Nature and Environment
News about the health and beauty of the natural world that sustains us.

The Role of Native Plants in a Backyard Habitat: Hop Tree (Ptelea Trifoliate) and the Giant Swallowtail


Ptelea Trifoliate, photo by Shannon Mach

As my butterfly garden continues to expand, so does my vision to provide larval host plants, preferably native, to support a wide-array of butterflies and moths. Just a few years back  I knew very little about the importance of native plants, shrubs, and trees. Over time this changed and my plans grew; and in the process I created Serendipity (Facebook group). As a group, we promote learning about native plants and we inspire others to plant gardens. We recognize that wildlife is losing natural habitat at an alarming rate. Many species of moths, butterflies, and bees face the very real risk of extinction. With this in mind, Serendipity encourages others to share their space with the pollinators and to create backyard habitats. Big or small every garden matters; and mixing in native plants is especially beneficial.

Why are native plants, trees, and shrubs so important?

 Natives play a significant role in turning a typical garden into a diverse and thriving backyard habitat; an ecosystem filled with fascinating diversity. Native plants are those that occur naturally in your region; they are the ones that co-evolved with the local bees, butterflies, birds, and insects. Think of it like this: When you include natives in your garden you are providing a living support system; a home for innumerable unique creatures who need a place to eat. You are setting the table for native bees, butterflies and moths. A backyard habitat with native plants is a busy place. Caterpillars will be munching on leaves, bees will be buzzing, and feathered friends will set up shop in your backyard. Birds will build nests, raise families – and feed their young on the many insects provided by your garden. Before you know it, you will have created an amazing space complete with a natural system of checks and balances.   

Terri Sims

Giant Swallowtail, photo by Terri Sims

For someone like me, a butterfly gardener on a mission, I am always looking for a new native plant to expand my backyard habitat; or a new butterfly to attract. The Giant Swallowtail had long topped my goal list. It is the largest butterfly in North America; a butterfly with a far-reaching range and a reputation for its stunning grace and beauty. I had planted Rue, a non-native herb and larval host for the Giant, but they stubbornly refused to visit my garden. I decided it was time to revisit my host plant options; thus began my quest to locate a Hop Tree (Ptelea Trifoliate) for my butterfly buffet. 


 Giant caterpillar, photo by Shannon Mach

This lovely tree is native throughout much of the United States, but I quickly learned that it is  all but non-existent in the local plant aisles. Current interest, and demand by butterfly gardeners, often exceeds availability of many natives. Sometimes acquiring that dream-native-plant will mean online ordering or a lengthy car trip to a native nursery, but the rewards will make the effort well-worthwhile. 

Giant chrysalis

Chrysalis, Photo by Shannon Mach

Long story short, my new hop tree made the journey home from the native nursery and was planted with much anticipation. The rest as they say is butterfly history. It was like I had rolled out a swallowtail welcome mat. Within a matter of days, I spotted my first Giant. The magnificent butterfly swooped in like a kite and was gone before I could even manage to take one single photo.


Newly eclosed, photo by Shannon Mach

Over the course of the next week, I began to see Giant Swallowtails nectaring in my garden. Then it happened, I spotted a female ovipositing on the Hop Tree. It was not long before tiny caterpillars began to emerge from the lovely amber eggs clinging to the leaves. The glorious Giants became regular visitors – and best of all – caterpillars made chrysalises in my garden habitat and new butterflies eclosed to continue the life cycle. All of this was made possible by one native Hop Tree sapling planted in a backyard habitat.

Learn more about backyard habitats, butterfly gardening, ponds, and garden projects at Serendipity.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Top Tips for Regenerative Living Part 7: Using Appropriate Technologies at Home


Kyle and the kids heading downtown for a swim in the River

When I was living at the Possibility Alliance in Missouri (check out this article in the Technoskeptic about the PA) I heard a tale told of some local Amish who decided against putting lightning rods on their barns.  They weren’t pro barn fires but they were pro-community and realized that losing the occasional barn to a fire is an opportunity to strengthen the fabric of their community.  Similarly, when I asked an Amish man I was working with why they didn’t own cars  I expected his answer to include reasons promoting simple living but Instead he said cars made it too easy for their community to fracture. They decided that horses and buggies were more appropriate for their goals as a group. Both of these stories point to a level of consideration and wisdom usually absent from the average American discussion around community. 

The term “Appropriate Technology” was coined by EF Schumacher in his seminal work, Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics as if People Mattered back in 1973 to describe technologies that promote the values of health, beauty, and permanence.  And Gandhi is seen as one of the original purveyors of this idea with his work on small-scale, village-centered economies in early 20th century India.  For Gandhi, it was a means of providing dignified work for while maintaining cultural values amidst the crushing weight of British imperialism.

On our urban homestead in Reno, NV where we’re interested in good living and concerned about our impact on the planet, I ask myself, “What are the appropriate technologies we can use to meet our needs in a conscientious manner?”  Here’s a list of several we employ:

Passive solar design for light and heat
Bicycles and trailers
Sun Oven
Mass in our buildings for heat retention
Greywater systems
Solar wall heaters
Solar food dehydrators
Masonry heater (heats, cooks, entertains, dries clothing, dries fruit, heats water)
Root cellar
Natural building (and using natural materials for art and beautification)
People, in numbers

Much on our list appropriately involves solar because we live in the high desert with year-round sunshine.  But, deciding what’s appropriate for you will involve considering location and environment as much as rethinking technology and how you seek to meet your needs.  Here are my tips:

Simplify your understanding of technology:

Look around, where can you simplify, change, improve with technologies that meet all of your needs

Move away from thinking that focuses on objects (or nouns) and towards means (or verbs): 

“I need a means of getting into town” instead of “I need a car”.  Maybe this leads to walking, biking, living closer to town, sharing a car, choosing an electric vehicle...

“I need a way to clean my clothes” instead of “I need a washing machine”.  This doesn’t have to mean that you boil your clothes in water heated by your rocket stove fueled by your neighbor’s cow patties (which would be rad). It could mean that your rethinking leads you to use a laundromat, to sharing your neighbor’s machine and it’s costs, to being more mindful of how you wear your clothes…

Friend Conrad Rogue uses this language for designing buildings better: “I need a sleeping place” instead of a “I need a bedroom”....

Consider People Power Before Machines

Need a big hole dug, walls built or demolished, soil moved to your garden beds?  Get a group of people together, add some grub and beverages, maybe some music, and Voila!  Jobs done, fun had, memories made, community strengthened all at the same time.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Renting vs. Buying Snow Equipment: What to Consider


Your decision to rent or buy snow equipment depends on your unique set of circumstances. Requirements and limitations change from homestead to homestead.

Some homesteaders see the appeal in renting their snow equipment, whether it's due to budgetary restraints or the maintenance costs associated with buying. Other homesteaders purchase their snow equipment, choosing to commit despite the expenses involved in owning and operating this type of specialized machinery.

Whether you rent or buy, you should know some of the advantages and disadvantages of each option. As you browse skid steers, track loaders, generators and other equipment, it's essential to understand what that kind of investment entails. There's a substantial sum of money involved, and it's vital to take a look at all the elements as you move forward.

Here's a look at three of those components to consider as you decide to rent or buy.

1. Climate and Length of Use

One of the leading factors that will determine your decision to rent or purchase is the length of time you'll need the equipment. Depending on your region's climate, you may find that snow doesn't present a serious issue.

Other homesteaders in colder areas of the country might have to handle snow on a frequent basis, and a skid steer, for example, can clear more snow over eight hours than a truck is capable of over 20 hours.

It's often more financially responsible to rent equipment when you only need it intermittently over the winter season. For example, the cost to rent a skid steer for a day's work usually falls between $150 to $500, depending on the company. Otherwise, purchasing the equipment costs between $15,000 and $50,000.

While the cost for a skid steer seems high, you should consider purchasing if you intend to use the machinery daily. More than that, when you're not operating your skid steer for snow removal purposes, it has applications elsewhere on your property. The functionality of the equipment is important to evaluate.

2. Financial Limitations

You might have uses for a skid steer or track loader on your property, but if you're working within the limitations of a strict budget, purchasing one may seem unrealistic. To reference the numbers above, many homesteaders can't afford to pay $15,000 for snow equipment they'll only operate during a fraction of the year.

When reviewing your options, you'll find renting your snow equipment is often far more cost-effective than buying. You'll save money on transportation and maintenance expenses, free up capital and credit and meet short-term needs, gaining access to modern equipment without jeopardizing your funds.

That said, purchasing has distinct advantages. Rental payments can accumulate and surpass the initial cost of the machinery, defeating the purpose of renting skid steers and track loaders. If you intend to employ your equipment over a long period, it could prove more prudent to purchase.

3. Storage Capacity

As a homesteader, you likely have other equipment you employ to manage your property. To keep it in working condition, you need to store it in a safe, dry place where it won't rust or sustain damage from the elements. Your space is limited, and by extension, valuable to conserve for new additions to inventory.

Depending on your available storage capacity, you might have to pursue short-term rentals instead of buying outright because you don't have room for more equipment. Skid steers and track loaders are large and require a considerable amount of space, and sometimes, that space isn't free.

As you review your options, keep your storage capacity in mind. You might have enough to accommodate a new skid steer, but if you're lacking, you can still buy other equipment. Smaller, comparatively inexpensive machinery like snow blowers require less room, with average models costing anywhere from $99 to $1,100.

The Right Decision

As you assess your climate, budget and available storage space, you'll have the information you need to determine the best course of action.

Whether you choose to rent your snow equipment or commit to buying, you can feel confident you've made the right decision.

Image credit

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Healthy Living


Achieving Senior Status

One of the benefits of living to our senior years is that perspective and expectations are greatly enhanced by previous life experiences. When I was younger and engaged in my career I still set aside time to exercise - often by lifting weights and running. I gave little thought to running where vehicle exhaust fumes were evident, industrial fumes and other sources of air degradation prevailed. Since I grew up in the midwest and lived the majority of my life on the east coast or midwest it was just a fact of life to accept the low quality air or water in the environment.

What We Are Willing To Accept

Exercise even in less than prime conditions was better than no exercise at all. I joined a gym and different work out centers which have their own smells inside and then came out into less than favorable air which I was accustomed to living and working in every day. I ran in a beautiful city park approximately 18+ miles per week not even considering the air quality or the occasional burning of my eyes or lungs. I was so used to the poor air quality which I accepted it without any serious thought.

Aha Moment

When we finally retired and moved to live out the remainder our days in the mountains of S. Colorado at 9,800’ elevation I discovered what fresh air actually smells like and how city water or bottled water differs from pure well water (215’ deep) in the mountain. When I draw a glass of water from the tap now and hold it up to the light it is absolutely clear, sparkles and has a fresh sweet taste unlike any water I previously had including bottled water. How I accepted poor air and treated water previously now made me question why I had not paid closer attention in the past.

Factory Noise and City Pollution

When I go outside and take a deep breath of air and smell the freshness now I become invigorated by the smell; it is free of manufactured odors that I had previously become so used to. I grew up in an industrial city and lived a few blocks from a drop forge and auto manufacturer. Everything then depended on which way the wind was blowing as to the odor and quality of air and we adjusted our lifestyle accordingly.

At 9,800’ Elevation - Less Oxygen

Life at 9,800’ is not all ideal however. Not everyone can adapt to the thinner oxygen level and clearly my heart has to pump harder to get sufficient oxygen to my body. If you already have a heart condition life at high elevation can exacerbate the condition. However, if you have high  blood pressure over time living at a higher elevation can actually lower blood pressure. In our 21+ years here I have had several physicians explain these health factors to me.

Slow Down - Work Longer

Living at this altitude isn’t for everyone. It requires more hard work than most people are used to. There is a tendency to fatigue faster than at lower elevations. We adjust our work pattern to a slower more methodical pace to compensate. In the winter which can last 6-7 months there is abundant snowfall. So far this winter 119” have been recorded at our house. While much of the snow can be removed by mechanical means there are many tons of it that that can only be removed by a snow shovel. Actually, this turns out to be especially good exercise if done cautiously.

Firewood = Exercise

Most people have thermostatically controlled heat sources but we heat our small cabin with a wood stove. Hence, during the summer we are busy cutting 9-12 cords of firewood to see us through the winters. Our two most active exercises are shoveling snow and cutting firewood which are both healthy endeavors providing non stop exercise.Mountain Property Becoming Scarce:

So why aren’t there more people living in the mountains? It is a totally different lifestyle than other places for one thing and not everyone is suited for this lifestyle or the hard work involved. Mountain land is becoming more scarce and costly, construction costs are higher due to snow load requirements as well as building/well/electrical/plumbing permits, having year round access is also critical and population density are all factors. There are fewer building sites which can spread communities out with less neighbor contact. Construction on the side of a mountain is much more difficult than on flat land due to the slope and abundant rock formations.

Quiet Is Taxing For Some

There is a tranquility associated with living remotely which some people can’t handle. Years or decades of having familiar noise living in the city or suburbs where there are motors of some sort running, doors slamming or sirens, and noise associated with denser populations can be such a part of life that total silence can be disturbing to some people.

Natural Threats

Then there are the natural threats some people can’t handle. There are strong winds in the mountains and some people don’t like frequent high winds. Last summer we experienced our first wildfire (3rd worst in state history) and just the threat of wildfire is enough to discourage some people (with good cause, I might add). Wildfire is a traumatic event and  having a wildfire in the mountains is a constant concern. Mountain life also has wild animals to occasionally deal with - the type that pose harm to humans.

Fresh Air, Water, Exercise = Healthy Living

While life in the mountains is a very healthy lifestyle these are several reasons why people choose to live in a less demanding environment. Life in the mountains has fresh air, clean untampered water and exercise which as we get older are all high priorities on our list for good health. Some people however do not like change or the lack of amenities that exist in more populated areas. Not do they possess the pioneering spirit.   

We value good healthy living and so this lifestyle suits us ideally and we believe it has added quality time to our lives.

For more on Bruce and Carol McElmurray and their life in a small cabin with their two dogs, and their different lifestyle visit their blog site

Photo taken by Bruce McElmurray from our front deck. 

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.


Reusing Christmas Cards

reusing holiday cards 

Any of these cards would dress up a gift. Photo by Carole Coates

If you haven’t put away all your holiday things, hold on a second. What are you planning to do with those greeting cards? Don’t toss them. There are lots of other possibilities.

When I helped my mom downsize, I was delighted to find cards from many, many years ago. They told a story. Of course, pausing to peruse them slowed the cleaning out process, but what a treat to read those old messages! So, for posterity’s sake, I hold on to newsy holiday letters, family photo cards, and cards with meaningful personal messages. They go in a pocket in my photo album chronicling the year’s activities. They’ll help round out our family’s history for future generations.


Not all my cards go in albums. I learned another trick from Mom years ago. She cut the backs off cards that were especially striking and saved the front for the next year when it became part of her packaging. Instead of bows and ribbons, she used double-sided tape to adhere the holiday scene to her gift-wrapped presents. I find this practice especially helpful when bows are almost sure to get crushed—packages that must endure a long car trip, be mailed, or get packed in a suitcase. Besides, recycling old cards is much more environmentally friendly and lots less expensive than buying satiny bows for one-time use.

If you prefer gift bags, consider purchasing plain kraft paper bags (or making your own) and gluing on one or more cards to make your presentation spectacular. Everyday white liquid glue or a glue stick will do the job.

Scenes from cards can be turned into gift tags, as well. Use a hole punch to make a hole near the top, attach with a ribbon or twine, write the giver’s and recipient’s names on the back, and tie or tape to your gift. Voilà!

Are there little ones in your circle of family and friends? You can turn the front of a card into a puzzle by adhering it to card stock with white multi-purpose glue, then cutting it into interesting (but not too complicated) shapes. You might even enlist the child to help create this craft.


I’ve also turned cards into tree ornaments. It’s easy to trim the outline of a snowman, teddy bear, or many of the other animals or scenes often found on cards. I glued them to used manila file folders, which I backed with colorful paper also trimmed to size. (Wallpaper scraps or colorful card stock are other backing options.) I finished them off by gluing trim around the edges and looping it at the top to hang on a tree branch. Handmade ornaments make a tree both festive and homey. The old-fashioned look they create can’t be beat.

Some cards (often those from businesses) are particularly impressive. Consider framing them to hang on your walls as part of future years’ holiday décor.

Some card designs might lend themselves to bookmarks. You may want to laminate them for longevity. Punch a hole in the center of the bookmark about a half-inch below the top and loop a ribbon or thin piece of yarn through the hole to make the bookmark more decorative. Bookmarks would make nice stocking gifts next year—and it’s never too early to start thinking about next year!


Yet another possibility is to donate your used cards to a childcare center. Center directors are always on the lookout for craft ideas. The scenes on holiday cards create plenty of possibilities. Elementary schools or adult day care centers are other possibilities for card donations.

These simple ideas can start you on your path to finding new life for old Christmas, Kwanzaa, Hanukkah or other holiday cards. You can do an online search for more inspiration.

Carole Coates is a gardener and food preservationist, family archivist, essayist, poet, photographer, modern homesteader. You can follow her Mother Earth News blog posts here.

You can also find Carole at Living On the Diagonal where she shares her take on life, including modern homesteading, food preparation and preservation, and travel as well random thoughts and reflections, personal essays, poetry, and photography.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

6 Personal Carbon Footprint Calculators (and How to Use Them Efficiently)


Photo credit.

You've undoubtedly heard environmental experts stress how important it is for people to make lifestyle changes that reduce their carbon footprints. But, some individuals may not feel compelled to do that unless they know how much progress they need to make. Personal carbon footprint calculators can help by determining some of the greenhouse gases (GHG) you contribute through the way you live.

Scientists know fossil fuels are significant contributors to GHG emissions due to how they release CO2. Statistics published in 2017 asserted that over the past 263 years, the CO2 contributions from industrialized humans totaled 1480 billion tons.

But, how much does a person contribute? Carbon dioxide is the main kind of greenhouse gas associated with human activities. And, data from 2016 indicates that the average amount of carbon dioxide per person in the United States was 16 metric tons, with that amount projected to decrease through 2050.

Now, it's time to examine six personal carbon footprint calculators and learn how to use them.

Conservation International's Carbon Footprint Calculator

Have you ever wondered about how much a trip you're taking impacts your carbon footprint? This calculator can tell you, in addition to estimating the carbon footprint for your overall lifestyle, that of your household's or the carbon emissions associated with an event. Choose the kind of calculation you want from the drop-down menu, then enter your zip code.

You'll then proceed to the main part of the calculator, which has three sections, and numerous questions within each one. Don't worry, though, because each segment is a reasonable length and not prohibitively time-consuming. When you get done, the results give your estimated annual emissions compared to the average American home.

Bear in mind, though, that there's a button that prompts you to "offset your footprint now," but it merely goes to a donation page.

This calculator would be more practical if it helped users take the next steps. Luckily, there's nothing to suggest the information it gives while calculating a footprint might be inaccurate. And, since the organization deals solely with Earth conservation, major errors would cause embarrassments.

The Nature Conservancy's Carbon Footprint Calculator

This option has a feature many other carbon footprint calculators don't have because, as you type information into the fields to indicate things about your life, it adjusts to show if your carbon footprint is better than average. When it is, you'll see a percentage. Also, the calculator breaks down your carbon footprint by types, such as a household footprint or travel footprint.

That's useful because it highlights problem areas and lets you know how to make the most noticeable improvements. Since the calculator offers changing figures based on what you input, you can trust that it probably has a high level of accuracy.

The EPA's Household Carbon Footprint Calculator

This calculator from the Environmental Protection Agency has you begin by entering the number of people in your household, plus your zip code. Then, the calculator takes you through three segments: home energy, transportation and waste. You'll have to get specific with the data, such as by inputting the usual amounts of your electricity bills, your car's gas mileage and how many miles you drive per year.

One helpful thing about this calculator is that it has "Reduce Your Emissions" sections, and you can find out how much certain activities — like performing regular automobile maintenance — could cut down on emissions. If you want to help the planet in another way by tackling pollution, consider recycling your car's motor oil, filters and other parts, like batteries, if there are places that accept those things in your area.

After going through all the parts of the calculator, you'll see how your family's carbon footprint compares to the U.S. average based on where you live.

Plus, the calculator tells you how much of a difference you could make by undertaking the potential actions to cut emissions. Since this calculator is so thorough, it's likely very accurate compared to some others.

Carbon Calculator

Although this carbon footprint calculator isn't as visually pleasing as the one above, it works in almost the same way. One advantage though is that it lets you estimate your secondary carbon footprint, calculated based on how much you spend on different categories of products each year, and the previous calculator didn't offer that.

Plus, when you get your results, they're compared to other people in your country as well as the global average, which is useful for figuring out how you stack up.

One thing to note is that this calculator comes from a company that helps businesses offset their carbon footprints. Also, the website doesn't say where the source material came from, which could cause some people to raise their eyebrows.

The myclimate Footprint Calculator

This calculator, from a Swiss organization called the Climate Protection Partnership, is simpler than some of the other carbon footprint calculators mentioned here so far. It only asks seven questions, so it's ideal if you have a couple of minutes to devote to initially learning about your carbon footprint. There are three possible answers per question, and many of the options are broad.

So, keep in mind that this one is probably not as accurate as others, but it's a good starting point. This calculator also breaks down your total emissions per category, showing you how your impact adds up.

The Global Footprint Network's Footprint Calculator

This option allows people to give answers by either using a slider bar to show their estimated position on the spectrum or adding more details by getting more precise. For example, the first question asks how often you eat animal products.

But, then, you can say how many times you eat beef or pork, etc. Since scientists know some animals have a more significant impact on the environment than others, those details matter.

As you work with the slider bar, notice the descriptions clarifying what some positions mean. Referring back to the question about consuming animal products, it tells you that selecting "occasionally" confirms you really like vegetables and eat eggs, meat and dairy from time to time.

A frustrating thing about this calculator is that it gives no signs of how far along you are in completing the calculating process. Also, you may not like that this calculator doesn't provide a carbon footprint like the others, but shows how many Earths would be needed if every human on the planet lived like you do.

It also gives your Earth Overshoot Day, which happened on August 1, 2018. That's the date when humanity has supposedly used up the planet's resources for the year, making it switch into "overshoot mode." So, if your overshoot day is before the first of August, you're doing better than most people.

But, this measurement is vague, calling its accuracy into question.

Start Using These Carbon Footprint Calculators Today

Knowing how your lifestyle affects the planet is crucial for taking positive action, and these six calculators can help you do that.

Kayla Matthews has been writing about healthy living for several years and is proud to be a featured writer on a number of inspiring health sites, including Mother Earth News. To learn more about Kayla, you can follow her on Google+, Facebook and Twitter and check out her most recent posts on

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

Winter and the Hallways of God

Adobe Stock/lukasdesign

It’s a beautiful, magical time of year. Families gather with home-cooked meals on the table, friends and neighbors stopping by.

When you look at the world through the eyes of nature it all seems so peaceful, so right, and so “spiritual” for lack of a better word. A walk in the woods can reveal more spirituality then attending a church.

Countering Cultural Crises

And yet the human race seems to get lost in the unnatural world that we create. We are overwhelmed by a digital tsunami of two-dimensional images that neither last nor have any true importance and yet it consumes our attention, our senses and our emotions.

Do we build a wall or not? Why did that man going to a shopping mall with a gun? Who are these immoral fools that kidnapped that child? All these families that are being laid off for the holidays, what will they do? That man on the street corner, is he really homeless or is he playing the public? That husband doesn’t like his wife, that wife is cheating on her husband, those children have run away from home.

It’s endless. Maybe, instead of a big wall, we should erect a big mirror to reflect back what we have become as a culture.

Cultivating Acts of Love

And yet when you walk in the woods, when you enter the cathedral of the earth and the snow is falling and the quiet surrounds you like a hand-stitched blanket and you listen to the magical, musical nothing of the earth — it seems everything the human race deems important is all vanity, all useless, all so temporary.

What is permanent is the love that we have for each other, our families, our friends. For me, nothing translates that better than music and art, perhaps for you its something else. Maybe it’s the way a grandmother hugs the little babies visiting her nest, the way a dad hands his paycheck over to his wife, the way a mother sets the table in preparation for the meal she worked all afternoon to serve her family, maybe it’s the little drawing the toddler gives someone as a gift.

It could be the alcoholic that puts down the drink, the cigarette smoker that turns their back on tobacco, the overweight man who makes the decision to be healthy, the depressed person who becomes brave enough, humble enough to seek help. These, too, are gifts.

It’s those little things — the cost-less acts of love that are so priceless — that mean the most. It’s not the buildings that we erect as temples to our vanity, it’s the walk in the woods, the hallways of God that make our presence here on this earth meaningful.

In the end I think that’s what we are all looking for, some kind of meaning for why we are here. Nothing fills the emptiness more than the quietness of the woods in winter.

Michael Johnathon is a folk singer, songwriter, and homesteader based in Kentucky. He is the founder, producer and host of WoodSongs Old-Time Radio Hour, a radio and television program featuring Americana, folk and other American roots music. In 2007, he wrote the play Walden: The Ballad of Thoreau, which has been performed in more than 7,400 colleges, community theaters and schools in nine countries. Connect with Michael on his website and read all of his MOTHER EARTH NEWS posts here.

All MOTHER EARTH NEWS community bloggers have agreed to follow our Blogging Guidelines, and they are responsible for the accuracy of their posts. To learn more about the author of this post, click on their byline link at the top of the page.

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