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I needed to see for myself.


I had to know what the EF-4 tornado that recently tore through my country neighborhood had left behind. And so I returned to the sacred ground I inhabited for more than 20 years. The land I once knew so well, and the country home I designed and built, were untouched. However, less than 2 miles away, the damage was shocking. Homes were devastated, scattering personal belongings across miles of debris fields. Pieces of metal rooftops remained wrapped violently around splintered limbs of aged trees. Barns were tumbled, farm equipment and supplies ruined. Greenhouses were flattened, businesses decimated. The toll on human property and livelihood was painfully visible and real.


And yet….the land seemed strangely unchanged. As I drove along various country roads, I had no way to personally observe or measure the cost to area wildlife. With the exception of the destruction of stands of tall trees covering some twisted undergrowth, life at ground level seemed calm and alive. But…. what about the wetlands?


This blessed land has recovered from previous violence. In 2016, after years of controversy, the South Lawrence Trafficway was completed. Layers of cement cut through the very heart of the Haskell Indian Nations University sacred ground, shared home of the original Haskell-Baker Wetlands. The wetlands were drained. Plants were torn from their roots. Natural habitats were destroyed or interrupted. Animals were displaced. And yet, now, after years of recovery…. the resilient land and her inhabitants are clearly very much alive!


Once again, the magic of the sunset compelled me to slow down and pull onto the shoulder of the road. I decided to get out of my car to look at the wetland more closely. As I walked toward the edge of the marshy water, the fabulous sounds and smells of the Kansas countryside invoked a powerful memory.


My family and I became owners and stewards of country acreage in this area while I was a seminary student. Our acreage was free of buildings of any kind, and we chose to keep it that way for a year, providing us the opportunity to come to know this land in her natural seasons. During that year I spent hours alone on the raw land – walking in the tall grass, swimming naked in the country pond, sleeping on the bare ground under a blanket of stars. This organic connection to the land felt like spiritual rebirth, providing exhilarating, yet confusing, distraction from academic theological study.


A specific seminary assignment was on my mind went I drove from our home in town to the country property in mid-October 1994. The assignment? … to journal experiences of grace (fortunately, left undefined.)


As I began to walk slowly across the land, I welcomed the hypnotic effect of the crisp chill of the autumn air, the scattered puffs of clouds on the background of the pale blue sky, and the sound of a few remaining leaves rustling in the trees as a slow breeze travelled through. Weary from the demands of the expectations of home, work and school, I decided to rest on a stump placed near the cold remains of a recent bonfire. Wrapped tightly in the blanket I had been carrying across my shoulders, I allowed the magic of October to lull me to sleep.


“As I went out walking this fall afternoon,

I heard a whisper whispering.

I heard a whisper whispering,

Upon this fine fall day.

As I went out walking this fall afternoon,

I heard a laugh a’ laughing,

I heard a laugh a’ laughing,

Upon this fine fall day.

I heard this whisper and I wondered,

I heard this laugh, and then I knew.

The time is getting near my friends,

The time that I hold dear, my friends,

And strange things will pass through.”

- The Veil is Getting Thinner



Wakeup! My autumn nap was abruptly interrupted by very loud squawking! My body jerked in surprise, alarming my visitor. I spun to my right just in time to watch a Great Blue Heron launch into flight within feet of where I had been napping! I saw her elegant wings unfold as she lifted from the earth. I watched, awe struck, as she took flight above my head. I held my breath as she circled around to fly evenly across the surface of the pond.




My totem had appeared! She is guide, inspiration, amazement, beauty, grace. I have often searched for her distinctive silhouette in the clear sky of early spring. I have visited her nesting grounds in stands of sycamore trees. I have watched her stand perfectly still, patiently waiting to pull her prey from the water at the edge of a pond. And I have met her close up, one-on-one, on the shore of Captiva Island, Florida.




When despair for the world grows in me

and I wake in the night at the least sound

in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,

I go and lie down where the wood drake

rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.

I come into the peace of wild things

who do not tax their lives with forethought

of grief. I come into the presence of still water.

And I feel above me the day-blind stars

waiting with their light. For a time

I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.

- Wendell Berry