Archive for September, 2019

September 27, 2019

Build the Universe

by Cynthia

On a summer morning

I sat down

on a hillside

 to think about God-

 a worthy pastime.

 Near me, I saw

 a single cricket;

it was moving the grains of the hillside

this way and that way.

How great was its energy,

how humble its effort.

Let us hope

It will always be like this,

 each of us going on

In our inexplicable ways

building the universe.

 Mary Oliver

We are all building the universe, one grain, one life, one moment at a time.  Freudrick Buechner’s famous line, “all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace” came to mind one morning when I was sweeping cobwebs from the ceiling corners on the front porch. Fog gathered in the cedar trees below the yard like sheets of grey chiffon. The mist crept up the hillside and enveloped the house as I gulped deep full breaths of cool air. Then the entire house was shrouded in mist, literally consumed by the fog. Vision faded and time suspended. This was a key moment, full of grace and wonder. Moments like this remind me why we left the city and moved into the rural countryside.

One unfortunate consequence of the culture war our nation is embroiled in is that an artificial divide has been erected between urban and rural people. Prejudices and misunderstanding abound, fed by the red/blue political maps of our bifurcated republic. Rural folks don’t all run around in red MAGA hats. We are not uneducated. Many of us have chosen to live in rural communities because we value an agrarian lifestyle, or we seek self-reliance, or we value open space over the conveniences of city life.

Most people in the world do not have a choice about where to live, or what to eat, but for those of us who do, we have a responsibility to be deliberate, to think about how our choices affect the future of the planet and those who come after us.

I haven’t had the guts to review the results of the latest United Nations Climate Action Summit, but news reports of the summit are peppered with words like “dire” and “irreversible”. Unbelievably, the political leaders of the most powerful nations seem more concerned with political power and financial wealth than addressing the urgent warnings of the world’s scientific community concerning the health of the planet. The president of the United States is the chief offender.

Ecocide. There’s a scary new word for the lexicon. The traditional take on the demise of the Easter Island population is that the islanders cut down all their trees to make statues and in so doing, committed ecocide. A more scientific take on the tragedy suggests that a proliferation of rats destroyed the trees. The islanders had no trees, and therefore no boats, but they learned to live on rat meat, until being killed off by STDs introduced by Europeans. Either way, its a grim tale, a possible metaphor for our modern times.

 Will we make our world uninhabitable as world leaders refuse to take action, preferring instead to brawl over their little pockets of power?  It’s like fighting over space on the deck of a sinking ship, instead of grabbing a bucket to bail water.

Whether or not we are near the tipping point on climate change, we are building the universe, and the universe is getting mighty hot and crowded. What we do does matter. Each plant we grow in our garden, each jug we recycle, each time we pass up that pineapple in the grocery store and buy an apple from the farmer’s market instead,we build the universe for the better.

September 22, 2019


by Cynthia

It’s French for “again.” We yell it when we want the band to keep playing, when we want the night not to end, when we want more of something good. I’m about to board a plane to return home after a short vacation with a dear friend, and I definitely want an encore on the last four days!

Perhaps this blog will get an encore. My blogging endeavor got buried in 2015 under the leaf-cover of my life: an aged parent, graduate school, grandchildren, and a diagnosis of granulosa cell tumor for our daughter Bethany.

It’s almost autumn and the black walnuts are dropping their fruit, the big greenorbs crashing onto the metal roof of our house before rolling into the gutters where they will be retrieved and cached by the squirrels. The leaves of the Osage orange trees are beginning to curl, the weeds in the pastures grow golden and stiff. The seasonal revolutions of the Tennessee countryside provide a meaningful, if occasionally inadequate, compensation for the humidity of August and the gray dampness of winter.

A cancer diagnosis is like a nightmarish storm that descends out of nowhere, terrifies you and creates havoc, then passes on. It is difficult to stop yourself from continually searching the sky afterwards for storm clouds.  We are all learning about living in the present. You can read Bethany’s moving account of her experience at

When life seems to tilt askew as it does when someone you love is suffering, the rhythms of the natural world can feel like a comforting reassurance. Things will be okay. Life goes on, the earth keeps turning and God will nudge the sun up over the horizon tomorrow.

2019 is winding down with my MFA in hand, my parent still with us, and Bethany recovering from chemotherapy. The environment is not faring as well. The world is hotter, dirtier, and Trump has another year to gut environmental protections for our air, water, and wild spaces. One must look for good news and peek under the covers of the headlines. One must tune one’s inner radio to the Joy Channel.

Up your hopefulness factor by checking out the

Good News Network


You’ll find a story about a scientist in Mexico, Sandra Pascoe Ortiz, who is developing a biodegradable plastic from the juice of the nopal catcus. Her new plastic degrades in soil in one month, and when submerged in water, degrades in a matter of days. Best of all, if it makes its way to the ocean, and is consumed by a sea creature or bird, it will not hurt them, unlike our current plastics which kill close to 100,000 sea animals and over a million seabirds each year.

Maybe our planet will get an encore if enough of us decide to change the way we inhabit it.

Richard Powers wrote the 2019 Pulitzer Prize winner for fiction, Overstory. Powers’s novel explores the ways that trees heal themselves, how they share information, how they regenerate, and how they are essential to human survival. The trees know things we are still struggling to learn. Bradford Murrow says,

“Richard Powers’s novel will complicate the way you think about the environment, activism, our gossamer connection with each other and nature…”.

I can’t think of anything more needed in our country right now than for someone to “complicate” the way we think about the environment. We need to be jolted into action. We need to be awakened to the sacredness of the natural world and our dependence on its health for our own.