Monday, April 30, 2012

Farm Journal: Getting Started in Gardening

A "Blast from the Past"
April 30, 2009

A sneak peek into an upcoming book about my experiences on the farm

Today, I finally took the plunge.  I went to Wedel’s Garden Store and bought some seedlings, tools (trowel, grabber, watering can), gloves, pots and soil for my little backyard garden.  The seedlings included:

2 regular tomatoes and 1 cherry tomato
green peppers

I spent $99 on this stuff but felt very satisfied that I was finally taking steps on this gardening project.  The women at Wedel’s were very helpful and I didn’t feel foolish for not knowing anything.  In fact, they seemed excited to find another rookie gardener.  They were very accommodating and anticipated my every need without being pushy or intent on making a sale.  Instead, I felt as though I were joining a club, the gardeners’ club, where people delight in growing things.  That will be an experience in itself. 

I have decided to learn how to garden because last year when I interviewed the urban gardeners of Detroit, they’d invariably asked me if I gardened.  All I could say was that I grew up with a garden in my backyard and my Dad had gardened all his life.  Not quite a direct answer.  I remember pulling weeds from time to time and enjoyed getting my hands dirty as well as feeling I was doing something productive.  Creating a garden—and just buying the seedlings—feels just like that.  I’m doing something good, concrete, productive—and the real kicker for me:  something that is part of an ancient human endeavor. 

Growing food is a way to live but it is also a luxury because it requires time, knowledge, space and clean, healthy soil, none of which is in huge supply these days.  I would learn that growing food is also a political statement because it means that I’m taking my own life—and my own health—in my hands instead of relying on a handful of huge, profit-oriented corporations to provide my food for me.  Gardening is an investment in my sustenance and in the Earth’s sustainability.  It is a way of getting around a food system that is more concerned with quantity than quality.  It also makes me more credible when I write articles on food and food justice issues.  In this way I transcend the abstractions and ideologies I’m used to in my capacity as a college professor and instead get down and dirty with the soil, the plants, the bugs, the hot sun, the sweat and the joys of eating tasty food.

Early on I recognized that my new venture in gardening is so significant that I decided to keep a record of my experiences as both a guide and an inspiration for other would-be gardeners.

overview of Sarah's Garden
a cistern sits in the center of Sarah's
octagonal garden in Mendon

My interest in gardening interest began in 2001 after I saw author Sarah Stewart’s amazing octagonal garden in Mendon, Michigan.  She had taken a field proclaimed “dead” by agricultural extension agents and turned it into a productive, beautiful, organic garden that not only fed her and her husband but provided fresh, home-grown fruits, vegetables and herbs for her friend who owned a gourmet bistro restaurant in town.  The garden also drew neighbors who were at first curious and then volunteered to work it in exchange for the fruits of its bountiful harvests.  Sarah’s garden had created a new community in the same way that the urban gardens of Detroit is “renewing, re-imagining and re-spiriting” the city.  The power that comes from growing things is something that has to be explored and recognized.  That is the reason I decided to learn how to garden and likewise, that is the purpose of this book. 

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Guest Essay: A Traveler's Take On Europe's Economic Crisis

by Rick Steves Huffington Post 

April 16, 2012

As I update my "Europe Through the Back Door" guidebook for next year, I'm trying to distill Europe's economic problems into layman's terms. I want to help travelers get their minds around the struggles there-giving their visit a little more context. It's dangerous to simplify these things, but for a guidebook, it needs to be simplified.

Here's my attempt at Euro Econ Crisis 101:

After seeing news reports of violent demonstrations, angry marchers, and frustrated workers rioting, some are wondering if this is still a good time to travel in Europe. I'm certainly not an economist. But here's my take on the situation from a travel writer's perspective.

When assessing the seriousness of any civil unrest, remember the mantra of commercial news these days: "If it bleeds, it leads." In the era of Walter Cronkite, network news contributed to the fabric of our society by providing solid journalism as a public service without worrying about their bottom line. But today, commercial TV news has to make a profit. In order to sell ads, it has become entertainment masquerading as news. Producers will always grab video footage that makes a demonstration appear as exciting or threatening as possible. Unrest is generally localized-it looks frightening with a zoom lens and much less so with a wide-angle shot.

And also remember that, while we in the U.S. and Europe may consider ourselves in an "economic crisis," the vast majority of people on this planet would love to have our economic problems. By any fair measure, as societies, both the U.S. and Europe are filthy rich. Still, if you're unemployed or if your retirement is suddenly in jeopardy, your times are, indeed, tough.

Europe's economic problems are much like ours here in the U.S. It seems on both sides of the Atlantic we've conned ourselves into thinking we are wealthier than we really are. Enjoying wild real estate bubbles, we've had houses that were worth half a million suddenly worth a million. Then, when they dropped in value by 50 percent, we felt like we'd lost half a million dollars or euros. Truth be told, we were never millionaires to start with, and what we "lost" we never honestly gained in the first place.

As societies, we've been consuming more goods than we've been producing for a long time. We import more than we export-and things are finally catching up with us. Here in the USA, our priorities are warped. Many of our best young minds are going to our finest schools to become experts in finance: Rearranging the furniture to skim off the top...aspiring to careers where you produce little while expertly working the system in hopes of becoming unimaginably rich. (Recently, surveying the extravagant châteaux outside Paris-such as Vaux-le-Vicomte-I was stuck by how many of them were the homes of financiers. Lately, the U.S. is reminding me of old regime France. It's striking that over 10 percent of the U.S.'s economy is tied up in the financial industry.)

Europeans and Americans have some of the most generous entitlements in the world combined with aging societies. Because of that, our comfortable status quo is not sustainable. Whenever a society gets wealthy and well-educated, it has fewer children. That's simply a force of nature. Western Europe, being one of the wealthiest and best educated parts of the world, logically has one of the lowest birth rates.

Europe's generous entitlements were conceived in a post-war society with lots of people working, fewer living to retirement, and those living beyond retirement having a short life span. That was problem. Now, with its very low birth rate, the demographic makeup of Europe has flipped upside down: relatively few people working, lots of people retiring, and those who are retired living a long time. The arithmetic just isn't there to sustain the lavish entitlements.

Politicians in Europe have the unenviable task of explaining to their citizens that they won't get the cushy golden years their parents got. People who worked diligently with the promise of retiring at 62 are now told they'll need to work an extra decade-and even then, they may not have a generous retirement waiting for them. Any politician trying to explain this reality to the electorate is likely to be tossed out, since people naturally seek a politician who tells them what they want to hear rather than the hard truth. And any austerity programs necessary to put a society back on track are also tough enough to get people marching in the streets.

I expect you'll see lots of marches and lots of strikes in Europe in the coming years as they try to recalibrate their economy. Europeans demonstrate: It's in their blood and a healthy part of their democracy. When frustrated and needing to vent grievances, they hit the streets. I've been caught up in huge and boisterous marches all over Europe, and it's not scary; in fact, it's kind of exhilarating. "La Manifestation!" as they say in France. All that marching is just too much exercise for many Americans. When dealing with similar frustrations, we find a TV station (on the left or right) that affirms our beliefs and then shake our collective fists vigorously.


When Europe united, the poor countries (Ireland, Portugal, Spain, and Greece) received lots of development aid from the rich ones (mostly Germany and France). I remember when there were no freeways in any of the poor countries. Now they are laced with German-style (and mostly German-funded) superhighways. These countries traded in their lazy currencies for the euro (which is, in a way, the mighty Deutschmark in disguise, as the European economy is driven and dominated by Germany).

It's no coincidence that the European countries that have received the most development aid are the ones who are the most debt-ridden and at risk of failing. Even with that aid, their productivity has lagged far behind the stronger economies. And, while their workforce doesn't produce as much per capita as German workers, they have a mighty currency tied to Germany. By earning wages and getting aid in euros, these nations enjoyed a false prosperity that they might not have merited-and the bursting real estate bubble made it worse. Before unity, if a nation didn't produce much and slid into crippling debt, the economy could be adjusted simply by devaluing that nation's currency. Today, there's no way to devalue the currency of a particular county on the euro, so this fix is not an option. It's much easier to get into the eurozone than to get out. (One of the biggest questions facing Europe today is: Can and should an economically weak country-namely Greece-leave the eurozone?)

Will Greece and other struggling economies within the E.U. be safe and stable places to visit as they work out these problems? No one can predict the future for certain. But, as a traveler, I don't worry about it. True, I wouldn't want to be a Greek worker counting on a retirement that may not come. But as a visitor, I expect you'll be scarcely aware of these problems. I was just in Greece and enjoyed a warm welcome, great food, and wonderful beaches. Expect a few demonstrations and a few strikes. Expect your loved ones to be worried about you if you are in a country when there's a demonstration. (So be in touch.) But you can also expect rich travel experiences and a society thankful that you decided to spend a slice of your vacation time and money in their country.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Travelogue: Southern Utah, Home of Spectacular National Parks

A bentonite hill, which is made up of ash layers from ancient volcanoes
 at Capitol Reef National Park

all photos by Olga Bonfiglio except those marked

Utah is no place for the faint of heart whether plant, animal, or human.  In this land of weathered rock amid sagebrush, yucca, cactus, juniper, cottonwoods and pinyon pine, travelers gain a new appreciation for wind and water’s role in shaping the landscape.

The majestic landforms of the Colorado Plateau will set your imagination on fire—along with the 100-degree dry heat—in Zion, Bryce Canyon and Capitol Reef National Parks. 

These parks offer visitors an uncanny beauty and an experience of nature’s “sculptures” that result from tremendous geological changes dating back 2 billion years ago—and counting.  

Rivers, seas and desert winds have shaped this land and you can witness the different geological eras at the canyons’ and cliffs’ outcroppings. 

The Colorado Plateau is a 130,000 square-mile swath covering the intersection of Utah, Colorado, New Mexico and Arizona.  Sixty-five million years ago the region experienced uplift, tilting, and erosion of rock layers to form the Grand Staircase, a series of colorful cliffs stretching from the Grand Canyon to Bryce Canyon and including the Waterpocket Fold in Capitol Reef.

But the landscape of the parks and surrounding areas, which are not crowded at all, will look familiar.  Of course, this was the land of the cowboys that you saw in the movies.  Walk on the land and you hear and feel the crunch of the scrubby plants underfoot, endless dust, the winding paths around the sweet-smelling sagebrush and haunting rock formations that used to be good hiding places for outlaws. 

But the desolation and silence of the desert also allow you to witness its majesty and enchantment as well as to feel an eerie connection to the Western pioneers, Native Americans, and prehistoric peoples who once settled or traversed this land.  It’s really much the same as they saw it.

The national parks in southern Utah preserve this natural landscape for you and millions of visitors, as they have been doing for about 100 years.

Zion National Park
Observation Point -- photo by Zion National Park
The area that became Zion National Park was largely ignored until 1908 when Leo A. Snow, a U.S. deputy surveyor from St. George, Utah, did a general land survey and suggested that the land here be set aside and preserved as a sanctuary for wildlife and natural and cultural resources found nowhere else on earth.  In 1919 Zion became a national park with the Kolob section added in 1937. 

This place got its name, meaning “place of refuge,” from Mormon pioneers who sought sanctuary after being kicked out of Illinois, Ohio and Missouri because of their “strange” religious beliefs.  The Children of Israel are an “Old Testament people,” says author Wallace Stegner, “inheritors of the blessings of the tribe of Joseph.”  Inspired by their prophet, Joseph Smith, and led by Brigham Young in 1846, they moved and settled in this “land that nobody wanted.”

Zion National Park
The biblical names in the park reflect the Mormon influence:  Court of the Patriarchs, the grotto at Angels Landing, Watchman Trail, Mt. Carmel Highway.  But whatever your religion, you’ll marvel at the wondrously high cliffs and deep valleys which have been cut by the slow-moving Virgin River—and God’s hand in nature. 

A single road through Zion’s canyons takes you on numerous switchbacks and a long dark tunnel through a mountain.  You’ll see yellow, red, white and green striped mesas (flat-topped mountain tops), long fingered rock formations, summits, and cathedrals.  Slickrock, huge blocks of smooth-surfaced, flat sedimentary rock (sandstone, mudstone, and siltstone), comprises the high cliffs and deliciously cool overhangs that shield you from the hot sun.  This rock is so soft you can rub it off with your finger.  Large, weather-beaten boulders will tickle your imagination into seeing animal and human shapes. 

Zion National Park
Indeed, human habitation on the Colorado Plateau has been sparse.  The earliest records of human life go back 10,000 years when the Paleo-Archaic Indians roamed this land.  The Anasazi People, the first permanent settlers here 2,000 years ago, lived in small, scattered farmsteads but left around 1300.  The land was not occupied until the Paiute People came 800 years ago.  On July 24, 1847, Brigham Young and the Mormons arrived

To get an overview of the park, take the road leading through it or the free shuttle that takes visitors on a 90-minute scenic tour stopping at trailheads, the Museum of Human History, Zion Lodge.  The shuttle goes in some places where cars may not go.

Bryce Canyon National Park 
Hoodoos at Bryce Canyon
In mountainous areas you generally look up at the scenery.  At Bryce Canyon, you look down—at the hoodoos, those pillars of rock that look like whimsical earthen obelisks. 

Sculpted by wind and nightly freezing desert temperatures, the hoodoos got their name from Native American lore where the coyote turned the evil people to stone.  The “painted” pink, white and red (iron), purple (manganese), and white (limestone) “faces” serve as evidence of the myth.

Hoodoo of Queen Victoria on the Queen's Way
Geologists say that 10 million years ago forces within the earth created and then moved the Table Cliffs and Papunsaugunt Plateaus.  Ancient rivers carved the colorful Claron limestones, sandstones and mudstones into thousands of spires, fins, pinnacles and mazes, and exposed the edges of these blocks creating the Paria Valley. 

Walk the Queen’s Way and you instantly get an idea of how the eroding winds work as you cover you eyes and close your mouth to protect yourself against the swirling airborne sandstone. 

Get tickets for a horse or mule ride through the canyon at the park’s lodge or two-hour or half-day tours through the various levels of the canyon floor and among these giant sand castles. 

I only stopped at Bryce Canyon on the way from Zion to Torrey, but you will want to spend more time at this incredible showcase.

Grand Staircase/Escalante

If you haven’t already gotten a sense of gigantism in southern Utah, you will if you take the blue highways from Zion to Bryce Canyon to Capitol Reef National Park.  Around the town of Escalante, this 200-mile trek winds through country that either looks like the Flintstone’s village or a huge rock garden. 

Boulders mix sparingly with vegetation and the mesas resemble altars to the gods.  You’ll suddenly notice that there are few traces of humanity in these parts except for a single power line or the road you’re driving.  You’ll feel humbled by your own smallness amid these open and desolate spaces and realize that Western-style individualism has been greatly mythologized.  No one could have survived these lands unless they worked together, which is what the Mormons did. 

Grand Staircase -- Escalante
Construction engineers who built these winding roads over immense expanses of sedimentary rock, must have marveled at these mountainous scenes, too.  (Some roads climb 300 feet at 6- to 8-degree grades.)  They have left a few scenic turnouts for travelers to stop and gaze at the yellow rock that looks like a moonscape with trees and sagebrush.

Huge stone piled onto stone offers a vista of endless scenery, one view more beautiful and more magnificent than the other.  Halfway to Torrey, you’ll see what look like gray beehives.  No, these landforms are not the origin of the state’s nickname, the symbol of the industrious Mormons.  These landforms are part of the Grand Staircase/Escalante, named after Fray Silvestre Velez de Escalante, a Spanish priest who accompanied Fray Francisco Atanasia Dominguez.  They traversed southwestern Utah in 1776 searching for a passable trail to Monterey, California. 

Grand Staircase -- Escalante
Drive further north and you see one more surprise:  Dixie National Forest.  This area features unusual green vegetation nestled among the yellow rock mountains.  You’ll see ranches with wire fences for cows and horses as well as signs for uniquely Western-style names:  Hell’s Backbone, Salt Gulch, Circle Cliffs, and Burr Trail. 

Nearing the 9,400-foot summit, you pass pine, spruce, Douglas fir and aspen trees and get an overview of the “staircase.”  So much greenery after all that rocky wilderness even inspires a few bicyclists to brave the steep heights.

Capitol Reef National Park

"Dome" formations look like U.S. Capitol Building -- photo by Planetware
Capitol Reef allows you to interact with millions of years of geologic history and thousands of years of human history at the same time. 

The 100-mile long Waterpocket Fold formed when the Pacific Ocean plate bumped into the North American continent about 65 million years ago and created the Rocky Mountains.  About 200 million years ago, the ocean layed down red and later gray sediments. 

Other remnants of geologic activity are the black boulders scattered over the land 20 to 30 million years ago.  They came from the lava flows of the volcanic Boulder Mountain 50 miles away.  Glaciers later eroded them. 

Round holes of many sizes line the rock walls.  This “honeycomb weathering” formed by the circular motion of tidal flats, sometimes gouged out caves due to the uneven density of the rock. 

The park features layered multi-hued cliffs, soaring spires, twisting canyons, graceful arches and stark monoliths that inspired the Native Americans to call this area the “Land of the Sleeping Rainbow.”  The white sandstone domes (prehistoric sand dunes) resemble the dome of the Capitol Building in Washington.  Hence, the park’s name

Temple of the Moon (L) and the Sun (R) in Cathedral Valley of Capitol Reef
The geologic history of Capitol Reef provides an unforgettable experience of the land.  However, to gather the unique spiritual quality of this place, take the unpaved road to Cathedral Valley where you’ll find the Temples of the Sun and Moon.  These stately, stone monoliths give you a feeling of permanence in much the same way cathedrals do in a city.  Their awesome power amid the dense quiet of the desert puts you in an altered state of mind as you gaze on the dry and dusty world around you.  The bumpy road to get there allows you to move only 20 miles an hour and requires a high-clearance or a four-wheel-drive vehicle.  Tours on the road are available in Torrey.

Dinosaurs once roamed this area and you can easily find traces of them in the gastropods scattered around the Morrison rock.  Gastroliths are smooth, round rocks the dinosaurs ingested and excreted much like the chickens do with their gizzard stones. 

You will find Devil’s toenails, too, which provide more evidence of the ocean that once covered the land.  The “toenails” are petrified seashells much like fossils only without the rock around them.  However, park rangers ask that souvenir hunters pick up these geological gems only outside the park.  And there’s plenty of them.

Pictographs at Capitol Reef National Park

One exciting link to the human history at Capitol Reef is through the petroglyphs (etched) and the pictographs (painted) on canyon walls.  They give you a glimpse of the Fremont People who lived here from 700 to 1250 A.D.  Their mainstay was bighorn sheep, which they proudly displayed with trapezoid-like images of themselves.  The park provides free interpretive tours of this ancient artwork but make friends with the locals who can take you to see other groups of them outside the park.

“Hobbit Land” is another place outside the park that the locals can show you.  In sight of Boulder Mountain, the largest flat-topped mountain in the United States, these globular red rocks are good for climbing for experts and novices alike.  Moving about them invites you to “commune” with the land by becoming a part of it—literally.  Wear your old clothes, though, when you climb these rocks.  The soft Entrada sandstone that rubs off on you is impossible to remove.

Capitol Reef also features a look into the Mormon culture that was established in 1879 along the Fremont River (also called the Dirty Devil).  First known as Junction and nicknamed “the Eden of Wayne County,” the Fruita settlement flourished through irrigation of sorghum (for syrup and molasses), vegetables and alfalfa.  The orchards which were famous a hundred years ago still stand today with a variety of apples, apricots, peaches, pears, plums, English and black walnuts and almonds.  Eight to 10 large families sustained this community until the late 1960s when the Park Service purchased Fruita property.   

Travelers can visit Fruita’s one-room schoolhouse, which also served as a town hall and church from 1884 until 1941.  In 1900 the public schools adopted the building until it closed in 1941 due to lack of students. 

If you go:
You can best get to Utah’s national parks by flying to Las Vegas or Salt Lake City and renting a car. 

Warning:  Drink a lot of water, bring sun block and wear a hat.  There is little cloud cover in Utah, which provides protection from the hot sun.  The mornings and evenings are cool enough for a light jacket.

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Chernobyl....What CAN Go Wrong

Crippled nuclear reactor at Chernobyl

Twenty-six years ago today, reactor number 4 at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the Ukrainian Republic of  the Soviet Union experienced a catastrophic explosion.  The resulting catastrophe proved to be the worst nuclear disaster in history.  It spread radioactive contamination across much of Europe and western Russia and resulted in the resettlement of thousands of people away from the contaminated areas.

The safety of nuclear power was called into question as a result of the accident and development of new nuclear power plants slowed considerably as a result.

Photos of the abandoned city of Pripayat (former top-secret port for Soviet submarines) near the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant where everything just stopped that day and everyone evacuated


Anthony Bourdain of the Travel Channel visits Chernobyl

Tony and friend Zamir Gotta team up for a trip to the former Soviet Republic, the Ukraine. They tour Chernobyl and the radiated ghost town of Pripayat, explore a once top-secret port for Soviet submarines, drink vodka and enjoy green borscht.  (Season 7, Episode 14)

See the video
(Chernobyl is 2 minutes into the video, please pardon the 30-second commercial)

What I gathered from Chernobyl… literally


by Josh Ferrell, Associate Producer -- "No Reservations" Crew Blog  

August 15, 2011

Visiting Chernobyl was a very sad and scary experience.  I think I can speak for the whole crew when I say that if we were just visiting Ukraine on vacation, we would not have gone there. For the sake of the show, we decided to check out the power plant and the town down the road, Prypiat. Our guide, Sergey, gave us a long list of do’s and don’ts while filming in the Prypiat area. Most of them were don’ts.  Don’t touch anything.  Don’t wander off any paved roads.  Don’t let any leaves or branches touch you.  Don’t walk on or kick any moss that’s on the ground.  Don’t eat or drink outside our vehicles.  Bottom line: watch what you’re doing.

Not ten minutes after Sergey repeated these instructions, he led us down a dirt path surrounded by bushes and trees with low hanging branches.  We tried our best not to touch the branches, but we all ended up touching leaves and shrubs, and a few of us even got smacked with branches. Our guide told us to be sure to wash our clothes a few times before wearing them again. But for peace of mind, once we returned to our hotel, I, like everyone else on the crew, threw away the clothes I was wearing, as well as my shoes.

Recalling the tragedy that was Chernobyl is spooky enough, but actually visiting ground zero and the surrounding areas of the nuclear disaster will leave a lasting impression on anyone who visits.  And apparently, a lot of people visit. When we were leaving Prypiat, we noticed more vans coming into the secured area.  Those vans turned out to be tour vans, filled with tourists mostly from Russia and Eastern Europe taking pictures of everything around them.  I knew they weren’t journalists because most were dressed in Euro-trash-themed clothing and nearly all had disposable and pocket-sized digital cameras.  It seems that one way to make money to help build a new sarcophagus over the old sarcophagus that covers Reactor Number 4 is to charge money to explore the grounds of one of the biggest man-made disasters of all time.

After packing up our equipment, we drove beyond the 30-kilometer security perimeter, back to habitable grounds.  We pulled over at the first convenience shop we saw to get water and snacks for everyone. It was a dim lit, mostly empty space, with a few bare shelves, but they did have water.  However, instead of necessities that you would normally find in your neighborhood store, this place predominately had merchandise.  Chernobyl merchandise.  T-shirts, coffee mugs, calendars, the list goes on. All of which read “CHERNOBYL 4-26-86” with the universal sign for radioactivity replacing the “O” in Chernobyl.  It almost felt like a scene out of Spaceballs.  “Chernobyl the lunchbox, Chernobyl the breakfast cereal, Chernobyl the Flame Thrower- the kids love this one.”  So I did what any late-twenties American would do.  I bought as much stuff as I could carry.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Celebrating Earth Day through Eco-Spirituality

This article appeared in the Huffington Post on Sunday, April 22 and in Energy Bulletin on Monday, April 23

Nature has always held a prominent place in Sister Virginia (Ginny) Jones’ life.

Growing up on Long Island, she grew to love and study the salt marsh flora.  While in high school and later in college, she taught in a summer program about the area’s marine and shore systems for elementary school children and teachers.  

These days, as an environmentalist and religious woman, she has worked to bring God and Nature together to promote what she calls “eco-spirituality.”

Eco-spirituality is about helping people experience “the holy” in the natural world and to recognize their relationship as human beings to all creation, she said.

However, eco-spirituality isn’t just a philosophy or a prayerful way of life.  For Sister Ginny, it has been a passionate call to action.

After she joined the Sisters of St. Joseph in 1968, Sister Ginny served as an environmental science instructor at Nazareth College (near Kalamazoo, Michigan).

Two years later she helped host Kalamazoo’s first Earth Day celebration on the Nazareth campus. 

“During that first Earth Day event tours were held and visits were made to a number of ‘polluted’ sites around the city, many of which are now designated as super fund sites,” she said.  “The water in Portage Creek was almost white in color and although we did not know exactly what was wrong, it was clear that something was very wrong.”

However, as a woman of deep faith and big ideas, Sister Ginny had her eye on a 60-acre pristine stream and wetland located in a valley on the Nazareth property.  In 1973, armed with a bulldozer and several students from the College, she created a hands-on classroom project where they built a pathway leading into the valley, mapped out trails and planted trees.  They turned the land into the Bow in the Clouds Preserve, which traverses a pristine stream and wetland.  Later on, several Boy Scouts added a 1,000-foot boardwalk system as part of their Eagle Scout badge project. 

The name of the preserve comes from the Bible (Genesis 9:13) where God set a “bow in the clouds” as a sign of the new covenant between Him and the Earth. 

Sister Ginny has been the preserve’s lead caretaker, however in July 2007 after several years of negotiations, the Congregation of St. Joseph transferred Bow in the Clouds to the Southwest Michigan Land Conservancy, which protects the preserve and its natural qualities from development in perpetuity. 

“We want the public to use it for what we call ‘re-creation,’” said Sr. Ginny.  “We know many people today are separated from religious tradition, and we respect that. We also know that before formal religion existed, people encountered something of the holy in the natural world. And that something—that peace, solitude and wisdom—is what we believe people can still find here.”

In 1990 after several years as an administrator at the College and the sisters’ hospital, Sister Ginny’s own love of Nature took a new turn:  she established the Eco-Spirituality Center at the Transformations Spirituality Center on the Nazareth campus.  The Eco-Spirituality Center offers programs designed to increase environmental awareness and teach people to live in harmony with Nature.

On the side, Sister Ginny taught environmental studies for Western Michigan University and Sienna Heights University; she also planned, coordinated, and directed many environmental activities including local and statewide conferences on Christianity and ecology.

One of the outgrowths of this work is Sister Ginny’s latest and most ambitious project:  the Manitou Arbor Ecovillage.   

“We are forming a community of people who want to demonstrate how to live with the natural environment,” said Sister Ginny.

Manitou Arbor is an “intentional community,” part of a worldwide trend where people come together to share responsibilities and resources, witness a common vision and create an alternative society.  Ecovillages typically have a particular focus.  Manitou Arbor’s is one of sustainability, community and spirituality, which is reflected in its name. 

“Manitou” is the native peoples’ term for Spirit where they believed in the inter-relationship of humanity and Nature, spirit and matter, the individual and the cosmos and the care for the Earth and each other.  “Arbor” means tree.  It is an archetypal symbol where its roots spread deep into the body of Mother Earth and its branches reach upward like praying hands.

The ecovillage will sit on 40 acres organized in an oval.  Four “apartment-style” units, which are connected to the community center building, are planned as well as 50 detached single family or duplex units that will use a variety of earth-friendly as well as energy- and material-efficient construction techniques.

Sister Ginny and a team of ecovillage founders are also exploring residents’ access to the adjacent 230 acres that is home for a diverse wildlife community in a mature forest of hardwoods and conifer trees with a creek, wooded paths leading to a lake and agricultural fields open to organic and/or biodynamic farming.

In a way, Manitou Arbor represents Sister Ginny’s ultimate wish:  make Earth Day an every day affair.

“I would really like to see Earth Day become the kind of consciousness that focuses on our relationship to the natural world and to this Earth that we all live on,” she said.  “It reminds us of how much we benefit from a healthy planet and how much we can do to make it healthier for the benefit of all of us.”











Historical Background of Earth Day

The early 1970s was a heady time when the nation turned its focus on the environment.  Publication of Rachel Carson's New York Times bestseller Silent Spring in 1962 represented a watershed moment in public awareness and concern for living organisms, the environment and public health.

At the time, Americans drove huge, gas-guzzling V8 sedans, industry belched out smoke and sludge and people accepted air pollution as the smell of prosperity.

After witnessing the ravages of the massive 1969 oil spill in Santa Barbara, California, Senator Gaylord Nelson (D-Wisconsin) wanted to raise more public consciousness about air and water pollution to force environmental protection onto the national political agenda.

With the help of Rep. Pete McCloskey (R-California), Senator Nelson announced the idea for a “national teach-in on the environment” with Denis Hayes, an environmental activist and proponent of solar power, as coordinator for the first Earth Day.

Earth Day1970 achieved rare political of support among Democrats and Republicans, rich and poor, urban and rural dwellers, industrialists and labor leaders.  Then, 20 million Americans took to the streets, parks, and auditoriums across the country to demonstrate for a healthy, sustainable environment.

The first Earth Day led to the passage of the Clean Air, Clean Water, and Endangered Species Acts and the creation of the United States Environmental Protection Agency.