Pacem in Terris

Chuck Stead offers us a timely story of Popes and peace for this month of September

At this time, with Pope Francis’ recent encyclical on climate change, I am reminded of another Pope’s outspoken encyclical back in the days of my Ramapo Stories. Pope Saint John XXIII wrote in protest of the expansionist wars of the early 1960s, a message for peace entitled Pacem in Terris (Peace on Earth). It was addressed to the Catholic World and “to all men and women of good will”.  Just as the current Pope Francis has stirred opposition with his defense of ‘Mother Earth’, Pope Saint John rattled the stalwarts of industry and profiteering with his call for peace, to say nothing of rattling my mom Tessie’s nerves.


It was the middle of September and a warm Saturday morning on the back porch of my folks’ house. Ricky Cramshaw and I were sharing stories about our return to our respective schools: he went to the Suffern Public School and I went to the Catholic school directly across from it on Washington Avenue. These were not happy stories, as we both dreaded our return to school after a summer of freedom. At some point we got into a discussion on the smell of autumn. Ricky observed that the Fall Season smelled like “rotting dead things”, but no quite so bad as that. It was the perfume of drying leaves along with the scent of ripe fruit: apples, pears, pumpkins and the like. Such a distinct autumn aroma teased classroom-bound kids to escape their books.

We were in agreement that September was a hard month to get through when Ricky suddenly said to me, “Hey, my grandma says your Cat-o-lick Pope is a trouble maker.”

I shrugged and tried to get back to carping about school but Ricky then asked, “So why come you Cat-o-licks got a Pope to begin with?”

“Oh, he’s the head guy of the church”, I told him.

“And gram says he’s a trouble maker, like maybe a rabble rouser!”

I shrugged and was about to suggest we go pull some goldenrod flowers and beat them into a paper bag to make sneezing powder when my mom Tessie came out onto the porch and said to Ricky, “Your grandmother doesn’t like the Pope?”

He said, “No, she does like him, kind of.”

“But I heard you say that she thinks he’s a trouble maker?”

He nodded his head, “Yup that’s what she says… and she likes trouble makers, I guess.”

I asked her, “What’s this trouble he makes, anyway?”

Tessie sat on the edge of the porch and told us, “He is against the wars that countries make and a lot of people think that a Pope or a priest should not have an opinion about wars.”

“What do you think?”

Tessie stared out into our little back yard and after a quiet few seconds she said, “I think that if God wanted us to have wars then we would have been born with guns in our hands.”

Ricky said, “You mean babies would have guns? That’s crazy, Tessie!”

She smiled at him and said, “And it is crazy that we send our babies off to kill other people’s babies.” Having said that she got up and walked back into the house.

Ricky looked at me and said, “There ain’t no place where babies are shooting guns, is there?”

I doubted it and I suggested we get to beating some goldenrod flowers into sneezing powder, so we went off and got to work picking a big batch of goldenrod, but for a long time afterwards I thought about the head church guy being against war. Over the years I often doubted the institution of the church and its ways, but thanks to Pope Saint John XXIII there were those three little words in Latin: Pacem in Terris, that hung in the distance like a light of hope. And today the church has a Pope whose inspiration comes from Saint Francis, the patron saint of ecologists! It is said that Francis talked to the animals, and of course I believe this, as the animals are always listening. I guess the question is, are we listening?

Ed’s Corner

I write this on the day when heavy rains and thunderstorms are predicted for the evening. These will break the long spell of very hot, very dry weather we have experienced for some time. The grass/lawns are brown and dried. The dry conditions are causing quite a few leaves to change color (mostly dry browns and yellows) and to fall. The air is hazy. Gardeners have had to water their very thirsty plants. Hikers must carry more than the usual amount of water with them, and the danger of wildfires is high. I wonder if apples will be smaller?

How we appreciate a glass of ice cold water on these days. And when outdoors, the shade. Or a little breeze. Or even the sun going behind a cloud for a minute.

And soon, when this hot and dry spell turns cooler and more leaves are on the ground than on the trees, just the opposite will be true: the sun coming out from behind a cloud will warm our faces, and we’ll be glad for it’s shining!


When we’re paying attention nature gives us small things to appreciate, like water, shade or sun, a small breeze. Things we might otherwise not notice. It also reminds us that our real needs are very basic and that the earth can help us to meet them. And maybe, upon realizing this, we can cultivate an attitude of gratitude for what we naturally have.

Lots of Fall

This month begins the time of year when nature lets go of a lot! The ‘Lots of Fall’ includes leaves, seeds, nuts, and other earthy detritus.
Here are some fun activities we can do with the Lots of Fall:

  • As the leaves really begin to drop, place containers of different types on the ground around the tree and check on them every day. Which collect the most? You can use buckets, boxes, small tarp, bowls, but do be careful with great-great grandma’s Ming Dynasty vase.
  • On a really good leaf falling day, lay your bodies on the ground around the tree and lie still for a while – at least 15 minutes, and then get up and see how many leaves have  fallen on you!Do you see a bird or a few birds pecking at the dry or dead heads of flowers, or gathered under one or two particular trees? Those birds have most likely discovered a bonanza of nutritious seeds within that flower, or some fallen nuts under the tree.
  • When there are only scattered leaves left on the tree, focus on just one of them, in hopes that you will see THAT one at the exact moment it lets go.
  • The color season is soon upon us. Take one colored leaf, squish it up – squish, squish, squish – smell it – and then rub it on a piece of paper that is on a book, the sidewalk or other kind of hard backing. The leaf color will come out on the paper!
  • Can you find a fallen nut that has been chewed and eaten just so, that it looks like a face?
From the photos following you might be able to tell that we have been face-hunting in nature, too.
Face - grass
Face - leaf

Face - treeFace - rockFace - lichenFace - leaves