Howard did, after one particularly good night at the National Institute for Lay Training at General Seminary, which he served as dean.

The Close at night, by the Rev. K. Jeanne Person.

The Close at night, by the Rev. K. Jeanne Person.

As one of his trainees I was present with about 10 other people, the first time Mass was celebrated a few days later using Howard’s revolutionary new prayer. When worship was done, we were in awe of what he had written and asked him lots of questions about it. All we knew beforehand was that the Rev. Bill Coulter, another NILT faculty member and the only priest, would celebrate using a new prayer; then out tumbled this fabulous new thing with so many features – including responses from the congregation – that had never been done before in Christian history.

Howard was kind of shy about it, but he told us when and how it came to be. He even attributed our good group meeting a few nights earlier as his inspiration. He’d sat in his office at “815,” looked out the window and saw a big, beautiful moon over the city. Five years earlier, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had first set foot on that moon – an epochal event in human history.

In 1969, in living rooms across America and around the world, we watched live television coverage from the moon, and everyone saw for themselves that we live on “this fragile Earth, our island home.”

Howard consecrated that moment five years later and claimed it for God.

I could say much more about that year in my life and Howard Galley’s place in it, and someday perhaps I will. Now, however, I just want to get down these basic facts. Because I don’t ever want to see again, in a publication of the Episcopal Church or anywhere else, one more false claim about the authorship of Prayer C.

I know of two other living witnesses to this account: the Rev. Anthony Guillen, Hispanic/Latino Missioner of the Episcopal Church, who like me was a Church Army trainee that night; and Patti O’Kane, the longtime partner of Howard Galley’s best friend and associate, Sr. Brooke Bushong, also of the Church Army, who later became a deacon in the Diocese of New York.

The Rev. Sr. Brooke Bushong, late of the Church Army.

The Rev. Sr. Brooke Bushong, late of the Church Army.

Much of the background here, including the misattribution of authorship, is due to the low status of lay ministers in the Episcopal Church. The Standing Liturgical Commission would never have hired Howard Galley as coordinator of Prayer Book Revision; that important post had to go to a member of the clergy – because no one who was not ordained was considered capable or legitimate. This is the “Bishops’ Church,” after all; that’s what “episcopal” means. Prestige is the sole province of clergy in this church (and in most others), with one result being collateral damage to Howard Galley’s essential contribution in compiling that revolutionary Book.

I’m not interested in sour grapes; this is just a fact of life. But I will not allow Howard’s name to be forgotten or his contributions to be trashed, especially by people who don’t know what they’re talking about.

I am apparently the Last Man Standing among the old Church Army crowd. So I have an obligation to my friend and to other lay ministers to set the record straight and preserve Howard’s legacy.

He was quite a character; by far the best teacher I’ve ever had, and that includes some really good ones, especially Sr. Brooke and Fr. Bill. The fourth member of the NILT quartet was Capt. Tom Tull, a former missionary in Alaska who was “young and dumb” in 1974. Tom came into his own years later as an AIDS activist and minister in San Francisco. We all had that in common, frankly, but that’s another story.

If Leo Malania was a movie star, Howard Galley was a headliner on Broadway. I’ve never seen a human being hold a crowd’s attention like Howard could, night after night, anywhere but a Broadway theater. He was electrifying; loving, gentle, incredibly smart, faithful down to his bones. And he was also, by age 45 or so when I first met him, the very picture of a divo.

Mick Jagger

Mick Jagger

That’s Italian for “a god.” But unlike a rock star or Broadway headliner, Howard wrote all his own material and gave a different performance every night.

That’s just what teachers do. But even the best ones aren’t enthralling every time out like he was.

We all think we know what female divas are about, in opera or the theater; lots of ego, massive self-centeredness, ordering people around. That’s the popular stereotype, but the actual goddesses of the theater – Bernadette Peters, Ethel Merman, Chita Rivera, Angela Lansbury, maybe Irina Menzel – are spellbinding.

They don’t stop the show; the audience stops the show to go nuts over them. They say Merman held the last note of “I Got Rhythm” for 32 bars without a breath; of course the audience rioted!

Merman was an Episcopalian; I wouldn't be surprised if she gave Howard lessons.

Merman was an Episcopalian; I wouldn’t be surprised if she gave Howard lessons.

But Howard was a man. I compare him to Jason Robards in Moon for the Misbegotten by Eugene O’Neill, which was playing at the Morosco Theatre that year, with its long stretches of monologue for the two protagonists. (Colleen Dewhurst was every bit as strong as Robards, her ex-husband; if anything she stole the show because her character starts out at a disadvantage to her drunken, eloquent, loudmouth bellower of a man.)

JasonRobardsColleenDewhurst.MoonTVmovie

Every night with Howard was like going to Broadway. There I was, a 22-year-old hick from the sticks, staring open-mouthed at this teacher who was so thrilling and demanding, vulnerable and full of faith.

(If this reminds you of anyone you know, please don’t mention it until after the webcast.)

Now I will end this, by reprinting the three comments I left on the Episcopal News Service website this morning. I’m trying to set the record straight and create a larger internet presence for my great teacher, who died in 1993. I can’t find a single photograph of Howard anywhere online, so this will have to do.

He was a great man. So let me add right now, if anyone from that era deserves a place on our liturgical calendar in future years, it won’t be Leo Malania or any of the thousands of others who contributed to prayer book revision. It will be Howard Galley, a devout Catholic who was a thorough Evangelist.++

Ceremonies

___

Comment #1 on Episcopal News Service’s website:

Howard E. Galley, Jr. of the Church Army wrote those words, not Bishop Atkinson. I was present the first time they were used to consecrate bread and wine at the Eucharist, in a classroom at General Seminary, New York, in the summer of 1974. The Rev. Bill Coulter celebrated for my Church Army training class; Capt. Galley, Sr. Brooke Bushong and Capt. Tom Tull were there along with six lay ministry students, including Anthony Guillen, who was later ordained and became Hispanic/Latino Missioner at 815. Howard told us after Mass how he came to write that prayer, late one night at 815 after one of our evening classes. He wrote it all in one sitting, then refined it with Brooke and a few other friends a few nights later at a bar in Brooklyn Heights.

He was Assistant to the Coordinator for Prayer Book Revision and General Editor of the new BCP, the day-to-day staffer who kept the wheels turning for the Standing Liturgical Commission in the runup to the General Convention of 1976, at which the Draft Prayer Book was provisionally approved for three years before winning final approval in 1979. Howard Galley wrote that prayer and no one else.

On his behalf I respectfully request a correction.

___

Comment #2:

What Bishop Atkinson must have done was to quote Howard Galley’s phrase (and perhaps celebrate Mass using it) so often at Emmanuel, Greenwood, that in time people began to think he must have written it.

Besides Fr. Guillen, I have another witness who was present during the creation of this prayer: Sr. Brooke Bushong’s partner Patti O’Kane, who still lives in Brooklyn Heights and can supply details about Howard, Brooke and others meeting for a drink a few nights after he composed the prayer. He read it to them, and they were the first persons to ever hear it; he asked for feedback and they gave him some. A few days later Fr. Bill Coulter gave it its world premiere in a little room at GTS.

___

Comment #3:

Historical footnote, for the record: Howard knew within a couple of weeks that “this fragile earth, our island home” was a hit; Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin had landed on the moon only five years earlier. And Howard knew that the environmental theme also resonated quickly; the first Earth Day happened in 1970. But the thing he was proudest of in that prayer was that it’s the first in Anglican history to invoke the Blessed Virgin Mary as part of the consecration.

By far his proudest moment in the overall, decades-long process of Prayer Book revision was winning final approval for the most important provision of all: the rubric on p. 13 terming the Holy Eucharist “the principal act of Christian worship on the Lord’s Day.” For the first time since the Reformation, Sunday Mass was restored to its rightful place in Anglican worship.

This Church owes Howard Galley and everyone associated with Prayer Book revision the highest honor we can bestow. People think that what the ’79 Book did was get rid of “thees and thous,” but that was the least of it. The Commission, Bishops and Deputies gave us back our Communion with Christ, and we must never forget what they did. This Book made history because it made us Catholic again, in practice as well as thought.

So now you know.

So now you know.

Blueberry Season Opens – and Closes 4 Days Later

How harsh was last winter in Northwest Indiana? It killed off half the blueberries. Monday the season opened; it usually lasts a month. This year it ends on Friday.

Both of my cherry trees blossomed this spring, but one tree didn’t produce. I only got to pick two or three times and now they’re gone.

This is terrible news for fans of the Muffin King™. (I am both the king and the only fan – but look at these pretty babies.)

Royal Blueberry Muffins

I’ve always used frozen berries for my muffins; they work perfectly well. But on Monday I headed up to Little Holland (DeMotte, Indiana) where all the blueberry farms are, for Opening Day. I chose Eenigenburg’s Blueberries, the original blueberry farm in the area since 1943, because they have a website and are easy to get to. I couldn’t have been happier with the experience. The owners are very friendly and helpful, they know their berries and their customers, and their prices are good, $3 a pound for fresh-picked, $1.90 for U-pick. Since it was Opening Day the only option was U-pick, but they sent out a granddaughter to help me and we got five pounds in 20 minutes, gabbing the whole time. They tied a small plastic bucket around my waist so I could pick with both hands; that’s definitely the way to do it. (I should try it for cherries, too.)

Her mother told me it would be a short season this year because of the hard winter, but by Wednesday she had to post a message on their website, “Closing Friday.” I was lucky I got there in time! Now I kind of wish I hadn’t sold three of my five pounds to Scott’s family; I had no idea what five pounds of blueberries look like or how fast I’d use them.

Monday night Scott came over for dinner, so I made my mother’s fruit salad – though I’ve only kept two ingredients of hers, bananas and mini-marshmallows. She used canned fruit, but all mine is fresh. I grilled some Italian sausage, threw together a marinara sauce with my own garden herbs, and we feasted.

Tuesday I baked some muffins. Now I have about a pound of berries left and the season is almost over!

I’d thought I’d buy an extra five pounds and freeze them to tide me over this winter, but no such luck. I’d better freeze what I have left and hope next year will be better.

We’ve all heard of global warming, but when it starts killing off Indiana blueberries, that there’s serious! Sheesh already.

Today, Thursday, the Eenigenburgs called everyone on their customer list and gave us the news, “come ‘n’ get ’em or forever hold your peace.” That was nice; it’s why I wanted to buy from local farmers in the first place. Who wants to give all their money to Con-Agra? I will go back next season.

Turns out blueberries don’t grow just anywhere. I asked the owners why DeMotte and Wheatfield have so many blueberry farms and we talked about the sand that blows south off Lake Michigan. (The Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore is just 30 miles away.)

Indiana Dunes, on the south shore of Lake Michigan.

Indiana Dunes, on the south shore of Lake Michigan.

It has the right pH for blueberries, she said, though some years they have to apply lime (ground natural limestone) to reduce the alkalinity. I told her my Unca Deed, who lives about 15 miles south, used to sell and spread lime for his neighbors. Maybe he sold some to them back in the day – all the more reason to buy from Eenigenburg’s.

South of DeMotte, the sandy soil quickly changes to black loam – river muck from ancient flooding of the Kankakee and Iroquois Rivers – so Unca Deed grows the corn and soybeans most people think of as typical Indiana crops. Farmers grow what their soil is suited for, and it’s quite a science to match the soil type with the best genetic strain of beans or corn; the exact soil composition varies from one field to the next, and even within a field, because the dirt was there before the property lines were drawn.

On my way home I drove past Unca Deed’s farm and reminisced, but I couldn’t stop because a thunderstorm was coming and my dog Luke was in the backyard. Later that night we got the summer version of last winter’s polar vortex; temps went down to 50º and haven’t really warmed up yet.

All this climate change doesn’t seem to be discouraging the weeds in my garden one bit. They don’t need science to tell them where to plant themselves, right in my back yard.

On the other hand, my tomato plants are going great guns and I’m expecting a bumper crop; they have dozens of green fruits on their branches, but they’re waiting for warmer weather before they ripen. Tomatoes like sun and temperatures up to 85º. We’ll get back there in a few days, and I’ll get to bite into my all-time favorite food, a big juicy tomato from the garden.

Summertime and the livin’ is easy – except for the polar vortex, thunderstorms and tornadoes. I would rather spend the warm months here than anywhere else on earth. Indiana isn’t a glamorous place, but to me it’s all about the soil – which comes from the water – which first attracted the Dutch (and my British forebears) to these river plains.++

The Iroquois River in my home county; photo by the United States Geological Survey, 2000.

The Iroquois River in my home county; photo by the U.S. Geological Survey, 2000.

Crop Rotation: My Hot Date with Orville Freeman

Orville Freeman in 1963.

He was about my speed in 1963.

When I was in 7th grade I took a mandatory course in agriculture at Morocco High School. My family lived in town, not on a farm, so I didn’t know a thing about the subject except what I picked up from visits to Grandma’s – where I mostly stayed in the house with her instead of out in the fields with Unca Deed. She owned about 200 acres in the same county, mostly planted in corn and soybeans; he also raised beef cattle and hogs, while she tended the henhouse. The two things I’d learned were that chickens don’t like you sticking your hand underneath them while they’re sitting on eggs (although you have to do it), and stay out of the “itch dirt” at all costs.

Hens get upset when they're trying to hatch babies but you come along and steal them. Plus I was always afraid of chickens; Grandma had a rooster once that attacked my brother at 5 years old; to this day he's got a scar on his cheek shaped like a chicken beak. (Vital Farms)

Hens get upset when they’re trying to hatch babies but you come along and steal them. Plus I was always afraid of chickens; Grandma had a rooster once that attacked my brother at 5 years old. To this day he’s got a scar on his cheek shaped like a chicken beak. (Vital Farms)

I was so good at reading the textbook in that class that I ended up winning the agriculture award that year, which was truly embarrassing considering that most of the pupils in the class (boys only in those days) were farm kids who already knew the difference between a bull and a steer, while I did not. So I asked, with no idea why hilarity ensued. Grinning, the teacher explained that steers had been “clamped.” That is, castrated; yuk yuk yuk.

When I was 15 and ready for driver’s training, I found out that all the farmboys (and half the girls) already knew how to drive – tractors, pickups, the family car. Not me – but in 7th grade I did know the name of the Secretary of Agriculture, which impressed the teacher quite a lot – and the farmboys not at all.

Thus I have never been a farmer, one dinky award or not, but I read all about about crop rotation; don’t keep planting the same crop in the same field year after year or you’ll wear out the soil.

Since then farmers have largely abandoned rotation, because corn is the big moneymaker, so they all practice monoculture now and repair the damage with chemical fertilizer instead – which runs off into streams when it rains, and winds up causing giant algae blooms in the Gulf of Mexico. When your world is as small as a farmer’s you don’t pay much attention to what happens a thousand miles away.

Mind you, I like farmers; I like the human culture where I’m from, but I still believe in crop rotation, especially when it comes to planting tomatoes in the garden. They’re a relative of nightshade, which is poisonous, and you shouldn’t keep sticking them in the same spot year after year.

Fruit of the silverleaf nightshade.

Fruit of the silverleaf nightshade; you can see the resemblance, but these guys are not good for man or beast.

This year I’m experimenting with growing tomatoes in containers on my deck – full size fruits, I hope, not those tasteless cherry tomatoes. I’m a little worried about whether this will work out; the vines can grow very large, so you’d think you’d need very big pots, but I only have one. So I did the best I could and we’ll see; I’ll learn something, and that’s half the fun of gardening (and half the frustration).

Is this a big enough pot for a tomato?

Is this a big enough pot for a tomato?

Meanwhile, what to do with that space in the back garden? Planting was late this year; spring has been cold and wet. But now, a month late, everything is in the ground or the pots, and all I have to do is weed and water. I actually like weeding; it’s something physical and mindless to do outdoors, so I don’t live in my head all the time.

All I have in the back are strawberries, a couple of rows of onions, and some flowers, marigolds and petunias. They don’t really fill up the space. I tried to buy some gladiolus bulbs, but Murphy’s isn’t selling them this year, so most of my ground will lie fallow. That’s good for the soil too; it doesn’t have to work every year, so let it rest, like in Bible times.

Strawberries mostly, with some petunias, marigolds and onions just starting.

Strawberries mostly.

Now about my big disaster last year: try to picture a Gay 7th grader who was all thumbs (none of them green), lived in town and didn’t know nothin’ about farming or gardening, because that kid is still me. I got very bold with my experiments last year. Previous experience had taught me that rabbits are the bane of my existence. We’ve got tons of them around here, 4-H projects gone awry maybe; smalltown rabbits love smalltown gardens. Two years ago I tried to grow green leafy vegetables and the rabbits got ’em; I would take Elmer Fudd’s shotgun to them if I could. Last year I mustered all my courage and built a fence, using bamboo sticks, plastic chicken wire and twist-ties. Afterward I felt so butch – so I checked it again the next morning and it was still up!

Take that, you wascally wabbits.

Ready at the rabbit hole.

Ready at the rabbit hole.

Well, my fence lasted a week or two, then one day I came home from Murphy’s to find a young guy and gal messing with my plastic fence, looking all concerned. I parked, investigated and found out what their problem was – a baby rabbit got caught in the fence and was now dangling by a leg.

Personally I’d have left him there as an example to all the other critters. But it was obvious that the girl was all worried about the poor widdle wabbit, which was hopelessly stuck, and the boyfriend couldn’t figure out what to do but for damn sure didn’t want his girlfriend upset. So I sighed and got the scissors and cut a hole in my handmade fence, thus inviting every rabbit in the county to free admission.

I couldn’t have cared less about the girl, and you already know my attitude about rabbits, so I guess I ruined my fence for the guy’s sake. Then a drought came, and what didn’t get eaten by the bunnies withered on the vine, while I swore off building any more damn fences.

I have no mechanical ability whatever. I’m not ashamed of it, it’s simply a fact of life; the same gene that turns on a Gay guy’s verbal ability turns off the switch on his motor skills.

So it’s time for some crop rotation. If I can grow tomatoes and peppers in pots on the deck, where rabbits seldom venture, maybe I’ll fill up my vegetable garden with perennials and tell the rabbits to kiss my grits.

***

Last year I didn’t get cherries because of a late frost after the trees had bloomed. The year before that birds came and ate all my cherries, because I didn’t pick them the very day they ripened. This year they’re back and starting to turn, but they’re not quite ready yet. So I will stay vigilant, with my ladder, plastic bag and maybe a stick or two of dynamite.

Almost ripe.

Almost ripe.

Elmer Fudd was right. When you live in the country it’s all about the shotgun, baby, whatever works, so you can eat.++

Luke would chase the rabbits if I'd let him - he caught a baby one last year and ate half of it - but he's too little to be left alone unsupervised.

Luke would chase the rabbits if I’d let him – he caught a baby one last year and ate half of it – but at night when the critters come out, he likes to snooze in his bed. A workin’ dog he ain’t. (He’s pure entertainment instead.)

Places I’ve Never Been

The Space Needle is nice, but I'd like to get to know the street scene in Seattle.

As I approach 60 years of age, I sometimes think about places in the U.S. I’ve never been to. I suppose it’s a self-indulgent fantasy; I can’t afford to travel much anymore. The poorhouse is one place I’ve never been to, but I just might move in one day.

I offer this partly to ask you, What are the places you’ve never seen, but want to get to? I bet we all have a list; here’s mine.

• The Pacific Northwest. I hear it rains all the time, and seldom gets what I’d consider warm. But Seattle sounds like an interesting place, and a good friend of mine is a native Oregonian who loves that state.

Also, I think a person should visit every part of the country if they can, to see what’s unique and distinctive there, so someday I’d like to go to the Northwest.

Trinity Church, Milton, Connecticut

• New England. I took a train from New York to Boston once for a memorable weekend with Avon “Pete” Gillespie, but we didn’t see much of the city. He was a music educator, one of the premier proponents of the Orff method, and what I most remember about the trip – well, besides what happened in the hotel – was his conducting, and my participating in, a workshop he held at a Catholic church. He taught me how to dance; he could teach music and movement to anybody. That weekend I saw what a star he was in his business. I miss him.

Besides Boston I’d like to go to the small towns. Recently a friend sent me his Beacon Guide to the Churches of New England, which I’ve always wanted to visit. The Episcopal Church, which I belong to, was given birth and nurtured after the Revolutionary War by the Diocese of Connecticut; I’d like to see Bishop Gene Robinson’s New Hampshire and meet all the Lesbians in Vermont. I’d like to taste real maple syrup for once; I’ve never had it. I’d like to get up to Maine and go to Acadia National Park. My first real mentor in life was married to a Cajun girl from Louziana, but the Acadian story starts in that area between Maine and Quebec.

• The Grand Canyon, which is on everybody’s list. I’d like to go through it rafting on the Colorado River, as well as see it from up top.

Recently the government build some kind of projecting observation point, which I’m really dubious about, but maybe I’d like it.

The sainted Queen Emma of Hawai'i

• Hawai’i. If there’s a paradise on earth and I know where it is, why do I not go there?

I’d like to visit places associated with King Kamehameha and Queen Emma, less because they were royals than because they were saints. I’d want to honor the Native Hawai’ians; every American should know and appreciate our Aboriginal peoples.

• The Gulf Coast. I’ve been to Central and South Florida several times, Jacksonville, St. Augustine, Gainesville, Orlando, Daytona, Miami and Fort Lauderdale, but I’ve never been on Florida’s west coast. Never been to Key West, for that matter. I was in Tallahassee once, taking a Greyhound after a visit to my father, and saw a Colored Only waiting room. I couldn’t wait for that bus to come to get me out of there.

Totally out of order. (Life Magazine)

Now I have a standing invitation from Calvary Church, Indian Rocks Beach in Southwest Florida, and I hope to get there. I’d like to visit Savannah and Mobile, too, maybe on my way to New Orleans and Lafayette.

• I haven’t really seen California very well. I’ve never been particularly attracted to Los Angeles with all its smog, but I’d like to see the redwoods and giant sequoias, so immense that they make a person feel very, very small and think about God.

I’ve been to San Francisco and Sacramento, but everyone ought to drive Highway 1. Big Sur would be nice, and there are lots of Gay visitors to Russian River, but I think the big attractions are the trees and the Pacific.

• Maryland and Delaware. I spent a night in Baltimore once, but it’s changed a lot since then. I think I’d like to visit Annapolis and eat my way through all the seafood shacks.

• U.S. Virgin Islands. I’m sending my fictional characters Jamie and Kent there on vacation, but all I know about the place is what I’ve gleaned online. Did you know that St. Croix has a national park with a snorkeling trail? It’s just a few miles from where Christopher Columbus first made land.

Snorkeling at Buck Island, USVI

Finally, one place in the United States that I have no intention of going to: Alaska. I don’t care that it’s big and beautiful and has a wonderful Native culture and all the other great resources in the state. It’s freakin’ cold up there and I ain’t goin’, not even in July. The whole idea of Alaska turns me off, and I haven’t even mentioned Half-Gov. Sarah Palin yet. A body like mine does not do Alaska, I would be miserable there. My skin would itch all the time. Give me heat and humidity, which Alaska ain’t got.

Did I mention that on St. Croix it’s always 83º? THAT’s my kind of place.

Where do you want to go?++

When Peter visited from Amsterdam, I took him to Abraham Lincoln State Park. Abe was elected president 150 years ago today.

Once She Started, She Couldn’t Stop

Purple echinacea stand tall in the backyard garden of Janice Becker. (Chris Sweda/Chicago Tribune)

Every now and then the Chicago Tribune reminds me that it’s still a great newspaper. It doesn’t happen often anymore — the talent level has dropped dramatically from the glory days — but occasionally I’ll run across an article so well written, so thoughtful, so obviously made of love for the languages of communication, that I think, “Well, the Trib’s still got it a little.” Today is one of those times; read the whole thing by Barbara Mahany here.

It’s about gardening. Years ago a woman and her husband went looking to buy a townhouse so they wouldn’t have any yard to deal with. They ended up with a house in the suburbs instead, with a yard that was a mess. She ignored it until one day, after her children were born, she took a notion to try and straighten up a little. Once she got started, she couldn’t stop. Now she’s a master gardener.

I do want you to read the whole piece, but I’m going to quote and comment on some of her tips. I found them helpful; maybe you will too.

Here are her sure-fire suggestions for the finest garden you can fit in any size plot:

Mulch, mulch and more mulch. Becker has 5 cubic yards of organic leaf mulch dumped on her driveway every spring. She hauls it by the wheelbarrow to every breathing inch of her garden. It’s all about amending.

Who says Chicago’s growing season is too short?: Extend your season, says Becker, whose beds are in bloom from March to November, beginning with thousands of bulbs in early spring. (“Pick any area you can see from the house, not next to house,” she advises, to provide an emotional pickup after the long dark winter.) Then wind up with the last of the asters, fall-blooming crocus and a host of colorful berries.

There are two ideas here really, and I want to separate out the one that struck me the hardest: Don’t just make beds next to the house; plant in the yard so you can see your flowers from inside.

When I bought my house, one of the things I liked best was that the entire perimeter of the building had already been made into beds. There were bushes in front and along the sides, most of them planted decades ago, perhaps by the original owner. But there weren’t many flowers, just a few crocuses here and there. Aha, I thought; I will put in flowers, and over the years I have, tulips from Amsterdam as well as Holland, Michigan; irises, mums, petunias, marigolds, pansies, peonies, whatever I could get my hands on. I didn’t have a plan; I didn’t know what I was doing, but I enjoyed myself. Spring planting is my favorite time of year.

I screwed in hooks on the ceiling of my covered side porch and hung baskets of impatiens; I learned over time not to buy plastic pots. I turned my porch into an outdoor room, with a tree and plant stands, table and chairs, lights and a charcoal grill. Everyone who’s ever visited knows I love that porch.

But when I look out my front windows I don’t see flowers, except for my cherry trees when they blossom; otherwise it’s just green trees and green grass. I have to go outside to see my flowers, and I don’t do that often.

What Ms. Becker is teaching me is to plant colors I can see when I wake up in the morning. My first thought is to dig up some of the grass along the sidewalk leading to my front door and plant tulips and daffodils there; when they start to fade, I can put in begonias. (I have begonias in planters on the back deck, and oh, are they gorgeous this year.)

Then I thought, however nice that idea might be, why not create a similar path along the public right of way, the sidewalk that crosses my lot? What would a person walking up the street feel if she suddenly encountered flowers at her feet? Wouldn’t that be a joy?

My dog Luke and I take walks every night, and one of the things I get out of it is seeing my neighbors’ landscaping. Last night we took a new route on less-familiar blocks and I saw the most amazing stand of zinnias (I think); multiple colors planted in bunches, 50 yellows, then 50 reds, a whole rainbow, 20 feet or more. When Luke and I walk and I find beautiful flowers in yards, I always want to get closer to see and maybe smell; but I respect the homeowner’s private property, so I have to enjoy from a distance. Last night at this particular house on 2nd Street, a woman was watching TV in her living room, with the windows open; I wanted to call out, “Your flowers are beautiful!” But I turned shy instead.

People in my hometown are pretty good gardeners and landscapers. I’m envious, in awe; I wish I encountered people in their yards more often so I could tell them how much I love what they’ve done. But alas, Luke and I take our walks in the cool of the evening, and by that time most people are indoors watching the boob tube.

It’s fashionable lately when pseudo-sophisticates write about landscape gardening to decry the “airport runway” look with outdoor lights; but they’re just snobs with deadlines and 750 words overdue. These are the same kinds of people as those who write about food trends, invariably nasty, stuff you’d never want to eat — because they have to write about something and they’re totally completely bored. The New York Times is full of that crap, because New Yorkers can’t stop competing long enough to have a good meal. Here’s my point: anything you do, including landscape lights down the sidewalk, that you can see from indoors, is good. A flowered walk is a great idea, especially one built with the neighbors in mind.

I have a friend Chris who used to walk her little dog past my house all the time. Her husband’s since had a privacy fence built, and Chris and her dog have stopped coming by; I miss them. But if they had a sidewalk landscaped just for them to enjoy, I bet they’d always come this way; wouldn’t you?

My next-door neighbor Debbie has built an amazing garden spot on the corner; it’s got a boulder or two, figurines and wonderful plants. But there’s no reason I can’t do more with my space, even though I’m not on the corner. Some homeowners in town have built flowered areas under their hardwood trees, full of hostas or impatiens or other beauties. It takes time and money, but I think I’d like to do something similar.

And all this is suggested by Janice Becker’s little comment. Here’s more of what she told the Trib.

Sun, yes, but water moreso. Sure, you need to pay attention to shade versus sun, but drainage is too often overlooked. Becker contends it’s more important than sun, and she urges you to pay attention to what the label says — and take it to heart. “The label might say, ‘Will survive dry conditions,’ but what they really are saying is ‘We won’t tolerate standing in water.’ And with so much clay in the soil around here, that’s key.”

I don’t have clay in my yard; that’s Chicago, this is Northwest Indiana, a long-drained swamp. I’ve got 99% black loam from the last time the Iroquois River flooded five miles away. This is the richest soil on earth, according to Purdue University. We’re even the home of the high school soil-judging National Champions 2005!

Shop nonstop.”Don’t stop shopping for plants or planting just because it is July and abysmally hot. If succession of bloom is the objective (and it is), you will miss some great late summer and fall blooming perennials if you don’t frequent the nurseries. For example, chelone (also known as turtlehead) is an absolutely great late summer bloomer that you will never see unless you shop later in the season. And everything is usually on sale then.”

Be ever on the lookout. “Visit gardens all the time. There is practically nothing in my garden that I did not see someplace else and copy. Take notes; take pictures; and ask questions, particularly why that plant is growing successfully here when you haven’t had any success with it.”

That’s good advice too. Don’t get so enthusiastic with spring planting that you fail to keep at it when the weather gets hot, or much of your work will go for nothing. I weed and tend my gardens every day, pick tomatoes and peppers, strawberries and leeks. As Jamie says in The Centurion’s Boy, my novel in progress, “Every day is a new opportunity to excel.”

That’s true whatever your occupation, pastimes and pursuits. Every day is new; no matter how much you screwed up yesterday, today is a new opportunity. Maybe you don’t like digging in the dirt; maybe music or art or furniture-making is your thing. Do it better than ever, because it’s today. Whether you’re a stay-at-home mom or a CEO, a monk in Mississippi or a gardener in Deerfield, today is a new chance. Build something; touch your loved ones gently; take your dog on an outing. Write, cook, plan, build, take a risk, pull out the deadwood, get dirty so you can get clean; let yourself be fully alive.

And who knows, maybe once you get started, you won’t be able to stop.++

Asters, from gardenersnet.com.

Wind Farm Off Cape Cod? Dumb & Dumber

Windmills that power Copenhagen. (Johan Spanner/The New York Times)

Some guy wants to build 100 windmills off the coast of Cape Cod. These would make him money and generate electricity.

We need electricity that doesn’t come from burning coal. The wind, of course, is free, although the turbines cost a bundle.

The Secretary of the Interior, Ken Salazar, will announce his decision about this project next week, and the publicity campaign is now being ramped up in The New York Times.

I think it’s a terrible idea—but unlike all other commentators, I live right next door to a huge wind farm. I know what these windmills look like; I know what they do to the landscape; I know what it’s like to live with them.

Don’t put windmills in the ocean. They don’t belong there. They’re terribly unsightly, and there’s something morally wrong with defacing the ocean so you can put up an industry.

Windmills belong where I live, not off Cape Cod. For heaven’s sake, what a stupid idea.

Preserve the beautiful spaces of the earth. That includes Cape Cod.

Tear up my backyard if you’ve got to; very few people will complain.

I live in a very isolated part of Northwest Indiana. I’m 80 miles south of Chicago, only three miles from the state line. It’s windy here. You’ve heard of the Windy City; welcome to my windy town.

If you put out lawn furniture, you’re going to have to pick it up three days a week. The wind will send your chairs flying into the trees. This gets old after awhile.

You can try putting your patio table on the protected covered porch on the east side of the house, as I do; then you get to pick it up once a week. It never sticks where you put it.

This part of Indiana got the first wind farms in the state. Now they’re building more. There are going to be windmills everywhere you look.

While they’re very tall, they’re not these horrible monstrosities to look at—at least not individually. They’re a big tall pole with three blades; that’s it.

But when you put in hundreds of them, they dominate the landscape. They’re all you can see—and that’s not good, even here in farm country where you don’t live.

This part of Indiana has a certain quiet beauty to it, and ohmyword, the soil. My tomato plants grow six feet wide in just a little bit of black dirt. It’s some of the richest in the world.

But somebody decided that, the population here being small and isolated, and the wind blowing so much, this was a good spot for a wind farm. The plots do not take up a great deal of ground space. So the man decided to send an army of little salesboys to approach each landowner separately, offering halfway decent money as long as you don’t tell your neighbors what we’re doing.

That says a great deal about the character and ethics of wind farm promoters. They’re skunks.

Each tower pays about $6000 a year in land rents. That’s not so much until you consider that a farmer with 200 acres may have 20 windmills. It starts to add up to real money, and he can farm around the towers. It’s a good deal for the farmers; it’s even a good deal for county government. And that means my taxes don’t rise because there’s another source of income.

But it defaces the earth, and I really wish we didn’t have these things.

Something about them is profoundly disrespectful to the land, and to the culture and the people here.

This is not to say I wouldn’t sell my house if they wanted to put up a pole here; once you’ve got a hundred windmills, what’s another dozen?

In fact I’m not sure my town will continue to exist in the distant future; we’re 1800 people with $100,000 houses, and it might just be cheaper to replace us all with windmills.

I’d be sad, though; the tomatoes here are really good.

If you have to put up windmills, and it seems we do, then for heaven’s sake put them here, where few people live, not in the Great Lakes or off the coast of Cape Cod.

The windmill industry is touting that water-based windmills are more efficient than land-based ones because it’s windier out there on the water.

This ignores that it’s a lot easier to build a windmill on Old McDonald’s Farm than it is in the middle of the ocean.

Indiana is willing to do its part to meet the energy needs of the 21st century. We have accepted these giant towers without much controversy. Our state is largely powered by coal from West Virginia miners and we know that burning that stuff is bad. We have not had a great uprising, Not in My Back Yard!

But there are some places you should never put a windmill or a power line. Lake Michigan is one; the ocean off Cape Cod is another.

Don’t put an electrical tower in the Smoky Mountains; it’s just immoral.

Put these things where they ought to go; don’t buy into the industry’s greedy hype that if Salazar doesn’t okay the Cape Cod project, all wind farms are suddenly down the tubes. That’s ridiculous. I’m living next to a wind farm that churns out the very juice that powers your internet.

And every few days I pick up the patio furniture, put it back where I think it’s supposed to go, and we carry on. It would be nice if the chairs would stay where I put ’em, but they don’t. That’s the price we pay for living here, just like tomatoes are the reward.

We’re going to have to do some serious thinking in this country, which we haven’t started yet, about where to site these projects. Much of Texas is wide open and ugly; perfect spot. Maybe you think Indiana’s ugly; you might have to pay extra for hurting my feelings. But with five or six towers on my land I could live a decent life, plus it would be helping Chicago.

We’re willing to do anything that helps our country. But it’s really stupid to put 400-foot towers in a scenic lake or off the coast of Cape Cod, when there are plenty of places willing to accept them in return for a little cash. Besides the wind that sweeps in here from Iowa and Illinois, we’ve got homegrown politicians whose every utterance can make the rotors whirl; so why would you put a windmill in a place of beauty?++

Episcopal Church Announces Special Outreach to Roman Catholics

Welcome

“All of the pageantry—none of the guilt!”
— Robin Williams

Dear Catholic Friends,

You may have heard recently that the Pope has announced a new “ordinariate” that allows Anglicans and Episcopalians to become Catholics while keeping their Prayer Books, hymns and married priests.

(Is there a special office at the Vatican that comes up with words like “ordinariate”? After all this time they still can’t speak English?)

We want you to know that the Episcopal Church has a much easier portal for Catholics to become Episcopalians: it’s called the front door. Just come on in!

The Episcopal Church receives more Catholic converts than it sends to Rome. Why?

• Mass on Sunday, same as always. Free bread and wine!

• We elect our priests and bishops. They serve us, we don’t serve them, except as fellow Christians deserving our love and support.

• The People govern the Church. We don’t do pronouncements from on high.

• Wonderful music—our congregations like to sing!

• No known pedophile problems. No $100 million victim settlements or diocesan bankruptcies.

• We have a culture of openness, not of secrecy. We expect money to be accounted for.

• You don’t check your brain at the door. We don’t tell you how to think or how to vote.

• Confession aims to be transformative, not legalistic.

• We believe God calls men and women equally. Men don’t tell women what to do.

• Plenty of opportunities for mission and service, peace and justice, caring for Creation.

• We don’t preach shame to anyone, including our Gay sons and daughters.

• We’re all about spiritual growth through the sacraments, prayer, meditation and work.

• Jesus was infallible. Mortals are not.

Come join us. Feel good about coming to church again!

For the nearest Episcopal Church by Zip Code, click here.++

ORDINATION_BISHOP_MICHEAL_EUCHARIST