Friday, December 21, 2007


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (12/20/07)

In a time when angst, alienation, and vitriol are fashionable, a conversation with Cynthia Warzecha is refreshing. She isn’t angry at her parents or ashamed of the place from whence she has come. She embraces them and sees her life as an adult a continuation of her life as a child in northern Minnesota. Her face shows it as do her hands, resting comfortably in her lap. At ease with her background, she’s at ease with herself and thus with other people.

As she said, “In a Lake Wobegon kind of small town in northern Minnesota there aren’t many diversions, except the local tavern and the outdoors. My family chose the outdoors. I went fishing and agate hunting with my Dad. An outdoorsman, hunting for him wasn’t just a sport, but a way to put food on the table.” Never losing her love of the outdoors, as an adult, she has worked to sustain that world, the natural world, as the artificial world encroaches on it.

As such, she is currently the Area Assistant Agent, Natural Resources and Agriculture with the Coconino County Cooperative Extension, all of which means that she is on the faculty of the University of Arizona’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. She’s the first natural resources agent in Coconino County.

Rather than merely embracing her childhood in northern Minnesota, using it as a foundation, she’s has developed it. Her family valued education, but being of modest means, they couldn’t help her. As the first member of her family to seek a college education, she had to pay for it with work, grants, fellowships, and loans. So when she graduated from the University of Minnesota with both B.S. and M.S. degrees, her education was an achievement. She always wanted to accomplish something with her life and saw education as the way to do it.

She has taught English in Germany and worked for the Department of Transportation in Michigan, mitigating the adverse effects of new road construction on the environment, both natural and social, such as the disruption of communities. Her life then and now has been two-faced in that she faces two ways, natural and social and the intra-action betwixt the two.

For her, the world doesn’t work like a machine with interchangeable parts, but as an organism with feedback, each member affecting the others. Rather than external, human relationships with the environment are internal. For her, nature isn’t “out there,” something that human beings observe as an object apart from themselves, such as “going out into nature” as though they were going out into the backyard. Nature isn’t a part but the whole of something, not an object, but the subject. In short, human beings are as much as part of nature as the Ponderosa or Arizona fescue. Her task is to see that the two don’t destroy each other, such as wildfires, which means that she has to work with “all sorts and conditions of men,” as the Prayer Book reads.

Her task is the sustainability of nature, that is, the conservation of natural resources, such as keeping the watersheds healthy and unpolluted. In addition, she works for the welfare of those unprotected biological communities as they intra-act with those pesky creatures who seem bent on befouling their nest. In working with human beings, her ease with herself is her secret weapon. Graciousness always seems to work.

She isn’t on a crusade. She’s doing a job. The job is to sustain nature so that human beings can continue to enjoy themselves as members of nature. For her, the Biblical mandate to subdue the earth is a call to sustain it for generations to come.

A tall, slim, attractive woman who likes to wear sweaters, Cynthia Warzecha is making the world richer for her presence. One of her enrichment activities is teaching a Master Naturalist Class in the fall. Then it all comes together that nature is not only out there, but right here. For her, sustainability is self-preservation for the human race.

Tuesday, December 04, 2007


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (12/3/07)

When I was an adolescent, I thought that Bob’s Big Boy cheeseburgers were the ultimate in fine dining. My mother took me to a fancy French restaurant in Santa Monica, Le Petite Moulin, to expand my gastronomical horizons. Baffled by the menu, I asked her, “What’s escargot?” She said, “It’s French for snails.” I hit the bœuf button. I got filet minion with mushroom sauce. After I scraped off the sauce and mushrooms, I asked the waiter for ketchup. The maitre’ de, a sallow-faced Frenchman with slicked down black hair, a thin mustache, and a flickering sneer, came over to the table and said, “Young man, you may ask for ketchup, but you cannot have it.” At the time, I wasn’t up to the lexical shift, but I got the idea. This wasn’t a drive-in with cheeseburgers, French fries, hot dogs, Cokes, and malts. Eventually, I learned that over the rim of my horizon lay a whole world of cuisine.

So it is with the Master Gardener Class coming up Wednesday, February 6. There is a lot more to gardening in the High Country than horticultural chili dogs. Freddi Steele who is in the current Master Gardener Class is also a naturalist with the National Park Service at the Grand Canyon. She’s said, “It’s an excellent opportunity to study with the best in the fields of horticulture, water conservation, high altitude gardening, and arboriculture in the Southwest.” This coming from an expert herself. There’s nothing like getting it straight from the horse’s mouth especially on subjects about which so many people have opinions but little information.

Karen Cooper, our City Council member, after years of listening to political flapdoodle, said it plainly and simply. “It’s really nice to hear from people who know what they’re talking about.”

When Dave and Jean Hockman retired to Flagstaff several years ago, Jean signed up for the Master Gardener Class. “It was a great decision,” she said, “introducing me to an absorbing new hobby and to new friends.” The absorbing new hobby is getting closer to the earth, an activity much needed in a time of so much glass, steel, concrete, and asphalt. If someone is looking for down-to-earth friends, gardeners are a safe bet. As with a lot of people who work with their hands, they’re open, congenial, and convivial.

Linda Chan’s experience has been simple. She wanted to be a better gardener than she already was. “It’s been things like compost for my garden. I knew a little about it, but now I know a lot more, and my garden’s better for it.” As an insurance agent, Linda knows the value of property and how much a good garden increases property values.

The people who take the Master Gardener Class are a cross-section of Flagstaff, but they all have one thing in common. They want to be better gardeners. This means expanding their knowledge of gardening. In the class a person not only learns about landscaping, plants, soil, water, and fertilizer, but also how to find out more. In addition to that knowledge, they also become a part of a community of gardeners. In a society in which so many people are strangers, a sense of community goes a long way.

The final test of a course is the pay-off. There’s no better pay-off than a beautiful yard, great flowers, and abundant vegetables. Just learning about growing tomatoes in Flagstaff is reward enough.

Hattie Braun is the impresario of this horticultural repertoire company, not of thousands, but of about ten. Her shows, matinees all with a different show each afternoon, run on Wednesday afternoons from 1:30 to 4:30 with an intermission, starting their run on February 6 and finishing on May 14. The stage will be dark March 19. The tickets are $200.00 for the fourteen shows and includes the Arizona Master Gardener Manual, a comprehensive playbill. The theater is the East Flagstaff Community Library, 3000 N. 4th St. For tickets email Hattie Braun at or call 774-1868, ext 17. Sorry, no the cheeseburgers or escargot.

Monday, December 03, 2007


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (11/17/07)

Meine Überfrau runs upstairs, hops in the shower, jumps in her jeans, and runs to the store. She’ll be back in a minute. A junket to Trader Joe’s is just a hop, skip, and a jump. Yeah, sure, hopping right over the Mogollon Rim, skipping Black Canyon City, and jumping onto the 101. She hasn’t pole vaulted upstairs yet. I live in dread of clearing the hurdles.

I like to mosey into the day, sneaking into it so that it won’t know I’m there, that is, until I hear that chirpy voice, “I’m awake.” Then, I know my cover is blown. Gretchen says my sotto style is a carryover from my times of stealth in military counter-intelligence and that it’s time for me to change. Fat chance.

What’s appalling is that she’s not unique. Most of the women I know are always running somewhere. When leaving a meeting, they don’t just get up and leave, saying “See ya ‘round.” No, they’ve “got to run.”

Quick living afflicts men as well as women. I watched a middle-aged guy I know fast-walk up the sidewalk in front of our house with stopwatch in hand. He’s reasonably sane, actually quite enjoyable, but, there he was, racing against time, rather than enjoying his walk.

There aren’t any stop watches in gardening. It’s like scratching a dog’s belly. Slow time. Seeds don’t respond to commands, such as, “Hop to it.” When I set out my tomato seedlings in the spring enclosed in their walls of water, I don’t shout, “Now, hit it.” If I did, they’d wither. I wait, slow time, for a couple of months, and then they produce more than we can eat. If people don’t want to wait, then they’re destined to eat those supermarket papier-mâché wannabes.

Like a good pot roast, gardening is done slow time, especially with plants. It’s best to plant them small and let them grow big, allowing them slowly to get acquainted with their surroundings. If they’re double- timed planted big, they don’t acclimate well, suffering shock and desiccation. Besides, who wants a gang of instant teenagers? Part of the pleasure is watching them grow up.

The seasons aren’t on speed dial, either. Some yahoo always wants winter “get a move on.” Such language will likely result in June snowstorms. Pushing the seasons elicits a push back. As my Greek professor said, “Gentlemen, we don’t break God’s law. We break ourselves against it.” That’s certainly the case with global warming.

Into instant gratification, speed gardeners are global warmers who gravel their yards or plaster them with concrete and asphalt. After heating themselves up with their radiator yards, they go inside the house and flip on the air conditioner.

One of the worst things the English ever did was to invent the clock. Actually, the malady of keeping time goes way back to 7th century Muslims. However, the mechanical clock was invented by Richard of Wallingford in 1336. The problem with the clock is that some damned fool is always trying “to beat the clock” which is akin to running “a race against time.” Another chronological malady is being “on time” or, worse yet, “being late.” I’ve even heard fast track, stopwatch gardeners say that their tomatoes are “late this year” as though they were tardy and needed an excuse for the gardener.

A garden takes “its own good time,” like the tortoise in the tortoise and the hare. By now, we should know enough to bet on the tortoise rather than the hare, but we don’t. Harried, we continue betting on the hare. Better yet, we should sync with real time.

Several years ago when rafting down the American River, the rafter, a doctoral student in philosophy at Berkeley, philosophized about running the rapids. “The first principle is: don’t fight the water’s power. You’ll lose and crack your head on a rock or get sucked into a whirlpool. The second is: cooperate with it and you might win. No guarantee, but a fighting chance.” Don’t fight the natural processes, use them, relax, enjoy the ride, and you might get there. No speed trials.

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2007