We Care - Earth Care!
Mount Auburn Presbyterian Church
Spring 2022

From the Editors
Welcome to spring! This year the pastoral leadership at Mt Auburn is using a Lenten resource, “You are Here,” which leads us on a journey through a “pageant of places.” It invites us to see that wherever we are, God is there. It reminds us that “any location …can be a place for resurrection”. How timely! Look around, and everywhere you see signs of spring with its promise of growth and renewal. We asked our contributors to share a place in nature that matters to them, a place of personal significance that may have changed their life in some way. They show us through word, image, and sound how such places inspire dreams, kindle imagination, evoke awe, deepen memory, exemplify purity and mystery, and call forth gratitude while offering grace, peace, salvation,and a healing intimacy with life and death.
In this Issue:
Speaking of Faith: Debbie Ramey finds renewal at Nags Head; Rebekah Nolt on nature and learning
Stories of Gratitude and Sacred Places: Rich Bitting remembers the Armstrong Creek; Chris Miller returns to the Les Cheneaux Islands; Rick Sowash ponders music and the ancesors in Bellville; Margaret Champion goes deep under water
Stories of Discovery and Transformation: Jenny Stanton explores Romania; Michael Adee finds sanctuary in New Mexico’s high country; Pat Timm remembers the Pokagon; Cathy Van Horn finds healing on the Farm.

Speaking of Faith
In Praise of Nags Head

Debbie Ramey writes:
When I was asked if I would write about a place in nature that is important to me, my response was immediate: "Yes! And I know just the place—the Outer Banks of North Carolina, and in particular, Nags Head.” The Outer Banks is a beautiful mix of sand, water, wildlife and history. There is something to do for people of all ages and abilities. Of course, the Atlantic Ocean is the main attraction as far as I'm concerned. Since childhood, when my dad first took us to Florida, I have been drawn to the ocean. Perhaps, as a lifelong, landlocked Kentuckian, I experienced the ocean as a place where dreams came alive.
For many years, members of my family have owned timeshares at Nags Head. Although invited on vacation many times, I had always declined for various reasons. But by 2007 I had come to a point in my life when I had to make some critical decisions. I was feeling lost and overwhelmed. My spiritual wellbeing was at a low point. When the vacation invitation came in April of that year I said, 'Yes.’ I had no idea how much my life would change following that week by the ocean. Walking along the shoreline each morning and watching the sun rise was such powerful experience. I understood for the first time what people had meant by the "Ocean's Roar." It was deafening, and yet I felt remarkably peaceful standing barefoot at the edge of the water, watching the waves crash to shore and feeling the cold wash over my feet. I knew in those moments that nothing was separating me from God. I could speak my prayers out loud. I could cry, scream and laugh...and I could feel God speak to me in the depths of my spirit. In that up-close-and-personal time with a power greater than I had ever experienced, I felt hope and I felt loved. I returned home with the confidence to make the changes necessary to put my life on a path toward peace and joy. It didn't happen overnight; rather it was a gradual transition - a moving forward from a stuck place. The ocean has become that place of healing and wholeness for me.
After my first trip, I returned to Nags Head every year for the next decade. As I continued to explore the beauty of creation, nature continued to heal and restore my spirit. During those visits, I hiked the sands of Jockeys Ridge State Park, rode a dune buggy along the beach at Corolla in search of wild horses, and journeyed to Ocracoke Island from Cape Hatteras, where I met a 90 year old resident who was also a UK fan! I learned about the history and mystery of the Lost Colony of Roanoke, toured the Wright Brothers museum, and spent days exploring the beautiful Elizabethan Gardens. And last but certainly not least, I worshipped with the wonderful congregation of Outer Banks Presbyterian Church! However, no matter where I went, or what I did, the sight and sound of the ocean was ever-present. Even in 10 years, I could not cover all of the places of interest nor savor all of the beauty that God’s creation had to offer.
Although it's been four years since my last visit to Nags Head, I have been forever changed by my experiences. It is to that place of comfort that I know I can return whenever I need to be reminded of the omnipresence of the Creator.
I am grateful.

Hydrangeas Blooming
Rebekah Nolt writes:

Honestly, I can’t think of a place in nature that has not changed me. Nature has been and probably always will be the place to which I escape—to find peace, to find rest, to catch my breath. There is a grounding and sense of belonging that only nature can bring. It also has and always will remind me to keep learning and growing, because the world is so much bigger than I could ever imagine.
Our lives are all shaped by the places we are from, the places we have been and the places we will go. Now of course, a place can be a specific geographical location or something more metaphorical like a longest night of the soul. Either way we are shaped by them.
I remember some years ago being introduced to the “Where I’m From” poem by George Ella Lyon and invited into the now widely used writing prompt to explore the places and people that have shaped me over the years. You can find it HERE. It has been a profoundly beautiful and tender exercise to revisit at different times and places in life to explore the forces shaping me. For now I offer one I call “Hydrangeas Blooming.”

I am from casseroles
from mason jars and pfaltzgraff
I am always from the house one street over
           comfortably lived in
           seasonally decorated
           a light in every window
I am from that overgrown hydrangea bush (or is it a shrub?)
whose large blooms were always bigger than
my current view of the world
church, school, church, school, church, school
but were also the perfect place to hide from it
I am from horse thieves and anabaptists
from Wayne and Maurice
           Vivian and Mildred
I am from the passive aggressive and the aggressively passive
From love the sinner hate the sin and you can do all things
           through a verse taken out of context
I am from Mennonites and apple country
From sauerkraut and shoofly pie
           and always pizza every Friday night
I am from beach trips and cabin stays
From memories of needing to unlearn everything
           and growing at a pace
           we are only just now catching up to
I am from saying grace and praying
           from hiding scraped knees beneath ripped dresses
           and always knowing
                       the world was so much bigger than the
Hydrangeas blooming.
Stories of Gratitude and Sacred Places

The Armstrong Creek
Rich Bitting writes:
One of my strongest memories of a place that matters is the Armstrong Creek, a small tributary of the Susquehanna River that flows through my family’s farm in Pennsylvania. It was the focus of many of my childhood activities: ice skating and playing hockey in the winter, swimming and fishing in the warmer weather, and family picnics on holidays and special occasions.
It wasn’t until I went away to college in Philadelphia and would return to the farm on visits, that I began to realize the healing power of the creek’s sounds. On a particular visit during an upheaval in my life, I sought the creek’s restorative council. At that time, hearing the water, was like hearing the sound of an old friend’s voice. The water’s voices, although not conclusive, seemed to be encouraging me to follow my own path.
On more recent visits, I love to sit quietly at creekside and allow myself to be mesmerized by the infinite sound of the water. Although the sound of the creek was a constant accompaniment in my youth, I heard it, but didn’t really listen to it. Now, I’m listening. Although the landscape has changed, the soundscape of the
Armstrong Creek has remained timeless.

Listen to an audio recording that I made on a recent visit to the Armstrong Creek.
Why I Love the Les Cheneaux Islands

Chris Miller writes:
There are many places in the world where the air is clean and crisp, the sky bright and blue, and the water fresh and crystal clear, but those I know best are the Les Cheneaux Islands. Few are the places that “take your breath away” and for many years now Beth and I have been blessed with long halcyon summer days spent there. In midsummer the sun sets late and dusk lasts until about 10:30. Then later on, if it’s clear, you see a canopy of stars with constellations and the Milky Way and—WOW , “did ya see that?!”—shooting stars.
Get out or pull up a map of the United States. Look for the “mitten” of Michigan, zoom in to the top of the state and across the Mackinaw bridge to the Upper Peninsula. Then follow the south eastern shoreline past the bridge to a group of 36 small islands strung out along 12 miles of coast. Those are the Les Cheneauxs.
For nearly 30 summers Beth and I have spent at least a week in the Les Cheneauxs. We were first introduced to the area by Rev. Hal Porter who, only a few months after I had joined the staff at MAPC invited me and Beth to share some vacation time in this special place. Anywhere you go in the Les Cheneauxs you are surrounded by water, weather, wind and wild life. Over many ensuing summers we accumulated hundreds of stories of communing with big nature and grace.
Once, after a violent sunset storm had cleared, Beth and I went out in our little aluminum john boat because the monster Great Northern Pike were supposed to be biting. To the west a brilliant sunset had turned the water the color of wine while in the east a giant double rainbow stretched across black, retreating clouds. As we gazed, a bolt of lightning maybe 50 miles away split the sky inside the rainbow. My big white and red bobber went down, but I was too awe-stuck to pay attention. (This really happened. Ask Beth!)
Another crazy weather event happened when Beth and I were out in my little boat probably five miles by water from our cabin. The weather suddenly became a fog so thick that visibility was down to just a few feet. This can happen in a no time! With much care we trolled along as slow as the motor would go, listening intently for the wash of shoreline. We kept hearing a strange fluttering that seemed to be getting closer, then a bell, and then people were yelling. We had driven right into the middle of a sailboat race with a 22ft sailboat turning a few feet from us…our first (and only) regatta!

Finally a musical story—and there were many as we shared songs around the campfire and before dinner. Over the years we’ve spent time with Hal and Betty’s families, with Paul and Camilla and their boys, and with my family and other friends who have come up to visit. There were many ardent musicians among them. One of my fondest memories was from about 25 years ago. It was late and warm and the campfire was still going with the water lapping close by; there was a full-ish moon so not a good night for star-gazing. We’d spent a day walking the woods along shore, skipping rocks, finding good ones to keep, picking wild berries, and eating wonderful fresh meals when not fishing,reading, or playing music. In short, it was just a typical day in the Les Cheneauxs. A few of us were sitting around the fire, when off in the distance we heard a most haunting melody played by a lone violin. My friend Chico had just come from a fiddle camp where the now famous “Ashokan Farewell” (Think Ken Burns’ Civil War Documentary) was first played, and he was playing it beautifully! It was a moment where time stood still as that tune wafted over those of us who had stayed up late. I will never forget the peace and sublime gratitude I felt for being at that place at that time. 
Resting Above the Clear Fork

Rick Sowash writes:
The village of Bellville, in north central Ohio, drowses upon a slope above the little valley of the Clear Fork River, one of the five forks of the Mohican River which gives the area its moniker: the Mohican Country. The slope rises westward, ending abruptly at what are called “the cliffs above the Clear Fork.” Graveyards are often located on hilltops; Bellville’s founders located theirs on the acres adjacent to the cliffs.
During the twelve happy years when Jo and I lived in Bellville, the cemetery was my favorite place to go for a walk. Back then, one could enjoy a splendid view to the west of rich farm land, distant forests and the serpentine windings of the Clear Fork. 
Now the scene has been marred by a huge gravel pit. Zoning would have prevented this eyesore, but the township trustees and the voters who elect them “don’t hold with no liberal notions” of the government telling people what they can and cannot do with their land. There is no zoning in Jefferson Township, and there are a lot of gravel pits.
Thirty years ago, the view from the cliffs was best seen on a bleak March day: stripped of leafy drapery, the shapeliness of the hills was revealed. A touch of weather -- a smear of fog, a scarf of mist, a daub of drizzle — enhanced and intensified the sombre mood of the place.
When I walked in the cemetery, I liked to imagine that I shared the view with the spirits of the early settlers buried nearby, a host of ghostly pioneers, peering westward from their final resting places, perhaps still itching to know what was further out there, further "out West."  

 A Spoon River sort of place, it is notable among Richland County’s cemeteries because it holds the remains of the highest ranking veteran of the Revolution to be buried there, Major William Gillespie, who departed this life at the age of 104. The celebrated tale-spinner Cy Gatton is buried there, too; you’ll know about Cy if you’ve read my latest book, The Blue Rock, or my first book, Ripsnorting Whoppers, in which Cy is the main character.
The Bellville cemetery prompted reflection. It seemed to bring forth “memories” of people and scenes I could never actually have known. It made me “remember” the pioneers, the Shawnee who were here before them, the Moundbuilders further back, the mastodon-hunters further yet, and, before any of us, the glaciers that had deposited the gravel where the quarries are now—and, before the whole shebang, the changeless starry sky.
I tried to catch some of those “memories” and the feelings they engendered in a piece for cello and piano I hope you will let me share with you today.
It opens and closes in the misty, mystic and improbable key of G flat minor. At first there is no tune, only a fog. The tune takes shape very gradually. It is as if we are present at the birth of a tune. 
At first, only half notes and quarter notes are heard. Then at 1:55 eighth notes come into play, an evocation of the rippling river at the foot of the cliffs. Soon after, the tune matures into its full form, a modal pioneer-sounding theme reminiscent of old ‘shape note’ tunes.
At 2:40 a second modal tune grows out of the first. It is repeated three more times, each a little more expanded into a wider range. These are not variations but rather re-imaginings, expanded ‘variants’ that become ever more noble and tender.  At 4:06 the cello sounds the flatted sevenths of the chords, giving the music a touch of the ‘Blues,’ a very American sound.
At 4:30, the Golden Mean of the piece, comes the climax -- not a loud and crashing climax but instead the apotheosis of the modal tune as it blossoms into an intense lyricism. 
From there the music pushes to a high note and then comes a dénouement, returning at last to the misty, mystic sounds heard at the beginning.
I wrote The Cliffs Above the Clear Fork in 1980 when I was thirty years old. In those days I thought I would live my whole life in Bellville and then be buried in the cemetery. The piece is dedicated to cellist Terry King and pianist John Jensen who play the piece superbly well in the recording you can hear by clicking here. To see a PDF of the score, click here.
Underwater is My Place that Matters
Margaret Champion writes:
For most of my life, getting out into almost any natural setting – woods, park, riverside – was the choice to restore my spirit, bring peace to my heart and mind, and renew my faith. Hikes on the Swiss glaciers, skiing in the Austrian Alps, mountain climbing in the Italian Dolomites, riding through the Egyptian desert or trekking in Nepal all brought peace and joy to my soul.
But at age 50, I discovered another natural setting that now matters even more. SCUBA diving takes me to the most tranquil, encompassing, inspiring, heaven-like places imaginable. The quiet (well, fish and other critters do make many sounds, actually) and act of floating, being untethered to the world above and all its woes renews my soul and deepens my sense of the divine presence all around.

This photo was taken in the Maldives, where I went to swim with giant manta rays. I’ve been in awe of the 40 foot long whale sharks and schooling hammerhead sharks in the Galapagos Islands. Stingless jelly fish in Palau are small miracles. The breathtaking corals of Fiji are as beautiful as any flower garden and the tiniest of pygmy seahorses in Indonesia are reminders of the glory and power of the Creator.
Being in the midst of the creation, no matter where, really matters to me. Some places are so incredibly special that I want to live and maybe even die in them as I reach for a different renewal – that of my soul in the in the arms of the Creator.
Stories of Discovery and Transformation
Sanctuary, Strength, Solace
Michael Adee writes:
When I was moving from Cincinnati to Santa Fe in the summer of 1997, Fran Rosevear gave me a treasure trove of maps of the nearby hiking trails. He and Ruth loved nature walks, and he had led many a hike for the church’s Boy Scout troop. Through the years, I opened those maps and went on many hikes in the mountains of the Santa Fe National Forest with friends. This area is only a half hour’s drive from my home, and it was fun to discover a new hike or return to the familiarity of a favorite one. At the start of the Covid-19 global pandemic, when face masks and social distancing became the way to protect our health, my tennis center closed along with our local gyms. My LGBTQ+ human rights work went online, as did church and the other ways that I had been using to connect with people and work for change.
The necessity of social isolation led me to wonder where I could go to be outside safely. I decided to do a solo hike in the mountains of the Santa Fe National Forest near the ski basin. 

I chose a trail that climbed up the crest of the mountain and had few hikers. This snow covered path that led through pines, junipers and aspens underneath a bright sun and cobalt blue sky became a sanctuary for me. I was in Nature’s cathedral. John Muir said, “Going to the mountains is going home.” I could breathe more easily on that mountain trail. The birds above me and the magical sound of snow crunching beneath my feet were welcome reminders of life in the midst of the rising death rates around our nation and the world. 

Rachel Carson said, “Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts.” I certainly felt different during those solo mountain hikes. I gained an inner peace and strength from walking through the forest, breathing the clean, alpine air, feeling the sun on my face, and being in the midst of the beauty of the earth, our only home.
These mountain hikes offered peace, grace and, honestly, salvation in the midst of the deadly pandemic and the ongoing political distress. Even the planning to go and driving up to the trailhead became part of this saving grace. Doing this solo hike so often, I began to notice the particularity of the aspen trees and the baby fir trees pushing themselves up through the snow. I could see the trees in the midst of the forest. I marveled at the bends of a number of the aspen trees in the midst of those touching the sky. Alice Walker said, “In nature, nothing’s perfect and everything is perfect. Trees can be contorted, bent in weird ways, and they’re still beautiful.”  
During these mountain hikes, being off Zoom and in the midst of the sacred quiet of nature, I found solace in the midst of this deadly pandemic. Alice Walker is right about nature and life – nothing’s perfect and everything is perfect. I needed to feel whole in the midst of social isolation and the pandemic closing in around me. I see Walker’s use of perfect as whole. While our world was struggling to find its way through the pandemic and too many people were getting sick and dying; I could still imagine, I could still believe, I could still hold onto hope of a world that is whole. And, so it is. Peace. 

Gifts from Romania
Jenny Stanton writes:

A large black bird—an eagle perhaps—lifted slowly, majestically from the ploughed field where he had been feeding. The wingspan looked to be ten feet, maybe more. All I could think of was the word “kingly” as he made his way up the sky. No rush of wings, no flapping either; he was soaring up to his lordship’s domain.
This first birding epiphany happened on a trip to Romania that I took with a friend in 2008. It was called “Birds and Medieval Monasteries,” and we saw 15th century frescoes on monasteries in Sucevita, Moldova, Voronet, Humor and Neant. We were only in Bucaresti one night, then spent the next week in the lush Romanian countryside. The last three nights were on a pontoon boat on the Danube Delta.
The second unforgettable experience on this trip was watching a kettle of storks overhead, “turning and turning in the widening gyre.” (Thank you, William Butler Yeats!). We saw thousands of white storks circling overhead, too far away to hear the sound of their wings beating, as I once had in Florida. The storks performed a dance of great beauty as they rode ascending thermals. Such a flock is called “a kettle of storks,” and their dance is called “kettling.” By riding the thermals, the birds save energy. 

The third and final Romanian gift was partly Nature, capital N, and partly human nature. Our small flock of birders, about ten people, was walking on a road through fields and forests. No houses, no cars, just the quiet country road—and the birds of course. We walked slowly, listening and looking. Suddenly we heard the singing of nuns in a nearby church. Out of the open windows music floated toward us. The air was filled with human beauty this time. Unexpected, yes, but since we were birding near the grounds of a large convent we should not have been surprised. Human voices carried a blessing in the quiet morning air.
Romania was full of those indelible moments. Life-changing? Perhaps not, but certainly life-enhancing.
Pat Timm writes:
Camping. We had never gone camping. But one day, when I was twelve, my parents and my four siblings filled our station wagon with all we thought we needed to vacation in the woods at a state park in northern Indiana. We were joining our beloved Preacher’s family from the First Universalist Church in Cincinnati. He was a fisherman. He and my father would leave our campsite before dawn each day to “find the fish.” 

I remember lots of rain and lots of mud. But I also remember the early morning light on Lake St. James, and the smell of dawn. I remember nightly campfires and singing. I remember seven of us huddled in a canvas tent that sagged in the rain. I remember how it felt to be so close, in such tight quarters—to be family, playing and keeping house together in the outdoors.
It is still my favorite place to be. Slipping out of a tent, smelling the dew-covered grass, finding the embers from last night’s fire to heat the coffee pot. Listening to the bird’s morning chatter.
Since 1953, camping at Pokagon State Park, I have traveled all over the USA to put my head down on cedar beds, awed by the twinkling skies, glad for each new morning. For me all the outdoors is sacred space where holiness surrounds me, where I thrive, and where I rest.

The Farm
“In all things of nature there is something of the marvelous.”
Cathy Van Horn writes:

At the age of 49 I was introduced to The Farm, a 16-acre refuge for people and animals located in Oregonia, Ohio. It consists of a two-story white house with a sweet front porch, two barns (one a home to horses: Boulder, Dorothy, Cowboy), a fishing pond, and both tilled and natural fields. Laurie, now my partner of 14 years, owned and tended this space, supporting its inhabitants and welcoming visitors. As a therapist, she facilitated equine therapy for troubled children and adolescents, frequently working with the most impaired and most wounded.

At that time I was raising children and living in a small condominium in Indiana, working out of a dark, windowless office in the department of psychiatry at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. Long past were my days as a child, staying outside until well after the street lights came on, playing kick the can, pulling homemade light houses through the streets, and watching old black and white horror movies in my neighbor’s back yard. My family also camped on the Ohio River, and I grew up water skiing, playing in corn fields, and singing around a camp fire. Well into adulthood, I found myself inside (unless vacationing) constricted, and quite serious about everything.

My youngest son, Alex, and I eventually moved to The Farm with Laurie and my stepson Luke. We were fortunate to share in the solitude, adventure, work, and play of this space. I was reminded of the part of me that loved nature and the outdoors. The Farm was an antidote to the nature deficit of my adult life. Once again I felt free and able to breathe deeply.

The Farm required manual labor that I had not encountered previously, or perhaps, had simply managed to avoid. Shortly into this new life, Laurie provided me with pink overalls and a rake, coaching me to “make myself big” while raking manure or throwing hay in the horse stalls. She handed me a hammer to repair fences, surprised at my ineptitude but always encouraging. I’m not sure I ever got better at pounding nails, but a new sense of competency began to blossom. In the winter, when temperatures plunged, I awoke at dawn to throw hay to the horses and returned at night to do the same. A new life rhythm emerged as I became more aware of the interconnection between land, animals, and humans.

Life and death were more apparent and pronounced at the Farm. Beloved horses and dogs were lovingly “put down,” while coyotes, or dogs killed others. (Well, in all fairness, our dog Jeb actually scared the rooster to death; he didn’t intentionally kill it!) There was no turning away from what was hard. Rather, I had to embrace the fragility of life and the rawness of nature. I had to learn to let go.

Thankfully, the animals provided levity and humor. Our walks on the Farm included Petunia, (our pig), Thelma and Louise (our goats), the ducks, and seven dogs. It was quite a sight with Laurie the Pied Piper in the lead. We also had a skunk, whom Alex named Gunk because he couldn’t pronounce the name. Gunk only lived a year or two because he loved to eat peas and eventually gorged himself to death. Random animals showed up on the farm as well, including a baby racoon aptly named Rocky. One evening, while sitting on the front porch with a cocktail and watching the sunset, I heard the clinking of ice cubes in my whiskey. I looked down to see Rocky stirring it with his little racoon paw. You couldn’t make these stories up!

My serious adult life opened up to moments of farm play. In my fifties I found myself at the pond with Laurie slinging mud at one another. Imagine, two grown women actually engaging in a mud fight! Petunia, our pig, got into the act and enjoyed more solitary rolling around.

Over the years, I watched The Farm transform lives, whether my own, my son’s, our clients, or friends who visited on weekends. It was a place of rest from busy lives, a place to reconnect with nature and something bigger than ourselves, a place for children/clients to learn to trust again (but this time, in relationship to a horse), a place to revitalize, develop new skills, laugh, and play. And, when Alex died, it was the place where my entire family gathered to hold one another and be held by this healing space. 
Thanks to all our contributors for this issue! If you’d like to write for us, please contact your faithful editors, Julie Malkin (mlkjulia458@gmail.com) and John Tallmadge (jatallmadge@gmail.com).