Great Sand Dunes National Park and Preserve, Colorado

Colorado. Rocky Mountains. Forests. Farms. Water. The tallest sand dunes in North America. What? No kidding! Sprawling over 330 square miles, sand and sediment from the San Juan and Sangre de Cristo Mountain ranges blew and washed into what was once a huge lake. As the lake filled in, the gusty, year round wind piled the sand into dunes and continues to feed and shift the dunes today. The park contains nearly half the Dunes, while most of the rest are part of  a National Preserve in the Sangre de Cristo Wilderness.


Another anomaly of the park is that it contains 7 life zones and the many animals and plants that inhabit them. Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep can be found in Alpine Tundra; black bear roam Subalpine Forests; bobcats prowl among the pinon and juniper of Montane Forests; brightly colored tiger beetles liven up the Dunefields; elk wander the Grasslands; sandhill cranes patrol the Plains; finally, there are Streams and Wetlands, where beaver can sometimes be found. So this is Colorado after all.


I find the Dunes to be particularly striking during Lent. The stark barrenness of the dunefield summoned us into its emptiness. The mysterious undulations teased us into pursuing their secrets. Were there hidden spaces, or just endless drifts? Daddy couldn’t resist removing his shoes to sink his feet into the soft, silky sand. I left my boots on. The wind was icy and the dunes were not reflecting the sun’s warmth on this day.


As Yak crested a steep mound, the merciless wind stole his cowboy hat and deposited it playfully on the even steeper backside. Despite my dislike of vertical slopes, I judged that even if I rolled down to the bottom, the worst I would get would be sand in my hair, so I went after the headpiece. Halfway there I was creeping on all fours. Just as I was within reach of my goal, daddy clambered over the ridge and stopped right in front of the topper, laughing at me. Refusing to admit defeat, I pounced upon the hat and we all sat down on the backside of the dune, out of the sandstorm, for a much needed rest and a good laugh.


The wind was in our faces on the way back to the truck. I held securely to Yak’s hat, not wishing to repeat my recent heroics. Any trace of our hike in was already blown away. The lenten journey is all here in the dunes. The emptying of myself. The overcoming of fear to serve another. Laughing at my shortcomings. Struggling uphill in the sand one way and against the wind the other. Reaching the truck never felt so good. Closing the door on the tempest. Turning on the heater. Making hot chocolate with the thermos of hot water I brought. The journey is difficult, we screw up along the way. The destination is worth it.

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Were You There When the Sun Refused to Shine?


Sometimes a line in a song cuts straight to the heart.  I feel it with the National Anthem (and the rockets’ red glare…), The Celtic Farewell (may holy angels be there at your welcoming, and all the saints who go before you there), and Were You There?  For me it’s verse 4, “were you there when the sun refused to shine?”  What event could be so profoundly tragic that the earth itself, even the sun, would go into mourning?  Only the death of God, its beloved Creator.

According to the gospel of Palm Sunday, Luke 22:14-23:56, “It was about noon and darkness came over the whole land until three in the afternoon because of an eclipse of the sun.  Then the veil of the temple was torn down the middle.  Jesus…breathed his last.”(NAB)


Both the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus and the pagan Roman historian Tacitus confirm the crucifixion of Jesus in their writings, but historians disagree about the truth of the other phenomena during and after Jesus’ death.  Several apocryphal gospels agree with the synoptic gospels (Matthew, Mark and Luke), attesting to the eclipse, earthquakes and the resurrection and appearance of dead saints in Jerusalem.  Dionysius the Areopagite, witnessing the eclipse from Heliopolis writes, “Either the Creator of all the world now suffers, or this visible world is coming to an end.” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crucifixion_eclipse. Historian Sextus Julius Africanus denies the possibility of an eclipse at Passover, which is held during the full moon, because a solar eclipse can only happen during a new moon. Though he goes on to quote the records of Phlegon, chronicalling a solar eclipse at full moon during the reign of Tiberius. Eusebius also quotes Phlegon connecting an earthquake with the same eclipse. Tertullian and Lucian of Antioch both imply that evidence of this darkness still existed in Roman records during their time. 


Paulus Orosius, historian and student of St. Augustine of Hippo, writes in his “The Seven Books of History Against the Pagans”, ” that Jesus “voluntarily gave himself over to the Passion but through the impiety of the Jews, was apprehended and nailed to the cross, as a very great earthquake took place throughout the world, rocks upon mountains were split, and a great many parts of the largest cities fell by this extraordinary violence. On the same day also, at the sixth hour of the day, the Sun was entirely obscured and a loathsome night suddenly overshadowed the land, as it was said, ‘an impious age feared eternal night.’ Moreover, it was quite clear that neither the Moon nor the clouds stood in the way of the light of the Sun, so that it is reported that on that day the Moon, being fourteen days old, with the entire region of the heavens thrown in between, was farthest from the sight of the Sun, and the stars throughout the entire sky shone, then in the hours of the day or rather in that terrible night. To this, not only the authority of the Holy Gospels attest, but even some books of the Greeks.”
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Crucifixion_eclipse.

So what do all these interesting writings have to do with faith? Just that I find it utterly sad, when meditating on the Crucifixion, that even creation mourned the death of Christ.

Were you there?

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Simplifying Climate Change


I know, it’s Lent.  I should be writing about Ash Wednesday, or penance, or the Pope’s resignation.  I think all that’s pretty well covered in other people’s blogs.  I was reading an article in the January issue of The Catholic Worker about “The Church and Climate Change”.  This started the wheels turning in my head.  Regardless of which theory you subscribe to, I think it can be generally agreed that there is an enormous amount of environmental pollution and waste that has been going on for decades.  I am glad the Church takes the stand that, as stewards of the earth, we need to be proactive in protecting it for future generations.  About time.  I’ll save the farther-reaching issues for those who are much more educated and intelligent than I am.

 
The article did bring the issue closer to home for me.  I frequently think about these things in relation to what small part I play in them.  Though I do try to drive less, my loved ones are dispersed and I like to visit them.  I homeschool my son, but he plays hockey 50 miles away…  I cannot imagine life without a car.  A car = freedom and independence.  
 
I heat my home with a woodstove – renewable energy – and resist the temptation to use the air conditioner for all but the 3-6 hottest weeks of the summer.  It helps that it is a window unit, which I install and remove every year.  I just delay installation until the heat is unbearable.  

I disagree that my few head of backyard livestock contribute significantly to greenhouse gasses.  In fact, they have contributed significantly to the fertility of my soil so far.  They also contribute dairy products and eggs for my household and meat for the freezer.  They eat the weeds on ten acres, thereby reducing the fire hazard and eliminating the need for gas powered weed control.  

I will admit that I have a ways to go for gardening success.  I try to reuse packaging and buy in bulk.  I use and reuse every possible drop of water, it is Northern Arizona, after all.

I enjoy the internet, my cell phone, kindle and netflix.  I like to flip a switch and have light and I really like the indoor outhouse.  I may not ever be as “green” as I really could be.   I’m still on the grid, because it would take 15 or more years to recoup the switch to solar – my usage is rather minimal.  I take delivery of propane, because I do a lot of cooking on my gas stove, my gas clothes dryer gets used 2 or 3 times a week, though I occasionally hang clothes outside, and I have the gas heater for emergency back up.  Still, I only use 150-200 gallons of propane a year, when I don’t use the heater.

Honestly, I’m not quite sure where I rate on the scale of being a responsible, green Catholic.  I do try to simplify as much as possible and in doing so, I use less.  Besides, in this part of Arizona, if you don’t like the climate, wait 5 minutes.  It’ll change.

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Drawn to Life – Our Parish Mission

Leighton Drake original print

Where’s “The Happiest Place on Earth”?  As a native SoCal gal, of course I knew the answer to that – Disneyland!  Suddenly, Leighton Drake had my attention, and our parish lenten mission became personal to me.  Having been to Dland dozens of times, not only as a child, but then with my children, I am well acquainted with the “happiness” factor of their marketing slogan.  I am also familiar with the bleeding feeling as money escapes the wallet in mass quantities for parking, entry, food and souvenirs.  Then there are the cranky children and exhausted adults.  I totally relate to Drake’s disenchantment with the Enchanted Kingdom.  Based in Phoenix, Leighton Drake is an artist and youth minister, most familiar with the Disneyland dilemma.  For some reason, Walt Disney’s original theme park is a coveted destination for Arizona youth groups and senior class trips.  Or maybe I’m just jaded, amusement parked-out.

After captivating us for nearly two hours with his conversion story and ongoing journey of faith, Drake, husband and father of four,  stood before his empty sketch pad, and with seemingly random strokes of a chunk of charcoal, transformed it into a passionate portrait of Christ, bloodied and crowned with thorns.  He then offered the breathtaking work at a silent auction after his talk.

My son, who has never been to Disneyland, but has discovered an interest in art, due to an art program on DVD we have been using in his homeschool, was absolutely delighted with the demonstration, and insisted upon examining the drawing in more detail.  We came away with one of the artist’s prints, a gift for ds’s upcoming 1st Communion/Confirmation, (the opening bid on the silent auction was waaaaaay beyond what I could even consider) and a burning desire to become “on-fire” for Christ again, and to seek out ways to keep our love for Him burning steadily.

Click on this link to learn more about Leighton Drake and his Drawn to Life Ministries.

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Cultural Diversity

Several recent events have given me cause to be grateful for our cultural diversity here in the United States.

Once again, St. Patrick’s day came and went, this year, with more meaning to me.  I had watched the movie  “St. Patrick, The Irish Legend” and subsequently did a little further research on this beloved saint.  I’m not so much on corned beef and cabbage, but my Irish heritage has a bit more meaning when I contemplate the sacrificial love with which Patrick won over the Irish people, and stayed with them to continue to lead them to Jesus.

I read “Hopi Summer” by Carolyn O’Bagy Davis for book club.  The story is about a Massachusetts family who toured the U.S. one year in the late 1920’s, spending a lengthy time on the Hopi mesas in Arizona.  (The book was the Arizona One Book winner for 2011).  They struck up a friendship with several Hopi families which lasted their lifetimes, and left behind a wealth of photographs and correspondence which serves to chronicle that moment in American history.

I attended a Presentation celebration for a young Mexican friend.  At the age of 3 or 4, a Mexican child is “presented” to Jesus and Our Blessed Mother at a special Mass, followed by feasting, etc.  The Mass was very simple, the child dressed like a princess, knowing it was her special day, and taking all the ceremony and blessing very seriously.

I watched “The Singing Revolution”, a documentary about the non-violent Estonian revolution and their ultimate break from Communist oppression in the late 1990’s.  Through their persistent preservation of their culture of singing, the Estonians eventually won worldwide support in their cause to liberate themselves from the USSR.

In the past, groups of immigrants would form their own close communities and preserve their language, culture and tradition.  Not so much any more.  Oh, we can still find tiny pockets of Polish, Amish, Native American and others.  But mostly we really have to search them out.  There is so much beauty in each different cultural tradition. Yes, we have our Sacramental celebrations, but the Mexican Presentation and Quincenera are beautiful additional reminders to continue to dedicate our lives to the Lord.  The Polish blessing of the food  before the Easter Vigil, reminds us that all we have comes from God, and Jesus lived and died that we might have it more fully.  Shrove Tuesday (before it became a corrupted form of Mardi Gras) is the day before the start of Lent, when English-speaking immigrants would feast on foods rich with fats, sugars and eggs, before giving them up for Lent.  The Swedes celebrate the feast of St. Lucia in December, with a teenage girl portraying the saint, adorned with a crown of candles and dressed in white; the candles symbolizing the fire that would not consume the saint when she was condemned to be burned.  If you’ve had a chance to celebrate Passover, just as Jesus and the Apostles did, maybe you’ve experienced the mystical connection between the Jewish and Christian celebrations.

Americans are as guilty as any other country of trying to eradicate the customs and traditions of our many different citizens. A great deal of the Native American culture has been lost through earlier governmental intervention, much of which was done in the name of Christianity. Somehow, I don’t think Christ would approve.

This Lent, instead of or in addition to giving up some thing, maybe we can try to give up some attitude that prevents us from being more Christ-like.  I promise, once you get started, there is no end.  We are forever slipping back into negative thought patterns.  But as we confess our weakness and firmly resolve to try again, little by little we become more the children God created us to be.  And like little children, we can accept and celebrate our wonderful cultural diversity.

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