Thursday, July 26, 2012

Oh How I Wish It Would Rain

Thank God for the rain last night!

This summer has brought to mind the Temptations' 1967 hit song.

However, this is no joke.  Here are just a few horrendous stories about the drought.  Please add yours in comments below.

* In the dead of night, people are leaving their horses at farms that have hay because they can't feed them.

* Farmers who raise hay are storing it because they know there will be a shortage this winter to feed animals and they can command a higher price.

* Farmers will be faced with selling off or slaughtering livestock because they won't have enough hay or grain to feed them.

* Hundreds of acres of corn in southwest Michigan are burned and wasted.

* Before it rained last week southwest Michigan went 40 days without rain.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Guest Essay from 1986: Women in the Church Since Vatican II

by Mother Mary Luke Tobin, SL
America Magazine
November 1, 1986

The end of the second session of the Second Vatican Council, Cardinal Leo Jozef Suenens of Belgium asked his fellow bishops: "Why are we even discussing the reality of the church when half of the church is not even represented here?" This provocative question, midway through a council that was then totally male, was a breakthrough that prodded council members to invite a few "token" women to the ensuing sessions.

My own experience as one of the 15 women "auditors" originally invited to Vatican II gives me a particular vantage point from which to view the struggles of Roman Catholic women in the United States since the council.

This emerging women's movement in the Roman Catholic Church has captured attention worldwide because it is challenging an intransigent and patriarchal tradition of that church and is making serious headway toward its goal: restoring the equality in theory and practice that belongs to a Christian and Catholic theology of persons.

The Vatican II Pastoral Constitution “The Church in the Modem World" stated, "With respect to the fundamental rights of the person, every type of discrimination, whether social or cultural, whether based on sex, race, color, social condition, language or religion, is to be overcome and eradicated as contrary to God's intent" (No. 29). Although one may say that the document speaks from a negative position, sometimes a negative approach serves to point out the contradictions latent in an unaddressed problem. The insight into "what's right" often follows from an intuition of 'what's wrong."

Today we readily accept the sociological theory that persons experiencing injustice have the best insights into their plight. Had the bishops of the council understood the injustices in the church's attitude toward and treatment of women, and had they possessed this sociological knowledge, perhaps they would have included a wide spectrum of women in their deliberations.

I was invited to Vatican II as the result of a particular position I had in those years. I had been newly elected as president of the Conference of Major Superiors of Women, now known as the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.

That women auditors were at the council--only 15 of us were invited from as many countries-was at least an important first step. And there was the further valuable insight of a council theologian, Bernard Haring, C.SS.R., that if women were invited, they should have a place in the commissions formulating the documents. As a result, some were invited to attend commission meetings. There we were allowed to speak as freely as we wished, and each of us did speak. Although we did not create a countervailing current turning around the attitude toward women, our presence was noticed immediately by the press, and at least a few bishops began to see the problems more clearly.

There was some effort within the Commission on the Church in the Modem World to take a stand for women by recognizing the prevailing discrimination against them.

I recall vividly a question asked of Rosemary Goldie, an auditor from Australia, during one of the sessions of this commission: One of the authors of the commission's document, in the process of constructing a statement about women, read a flowery and innocuous sentence to the commission members for their consideration. When he had finished, he noticed that the women present were unimpressed. "But, Rosemary," he said, addressing the intelligent and able Rosemary Goldie, "why don't you respond happily to my praise of women and what they have contributed to the church?"

Pressed for a response, Rosemary answered: "You can omit all those gratuitous flowery adjectives, the pedestals and incense, from your sentence. All women ask for is that they be recognized as the full human persons they are, and treated accordingly." I do not believe that to this day the bishops who were present then have understood what Rosemary meant to convey. This episode represents to me the state of ignorance of the problem at the time of Vatican II.

I was grateful for Rosemary's presence at the commission, and have publicly asked audiences many times since how long it will be until the official church realizes the deprivation and impoverishment it suffers by excluding from its deliberations representatives from half its constituency.

For me, Vatican II was an opening, although just a tiny crack in the door, to a recognition of the vast indifference toward women and the ignoring of their potential within the whole body of the church.

What has happened since?

In addition to the recognition of the problem by Vatican II, other elements have also contributed to the state of women in the church today.

1. The women's movement has grown, especially here in the United States. While it is true that there has been progress in overcoming patriarchy, yet in a situation of such urgency, what remains to be done looms very large ahead of us. The years since the early 1970's have seen steady progress as women's groups began to include women's issues in their agenda. Both laywomen and women religious give daily evidence of this raised consciousness.

2. Religious orders of women, since Vatican II, have developed collegial and personalist insights and practices. Perhaps one way to summarize this development is to recall the experience of one religious community, the Sisters of Loretto, to which I belong. As part of my book, Hope Is an Open Door, I described this evolution in religious life by relating the Loretto experience immediately after Vatican II. While this is specific to one group, it fairly typifies the development in most religious communities of women.

I listed those changes which I believe prepared the educational process for sisters to become conscious of the contradiction between what they were experiencing as women increasingly aware of discrimination, and the reality in the church.

"What were some of the specific changes? Although it is difficult to attempt a summary, I can suggest some highlights. A first insight had to do with the importance of a new way of setting value on the human person, within the context of faith and the world. Recent psychological, sociological and philosophical insights had influenced this concept. That perception led to an emphasis on the priority of persons over institutions, the value of each person's full participation in decisions affecting her and, flowing from this, each person's responsibility to seek justice in the world.

‘Further, as each individual deepened in her self-appreciation and played a greater part in decision-making, the community itself became better able to hear and to respond to the call for justice within a faith dimension.

"Protest experiences against U. S. participation in the Vietnam War, the escalation of the arms race, racism, etc. helped individuals and the community to illustrate that action for justice is a constituent element of the Gospel."

3. A number of outstanding women have emerged as theologians and biblical scholars. Through biblical and anthropological research, several remarkable women scholars are uncovering new data regarding women in history, Scripture and the early church community. The scholarship of these theologians is winning acclaim in theological circles.

For example, Rosemary Ruether, in Sexism and God Talk, states unequivocally: "Whatever diminishes, denies or distorts the full humanity of women does not reflect the divine and therefore is not redemptive; by the same token, whatever promotes the full humanity of women is 'of the Holy.'" Feminist theology, Dr. Ruether points out, is not unique in claiming this principle, but is startling in the fact that women are now claiming this principle for themselves.

4. In the middle to late 1970's, there was a great push for women's ordination on the part of many Catholic women. But by the 1980's, the enthusiasm had waned. As women became more conscious of a rigidity and oppressiveness apparent in the clerical state and the inflexibility of patriarchal structures and spirit, they became disaffected and lost their earlier enthusiasm. A new interest in women's liturgies and feminist theology sparked a desire to develop more collegial ways of worship on their own. Thus the concept of "Woman Church" emerged.

According to Rosemary Ruether, this missing feminist element must, after experimentation, be included in the whole church.

5. Organizations of women in the church, especially the Leadership Conference of Women Religious (L.C.W.R.), have grown in strength. Shortly after Vatican II, the L.C.W.R began an important educational program for its members with a view to furthering among U.S. sisters the developments of the council. Through the years, the L.C.W.R program has included ways to develop collegiality and solidarity; the promotion of post-Vatican II theology within the orders, and feminist insights and strategies in the church. The growing emphasis on a Gospel spirituality pointed religious women toward further developments in the social order. Concern for the poor and the oppressed led to their risking strong positions--opposing, for example, the nuclear arms buildup and U. S. Government policies in Central America.

However, on the part of the Vatican, understanding the evolution of U.S. women religious has been tragically lacking. To bring about understanding, there must be a far greater effort on the part of church authorities to listen to and appreciate the motivation of women religious and their rootedness in Vatican II.

6. U.S. bishops have shown a greater willingness to take positions on critical issues. The bishops' pastoral letter The Challenge of Peace: God's Promise and Our Response was a landmark in the readiness of Catholic leadership to take public positions on controversial subjects. The process of holding hearings, carefully researching the questions and then speaking out vigorously has been rightfully acclaimed. The pastoral letter on the economy also showed both an openness to listen and a willingness to formulate a stance of moral authority.

Such outspoken leadership on the part of the bishops is in some ways an outgrowth of the vast learning process that began at Vatican II and is still being assimilated.

Having addressed these two areas of profound concern, the bishops felt they had to consider another topic that needed their attention: the situation of women in the church. Proposing to write a pastoral on this topic, they invited a committee of several women to work with them, and set up hearings for women to speak out on the issue.

In the spring of 1985, the national board of the L. C. W. R. recommended that the U.S. bishops "not issue a pastoral on women in society and in the church, or alternatively, that they defer writing for several years." The board called for "a process of reflection and study precisely in the absence of an operative tradition" regarding the equality and basic dignity and worth of women.

The L. C. W. R. report also described the conditions contributing to the alienation of women from church and society and their consequent need of reconciliation with both groups. Let me outline briefly some of the alienating factors described in the report:

1. Patriarchy has been a prime concept for the perception and organization of reality. Patriarchy as a worldview of its very nature assumes the alienation of women. It places the male in the center of reality and makes the masculine normative.

2. Women have been excluded or minimized in liturgical worship. The exclusion and/or negation of women in liturgy is one of the most demoralizing experiences for women in the church. If one is invisible in liturgy (especially in the Eucharist), one is quite literally displaced or alienated.

3. Through humor, ridicule or metaphor women have been depersonalized. The joke or humorous quip is a powerful tool of dismissal.

4. It is the experience of women that many clergy and hierarchy relate poorly to them.

5. Women are unable to participate fully in ministry. The concentration of women in stereotypical ministry roles opposes the full range of services.

6. Women are excluded from the structures and processes of church polity. Jurisdiction in the Catholic Church is reserved to the ordained. The exercise of power is, by policy, in the hands of men alone. That situation is of its nature unjust. It breeds disdain for women and their gifts and reinforces their invisibility.

7. Although official church positions on such matters as contraception, sterilization and abortion are not of concern to women only, the existential consequences of those positions bear more heavily on women.

8. Support for measures that would benefit women, such as the Equal Rights Amendment, child-care legislation and earnings-sharing legislation, is conspicuously lacking.

The L. C. W. R. report then lists some of the conditions that could bring about reconciliation. Among them are:

1. Women must make their own decisions and claim responsibility for their lives. The movement toward acknowledgment of one's self as possessing inherent dignity and worth is a powerful factor in reconciliation.

2. New relationships with men must be established. When men acknowledge their complicity in the oppression of women and their own need for liberation and maturation, the process of their relationship to women is itself liberating.

3. Officials of the church must acknowledge that alienation exists. When the men who hold power in the church are willing to admit that the alienation of women is the result of concrete experiences, policies, attitudes and structures, that fact in itself will promote reconciliation.

4. Structural change must address alienating factors. Any structures that allow for the significant involvement of women in decision making at any level contribute to reconciliation because they go beyond the effects to the systemic causes of alienation.

5. The church as institution and its officials must be willing to grapple with painful, conflict-generating topics and situations. The church as institution is perceived as studiously avoiding certain subjects because they "have been settled" in perpetuity.

Not only women religious, but specifically laywomen's groups, have become articulate on many of these points. A report, for example, drawn up by an international group, the World Union of Catholic Women's Organizations (W.U.C.W.O.), serves as a basis for their input to the 1987 World Synod of Bishops on the Laity. W.U.C.W.O. represents Catholic women's groups with a combined membership of 30 million. The report reviews developments in the discussion of women's place in the church since Vatican II, and states that "the way we understand humanity, the way we understand what it means to be a human being created in the image and likeness of God, conditions the roles of people in private and public life, both in society and in the church. It is now clear that anthropology is responsible for much of the existing stereotyping, discrimination and conflictual divisiveness that exists in the world and in the church."

The report expressed concern that many women leave the church because the church is insensitive to their desire to "participate fully" in its life and mission.

The momentum created by the emergence of the women's issue shows no sign of slowing down. Indeed, the very love of the church that women profess and manifest urges them on in this difficult and demanding work. Presuming on the good will already evident among some male leaders of the church, women can have a more secure hope that perhaps a new day of mutuality, equality and sharing may be on its way.

In testimony to this last point, I can cite recent, encouraging statements by two bishops. The Most Rev. Paul J. Cordes, vice-president for the Vatican's Council for the Laity, speaking at the 1980 United Nations Decade for Women Conference in Copenhagen, said: “The creation of man and woman-recounted in Genesis-underlines the fact that man and woman are absolutely equal in dignity. The Holy Bible teaches us that woman is created in the image of God exactly as man is. It clearly states that both sexes have been created together and that neither one may prevail over the other for any reason of superiority whatsoever."

And the Most Rev. Louis-Albert Vachon, Archbishop of Quebec, speaking at the most recent synod on the subject of reconciliation, said that the church needs to recognize "our own cultural deformation" and particularly "the ravages of sexism and our own male appropriation of church institutions and numerous aspects of the Christian life."

Finally, in spite of the tension produced by the women's issue in a highly conservative institution, it is apparent that the tide is changing. ????? The truth of women's minimal role in the church is becoming daily more visible.
The socialization of girls toward the recognition of the impressive number of options open to them is proceeding rapidly. Recently I heard a young mother describe her dilemma and confusion at an ordination ceremony when her five-year-old daughter insisted on an answer to her question: "Why are there only men up there?'

Imagine the surge of hope that would be created if a bishop in the United States would write to his people in this vein:

"My dear people: A question that is increasingly asked of the church today is, Can women be ordained? We know that both men and women are equal before God. Today women are showing themselves more and more capable of the myriad ministries needed in the church. Can we not hope and pray for the day when recognition by the official church of the fitness of women for all ministries, including priesthood, may be acknowledged?

"The psychological fears and historical barriers will need to be overcome. But let us all work to eliminate them so that in the future women also may respond to the call to fullness of sacramental ministry, which many of them declare to be their most earnest desire. The Spirit of God is not bound."

Even though many women may not choose to be ordained, such a message would encourage them because it would convey some recognition of the inequity they have experienced all through the years.

At a recent conference, a layman in the audience asked the presiding bishop: "What shall I tell my daughter when she tells me she would like to be a priest?"

The bishop replied, "Just tell her she will not be ordained, and that for only one reason: She is a woman."

He continued, "All her life she will be minimized by that reality." Then the bishop concluded his answer with this statement: "I agree that the situation is unjust. It must change, and it will."
I hope he is right.
Mary Luke Tobin, S.L., was one of the women auditors at the Second Vatican Council.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Guest Essay: The journey of women religious since Vatican II

Nancy Sylvester | JULY 16, 2012
the cover of America, the Catholic magazine

The bishops are right. Women religious have changed, not only in the United States but throughout the world. We have changed in ways that invited us to let go of who we thought we were. Surrendering to the Spirit, we awakened to new understandings that touched our deepest core.

Change at that level is transformation. It radically altered how we see ourselves, the Gospel, our church, our world and most importantly how we understand our God. This change in consciousness was not easy. No, it was painful, but like the pain at childbirth it dissolves in unspeakable awe at the life that emerges.

I do not want to pretend that everything that transpired over these past 50 years was perfect and without mistakes or poor choices. But what is clear to me is that the renewal that followed in the wake of the Second Vatican Council invited women and men, vowed religious and lay, to experience our faith in ways that both permeated and was shaped by a modern, pluralistic, democratic society.

The council document, Gaudium et Spes, invited the church to embrace the joys and hopes, the pain and suffering of the people of God and to be in the world and not stand apart. It “opened the windows” of an institution that had been nailed shut and freed the Spirit. In that invitation the official church echoed what Jesus did in his life when he “opened the windows” of the restrictive purity system that prevailed in his time and proclaimed in word and deed that everyone was welcome to the table and loved by God.

An Act of Obedience

Women religious took that invitation seriously and, urged by the official church, undertook renewal. That was an act of great obedience. I know because I entered religious life in 1966 having grown up in Chicago in a Catholic enclave. Catholic defined every aspect of my life—Catholic schools, Catholic funeral parlors, Catholic sports teams, Catholic spirituality, the list goes on. The official church today would be very proud of who I was back then. I did not want things to change. I envisioned wearing a habit my entire life, living in a convent with a daily routine, teaching in schools. So when I entered and things began to change it was not an easy road for me; however, I obeyed and took seriously what I was being taught in our theology and philosophy classes.

Integrating the questions that arose about faith, scripture and theology into my prayer life was key to my journey, as it was for many women religious. We began to see with new eyes who Jesus was and how the Scriptures were formulated within the context of its time. We learned the history of the church and its tradition of social justice teachings. We learned liberation theology and began to understand how structures and systems of political and ecclesial power too often oppress the very people they were formed to serve. As U.S. dioceses paired with cities in Central and South America, many sisters served in those newly established ministries and experienced the power of liberation theology and were transformed by the people they served.

Guided by the council documents we learned about other faith traditions and that they, too, had something to offer to the exploration into God. Liturgical renewal brought an openness and freshness to liturgical celebrations that had ossified within the Roman church.

Prepared in the 1950s through the Sister Formation Movement, women religious were poised to move quickly to prepare themselves academically following the council. And we did. Liberal arts, the social sciences as well as hard sciences became friends to us. The insights of quantum physics, evolution and discoveries about the origins of the universe were not alien or suspect. Rather they too were pointing to a greater understanding of God and who we are in this marvelous world.

Immersing ourselves in the world opened up new ministries in which women religious worked directly with women who were struggling with abusive relationships or decisions about carrying a pregnancy to term; with young girls who mistakenly understood that according to the church’s teaching it was better to have an abortion and be forgiven for one mortal sin than to use contraceptives and be in a constant state of mortal sin. Our ministries brought us face to face with the outcasts of our society—the homeless, those in prisons, those on drugs, the economically disadvantaged, those suffering because of their sexual orientation. These experiences seeped into us and as we brought them to prayer they transformed us. We saw and understood that those are the people today who Jesus would have called friends and welcomed into his company.

The Awakening

Our life within congregations was changing as well. As we changed the clothes women wore in an earlier era to clothes of our time and began to live in different types of community, we experienced ourselves as individuals in our own right. Like women everywhere in those years we awakened to our own identity as women and claimed the rights that were ours, equal to those of men. Having ministered among women we felt in a new way the challenges that are ours because of our gender, the gift of our sexuality and as bearers of new life. We came to understand that the official church’s teaching on sexuality was not accepted by most Catholic women because it did not touch women’s hearts, our lives, address our pain or the difficult choices facing us, or celebrate the joy of our sexuality.

Having grown up in the United States women religious began to integrate democratic principles into our governing structures. The council asked us to move toward servant leadership and we saw that patriarchal and hierarchical structures do not foster that model. Rather we chose more circular models of leadership with an emphasis on participation and shared leadership even as we affirmed and accepted certain individuals among us as our elected leaders.

The social movements of our time became part of our lives—the women’s movement, the civil rights struggle, the non-violence and anti-war movement and more recently the gay and lesbian movement. What we learned was a visceral knowledge that every human person is endowed with certain inalienable rights regardless of race, gender, religion, class or sexual orientation. All are children of God.

More recently, women religious have brought to prayer the insights from quantum physics and cosmology that reveal the interconnectedness of all life. We have consciously chosen to see the plight of our Earth as a justice issue and to formulate congregational directions and public positions regarding sustainability, global climate change and the care of Earth and its natural resources.

Speaking Out

We found ourselves immersed in a society that was pluralistic, democratic and secular and we knew that our faith had something to offer as well as to receive from the culture. We spoke out about the abuses of greed, consumerism and selfish individualism and the public policies that are shaped without regard to the common good or to those who are the least among us. We lobbied and we demonstrated. We used our economic power through shareholder resolutions. And we offered at our retreat centers and educational forums opportunities for others to integrate their experience as adults in this culture with their evolving faith.

Women religious have changed. And that change is shaking the very foundations of what continues to be a church seemingly caught in an earlier time and place. That is not what is needed now. The signs of our times reveal to us persons who are Catholic but who no longer can go to “church” because of feeling alienated and angry at the corruption and lack of integrity among many of its male clerical leaders. These persons so want to know God as adults. They are longing for a spirituality that is rooted in their faith and in their life.

I believe that the Gospel and the richness of our Catholic tradition have something to offer our post-modern world. I don’t want to see it collapse under the weight of structures that maintain power relationships that no longer serve. I believe that the faith that is waiting to be offered to the 21st century is one that comes from a stance of openness and understanding of the changes that our evolutionary development has brought us. It cannot be a faith that comes from a position of condemning modernity. It will be a faith that has been tested in the crucible of our time and has emerged with new insights and new interpretations of how we can love one another as Jesus did. In difficult and chaotic times we can come to a greater awareness that we are more alike than different, more one than separate.

Yes, women religious have changed. And I believe that our journey has much to offer this moment in history. Together with others who have walked in similar paths, the future of our faith has been beckoning us forward since the Second Vatican Council. On the 50th anniversary of that event let us move courageously into the future claiming once again that we are Catholics and we are the church.

Nancy Sylvester, I.H.M., is founder and president of the Institute for Communal Contemplation and Dialogue. She served in the presidency of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious from 1998-2001 and was the NETWORK National Coordinator from 1982-1992.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Travelogue: A Place Where Beauty Matters

Our annual pilgrimage to the Stratford Shakespeare Festival stimulated the thought once again about what it’s like to be in a community that devotes itself to beauty.  That beauty matters in a town of Stratford’s size and geography is not only unusual these days, but it summons a reflection about what beauty entails and why it is important for our lives.

Beauty is about having a sense of place.

Stratford, population 30,000, is located in the southern Ontario 90 miles west of the Toronto metropolis.  It sits in the heart of the agricultural belt where farms raise corn, squash, melons, pumpkins, strawberries and pork while industries make products in advanced manufacturing, aerospace, automotive, high tech and financial services.  This strong economic base helps support the Festival and the farms that dot Route 7 thus making the drive there pleasant and picturesque.
The Festival has utilized the town’s name as a replica of the original theatre of Stratford on Avon in England.  For 60 years it has offered not only the very best in repertory theatre (including Shakespearean classics, American Broadway musicals, French and British farces, ancient Greek tragedies and native Canadian plays), but the very finest in art, cuisine, gardening and architecture. 

A touch of English haute couture pervades the town partly because of Canada’s historical alliance with England but also because of the number of British Isles nationals who have migrated there.  Locals are low-key, unpretentious and anxious to share their town and its amenities with visitors who soon discover that they are appreciated for their company and interest in art and culture and not just for the money they spend.  In this way, theatre-goers become an integral part of the Stratford community, and look forward to annual return visits during the April to November season. 

Beauty is also about enhancing the interplay between the natural world and the urban environment.

Because Stratford is small, it is easy to get around town by walking.  This factor allows visitors to see and appreciate the clean, flower-lined streets, tidy shops and vibrant neighborhoods firsthand. 

The townspeople have also taken full advantage of the Avon River, which provides a natural setting for leisurely strolls amid the old, leafy trees that line the shore or a paddleboat or pontoon ride on the calm waters.  Visitors mingle among young parents out with their babies, youngsters riding their bikes to soccer practice, and retirees with their grandchildren feeding the ducks, geese, gulls and swans with corn seed, not bread!    

A fanciful, little, wooden bridge connects the mainland to an island in the middle of the river where a modest but reverent plaque to the Festival’s founder, Tom Patterson, has been placed.  

Upriver is the Gallery Stratford, an architecturally quaint building that formerly served as the city’s water pump station.  This small gallery usually features one exhibit on contemporary art and the other on Stratford theatre art.  Outside the gallery is yet another display of the city’s bountiful flowerbeds and a rock garden with a gurgling waterfall surrounded by tall, fragrant pine trees. 

On the way back downtown a walk through the town’s neighborhoods presents a variety of vintage red and yellow brick houses with manicured lawns and lovely wildflower gardens.

The downtown commercial district offers all the cultural accoutrements a visitor could imagine:  oriental rugs, books, china, antiques, Inuit art, Scottish-ware, Canadian winter-proof clothes, restaurants, pubs, pastry shops, caf├ęs, a chocolatier, juice bars and gift shops.  Incidentally, all of these shops are locally-owned and managed so the money stays in town.

Beauty is about paying attention to details. 

The Festival’s fashion artists research and design the actors’ elaborate costumes for historical integrity while a full-time wardrobe staff custom fits each actor’s outfit by hand.  Master craftsmen carefully construct every table, bowl of fruit, spear, and wagon.  Shoemakers cobble all footwear with “mufflers” on the soles to minimize unwanted sounds on the stage.  Choreographers carefully plan battle scenes while musicians compose and perform original works with period instruments. 

These preparations augment the work of the actors who move across the stage with the poise and grace as they masterfully portray their characters.  This repertory theatre emphasizes acting and staging rather than the usual diet of special effects. 

 Restaurants throughout town offer a variety of specialties and price ranges, however, the gourmet venue available in Stratford is particularly spectacular.  Taste, quality and presentation abound in each exquisite dish.  There’s even a gourmet French fries shop!  Stratford’s secret is its Chefs School where many local restaurateurs teach and then practice what they preach in their own establishments. 

Beauty is about hospitality and good conversation.

Stratford accommodations include hotels and motels in and around town as well as cottages and campgrounds.  However, a stay at a bed & breakfast provides a unique experience. 

Stratford has become a magnet for retired Canadians who buy an old Edwardian or Queen Anne house, restore it, and rent out rooms for theatre guests.  B&B hosts are warm and welcoming and visitors often make repeat stays.  Over the years both host and visitor get to know each other and spend time catching up on the year’s events.  Of course, B&Bs also offer visitors enriching conversations with their fellow travelers about the plays and restaurants, and for those interested in politics, an opportunity to compare notes between Canadians and Americans—and other Americans.

Beauty is about leisure.

Taking time away from the regular work and home routine is a state of mind that enables individuals to do the things they like to do without guilt or fear.  Leisure also tends to have a slowing down effect that allows one to be comfortable spending time alone or with another.  As a result, visitors at Stratford can easily indulge themselves in contemplation and quiet reflection without the noisy distractions of modern life. 

Finally, beauty is about feeling safe. 

In this post-9/11 era where security is tantamount to breathing, it soon becomes apparent in Stratford that anyone can walk down the street at any time of the day or night without the fear of being attacked or surveiled.  For Americans, such a feeling is a refreshing luxury and becoming almost a forgotten memory.

All of these elements work together to illustrate that beauty DOES make a difference in people’s lives even if it only entails a visit to a special place like Stratford.  We need such reminders.  Even more, we need to bring such examples of good living to our own cities and towns so that we can have them to ourselves all year long!

Information about the Stratford Festival is available at

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

Travelogue: Colorado National Monument

Atop Independence Monument for the annual July 4th climb at Colorado National Monument in Grand Junction
Photo courtesy of the National Park Service

It’s rare to have a national monument in your backyard, but that’s what my hosts in Grand Junction say they have, and they love it.

The 32-square mile Colorado National Monument sits on a ridge at 2,000 feet on the southwest side of Grand Valley in Mesa County where the towns of Grand Junction, Fruita and Palisade lie on the Western Slope. 

This wide semi-desert expanse of the Colorado Plateau with its pinyon pines and junipers, bighorn sheep, golden eagles, ravens, jays, coyotes, mountain lion and collared lizards, was dedicated in 1911 by President Howard Taft because of its “extraordinary examples of erosion.”  What has been left after millions of years are exposures of colorful, gently-dipping sediments that have been differentially eroded to form high plateaus, bold escarpments, and deep canyons. 

“It is like a magical kingdom,” said my friend, Bobbie Hutchison.

“It’s great for hiking and biking,” said her spouse, Martin Stafford, who pointed out several trails he had already taken over the past six years since the couple moved to “the Junction” from Michigan. 

I had never heard of the Colorado National Monument, yet I instantly recognized Independence Monument, the park’s most famous and tallest free-standing monolith featured in the Chevrolet commercial where an SUV is helicoptered to the top of the 450-foot sandstone structure.

John Otto sculpture at the Visitor Center
Each year the National Park Service (NPS) celebrates the Fourth of July with a climb to the top of Independence Monument to raise the American flag.  This tradition began 101 years ago by the legendary John Otto (1870-1952) who dedicated 20 years of his life lobbying to designate the red canyons and the Grand Mesa, the largest in the world, as a national park.

Like Otto and my friends, I was also captivated by the Monument’s beauty.  Each rock formation is different and they all left me with open-mouthed awe at both the time and relentless energy it took water, ice, wind, summer thunderstorms and heat to build the colorful spires, domes, and steep canyon walls. 

The Monument is truly a miraculous sight to behold, and the NPS does an excellent job of welcoming, inspiring and educating visitors—Americans and internationals alike—to continue their support for these protected lands. 

The spectacular landscape is a gaze downward thanks to the 23-mile-long Rim Rock Drive with its 19 scenic overlooks and two tunnels.  Construction on the road began in 1931 and was completed by the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC), the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and Local Experienced Men. 

Because the Monument was so remote, the roadway greatly helped increase attendance from 20,000 in 1937 to 430,000 today.  The first roadway, the Serpent’s Trail, was built by John Otto between 1912-24.  Its four miles included 52 switchbacks. 

Otto first came to this area in 1906 and after living here for a year, he wrote:

“I came here last year and found these canyons, and they feel like the heart of the world to me. I'm going to stay and build trails and promote this place, because it should be a national park.”

Otto starts a tradition a July 4th at "Independence"
He worked tirelessly with the communities of Grand Junction and Fruita to protect the land by spearheading fundraising campaigns, collecting signatures for petitions, and penning newspaper editorials and endless letters to Washington politicians. He also conducted tours of the area, built the first trails and chiseled handholds for climbing the Wingate sandstone walls.  He climbed and named various monoliths and planted the American Flag from their highest vantage points.

Otto even held his marriage to Boston artist Beatrice Farnham at the base of Independence Monument.  However, his fervor, and some would say his insanity in pursuing his vision, short-circuited that relationship after only a few weeks.

“I tried hard to live his way,” said Farnham. “but I could not do it, I could not live with a man to whom even a cabin was an encumbrance.”

Otto’s passion to preserve the wilderness lands of the Monument was focused on availing other people to “see this scenery.”  In this he could not help himself—and we are the lucky ones for it!

Otto lived during the conservationist era of John Muir (1838-1914), another fervent naturalist who promoted and inspired others to set aside certain natural lands for people to enjoy in perpetuity.  Through his writings, Muir, son of an itinerant Presbyterian minister, articulated the spiritual connection to nature and believed that mankind is just one part of an interconnected natural world, not its master.  God, he believed, was revealed through nature. 

To preach his “gospel of nature” Muir championed the establishment of the national parks through the Theodore Roosevelt administration, which according to filmmaker Ken Burns, was “America’s Best Idea.”

It was obvious to me that the Colorado National Monument fits Muir’s conception of the spiritual in Nature.  History bears this out as well.  The Ute who inhabited these lands since 1500 concocted myths and legends about the Mesa, the most popular being that of the Thunderbird and the Serpent.  A hieroglyph is highlighted by snow in winter on Craig’s Crest, the north edge of the Grand Mesa above the town of Palisade.  The white shale makes it visible in summer.

According to one account, the Ute believed that great Thunderbirds ruled the skies and lived atop the Grand Mesa. One day the great birds attacked the Ute village and carried children to their nest on the Mesa’s edge. The fiercest warrior disguised himself as a tree and climbed the Mesa to get to the nest, but he discovered that the children had been eaten. In vengeance, the warrior threw the Thunderbird eggs over the Mesa's edge to the valley below.

The Thunderbirds returned to find an empty nest and that their offspring had been swallowed by a giant serpent in the valley (presumably the Colorado River). The great birds screeched down and clinched the giant serpent with their huge talons and lifted it high over the Grand Mesa. In a raging storm the birds ripped the serpent apart hurling electrified pieces to the forest below, thus creating the huge scars on the Mesa's previously smooth flat top. The storm raged and the gouges were filled with sorrowful tears from the birds' loss of their offspring, which formed the many lakes of the Grand Mesa.

One of the Ute names for the Grand Mesa roughly translates to “Land of the Departed Spirits.”  The Ute ritually suspended their honored dead high in the trees for their spirits to be carried by wind into the Spirit World that exists on the Mesa. It is said that there are two strange winds that blow across the Mesa’s crest:  one is the Thunderbirds screeching for their lost young, and the other is the Ute warrior calling for his children.

Today, Otto's dream to make these lands a national park has taken another turn—and it has gained national attention.  Some community residents want to upgrade the park from a national monument to national park status.

A national monument is a protected area that either the President of the United States can establish by executive order or the United States Congress can by legislation. The Antiquities Act of 1906 authorizes the president to proclaim “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest” as national monuments. 

An upgraded national park designation needs congressional approval to take effect.  Currently, there are 101 national monuments and 58 national parks. 

To explore the possibility of this change, last June U.S. Senator Mark Udall and U.S. Representative Scott Tipton, both of Colorado, appointed the Colorado National Monument/Park Study Committee, a 16-member state-funded research group.

The committee found the that the Monument meets the criteria for national park designation, but that 40 percent of residents want national park status, 40 percent are against it, and 20 percent just don't care, according to a recent story in the Grand Junction Free Press

Some people see the upgrade as an opportunity to enhance economic development in the area, and they are supported by many chambers of commerce who contend that “national park” status carries much more cachet when it comes to tourists.  

Other people are more worried about traffic congestion, access issues, water rights, air quality standards and more unwanted entanglement with the federal government should the upgrade take place. 

Time will tell what happens.  Meanwhile, life will go on at the Monument, especially since it is already part of the NPS system.

Biking, camping, hiking (short trails and back country trails), rock climbing, picnicking are available to those who want to spend a day or more.  Guided walks and porch talks are offered daily throughout the summer.  Topics include geology, ecology and history.  For more information, contact the Visitor Center:  

For more information on the geology of the area, see NPSGeology Fieldnotes.

Erosion produces unusual shapes on the landscape and can lead the imagination to see more familiar images.  Here are the more prominent places in the Monument that have been given names.

“Praying Hands” (center) is a vertical sandstone fin resembling praying hands overlooking Columbus Canyon.  The “Pipe Organ” is the formation on the right.

“The "Coke Ovens” (formerly called “Haystacks” by Otto) were named by the CCC in the 1930s.  They represent an urban, industrial perspective while Otto saw them from an agricultural perspective.  As the protective Kayenta Formation (on top) erodes from the ridge, the softer Wingate Formation beneath it is exposed.  

Each year the Colorado National Monument commemorates the Fourth of July by raising the American flag on the top of "Independence Monument," the tallest free-standing rock formation in the park. This tradition was started 101 years ago by the legendary John Otto. Mesa County's Technical Search and Rescue Team continues this tradition.

Another view of the Independence Monument

“Window Rock” (formerly named “Needle’s Eye” by Otto) is a natural widening crack in the Wingate sandstone formed by pounding erosive forces.  The formation stands on a ledge of Kayenta Sandstone, a more resistant form of this sedimentary rock.

Colors and Features

The browns, yellows, blues and greens in the rocks are minerals found in the clay mudstones.  Reds come from clear quartz grains that come from a thin coating of iron oxide on each grain.  In some areas percolating water has dissolved the coating leaving the sandstone pale and bleached.  Lichens are composite organisms made up of  fungi and cyanobacteria (green algae) living symbiotically.  The fungi partner spreads across the rock thus providing a stable, moist environment for the cyanobacteria (sigh-AN-oh bacteria), which then produces nutrients through photosynthesis.

The dark brown “desert varnish” comes from a thin coating of concentrated iron and manganese compounds and clays that color rock surfaces over thousands of years.  Long black streaks in the rock occur as dissolved chemicals carried in the water seep over the rock.  White coloration comes from the groundwater that deposits calcite.

 Potholes are naturally occurring basins in sandstone that collect rainwater and wind-blown sediment. These potholes harbor organisms that are able to survive long periods of dehydration.  They also serve as a breeding ground for many high desert amphibians and insects.  Both of these communities are very vulnerable to human impacts. (

The bumpy, knobby, and sometimes dark soil along the trails is biological soil crust. Just like a coral reef is formed over time by lots of small organisms living together, soil crust is formed the same way. Moss, lichen, green algae, cyanobacteria (sigh-AN-oh bacteria), and microfungi all work together to hold sand grains in place and create an environment where seeds can grow. Biological soil crust is extremely slow growing; a footprint can erase decades of growth. Visitors are asked to help protect biological soil crust by staying on established trails. 

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Travelogue: Arches National Park

Delicate Arch is a mile-and-a-half upward climb of 480 feet almost a mile high in elevation--and I made it!

Ever since I first saw pictures of the mystifying red rocks of Utah, I wanted to visit Arches National Park.

After looking at the map, however, the place seemed so remote that I wasn’t sure I’d ever get there. 

Three Gossips
Recently, I visited friends in Grand Junction, Colorado, a small town on the west-central edge of the state right next door to Utah.  It was so named because its location is the confluence of the Colorado (a.k.a. Grand River) and Gunnison Rivers.  It also turns out to be the gateway to several national parks—including the Arches!

Although my hosts at “The Junction” are avid outdoor enthusiasts, I didn’t expect to go on a mile-and-a-half hike in 100+ degree heat.  But that’s exactly what we did in order to see the Delicate Arch, a signature landmark that is pictured on the Utah license plate.

Fortunately, my friends knew how to handle such extreme conditions, and I had an engaging experience trekking in those hot and beautiful desert lands.

My friend, Bobbie Hutchison, with umbrella
To protect ourselves from the searing heat, we did a series of things.  We left home at 6 a.m. for a two-hour car ride so we would be in the cooler morning temperatures.  As we prepared for our hike, we put cool-offs around our neck, hats on our head, sunglasses on our eyes and sunscreen on our arms, legs and ears.  We drank lots of water, used bandanas to wipe off the sweat and sucked on hard candies to keep our mouths moist. 

Heat in the arid West is intense and penetrating but shade from a bush, tree or boulder can be at least 10 degrees cooler and provide some refreshing relief and a welcome rest.  Although it looked pretty silly and seemed unconventional, our umbrellas shielded us from the hot sun while we walked.  Many of our fellow trekkers commented to us about their wish to have brought such cover. 

Finally, a walking stick not only made me look and feel like a professional hiker, it provided me with an extra “leg” to climb the long stretch of slick rock, navigate the trail’s various rugged “stairways” and feel a little more secure on the high five-foot wide ledges right around the corner of the arch.

Sheep Rock
My walk in Arches National Park helped me discover why hikers like to hike.  For them, it’s a goal-oriented adventure that is utterly irresistible both in reaching the end of the trail and in enjoying the eerie journey amid millions of years of geology, erosion and natural “art.”  Hiking in parks like Arches is not just ground to cover and a pin point on a map, it is a real live experience of wonderment. 

Hiking also allows you to feel the Earth under your feet and sense the quiet of the desert’s surroundings.  Maybe you’ll see a lizard scurrying across your path.  Maybe you’ll realize that the plants and animals that live there yearn for life, while those dead bushes and trees are still intent on leaving their twisted legacy for posterity.  Maybe you’ll be like those people who find hiking in Nature puts them in touch with God and Creation.

My friend, Martin Stafford, with slick rock climb (top center)
I got a taste of all these things during my hike to Delicate Arch, which took a good hour to reach although most people (without straggling youngsters) could probably do it in 30 to 45 minutes.  Actually, my look at the first third of the trail freaked me out when I saw tiny silhouettes of humanity bobbing about on the yellow-orange slick rock. 

Walking on it, however, wasn’t as bad as it looked, and it gave me the confidence to know that I could make it to the end of the trail.  Nevertheless, each high point we climbed and each turn we rounded, fooled me into believing we were within steps of our destination.  The arch is only visible at the end of the trail.

Slick rock up close
At times I wanted to quit, but I trudged on to avoid being rude to my hosts or to  look like a wimp.  Besides, there was nowhere to go but way up to the arch or way back to the parking lot.  We all pressed onward mostly in silent concentration.  I tried hard to hold back any annoying complaints until I couldn’t do it any longer--10 minutes before the end.  That’s when I decided that Delicate Arch was a hoax.  I vowed to kill my host by flinging him over the side of the mountain.

I huffed and puffed with each step as I made the gradual climb upward 480 feet to the arch whose altitude is just 400 feet shy of a mile above sea level.  It was a quite struggle to climb, I admit, especially in the oppressive heat and sun. 

Martin and Bobbie on the ledges before final turn to Delicate Arch
Then came the reward of finally seeing the amazing 65-foot tall Entrada sandstone arch as it majestically yet humbly stood there overlooking a huge valley with the La Sal (meaning “salt”) mountains in the background. 

Hiking to the Delicate Arch was well worth the climb, even for an inexperienced and out-of-shape hiker like me.  After all, such grand achievements are not meant to be easy!  I felt I was in a dream just standing in the presence of the arch.

I satisfied myself by sitting and staring at it from a distance while most other hikers continued toward it in order to touch it and be photographed next to it.  The ledges were a little too steep for me to chance this last bit of adventure.

Hiking back to the trailhead was much easier because it was downward, although it was a bit hard on my toes.  (I can only imagine what it was like for those hikers who wore flip flops!)  My breathing was less winded compared to the climb upward. 

Cairns mark a safe path
Cairns (pile of rocks) pointed the way on the most efficient paths and some provided human-made, human-scale “artwork” that complemented the giant, globular boulders and rock formations that surrounded us.

I have to admit that despite my reservations about the hike to Delicate Arch, making it has inspired me to return to Arches National Park on another day to take on the challenging Fiery Furnace hike.  It is three hours long and requires greater physical stamina and determination to make it.  (A slim, fit body would help greatly, too.)  Because of the fragility of the area, only a limited number of hikers are admitted twice a day for a ranger-led experience, which is previewed in an NPS video

Actually, the park has over 2,000 natural stone arches (an arch must be three feet across to qualify), in addition to hundreds of soaring pinnacles, massive fins and giant balanced rocks, according to the National Park Service.  These structures formed because they lay atop an underground salt bed, which was deposited 300 million years ago when a sea covered the area and eventually evaporated.  Debris from floods, winds and ocean currents was compressed into rock, some of it a mile thick. 

Balancing Rock (right)
Because salt under pressure from this hard rock is unstable, the salt bed shifted and buckled, liquefied and repositioned itself.  Faults in the Earth also made the surface more unstable.  Ice, wind and water erosion on the salmon-colored Entrada Sandstone and buff-colored Navajo Sandstone contributed to the development of the arches and most of the rock formations in the park that are dubbed with such fabulous names as Mule Ears, Courthouse Towers, Three Gossips, Sheep Rock, Tower of Babel, Park Avenue and of course, Balanced Rock.  In the background far away is the Parade of Elephants, which can be seen at the Delicate Arch’s trailhead.

Wolfe cabin
Also there is Wolfe Ranch, the site of John Wesley Wolfe’s 1898 homestead.  The disabled Civil War veteran, and his son, Fred, built a 100-acre homestead (and a dam) on the Salt Wash.  Apparently, they had enough water and grassland to raise cattle.  Wolfe’s motivation was the belief that the drier climate would relieve the nagging pain of his leg injury.  A weathered log cabin, root cellar, and corral are all that remain of the primitive ranch Wolfe operated for 10 years.  The remoteness of his home and the starkness of the surroundings make you wonder how the family was able to stay put before it moved back to Ohio.

The Wolfes weren’t the only ones to inhabit this area.  Hunter-gatherers came here 10,000 years ago and used the microcrystalline quartz they found for their stone tools.  Two thousand years ago the Pueblo and Fremont peoples cultivated maize, beans, and squash, and lived in stone “condo” villages like those preserved at Mesa Verde National Park.  Evidence of their habitation is found in rock inscriptions, pottery shards and other artifacts. 

an arch in the making
Native Americans apparently never lived in the Arches on a year-round basis, though they certainly roamed the area searching for wild game, useful plants and rocks for tool-making.  The petroglyph panel near Wolfe Ranch is believed to have some images of the indigenous Ute people on horseback, which probably date back to 1776.  (The Utes adopted horses only after the Spanish introduced them.)  The Old Spanish Trail, a trade route linking Santa Fe and Los Angeles, ran along the same highway past the Visitor Center that is today used by the park’s one million visitors.

In June 1855 the Mormons attempted to establish a mission in what is now the town of Moab (population 5,000), but conflicts with the Utes caused them to abandon that effort. In the 1880s and 1890s, ranchers, prospectors, and farmers permanently settled the town.

Courthouse Towers
As word spread about the area, Alexander Ringhoffer, a prospector, began the process of gaining support to create a national park.  He wrote The Rio Grande Western Railroad in 1923 to persuade railroad executives interested in attracting more rail passengers to lobby Congress in support of his project.  On April 12, 1929 President Herbert Hoover signed the legislation creating Arches National Monument.  On November 12, 1971 Congress changed the status of Arches to a National Park.

The Moab area is a mecca for biking, climbing, hiking, whitewater rafting devotees with campsites available along the Colorado and Green Rivers.  A variety of lodging options and other information on activities and events is available through the Moab Information Site.

The Arches Park has attracted artists and authors too.  Loren “Bish” Taylor, who became editor of the Moab newspaper in 1911 at age 18, frequently featured the beauty of the red rock country.  Edward Abbey, a seasonal park ranger in the late 1950s, wrote a memoir of his experiences in his 1968 classic, Desert Solitaire.

For more information, see the Arches National Parkwebsite.