Saturday, May 16, 2020

Prairie Update

Last week I took a morning stroll through the far end of the property to see how things were coming along in the area we don't visit often. I was pleased to see how prolific the native grass germination was through most of the field. Patience is a challenge. I am eager to see how this will all look in its maturity, but that is a couple of years away.

Some of the diversity of the prairie can be seen here if you have an eye for it.

White prairie clover is growing in several places around the field, but it is prolific in the sandy soil at the far end of property. It is a beautiful shade of green.
White Prairie Clover

White Prairie Clover

The Emily Dickenson poem comes to mind:

To make a prairie it takes a clover and one bee,
One clover and a bee.
And revery.
The revery alone will do,
If bees are few.

Black-eyed Susan
Yellow is the dominant color in the field these days. Sunflowers of various sorts are raising their heads.

A patch of plantain


Wild Oats

Lemon Bee Balm

Sunday, April 19, 2020

Prairie Walks

Melinda and I walk in the prairie about every other day. The prairie wants us to. It changes that quickly and someone needs to see it. And we need to. In these times of separation and quarantine, being outdoors and witnessing the life of spring in South Texas helps to center us, to remind us of God's providence with His Creation. The world of humanity is suffering in unimaginable ways, but the natural world about us goes on its way with life and beauty, bearing witness to God's goodness.

The American Basket Flowers are standing tall across the field. Theses beauties were part of the seed mix we planted sixteen months ago. A few of them are just now opening their blooms to the sky. Soon there will be scores of them.

Insect life is abundant. Butterflies, moths, bees, flies of various sorts, wasps, caterpillars, and beetles are everywhere. It is a challenge to try to capture the beauty of a blossom without being photo-bombed by some other creature. Some kind of fly and a beetle are taking advantage of this Black-eyed Susan.

Last year Maximillian Sunflowers, also a part of our seed mix, stood some six feet tall with flowers around their stalks from the ground to the top. They died off with winter, but at the base of nearly each dead stalk still standing in the field is the evidence of new life and a promise of more flowers this summer.

We came across one patch of Berlandier's Yellow Flax. We can't recall seeing that one before. The blooms are small, but striking.

The dominant yellow in the fields these days are the neon blossoms of the Plains Coreopsis. Whole fields of them can be seen along the county road. In the back of the property we also find Nueces Coreopsis (below).

And Lance-Leaved Coreopsis (below)

The prairie is now demanding some work of us. Some invasive plants are best deal with by using our solar powered plant removers (shovels and pruning shears). We are hunting down and removing the small patches of prickly pears that are showing up and we are taking on the Baccharis (also known as Roosevelt Weed, Poverty Weed, or Depression Weed) that is coming up in numbers. When we first got the property in 2007, these covered the fields.


An uprooted Baccharis

The Spotted Horse Mint or Spotted Bee Balm is back. It is just now commencing its blooming. They'll be plentiful soon.

Near the house there is a patch of red-colored dock that the Salt Marsh Moth caterpillars are finding attractive.

More than anything, however, we are delighting in seeing the grasses make their appearance. We've found evidence of the Big Four (Little Bluestem, Big Bluestem, Switchgrass, and Eastern Indian Grass), but others in the seed mix are there as well –– Lovegrass, Green Spangletop, Windmill Grass, Eastern Gamagrass, and Side Oats Grama.) These are summer grasses and so will be showing up more and more as the weather warms. The Eastern Gamagrass is already forming its distinctive seed heads and the Switchgrass is stretching taller than last year (it can get almost 9 feet tall!).

Seed heads forming on Eastern Gamagrass

Seed heads forming on Eastern Gamagrass
A stand of Switchgrass
Occasionally, the orchid-like Prairie Nymph appears at our feet as well.

All of this is to be taken both as a present moment to be attended to and as a promise of what is to come in the prairie.

Wednesday, April 15, 2020

An Open Letter to those Pastoring During a Pandemic

In a matter of a few weeks pastoral ministry has become something none of us imagined. The impact of Covid-19 requires pastors to think innovatively and creatively about the calling we have given our lives to follow. In one day, it seems, so much changed.

A mere six months ago no one would have believed that churches around the world would refrain from gathering on Easter morning and that they would be doing so out of love for one another. No one I know ever talked about what it would be like for the church to be dispersed in such a way. It is not that we have moved from church buildings to house churches. That would be more tolerable, since at least we would still be gathering. But we have been scattered to our screens. We are preaching to our people, but we cannot see them or touch them. We cannot look in their eyes and tell if what we are proclaiming is resonating with them or not. We cannot hear them laugh or watch them fight to keep their drowsy eyes open. We cannot gather them to celebrate the life of a brother or sister who has died, to celebrate new life with parents coming to dedicate their child, or the new life in Christ declared in baptism. We cannot break off a piece of bread and look in their eyes and say, “the Body of Christ broken for you.” We cannot be in hospitals with the dying or sit around the table with the living.

I have spoken to dozens of pastors over the past few weeks on the phone or in a video call. I have been online with groups of you and have exchanged texts and email with others. I have worshiped online with a half-dozen different congregations and have followed many others on social media. I watched tears well up in a pastor’s eyes and heard his voice crack as he pronounced the benediction to an empty sanctuary on Easter. I have witnessed both an admirable desire to continue to shepherd your flock and a discernible weariness and discouragement beginning to set in after a month or more of this “new normal.”

I want to attempt to offer some encouragement to you as you continue to serve in these strange days.

First, keep up the work of preaching. I have been sitting in the pew (well, actually a LazyBoy) during these Sundays. I was not prepared for the online experience to be as meaningful as it has been. It has been valuable to me because I have not been listening to strangers preach, but friends and colleagues. It must be terribly frustrating for you to preach in such circumstances. But know that people on the other end of the line are listening who need a word from the Lord and who love to hear your voice and see your face because they know of the affection in which you hold them. “My sheep hear my voice,” Jesus said. What you are doing and saying is important. Yes, it is awkward. Certainly it is not the way you’d prefer to deliver the message. But do it anyway. Do it with the same effort and passion that you would do if things were back to “normal.” Study. Pray. Preach. As Paul said, “In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I solemnly urge you: proclaim the message; be persistent whether the time is favorable or unfavorable; convince, rebuke, and encourage, with the utmost patience in teaching” (2 Tim. 4:1–2).

Second, use every means to overcome the distance. What Paul would not have given for Zoom! He did what he could when isolated from his churches, whether by prison bars or mere geographical distance. He prayed for them. He wrote to them. He rejoiced when he heard from them. He did all this with confidence that God was at work in their lives, whether he himself could be with them or not (Phil. 1:1–30). So, email and text and phone and Zoom and do whatever else you can to stay connected with those you serve. You are still called to make disciples. You are still called to be their pastor. Do what you can and let that be enough for now. The time will come again when your physical presence can express your care.

Third, lower your standards. A weekly production is not necessary in worship. If nothing else, we are being weaned from some of that. The dramatic light and sound show that worship easily becomes is not what is needed in these days. Your congregation longs for a word from the Lord and they want to hear it from you. Period. Some of the best preaching I have heard in the last few weeks has come from a pastor sitting with his MacBook in an empty sanctuary, speaking transparently and powerfully to his flock. Let go of the need to impress your people and just be there with them.

Fourth, take care of yourself. Stay current with your spiritual practices. Adapt them to the new situation but continue to practice prayer and study and silence and solitude and other habits that strengthen your soul. Care for your body. Sleep and eat and exercise. Care for your relationships. Increase contact with family and friends virtually where you cannot be physically. Care for your mind. Read. Study. When we do emerge from the pandemic cocoon, be ready to emerge stronger rather than weaker.

Fifth, share the burden. Don’t try to do it all yourself. Allow others in the congregation to do the work of ministry as well. Encourage them to do it. Bless them in their efforts to care for one another, to teach their small groups, to carry out their own ministries. And don’t try to do it by yourself. Talk with fellow pastors about what the burden of these days is like. Listen to one another and pray for one another.

Sixth, accept the reality of the present. We have loved our meetings and our programs and our impressive presentations. For a time at least, those things are but dust. We are being pushed into a new way of doing the work of the gospel. Lean into it and learn new things. Parker Palmer tells of being in an Outward Bound course and finding himself paralyzed on the side of a cliff during a rappelling exercise. His instructor shouted down to him the Outward Bound School motto: “If you can’t get out of it, get into it.” Then his feet began to move. That must be the posture of pastoral leaders during these days. We serve the God whose creativity knows no bounds. We are part of the church that has endured more difficult days than this over two millennia. It does not become us to think that if we can no longer do what we have done, then we are stuck. We must get into it.

Seventh, (and as a good biblical number, that will do), abandon both optimism and despair and serve with hope. Jurgen Moltmann says the two sins against hope are optimism and despair. Optimism is groundless. Despair is faithless. Jim Collins (Good to Great) gave us the “Stockdale Paradox.” When asked about what POWs did not make it out of their Viet Nam imprisonment, James Stockdale said, “the optimists.” Those who were constantly saying, “We’ll be out of this by Easter, or Thanksgiving, or Christmas, or New Year” were constantly disappointed by reality. They had no grounds for such false hopes. It was the realists, Stockdale said, who survived. This is an important perspective to hold during these days. Depending on who is prognosticating, we may be in this social distancing mode for some time. We should prepare ourselves to do our ministry in this situation for the long-haul. Hope is not optimism. It is, for the Christian, a part of a realistic outlook. The Easter reality is that in whatever future we find ourselves, God is present, God is with us. He is our hope.  “May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the Holy Spirit (Rom. 15:13).

Pastors, what you men and women are doing has never been more important. Your people need your love, your leadership, and your faithful ministry. The church will need to think carefully about how we do our work in such days as this. How do we preach Christ? How do we demonstrate love for neighbor? How do we serve with compassion? How do we bear witness to a frightened, lonely, world? You, pastors, are called to this. You have been prepared for this. You, with the Spirit’s power, can do this. Be encouraged.

Thursday, December 12, 2019


The colors of fall around the Creech place include a few that have been planted for their showiness. The Turk's Cap below is a native Texas plant that we placed in the bed by the front porch.

The fire spike was propagated from cuttings shared by a fellow Master Gardener last fall. These also are lined up in a flowerbed in front of the house.

The zinnas, a favorite of the Pipevine Swallowtail, are growing in the vegetable beds out front in lieu of a fall garden.

 This Zizotes Milkweed chose the front garden on its own. The Lady Bug is doing her best to deal with the aphids that are covering the plant.

But some of the things around are going in the field, and they portend a field of prairie grasses over the next few years. Here the Side Oats Grama retain some of their seeds as winter approaches.

The False Golden Asters, along with Camphor Weed and Cowpen Daisies have added their bright yellows to the fall fields.

Easter Gamma Grass shows up across the field with its distinctive seed pods.

Everywhere there is a bare spot, the Bluebonnets are making their appearance, waiting for March to astound us.

I'm not sure what this forb is. But the light plays with it well.

Remnants of Maximillian Sunflowers stand watch over much of the field.

Yellow Indian Grass is among the most beautiful of the grasses when it is blooming. Lots of this has appeared in the first year. It will be taller and more evident in the next year or two.

I think this is a head of Green Spangletop. A stand of this showed up across the front of the field nearest the house, and is one of the seeds in the mix we planted last year.

The Little Bluestem is the most plentiful of the grasses that have emerged. In the winter it takes on a rich rusty brown color that is easy to spot along roadsides in Texas.

Saturday, September 21, 2019

Long Live the Weeds!

A friend of ours came to visit, having seen our farm in years past when we'd leased it out for the growing of corn, wheat, sorghum sudan grass, sesame, and milo. He knew of our prairie project, but hadn't seen it yet. When he saw our fields he remarked to his wife, "Is that what Melinda and Robert wanted their fields to look like?"

1st Wheat Crop in March 2008

To the untrained eye the prairie, nascent or mature, looks a lot like an unmown, neglected field. Part of that impression comes from our being accustomed to the manicured lawns of the city, or the orderly products of agriculture.

The prairie in spring 2019
Our concept of what is beautiful requires some adjustment. Willa Cather wrote, "Anybody can love the mountains, but it takes a soul to love the prairie." The prairie's beauty is not found in the imposed order of human effort, but in the living, breathing, order of an ecosystem that abounds in diversity, insect and animal life, color, texture, and structure.

To quote Melinda's favorite poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins ("Inversnaid"),

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

Saturday, September 07, 2019

Waiting for Fall

Late summer and fall is the time for the tall grasses to make their inflorescence/seedhead, which makes them much easier for us non-experts to identify. We have been looking for the Big Four of the tall-grass prairies to show themselves. Now all four have done so. Many of the hundreds of bunches of grass will not mature enough to make seed this year, but enough have done so to encourage us that what we'd hoped for is actually happening. We've also seen Sideoats Grama, Lovegrass, and Eastern Gamagrass.

Eastern Gamagrass

Big Bluestem

Big Bluestem

Big Bluestem

Yellow Indiangrass

Little Bluestem

Little Bluestem

Little Bluestem

Yellow Indiangrass and Maximillian Sunflowers

Little Bluestem

Switchgrass and Maximillian Sunflowers