Help the Pollinators

June is National Pollinator Month here in the US! While we should always be mindful of pollinators, June is a great time to dig in and give pollinators some extra love. The purpose of pollinator month is to spread awareness about the plight of pollinators and encourage folks to take action to help support their declining populations. 

Keep reading to learn 10 ways you can help save pollinators, including things you can do at home, in your community and beyond! Most of the ways we can help pollinators seem small and easy to do – but can add up to make a big difference! Pollinator populations are impacted by human lives and our daily decisions in more ways than most people realize. Furthermore, human lives depend on pollinators far more than we give them credit for! Pollinators are a critical part of our food systems, environment, and economy. 

“Without the actions of pollinators, agricultural economies, our food supply, and surrounding landscapes would collapse.”

pollinators.org

Before we dive into Ways to help SAVE Pollinators, let’s take a look at who the pollinators are and why they need our help!

Who are Pollinators?

When you hear the word “pollinators”, most folks immediately think of bees – and for a good reason! Bees are one of the most prominent and important pollinators of them all. As bees buzz from flower to flower, they pick up and carry pollen. Thousands of plants depend on this transfer of pollen between flowers (aka, the act of pollination) to reproduce and bear fruit or seeds, including most food crops. However, many other insects and animals play a role in pollination too! This includes butterflies, moths, birds, bats, ants, beetles, other animals, and even the wind

Pollinators are considered a keystone species group. The National Geographic Society describes a keystone species as “a plant or animal that plays a unique and crucial role in the way an ecosystem functions. Without keystone species, the ecosystem would be dramatically different or cease to exist altogether.” In fact, pollinators are directly responsible for one-third of all food that humans consume, including everything from fruit and veggies to coffee and chocolate!

Why are pollinators dying?

As our natural world becomes increasingly urbanized and polluted, pollinators are taking a big hit along with it. Bees are especially sensitive creatures and are very, very susceptible to the pesticides commonly used in conventional agriculture operations. The most lethal of them all (to bees) are neonicotinoids, which according to Cornell University are also the most widely used class of insecticides used in the world. One small exposure can take out an entire colony of bees. However, any broad-spectrum pesticide use puts pollinators at risk, including outside of a commercial farm setting! This includes residential use, at parks, on golf courses, on public right-of-ways, and more. 

Furthermore, natural habitats and food sources for pollinators are being altered, destroyed, or contaminated by expanding agriculture and “urban sprawl” development. Last but not least, our changing climate and weather patterns are negatively impacting many plants, animals, and ecosystems, including our pollinator friends.

Yikes. That all sounds pretty depressing, right? It certainly is… Yet the good news is: WE CAN HELP! Even more, most of the ways we can help save pollinators also benefit our personal wellness and the overall environment too. Consider it a “win” for all.

How to Help SAVE Pollinators

1) Plant for Pollinators 

The easiest and the best way to help pollinators is to create a pollinator-friendly garden, incorporating plants that provide nectar and pollen. When thinking about what to plant, give preference to plants that are native to your area, which are best suited to both your climate and the pollinators that live there! Blooming trees are also highly attractive to pollinators. If you don’t have room for an extensive garden or if you don’t have a large outdoor space, consider adding a few potted flowering plants to a balcony, patio, or window box. Many pollinator plants are low-maintenance and container-friendly!

When planning your garden or picking out plants you want to supply a diverse and sustained food sources by planting a variety of annual and perennial plants, including ones that flower at different times of year. Also, keep in mind that most (but not all) flowers produce pollen or nectar, which is what pollinators need to sustain life. 

Read More- 23 Plants for Pollinators

2) Create a Wildlife-Friendly Yard, Beyond Flowers

Do your best to provide habitat and supplemental food sources that support a variety of pollinators and wildlife. For example, add hummingbird feeders, bird houses, bird baths, solitary bee houses, or even bat boxes to your outdoor space. Put out shallow water baths for bees, such as a bird bath or shallow dish with stones or rocks in it. Allow some areas of your yard to grow “wild” and less manicured, which provides safe spots for nesting and shelter. Be conscientious when pruning vines and trees, especially during known bird nesting seasons. Let some of the wild “weeds” in your yard stay to bloom, such as dandelion. Also, avoid dead-heading all your spent flowers. The birds will appreciate eating the seeds!

Shelter, food, water, and places to raise young are all key components of a healthy wildlife habitat. 

3) Avoid Using Pesticides

Help save pollinators by avoiding the use of chemical pesticides at home. Instead, manage your yard or garden in a natural and organic manner. There are many ways to combat pests in a way that will not negatively impact beneficial insects like bees and butterflies. In fact, beneficial insects themselves can be used to reduce pest insect populations! For example, native American ladybugs, lacewings, and praying mantis eat many soft-bodied pest insects like aphids. Releasing them in your garden is considered a form of biological pest control – as opposed to chemical. The use of companion plants, polyculture, and physical barriers (like hoops and row covers) are other non-chemical means to reduce pests.

There are also many homemade or mild sprays that can be used to control garden pests, such as a DIY soap spray recipe or dilute neem oil. Even then, many “organic” pesticide products can harm bees and beneficial insects if applied incorrectly. Therefore, please do thorough research before using any kind of spray! 

4) Go Organic

Beyond your garden, go organic in as many ways possible – such as buying organic products and food. Supporting sustainable, pollinator-friendly farms keeps them in business – and the bees safe! Don’t forget to hit up your local Farmer’s Market too. Even if they are not “certified” organic, many small local farms are much more cautious about pesticide use. Furthermore, buying organic goods lessens the demand for conventional (toxic) products. This is better for everyone and everything, including your personal health.

5) Plant Butterfly Host Plants

Butterflies depend on “host plants” to reproduce and thus survive. Adult butterflies lay their eggs on a host plant, and when their larvae (caterpillars) emerge from eggs, they feed on the plant – until they too can grow up to become a beautiful butterfly. However, caterpillars won’t eat any old plant! Each species of butterfly has a particular host plant that their caterpillar babies will eat. Some caterpillars are very picky and will feed on one type of plant only, while others have a slightly wider appetite.

For example, milkweed is the sole source of food for monarch butterfly caterpillars. While there are many varieties of milkweed that they’ll eat, monarchs will ONLY eat milkweed. Swallowtail butterflies are less picky and will dine on dill, fennel, carrot greens, and parsley. 

6) Make an Impact Outside Your Home

There are a number of ways to help save pollinators beyond the borders of your own garden. If you live in an HOA, apartment complex, or other maintained community, talk to the folks responsible for landscape management about pollinators, pesticide use, and organic gardening options. Ask questions and share information at your workplace too. Perhaps they’ll be willing to make some beneficial changes! Even the time of day that sprays are applied can help save pollinators; bees are far less active in the evening hours, at sunset or after.

7) Support Beekeepers 

Supporting beekeepers is an excellent way to help encourage healthy pollinator populations. How? Buy local honey and beeswax products! Just like going organic, it is all about supply and demand. Consuming local honey also has the added benefit of inoculating your immune system with local pollen, which over time helps reduce your seasonal allergy response. Most often, local honey is sold at local farmers markets along with small shops, or direct from the keeper. 

support bee keepers

8) Start Keeping Bees Yourself

This might not be an option for everyone and might not be a task that you want to take on but it is something to consider. While our garden is filled with hundreds of visiting bees each day, we have yet to venture into the wonderful world of beekeeping. It is a dream for our future farm property though. I have heard that Flow Hives are very simple to get going and maintain. To learn more, consider checking out the highly-rated Beekeeper’s Bible Book or Beekeeping for Dummies. If you know of any other great beginner beekeeping resources, please drop them in the comments below!

9) Donate

If it is within your means, donating to relevant non-profits is an awesome option to help save pollinators. 

Listed below are a handful of non-profit organizations that are dedicated to helping protect pollinators and their natural habitats – though the list is by no means comprehensive!

10) Spread the Love

Talk to your family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers about the importance of pollinators! Encourage them to get involved and make small but impactful changes too. Give pollinators and wildlife-friendly gifts for special occasions, such as packets of wildflower seeds, local honey, bird houses, or hummingbird feeders. Last but not least, share this article and other pro-pollinator messages on social media!

I hope that you found some meaningful ways you can personally help save pollinators!

I hope this article provided insight and inspiration on a few changes or new steps you can take to protect pollinators in your area. Every little bit counts. You know what they say… think globally, act locally! Please visit our pollinator garden at the center.  Bring a camera and take some pictures of the butterflies. 

Camping Memories

Camping has always been a part of my life for as long as I can remember.  Previously, I wrote about “camping with horses” which can be delightful or distressing, depending on how you go about it!   My advice is for you to trail ride all day with a camping pack and rider on your horse so he’s good and tired when it’s time to settle down for the evening.  This next bit of advice, which you are about to read, is more personal than practical, though there are some elements to it which you may find helpful!

Camping in the North Georgia Mountains was a favorite of mine when my children were small.  We lived in Jacksonville, Florida, at the time, so it wasn’t too far to travel with the little ones.  We especially enjoyed camping near Helen, Georgia, which is a sweet little Bavarian-style town. 

camping memories

Tent camping can be fraught with all kinds of problems; from heating to cooling, rain and wind, mosquitos sneaking inside because someone didn’t zip the tent closed, air mattresses that mysteriously deflate while you sleep, and more.  Air mattresses can be the bane of tent camping, for a number of reasons.  If you are way up in the middle of the mountains, far from civilization, and your mattress deflates while you sleep, there’s not much you can do.  Finding and fixing the leak is always challenging, too.  If your site is not level, you either get a rush of blood to your head, or your feet take on a gravitational pull that feels like you’ll soon be sliding out the tent and down the mountain.  If you camp at a time when the air is cool in the evening, your mattress can feel like sleeping on a frozen pond.  I’ve experienced all of these, including a deflating mattress on top of a gravel tent pad.  Gravel.  That’s exactly what happened on my last visit to the North Georgia Mountains. We had lovely little camping spot, a bit downhill from the rv campers.  On the first night, the mattress deflated.  It was about 2 am, and there we were, lying on top of rocks with a bit of plastic between us and the gravel.  Thankfully, the children were fast asleep and unaware of the misery their parents were experiencing.  Grouchy and sleepless, I slipped out of the tent while my husband tried to find the leak.  The night air was cool and sweet and I as I looked up hill toward the area of the comfy campers, I saw the biggest, most beautiful RV castle I have ever seen.  Oh how I envied them at that moment.  All the glorious comforts of home contained in a mobile paradise.  For all the world, it looked like it was plated in the finest gold.  And there I was, lumpy from gravel, miserable from sleeplessness, and feeling very deprived. 

In the morning, the children awoke and were raring to go.  I made breakfast over an open fire all the while thinking about the castle on the hill.  I imagined they were waking up in the finest linens after a long luxurious night of sleep, their coffee already perking to the sound of their happy heartbeats.  Meanwhile, my coffee was barely starting to perk and I just knew when it was ready, it would be full of grounds.  Gloom, despair, and agony on me…

Later in the day, we met the folks who owned the beautiful RV parked over our heads.  They, too, had traveled from Florida and we struck up a lively conversation about Gators and Seminoles.  The luxury campers were from Tallahasee and it’s almost a requirement to route for Florida State if you live in Tallahasee.  We spoke about a lot of things, and I couldn’t help but notice the size of her diamond ring.  Normally, I would just admire something like that, and not think much of it other than it was impressive in size and lovely. But, you know, sleeping on rocks can have a bad effect on a person.  A tired, grumpy, lumpy person. I was deep in the sleep-deprived, self-pity mode.  Anyway, the luxury campers were absolutely the nicest people.  They fussed over our two children, asked all kinds of nice questions about our lives, invited us to dinner in the camper, and then came down the hill to visit our campsite, too.  We shared a glass of wine or two before they headed uphill to the castle on wheels.  After they had gone out of sight, I began to cry a little.  The fire was slowly fading, I was absolutely exhausted, and I sat there thinking about my life.  I began to think about my two beautiful children, my little yellow house with the white picket fence, and my wonderful husband (who successfully fixed the air mattress).  I had little to be envious of, as it turns out.  Our luxury camping friends sold everything they had, all their worldly goods and possessions, with the exception of her wedding ring, to buy that beautiful camper.  He was dying of cancer.  I should say, living with cancer because that’s exactly what they were doing, until he couldn’t.    They were traveling the country, as much as possible, before the cancer would take its toll. 

camping memories

The lesson from this camping trip is simple:  the best sleep happens when you go to bed with a thankful heart. 


About the Author-

Linda Scott

The Opportunity of Tai Chi

The first I heard of tai chi, it seemed the idea was that you wouldn’t be there for your opponent to hit you — the art of dodging, I thought. I loved the idea: a humorous approach to self-defense. Of course, that was a very simplistic understanding of a thoroughly complicated system, but as far as self-defense goes, it does get to the essential idea. Even though you are not there to be hit, the other side of that yin is the yang: that your opponent can’t lose you either. You stick. You assist your opponent to go in the direction his force is taking him. Because tai chi isn’t just a system of fight training, its essence is the development of internal energy, of practicing, with attention, long enough to begin to learn to feel how to open your body and let your chi circulate through its system.

Tai Chi came to China from India; it developed from yogic practices and works with the same energy centers. Tai chi developed from generations of practitioners observing the natural world, observing their own and others’ bodies, meditating, thinking, conversing, writing, practicing. For the adept, the power behind kicks and punches is the internal power of the chi propelling the foot or hand from deep inside the body. Its ultimate purpose, however, is self-realization; its method is to practice until you begin to notice, then to feel, finally, perhaps, to master, the forces of yin and yang, the polar opposites and tension of physical existence. It’s pretty heady stuff, and it never ends. That’s what makes it so interesting; there’s always another level, another insight.

I finally found my teacher when I was in my thirties, a fifth-generation Chinese doctor, Tzu Kuo Shi. He taught the Yang Long Form, which took me years just to get the moves straight, and as it turns out, is legendary in the USA — few people teach is because it takes too long to learn, and to do. I prize it and certainly prefer it to its shortened and complicated competition versions that are generally taught. They are more concentrated, they allow practitioners to exhibit mastery in a tightly controlled exhibition. But I love doing the long from. I love its flow, the swing and cadence its length and repetitions allow to develop and grow. It gives me room to learn how to do it, and what it can be.

tai chi
photo credit- LittleBee80

Quite some time ago, I saw a notice at a yoga studio that never was open when I was in its neighborhood. There was a photograph of an old woman — old: scrawny, wrinkled  arms and legs, stringy gray hair, ancient, craggy face — in a very strong and correct Warrior Pose, one knee bent, supported by the rear leg, arms outstretched with power and lift, back arched, head erect on a strong, if skinny, neck. Under her photograph was a caption that read, “This woman is 83 years old. She started practicing with us when she was 60.” I took a most valuable lesson from that encounter. I learned that I had the rest of my life, as much or as little as was left of it, and that it didn’t matter that I had come to tai chi late or was not athletic and was, basically, terrible at it. I had the rest of my life to work on it, and it made me smile deep inside.

I have continued my tai chi journey. I came to Bedford, Virginia, and a teacher appeared to show me how to dig down and begin to understand how to break through physical barriers (Hint: Break through your mental barriers first). But although I am no longer young, and or course getting older, I am getting better at it. I am learning, improving. Noticing what happens when I keep losing my balance, thinking about what I have to do to prevent that.

None of this is magic, of course; athletes, dancers, gymnasts, they all know how to keep their weight down and their heads up, to breathe through their efforts. But I wasn’t a natural athlete, and though I finally learned how to dance, until I began to understand what I was doing while I was trying to do tai chi, I didn’t have the full story.

tai chi
photo credit-Dragonimages

Maybe you have been blocked from your usual exercise by this pandemic. Tai Chi and yoga need only a few square feet, and they can give you the world, the world that is inside you, infinitely. If you are looking for something that will never grow old, never wear out, never become routine, consider taking up the study of chi qong, yoga, or tai chi. Think about your posture, your breath, quiet your mind by paying attention to the rather demanding physical things you are doing. Heal yourself, strengthen yourself. Once you allow yourself to accept your effort, and understand that you might as well relax, because you are taking only the first steps of an endless journey, you begin to have fun and feel the adventure you have undertaken. You have the rest of you life, and it will take longer than that.


About the Author-

Doris McCabe

Spring 2020

“I say that even after April, by God there’s no excuse for May.” -e e cummings

Gridlock in the transportation of food from farms to distribution centers and retail customers during this time of pestilence has forced the conversation.

When things fall apart and the center cannot hold, space appears from within the center of the dissolution. Within that space is the core of real life, the inexorable reality on which our human constructs about reality — our cultures, our belief systems, our actions — are built.

I pause as I use that phrase, on which our human constructs about reality…are built,

because as I write it, the alternative out of which our human constructs grow, emerged in the same thought. The first indicates that the way we think about the world is literally constructed: a built environment erected upon the real world. Grows out of clearly indicates an organic, immediate, and subordinate connection to the real world. Covid-19 is showing us just how inexorable reality can turn out to be. And yet, we grow out of it and are carried in its current.

Inexorably. So what do we do? Float as much as possible, breathe steady, and use every fiber of our being to stay afloat.

So now, as the food chain has fallen apart, the centralized grow-and-ship system unable to absorb the bounty, that mess at the center, all the milk, crops, and already living animals marked for slaughter stuck by sickness (organic) and shutdown (human response to stay afloat); that agricultural pile of ruin and rot is compost for a rejuvenation of local food and agricultural networks. If we turn it, amend it, grow it, and finally plant it, we can establish healthy local networks that grow naturally through local interchange of labor and its products. Regardless of how industrial agriculture handles its piles of rotting organic matter, local interlocking groups of farmers and gardeners can still grow from small independent clumps in the undergrowth to firmly established ecosystems that provide, create, and consume what they need to sustain themselves — and provide outlets for farmers when the global systems glitches.

Local growing systems in no way mean being cut off from trade in the larger world. Organic growth in the wild world applies here too: specialized ecosystems change where their margins intersect — new systems form and grow into landscapes that accommodate individual needs, and interchange materials necessary among themselves. Whatever happens in the global scale of exchange, our current situation has made clear that the hole in the center of the system is the steady erosion of local, self-sustaining economies. Basic to self-sufficiency is home or communal food production. OF COURSE we’ll trade far and wide for some things, but feed ourselves first. When we grow our own food and support local horticultural and agricultural businesses, those nutritious organic food products are available within our community. Local trade leads naturally to regional networks, which then flow into the national and global economies — but that export can’t be skimmed off the top of local food security like rich cream.

In the face of climate and weather realities we have already been facing, permaculture principles of land stewardship can guide us all to save and regain vital soil and ever more precious water. Conservation of resources is the paramount concern, and in this too, the natural world is our teacher. We can create a sub-system that sustains feed-back loops in local areas so that basic necessities are locally available and sustainable agriculture supports its community through interconnected supply and demand relationships.

The Sedalia Center is fortunate to be in achingly beautiful farming country, running along Counter Ridge to the contributing ecosystems of the Blue Ridge, valley and mountains exchanging life forms, adapting, regenerating each other. Sedalia, Virginia, is home to rich farmland, and a vibrant local farm economy. Set as it is in farm country, the Sedalia Center sees in its spacious grounds an opportunity to follow permaculture principles in planting gardens and landscaping to promote natural systems that retain moisture and recycle nutrients in the soil. The Plan is to learn by doing. This blog is a beginning to the communication part of learning, and we invite you to share your experience and questions, to use this space as a place to inform each other of permaculture activities in the area and region, and to report and consider successes and failures.

Sedalia, Virginia, has the foundation of a local food-secure economy. The Sedalia Center, as a community arts and culture center, is setting out to educate itself and anyone interested in principles of restorative land stewardship and food  and community security. The Center is one little biosphere made up of lots of individual ecosystems, and it is one sphere among several in the neighborhood. Neighborhood is pretty much an urban term. It describes the ecosystems within larger urban population clusters. But food security is really important in urban neighborhoods, and permaculture principles apply to back (and front) yards, vacant lots and marginal land as well as the rich possibilities of the Sedalia area. Neighborhood, like Community, implies human connection, an all-in-this-together mentality. Both also refer to a collection of people in a specific locale, whether they look out for each other or not. And they are living, in varying degrees of awareness and closeness, in the natural world of that place.

Learn by doing about conservation of resources, how organic organisms grow out of and return to the soil, and how to practice horticulture according to its principles. So despite its delayed start, the Sedalia Center’s first garden grown from permaculture principles has begun. These principles apply way beyond the lettuce bed; they depend also on the cross-pollination and fertilization of conversation and the interchange of ideas. This blog is open to the neighborhood — and the one next door, and the one that is developing where the two intersect.

Please join the Sedalia Center to teach and to learn, and to maintain a conversation that grows out of the ground under its feet.


About the Author-

Doris McCabe

Stained Glass with Sidewalk Chalk

Staying at home and being cooped up inside isn’t for everyone, but with a little thought, there are several fun and creative ways to break up the monotony of your day. Creating Stained Glass with Sidewalk Chalk is a great example.

We suggest going outside and creating bright and positive messages in your driveway and on the sidewalk. This is a great way to take a break from the COVID-19 pandemic, get some fresh air while still abiding by the guidelines and restrictions that have been put in place.

chalk art

How do you make Stained Glass with Sidewalk Chalk? 

You can make this chalk art design by adding tape to the ground in a fun geometric design.  Let the kids make it by giving each child a long strip of painters tape & letting them make the next line… jump in if they need a little direction or help. 

Next, give them as many different colors of sidewalk chalk as you can find in the house… the more, the merrier!  

Then, let each child color a square until you have a beautiful stained glass chalk design.   This is chalk art at its finest!   It looks so awesome when it’s done.  The kids loved the outcome! 

Another fun idea would be to leave a few squares not-colored-in. Leave the chalk out and let your neighbors fill in the rest as they bike by or walk by. It would make it a fun surprise for the kids, seeing how it was filled in or added to by someone in the neighborhood. Taking some time to create positive messages on our driveway and side walk was a great way for our family to have fun during a time where we were getting a little stir crazy staying inside.

chalk art

Taking sometime to create positive messages on our driveway and site walk was a great way for our family to have fun during a time where we were getting a little stir crazy staying inside.

chalk art

About the Author-

Deeanne Curtis

Deeanne is a former teacher, wife, mom of 4 and a blogger. She loves sharing her adventures with her kids and encouraging parents to take pictures of their everyday. You can connect with her by visiting her site www.livingouradventures.com.

No Man is an Island

1624 – John Donne Meditation XVII – from Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions

Nunc lento sonitu dicunt, morieris.

Now this bell tolling softly for another, says to me, Thou must die.

Perchance he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill as that he knows not it tolls for him; and perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as that they who are about me and see my state may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that. The church is catholic, universal, so are all her actions; all that she does belongs to all. When she baptizes a child, that action concerns me; for that child is thereby connected to that head which is my head too, and ingrafted into the body whereof I am a member. And when she buries a man, that action concerns me: all mankind is of one author and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated. God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God’s hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to one another.

As therefore the bell that rings a sermon calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come, so this bell calls us all; but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness. There was a contention as far as a suit (in which piety and dignity, religion and estimation, were mingled) which of the religious orders should ring to prayers first in the morning; and it was determined that they should ring first that rose earliest. !

If we understand aright the dignity of this bell that tolls for our evening prayer, we would be glad to make it ours by rising early, in that application, that it might be ours as well as his whose indeed it is. The bell doth toll for him that thinks it doth; and though it intermit again, yet from that minute that that occasion wrought upon him, he is united to God.

Who casts not up his eye to the sun when it rises? but who takes off his eye from a comet when that breaks out? Who bends not his ear to any bell which upon any occasion rings? but who can remove it from that bell which is passing a piece of himself out of this world?

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were. Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

Neither can we call this a begging of misery or a borrowing of misery, as though we are not miserable enough of ourselves but must fetch in more from the next house, in taking upon us the misery of our neighbors. Truly it were an excusable covetousness if we did; for affliction is a treasure, and scarce any man hath enough of it. No man hath affliction enough that is not matured and ripened by it, and made fit for God by that affliction.

If a man carry treasure in bullion, or in a wedge of gold, and have none coined into current moneys, his treasure will not defray him as he travels. Tribulation is treasure in the nature of it, but it is not current money in the use of it, except we get nearer and nearer our home, heaven, by it. Another man may be sick too, and sick to death, and this affliction may lie in his bowels as gold in a mine and be of no use to him; but this bell that tells me of his affliction digs out and applies that gold to me, if by this consideration of another’s dangers I take mine own into contemplation and so secure myself by making my recourse to my God, who is our only security.

When I looked at the road sign for the Sedalia Center with its doleful message that the Celtic Festival was cancelled, I thought to post “No Man Is An Island Entire To Himself” there instead. It spoke to me at this time when we are so torn about what it means to take care of our, selves and where our security lies.
I have had the good fortune to learn how to read literature from earlier times, and thought others might enjoy reading this famous passage in its full context as a way to think about our current situation. I offer this reading as a balm and a resource.


In 1624, John Donne was Dean of St. Paul’s Cathedral in London. Before he became a clergyman, he was a well-known poet of the Metaphysical group, young men who were fired up not only by sex and the daring of youth, but by science and religion both — and who mixed them all together in some of the most brilliant poetry written in the English language. The existence of the North American continent had only just been discovered by Europeans, and the prospect of this New World was dizzying. Science enthralled them, but did not threaten their religious beliefs; it offered news ways to be dazzled by the glories of God’s creation. When he was a young man, Donne often used religious language to describe sexual desire and rapture. As an older man and Dean of St. Paul’s, he often used sexual references in writing about religious matters. The Metaphysicals were a quirky group, but there was nothing superficial about their art or their intentions.!

Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy that ponders those things that are beyond what we can know physically — what we can measure and build empirical knowledge around. Meta is a Greek prefix that means beyond, but includes the idea of building upon what is already established. (When I found out that in contemporary usage, meta generally means self- referential, it occurred to me that our screen usage these days is an example of meta self- absorption.)!

The google dictionary defines Metaphysics as “the branch of philosophy that deals with the first principles of things, including abstract concepts such as being, knowing, substance, cause, identity, time, and space.” After a discussion of the word’s etymology, it offers this very useful insight: ‘the science of things transcending what is physical or natural’.!

For Donne and most of his contemporaries, the world was imbued with the sacred. Everything on earth bore the mark of God’s hands, and was held within them. So the exploding field of physics, the study of the physical world, was also imbued with the spirit of God. The wonders science was revealing were the glories of God, and the science these young poets got drunk on was Meta physics: the revelations of God’s handiwork to be contemplated with attention, an amazing new trove for the poetic imagination. !

Donne’s Meditations were the mature work of a man who had dedicated himself to the religious life, essays written to ponder the great questions of life and death, faith and grace and evil, as an act of religious devotion, but also and always a literary exercise. At this time in human history when we are confronted not with comforting and familiar images on our screens but with a force from the physical world that poses fundamental questions about our security and place in that world, this particular Devotion Upon Emergent Occasions — in Donne’s case and in ours, a sickness raging through society — is a good place to wander, and wonder at the mysteries of life and of human genius. I just realized what an Emergency is: a situation that suddenly Emerges into our lives and must be dealt with immediately. This probably isn’t quite what the poet meant by Emergent Occasions, but it does provide insight into their nature.!

1624 – John Donne Meditation XVII – from Devotions Upon Emergent Occasions

Nunc lento sonitu dicunt, morieris.

Now this bell tolling softly for another, says to me, Thou must die.

Perchance he for whom this bell tolls may be so ill as that he knows not it tolls for him; and

perchance I may think myself so much better than I am, as that they who are about me and see

my state may have caused it to toll for me, and I know not that.

The narrator, bedridden with illness, hears the church bell softly tolling for someone, another, and wonders whether that man hears his own death knell. Then he realizes that he himself could be that man, much nearer death than he realizes. Maybe the people taking care of him have notified the church that he is about to die. His imagination responds not so much to that possibility, as that it recognizes the universal bond that connects all mankind.

The church is catholic, universal, so are all her actions; all that she does belongs to all. When she baptizes a child, that action concerns me; for that child is thereby connected to that head which is my head too, and ingrafted into the body whereof I am a member. And when she buries a man, that action concerns me: all mankind is of one author and is one volume; when one man dies, one chapter is not torn out of the book, but translated into a better language; and every chapter must be so translated. God employs several translators; some pieces are translated by age, some by sickness, some by war, some by justice; but God’s hand is in every translation, and his hand shall bind up all our scattered leaves again for that library where every book shall lie open to one another.

The bell tolls from the church tower, and reminds the narrator of the Church, the institution rather than the building, the union of living souls who join in worship. This paragraph begins the underlying metaphor of the meditation: the absolute interconnectedness of the faithful that is illustrated in the body of the Church. Metaphors were catnip for the jazz cats of the Metaphysical group — they seized on them as concrete ways to portray ideas that language exhausts itself trying to analyze. So the body of the sufferer, and the body — whichever one whose time it is — of the dying, are parts of that collective body that is the Church. This idea carries all the rest of the imagery that abounds in the essay, because the body of the Church is also the Body of Christ, and that is what makes the union of its members sacred.

The metaphor then switches, but its premise grows out of the sacred connection of Church members to each other — the body of the Church — through the Body of Christ. All mankind is a book comprised of chapters — all individual and unique, and all units of the same story. A human life as a chapter in the great Book is a metaphor; what Donne does with it, elaborating the idea and making the image hold to describe what happens at death — translation into a better language — then taking the idea of translation to consider the translators God employs to effect the change, finally completes itself with the beautiful and tender image of God gathering all the precious leaves scattered from the battered chapters of individual lives into a single volume written in the language of salvation and our final unity. The Metaphysical Poets were famous for these extended metaphors and delighted in contriving them. These extended metaphors came to be called “conceits.” John Donne was the undisputed master of the conceit.

As therefore the bell that rings a sermon calls not upon the preacher only, but upon the congregation to come, so this bell calls us all; but how much more me, who am brought so near the door by this sickness. There was a contention as far as a suit (in which piety and dignity, religion and estimation, were mingled) which of the religious orders should ring to prayers first in the morning; and it was determined that they should ring first that rose earliest.

Recognizing himself as only one of many lingering near death’s door, the narrator recalls another office of the bell: calling the faithful to hear the word of God. That bell surely speaks both to the preacher who must deliver the sermon and to the other members of the Church to listen to what he has to say. Their gathering is a physical as well as a spiritual assembly that is called into motion by the Bell, whose voice cuts through the noise of human affairs: its tone is authoritative, and calls us to awareness. It is the physical instrument by which God’s voice reaches human ears.

He then recalls an incident when there arose among the religious communities an argument as to which religious order should get to be the first to ring the bell that calls to morning prayers. There is a stifled chuckle at the verdict: whoever gets up earliest should ring the bell. Duh. !
But why does he bring this up?

If we understand aright the dignity of this bell that tolls for our evening prayer, we would be glad to make it ours by rising early, in that application, that it might be ours as well as his whose indeed it is. The bell doth toll for him that thinks it doth; and though it intermit again, yet from that minute that that occasion wrought upon him, he is united to God.

The Bell’s ringing of the daily devotions can become routine, but in his state of heightened awareness —helpless in a sickbed at the time the light fades away, the death knell tolling through the city — the narrator realizes “the dignity” of this call to evening prayer: You never know when it announces not only your religious duty, but your ultimate Translation. There is nothing routine in the realm of the sacred. We may be overwhelmed with mundane affairs, we may be overcome by illness or some other Emergent Occasion that demands our attention, but the voice of the Bell cuts through it all, calling us to the ground of our being. So the lesson of the squabbling clergymen returns as a reminder that each time we are called to gather together in the body of the Church is a great and important moment in our lives. Every day, over and over, he (and she) who rises to the call to prayers is “united to God.” Reach it, grasp it, embrace the opportunity it offers to merge into universal union.!

Who casts not up his eye to the sun when it rises? but who takes off his eye from a comet when that breaks out? Who bends not his ear to any bell which upon any occasion rings? but who can remove it from that bell which is passing a piece of himself out of this world?

Blazing phenomena always grab our attention. Who doesn’t look hungrily at that first burst of morning sun? We can’t but notice the church bell when it sounds. Do we realize that the bell that tolls for another person is “passing a piece” of ourselves “out of this world”? Once we are aware, we understand its “dignity”: it is a presence we cannot ignore.

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friend’s or of thine own were. Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.

And so we arrive at the heart of the matter, the core truth the meditation reveals. It comes in a comprehensive new metaphor that brings together the bell, the body, and loss, yet cuts away into new territory. The conceit is fully formed here, bringing together all the previous threads as evidence for the insight it reveals.

Island and Continent are the image of the individual and society, and the metaphor holds together through the panorama of the land mass, the sea and its tides, the loss of a farm to flooding, includes the political bonds and those between neighbors, and deposits us at the unavoidable conclusion. As if the sick man’s spirit has risen from his frame to look down upon the world, he sees and understands that he himself is of the universal clay as the Lord has made it.

The solid images disrupt the meditative mood, rearing up out of the quiet chain of thought the sick man has been following. As a chapter is an essential part of the book, so a human being is part of the main, the whole continent. No man is an island, entire of itself; we are all parts of the continent, and whether we are great or small, a clod of earth or a towering mountain, the whole is less when we are washed away —a piece of the continent lost in translation.

It’s worthwhile to linger with this passage that has resonated with people down through the centuries. It’s a great example of how the way something is said has so much to do with its impact. The language is no longer meditative but decisive and clear. The thinker has come to an inescapable conclusion: “Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind; and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.” He has found the answer to his question.

Neither can we call this a begging of misery or a borrowing of misery, as though we are not miserable enough of ourselves but must fetch in more from the next house, in taking upon us the misery of our neighbors. Truly it were an excusable covetousness if we did; for affliction is a treasure, and scarce any man hath enough of it. No man hath affliction enough that is not matured and ripened by it, and made fit for God by that affliction.

The misfortune of another is as meaningful to you as the loss of your own home place, or the home of a friend. !
So now our meditation has become an argument: the narrator has made a debatable statement and has to defend his position that our involvement in each other’s welfare is absolute. He undertakes this defense with typical flourish, and again with a humorous note. To the question of why anyone should seek out more misery than the human condition already allots to the average person, he counters with the statement that of course we should, because affliction properly borne matures and ripens us, makes us “fit” for our spiritual journey.

If a man carry treasure in bullion, or in a wedge of gold, and have none coined into current moneys, his treasure will not defray him as he travels. Tribulation is treasure in the nature of it, but it is not current money in the use of it, except we get nearer and nearer our home, heaven, by it. Another man may be sick too, and sick to death, and this affliction may lie in his bowels as gold in a mine and be of no use to him; but this bell that tells me of his affliction digs out and applies that gold to me, if by this consideration of another’s dangers I take mine own into contemplation and so secure myself by making my recourse to my God, who is our only security.

The final metaphor of the journey carries the meditation to its conclusion: an assessment of what it profits a man to hoard treasure in a form that is of no use to him as he travels to his destination.

Tribulation, he maintains, is God’s gift to us, if we understand its value. (On its face, the claim is outrageous — a surefire favorite device for Donne and the Metaphysical group. It provides the opportunity to break it open, tear it apart, and resolve what appears to be a ridiculous contradiction.) Suffering is the gold we carry with us through life, but it is made useful only when we take on the suffering of others as our own, because only through identifying with the common humanity of other people do we come to understand our own vulnerability, and seek protection in the shared divinity our humanity bestows upon us.

We in the Twenty-first Century may no longer share the devout world view the Seventeenth afforded. But the existential questions have not changed. The alchemy Donne’s invalid evokes, the trick that turns fear and hardship into charity and courage, is to see the other in ourselves, and to understand that it is that connection that makes us human, and makes us whole.!
It’s a great piece of writing that connects us to an earlier time keenly resonant of our own. I thought it worthwhile to revisit, and to work through it to find what it has to tell us in our time of trial. That’s why literature is such a lasting treasure. It illuminates the human mind and heart over centuries and across continents and the islands outlying them, especially thanks to translation.

It’s been a long time since I read On The Road, but as I remember, Jack Kerouac found out on Route 66 that We are all One.
Be well, and crack open that book that’s been lying around.


About the Author-

Doris McCabe

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