As reported last month in a very interesting new magazine, Arctic Circle, published above the ice way up there in the Northwest Territories, a new scheme is afoot for extracting, processing and transporting crude oil below the ice: "As the world price for crude oil creeps toward $25 a barrel," the article explains, "exploration and development activity in Canada's Arctic is beginning to intensify, recovering from the disastrous era of the mid-1980s. What's more, the technological complexity of many projects verges on the incredible. Calgary-based Panarctic Oils Limited, for example, has announced a plan that Jules Verne might have drafted to draw oil from a production facility on the seabed and transport it beneath the ice in huge submarine tankers. The facility, to be constructed under the ice at a depth of 350 meters, would produce 25,000 barrels a day from the more than 250 million barrels believed to be recoverable from the Cisco field (roughly half the size of Newfoundland's Hibernia oil field)."
September 10–16 has been designated "Organically Grown Week." Advance notice tells us the week will be heavily promoted, with lots of T-shirts, buttons and bumper stickers paving the way, or at least decorating the route. While such trappings make the organic-food movement seem a trifle crass and commercial, a lot of us can remember when raising crops organically was regarded as a nearly treasonable act. So let us rejoice despite the hoopla and applaud the fact that growing organic is becoming mainstream.
October 7, the first Sunday of the month, marks the celebration of the Feast of Saint Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscan order, who in the Christian hagiography is to animals what Saint Elmo is to sailors. A Mendicant who ministered to the poor and the homeless, Francis also possessed that somewhat rare affinity with animals that crops up now and then among naturalists, biologists, veterinarians, shepherds and homesteaders, to name a few. Some people just have a way with animals, and Francis was one of them: According to legend, he befriended a wild wolf that wandered down into Gubbio from the Umbrian hills.
Over the last couple of decades, however, Francis's spiritual pastures have been enlarged to the extent that he is now often referred to as the patron saint of ecology. With the possible exception of the shrine in Assisi itself in central Italy, which is visited by throngs of pilgrims every year, the grandest celebration in his honor takes place in one of the most urban settings ever devised—the Big Apple. Not only that, it takes place in the largest (if yet unfinished) Gothic cathedral ever devised, St. John the Divine, an architecturally anachronistic masterpiece that occupies several acres on Manhattan's Upper West Side. Come the morning of the 7th, the cathedral's vast Episcopal doors will swing open to admit a procession of creatures reminiscent both of Noah's ark (but in single, unmated file) and of that song high-school choirs used to sing to give their captive audiences a breather from more august compositions: "I went to the animal fair, the birds and the beasts were there/The big baboon by the light of the moon was combing his auburn hair.…" And like that.
Last year, the menagerie ranged from an elephant to a cockroach and was greeted by a liturgy that included the howling of wolves and the murmurations of whales, evoked by the equally plaintive chords of the Paul Winter Consort. More than an instance of P.T. Barnum infused with High Church incense and a little hallelujah, the celebration culminated not only in the blessing of the animals but also in the blessing of an ecologically troubled world. In an odd, symbolic way, the cathedral that day seemed like a wildlife refuge. Misplaced in time, perhaps, but lofty and safe. And open to all, no matter their species.
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