Saving the Planet—One Scone at a Time


A little over a year ago, I blogged about Barn Owl Bakery, a locally owned, wood-fired oven bakery interiorbakery on Lopez Island, WA. The ritual of Saturday Bread that I wrote about then continues and evolves as owners Sage Dilts and Nathan Hodges refine and expand their products.

During the spring and summer, Sage and Nathan (and their two little ones, Eden and Skye) take their growing variety of Barn Owl breads and pastries to our local farmers’ market every week. They load the table

Steve Horn photo

with tordus, sandwich bread, artisan loaves (including gluten-free), scones, cinnamon rolls, focaccia, and rye thumbprint cookies, most made using locally-grown gains.

For the past two winters, Barn Owl has joined with other local producers to offer a Little Winter Market every other week, sometimes at Sunnyfield Farm (goat dairy), and much of this season at a local coffee roaster. Now, they also deliver their wild-leavened breads to three grocery stores and five restaurants/cafés, including some on nearby Orcas Island.

Receiving Barn Owl emails makes my mouth water with its list of baked goods available at upcoming markets. I respond quickly with my request so the bakery will hold them in case I don’t arrive before my favorites sell out. These posts also feed my mind and spirit with inspiring words from Sage and Nathan. The most recent one, though, had my brain spinning. Here’s how it began.

Ever wonder what wood-fired bakers are up to when there is no market?

Sage supplied a few photos of Nathan getting their bakery oven fuel together after they received two loads of logs from a clearing job at the island’s small airport. Then she asked:

Ever wonder how we make so much bread without having to fire our oven with mainland electricity or natural gas (the fracking !)?


They did some back-of-the-envelope calculations about the amount of energy required to turn those logs into about 9 cords of firewood.

To buck it all up with the chainsaw will take about 3 gallons of gasoline. Kilocalories in a gallon of gas are 31,500; kilocalories in a cord of Doug fir equal 6,657,140. So, for using 100,000 calories of fossil fuels, we’re getting 60,000,000 calories of wood energy for our oven.

This is when my temples started to ache. Words, I get. But numbers, well, they make my heart pump faster to push more blood to my cerebrum.

We use about a 10th of a cord of wood per bake. So, that’s roughly 1,000 calories of gas and 650,000 calories of wood to make about 300 loaves, or 400,000 calories of bread. 

 Now my pulse is really racing.

In contrast, a gas-fired deck oven, which is pretty much industry standard, consumes roughly 32,000 kilocalories of natural gas / hour / deck. We could probably bake 50 loaves of bread / hour / deck. So, for the same 300 loaves we’d be burning 192,000 kilocalories of fracked natural gas. Interesting!

P.S. Thank you to Chris Greacen who comes and magically chops our wood in trade for the exercise and bread.  You can’t imagine how helpful that is.

Interesting for sure, as I begin to think of the implications of the Barn Owl baking practices. Sage shared a few reflections on their approach.



I guess all things considered, we feel good about island wood as our energy source. It’s renewable and getting cut without our demand for it. However, there is something about standing on so many fallen trees and just feeling the impact of any amount of consumption and creation. We recently did a survey to find out how many planet Earths it would take for all people to live as our family does. We got a sobering score of 3.2 Earths! Really just because of where we live (America) and how much infrastructure and resources and things-to-buy we have access to. Despite eating locally and “shopping” at the dump, we still demand more than everyone in the world can have. That’s one of the reasons why keeping our bakery fueled with local wood and baking with local grain is such a priority for us; it keeps our footprint just a bit smaller.

I haven’t figured out my household’s carbon footprint yet, but I’m checking in to a couple of sites that provide tools for these calculations:

I have no doubt, though, that my lifestyle requires at least 3.2 Earths, and likely more.

I also haven’t added up how many calories of Barn Owl bread I’ve consumed since I first wrote about the bakery. I suspect I’d have to split and stack plenty of wood like Chris does to burn them off.

I’m grateful fbounty_coveror the kind of awareness and commitment that Sage and Nathan bring to their practices. Their values are shared by many of the other local producers featured in my latest book, BOUNTY: Lopez Island Farmers, Food, and Community, and are a step in the right direction to preserve the planet.

One scone at a time.


Doing Hope

This October, I once again became a Chicago Cubs fan. I like to think I’d always been one, starting in childhood in Chicago when I’d listen to Cubs games on the radio. After my family moved to Southern Illinois, my dad and I still cheered for the Cubs, watched their games on TV, read the sports pages, and every year hoped for a chance at the World Series—or at least a few wins.

bosse-fieldIn my mid-twenties, my dad died. By then I was living in Southern Indiana and occasionally went to minor league Evansville Triplets games at Bosse Field (third oldest ballpark after Wrigley Field and Fenway Park). A few years later, newly married, I moved to Seattle. Without my Cubs-cheering dad and so many miles from my birthplace, I turned my fading baseball interest to the Seattle Mariners. That eventually disappeared as I became disillusioned with professional sports’ shift from, well, sport to entertainment.

At dawn on an April morning this year, my husband and I helped move our son and daughter-in-law from Washington, DC to Chicago. We loaded their possessions into a rented truck and their compact car and took turns driving on the 700-mile trip. We pulled into their north side neighborhood around 8 pm. Once again I had family in Cubs territory.

winThroughout the spring, I noted the return of my hope about the Cubs – this might be the year, the first time since 1908, that they’d go to the World Series. My interest, and hope, grew all summer and into the fall, the playoffs, and finally the World Series. Call me a fair-weather fan, but the Cubs’ historic win restored my appreciation for baseball and my loyalty to my hometown team.

A World Series title for Chicago wasn’t the only thing I hoped for this fall. I had similar feelings about the 2016 election – hope for a more progressive agenda, hope for the first woman president, hope for a shift in Congress. Sadly, shockingly, by the time I went to bed on November 8, the only shift that seemed likely was toward environmental destruction, health care dismantling, violations of human rights, and military escalation. As the reality that my country had elected Donald Trump began to sink in, distress replaced hope. Right on its heels was the question, “What am I to do?”

work-that-reconnects-pngThis wasn’t the first time I’d felt despair or had questions about my role. I’d sat with anguish about climate change for months, and finally registered for a workshop created by Joanna Macy, a scholar of Buddhism, systems theory, and deep ecology. Two of her students were offering “The Work That Reconnects,” November 11-12. The timing couldn’t have been better.

hopeTo prepare for the workshop, I’d started reading one of Macy’s books, Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy. The “mess” I was focused on was climate change, but the book’s introduction made it clear that Active Hope can apply to any situation.

The word hope has two different meanings. The first involves hopefulness, where our preferred outcome seems reasonably likely to happen. If we require this kind of hope before we commit ourselves to an action, our response gets blocked in areas where we don’t rate our chances too high.

Kind of like how I’d come to think about the Cubs, and, I have to admit, efforts to save the planet. For some time, my hope—in both cases—fluctuated based on how I rated the chances of “winning.” Macy describes the second meaning of hope as about desire—knowing what we hope for or would like to happen—and becoming an active participant in bringing about those desires.

Active Hope is a practice. Like tai chi or gardening, it is something we do rather than have… Rather than weighing our chances and proceeding only when we feel hopeful, we focus on our intention and let it be our guide.

During the workshop, we sang, we grieved, we raged, sang some more, and listened. One of the most transformative exercises for me was sitting in a circle for the Truth Mandala. The leader presented symbolic objects that we could take turns holding: a stone to express fear, dry leaves to represent sorrow, a stick for our anger, and an empty bowl to symbolize our hunger for what’s missing—our emptiness. And where was hope? The leader explained that the very ground of the mandala is hope.

I gripped the stick and spoke of my love for the power and beauty of words and my anger about ways they’re being misused to foster hate and distrust. Then I lifted the heavy rock and acknowledged my fear of speaking truth to power, of being misunderstood, of unwittingly hurting others, or of being perceived as naïve.

After each of us spoke, the rest of the group acknowledged us with the words, “We hear you.” At the end, the leader honored the truth each of us shared and pointed out that each object in the mandala was like a coin with two sides: the courage to speak our fear is evidence of trust; our sorrow is for those things we deeply care for; the anger springs from passion for justice; and to be empty means there’s space to be filled.

By the end of the day, I felt clarity about my question of what I’m to do. Rather than weighing my chances and proceeding only when I feel hopeful—like I did with the Cubs—now, my intention is to DO hope by listening and writing my truth. I don’t know yet what form that will take, but I intend for my words to come from a place of love, grounded in what my Quaker faith has shown me: there is something of the Light in everyone. No exceptions. And every time I feel afraid that I’ll be misunderstood, or viewed as gullible, I’ll remind myself that the other side of that coin is trust; that my anger springs from my passion for justice; my tears come from deep love; and my emptiness offers space for my words.




Now that I’ve let my nursing license expire, and I’m finishing up two major writing projects (BOUNTY: Lopez Island Farmers, Food, and Community and my memoir, Hiking Naked), I’ve been reflecting on what I’m being led to next. I yearn for the kind of certainty I felt forty years ago when I sensed a clear calling (though I didn’t use that term at the time) to enter nursing school. Or the flash of insight I experienced at a writing workshop over fifteen years ago.

In October of 2000, instead of attending the annual fall public health conference as I usually did, I enrolled in a weeklong writing course by Tom Mullen at Pendle Hill Quaker Center. Tom was a former Quaker pastor and former Dean of Earlham School of Religion (ESR). He was the inspiration behind the ESR Ministry of Writing Program, as he himself was a writer who ministered through the written word. That’s what Tom did for me during that workshop and as he critiqued my writing.

During a group discussion about how to fit writing into our lives, I realized that a number of my nursing consultation contracts would be completed by the end of the year. I saw an opening then to try a new schedule. Why not fit consulting work around writing instead of the other way around?   I announced to my fifteen workshop classmates that in January 2001 I would start a new job—writer. Ever since then, I’ve treated writing as my work, or at least part of my work, and have made time for it nearly every weekday.

languageSo far, though, such clarity about future work has been elusive. As so often happens when I acknowledge my seeking and uncertainty, I learned about a book that intrigued me—A Language for the Inward Landscape by Brian Drayton and William P. Taber, Jr. Both authors had studied old Quaker journals in which early Friends described their inward states and their experience of faithful life. They talked of how some of the words and phrases these journalers used were “both puzzling and full of implication” and provided a rich vocabulary to describe those experiences. Taber was especially drawn to the range and complexity of Quaker spirituality conveyed in these writings and called it “a language for the inward landscape.” A couple of years after Taber died, Drayton agreed to delve into Taber’s “the Language” materials and ultimately wrote this book drawing on Taber’s notes and his own study and understanding.

I’m part of the book’s audience of modern seekers who continue to wrestle with putting our spiritual experiences into words, and this book—a combination of history, biography, and dictionary—has broadened my vocabulary to describe my inward journey. Though I don’t feel a clear leading about my next steps, I’ve had some inklings, or wonderings, about what might call to me. A Language for the Inward Landscape offers a term that describes how I feel guided right now:

Nudge – “… though it is mostly synonymous with ‘leading,’ nudge lays emphasis upon the often very small and tentative beginnings of some spiritual development. A nudge is gentle, and often doesn’t convey its ultimate meaning clearly; meaning may unfold as the path unfolds.”

Quaker Charlotte Lyman Fardelmann identified some key signs of authenticity of a nudge:

  • it leads to love and light
  • it comes with clarity, or grows in clarity as it is lived with
  • it resonates with deep desires
  • it leads into service to others
  • it requires rest
  • it leads to more love and joy.

My nudges are definitely small and tentative right now, with the strongest urge being to conserve my energy to complete the projects I’m involved in; there’s still plenty to do to bring my two books into the world. But thanks to A Language for the Inward Landscape, I draw strength and hope from the wisdom of others that my path will unfold.


The envelope from the Washington State Department of Health arrived in April, just as it had every year since 1981. The seven years before that, I’d received a similar one annually from the Indiana State Board of Nursing. For forty years, I never hesitated to check the boxes, write the check, and mail in the renewal for my registered nurse license before the deadline of my birthday in May.

Over the course of four decades, I worked in surgical intensive care, oncology, nursing education, hospice and home health, public health, and school nursing. For about twenty of those years, I pursued nursing with passion and single-minded zeal, clear that it was my calling. Throughout the last half of my career, though, I considered (often with much angst) that perhaps I was being led to different work, or at least to a different way of working. That search has fueled much of my writing, including my first book, Hands at Work, and my forthcoming memoir, Hiking Naked – A Quaker Woman’s Search for Balance.

inactiveTwo years ago, just one month after sending in my license renewal, I left the school nurse position I’d commuted to on another island for five years. The following year, when the RN license renewal notice arrived, I checked a different box—INACTIVE—and paid a slightly lower fee. The form I completed explained that with this new status, I had no continuing education requirements, and I couldn’t practice. That was fine with me, for I no longer felt called to work as a nurse at all. And yet, I wasn’t ready to entirely let go of the piece of paper that had permitted me a credential, and an identity, I’d held for most of my adult life.

For weeks after this year’s renewal notice arrived, the envelope sat in the basket on my desk. Periodically I’d read the guidance:

Avoid an expired credential: Do not let your credential expire. You must make sure we have your renewal before it expires. Otherwise, you will not be allowed to practice.

One day, shortly before the renewal deadline (and my birthday), I called the Nursing Commission to verify what would happen if I didn’t renew my license in any category at all.

“Your license will be listed as expired,” the voice on the phone replied.

Expired. My dictionary offers these definitions and synonyms:

Expired ~ verb  1 my contract has expired: run out, become invalid, become void, lapse; end, finish, stop, come to an end, terminate.

But those aren’t the words I want to use to describe my decision to not renew my nursing license. Instead, this action signifies release, transformation, and acknowledgment of a long, full, completed career. So last weekend, I asked my women’s group to join me in a symbolic “renewal” of my license. They passed the form from hand to hand, each folding or shaping it in a way that would change it to a size to fit in a small, lidded dish I cherish. For now it sits on my dresser next to a photograph of my dad and me the day I received my cap in my first year of nursing school.

license (1)


My dictionary tells me expire can also mean to breathe out, exhale. And in order to exhale, you have to inhale; to expire, you must inspire. Those are the actions and images I choose to focus on now, nearly a month after my nursing license has expired.