Wednesday, August 24, 2016



What a great long summer we’ve had, say the California grey whales.  Hanging out in Alaska’s Bering Sea, sun hardly sets, all that time to eat.  We can gulp a ton of yummy amphipods every day from the muddy bottom – we put on ten tons every summer! 

But now comes fall.  We can sense the days getting shorter, the water colder.  As the ice pack forms, soon there will be less to eat.

So it’s time to hit the road and head south on our annual 12,000 mile round trip to the lagoons of Baja.  We’ll swim on down the coast, occasionally spyhopping to check our location.  Come November we’ll flip our tales to the folks in Monterey.  And then right after the New Year we’ll cruise on into the Baja lagoons just in time to have our babies in those safe warm waters.  A couple of winter months in Mexico - pretty nice.  Gives those babies time to put on some insulating blubber and then off we’ll head north again, back to those teeming Alaskan seas.  Not much eating while we swim, so we drop those ten tons on the trip, but next summer - bring on the amphipods!

For us humans it may still feel like summer, but all kinds of migrators – whales, birds, bugs, fish - are getting ready to move.  Scientists call it “zugunruhe,” in German, the urge to move, a restlessness that even caged birds show in spring and fall.  Triggered by changing light, need for food or safe breeding grounds, or just some old zugunruhe, animals are beginning to hit the road.

This animal is preparing for departure too.  In ten days I leave on my every other year pilgrimage to Romanesque churches in France.  I don’t feel especially restless - I am actually a little torn to leave my home so recently saved from fire.  But I do feel the urge to move back to my familiar nesting grounds in Vezelay, Burgundy  - it’s my 6th visit there, retreating and singing with the nuns and monks.  I’ll also visit some new feeding grounds in the Limagne and Brionnais regions.  (Mixed metaphor – I made a general list of Romanesque churches, like a life list for birders – I’ll be adding 13 very fine specimens to my total.) 

Like the whales I will be travelling 12,000 miles round trip, SFO to Paris. And as with them, it’s a clear call – the time is right to set out on this new yet familiar route.  (Unlike them, I won’t be losing any weight on this long journey!)  And though I’m not returning with a baby, I know my spirit will be born anew, as it is on every pilgrimage, as I walk with fellow pilgrims, pray in deep crypts, listen amid the beauty. My theme this time: history, mystery, simplicity.

I’ll be posting periodically from the road.  Bon Voyage et bonne route, aux baleines et au moi.

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

A Careful Inventory

A Careful Inventory

The wind and waves roared on Asilomar Beach as the teen scientists carefully measured with calipers the dozens of tiny sand crabs they had dug up from the beach.  First a little squeamish, by the end of the afternoon the five teams were enthusiastically collecting, counting, measuring, determining gender, and recording data.  All for the glory of God.

I’m back to writing about Blue Theology, after returning home to our house mercifully unburnt by the Soberanes Fire.  Thanks for all good wishes and prayers.

When I last wrote about our ocean ministry, on July 20, I told of our week of hosting 90 teens from Central Coast Catholic parishes who live in migrant labor camps.  How their Blue Theology backpacks identified them as pilgrims following God’s call to ocean stewardship and spirituality.  The pic showed a group spending the morning at the Aquarium.

Each afternoon we walked back to the church, got on the school bus and rode to Asilomar Beach for the “serving” part of our “learning/serving” day.  Sometimes our groups do beach cleanups or native plant restoration, but today we affirmed that God loves research (“God gave us brains for a reason and is glad when we use them” is how I put it) and our mission project was “citizen science.”

In particular we were trained by the great folks at LiMPETS ( “Long-term Monitoring Program and Experiential Training for Students”) on how to survey the distribution and abundance of Pacific sand crabs.  Scientists call these tiny herbivores an “indicator species” because they indicate a beach ecosystem’s health. We learned how to identify male and female crabs, measure them and distinguish moms with eggs.  Females like this one in the picture lay 45,000 eggs each year and live for 2-3 years.  Our good baseline data will help other scientists studying the effects of oil spills or ocean acidification on invertebrates and ecosystems.  LiMPETS has trained thousands of students to collect this data up and down California’s coast in partnership with National Marine Sanctuaries.  

So we had fun, did the research and ran around on the sand.  But as we returned to the church for the closing worship to be led by the Diocesan staff, I had a nagging worry that we had not made explicit the connection between measuring sand crabs and giving glory to God.

The religious education staff person leading worship used quotations from Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment and climate change, “Laudato Si.”  She had students come forward and read.  One was:

“Because all creatures are connected each must be cherished with love and respect for all of us as living creatures are dependent on one another.  Each area is responsible for the care of this family.  This will require undertaking a careful inventory of the species which it hosts, with the view to developing programs and strategies of protection with particular care for safeguarding species heading towards extinction.”

There was the connection!  We had made “a careful inventory!” This “indicator species” was indicating that it was part of a common family of mutually dependent living creatures.  God loves sand crabs and is happy when we do too.  I once heard NIH Director/geneticist and Evangelical Christian Dr. Francis Collins say that doing research was for him a form of worship. Data and sand crabs, for the glory of God.

( for info on our learning/service groups – openings still for late summer and fall.)

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Nature Shrieks

Nature Shrieks

I am relieved and grateful to be home again after 18 days as a fire refugee, but the Soberanes wildfire still rages on to the south and east, today threatening the Big Sur Valley.

A therapist neighbor says we are a community of both relief and grief.  Some of us are home, cleaning up fire gel on the outside and smoke on the inside.  But others are sifting through the blackened debris of their houses and their lives. 

And people in Big Sur still wait and watch.  And listen.

For the roar of fire.

Edvard Munch titled this painting in German “Der Schrei der Natur,” “The Scream of Nature.”  In Norwegian he called it “Skrik,” meaning “shriek,” a more pained and searing sound than what we usually call “The Scream.”

Nature shrieks.

One of the six “Ecojustice Principles” of the wise and deep “Earth Bible” series is “The Principle of Voice: Earth is a subject capable of raising its voice in celebration and against injustice.”

Nature makes all kinds of noises.  Deep calls to deep.  All creation is groaning as in childbirth.   

But the noise I’m hearing from this fire and seeing in this painting is a shriek of pain.   We humans treat nature as an object, not a subject.  We stab the landscape with the destructive forces of climate change, drought, overpopulation, a careless and cruel attitude of ownership and objectification.  (I’m talking about you, hikers who started the fire, but we’ve all set the dry stage for worldwide wildfires.)

This fire is a shriek of pain from the land.

Munch wrote about this painting, “One evening I was walking along a path, the city was on one side and the fjord below. I felt tired and ill. I stopped and looked out over the fjord—the sun was setting, and the clouds turning blood red. I sensed a scream passing through nature; it seemed to me that I heard the scream. I painted this picture, painted the clouds as actual blood. The color shrieked. I stood there trembling with anxiety – and I sensed an infinite scream passing through nature.

Nature is loud and has something to say.  Sometimes the trees of the field clap their hands in joy.  But today to me she sounds sad and mad.

My Wednesday Blue Theology postings have been Red for the past few weeks, red fire, red blood shed by the dead firefighter, red sorrow, red rage.  I do really want to get back to the sea again, to the call of the running tide.  The ocean also roars. 

Fire and water are still speaking. Maybe my job for now is to pay attention.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Watching and Waiting

Watching and Waiting

I’m looking at a lot of fire maps these days.

<> posts daily all kinds of maps of the Soberanes Fire, now almost two weeks old, 40,000+ acres and growing.

We fire refugees begin each day in our exile staring compulsively at the infrared topo maps, briefing maps, operations maps, situations maps, elevation maps, day by day expansion maps, dozer maps, weather maps, Google Earth.

We locate our little spot.  We follow the curve in Palo Colorado Road that shows the bottom of Murray Grade, the black dot that’s our Mid-Coast Fire Station, the blue creek line and the black topo lines.  We find where we think our house is.  Where it still is, we are told.

Very near the house was a bold red line for ten days, which meant active fire.  Yesterday for the first time that section of the line was black, contained.  Only 18% of the line around the huge fire is black.

Then we zoom out and see where it’s growing, over ridges, jumping firelines, hot spots.  We learn new geography names, White Rock Dip, Mescal Ridge.

This NASA map from space shows what they call the “burn scar.”   The weird green around the burn scar is obviously not “accurate” – it looks like a lush Eden, but the officials at our fire meetings say that our actually grey and brown landscape, steep granite and chaparral, is the hardest terrain they’ve even seen to fight a wildfire.

We’re a little frozen in our waiting and watching.  We stare, we wonder, we check the maps again.

Ron’s reading Evelyn Waugh’s novel trilogy about WWII.  I’m reading Marcus Borg’s novel about teaching religion.  Then I check the maps again.

We feel helpless, grateful, worried, accepting, lucky, mad, tired, displaced.

I keep thinking of watchers.  Can you not watch with me but one hour, ye watchers and ye holy ones, as for me I will watch expectantly, set up a watchtower.

We’re watching and waiting.