Tag Archives: Land

Fog Listening

December 13, 2011
JustLiving Farm

One good thing about frozen fog mornings in December is the sound.  The sound of quite frozen fog mornings is unlike anything else.  Unlike mornings of snow-covered landscape that encases movement and sound, frozen air allows the wheatgrass to move with the slightest of breeze.  The grasses dampened rustle plays with the conversation of two chirping birds which mingles with crunching frozen grass below each boot step.  Frozen fog, a natural symphony of sorts.

© David B. Bell 2011

Home: Land of Paleo-Indians, Charles Goodnight, Quanah Parker, and Dairy Queen

November 30, 2011
Yakama Mission

Native American Heritage Month

Claude, Texas is home.  Well, maybe better said, there is a piece of farmland about twenty miles south of Claude that has been home to my folk for a few generations.  No one lives on the farm any longer.  After uncle Howard died, no family member figured it possible to raise a family on this windswept dry-land farm in the Texas panhandle.  Once there was a section of land in the Palo Duro.  It may have made modern-day farming feasible, but that was too far from the main farm and was let go years ago.    The farm, like many family farms and ranches exists more in memory today than actuality.  It was where children and animals and plants were raised.  It was where children and animals and plants died.  The kids in the family attended school about five miles from the farm until they reached high school, then they were driven into Claude.  That was the case until a number of decades ago when school consolidation took place and the district found it was cheaper to have school bus routes than teachers and school buildings spread across the countryside—then, from day one through graduation, schooling took place in Claude.  Claude has the distinction of being the county seat of Armstrong County, once home of the JA Ranch whom Charles Goodnight was co-owner, and where a few of Paul Newman’s movies, The Sundowners and Hud, were filmed.

Like every other landscape in America an ancient people resided in the area before my folks.  Paleo-Indians were the landscape’s first created people (Some folk—mostly White folk from my observation—say no American Tribal People are originally from the American landscape, but rather they traveled to these lands from Siberia and other non-American lands.  Seems few American Indian spiritual leaders agree, but then their arguments require a consideration that our public school textbooks have flawed information (at least a bit) and the interpretation of science is flowing rather than absolute.  Isn’t it interesting people discount the ancient voice of the landscape in which they reside because it does not fit their western education, but then turns around and buys into a chosen people story arising in a landscape on which most of their ancestors never resided?  Well, well, that is a conversation for another day.).  The flat, canyoned, windswept landscape raised up the Apache people and culture who understood and lived with the land for thousands of years.  Then Comanche moved south into the landscape in the late 1600’s warring with Apaches and forcing most out of the Paleo land by the early 1700’s.  The1874 Red River War between the U.S. Army and the Comanche forced the relocation of the Comanche, Kiowa, Southern Cheyenne, and Arapaho to reservations in Indian Territory.  Two battles, Adobe Wells led by Comanche chief Quanah Parker and Palo Duro, define the Red River War.  Adobe Wells reflected the reality the Comanche were “out gunned.”  Palo Duro revealed food supplies and horses were limited for the Comanche, Kiowa and Cheyenne, as opposed to the U.S. Army’s continuous supply line.  The Red River War ended in June of 1875 when Quanah Parker surrendered at Fort Sill (Oklahoma).  With the landscape’s ancient people moved to reservations and Indian Territory, White farmers and ranchers settled the Texas panhandle (The word settled is problematic in that it implies the land and its ancient people were somehow immature, imperfect, or unfinished…again, a story for another day).

What I remember most about Claude, as a child, is the Dairy Queen.  More times than not, when we were in Claude, we would stop at the Dairy Queen and have something to eat.  Mamma told stories of the men playing checkers in front of the county courthouse, the women at the assessor’s office, and piano lessons at the jail.  The Dairy Queen mattered enough to me that as an adult and parent, whenever we visited the farm we stopped in Claude, sat in the same Dairy Queen of my youth and told our girls the same stories (the best I could remember).

Today the landscape is the same and different from ancient times.  Embedded in the land are ancient peoples stories…yet lingering in the top soil are new ones.  Like the ancient, new stories talk of days of hurt and happiness.  Like the ancient, these speak of hope and joy, love and peace, and family.  There is a difference though between the ancient and new.  The ancient stories—the ancient people—know what and who they are in light of the new.  They have watched and felt new footsteps and new names upon the landscape.  Unlike the ancient, the new have yet to know what and who they are in light of the ancient.  Wholeness comes with conversing with old, old campfires, wind that caressed ancient faces, and feet tough as leather.

Today is the last day of Native American Heritage Month for 2011.  I hope you had many a chance this month to hear stories, sing songs, and walk the path of the ancients in your landscape.  If not, well, there is tomorrow, for the stories and the songs are not confined to a month or a time, but rather reside in the ground beneath your feet and the wind of your breath.

© David B. Bell 2011


Driving across your people’s homeland
I pull into Claude, Texas
2 o’clock in the afternoon
Hottern the hinges of hell
as they say here.

Dry panhandle wind
sifts through the red land
Buffalo clouds in the distance
herd up in the afternoon heat.

A chocolate milkshake at the tastee-freeze:
—Are there Comanche people here anymore?
—Huh?  Naw, Naw.
The taste-freeze lady’s eyes
describe a suspicion
as if to say:
Another one of them damned
Indian trouble-makers.

The wind shifts the heat
around in circles and
dust-devils dance along the interstate.

The historical marker
on the outskirts of town
said something about Comanches
in the year 1874
Adobe Wells    Quanah Parker    Palo Duro

Well, Barbara,
I celebrate the Comanche centennial
with the milkshake
(a piss-pore substitute)
and think of those days
of buffalo,
of winter camps, blood, plains,
horses, wind, raids, scalps, and hardships.

This land is your bones.
You are stronger than concrete.
You are stronger than steel.

Geary Hobson

When Our Desire for Energy Leads to Genocide

April 30, 2011

A friend turned me on to Bill Leonard’s, Opinion: Vanishing mountains.  The article speaks about mountaintop removal in the Appalachia’s and if or how the destroying of mountainous landscape might be destroying the spirituality of the landscape.

In reading the article, many thoughts came up.  I wonder if the owners of strip mines lived adjacent to the mountains being leveled; would they level the mountains?  I’d also bet mine owners and most of the workers who do the mining, call themselves Christian.  I wonder if Mt. Horeb were full of coal and they had access and they could make a profit and a living wage, would they level it as well?  I wonder how many workers whose job is to mine, who love to mine, and who live next to a mountain being leveled, would participate in the removal if they could make a living mining in a manner that does not flatten the landscape?  I wonder if it were economically profitable for everyone, would folk in my community endorse the removal of Mt. Pahto from the Yakama valley skyline?

The loss of ancient landscape to profit has been going on for quite a while now.  Extraction of ore, minerals, and petroleum has been going on long enough that most of us believe it to be normal.  Then, it isn’t just about ore, minerals, and petroleum, is it?  The changing of ancient landscapes, above and below ground, to meet our insatiable demand for energy seems to matter little as long as we get to keep living as we want.  Mountaintops are hacked off and valleys are filled so we can have clean coal.  Rivers are dammed and streams diverted so we might have hydroelectric power.  Miles upon square miles of open land are filled with solar panels to give us photoelectric energy.  Wind machines, spinning, rotating, and blinking their nightly red lights so we are provided with clean wind energy, transform ridge after western ridge.  Every day ancient landscapes across American are changed in the name of profit and energy.

There is a need for Christians to talk about the eradication of America’s ancient, indigenous, landscapes.  The need arises because the elimination of the Creators artful landscapes is the genocide of creation.  As this same friend said, “[Mountain Top Removal] certainly destroys the soul of the land—if that ain’t genocide, it’s not far from it.”  For those of us who identify as Christian, certainly for us who identify as Disciple of Christ Christians, the conversation of landscape annihilation is critical because when we (through our foreparents) participated in the genocide of ancient, indigenous, American Tribal people we did not question the how and why of our actions.  With our knowledge of past carnage, not only would we be thoughtless in not questioning the genocidal changing of ancient landscapes on our behalf, but also our children’s children would be correct in wondering, “What in the world were they thinking?” when observing a landscape unrecognizable to their forbearers.

© David B. Bell 2011

Border Conference Engages Youth and Young Adults on Immigration Issues

March 10, 2011

The following is write-up on a Border Conference Katherine attended in February.  Please take a look at what occurred and the power it had on some of the participants.  While the event did not deal with the historical and ongoing problems of the U.S. border concerning American Tribes, who are most often lost in border considerations, the issues and events that were dealt with do have a direct impact on the people of White Swan, Washington!  The article is written by Wanda Bryant Wills of Communication Ministries of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ).


The reality of border crossings took on a new meaning for Rev. Sammy Robles when he touched a portion of the heavy metal wall that separates Mexico and the United States.

“The memories are still fresh in my mind,” recalled Robles, 31, pastor of Arise Christian Church in Orlando, Fla. “”There was a sense of intimidation and the recognition in that human-made wall.  It seems that there was power and judgment connected to it.  If only it could speak.”

Robles was among 12 young adults and youth who joined with about 60 other participants from  the Disciples and United  Church of Christ to gain new insights into immigration issues and border ministries at a unique four- day conference.  Held Feb. 10-13, the conference, “Turning Walls into Tables,” took place at Iglesia Cristiana Casa De Oracion in San Diego, Calif.  A one-day trip across the border into Tijuana, Mexico on Friday, Feb. 11 provided the opportunity to see first-hand the barriers that now divide the two countries.  It is estimated that about 670 miles of fences, walls and spikes currently exist along the border.

The Tijuana trip also included stops at a number of ministries that help those who have been deported from the United States back to Mexico.  The ministries provide food, health care and other basic needs.

“For the Church of Jesus Christ, understanding the so-called issue of immigration does not need to be complicated,” said David Vargas, president of the Division of Overseas Ministries/Global Ministries, whose office was one of the sponsors of the event.  “For us, Disciples, it must be even simpler.  If we are truly a movement for wholeness in a fragmented world, welcoming and honoring the foreigner and the stranger shall be at the core of our witness.  “

“In our case, that exercise must begin by recognizing, acknowledging, welcoming and honoring the many “undocumented” children of God who are full members of our Disciples community of faith – many serving as deacons, elders and pastoral leaders, including a significant number of young adults – and who are part of the body of Christ and welcome to the Lord’s table as God has welcomed the rest of us,” added Vargas.

Katherine Bell, 21, from White Swan, Wash. is thankful to be among those who participated in the trip.  For Bell, the experience added a new dimension to her understanding of immigration.  Bell has spent many years at Yakama Christian Mission, a ministry of Disciples located in the Yakama Nation in central Washington State.  About 55 percent of those living at Yakama are Native-American.  Another 45 percent are Hispanic.

“The Hispanics we see are mostly from central Mexico,” said Bell.  “They have worked their way up the California coast harvesting crops, and now have come to Oregon and Washington.  Since I returned from the border conference trip I have talked to other young people about how big this issue is and about how sometimes we don’t want to think about immigrants in our area, particularly if they are undocumented.”

“We are grateful that so many young people were able to be with us on the trip,” said Rev. Jennifer Riggs, director of Refugee and Immigration Ministries within Disciples Home Missions, whose office was also a conference sponsor.  “Immigration is an important issue for the future of our country and our church.  We wanted to involve young people who will be the future leaders of a church that will be very different than it is today, because of immigration.”

A number of speakers at the conference addressed the complex issues that tie together the United States and Mexico, such as geography and immigration.  Those speakers included Dr. Daisy Machado, dean of academic affairs and professor of Church History at Union Theological Seminary in New York City; Jen Smyers, associate director for Immigration and Refugee Policy with Church World Service and Dr. Carlos Correa Bernier, Director of Centro Romero in San Ysidro, Calif.  Bernier led the trip into Tijuana.

Participants also were reminded that the United States benefits economically in many ways through its relationship with Mexico, not only through cheap labor, but also through the implementation of provisions such as NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Tijuana residents in the Chilpancingo community spoke to participants about ways the NAFTA agreement has led to a host of problems in their area, including more air pollution from trucks hauling cargo to low wages paid in the maquiladoras, foreign-owned factories where workers make an average wage of $56 a week.

Several workshops at the conference further explained the complexity of border issues, looking at such topics as economic justice, race, and hospitality.  Three speakers from Mexico, Rev. Josue Martinez, Rev. Manual Tovar and Miguel Villa Panduro also shared their thoughts about the impact of immigration on their churches, families and community.

Youth and young adults led worship throughout the conference.

“The entire event left a huge impact on me,” said Sydney Merrill, 17, of Indianapolis, Ind., a member of Speedway Christian Church.  “Living and growing up in the Midwest, I was very unaware and blind to the issues involving the border…Now that the conference has ended, I feel that I can do the most by sharing the word of what I learned during the conference.  I have even written a report for one of my classes at school to help spread the word about the poverty, nonprofit organizations, deportation, and poor environmental conditions all revolving around the border.”

One outcome of the conference was a statement calling the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and the United Church of Christ, to among other things, be more welcoming of all migrants by learning more about the borderlands; provide humanitarian assistance to immigrants and speak out against economic practices that disrespect human life.  To read a full review of the conference that includes the statement go to:  http://globalministries.org/news/lac/statement-of-the-participants.html

The conference was jointly sponsored by the Disciples/UCC Global Ministries, Disciples Home Missions, the UCC Justice and Witness Ministries and Disciples Central Pastoral Office for Hispanic Ministries.

By Wanda Bryant Wills, Communication Ministries
Found on “Disciples News Service”
of the
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

Wearing a Hood on a Cold Morning

December 3, 2010

A slight change in weather brought fog to the farm and surrounding landscape.  Little change in temperature though.  Introducing fog to freezing air changes the face of the landscape.  Not so much a new face, but more like your grandfather going a few days without shaving.  Vegetation is as it was a few days ago but now ice particle upon ice particle have highlighted contours bringing out character unnoticed before.  An ever so slight breeze keeps the windward face open while ice encases the remainder like a hood with strings tightened around the face.  Ice accumulates and flows to the leeward, giving the one rooted in place the appearance of movement.  Frigid, closed in, fog filled mornings brings about a certain gracefulness.
© David B. Bell 2010


Clouds and Home have Their Place

November 15, 2010

Returning home matters to ones wellbeing.  The journey, any journey I imagine, takes one to landscapes different and other than home.  These other landscapes are full of plants and animals and people different from home.  Often folk talk about how much more alike we are than we are different.  Good talk in a world where humanity has done so well to separate us from our sisters and brothers because of language, sculpt of body or color of skin.  Yet, when one journeys home and the body responds to wind blowing through the yellowing willows, one knows home is different than the land beyond the ridge.

After a week in Indianapolis, speaking with the Disciples Home Missions Board, I’d finally found myself looking out the window on the evening flight from Seattle to Yakima.  The flight crosses the Cascade Range, which can make for an interesting flight as the plane plows through rain and snow clouds.  With all the technology and ever-changing plane design, clouds continue to have the upper hand and with bumping and shifting, inform the plane’s flight.

If one is lucky during an evening crossing, in the autumn of the Cascades, the top of the cloud layer is just a bit below the cruising altitude of the plane and the sun is ending its daily journey of the western landscape.  Being a moment above the clouds is an appreciative time of reflection after the jostling relationship of plane and cloud from ground to open sky.  The clouds journeying to the east are unlike any others I’ve encountered between Indianapolis and Seattle.  These have been formed and molded by western wind, Cascade Mountains, and hills, valleys, and watercourses below.  Little surprise these clouds do not have the feel and look of other clouds across the country for the place of their being is unlike any other place.

Knowing place is different matters to ones sense of home and personal wellbeing.  Not knowing place is different is damaging.  Those comments that speak to all downtown areas looking the same—McDonalds, Starbucks, Borders—tell a truth about a society wanting and expecting normalcy by creating sameness.  Yet even in the midst of the massive commercialization of downtowns, believing them the same is hurtful.  Wellbeing is damaged when people of downtown Indianapolis, Houston, and Seattle are told there is no difference.  Even more damage occurs should they believe themselves and their community the same as another. Stepping aside though, and recognizing that even with the onslaught of business creating the same burger or latte in every city and town; the wind continues to sound different and the sun continues to throw shadows different on every city corner.  Commercialization of sameness damages every town and city, but like the uniqueness of clouds over every landscape, when we recognize that no place is any more the same than a cloud over the Cascades is the same as a cloud over the Rockies, then the uniqueness of place is never lost.

Returning home matters, but only if we know home for its unique voice.

© David B. Bell 2010

House Raisings begin on the Ground

August 20, 2010

The morning was just cool enough for a sweatshirt.  As the sun rose, the air took on a citrus orange crispness.  Poles and supports presented geometry against the blue morning sky and undulating ridge beyond.  Long morning shadows slowly receded as if shying from the increasing activity.

This was a long awaited morning.  Neighbors spoke for years of the straw-bale home they were going to build.  Earlier in the summer poles were erected, leveled, and concrete placed around their base.  Now, the morning had arrived to pour the slab of their future home.  The morning air spoke about a hot day ahead, which made the early morning start feel better with each moment.

Slabs give a permanence to people’s lives.  No one knows what might happen to this slab during the next hundred years, but for this family, it means a home for today and tomorrow.  Straw bale construction is quite different from the wood framing of which most homes in the valley are constructed and this says something about this family.  The support structure of this home is post and beam.  Future straw bales will infill the posts and give walls their shape.  As such, the slab is eighteen inches wider than the support posts, all around.  Unlike a wood frame home, the anchor bolts are set specifically for the doors and windows, but nowhere else along the wall-line since bales have no need of them.  As the last location of bolts was marked on the outside of the form boards, and the last neighbor arrived to help with the pour, the concrete truck turned into the drive.

Soon the truck backed up to the slab.  The drum began to turn and concrete began to flow down the chute.  From that moment on, everyone became busy, running the chute, moving concrete, screeding, floating, and troweling.  Time moves fast for those whose living isn’t made working concrete.  Everyone knows concrete sets on its time and the work must be done when the set is right.  The set occurs, the work is done, and four hours later everyone sits down to the mid-afternoon dinner with a finished slab beginning to cure.

The sun is high, the sky has turned to a light blue, the water is cold, the food is good, sore muscles are stretched, neighbors tell stories of past pours and past homes being built, and there is laughter.

© David B. Bell 2010

Oil Spills from Farm to Gulf

June 25, 2010

All it took was a damn $.27 cent lynch pin, and that’s if you buy only one.  Most of the time I buy them five for a buck.  When I think of that, it makes me feel worse.

There’s not much to a lynch pin.  A quarter inch round piece of metal stock about two inches long, with a piece of spring wire that snaps into place.  The lynch pin’s job is basic.  It holds a hitch pin in place or like yesterday, it holds the tongue of the swather onto the tractors draw bar.  That is, it holds the swather in place if you snap one on.

Early afternoon and I hooked the swather up to the tractor.  The swather is about a quarter mile from the shop and when I got to it I found I didn’t have a lynch pin the make the connection.  No problem, I thought, when I get to the shop I will put a pin in place.  In the meantime, the swather is heavy enough to make it to the shop without a problem.  Yeah, not a problem as long as I remember.  As I rolled up to the shop a few folks arrived who were interested in looking at and possibly buying a few goats.  We walked out to the pasture; looked at goats, and talked about the attributes of their mothers, weight gain, and overall confirmation.  Once they picked out a half dozen goats, we ran them into the barn, and then loaded them into a four-horse trailer.  Forty minutes or so after they arrived they were headed back down the drive with a trailer of goats.  Hmm, you think I remembered the lynch pin?

I went back to the swather, checked it over, greased joints, oiled some chains, and then drove out to open up the hay field.  I figured I would make a couple passes around the perimeter and then cut the remainder of the field the next day.  Second pass around the field I made a tight turn over some rough ground.  Tractor, swather, and I bounced.  One little bounce, that’s all it took, and the swather jumps off the draw bar and the hydraulic hoses rip away from the swather.  No hose means one thing, hydraulic oil—two gallons of oil—pours onto the ground.  Forgetting one little $.27 lynch pin and I create quite a mess and hours of fixing.

Looking at hydraulic oil on the ground, flowing and mixing with the vegetation, I couldn’t help but think of the gulf and oil.  Like the gulf spill, this spot of ground will never be the same.  Vegetation is sure to die, and the number of dying microbial animals is probably uncountable.  Who knows how long it will take the soil to recover?  Sure, I will pick up contaminated soil and move it out of the area, but the soil will only end up somewhere else.  The plants and animals may come back to the ground of the two-gallon oil spill, but the soil taken from the ground of its being, will never be the same.

Spills are spills, I think, and when I look at mine, I have to think of my complicity in the gulf spill.  As long as I continue to use oil for heating, transportation, or food production, at some level I support offshore drilling, whether I protest it or not.  I’m not all that sure what this means for me, but a $.27 lynch pin has me thinking.

© David B. Bell 2010

Land Appeals to Wholeness

June 10, 2010

The land is much more than a bit of soil, some water, a plant here and there, and a few animals running around.  The land invokes awareness, an openness you might say, to the incredible places of interlinking relationship.  Such awareness never allows loneliness or thoughtlessness.  Such awareness does not allow hurt.  Rather, the land prays compassionate caring for any aspect of the land is the caring for all created land.

© David B. Bell 2010

Morning Images

Two images imprinted on my mind from the mornings drive into the Mission.  Twenty or so farm workers in a 120-acre asparagus field.  Most hunched over shoving the knife into the ground cutting one plant after the next as quickly as possible.  Bundled against the early morning weather, many have plastic garbage bags with a hole cut in the bottom slipped over their head for protection against the rain.  Each person is moving fast, but slow and methodical through the field.  A taste of asparagus.

A white pickup sits just beyond the fence.  A man is closing the gate behind the truck.  Hat pulled down tight against the weather.  Heavy jacket as well, his shoulders are hunched up as he slides the gate latch into place.  Across the yard stands the home with a large picture window.  Inside the home, standing on the windowsill is a little girl, in a dress, smiling, with arm extended, full palm facing her father, waving for all she’s worth.

© David B. Bell 2010