Making wilderness: Isle Royale

Off the coast of Canada is a huge island wilderness which the rangers call pristine.  It has been logged and mined and fished out, yet today it’s kept wild by the efforts of the National Park Service and the thousands of visitors enlisted every year.  Isle Royale has resident herds of friendly moose who roam the campgrounds, rabbits who live next to the lodge, and squirrels who see no reason to get off the hiking trails.  Beaver and wolf are less visible but close by as their dams and scat attest.

isle royale lighthouse

All visitors are indoctrinated, if not harangued, by the boat captain and the park rangers before they can even set foot on the island. These gatekeepers even enforce ritual behaviors such as brushing your feet to keep out seed of alien species.  Only then can you pay big bucks to board the ferry for the four to five hour ride across the world’s largest freshwater lake to the island on the other side.

We just came back from several glorious August days hiking and canoeing these islands where cars and motorbikes are not allowed and cell phones don’t work. We visited research stations studying the moose and wolves and climbed to the top of an 1848 lighthouse. Strangers quickly became friends as we learned how the land had been abused by man but reclaimed.

You may  find lots to criticize about America today, but  not about our attitude toward wildlife and wilderness. The wild has made a comeback in the last century in America.  We have more forests and deer in the US than when it was first settled.  Wolves, bear, panthers,and  coyotes are all quickly increasing in numbers.

If the attitude and methods of Americans to their parks were adopted in Africa and around the world, rhinos and hippos and giraffes and zebras would be multiplying rapidly>  Instead they are declining so precipitously that American and European zoos may be the only place you can see them soon.

If our only concern was wilderness, we would annex vast portions of Africa and turn it over to Americans and Europeans to manage. If the park rangers could get Africans and Chinese to cooperate, you’d see the same rebound we have seen in the US since the American people and their government began to take conservation seriously.

Wilderness in the US has once again become a place to escape find peace and hope. Maybe it will even engender the prophets it once did. Yeshua and all the prophets were invigorated by the wilderness as are visitors to Isle Royale today.  Maybe you or your children will visit an American wilderness and be inspired to recreate wilderness around the world.





Nature and family transformed at Scattering Fork

A people fighting with themselves and with Nature will not endure.  Members of a family, nation or organization must help each other, cooperate and work together or they will fall apart. They pass away unlamented. We only lament the damage they cause to themselves and their ecosystems.  We applaud diversity, but diversity only helps a living system when all members work toward the survival and success of the larger system. For more than twenty-five years, Scattering Fork Outdoor Center has made a valiant effort to help people unite in teams and appreciate Nature.  Scattering Fork has transformed thousands and is now transforming itself.

phoebe earth

Team-building is one of those terms which mean a lot to those big into it. And not much to anyone else.  Just as Scattering Fork means a lot to many people in Central Missouri, but not much to people in northern Tanzania.  And those interested in both team-building and Scattering Fork are among the few, the elect, the chosen.

A few of that elect gathered yesterday to perform a decommissioning ceremony for the ropes course at Scattering Fork. For 25 years, Scattering Fork has been the region’s premier high and low ropes course, as well as a center for bringing people back to Nature.  Yesterday’s focus was the equipment at 16 stations which had helped thousands of people build productive, cohesive teams. Cables were cut, ropes untied, bolts loosed and beams cut.  Today the 16 stations are no more, but the team-building continues.

Outdoor team-building is provided by hundreds of enterprises because every successful group needs to build trust and cohesiveness among their members. A variety of structures and equipment helped facilitators build trust and team work at Scattering Fork. Due to ever rising insurance costs, Scattering Fork has decommissioned and demolished these facilities. But many exercises to build cohesive teams and families remain available at Scattering Fork.

Meanwhile opportunities to experience the natural world have expanded at Scattering Fork.  Every month, SF offers opportunities for you, your family or any group to experience the wonders of nature in your own private wilderness.  This wilderness is easy to get to and ready for you to enjoy.  Just call Laura at 573-581-3003.  Lead team-building facilitator MaryJane will soon be leaving on a year-long round the world trip.  But she’ll be back.

And you’ll come back to Scattering Fork, too, once you have experienced the joys of discovering Nature and working as a team.

For more, visit the Scattering Fork Outdoor Center website:

Forget national politics, go local

Fed up with national politics? Maybe you need to focus on your local community. Not local government, local community.

resilient city

Only 18 percent of Americans say the federal government does the right thing most or nearly all of the time. Even just before the last election,  only 29 percent of Trump supporters and 23 percent of Clinton supporters thought that electing their candidate would actually lead to progress.

All recent presidential candidates have run against Washington, pledging to change Washington. But none of them do. Trump got part of it right when he called for draining the swamp.  The problem is that fighting the swamp just drains us of all energy.

Along with lots of well-meaning people, I spent years going to DC several times a year lobbying for change for poor rural areas. Even though we did achieve some of our objectives (such as Delta Regional Authority and new programs to revitalize rural communities and build resilience of farms) these programs get stuck in a bureaucratic morass which undermines them. The bureaucracy molds them into pale ghosts of what they were meant to be.

So, I’m a recovering lobbyist. According to some polls, I’m like most Americans.  I believe lasting change comes from strong local groups–whether businesses, churches, non-profits, local governments or just small groups of people devoted to creating more resilient communities.

The story of Lancaster, Pennsylvania is a good one. In the mid-90’s,  the city was a crime-ridden ghost town at night. People were afraid to go downtown. The county’s dominant employer, Armstrong World Industries, was declining.  A group of people started gathering every Friday morning to plot a way out of Lancaster’s mess.  The first thing they did was check their politics at the door.  They were both Democrats and Republicans but they decided not to discuss national political issues or even state political issues at their meetings. Partisan politics was part of the problem, not the solution. They were united by one goal: they loved their community and they wanted to make it better.

The Lancaster group ended up forming a foundation called Hourglass because time was running out for Lancaster. The organized themselves because no one from outside was going to come and save them–no government program or relocating business would transform their community.

None of the members are in it for personal gain, or to lay a foundation for a political career. Most were retired.  None of them were politicians, they were just volunteers who wanted to figure out how to make their community better.  “There is big P politics — party politics — and small P politics. We check the big P at the door and just worry about solving the issues — not worrying about what Republicans or Democrats think about it. ”

They have realized “trust is the only legal performance-enhancing drug.” One of them says: “You can only get progress where there is trust. People trust that we are not in it for personal agendas and not partisan agendas. We will often host elected officials, and they will throw out ideas and we will give them feedback. And they are not worried it will go out of this room.” When they invite in politicians, they never invite the press.

They hold a “First Friday Noontime Forum” to get community leaders, business owners and elected officials into one room — with no press — to discuss all the components of fixing the city.

They had no authority, yet they assumed that good ideas would lead their community out of its spiral down. “Our first insight was that leadership matters” — and if it wasn’t going to come from the politicians, then it would come from them — and it would be devoid of party politics.

They didn’t come with the answers, trying to convince others to follow them.  Instead, they came with a burning desire to learn what had worked in other places and adapt it to their community.  “Who is the best small-city mayor? Let’s call ’em. Who is the best urban planner? Call ’em. Who are the education transformers? Call ’em. Who is doing the most interesting stuff in public health? Call ’em.”

The successes in Lancaster is not unique.  Many other cities have bounced back from their downward spiral.  They all have the same qualities.  Those qualities are the same as in any resilient system.

Resilient communities are multi-equilibria, open, dynamic, highly unpredictable, and subject to frequent disturbance. Observations of equilibrium in communities and ecological systems are transitory. Any particular “state” of a living system is but a waystation which is followed by continued disturbance, reorganization, rapid growth, maturation (often mistaken for equilibrium) and then another disturbance.  These four phases are referred to as the adaptive cycle (Holling, 1986). Resilience research studies how living systems persist and change in response to disturbance, not how to sustain a particular equilibrium. Reorganization, rapid growth, maturation and disturbance are going to happen.  A resilient farm or community manages their subsystems so some are in rapid growth, some are mature and some are reorganizing to provide the rapid growth and later maturity needed to keep the system resilient.

Resilient communities don’t focus solely on specific resilience to specific disturbances.  Such a focus leaves a system vulnerable to any disturbance it has not yet experienced. Resiilent communities on creating systems which can adapt to unknown, unprecedented and unexpected disturbances.

What enables such adaptation in a community? Resilience research has revealed eight qualities and necessary for a system to be resilient.  They are shown in the following chart.

CLIMATED Dimensions of Resilience

Dimension Description
Modular Connectivity “Networked but independent.” A resilient system is sensitive and responsible to feedback, while maintaining independence. Modular or independent sub-systems are insulated. Damage or failure of even a key sub-system has low probability of propagating failure throughout the system. Failure of one business in a community does not lead to the failure of others.
Local Self-Organization Locally organized processing and marketing systems. Community members like buying locally. The community is more likely to have locally owned businesses, co-ops, farmer’s markets, community gardens, and local civic clubs.
Conservative Innovation Resilient systems are open to new ideas while retaining ideas which work from the past.  Resilient communities value their history, but are continuously improving. The most resilient community is usually not the first adopter of a new technology or idea, rather, it employs the technology when it is proven, but far more quickly than most.  Since resilience requires the ability to come up with uniquely appropriate responses in diverse situations, the system needs a variety of approaches.  Ecologically resilient systems stress multiple, overlapping strategies rather than silver bullets.
Maintenance, Redundancy, Back-ups Redundancy means several of each component are present and they are replaced when lost.  Skills, abilities, functions are also reproduced and passed on to the next generation.
Accumulating Productive Infrastructure Resilient systems increase productive physical assets and natural capital, such as soils, water , storage of reserves and processing.  All these are assets which, if increasing, lead to increased resilience and, if decreasing, lead to less resilience in any system.  In communities this means transportation and utilities are maintained and improved.
Periodic Transformation At every scale, resilient systems regularly reform and even transform themselves either in response to disturbance or through self-reorganization. Resilient communities replace their leadership regularly. No leader hangs around too long.
Ecologically Integrated “Working with nature.” Resilient ystems obtain services from their surrounding ecosystem.  Resilient communities have plentiful parks and encourages farms and businesses which keep water and air clean and pure.
Complementary Diversity Resilient systems are highly diverse, but the diversity is controlled.  It is complementary in function, use of inputs, and generation of outputs. A resilient community will have a diversity of businesses, but all support each other and work for the improvement of the community.

Enhance these qualities in your community, your farm or any system and it will become more resilient.





Live long and healthy

Want to live a long, healthy life? Then why not learn how healthy 100 year-olds do it?

Studies of the  five spots around the world with the highest concentrations of 100 year-olds have revealed communities with eight habits which lead to healthy, long lives.

Multi-generation family gardening in the park

The most reported resilience-promoting factor was strong and long-lasting social bonds with family members and friends. The second most commonly cited habit was an outdoor lifestyle immersed in daily physical activity.

Third highest was involvement in family worship activities through regular church attendance and involvement in church ministries. A fourth was consumption of simple foods especially home-grown foods, with an abundance of vegetables and fruits.

Fifth most important was engaging with the natural world, especially gardening and walking in woods.  Sixth was getting at least 8 hours of sleep a day.

Seventh most important is a basic belief: that their actions will result in positive outcomes in their life.  The eighth is performance of regular charitable acts and altruism.

The authors of this study contend that these habits reduce the effects of chronic stress.

They believe that harmful biological changes associated with toxic chronic stress may be caused by inflammatory mechanisms. These eight habits help reduce inflammation.

The authors further contend that creating these habits in childhood “can help build up an immunity to the environmental and mental challenges that life brings.”

The key is a reduced reaction to traumatic life experiences.  Such experiences are going to happen to all of us.  How we respond to them determines how we survive and thrive.


For more details on this study, see:

Thunderstorms reveal resilience

A huge pine tree beside our driveway blocked the view of oncoming cars. This week I resolved to prune it back so we could see. Friday night a powerful thunderstorm did the work for me.  It tore off a three foot diameter limb and deposited it in the road.

Thunderstorm and lightnings in night over a lake with reflaction

As usual, I slept through the storm, so I didn’t notice no one could get by the huge limb. But I didn’t have to. Our self-organized community marshaled chain saws and a front end loader to clear the road.  Meanwhile the storm had blown down power lines and poles and the whole region had no power.

But our local electric cooperative went right to work. Less than 24 hours later, we all had power.  Everything was back to normal, except that we appreciated our community a little bit more.

Gratefulness is one characteristic of resilient people. I try to express thanks often for the many folks who help me have everything I need.  No one is an island. Even the most self-made man built his life on the foundations laid by others.

Our wind and lightning was nothing compared to the traumas others have endured. How did some people endure 9/11 and make New York an even better place afterward?  How do some people survive and thrive in challenging and high stress jobs like the US Special Forces? Severe earthquakes?  Being a prisoner of war?  Those who survived these challenges and subsequently thrived have been studied by many.

One research group has concluded that ten qualities are present in such resilient people:

facing fear, having a moral compass, drawing on faith, using social support, having good role models, being physically fit, making sure your brain is challenged, having ‘cognitive and emotional flexibility, having ‘meaning, purpose and growth’ in life and ‘realistic’ optimism.

Several of my older friends contend that a good church will help you have most of these.  Too bad our churches don’t focus a little more on exercise of the body and brain and cognitive flexibility.  Then they’d produce even more resilience.

All I know is that this weekend started with a huge thunderstorm, a blocked road and no power.  Now it’s Sunday morning and thanks to a lot of resilient people, my community is back to enjoying life and getting ready for church.


For personal resilience in good times and bad, click this link for more insight.





Needing something to believe in

“Don’t separate children from their parents.”  Such a simple truth. Anyone can believe in it. And anyone who doesn’t is obviously hard-hearted. This is the dominant political narrative in the US in summer 2018. People are marching and protesting. The First Lady is going to the border. And the President makes it federal policy.

Earlier this summer, suicide was the emotional topic all the news was occupied with. Two famous and rich Americans had chosen to end their lives. One had noted that he didn’t believe in much of anything. “If I am an advocate for anything, it is to move. As far as you can, as much as you can. Across the ocean, or simply across the river.”

RiftValley masai

Some people seem desperate to find something to believe in.  Others are determined not to believe in anything. Or just keep moving to avoid the emptiness they have created in their souls.

We need something to believe in, something larger than ourselves, something wholly, inherently true that will motivate us. What we all need is beyond simple emotional slogans. We need a universal truth to believe in.  Some call that God, others call it Nature, others say God is Nature.

If people need this so much, why do they run away from religion? There are plenty of good reasons.  “The letter of the law kills” is one good reason priests and rabbis have chased many away.  If religion is a set of laws you must obey, it will chase people away.

But while the “letter of the law kills, the spirit of the law gives life.”  Those who established the laws meant well in many cases, but when they lost the Spirit, they lost the ability to help people realize the freedom and peace and life that is available to all of us.

My hope is that you go beyond emotional slogans and find the everlasting truth which is so much more satisfying than man made slogans–which always fail us.

Find some of this truth and you’ll have peace and joy.  You won’t need simplistic slogans and you’ll fill that empty space in your soul.


Resilience requires a family: the Peppers and organic cotton in the High Plains

LaRhea Pepper has been marketing organic cotton for 30 years. And by marketing, I don’t mean just selling, I mean the whole gamut. She pays attention to all aspects of the product, in addition to promotion, distribution and price. I first met her in 1992 when she was just getting started. She was living on a fifth generation cotton farm south of Lubbock, Texas, and had recently convinced her husband’s brothers to move to the area. She’d convinced the three Pepper brothers than she could sell organic cotton if they would produce it.

carl pepper

They’d grown up on an 800 acre farm which had plenty of water (4000 gallons a minute). Their father passed away too early in 1988. Farming conventional cotton, “we could see zero by 1991,” Carl Pepper says. The oldest brother has studied accounting, ran the numbers and told Carl he could borrow $250,000 for $15,000 profit given conventional cotton’s costs and return. He and his wife said, “That’s nuts” and started looking for options.

Meanwhile, brother Terry had married LaRhea and begun farming in her home county on the High Plains of Texas. Borden County has about 600 people, two cafés right now and a bunch of farms. No banks, no grocery stores, no feed stores. Her grandparents wanted to retire and turn over their land to Terry and LaRhea. Terry and LaRhea took the opportunity and began raising cotton and kids. After the kids were in school, LaRhea and Terry decided to move toward organic cotton now that LaRhea had time to market it. They grew their first organic cotton in 1991, took it to a mill to be made into denim. LaRhea had sold the fabric by the time the mill had spun it into yarn, woven it, finished and delivered it.

About that same time (1991), LaRhea’s uncle decided to retire. He had 800 acres and a farmhouse and offered it to Carl and his wife. His accountant brother said on this land, they could borrow $60,000 for a return of $40,000 and liked those odds better. “The Good Lord provided us a place to go,” Carl says.

Things didn’t look quite so propitious when they were moving in during a January 1992 snowstorm. Carl’s wife refused to let him unload her boxes and informed him she was leaving shortly thereafter. In due time she relented and they were blessed with a dollar per pound for a quarter section of organic cotton. They were chopping in high cotton to use the old Southern phrase meaning living high on the hog.

Carl says his older brother Kelly warned him to set some of the profits aside because “this country can get tough. By the end of the 90s, Carl had used up his surplus funds and realized his brother was right. By then, they had created a strong presence in the organic market by organizing the Texas Organic Cotton Producers Cooperative with Kelly as President. The Co-op has 20 organic growers and 20,000 acres of organic production. Carl has 3600 organic cotton acres and grows another 400 acres for his sister in law, LaRhea.

Most of the growers are in Borden county on the southeast edge of the Ogallala aquifer. The aquifer and the flat land above it, end at the Caprock formation with a drop off of 1000 feet to the rolling lains of central Texas. Cropland turns into cattle grazing land at the Caprock.

If you want to learn about resilient farming in a pretty forbidding country, go visit Carl Pepper.