Tuesday, August 14, 2012


Overhead, the stars are falling, alabaster streaks ephemerally etched on the night sky. So very long ago, Comet Swift-Tuttle passed our way, its long tail leaving remainders of itself, like white cat fur on passing black slacks. Now every year we swing around the Sun to cross the tail again and the sky puts on its own fireworks display as the Perseid meteor shower.

Our worlds intersect, our spinning planet in a dance around its star, and the path of a deteriorating chunk of space rock that flames out in a million dazzling white streaks. The intersection is where life is, the combustion that fuels evolution on all levels, where two disparate things come together, how all life begins. Millenium ago, meteors pierced the atmosphere and scattered their organic elements into the ocean to trigger life. Later fish with gills and lungs crawled out of the tidal pools and intersected with the shore.

America is the intersection, where the great Eastern forest meets the vast Great Plains, where the desert Southwest encounters the Sierra Mountains that hug the verdant west coast. Within these shores now live immigrants of every continent, people of every race, every religion. Every one. It’s astounding that we can encompass this much.

The United States is not the melting pot. There’s no intersection in melting. We are the national laboratory where cultures collide, where people by their rampant diversity are learning to discover and articulate just what is that commonality. It’s not easy, it’s never been easy. But the edge is where the action is, the creativity that arises from leaving your comfort zone for the intersection.

That’s why I see our Moonlady community as so American in its truest, most idealistic sense. We are searching for the core, what is authentic, and from there moving into a grand engagement with the world: thinking, creating, interacting, always curious and eager to discover that which broadens us into a holistic embrace of life, one of many edges and intersections.

We count 26 Perseid meteors in an hour this night, some emanating  from the constellation Perseus, a set of stars that appears in the Milky Way, our name for an outer arm of our spiral galaxy, where it intersects deep space. In this muddy sky on the rural edge of Dallas’ urban glow, at this time of year the galactic arm stretches from north to south, diffuse like a high altitude cloud, a long white smudge punctuated by points of light.

At the southern end of this celestial fog is our grand junction, where the Milky Way intersects the ecliptic, the plane where the planets spin around the Sun against a band of zodiacal constellations. The Milky Way seems to rise like steam from the familiar teapot shape of Sagittarius. Looking there, we peer away from deep space and into the heart of the spiral galaxy, into the black hole where intersections cease in the oneness of a black hole.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Lake Front Property is for Rich People:

Winfrey Point, the Park Board that hates parks, 

and Dallas Aboretum plans to take over the east shore of White Rock Lake

by Amy Martin

“Lake front property is for rich people. Any fool knows that.” So Mr Hip&Trendy businessman spouted off while in line at Good2Go Tacos, blithely oblivious to the irony of ordering organic local meats and veggies while favoring a parking lot at Winfrey Point, planned by the Dallas Arboretum and approved by the Dallas Park Board. But he does illustrate a point: plans are afoot to take the east side of White Rock Lake away from the wide spectrum of citizens who use it in favor of those who like their nature prettified and pricey.

Dallas Arboretum opened a huge exhibit and has plans for a mammoth children’s center, yet has no long-term parking plans to go with them. Someone in city planning approved those permits. Could a school or business gotten away with such incompetence? Not a chance. Last time the Arboretum expanded they consulted the neighboring residents. But now, why bother? They have the park board in their pocket and together they make plans behind closed doors with developers without the messy process of citizen opinion.
Using the ample nearby commercial parking lots on Garland and shuttling Arboretum attendees is a hassle, takes planning, costs money. That's the same sentiment of the large charities, corporations and businesses that put on runs and other events at White Rock Lake. They want the parking lots and garages as well.   

Now documents are surfacing that show the Dallas Arboretum has designs on much of White Rock Lake's eastern shore. Plans are to install a two-story parking garage and turn Winfrey Point building into a restaurant. East Lawther would become a major two-way road to connect them. The hike/bike greenbelt corridor would go away, along with the Little League fields and the prairie patches where ground birds nest. And what about the White Rock vision plans that lake groups spent years toiling over, plans that speaks of prairie restoration, wildlife management and increased recreation options of all income levels of citizens?

The ArBORGetum marches on. Dallas Arboretum has already been ceded control of the buildings at Sunset Bay just north of Winfrey. For that matter, the Bath House Cultural Center is in the crosshairs of developers who’d like it to make it into a wedding and party palace. Now that the Dallas City Council has killed the possibility of Texas Land Steward designation for White Rock Lake, major parcels of land at the  Bathhouse Cultural Center, Big Thicket, Stone Tables, and Celebration Tree Grove are also now game for developers. 
The whole Winfrey Point issue is symptomatic of the general lack of enthusiasm the Dallas Park Board has for parks. Would your church or charity group like to so a small festival at a Dallas park? Pony up several hundred dollars in special-event fees first. Make up that money from fees paid by vendors at your event? Nope, not allowed. Unless you are a large wealthy group. The park board’s commitment to freezing out all but corporate-sponsored events is clear. Its members are not arborists and botanists and recreation experts. They’re primarily people who want political careers.
Is the Winfrey Point open area truly a piece of Blackland Prairie, an ecosystem of which less than 5% remains. Yes, it is, as is most of the east side of the lake where a dairy farm was once. It is unplowed land. The original seed bank of native grass seeds remains in the soil, which is why it has been given designated status by Texas Parks & Wildlife. You can mow it, park on it, pave over it, but once you remove all that and give it a few years the prairie will rise again. We should take heart.

Lake front property is for rich people. Within a decade or so the east side of the lake will be prettified as wealth dictates, with users reduced to picturesque hikers and bikers passing by on the trails, their sweat a safe distance away. That is unless the lake's thousands of users speak up loudly and often with persistent vigilance, and unless the media, from the main daily newspaper to the East Dallas publications, wakes up and investigates all these closed-door shenanigans. White Rock Lake is a public lake created for the public. Let's keep it that way.


Sheffie Kadane
Dallas City Council District 9, councilman for Winfrey Point park area
Dallas City Hall
1500 Marilla Street, Room 5FS
Dallas, TX 75201-6390
Phone: 214.670.4069

Paul Dyer
Director, Dallas Park and Recreation Dept
1500 Marilla Street, Room 6FN Dallas, TX 75201
Telephone: 214-670-4077
Ask for the resignation of park board president Joan Walne: http://www.ci.dallas.tx.us/forms/mcc/CD10_Mail_Form.htm

Gerald Worrall III
Dallas Park and Recreation Board, District 9

Mayor Mike Rawlings
Dallas City Hall 1500 Marilla Street Room 5EN Dallas, TX 75201
Phone: 214-670-4054

Mary Brinegar
The Dallas Arboretum and Botanical Society, Inc.
8617 Garland Road
Dallas, Texas 75218
Office: 214-515-6606
Assistant: 214-515-6640
Email: mbrinegar@dallasarboretum.org


• Main site: www.SaveWinfreyPoint.com
  Facebook page: http://www.facebook.com/SaveWinfreyPointDotCom

•Naturalist's blog: http://pavethelake.wordpress.com/

Sunday, August 28, 2011


For a few years I traversed much of North America researching the mother goddesses of indigenous faiths, which brought me in contact with a number of origin stories. After visiting a sacred site in New Mexico’s Holy Ghost Valley, I took in the rippling light of dusk in the desert and pondered a terse conversation with a Native American woman I’d had earlier in the day who was vehement against evolution.

This woman, who I’d just spent all day with at an environmental activism workshop, insisted her people literally arose from the center of the Earth long ago, when there were no dry lands. They struggled in the stormy seas until they found shelter on the back on a giant turtle, where they stayed until the world solidified and they could find their ancestral home. This was not a folk tale. This was her belief.

Our wide gulf in perceptions concerned me and certainly challenged my assumptions about Native Americans. The long shadows of mesas to the west cast the landscape into early twilight. Low overhanging clouds engulfed the Sun’s golden setting glow, brewing a timeless sepia hue. I looked around at the giant mesas. Many millions of years ago mega-volcanoes coated the land with oceans of magma. Now all that remained after erosion were blocky isolated mesas, with the eroded dust now forming the glittering soil of the valleys between.

In the muted light belonging to neither day nor night, in a landscape as inspirationally epic as the sky above, I realized it all happened exactly as she believed. Turtle-like gigantic landmasses did roam the planet in its formative origins, plate tectonics tearing jagged volcanic lines in the Earth’s mantle where fiery magma escaped. Her world was indeed formed when the inside of the planet came out in fluid waves of magma and solidified into mesas where her people made their home.

I interpret the Genesis story as I do all religious origin stories: archetypally. As someone steeped in ancient Taoist thought, I tend to view things metaphorically. It’s the way my brain works. I allow others their own interpretation and hope that we can meet on the isthmus of acceptance that much of what we want to know for sure will always remain a mystery, that before the universality of the divine all religion will forever be a penultimate solution.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

The Forgiving Summer Rain

We just watched our farm blow away. There was nothing else we could do. Five acres of cucumbers withered in the heat, unable to blossom. No blooms, no cukes, no money.

It was mid-September and hadn't rained much since June. In the garden, corn stalks crackled in the sparse wind, their kernels puckered, silks mere strands of dust. Peas dried on the vine. Grass lay flat on the ground. Buzzards patrolled the dry creek beds where cattle, weak from the drought, would go to die.

We hid in our houses like hermits, curtains drawn against the sun. When nothing grew there was nothing to do, and by noon it was too hot to do anything anyway. So we were surprised that day by a commotion at the door.

Standing against a sky so spotlessly blue you'd think it was paint, Elbert, our neighbor, insisted that a storm front was headed this way. He'd cut 40 acres for hay and most of it was bailed, unprotected in the fields. Now, he cursed, now the rains had come, threatening to ruin the grass it had almost ruined by not raining.

Off we went in his old flatbed truck. In the hay fields, we'd drive 30 feet, stop, and all fall out to load up, wrap our fingers around the wire bindings and hoist the bales onto the truck. Then we'd drive forward 30 feet and do it again. It was automatic after a few acres; labor machines fighting time and nature. Clouds began to fill the southwestern sky.

We unloaded bale after bale in low-slung, tin roof shacks that had blown down a time or two and been propped back in place. When the rafters started to get full, you couldn't breathe anything but hay dust and pollen, and you couldn't see the spiders and splinters laying in wait. We longed for the Sun that made it so hot and dry in the first place.

Thunder rumbled as the last bales went in. Elbert dropped us off at home. Too exhausted to make it up the steps inside, we lay on the hood of our pick-up truck, our hands frozen claws from hooking fingers under the bale wires.

We watched the storm coming across the fields; to the left, clear open blueness; to the right, the ominous sky. Tall, dark, turbulent clouds sat upon a layer of greyness. The setting sun reflected up through them formed angelic silver-blue edges etched brilliantly against the sky. Beyond these clouds was the white, where the rain was. All else was just a spectacle of weather, a ceremony for the coming of the storm.

Suddenly the wind turned nervous and wild, spinning the debris of dead crops and neglected harvest bags, carrying the whoops and hollars of elated neighbors, their voices like bells of a salvation homecoming. A crack of lightning sent the field animals to their dens; an owl swooped through the mist to catch them.

Then the rain came, first in large splattering drops, little clouds of dirt arising every time they hit the ground. Then it fell in sheets and rinsed out the dust that hung in the sky, turning leaves from grey to green. Water ran in twisting rivulets on top of the parched fields, until broad channels of muddy water flowed between the rows. The corn leaves became turgid, the grass stood erect.

We laid back and let it caress the dust from our faces, our fingers uncurled and we relaxed in the warm wash of the forgiving summer rain.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Art, Spirit & Expression

by Amy Martin

Question posed by Texas Faith: What is the connection between religion and art

What is art? Nature concentrated.” ~ Honore de Balzac

To a Taoist, and to those who consider themselves spiritually unaffiliated, stellar examples of nature are our inspirational architecture, as well as our holy places. There are mountains that inspire with majesty and evergreens forests of reverent contemplation, of course, but for me it is the endless night sky and the awe it imparts, the way it stretches our conception of time and place in the universe.

"Creativity requires faith. Faith requires that we relinquish control." – Julia Cameron

I think a core value of many spiritual not religious people is that to truly embrace the divine one must move beyond words into doing. In my house and yard there are no less than a dozen art-altars of spiritual symbols and statuary, meaningful objects and whatever else it takes to coax the sacred into my life. Many change with the seasons and my own spiritual development. Those outside eventually relinquish themselves to the natural world in graceful decay. This is my art, for at the heart of being human is the need to creatively express.

“Art is a collaboration between God and the artist, and the less the artist does the better.” ~ Andre Gide

In the act of creation we mirror the divine manifestation of the world. Facing the blank canvas, page or stage we draw forth from within ourselves ineffable visions that we craft into tangible, audible, viewable things. When I am in the flow of creativity as a writer, it is the same as a spiritual experience. Awe at the forces greater than myself, intimacy in partnership with the unseen, and feeling in touch with the absolute core of what it means to be alive, to be human, bringing home why the word “religion” comes from the Latin “ligare,” or connect, and means to re-connect.

published August 16, 2011 in Texas Faith religion blog of The Dallas Morning News

Sunday, May 15, 2011

A Moment in Chimayo

People come to the Santuario de Chimayo because guidebooks extol it as a quaint day trip out of Santa Fe, because the historic adobe mission nestled in a picturesque enclave makes any photographers’ work look good, or because something within said they needed to go.

So they take the high road to Taos, winding through the Sangre de Cristo foothills to the small adobe town of Chimayo, set in one of the more lush valleys in the northern New Mexico mountains. A constant stream of them pulls into the santuario parking lot in shiny rent cars and disembarks with cameras slung over shoulders to investigate the place. The small church of clay, with thick square sides and broad flat roof, rests near a waterway where tall cottonwoods prosper. On this spring morning, winds building up for afternoon storms blow the downy pollen like snow.

Drawn to the place by a vision, in the early 1800s a desperately ill Spanish friar named Bernardo Abeyta fell upon the soil and was instantly healed. Or perhaps he saw a blinding light emerge from the ground and unearthed a miraculous crucifix of a dark-skinned Christ on the cross. Stories vary. Some say the site was once sacred to the Tewa Indians, a hot healing spring that dwindled into mud and then dried into dirt. Like any holy spot of healing under Spanish dominion, a Catholic edifice was built upon it, first a shrine and then, as miracles continued, the present church. In a small antechamber next to the sanctuary, a foot wide hole — El Posito —was left in the floor to retain access to the sacred soil.

I am one of 300,000 who come to Santuario de Chimayo each year, some tourists, some travelers, some pilgrims. On Easter weekend, between ten and thirty-thousand of the latter walk and even crawl here from all parts of New Mexico, a massive pilgrimage dating over a century. They come to rub the soil upon their wounded bodies or take a tablespoon back to the sick at home. Each April for the past 20 years, peace activists make a pilgrimage of their own, relaying bits of El Posito soil to an area near the atomic center of Los Alamos in hopes that its healing power can spread.

Each of us, regardless of our agenda, paces through the adobe wall courtyard, where old graves pitch and sink into the sandy soil, and past the old double wooden doors into the chapel, with the usual Virgin Mary icons in the back. Colorful and ornate folk paintings of Jesus and saints decorate the sides and front of the dim sanctuary, lit by sunbeams wincing past high windows. The sound of doves cooing beneath the eaves and dogs barking in the distance pulses though the thick mud walls. Local faithfuls sit in the pews and wait for midday mass, trying to ignore the tourists who stumble obliviously around them. It’s not easy.

The chancel altar shelters Abeyta’s dark and crying crucifix — dubbed El Señor de Esquipulas, just like the one that materialized 200 years prior in Guatemala. To the left, a small stooped entryway leads into a chamber cobbled onto the chapel’s side. In the long narrow room, icons of Christian saints and such are interspersed with mementos of those whom the magic of Chimayo healed: cast aside crutches, photos of children now free of their ailments, eye patches the blind no longer need. Attached is the El Posito antechamber, accessible by an even smaller doorway piercing tunnel-like into the adobe wall.

Through the entry I watch a young woman kneeling next to El Posito, obviously moved by its miracles. In her face I can see that she waits for one herself. She touches the dirt, sifting the grains through her fingers, and rubs her face and arms. Two laughing tourists jostle each other trying to squeeze at once through the antechamber’s small opening, flustering the devotee who flees in a panic, her saved portion of the soil spilling onto the floor.

I take a seat on a rustic wooden bench and watch the constant march of people into the antechamber, hoping for an ebb in the flow. Sitting here, peeved at the idiot tourists, I realize that I am one myself. I came hundreds of miles for a tablespoon of dirt to heal a tree in my backyard, yet neglected to bring a bag. I remembered many pilgrim tools — prayer shawl, smudge stick, herb offering, silver milagros, compass, pendulum and bell — but not a bag. I improvise.

And then I get my chance. Somewhere after the gaggle of California tourists discussing resorts while standing around El Posito as if it were a cocktail table, and before the busload of camera enthusiasts on tour snapping photos of anything or anyone not moving at a dead heat, a moment opens up. I duck through the doorway into the antechamber.

The small, womb-like room holds a concentrated reverence, its thick walls sheltering the prayers of thousands. I quickly kneel to collect my own tablespoon from El Posito and give thanks for the earthy gift’s potential. Santuario de Chimayo was built to house Abeyta’s crucifix, yet it is this simple room, this lowly dirt, which garners the most patronage. Then I notice all the pictures on the walls. Unlike the other rooms where images of Christ and male saints abound, half of them here are of the Virgin Mary and most of those are the Virgin of Tepeyac. From dust to dust, the Christian creed says, and in between some come here for a refill from the Mother.

As if magnetic, I am pulled to the north and end up facing a blank spot on the wall like a cat. A sigh instinctively spills out and a sense of peace cascades down my spine. Relaxing first the muscles of my face, my shoulders drop and chest lifts up, my stomach softens and knees bend, settling the weight fully into my feet, my pilgrim’s feet. No thunderbolt of healing, no transcendent revelation. Just a moment of ease, as if the fear of death at the back of my mind abated for a moment, soothed by the one thing that seems eternal — the dirt beneath my feet, the leavings of erosion as even the greatest mountains crumble into dust. This mundane dirt, into its deep bedrock we pierce the supports that hold our structures, from its dark humus we draw the fertility to grow our food, and to its subterranean realm we give our bodies after death. Why wouldn’t it be sacred?

Suddenly I feel the presence of someone else in the room. I turn to see a woman of about 50 pressed against the wall in the opposite corner. Though silent, she seems apologetic for intruding, yet desperate to escape the shutterbug melee outside. She probably wonders why I was staring at the wall. I quickly leave her to the place. Pausing outside the doorway to adjust my clothes, I block the flow of tourists so that she might have her moment, too.

It seems to me that a moment, this present moment, is all we ever have. This moment of life between the cataclysmic beginnings of a volcanic planet turning itself inside out and the cold hard rock of an Earth we’ll be when the Sun cools in millions of years. Humanity’s moment between the animal of our origins and the mankind we have yet to be. Our own moment between birth and death, between waking and falling asleep, between inhale and exhale. The moment that is only a moment, but after which nothing is ever the same. Even the bothersome flotilla of photographers outside is just trying to capture that moment their own way.

Down in the fertile folds of the Sangre de Cristo foothills, among the ridges reaching toward high, the air retains a touch of humidity, protected against the constant wind that whips moisture from the soil. Here life is enclosed and nurtured, in high contrast to the desert just a few miles away. Someone two hundred years ago sensed this land was sacred and now the santuario stands here. But is it any more sacred than a thousand places like it, where land opens up to offer succor to those who need? In these folded foothills there are a thousand Chimayos, needing only their own weary pilgrim to fall in faith upon the ground.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Prayer Tree of Spring

In my backyard, there is a tree that blooms. When we moved here many years ago, it was lost in the darkness of oaks and cedar elms that grew to tower over it. An odd scrawny tree with tough green skin like a succulent instead of bark, it bore tiny round leaves in sets of three and nasty two-inch thorns. Later we found out it was a trifolate orange tree from China, brought back by the traveling businessman who built the house.

Almost imperceptively it grew, slowly edging around the eave and up toward the sunlight. I fertilized and watered it, took care of it in every way. And it took care of me. My life had shattered and everything seemed lost. Inside the windows overlooking the tree lay my husband recovering from a series of back operations. I held out hope for the tree, hope for us, and waited.

Almost a decade passed. His back healed and my life regained its meaning. One fall, we were surprised to see a few pecan-sized oranges on it, bitter fruit, all seeds and pulp. The next spring we looked for flowers and were rewarded with a few white blossoms the size of a small pea. But it wasn't until a statue of Kwan Yin was placed beneath its boughs that the tree truly bloomed. The Chinese goddess of compassion sacrificed her place in Shinto heaven in order to feel the pain of earthbound humans and help them to transcend.

On this spring day, flowers bedeck every branch, beckoning of fruit to come. Dozens of colorful ribbons flutter as well, each one tied with prayerful intent by visitors. The Prayer Tree. Planted in the 1950s, the trifolate orange lived for decades before going through a period of extended darkness. Then in just a day, everything changed. Someone cared. It took years to rebuild, years when it seemed nothing was happening, but the blooms did come. Now it is not only reborn, it is deeply sacred.

With its thorns and flowers, its history and the people who hope for its peace, the Prayer Tree evokes a quote by Thornton Wilder: "Without your wounds, where would your power be? The very angels themselves cannot persuade the wretched and bumbling children of Earth as can one human being broken in the wheels of living. In love's service, only the wounded soldiers can serve."

Spring is the reservoir of hope. Enjoy this season of Easter with its abundance of metaphors to live by and have faith in the life force that infuses every leaf, every stone, every grain of soil.