Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Clothing in Beauty

Yes, still wrestling with water usage. The first sixty years of my life (yes, children, I really am that old, so let's have some respect) were spent in California, a state whose history is one of water wars. I now am a citizen of New Mexico where water is even more scarce.

Today, as I watered the garden I was thinking, as usual, about the lifeblood of our Mother. Another aspect of what I was doing came to me. I am helping to clothe our Mother with green things, working with the life force within Ina Maka and the light of Ate Wi to invite the plant nations to flourish in this little patch. I am delighting to clothe our Mother in beauty as various leaf forms and lovely flowers adorn her. As green things work their photosynthetic magic, the air of the planet is renewed. Habitat is also established for all manner of burrowing, creeping, leaping, and flying relatives.

There are undoubtedly wiser ways to manage water use, but what I do is intended to honor Ina Maka, not to squander her life thoughtlessly.

Ah, endless self-justification, eh? We are such ignorant, sinful, self-deluded and deluding creatures. To think that the Creator would entrust to the two-leggeds the sacred task of tending harmony and balance. Helmut Thielicke was right: if any sin may laid to the charge of God it is gambling.

The Firstruits:
My first cherry tomato and Anaheim chile
The first blossom on the Crimson Blaze climbing rose

There are a couple more cherry tomatoes lurking deep in the heart of this photo

And here are some Anaheim chiles

In other news:
Mark MacDonald, Bishop of Alaska, has just been confirmed to serve as Bishop of Navajoland. He will leave his position in Alaska, though he will be serving concurrently as bishop for the First Nations of Canada as well as for Navajoland. May all the First Nations walk in beauty and we learn to join them.

I am honored to have some of my thoughts posted at The Episcopal Majority. My thanks to the patient editor!
--the BB

Monday, June 18, 2007

Nuance? Backpedaling? You decide

"Tournament of Roses" variety
While thinking in one context yesterday I wrote something that, in another context, is thoughtless and irresponsible.

I said there was nothing wrong with either my wanting to see things grow in the desert or trying to reproduce a Berkleley hills garden in my little corner of the world. When I said there was "nothing wrong with either of those two things" I meant in a psychological sense. In an ecological sense there is a great deal to ponder and criticize.

What sort of respect for this part of the world can I possibly show when trying to make the desert (technically "high grasslands," I have been informed) into something it is not? And how responsible am I being with resources?

I am conscious of the life-blood of our Mother, that most precious reality of life in this corner of the world: water. I water by hand, use lots of mulch to minimize evaporation, and think about the precious gift of water as I nurture each growing thing. The front yards in my neighborhood are all xeriscaped and drip irrigation provides just enough to keep things alive. Overall, according to my water bill, I am well below average household use. Still, I cannot escape discomfort when using water. Nor should I. May the Creator keep me conscious of the consequences of my actions.

In addition to bringing joy to my own heart, I hope my garden will lift the spirits of others and that future harvests of fruits and vegetables will nourish body and soul alike.

Salvia, dwarf marigolds, and sweet alyssum
"Piñata" rose variety
This morning I harvested my first cherry tomato. I spotted the globe of bright red in the depths of the greenery while watering this morning. No idea how it evaded my sight previously but this morning it seemed to shine and cry out, "Here I am!"

I brought it in, sharpened my paring knife and sliced it thinly. Added a leaf of basil from the yard, julienned and sprinkled on top. Three drops of olive oil on the plate, a sprinkle of salt, some freshly ground black pepper. Quite satisfying.

I then made a thank-offering throughout the garden, beginning at the tomato patch and walking deosil about the yard, sprinkling tobacco and giving thanks. No, I do not smoke tobacco; in fact, I abhor cigarette and cigar smoke. But I do offer pipe tobacco to the Creator and the seven directions. We must not take without offering respect and thanks.
--The BB

Sunday, June 17, 2007

A Son of the Soil (in spite of myself)

I spent a lot of time in my back yard last week, tending to my garden.

When I moved to Albuquerque I realized afresh how large my back yard seemed. Maybe 50 by 40 feet of sand mixed with fine adobe clay. Except for the tumbleweeds that spring up with great vigor, it was rather barren.

Bill inspired me to plant some fruit trees. I followed this endeavor with roses, mostly bare root, and on Maundy Thursday I became so bold as to plant tomatoes, foolishly assuming I was past frost danger. Two days later it snowed. The tomatoes, however, survived.

Here is where things stood:
The lush little border on the right is a patch thickly planted with rosemary, lavender, and dark purple petunias. Basil and chives are tucked in there too. The green against the back wall is a Piñata rose that blooms in multiple shades of red, yellow, and deep orange. Two peach saplings (Red Haven in the foreground and Elberta behind it), the tomatoes and Anaheim peppers near the north wall, then a climbing yellow rose between the vegies and the herbs.

Other bare root roses curved around a Methley plum and I planted small beds between the roses, filling them with gazanias, dwarf marigolds, and alyssum. Here is a later view from a different angle, still aiming at the NW corner.
After last weeks efforts, here is a close-up of the NW corner. You can see blooms on the Piñata rose, lush tomato plants, and in between a flame seedless grapevine. Along the wall to the left are lavenders and coral roses. In the center foreground is a row with various peppers and deep red petunias that were just planted. Three kinds of squash have also gone in and three other rows of vegetables and herbs (mostly more peppers and an eggplant). Along the south wall is a border of sixteen plants, about five types all with blue to purple flowers.
And, though one expects no fruit in the first year and precious little until year 3 to 5, I do have four peaches. Here is the largest, currently the size of a small apricot.
I came to two realizations yesterday. (1) Although I could never be considered anything but a "city boy," there is nonetheless something of the San Joaquin Valley soil in me that cries out for growing things in the desert. As aloof as I may have been from my relatives who farmed, this yard project has me quite excited. (2) Looking at what I have been doing in what seemed a rather haphazard manner, it is evident that I have subconsciously been trying to recreate something of the look and feel of a home garden in or near the Berkeley hills: a bit of the East Bay in Albuquerque.

Well, there's nothing wrong with either of those two things. I love the landscape of New Mexico, its sparse and harsh beauty, the vast expanse of sky. I also love my little patch of flowers, fruit trees, vegetables, and herbs.

Thanks be to God for all growing things.

A Neglected Saint

Sant Guilhèm dau Desèrt
(c) 2007 Paul E. Strid

It will be forty years ago this fall since I spent a semester in France, studying somewhat (I was majoring in French) and enjoying myself a great deal. I lived with the family of L'Intendant Général Jean F Urvoy, who was in charge of l'École Militaire d'Administration in Montpellier. I was blessed to travel about with the family and thus came one day to St-Guilhem-le-Desert, site of an abbey founded by one Guilhem. Over the door in my bedroom is a perfectly tacky and very inexpensive crucifix I purchased in a gift shop that day. To me it is sacred because it links me to this fascinating man.

Guilhem [I am using the Occitan spelling of his name] was the grandson of Charles Martel (yes, that one) and thus related to Charlemagne. He was Count of Toulouse and one of the noble warriors who held things together for Louis I, the Pious, a weak monarch who needed all the help he could get. Guilhem was defeated by the Saracens at the Orbieux River but it was a Pyrrhic victory and they lost their taste for conquest in France and withdrew to Spain. He later pursued and defeated them in Barcelona.

Guilhem donated land and had an abbey built in the valley of Gellone and later renounced his titles, divided his realm among his heirs, and became a monk. His exact relationship to St. Benedict of Aniane is complicated by later prestige wars between Aniane and Gellone. He was certainly acquainted with and probably inspired by Benedict, whether he was under obedience to him or not.

Thus the basics on the historical Guilhèm.

His image as a greater-than-life warrior flowered in a cycle of chansons de geste (namely, La Geste de Garin de Monglane) and he is known in this context as Guillaume d'Orange, though he had no historical link with that French city.

Over the past four decades I have often invoked St. Guilhèm, asking his prayers. When it seemed time to write a new icon I wondered which saint it should be. Guilhèm popped into my head since I had no image of him. So, in late May, I began, turning to the internet to refresh my memory.

There I found information on Guilhèm and photographs of Gellone and the later abbey that still stands there and serves as a parish church. Since he was Frankish, I gave him blond hair and blue eyes, but who knows? The Cross of Languedoc in the upper corners is the same as the arms of the counts of Toulouse and has strong emotional content for me since I loved the fierce pride of the southern French. The decoration on the border is adapted from decorative motifs in the Sacramentary of Gellone, a liturgical manuscript of historical interest. The abbey is in the background and the hills are modeled on those surrounding the valley (though from a very different angle than the view of the abbey).

What I was not prepared for was rummaging through dozens of boxes in my garage for one thing (which I did not locate) and coming across two term papers I wrote on Guilhèm during my graduate studies at UCLA. One was for a course in hagiography and another was literary analysis for a class in medieval French literature. This was just two days after beginning the icon. The papers reminded me that his feast is May 28, which was the following Monday.

I rather think Guilhèm wanted his image written and I had not chosen the theme of my icon at all. Fr. Christopher McLaren blessed it at St. Michael's church picnic last Sunday, his daughter graciously wielding the rosemary sprig to sprinkle it with holy water.

Here are the prayers I composed for the occasion (along with the common for a monastic):

A mighty prince relinquishes lands and titles;
A warrior of renown lays down his arms;
The defender of an earthly empire
Turns to a heavenly Kingdom.
Guilhèm forsakes all worldly fame
And follows the Savior into the desert,
Armed only with the Holy and Life-Giving Cross.
There he serves the Ruler of creation with all humility,
Conquers demons, and establishes a garden of virtues.
Bells on earth sing his ascent to Paradise;
“Tant fist en terre qu’es ciels est coronez.”*

* He did so much on earth that in heaven he was crowned.

O God, Defender of your people and hope of the faithful,
You gave your servant Guilhèm of Toulouse
To serve an earthly monarch and defend your Church.
Despising earthly honors, he reached out to Christ
That he might serve the Eternal King
And submitted to the yoke of monastic rule
That he might win a crown eternal in heaven.

Western Collect
O God, whose blessed Son became poor that we through his poverty might be rich: Deliver us from an inordinate love of this world, that we, inspired by the devotion of your servant Guilhèm, may serve you with singleness of heart, and attain to the riches of the age to come; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Holy Guilhèm, continue to pray for me, a sinner, and for us all.

Crossposted at Bearfeathers