Thursday, March 23, 2006


When a Pennsylvanian transplants to the American South, two features stand out in high contrast to past experience.

Barns aren’t painted. Having lived in close proximity to Pennsylvania Dutch country and eastern Pennsylvania’s horse- and dairy culture, I grew up with the perception that all of the nation’s (if not the world’s) barns and fences are painted – red, or white, respectively. Apparent fact: no, they aren’t.

And the other difference in the South is the abundance of a vine which seems to be subscribing frivolously to Glidden Paint’s philosophy, to “Cover the earth.” Kudzu. This plant was imported from Japan by the railroads some 75 years ago, to plant along their miles of track to prevent erosion. At the time, the Japanese told us that this plant knows no boundaries. To say it grows wild is an understatement; in the summer climate of the South it grows a foot (30 cm) in a day. In Georgia, legend has it that one must close up all the windows at night to keep kudzu from growing into the house. In the summers, vast areas of forest and field become a rich, verdant green, looking ever so healthy, although trees and bushes are smothered to compost underneath. Winters are deceptive. Kudzu loses all its leaves and turns a lifeless brown. All appearances aside, it is not dead but only sleeps. As soon as spring warms sufficiently, the kudzu awakens and picks up its knitting where it left off. Green leaves abound on all the undead tendrils, and it resumes its relentless growth across the landscape.

Now buffel grass has joined the club of invasive plants. Ecologists in the area of the Sonoran Desert, near Tucson, Arizona are doing battle with it, Buffel grass was imported from South Africa and planted in the desert to keep down erosion. (Where have we heard that before, eh?) Now it has spread beautifully, and it is contributing to the fire danger in that vulnerable climate. Buffel grass burns long and hot, killing everything with its raging flames, right down to the roots. So, armed with shovels and metal bars and threatening to resort to chemicals, hardy teams of well-intentioned warriors are attacking the buffel grass, hoping to eradicate it in the delicate ecosystem of Sonora.

The Kudzu Syndrome has three distinct stages.
Stage One: We solve a problem by introducing an element of a different origin, culture or ecosystem.
Stage Two: The Newcomer does what it was created to do.
Stage Three: Now it’s causing more problems than solutions, so The Newcomer – which we invited here – becomes a problem to be solved.

In our own lives we fall into the clutches of the Kudzu Syndrome when we start to tailor ourselves to the pattern dictated by others. This may be imposed from without, by a strong personality, or it may be intentionally sought, by a tender soul seeking security. One way or another we find that the Kudzu Syndrome is not a good fit for long, and we need to take up the tools of soul and spirit to weed out the invasive patterns. It’s not an easy task or painless, but it’s the only way back to an internal balance. Go get ‘em!

Sunday, March 19, 2006


I’m reading At Sea with God, by Margaret Silf (now out of print, but available in the UK), and in today’s reading, she introduced me to the Plimsoll Line. It’s a mark – a white line – on the outside of a boat’s hull, and if it’s loaded so this line sinks below the water mark, the boat is too heavily loaded and is in danger of sinking. Interestingly, it was devised in England in 1876 by Samuel Plimsoll, and it’s not just a single line but a series of lines, showing the level of the Plimsoll Line for various degrees of salinity and temperature. In warm, fresh water the Plimsoll Line is high; in cold salt water, it’s much lower, quite a span of tolerance.

Wouldn’t it be handy if one’s life had a Plimsoll Line, an alert to let us know when we were getting into something deserving caution. Or maybe we do have a built-in Plimsoll Line for life, equally sensitive to varying conditions and situations: our common sense. Now, to pay attention to it.

Thursday, March 16, 2006


The top o' the day to ye!

Sunday, March 05, 2006


Ash Wednesday this year was delightful. I know: It's supposed to be solemn, reverent, penitential -- anything but a delight. But God's humor prevails even on fast days. Back at the end of January I wrote in my blog:

Scientist Carl Sagan said, “We are made of star stuff.” I love that. I’ve loved the idea since I first heard it, some years ago.

Well, it makes sense. What else would we be made of but the basic elements that make up the universe? . . .

Most of what I read about Sagan’s “star stuff” was way over my head, but I came upon a description of DNA as giving off light, and shedding more light when it was unwound. The author describes that swirl of light as functioning as a “tuning fork” for the body, striking a species-specific frequency to which all the body’s cells align.

Stars are made of the basic elements, and stars give off light. If we are indeed made of star stuff, I’d like to think that the light in our DNA is starlight, that the light of the universe is within us.

May starlight shine in all of us and give us hope.
That was written over a month ago, so I wasn't thinking about Star Stuff as I went forward in the Ash Wednesday service for the imposition of ashes. Then Hal (our priest) looked me squarely in the eye and said, "Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return." And I'm sure my expression suddenly glowed with delight. Not exactly what he might have been expecting, given the solemnity of his pronouncement. But you can imagine what I was thinking, "Yes! Star dust!" Ash Wednesday will never be the same for me.