Prairie View

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Gardening: Persephone Period

I'm experimenting with a new blogging format.  That is, instead of trying to pull together various threads of content in coherent essays or substantive paragraphs, I will write about one detail at a time.  For this I will adopt titles similar to what Facebook calls hashtags.  Here the titles might often consist of two words, a general category and a specific topic in that category.  On FB, hashtags appear with a pound sign in front of a subject (#oftenarunononelikethis).  I've never done it, but I think that makes possible a search for content on that particular subject. Since we are at the beginning of the Persephone Period where I live, this will be the topic of today's post. It's a subtopic of gardening.   

Persephone Period (per-SEF-uh-nee) refers to the time of year when daytime consists of fewer than ten hours of light.  I will use the term in abbreviated form at times.  At our latitude, this period extends from November 21 to January 21.  It's easy to remember this if you note that it starts a month before the winter solstice and extends to a month afterward.  The duration of this period varies, based on how far from the equator a location is, but it always centers on the winter solstice, and extends an equal distance on either side of that.  We are at approximately 38 degrees North Latitude.  Every location at this latitude in the northern hemisphere will have the same Persephone Period.  Places north of here have a longer Persephone Period and places south of here have a shorter one.

This period of limited daylight coincides with the slowest plant growth of any time of year, even for plants that are cold tolerant enough to stay alive through the winter.  Photosynthesis depends on sunlight, and, not only does sunlight not last very long at this time of year, it enters the atmosphere at such a low angle that even at high noon it's "weak." This happens because the sunlight is passing through a lot of the density of the atmosphere instead of mostly the vacuum of space as happens at high noon on the summer solstice.  

In practical terms, reckoning with Persephone means that gardeners are able to think beyond first frost dates--usually thought of as the end of the growing season.  For fall crops, conventional wisdom says that everything should be ready to harvest before the average date of the first killing frost.  If you plant cold-hardy crops, however, they will be able to survive and even grow beyond the first killing frost.  In other words, they have varying levels of cold tolerance beyond a minimum temperature of 32 degrees, and can continue to grow for about another month under typical fall conditions. For crops like this, Persephone can be considered the end of the growing season.  In our area, this means we can add a month to our growing season for cool season crops.  

This year was not a typical year for us.  Unseasonably cold weather arrived before the middle of November and hung on for several weeks.  Nighttime temps went down to 15 degrees--colder than almost all cool season garden crops typically tolerate.  I covered what I could in the garden, but I haven't had the courage to uncover everything to examine how things fared.  Sometimes our relatively mild fall weather continues into December.  

One more tidbit I picked up recently relates to how cold hardy plants deal with cold weather in relation to their growth cycle.  If plants are the heading-followed-by-flowering type (think cabbage, cauliflower, and broccoli), productivity will occur under one of several cold weather scenarios.  1.  They will be planted early enough to produce a harvest before intolerably cold  weather arrives.  2.  They will  grow to maturity before Persephone, but will survive outdoors throughout the winter, perhaps with some protection like mulch or row covers.  3.  They will be so small at the beginning of Persephone that they have not begun to form a head.  They will survive through the winter and then start growing after Persephone and produce an early harvest in late winter or early spring.  

It's likely to result in a lack of productivity if  heading has started before Persephone.  In that case, the plants will likely bolt to seed almost as soon as growth starts again after Perspehone.  

I found another nuance of growth timing from reading.  It's related to another part of the plant growth equation, soil temperature.  Soil temperature usually has a lag time of about three weeks in relation to the Persephone Period.  In other words, soil temperature can actually still accommodate some plant growth for three weeks after Persephone starts, and it will likely not warm to suitable temperatures again till three weeks after Persephone ends.  What this means is that the growing season can possibly be stretched two notches after the average killing frost date.  The first stretch lasts till Persephone begins and the second stretch lasts another three weeks.  

Persephone was a character from Greek mythology.  Because part of her story involved Persephone being banished for a period of time each year, the garden guru, Eliot Coleman, used her name to identify the sun's "going away (or banishment)" period.

 I used the NOAA (National Oceanic And Atmospheric) weather site to find our latitude location, although I'm sure that many other sources would have this information as well.  Information on Persephone Periods is available on the Johnny's Selected Seeds website.  I don't remember how I found when we have our Persephone Period, but I'll leave that to you to figure out for your location.  Google is your friend for answering questions like this.  Do leave a comment or shoot me an email though if you'd like for me to help you with this.  

Tuesday, November 15, 2022

Ten Grandchildren

 Last Sunday our children orchestrated a late 70th birthday celebration for me.  One of the nice things we did that night was to get a picture of me with the grandchildren.  I posted it on Facebook, along with this commentary:  

Ten grandchildren in ten years. They range in age from 1 to 11. Every one is precious and interesting and full of charm and potential. Every one has two parents who love them and provide for them and teach them well. This is a whole load of Iwashige family blessings to reflect on at the age of 70.

As you can probably tell, this picture was taken as all such pictures of wiggly little people must be taken--in a hurry and on the fly--before anyone absconds or starts crying. Back 'em up to the wall of the dining room/school room and click away from across the dining room table.

Right now there are no 3 or 5-year olds, and there are two who are 8. Otherwise, every age from 1 to11 is covered.

The children are from three different families.

Here's a picture:


Two grandsons (ages 6 and 8) decorated the cake.  The 2-year old was bribed to stay in the picture by being allowed to hold a miniature pumpkin.

They're such a fun bunch!

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Part of our youngest son Grant's family was featured on the front page of Sunday's local daily newspaper.  If I can manage it, I'll put the link for that article here.  If you can't see it on the page this link goes to (I'm afraid it might go to today's front page instead), you might try the archives button on the right side of the screen, and then select the November 13 date.  The article is about involving children in cooking.  The pictures are taken in the kitchen of Amanda Miller, our daughter-in-law's close friend.  Amanda is a former food columnist for our local newspaper, and now submits feature articles.  

Saturday, October 01, 2022

Farewell to Harley Wagler

Harley Wagler died yesterday.  After a number of weeks of compromised health, he had been diagnosed recently with lymphoma.  The type of lymphoma he had was considered incurable, but treatable, and he had reportedly experienced some improvement as recently as the past weekend.  He was taken to the hospital yesterday morning, and died there in the afternoon at the age of 80 or 81.  Although never married, he had two precious godchildren in Russia, where he lived for most of the last half of his life.  Last year he had returned to Kansas to stay, but not before promising that he would return to Russia to visit his "daughter" this summer (2022).  That obviously didn't happen.

Those bare facts belie quite a remarkable life story which began in an Old Order Amish home.  He joined the church of his childhood, and he told me in an email since he's home that he drove a horse and buggy even after his dad switched to a car.  Later he joined Plainview.  

One of the things that I'm deeply regretful about regarding Harley's death is that his perspective on many facts of church and local history have been lost. He had a good memory and, although I sometimes wanted to argue with him, he always seemed thoughtful and humble--two qualities that I especially admire in others.  I don't claim to have been a close friend of Harley's, but I do feel a personal loss at his death, and I will miss him. 

Harley loved Russia and its people.  The university where he taught for many years threw a big 80th birthday celebration in his honor just after his retirement and before he returned to Kansas.  I believe his heart was broken about recent events there.  He died on the same day that Putin announced the annexation of four Ukrainian  regions.  Perhaps the one good thing about Harley's death now is that he is spared more heartbreak regarding Russia. 

I have written about Harley before, and right now I have nothing more to add.  

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

Jesus Makes an Exception to Religious Tradition

 I wrote this early on Monday morning, and this morning after allowing time for it to mellow and for me to see if it still made sense in the light of day, I sent it to our ministers.  I made only minor changes this morning.

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Yesterday’s Sunday School lesson from Mark 2 concluded with these words of Jesus: “The Sabbath was made for man, and not man for the Sabbath.”  Pondering those words gave me insight into how we might profitably view religious traditions, even if those traditions did not originate in the Ten Commandments as Sabbath keeping did for the Jews in Jesus’ audience.

In the context in which Jesus said those words, his disciples had been criticized for plucking heads of grain to thresh in their hands and to eat as they walked along on the Sabbath.  Although permitted in the Old Testament law (as long as no sickle was used), layers of Jewish law established since the law was given originally had forbidden the practice.  

In the beginning, rest was mandated as part of keeping the Sabbath holy.  The practice was rooted in God’s creative activity, when he “worked” at creation for six days and rested on the seventh.  Since working and resting were understood to be mutually exclusive, and since gathering and threshing grain was work, complete abstinence from it was called for as far as the Jews were concerned.

I see Jesus’ words in Mark 2 as effectively reining in the excessive rigidity that had become the norm in Jewish Sabbath keeping practice, while he preserved the essential elements of the law’s  original intent.  Jesus’ words could perhaps be paraphrased like this: “God intended Sabbath observance to be a gift to man–not a burden to him.”  Perhaps his words could also be understood to mean that the principle of Sabbath keeping is too important to man’s well-being to set aside completely, but wisdom calls for making occasional exceptions to the traditional application of that principle.

What if we viewed our religious traditions in a similar way?  While it might feel like a stretch to see all of our traditions as gifts, I think it’s reasonable to see most of them as having come into being as good provisions for meeting legitimate and recognizable needs.  What if we could find a way to do as Jesus did–not reject the traditions that were instituted for people’s benefit, but make occasional exceptions to the traditional application of the principle behind the traditions?  In other words, what if, instead of rewriting our principle-recognizing codes, we could identify circumstances (either in advance or in-the-moment as relevant circumstances arise) that would allow occasional exceptions to the specific application of the principles that we still wish to honor?  I would idealize group involvement in making exceptions, although it would almost certainly not always be practical.  

I’m guessing that our German-influenced love for efficiency and its penchant for having a policy for everything would result in some stiff headwinds if this approach were implemented in our religious communities. I don’t deny that it could be challenging.  My impression is that, even so, it might be the best way forward in cases where different factions within a group want to resolve differences peacefully.  

Simply starting over seems ill-advised to me–akin to the chaos that would surely have resulted if Jesus had said about Sabbath keeping that “we’re starting over from scratch at this point, because the traditional applications are no longer relevant.” Instead, he refocused on the principle behind the current Sabbath keeping practice and proceeded to show his audience how it could be reasonably applied to the situation at hand.  If it’s good enough for a perfect God-man, it should probably be good enough for you and me and all of us together.



Sunday, September 11, 2022

Mental/Emotional Well-Being

Some time ago I  heard about the struggle that a young man I know is having with depression.  A deep well of empathy fills right up for me whenever I hear such news.  I don't claim to know what others should do about situations like this, and I know that likely the most helpful thing I can do is to pray.  I'd like also to share some of the things that anyone can do without spending money or taking medication that might be helpful--in case others would also benefit.  To  some extent, I've tried these things.  I have also tried medication and found it helpful, but am happy that I can do without it now.

I will try to break up what I want to say into several blog posts.   In this post, I will focus on awareness of the natural world.  I thought of this first when I remembered that the young man I know had an unusual interest in and knowledge of the natural world as a child.  I suspect that in his depressed condition, he takes far less notice of the natural world than he used to.  Perhaps it would make a good starting place though for recovering his health.  

Nature provides an awe-inspiring mix of constancy and variation.  Understanding these two realities can fill deep emotional needs..  Who of us is not reassured by knowing that some things never change?  On the other hand, who of us does not long for things to be different someday? I'll focus first on how love for sameness and variety is met in observing sky phenomena.  

Note:  Please excuse my woefully improper terminology when I describe some sky phenomena by speaking only of how things appear from my perspective.  I know that I seem to be repeating many of the same erroneous assumptions that people made in Galileo's time.  This is one of the times when I would surely stall out and not say anything at all if I held myself to a standard of scientific perfection., even if it extended only to the limits of my knowledge.  My sense is that my mental health can benefit when I observe intentionally, imperfect communication notwithstanding.  

Sunrise 

At our latitude (approximately 38 degrees north), the time of sunrise varies throughout the year, with its earliest rising happening on the summer solstice around June 22, and its latest rising on the winter solstice around December 21.  It always rises in the east, of course, but does so very far to the northeast on the summer solstice and very far to the southeast on the winter solstice.  At both the spring and autumnal equinox (the first day of spring and fall), the sun rises squarely in the middle of these north and south extremes.   

If a person always watches the sunrise from the same spot, this north-south march (the variation) will become evident if the place of its rising can be compared with markers on the horizon.  The timing of sunrise also varies.  From the June to the December solstice, it rises a bit later each morning. From the December solstice till the June solstice, the sun rises a bit earlier each day.  Still, the variations are never ever random.  They always progress according to a predictable sequence at a predictable pace.  That's the unchangeable part, and it's incredibly grounding.

I find myself typically breaking into a wide grin at the first sighting of the sun's eye-stabbing brightness as it peeks over the horizon.  I often say something to myself as well. "There it is!"  or "Beautiful!" or "Thank you, God."  I'm usually by myself, so there's no need to explain or restrain myself.  This moment coincides with a jolt of anticipation for what the day offers.  I can't wait to get started enjoying it. 

Unless the sky is completely overcast in the east, the brightest color spread over the widest area happens quite a while before sunrise.  If I can manage it, I usually start checking around 30 minutes before sunrise.  Even when the widespread color is lacking, however, intense color is always present in the sun itself.   

Sunset

Much of what happens at sunrise has a parallel at sunset--the sameness, the variety, the incredible saturated brightness when the sun is perched on the "cliff" of the horizon.  The widespread sky color may intensify considerably for up to a half hour after the sun has sunk out of sight.  

What is very different, however, is the calmness that viewing a sunset evokes, rather than a sense of invigoration and eagerness to accomplish something.  Somehow, at sunset it feels safe to stow undone tasks in a safely-out-of-sight place, knowing that at sunrise tomorrow, those still-undone tasks can be viewed with anticipation and vigor.  

Whatever weather harshness the day brought often seems subdued in the evening.  The heat has relented and the wind has subsided.  Nocturnal animals are venturing out, and early-rising animals are finding resting places.  


Moonrise

I usually look for the moon at sunset and wait to go inside until I've spotted it.  I greet it with the same joy that I greet the morning sun.  I note that whenever I see a moon in the western "half" of my inside-of-a-bowl vantage point, it's a slice of the moon.  The slice gets bigger as it moves east a bit farther each night.  Full moon appears in the evening on the eastern horizon.  

The moon too varies in its rising spot, with the path moving between north and south.  I'm not prepared to explain it at all, but I love the beauty of this image, which is a composite of many images recorded in the same spot over a span of 28 days.  


I feel secure at moonrise.  I'll soon be going to sleep, but Someone with an all-seeing eye will keep vigil all night.

Stars

I've learned to recognize a number of constellations in the night sky.  Whenever I spot a familiar one, I feel like I'm meeting an old friend.  "There you are!" I might say.  Constellations too march across the sky from east to west during the night, or rather, they pivot in a counter-clockwise direction around the north star.  Some of them are not visible at all during part of the year.  Seeing the stars helps provide me with a perspective of my place in the universe.  I'm an incredibly small part of the vast creation, but I'm here, I'm conscious, I can show up in life, and I'm precious to God.  I came from somewhere and I'm going somewhere.  I have a relationship with the Creator God. Observing the stars makes me feel both settled and confident.  

I seriously doubt that any depressed person would have the fortitude to wade through this writing, but maybe someone close to such a person will find a way to walk with them in pursuing good mental health by observing the sky.  

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Recap:  Observing the sky reveals the blessing of both predictability and variableness in life.  Embracing these two realities is a good mental health practice.  Besides these understandings, other healthy habits and responses arise from mindful observation of sky phenomena.  

1.  Sunrise: This moment coincides with a jolt of anticipation for what the day offers.  I can't wait to get started enjoying it. 

2.  Sunset:  Viewing a sunset evokes calmness and peace, rather than a sense of invigoration and eagerness to accomplish something.  Somehow, at sunset it feels safe to stow undone tasks in a safely-out-of-sight place, knowing that at sunrise tomorrow, those still-undone tasks can be viewed with anticipation and vigor. 

3.  Moonrise:   I feel secure at moonrise.  I'll soon be going to sleep, but Someone with an all-seeing eye will keep vigil all night.

4.  Stars:  Seeing the stars helps provide me with a perspective of my place in the universe. 







Sunday, June 12, 2022

Follow Up on "Ownership"

"Ownership" is the title of the previous post.  In it I referenced having had a conversation in which I mentioned the "ownership" conversation on Facebook.  The lead-in for the in-person conversation was this question:  "Do you think [our church] would be ready for a [FotW(church name)] -type church?  

"Well, I think some of us would be, but not all of us," I said.  I can't remember what all I said after that, so I'll simply try to summarize some of my thinking here rather than recount the conversation.

I realize that I really don't know enough about what FotW is like to know whether I'd like a church like that or not.  The church is in Boston, and many of the attendees are students at Sattler.  I do know that they meet in homes, they have communion often, the women wear coverings, and they think of themselves not as Anabaptists, but Anabaptist-adjacent.  

Very recently I got a FB friend request from the wife of one of the pastors.  I am also part of a FB group in which her husband is a moderator (or at least he was when I was part of the group earlier--I took a break between then and now).  

In the in-person conversation, I said that I think the people at our church who would be ready for a FotW-type church are generally forward-thinking and outward-focused.  When our church started (in 1958), many of the decisions about how things would be done focused on maintaining good relationships with the Old Order Amish we had just left, although certainly the leaders in the new group would have thought of themselves as being forward-thinking and outward-focused too.  I think that would have been how many others in Anabaptist groups saw them as well.  I recognize that most of the people younger than I am (I just turned 70) do not remember how things were at that time, and they have no sense of needing to use Old Order Amish thinking and practice as a reference point of any kind.  

When I see people disregarding the values that came to us through that avenue, I think I feel like people must feel who love a handicapped child or an adult with dementia, and they see others ignoring, or worse, mocking them.  Of course we can't make people respect or love what we respect and love, but when they do, it's ever-so-sweet.  Not only does it make us feel affirmation for our perspective, we consider it to be revealing of maturity and good discernment on their part.  Our gut feeling is that they too will come to value these good things for themselves if they can receive traditions as a gift, and embrace them in practice.

While I see value in being forward and outward-thinking, I also see benefits in looking back.  I'm concerned that when we fail to do that, we can too mindlessly discard some of the very good things that have come to us through our traditions.  When we discard those good traditions, we run the risk of losing some of the very characteristics that are appealing to a watching world.  Not only that, we lose some of the cohesiveness that makes thriving possible for those who are part of the group.  

I tend to think also that we make too much of what we need to do to accommodate people who want to join our group from different backgrounds.  I suspect that some of the accommodations we think we should make are actually not that important to people looking on.  

Admittedly, I'm basing this partly on what I hear from Hiromi.  Honestly, I think he might be more in favor of our church maintaining its distinctiveness than most of us are who have grown up in these traditions.  He doesn't bat an eye about us asking those who wish to join us to "do as we do" if they want to be members of our church (Caveat:  There is one notable exception, which I will not elaborate on here.  Suffice it to say that having a FotW-type church would not resolve that one issue.).  Granted, his perspective is informed by his Japanese background--something which adds some unusual dynamics to the mix.

In the in-person conversation, we talked about women wearing home-sewn cape dresses.  I know that this is definitely not the expectation in the FotW group.  I believe most of the forward/outward-thinking crowd thinks our practice is impractical, a needless relic from our Amish past.  Although I have at times have had similar thoughts, I noted in our conversation that I think uniformity in our home-sewn dresses also provides benefits.  I, for one, am really glad I don't need to shop for my own clothes.  Some of the people who have made the switch but still seek to wear modest clothing find shopping very challenging.  Life is streamlined in a good way, as I see it, when shopping for ready-made clothing is not needed.  Changing styles dictated by designers or retailers are a non-issue.

What's not to like about a creative/crafty endeavor like sewing, not to mention the fact that it's a great self-sufficiency skill?  There is, of course, the occasional person who becomes part of a church like ours who doesn't know how to sew.  Something always works out for people like that though.  Others sew for her, she can plug into the garage sale market, or she sometimes learns how to do it herself.  

What I've gone on about here for some time is essentially an outward expression of non-conformity.  I think some of the FotW enthusiasts would see this as giving credence to their observation that our way of being a church focuses on the outward at the expense of the inner life.  I'd like to call foul on such rhetoric.  I may elaborate in a future blog on why I think this is not a fair critique.

Before I sign off here, I'll add a few notes to remind me about what I still want to address.

1.  Boston is not rural Partridge.

2.  A Swiss-German cultural background is not the same as an Indian or Mediterranean background.

3.  When it comes to meeting needs, a big meeting-house church in Kansas might have resources to meet those needs in ways in which a FotW-type church would come up short.  I have in mind a specific case of exactly that happening recently--for a person who until recently had only remote connections to both groups. When it takes "a village,"  we can be a village--maybe better than they can.

4.  Income levels of those in leadership in the FotW group are very different from that of leaders in our church, although I presume that pastors are not salaried in either case.

5.  Getting the right balance of top-down leadership and widely-shared responsibility is always a challenge.  I suspect that both "they" and we have arrived at something that works reasonably well in our respective situations, but might not work as well if transplanted into a radically different setting.  

6. We really don't need to be more like FotW.  We need to be "more like us" in all the good ways, and, above all, we need to be more like Christ.  I remember a time when most of us thought it would be a good thing to be more like Bill Gothard.  At this point, that seems like a horrible thing.  

7.  I would like to hear from some proponents of FotW exactly what seems good about their group and practice.  

 


  

Friday, June 10, 2022

Ownership

Below is part of a recent Facebook exchange in which I reviewed something that seemed relevant to what is being discussed locally, among our church people.  I hope to add more later, but it will need to wait.   In the meantime, I'd love to hear any feedback from readers.  Note that I have only used the initials of the person who commented.  If that person wants to go beyond this to be identified, I'll be happy to oblige or to give space for the person themselves to initiate it.  

I've interacted with others personally on this topic since this appeared on Facebook.  Posting this here is an effort to comply with a request that I share in writing some of what I said in aa private conversation.  This is a small beginning. 

I hear a lot these days about the need to have ownership in matters that affect us. I think this is often really code for expressing distaste for hewing to standards which one had no hand in creating. When I hear sentiments like this, I often think of something my younger brother Ronald wrote some years ago on "ownership." It made sense to me, and I'll repeat it here as I recall it.
Ronald noted that we can acquire ownership of a material object by various means. 1. If we created it we can own it (note that this is consistent with the "code" meaning). 2. If we receive it as a gift we can own it. 3. If we purchase it we can own it.
I see parallels to the above when we're thinking about traditions or social or even legal expectations. No one should lightly toss aside what may, upon close examination, prove to have been a gift. Beyond that, close examination may reveal that these traditions and expectations are worth "owning" via investment. In any case, don't predicate ownership of something on having created it. Be willing instead to consider the meaning of the term in its various facets, with an openness to taking ownership in one of the less "I'm in charge here" ways.

Your point is well made. We can take ownership through means other than intentional choice on our part. However, it also follows that not all such "receiving" is necessarily beneficial or positive in the outcome.
The invitation to closely examine is appreciated, and necessary.
What are the questions we should ask when we find ourselves in a "receiving" position? What are the motivations and goals of those who are doing the "giving"? Has the thing being "given" borne fruit that is desirable? Do we possess the experience and/or vision to discern the answer? Are they "giving" for the benefit of the receiver, or for other reasons?