Posted by: Carl Magruder | August 6, 2008

To Sing a New Song

                I’m thinking of my friend Doug Hamm today.  Doug has been up for an hour by now, even though it is only 6 a.m. in the California foothills of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range (9 a.m. in D.C.).  He’s making his rounds of the water meters, checking that the well and 10,000 gallon holding tank will keep up with demand on this hot day in August.  The Sierra Friends Center is a 230 acre property that hosts a high school semester program (, including staff.  The semester program is built around peace, justice, and ecological sustainability. Doug, a tall, lean man in his early 60’s, is in charge of the physical plant.

                After checking the potable water supply, Doug will turn a seasoned eye to the irrigation situation.  The Center receives irrigation water from the Nevada Irrigation District, a system of ditches that runs across the foothills, based on structures that hydraulic miners used in the 1849 Gold Rush.  The property gets ten miner’s inches, which is to say, as much water as will flow through a ten-inch-on-a-side square hole cut in a plywood board slid down in the slot in the irrigation box on the ditch twenty-four/seven.  This water then fills the irrigation pond and is used to water the cow and sheep pastures, central lawns, and the orchard.  It also runs to all the fire hydrants on the place.  Even though water use in the summer is high, it is important that the irrigation pond always be at or near its maximum level because Sierra Friends Center is located in an area that receives the insurance industry’s highest rating for fire danger, and it is fire season in California, in case you were unaware.

                The screen in the front of the irrigation box gets clogged with debris, and in some seasons this happens fairly quickly.  When I lived at the Center, I would frequently walk up the gravel access road to clear the screen.  Eventually, I wondered what the point of the screen was, and left it out.  It turns out that at least one reason not to do this is that there are native turtles that live in the ditch, and if they get pulled to the screen, they can get off of it and swim away, but if they get pulled right to the 10” by 10” hole, and are too big to go through, they get stuck and drown.  Doug found the turtle that I drowned in this way.  He was very sad about it, having a lifelong affinity for animals of all kinds.

                Doug will check the orchard irrigation (also a source of water for the bees that live in hives under the apple trees).  He will check on the livestock, fix leaks and squeaks, work on the new roof for the Redwood House, harvest veggies in the organic garden, pour biodiesel into his little Kubota tractor, and then clear pine needles off of a few roofs, since they are a fire danger.  Although Doug works with “Big John” Springsteen, there are 42 old buildings on those 230 acres, and there is always more to do than there is time to do it in.  However, Doug is unfailingly affable, helpful, modest, and respectful of every being he encounters.  Doug is a great steward of God’s Creation.

                I’m now working in the “God Box,” a.k.a. the Methodist Building on Capitol Hill.  My name is Carl Magruder, and I started work here three weeks ago.  I am a Quaker, and sometimes call myself an EarthQuaker.  From where I sit, a person with a good arm could literally throw a rock and hit the Capitol from the front of our building—just put 110 Maryland Ave NE, Washington D.C. 20002 into Google Maps ( if you think that I’m exaggerating.  (It is not recommended that you try the rock throwing, by the way, no matter how good your arm is.  You’d probably end up in Guantanamo Bay detention center P.D.Q.)   I sit under fluorescent lights in front of a computer most of the time, and the big picture goal here is to influence Congress to pass the laws that would best manifest the notion that humankind has a sacred obligation to love and care for Creation.  It is a daunting task.  The track record isn’t what one might wish for.  Things don’t move fast, and often the legislation that is proposed is not as comprehensive as we might wish it to be.  After reviewing the setbacks with the Farm Bill this year, I felt pretty frustrated and I wondered how Doug remains so positive in the face of overwhelm.  After some consideration, I think I know how he does it.

                Doug sees himself as a part of a larger project.  He is involved in a massive collaboration, in fact.  As far as Doug is concerned, he is working on a joint effort with the school’s Board, its teachers, and the other supporting staff.  The Head of School is a particularly good accomplice.  He works with the sun and the wind and the apple tree, just like John Chapman, a.k.a. Johnny Appleseed.  The soil and soil organisms, the cows and the kids (goats and human), the turning of the seasons and the nearby Yuba River are all characters in the great Creation play.  Doug is too respectful of Mystery to purport to be able to give you a concise definition of God, but I would make bold to say that he experiences himself as a plain member of the Kin-dom.  He doesn’t despair because he isn’t alone in his efforts.

                And neither am I.  The good folks here at the NCC Eco-Justice Program are excellent compatriots in a difficult endeavor—they are smart, capable, positive, and helpful to newcomers.  We are a part of a community of faith-based advocacy work here in D.C. and there is a long history of collaboration between the different groups.  More than that, we are a part of a global movement of historic proportions, according to Paul Hawken (  And we are also collaborating with bees, trees, kids, farmers, scientists, artists, and folks like you.  I am convinced that the whole blue green marble that we live on is held in the palm of God’s hand, and is ready to sing a new song.  Meditate on the sheer improbability of Life finding such abundant expression here!  As Martin Luther King Jr. loved to quote, “The arc of history is long, but it bends towards Justice.”  We will prevail.


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