Maurice the Octopus

29 May 19 | Posted in Animals, Events, Food, Spirituality

I have had a number of thought and soul changing experiences with animals.  I loved like a family member most of our dogs–especially Winston and Cutie. Constant in their affections, they taught me love and emotions are not limited to human beings. DOG really is GOD spelled backwards. Seeing a great horned owl against the moon in Pennsylvania is an image that will always stay with me.  Hand feeding two baby robins from a ruined nest was a bonding experience. I wanted them to remain wild, so I never named them or kept them in the house.  Each night I would put them in a short white pine to roost. I could recognize their peeps above the forest cacophony.  I was sad when they departed, but happy I helped them to live. From time to time I would see a robin come close and look at me intently.  I wondered if that was one of them, or one of  their babies coming to check out the legend of the Mother Giant who brought their ancestors from Bay Ridge, Brooklyn and fed them worms, oatmeal and mashed cherries.

In March 2019 I met Maurice at the Kanaloa Octopus Farm in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.  This aquaculture project began in an effort to help preserve and increase the declining reef octopus populations.  A demand for octopus for food and bait has had a severe impact on their numbers. Scientists are trying to learn how to successfully breed octopuses for food and fishing and leave the wild ones alone.  They are making progress, but haven’t been successful yet.

Maurice was rescued from a fishing boat where he was about to become bait or dinner.  He is now part of the Kanaloa experiment.  Visitors to Kanaloa get to interact with the octopuses.  We discovered each one has their own individual traits and personalities.  Some are curious, shy, grumpy, reclusive, aggressive, clever or playful.  I’m sure there are more parts of their character, but those are the ones I observed in my hour at the aquaculture farm.

After wiggling my fingers in the water to mimic a fish, Maurice came up from the bottom of his tank to investigate.  He gently touched my fingers.  I gently touched his tentacle.  It was very smooth.  The encounter reminded me of the fresco painting of Adam and God in the Sistine Chapel.  One touch changed everything.

Ever since I met Maurice I cannot eat octopus and would never use them for bait.

 

 

Widow’s Hole Preserve, Greenport, NY

14 May 19 | Posted in Events, Spirituality, Stewardship

I recently helped to plant dune grass along the shoreline of Window’s Hole in Greenport.  The grass will help preserve the beach in storms.  The project is sponsored by the Peconic Land Trust, based in Southampton, NY and serving the Twin Forks of Long Island.

Widow’s Hole Preserve lies on top of an old marine Esso station that used to serve the fishing fleet in Greenport decades ago.  It was abandoned, and finally donated to the nonprofit in lieu of cleaning up the old underground tanks. They are probably better off left undisturbed.

Widow’s Hole is a wonderful place to walk and view part of Peconic Bay, Shelter Island, Greenport and the neighboring oyster farm.  The volunteer work was satisfying physically and spiritually. I loved the idea of planting grass that one day I would see waving in the breeze.  It felt good to restore shoreline habitat.  But I liked most of all the spirituality that accompanied the planting, and the wonderful feeling of wholeness and connection in surveying the finished work and bay.

 

Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur in the Amazon

14 January 19 | Posted in Events, Global Catholic, Social Justice, Spirituality

On October 22, 2015 one of my Trinity College classmates, Sr. Kathryn Webster, SND, ’74, was invited to give the 10th anniversary lecture for the “Sower’s Seed” program.  Established by Kathy Snider Dunn ’64 and her family, the program highlights alumnae who have incorporated into their lives the traditions of community service and social justice that are central to the Trinity experience and reflect the Catholic tradition that influences Trinity’s mission. These graduates are invited to come to campus to share their stories with Trinity students, in the hope that their stories will inspire new generations to consider community service, either as a volunteer or as a career. 

Kathryn Webster entered Notre Dame at Ilchester, Maryland in 1976.  After her initial formation in 1979 she went to teach sixth graders at the St. Catherine of Genoa school in Brooklyn, New York.  In 1984 the congregation sent her to Brazil.  She has lived there ever since. Sr. Katy has lived in several different towns in the Amazon Basin.  She’s now in Anapu, a city in the Brazilian state of Pará.  She lives with three other SNDs, working as part of a pastoral team visiting communities, holding meetings, and supporting local people in their struggle for land, security and habitat protection.  “My life is a rich and wonderful life,” Katy said, “and I am very grateful for the opportunity to live and work among the people of the Transamazon.”  

The Sisters of Notre Dame de Namur began their Amazon mission in 1962 with five sisters “imbued with Gospel values and Vatican II perspectives.”  Sr. Dorothy Stang arrived a few years later, and became famous both her advocacy and martrydom.  She was assassinated in Anapu in 2005.  Sr. Dorothy had been outspoken in her efforts on behalf of the poor, small farming families and the environment. “The death of the forest is the end of our life,” she said. She had received death threats from loggers and land owners.  Hired gunmen shot her six times and left her to die on a dirt road.   Mining companies have now moved into the area.  

Sr. Katy worked alongside Sr. Dorothy Strang and has continued Sr. Dorothy’s ministry. Social and environmental justice advocacy in Brazil is “boots to the ground” hard, gritty, dangerous work. “The struggle,” Sr. Katy said, “is for life: of the people, of the land, the forest and the rivers.  We are 50 miles from the Belo Monte complex, a hydroelectric dam that is being built after 30 years of protest because it is a natural disaster, and the energy it will product will not benefit the local population and really is not needed.” 

I didn’t know Katy well at school but I am very proud to be her classmate.  Our Trinity years helped steer both of us into environmental work and shaped our ethics and spirituality.  

 

 

 

Porpoise Burial Mystery

27 February 18 | Posted in Animals, Events, Global Catholic, Spirituality

In September 2017 archaeologists were wrapping up an excavation on the English Channel island of Chapelle Dom Hue when they made an unexpected and mystifying discovery. The excavation revealed a carefully cut grave plot, which the archaeologists reasonably assumed would hold the remains of a deceased human. Instead, they found that the grave contained the bones of a juvenile porpoise.  

The grave, carefully cut into the rocky soil on a high point of the island overlooking the sea, was constructed with the same techniques used for human graves.

The discovery was made at the site of a medieval monastic site, which was once occupied by monks searching for solitude. The team believes the bones date to the 13th or 14th century.

Philip de Jersey, a States of Guernsey archaeologist, said: “If they had eaten it or killed it for the blubber, why take the trouble to bury it? It was entirely consistent with a human burial, which is one of the most puzzling aspects,” de Jersey added. “The grave cut has been dug very carefully, with vertical sides and a flat base cut into the underlying bedrock. This has taken some considerable care and effort.”

He said it was the most unusual find in his 35-year career. “It’s very peculiar, I don’t know what to make of it. Why go to the trouble of burying a porpoise in what looks like a grave. It’s a wonderful surprise.”

Perhaps the answer is obvious: a wild porpoise developed a bond with one or more of the monks. Someone may have started to feed it, or found it stranded and helped it back into the sea. Or, the porpoise and the man saw each other at a certain time of day in the same spot and a companionship developed.  When it died, or if it was killed, the porpoise was lovingly buried.  

See the excavation video.

 

St. Hilda and the Ammonites

3 August 14 | Posted in Animals, Events, Saints

St. Hilda of Whitby or Hild of Whitby (c. 614-680 A.D.) was a Saxon abbess and a member of the ancient Northumbrian nobility. She is frequently depicted with a pastoral staff and carrying an abbey church.  There are often ammonites at her feet.  Saint Hilda2

The historian, St. Bede (who was about eight years old when she died), records she hosted the Synod of Whitby, at which Celtic and Roman Catholicism met to decide on liturgical matters in 664 A.D. She is an important person, and personality, in the history of the early development of Christianity in Britain.  St. Hilda, or “Mother” as she was affectionately known, was a source of encouragement and counsel for people from all walks of life.

Hilda was baptized at age 13 by St. Paulinus of York, who converted her great-uncle, St. Edwin, King of Northumbria and all of his court to the Christian faith. She lived the first half of her life as a noblewoman, but at the age of 33 she became a nun. Whitby Abbey was a double monastery housing both monks and nuns, and Hilda presided over both communities. Whitby Abbey became well-known as a place of learning.  For more on her life, especially her importance to women in the Church, read here.

St. Hilda is associated with several legends, especially turning snakes into stone.

Ammonites were frequently interpreted as being coiled snakes that had turned to stone and somehow lost their heads. They were often called snakestones. Most of the legends surrounding snakestones centered around Whitby. Sir Walter Scott recounts in his 1808 poem, Marmion, how snakestones came to be:

They told, how in their convent cell – A Saxon Princess once did dwell, The lovely Edelfled. And how, of thousand snakes, each one – Was changed into a coil of stone. When holy Hilda pray’d: Themselves, within their holy bound, Their stony folds had often found. They told, how sea-fowls’ pinions fail, as over Whitby’s towers they sail. And, sinking down, with flutterings faint, They do their homage to the saint.

The legend goes that she turned all the snakes to stone in Whitby in order to clear the ground for a new convent.  In response to her devout praying, the snakes coiled up, turned to stone, and fell off the edge of the cliffs after she cut off their heads with a whip. The absence of heads is also attributed to a curse by St. Cuthbert.  ammmonite 1

It has become a tradition in Whitby to carve snakeheads onto ammonites.  These snakestones, usually specimens of Hildoceras (named in honor of St. Hilda) and Dactylioceras are used for this purpose.  Some of the carved and polished specimens from Whitby were found in Norway, clearly traded or transported by Norse settlers.  In Elizabethan England snakestone brooches of jet were highly prized.

Hilda was succeeded as abbess by Eanflaed, widow of King Oswiu of Northumbria, and their daughter, Aelfflaed. St. Hilda and Eanflaed were cousins. All three were buried at Whitby Abbey with St. Hilda.

After the rule of Aelfflaed as abbess, nothing more is known of Whitby until it was destroyed by Vikings in 867.  After the Norman invasion of England in 1066 AD, monks from Evesham refounded the abbey as a Benedictine house for men.  It continued until the Dissolution of the Monasteries by King Henry VIII in 1539.

According to local folklore, the the wraith of St. Hilda appears in the abbey ruins in a shroud; and the bells of the abbey can be heard ringing under the sea, where they sank with the ship taking them to London after the abbey was dismantled.

The 2013 novel Hild by Nicola Griffith is based on the life of St. Hilda.  She also appears as a main character in Absolution for Murder, the first book in Peter Tremayne’s Sister Fidelma mysteries.