Connie Barlow and Michael Dowd's
Great Story Turtle Tour
Log #1

OUR NORTH AMERICAN TRAVELING MINISTRY BEGINS!

Our mission: (1) To teach and preach the Great News of the Great Story and promote the Great Work in colleges, universities, churches, synagogues, retreat centers, and private and public schools across North America. (2) To network with and support others who are committed to a just, healthy, beautiful, and sustainably life-giving world for future generations of all species. Our message: The marriage of science and religion for personal and planetary wellbeing. Our vision: The clear and unmistakable emergence of the Ecozoic Era — i.e., a mutually enhancing human-Earth relationship — within our lifetimes. Our market: mainstream North Americans (especially young people) who have never heard The Great Story or who have not yet fully realized its magnificence. Our commitment: to trust that all our needs will be taken care of and to go wherever there is interest, regardless of a group or organization's ability to compensate us.

APRIL 25 — MAY 31, 2002

WHERE: Tennessee/North Carolina (Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Asheville, Greensboro, Chapel Hill); New Jersey (Princeton, East Brunswick); New York (Scarsdale)

WHAT:

  • 2 Sunday sermons at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Asheville, NC
  • Sunday sermon and children's program at Unitarian Society of New Brunswick, NJ
  • guest teaching in three classes at Warren Wilson College in Asheville
  • co-created this website with Karen Holmgren (which is designed to be a tool for those interested in the evolutionary sciences and theology, cultural evolution, sustainability, deep ecology, bioregionalism, creation spirituality, and anyone hungry for realistically positive, hopeful, empowering visions of the future).
  • expanded and further annotated the timeline for Great Story Beads
  • walked an awesome seven circuit labyrinth and Great Story timeline at The Asheville School
  • wrote articles about our Great Story ministry for Cultivating Connections newsletter (Creation Spirituality) and Teilhard Perspective (American Teilhard Association)
  • experienced elk, a bobcat, countless birds, and huge old growth hemlock, tulip magnolias, oak, white pine (including the world champion), and others (Connie's first experience with old growth tulip trees).
  • Connie wrote an essay on "deep time" — briefly outlining the story of the North American continent — for the summer 2002 issue of Wild Earth
  • Connie communed with endangered Torreya taxifolia trees at the Biltmore Estate
  • Michael worked on his "Bringing God Back to Life" essay
  • Swam in the Little Pigeon River and Anthony Creek
  • Michael restrung his Great Story Beads
  • Visted Earthaven — a permaculture-based Eco-village in Black Mountain
  • We continued our planning and scheduling for the next 9 months
  • We communed/networked with amazing and inspiring people
  • WHO: Jim and Diana Spiegel, Paul Spitzer, Bill Alexander, Amy Boyd, Jeanne Matthews Sommer, John Baumann, Vickie Garlock, Patty and Paul Mitchell, Polly Gates, Bill and Marianna Bailey, Steve Torma, Jill and Mira Tieman, Suan Freed, Marantha Blackwell, Maureen Killoran, Marnie Muller, Lee Barnes, Molly Mills, John Seed and Ruth Rosenhek, Earthaven Village members, Amber Llyn Peabody, John P. and Lynda Cock, Thomas Berry, Carolyn Toben, Herman and Sandy Greene, Jennifer Morgan, Robert Wright, Aggie (Hasita) Nadai, Leslie Pilder, Carol DeAngelo.

    REFLECTIONS:

    What a fabulous way to begin our new, itinerant life! On April 25, less than a week after Leslie Pilder and Janet Newman hosted a going-away party for us, we said goodbye to home at the headwaters of the West Branch of the Hackensack River in Rockland County, NY, and headed south in our newly purchased, pre-owned van, "Goldie." The loft bed that Paul Newman had built into our van worked great that first night camped out along the roadside. The following day we arrived at the vacation home of Jim and Diana Spiegel, in Pittman Center, TN, on the north side of Great Smoky Mountains National Park, where we lived for the next three and half weeks.

     

     

    Soon after settling in, we guest taught at Warren Wilson College. Our interactions with the students and faculty were enormously rewarding. We ended the day energized from the experience and grateful for the confirmation that taking the message of The Great Story to college students should be a major focus of our mission. Connie took the lead in the two sections of "Introduction to Environmental Studies" classes taught by Amy Boyd (our theme: "Deep Time: Its Importance for Environmental Studies"), while Michael led our presentation to a "Religion, Nature, and Ecology" class taught by John Baumann. We thank each of them, and especially Jeanne Matthews Sommer (on sabbatical this year from the college) for inviting us to work with her colleagues. We also thank Richard Fireman, a member of Jubilee Fellowship's Earth Team and Ecozoic Team, though we never met him in person, for letting Jeanne know of our coming.

    Insights gained from this college experience include: (1) It is both easy and natural for us to present somewhat technical material on various aspects of the Great Story in ways that blend well with what students have already learned in their courses yet also segue into the realm of meaning, worldviews, and inspiration. (2) The ecological challenges of today and the opportunity for each person to find their unique role in The Great Work of ensuring a just, healthy, beautiful, and sustainably life-giving world for future generations make the telling of the Great Story practical and empowering for college students. (3) What a privilege it is to be the first to bring this message to young people! — to know that in every class, more than a few will be touched in a way that forever alters their way of viewing the world, and perhaps affects their life choices and future contributions.

    On May 5th we co-delivered the reading and sermon at both Sunday services of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Asheville, NC. The Reverend Dr. Maureen Killoran provided a wonderful introduction, and then we took over from there. For the scripture reading we chose a moving quotation from Brian Swimme's The Universe Is a Green Dragon, and Elizabeth Johnson's depiction of humans as "cantors of the universe." Our 25-minute sermon, "The Great Story: A Bridge for UU Diversity" was very well received, and we enjoyed spontaneously weaving in and out of one another's words, working from a few notes. With Michael as the Pentecostal Christian UU and Connie as the nontheistic UU, we ourselves exemplified the theological diversity within UU congregations.

    The Asheville UU church is fairly large. About 200 people attended each service — too many to accommodate in a traditional "Candles of Joy and Concern" sharing. Instead, those who so wished lit candles one by one in silence. The pianist at this church is extraordinary, and the music played during the candle lighting transformed the simple ritual into one of great beauty and poignancy.

    After the services, congregants were hungry for materials to take home: we nearly sold out of the supply of Michael's book (EarthSpirit) that we had brought with us to North Carolina. And we also nearly sold out of Jennifer Morgan's children's book, Born with a Bang. Quite a few people purchased the fabulous new video on Thomas Berry and his message, too. Titled "Thomas Berry: The Great Story", it was produced by Nancy Stetson and Penny Morell. (To purchase from the producers by mail, call 917-287-2153.) We are thrilled that the combination of book-sale profits and guest minister honoraria we receive at Unitarian churches and societies on Sundays may very well allow us to continue to offer our services pro bono during the week to colleges, grade schools, and other institutions.

    All depends, as well, on our continuing to be welcomed as overnight guests into the homes of friends and colleagues who wish to support our work in this crucial way. For the month of May, we thank Jim and Diana Spiegel, Steve Torma, John and Lynda Cock, Herman and Sandy Greene, Jennifer Morgan, and Hasita Nadai for housing and feeding us. We thank, as well, Thomas Berry for taking us out to dinner in Greensboro, and Carolyn Toben for inviting us to lunch at her Timberlake Farm, which she has nurtured into an Earth sanctuary and experiential learning center for children. John P. Cock joined us for both, and we thank him for setting up these opportunities in our behalf. Thanks, too, to Carol DeAngelo and Leslie Pilder for treating us to breakfast in Tarrytown, NY.

    During this first month, we confirmed that "networking" is indeed a key element of our mission purpose. What an opportunity to share thoughts in person with so many colleagues, some of whom we had known mostly, if not exclusively, through email and phone. We are looking forward to sharing the best of what we learn with all whom we meet along the way.

    This first month had a lot of time set aside for preparatory work — for writing and for giving birth to this website. In preparation, Ben Goldstein, from our Unitarian fellowship in Rockland County NY, gave Connie a four-hour crash course in the esoterics of website construction a few days before we embarked on our journey. Connie then struggled with learning the new html language and ftp etiquette, while working with Michael on the text. Volunteer graphic artist and Great Story enthusiast Karen Holmgren handled all our design and graphics in the wee hours of the night and on weekends from her home in San Diego. We are deeply grateful to her for her commitment to this movement and to helping us spread the good news! Thanks, too, to gifted photographer-artist Roger Davies for donating the art for our homepage and headers.

    Professional ornithologist and amateur botanist Paul Spitzer joined us for a week at the place we were staying on the north side of the Smokies. It was with Paul that Connie experienced her first Old Growth Tulip Trees (her Great Story parable "A Long Winter" has Tulip Tree as a central character). Paul also helped us to recognize the still visible carcasses of giant chestnut trees that succumbed to an imported blight nearly eighty years ago. Paul also accompanied Connie for a meeting with historian Bill Alexander at the Biltmore Estate, who shares Connie's ideas about how best to prevent the extinction of Torreya taxifolia (Connie wrote up their ideas in the October 2001 issue of Arnoldia magazine, published by Harvard's Arnold Arboretum). Bill then led Paul and Connie out onto the grounds to commune with healthy Torreya trees — the first healthy trees Connie has experienced (the few trees still alive in their "native" range in Florida are all stunted by a score of different diseases). It is Bill's and Connie's theory that the "Florida" torreya really wants to be in North Carolina (where it was for millions of years during the late Cenozoic era, except during glacial episodes, when it took refuge in Florida). Thirteen thousand years ago, the tree seems to have lost an ability to send its seeds northward to track a warming climate.

    Connie and Michael celebrated "completion" of our website (it will continue to evolve, of course) by an all-day hike up to Rocky Top: Michael's favorite sacred site in the Smokies. Along the way, Connie had her first experience with the mysterious landscape type "grassy bald," which she had read about while working on her book, The Ghosts of Evolution. On that hike we were also celebrating Connie's completion of a long essay she wrote the previous week for Wild Earth magazine, for the summer 2002 theme issue on "Deep Time." Calling her essay "Goodbye Eternal Frontier," Connie calls attention to the key themes in Tim Flannery's awesome 2001 book on the entire Cenozoic history of the North American continent: The Eternal Frontier. In her essay, Connie presents some of the little known, yet astonishing facts about our continent's history, and suggests how the themes Flannery sees in these facts can provide us with a powerful and inspiring mythic story of North America — the kind of mythic story of the continent that Thomas Berry has long been urging us to celebrate. Here are the tools for becoming indigenous! Here is the urgency for saying goodbye to our culture's frontier, exploitative treatment of this land, in exchange for the allurement of settling into a "home" relationship with the continent. In the months ahead, Connie will be developing a slide program on The Story of the North American Continent: From T. Rex to Today. She plans to narrate the show as the very voice of the continent telling its own 65 million year story.

    In this way, she has learned from children's book author Jennifer Morgan. In March 2002, Jennifer's splendid book, Born with a Bang was published. Gorgeously illustrated (see the Spring 2002 issue of EarthLight for an interview with Jennifer and illustrator Dana Lynne Andersen: http://www.EarthLight.org), this book is our favorite gift for saying thank you to those who open their homes to us. The trouble is, many people we stay with already have the book! Born with a Bang is the Universe telling its own story, in a playful, poignant, and scientifically rigorous way. Jennifer is now working on book two of this intended trilogy. In fact, we saw some of the sketches for the next book while staying with Jennifer in Princeton, on the eve before we delivered the Sunday sermon at the Unitarian Society of New Brunswick (about a half hour north of Princeton). Jennifer and her son, Morgan Martindell, came to the service, and Connie enjoyed dramatically reading/performing the first part of the story for the children's component of the service.

    The kids loved it — and so did Jennifer, who is usually the one doing the performing, so this was a treat for her. As always, one of the kids was "the little scientist" of the group (Unitarian churches almost always have a budding scientist or two among their children). In this instance, when Connie asked the children to call out the names of the planets, one boy protested that Pluto is no longer regarded as a planet. Ah, yes! That point made headlines late last year and is championed by Neil de Grasse Tyson, head of the Rose Center at the Hayden Planetarium in New York City (and one who delivers an endorsement for Born with a Bang on the back cover of Jennifer's book). You see, Pluto was not born orbiting the Sun, as the other planets all were. Rather, Pluto was brought into the solar system by the gravitational embrace of the Sun when Pluto was passing by sometime later. Its strange orbit, offset from the plane of the solar system and sometimes bringing it inside the orbit of Neptune, attests to its unique history.

    Thanks to Hasita Nadai, whose home in New York State we stayed in from May 26-June 3, we can now look forward to responding to Pluto protests in the future. When Connie told Hasita the story of the little scientist, Hasita instantly responded, "Pluto is still a planet. It is an adopted planet!" Ah! Think of the Great Story parable that can come of that — the values teaching that celebrates adopted children as real family, whether that family is human or planetary! Such insights are the delight of this itinerant lifestyle. We look forward to learning and sharing many more.

    Speaking of parables, we are thrilled that the spring 2002 issue of EarthLight includes an evolutionary parable, "Earth's Challenging Childhood," which Connie wrote and has performed for several Unitarian congregations. Connie looks forward to working with Lauren de Boer at EarthLight in publishing more parables periodically. The first so published was "The Buddha Bowl" by Paula Hirschboeck, which appeared in the winter 2002 issue.

    Meanwhile, Michael has been enjoying his Great Story Beads — all 250 of them — which he restrung while in the Smokies. (To learn more about this, see our website.) He has also been excitedly working on an essay tentatively entitled "Creatheism: Bringing God Back to Life."

    Other highlights of our trip to the Katuah bioregion (the southern Appalachian Mountains): (1) Walking a magnificent seven-circuit labyrinth made of stones and then walking an equally stupendous 15-station permanent Great Story Timeline spiral walk at The Asheville School — both designed by long-time Great Story enthusiast and bioregional leader Marnie Muller. (2) Swimming in the Great Smoky Mountains Little Pigeon River with John Seed and Ruth Rosenhek. (The coldest water we've ever experienced in May). (3) Seeing elk in the Cataloochee Valley and hiking the Boogerman Trail with veteran bioregionalist and author Lee Barnes. (4) Seeing a bobcat on a hike with Paul Spitzer at the very end of "The Road to Nowhere" out of Bryson City, NC, on the south side of the Smokies. (5) Michael's visit with two friends and some of their family and community members in Northern Georgia: Suan Freed (and Dawn, an adopted adolescent pet squirrel of Suan's, who climbed all over him) at Enota Mountain Retreat Center: http://www.enota.com, and Marantha Blackwell (and her daughter Ashley) at Spirit Mountain Community.

    Michael finished reading Robert Wright's 2000 book Nonzero: The Logic of Human Destiny, which he now enthusiastically recommends to practically everyone he talks to. A brilliant telling of the human story within the context of Earth's story, Michael found Nonzero to be one of the most realistically hopeful books he's ever read. When Michael emailed Bob to tell him how highly he thought of the book, he mentioned that we would be presenting at the UU Society of New Brunswick, NJ on May 26. As it turns out, Bob, who lives in Princeton, was able to attend the service. Michael was able to express his praise re Nonzero in person, and Bob was able to express his support and encouragement of our Turtle Tour. (There's a wonderful interview with Robert Wright in the latest issue of the magazine: What is Enlightenment? The cover theme is "The Future of God." Visit http://www.wie.org to order a copy.)

    Finally, we've been working on scheduling the next five months: where to teach, where to preach, where to live, where to play, etc. (Our itinerary is on our website.) We are deeply grateful to Mark Steiner (Louisville, KY), Deb Weaver (Chicago, IL), Dave Creswell (Madison, WI), Jack Heckleman and Jack Phillips (Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN), and John Brewer (Lawrence, KS), for helping us plan for and secure invitations from all sorts of organizations in their home regions. We welcome opportunities to work with others, too. If you'd like to contact us for any reason, you can do so at Connie@thegreatstory.org or Michael@thegreatstory.org. Also, we welcome those of you with a heart for this work to join us in some capacity. Please visit our Join Us! page. It's the best looking and most playful page on this site. Among other things you'll learn how to become the first Great Story Tour Friend, Partner, Angel, or Saint on your block!

    Together in the Great Work,

    Connie Barlow and Michael Dowd

    NOTE: To see later installments of our travel reports, click HERE.


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