January 2022

Sowing Seeds of Hope for the New Year

By Fred Wooley

In the nearly two and a half decades we have owned part of this old farm, we have made many changes to the landscape to restore what was here originally, pre-settlement.   The process is not that complex, but the work takes time.  For me it’s a labor of love, as I move through seasonal tasks and each year smile at results. 
The main goal is to remove non-native, especially invasive, plants and replace them with those originally found here.  Most land managers would likely agree the removal is the non-fun part, done by the hard work of pulling and digging, or the careful applying of herbicide.   It’s the comparison I like to make, the breaking down and cleaning of a child’s room before returning wanted items in an organized fashion that we hope can be maintained.

Monarchs on Blazing Star

Returning wanted plants is the fun part.  We scatter seeds or plant plugs and pots of desirable, native species.  Sowing seeds directly on the land most closely resembles what occurs in nature.  I have been doing this for four decades, but more seriously while working with Blue Heron Ministries.  I have learned a lot and have found great inspiration from all my BHM colleagues.

Friend and BHM coworker John Brittenham once captured my mood while describing our work to an interested audience. “I love working with seeds…” he said. I smiled.

Blazing star seeds

It is true.  There is something remarkably rewarding about collecting seeds of desirable species once they have flowered and fruited summer to fall.   We recall the specific blooms that soaked summer’s sun and now give us seeds, each unique from all other species, as we pull or cut them from stalks and drop into buckets.  
Once dried in racks or other airy settings, seeds are put into bags that line storage areas, and we smile as a woodcutter admiring stacked cords that measure his or her progress.    The seeds are then cleaned and prepared for planting.    Each seed is so different; some are good sized and solid, some are the size of a pepper speck, and some are with parachute hairs or sticktight bristles.

Prairie seeds labeled

For certain projects, seeds are sown directly at the site in winter, and go through the normal cold and wet conditions they do as if they fell directly from the plant in the fall.  In their new location, determined by our project, next spring, or early summer, they germinate, grow, and claim that spot as their new home. 
A bit more labor intensive is putting seeds in damp sand and then in a refrigerator to simulate what occurs in the wild.  Come spring, these seeds are sprinkled in potting soil in flats where they germinate and grow to seedling size and planted as plugs.

Butterfly milkweed seedling with monarch caterpillar

I did this for years.  My Jackie humored and indulged me and this practice, as I filled our refrigerator vegetable drawers with baggies of chilled seed and sand mixes.  Then last year on a BHM project we planted plugs raised by coworker John that were simply sown in flats in the fall and allowed to be outside all months leading to spring germination and seedling growth.  The flats of plants were lush and beautiful.  Coworker Phillip Bieberich does the same with flats of certain species set outside his greenhouse all winter.
As an aspiring student of both John and Phillip, I am doing the same this growing season.  This fall, I gathered seeds from 30 species of wildflower, grass, and shrub species.   Instead of the sand mix in refrigerator, I spent several days the end of December and sowed nineteen wildflower, three grass, and one woody shrub species into 1,109 plugs of potting soil.   Those are now labeled and laid out in the garden to absorb winter rains, snows, and any cold temps mother nature throws at them.

Seeds in flats lined up for winter in Fred Wooley’s garden.

Hard work?…  some may think so, but not really.  I arranged my workspace for a minimum of bending and unnecessary movements, as the process is very repetitive.  I was working in our very comfortable garage.  In the background, I had on nice holiday music.  In each plug I would sprinkle a certain species’ unique seed.   During the process I imagined the hoped-for emerging seedling upon successful germination. 
For each species I envisioned the sites on the property I might plant them.  They all had a purpose; they all had a place.  I imagined how they would look in their future home as they aligned with neighboring plants and grew with natural rains or with a little help from the hose or sprinkling can. 
I visualized how they would look after one year, two years, future years with an occasional prescribed fire to manage their surroundings; and in those years long after I am gone.  I felt great satisfaction as I carried flat after flat from garage to garden.

Brown-eyed Susan in Wooley Monarch Meadow

It’s a new year. We hope for good health, peace, joy, love around us, and the best for family, friends, and all in the world for that matter, as we dream big. We have hope for one tiny seed as we drop it in soil. Maybe this one will make it. This one might germinate and grow. This one will make someone, someday, smile as they pass by and look down at its bloom.

This article first appeared earlier this month in Fred’s monthly column “A Natural Touch”, in the Herald Republican. Fred Wooley is a naturalist, writer, and land preservation/restoration enthusiast. He lives on part of an old farm overlooking an extensive fen in northern Steuben County. He can be reached at fwooley@frontier.com.

Our Proper Dwellings

by T. M. Moore

It’s where we need to live.

At the wondrous sounding of the trumpet of the first archangel,
firmly secured chambers and tombs will burst asunder,
the chill which has frozen the men of this world will thaw,
bones will come together from every side
as their heavenly souls go to meet them,
returning to their proper dwellings.

  – Colum Cille, Altus Prosator, Irish, 6th century

For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord. Therefore comfort one another with these words.

  – 1 Thessalonians 4.16-18

The Celtic Christian outlook on life was decidedly other-worldly. “Things hoped for” and “things not seen” (Heb. 11.1) were real to many of those from within that tradition, and powerful in shaping their aspirations and manner of life.

Many of the great Celtic saints lived the here-and-now moments of their lives within the framework of, and along a path leading to, a coming then-and-there. They knew what glorified bodies looked like, because they contemplated the risen Christ in all His glory. They glimpsed the new creation by meditating on the prophets and studying the beauty, majesty, and wonder of the world around them. They looked and longed for the City to Come, and for the glorified bodies in which they would see Jesus face to face.

While fruitful and productive in their earthly lives and ministries, they never regarded these as the final horizon of their lives, but merely as proving grounds for their proper dwellings in eternal glory. All their work, their devotions, and their everyday activities and responsibilities were carried out with a view to where they were going, and not merely where they were, what they were becoming, and not just what they were.

Celtic Christian leaders like Colum Cille struggled to bring their lives in the present into conformity with what they knew their lives would one day be in glory. This explains why in many of them, like Colum, we find such longing for the Lord’s appearing, and for them to finally assume the proper physical dwellings – bodies and all creation – which were intended for them from the beginning.

Paul was of a similar mindset. He expressed the desire to depart this life and to be with Christ (Phil. 1.23), and he urged those who read his epistles to look forward to the coming day of transformation. He instructed the Thessalonians to encourage one another, not simply in the hope of improved conditions in this life, but of a coming glory which will be beautiful and satisfying beyond description.

Too many Christians today don’t know how to practice the life of heaven on earth, as was said of the great Brigid. We are too much a people of the here-and-now, and not enough of the then-and-there. We like ease and comforts, but we balk at a life of discipline.

The eyes of our hearts should be set on Christ, exalted in glory, and on our coming resurrection; and we should encourage one another to keep focused there, and to live for the then-and-there in every moment of the here-and-now.

It makes a difference what we take as the ultimate horizon for our lives. What glow, just over the hill, just around the next bend, are you striving toward? What is your greatest hope for peace, joy, and bliss?

Of course, we know that eternity with the Lord holds joys and pleasures that nothing on earth can match. But do we have to wait for these until after we have departed this life?

Not at all. We may enjoy foretastes of them and visitations to them here and now, as we seek the Lord in prayer and in His Word, and go forth from His glorious Presence to live as signs and portents of it.

Let us long for our proper dwellings, and live each day to prove that these, indeed, are our longed-for home. Thus we may bring the eternal blessedness that awaits us there into the places and lives of those among whom the Lord is pleased to send and situate us in this time.

Look to your proper dwellings, and be encouraged.

For Reflection
1. As you think about setting your mind on Christ and His glory, what do you see?

2. Whom can you encourage today to look to our proper dwellings for hope and strength?

Psalm 84.5-12 (Holy Manna: Brethren, We Have Met to Worship)
Blessed are they whose strength is founded in Your strength, O Lord of above.
All whose hearts in You are grounded journey in Your strength and love.
Though they week with tears of sadness, grace shall all their way sustain.
In Your Presence, filled with gladness, they shall conquer all their pain.

Lord of hosts, my prayer receiving, hear me, help me by Your grace!
In Your courts I stand believing; turn to me Your glorious face!
Lord, our sun, our shield, our glory, no good thing will You deny
to those who proclaim Your story, and who on Your grace rely.

To subscribe to T.M.’s twice-weekly meditations go to https://www.ailbe.org/resources/community and click Crosfigell.

View from the Crew

by Josh Hall

Emily Schmidt cutting brush at Steuben County’s McClue Nature Preserve.
Cut and daub technique. Emily Schmidt applying herbicide to the stump of autumn olive.
Dave Drogos bucking up limbs of black locust trees at our own Badger Barrens Addition.
Felled black locust trees at Badger Barrens Addition. Clearing out a big colony of black locust to provide room for prairie installation.
Josh’s smiling face after a good day felling black locust trees. 😊
Dave Drogos working hard on writing burn plans for the spring burn season.
Emily Schmidt applying herbicide to a girdled black cherry tree in an oak woodland at St. Joseph County Park’s Plumb Lake County Park near Sturgis, MI.
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