Organically Grown Week, Extracting Oil Below Arctic Ice, and Animals in Manhattan for St. Francis Day

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PHOTO: MARY BLOOM
On St. Francis Day, a variety of animals are blessed in the largest Gothic cathedral ever devised, St. John the Divine, which occupies several acres on Manhattan's Upper West Side.  

Crude Oil from Below the Arctic Sea Ice

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).”

Organically Grown Week

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.

Animals in the St. John the Divine Cathedral

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.