Nature Notes Winter 2015-2016

Greg Armstrong Care for the Earth, Friends of Wisdom Prairie, Nature Notes Leave a Comment


Photo by Mary Kay Baum

Is it winter yet? It sure doesn’t feel like it as I write this in mid-December. I like the unseasonably mild temperatures because I can get some more work done on the grounds. It also makes me feel rather uneasy. This is not normal and may portend worse things for creation in the future. I do hope those folks in Paris will be able to develop a workable plan for reversing the heating up of the earth’s atmosphere.

I believe that the sisters at Holy Wisdom Monastery and their hundreds of loyal assistants are contributing to the slowing of climate change, but they of course, can’t do it by themselves. The larger village is going to have to pitch in too.

One of the interesting, and largely unseen, ways in which the sisters are sequestering carbon is tying it up in the root systems of the prairie plants. The roots of most prairie plants grow very deep into the soil, some as deep as 20 feet. Sort of like falling leaves in the autumn, the roots of these plants die and are replaced over time, keeping the new roots of these perennial plants young and vigorous and able to sustain the plant over time. The dying roots become organic matter in the soil, some of which remains in the soil for many years. This ties up carbon and keeps it from turning into carbon dioxide; the most significant of the greenhouse gases causing climate change. The deep rich soils here in the middle of the continent come from the prairies of century’s past whose organic matter is still in our soils, but is diminishing under agricultural land use. Our new prairies will recharge this reservoir of organic matter and the carbon it contains.

Agronomic crops like corn and soy beans have rather shallow root systems and thus contribute much less to carbon sequestration. In the past year (actually one year and 7 days) we have planted 33 acres of agricultural fields into prairie. The Friends of Wisdom Prairie and the many volunteers who accomplished this good work should feel proud of their contributions to the well-being of the world. We are trying to act locally and think globally. I do believe it might be said that the sisters and their many friends are thinking on a higher plane where they are acting locally and thinking celestially.

On another topic; we are trying to find a logger this winter to remove a lot of trees from the monastery land as we prepare to restore these lands to pre-European settlement savanna. We want to do it in the winter when the ground is frozen to protect the soils from compaction under heavy machinery. This is a huge project and we are doing it this way to save a large amount of volunteer labor on this dangerous work, and so it can happen quickly in the hope that we might make money from the sale of the timber. It’s not as though there won’t be work for the volunteers to do afterward, we will use volunteers to deal with the slash (smaller branches that are not suitable for sawn logs) and weedy plants that will follow the disturbance. Eventually we will be also be planting other species that are currently missing from these ecological communities. I hope some of you reading this will come and help us with this good work in the next few years. We would love to have you.

Another community that I wish to highlight here is the Friends of Wisdom Prairie. This friends and advocacy group has come through its first full year very well. Very well indeed! They have contributed hundreds of hours of volunteer work on the monastery’s lands. The largest such event was the prairie planting on May 9, 2015 where over 60 volunteers came and made short work of sowing seeds on 9 acres of an old soy bean field. We had a good time! The Friends also learned about various aspects of “caring for the earth” with a series of dinner lectures and outings to other natural lands. Providing leadership for this organization is a Friends of Wisdom Prairie Council. They have been most fortunate to assemble an impressive, engaged and hard working group of people. It has been a pleasure for me to see how they have grown into a vibrant community. If you have not joined the Friends of Wisdom Prairie yet, please consider joining this wonderful group of people who are helping the sisters “care for the earth.” Join today.

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