Stewardship and Creation: Subverted doctrines

I see this post as related to the photos of the ancient pine and hemlock of Cook Forest (my previous post). The 350 year old trees are preserved because of the foresight of a man who made a fortune cutting trees but wanted to save one area so future generations could experience the woods — that there was value in preserving as well as using Creation.

Excerpts from an essay by Thomas Alexander,  Lemuel Hardison Redd Jr. Professor of Western American History at Brigham Young University.

"The Mormon view—as taught by Joseph Smith and reinforced by Brigham Young and his colleagues—bore little relationship to classic American agrarianism or to nineteenth-century capitalism. The earth and its animal and vegetable inhabitants were living organisms with souls—not possessions, much less commodities. Every living thing occupied a place in God’s domain, and while each creation—the earth, the animals, the plants, and human beings—relied on one another, none owned the earth. As a living creation of God, the earth belonged only to Him, and it had an end in itself."

 "The Mormon settlers’ need for timber, which they satisfied by cutting free timber on the public lands, subverted doctrines of stewardship, the living earth, and the sanctity of life. Increasingly after the first decade, the prophets seemed unable to infuse the membership and the concepts of the unity of all living things that Joseph Smith and Brigham Young had taught, and Brigham Young seems to have become less conscious of it himself."

Thomas outlines the negative impact of excessive timber logging, grazing of herds, farming of sugar beets, smelting mined ores, and the burning of coal all of which led to environmental destruction.  He also briefly explores the positive response of later generations to counter this led by LDS Church President Joseph F. Smith and others in the early 1900s:

"Relinking the wanton destruction of living things with personal morality while relying explicitly on the theological position that animals had eternal souls, President Smith condemned the needless destruction of fauna."

" In practice, Mormons seemed unable in many cases to follow the dictates of the most environmentally creative tenets of the prophetic teachings of Joseph Smith and Brigham Young: ecological stewardship, sacralized entrepreneurship, and the fellowship of all living things under the fatherhood of God. On the other hand, the commitment of the second generation to the values of stewardship that derived from these teachings, coupled with the progressive sentiment in the community, facilitated the attack on some of the worst damage."

Though Alexander's essay extends only to 1930, his insights apply to us today.  The cleft he describes remains between LDS theological teachings of ecological stewardship and our culture's destructive creed of consumerism.  But the scale of consumption and destruction has expanded to include the entire earth.  We can return to the theological roots of our faith for inspiration in responding to the ecological crises of our time.


Thomas G. Alexander, “Stewardship and Enterprise: The LDS Church and the Wasatch Oasis Environment, 1847–1930,” in Stewardship and the Creation: LDS Perspectives on the Environment, eds. George B. Handley, Terry B. Ball, and Steven L. Peck (Provo, UT: Religious Studies Center), 2006.

Read the entire essay here:


Old Growth Trees


Cook Forest Pennsylvania

Ancient white pine and hemlock cover 2,300 acres in this PA park. There are beautiful trails in the Forest Cathedral, considered the finest stand of tall white pine and hemlock in the Northeast US. Some trees are 350 years old and 200+ feet tall.

If you have a favorite “local” camping area, please tell us about it. We can post about it as a blog or under “Our Nature” where we have posts on local trails and parks.

I love old trees so when I learned of Cook Forest in Pennsylvania, I decided we had to visit this park of 8,500 wooded acres. By visiting in the fall we were the only ones using the state park camp site (mid-week) on the first night with only one other cabin used the second night. There’s a two night minimum for the cabins ($40/night). I’d guess this is a very busy area in the summer from all the tourist signs and services in the area near the park.

Above photos are from the trail we walked just behind our cabin. My hiking is limited these days due to an ankle injury but for the more able, there are many trails nearby. Another option is to float down the Clarion River which borders the park. Water was running too high when we were there but canoes can be rented for $30 which includes being dropped off at a launch site.

Camp cabins were built by the CCC in the 1930s and retain the charming furniture created then. I forgot to pack dishes and spoons but could improvise with a piece of apple and recycled paper bowl. Part of the fun of not staying in a hotel is getting to improvise. I hope you consider doing a local vacation and stay in our many area parks — no need to go far for nature. — Merikay

Click on photo above to see slide show. First photo shows a tree that has died at least in part because someone cleared a substantial area of bark to carve.

If you have more time, another great wooded outing in that area of PA is the beautiful Fallingwater, the masterpiece by Frank Lloyd Wright designed in 1935. It’s near the Youghiogheny River and waterfall. More adventurous kayakers enjoy this river for its rapids. Another nearby site is the historic Ft. Necessity where George Washington’s battle leading British troops against the French led to what we know as the French and Indian War. For us the highlight of the trip was seeing the Kirtland Temple and associated historic sites like the N.K. Whitney store. It’s only a few miles from Lake Erie which is an awesome sight too.

New Website and Logo for LDS Earth Stewardship


LDS Earth Stewardship has launched a new website at We also have a simple new logo. Please take a few minutes to visit this new website — it’s more than an attractive update. You will definitely want to explore the new searchable database of scriptures, teachings, and articles that bring together in one place teachings of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints regarding Creation and earth stewardship. Carlee Reber with the help of others spent many, many hours gathering and cross indexing to create this tremendous resource. I plan to spend time exploring and learning from what has been gathered together for our benefit.

Day to Serve, Sept. 22

Join us on Saturday, September 22 at 9:30 am for a light breakfast then service. Help complete our native plant garden at historic Pleasant View (11810 Darnetown Road, Gaithersburg) by planting native trees and perennials.  We'll also weed and mulch to prepare for winter. Former students of the historic school will be available to answer questions about the fascinating past of Pleasant View. Members of the Potomac/Bethesda Wards of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints will join us. Bring shovels, hand spades and work gloves if you have them. 

Visit "Pleasant View" on our home page to see how much we have accomplished since April of 2017. 

 It helps immensely if I know in advance how many people to expect -- RSVP to Merikay at

To learn more about the region-wide Day to Serve events:


Par Rasmussen, "Let's Do Service"

Par let's do service.jpg

Par's personal journey to earth stewardship inspires me.  What you don't see in the video below is that Par has spent his life in service caring for Creation.  His motto, "Let's do service!", isn't just a tag line on his emails, it is what he does daily. I hope you'll enjoy this video he has created -- the first of what we hope will become many as we lift each other in our efforts to serve our Creator and creation.

Sky Gratitude

 Image photo from Benjamin Davies.

Image photo from Benjamin Davies.

My father taught us to marvel at the changing cloud patterns and sunrise and sunsets with gratitude to our Creator. Have you been inspired by the sky's molten mirror?  Here are some sky images to inspire -- please send me a photo of a sky that has inspired you and I'll post it here.  (  

Click on the photo below to see slideshow.  Photos from Terri Pitts, Ralph Johnson (2), Matthew Wahlquist, Merikay Smith (4).

Venus Flytrap

A young friend has asked me to post about the Venus flytrap, a carnivorous plant that is native to our region.  I remember on one of our beach trips walking on a trail where signage indicated we might see the Venus flytrap which is found in North and South Carolina, primarily within a 60 mile perimeter of Wilmington.  

Photos above show the open flytrap and the plant's small flower.   Dionaea muscipula catches its prey—chiefly insects and spiders—with a trapping structure triggered by tiny hairs on their inner surfaces. When an insect or spider crawling along the leaves contacts a hair, the trap prepares to close, snapping shut only if another contact occurs within approximately twenty seconds of the first strike. Triggers may occur if one-tenth of the insect is within contact. The requirement of redundant triggering in this mechanism serves as a safeguard against wasting energy by trapping objects with no nutritional value, and the plant will only begin digestion after five more stimuli to ensure it has caught a live bug worthy of consumption. If the prey is too small it will escape and the trap opens again within 12 hours.  If the prey squirms vigorously this triggers faster digestion.

venus flytrap animation.gif

Most carnivorous plants selectively feed on specific prey. This selection is due to the available prey and the type of trap used by the organism. With the Venus flytrap, prey is limited to beetles, spiders and other crawling arthropods. In fact, the Dionaea diet is 33% ants, 30% spiders, 10% beetles, and 10% grasshoppers, with fewer than 5% flying insects. When the trap is shut it seals forming a "stomach" and digestive enzymes are released. 

Carnivorous plants specialized to survive in places that were poor in nutrients like bogs. You can purchase a Venus flytrap but keeping it is more like having a pet than a plant in some ways.  It's important to know the source of any purchased native plants, especially those that are vulnerable.  In the case of the Venus flytrap, it is a felony to remove it from a natural area in North Carolina. (summarized from Wikkipedia where you can learn more)

There's a local nursery that specializes in carnivorous plants, owned by Michael Szesze. There are more than 650 carnivorous plants in the world and Michael Szesze guesses he’s got about “four to five hundred” of them growing outside his house in Derwood, Maryland.   Szesze is a science educator who has created a business from his life-long interest in carnivorous plants.  His website has useful information if you want to create a bog garden with carnivorous plants. It also includes some free educational kits related to the Venus flytrap.

For info on other interesting plants and animals that live in our region, select "Our Nature" from the Eartheast main menu.

Summer Sunshine

This is a great week to visit McKee-Beshers Wildlife Management Area to see the fields of sunflowers.  Helianthus annuus, the common sunflower is one of 70 Helianthus species, 67 of which are native to North America.  Sunflowers are grown for oil and seeds as well as its sunny yellow flowers.  There are three large fields of sunflowers at McKee-Beshers and all are in full bloom now.  Park to the side of River Road just before Hunting Quarter Road to walk to the main field which is not visible from the road. There's a wood sign at the entrance. Photos above were taken on July 8, 2018.

If you visit plant to take the side roads nearby (Hunting Quarter Road and Sycamore Landing) to explore the wetlands which provide great birding and a variety of native water plants including hardy hibiscus which are beginning to bloom.  There are miles of trails through forests, fields and wetlands as well as the C&O canal.  Nearby is an interesting Buddhist temple with two large stupas.  They welcome visitors and it's worth stopping by, about a mile north of the main parking area for McKee-Beshers. 

For lots of other great ideas of places to visit nearby, select "Our Nature" from the home page and you'll find posts on trails and other natural areas to visit.

Local photographer Terri Pitts shares her sunflower shots, including one with goldfinches and her photos from the nearby wetlands. Click below to see slideshow. 

"We've Come This Far By Faith"

Looking ahead at Pleasant View it's helpful to remember the song sung at the 150th celebration, "We've Come This Far By Faith."  Leaders at Pleasant View are working to renovate the historic church and school so they can teach local history and be a resource for the community.  Our group will continue to care for the native plant garden we have created as a place to educate others on sustainable habitat creation.  Our efforts are making a difference.  Many of our ~250 Pleasant View volunteers have also begun to increased their efforts to plant natives on their own properties. 

Merikay and Jeff continue to work in the garden as they can. If you have even just 30 minutes to share please pull weeds at the garden or around our trees. It makes a difference as small weeds pulled now don't mature to spread or drop seeds.  If you want company when you're there contact Merikay and she will join you.

We've added plant tags for many of the plants so visitors and volunteers can learn from our garden.  Volunteers who don't know anything about gardening are very welcome to help and ask questions.

Grateful to Dara who is arranging for another 100 donated native plants from Pope Farm.  Thanks also to the Chesapeake Bay Trust and the Montgomery County Watershed Protection Fund for the $25,000 grant which has provided for the plants and supplies to create our native plant garden.

Click on photo gallery to see more.

150th Celebration

Pleasant View, June 23, noon to 4 pm

Our native plant gardens are looking good and will be an added attraction during the festivities celebrating Pleasant View's 150th anniversary.  Hope to see you there.

To RSVP visit

Photos are from last year's JuneFest at Pleasant View.

Tree Loss at Pleasant View

During the recent heavy rain storm a large section of the one remaining large tree at Pleasant View has fallen.  Jeff and Merikay visited PV on May 19 and saw the damage, reporting it to the PV Trustees.  This has huge implications for our shade garden which we have been installing around this tree.  At a minimum we lose this side of the tree and its shade.  The fallen limb has crushed one of the new redbud trees we planted and some of the small plants nearby.  It's likely we'll have more damage to the garden as arborists cut the damaged limb.  It's even possible that we will lose the entire tree.  This is a HUGE loss.  

You Can Do It

Control flooding, replace lost habitat, remove pollution from our waterways, sequester carbon, moderate local weather:  You can do it!

Replacing lawn (or part of our lawns) with native trees, shrubs and other native plants helps hold water during rain events to control flooding and improve water quality.  Plants are great at holding and breaking down pollutants that would otherwise do harm if washed into streams.  Trees are powerful at capturing carbon and releasing oxygen -- they can also reduce nearby temperatures by 10 - 15 degrees.  Their roots and leaves hold water during rain greatly reducing flooding and during drought their roots can bring water up through their leaves into the atmosphere.  Millions of acres a year in the U.S. are developed -- going from natural habitat to impervious surfaces (roads, roofs, driveways) and lawn -- lots of lawn.  If each of us chooses to we can help moderate the loss of habitat by planting native plants.

Check out this diagram showing the difference between turf grass root depth and other plants.  Think about the difference this has for land use -- when much of our surface in developed areas is either impervious or lawn.  Recent storms and resultant flooding are reminders of the need for better stewardship.

You Can Do It!


Ninebark (that lovely shrub with very long roots) and black-eyed susans shown above are planted in our Pleasant View garden.  Come check out the various native plants we have there and get ideas for your own home garden.  Check our posts under "Pleasant View" for volunteer dates.

James Baird Tree Planting

James Baird passed away this past February unexpectedly after serving only a relatively short time as President of the Washington DC Stake.  He was much loved, not just by family and friends but throughout our Stake and in the community beyond our faith.  Below is part of a talk given by James Baird to his congregation when he was their bishop.  As I prepared for the native tree planting to honor James, I had the text of this talk in mind.

"One of my weaknesses that I’m aware of, is the fact that I am basically a telestial man. I love this earth. I like to work in the dirt. I love to watch the sunset on warm beaches. I love the taste of a fresh toasted tomato sandwich with mayo, sea salt, and fresh-ground pepper. I love to stand in cold streams and try to outsmart the fish who have a brain the size of a pea. I love all of the physical sensations that my physical body experiences, like the way my stomach feels when you go over a rise too fast in a car. I love so much of what comes into my ears, my mouth, my nose, on my skin. I have spent much of my life pursuing these pleasures, and trying to provide them for others. I justify all this by reading in Genesis that God created all this for the use and benefit of man, to gladden his eye and lighten his heart. Certainly He wants us to appreciate His beautiful creations. While not a complete epicurean, I am well aware of how much I love all that God has placed for me on this earth, and have trouble imagining that it is any better up there.
Maybe there are a few of you who feel this way too. Then why should we work to get off this planet that God placed us on and created for our use and happiness? How can we enjoy all this beauty and still... try to rise above it all?"

James is no longer a telestial man. Knowing how marvelous our natural world is, we can have confidence and complete faith that our loving Heavenly Father has prepared for James joys and experiences beyond our ability to imagine. I feel much as James, that God wants us to appreciate His beautiful creations. To do that we need to spend time in nature, learn more about and show greater care for Creation. We can enjoy all this beauty and in the process, we are often inspired "to rise above it all".

Some of the stalwart volunteers who arrived two hours early to get our trees planted before a major storm hit.  We were joined by about 30 volunteers with others who certainly would have been there except for the storm and change in schedule.

Photos from Merikay Smith and Chalice Leaman.  Thanks to everyone who came to help honor James Baird by planting an area of native redbud trees.  If you missed this activity, join us in the fall as we add native ground cover plants, remove more invasive plants, and continue to make this an area of the DC Stake Center where people will remember James Baird.

Earth Day 2018

We had ten young people join us for our Earth Day project on April 21 at Pleasant View (and 19 adults).  They were all helpful and seemed to enjoy the day.  What an opportunity for the SSL student who got to work side by side with Bill Phillips (Nobel Prize in physics, 1997).  Turns out we're all about equal when it comes to working at Pleasant View.  Even young weeders can recognize and dig out wild onion and teens are great at moving mulch by wheelbarrow.  More details and photos under "Pleasant View".

Click on photo to see more.

Free Native Trees

 Redbud and white pines in Merikay's garden -- mature examples of some of the trees available.

Redbud and white pines in Merikay's garden -- mature examples of some of the trees available.

FREE TREES: Just got word that my order of 350 native trees from the Maryland DNR is available this week. I'll pick up the trees on Thursday and will be distributing them from my house at 14909 Spring Meadows Drive, Germantown, MD on Friday from 9 am to 11 am and Saturday from 10 am to noon and 2 pm to 4 pm (between conference sessions for our time zone). Each person/family can take up to ten. I distribute them on a first-come basis and can't guarantee that I'll have particular trees. 

What I expect to be getting are:

50 white pine
50 willow oak
50 swamp white oak
50 eastern redbud
50 redosier dogwood
50 hazel alder
50 southern magnolia

Please note that these are small bare root seedlings, about one to two feet tall. They should be planted as soon as possible after pickup. Though it has been cold if the ground is not frozen it's a good time to plant the trees. They'll have more time to get established before summer heat arrives. Bring a bucket or plastic bags, also newspaper if you have some -- it helps to wrap trees in wet newspaper for transport.

Some of you live too far away to benefit from this tree give away, but I'd encourage you to check online -- it's likely that your city or county offers some kind of incentive to plant native trees.  You might even consider helping distribute native plants to your community.  It's a great way to meet neighbors as well as to make a positive and lasting impact on your local habitat. 

'Popsicle' Wood Frogs

We've jumped from winter to spring in the past few days. Wood frogs, AKA 'Popsicle' frogs have thawed out and are croaking like crazy. About two dozen have been croaking night and day calling to their mates in my garden pond. It's a case of build it and they will come -- adding a water feature to your garden, especially if you have plentiful native trees, shrubs and ground cover means you'll have lots of wildlife, including frogs. I love how the season unfolds in frog time, first with the wood frogs then the spring peepers and on until fall with a new batch of eggs and tadpoles arriving to the pond just as the last hop out.

When my energy to do earth stewardship starts to fail, I spend some time outside and am awestruck by Creation.  Imagine, these wood frogs create an antifreeze from their body fluids in the fall and are able to stop their hearts and freeze entirely then thaw out again as temperatures rise.

Learn more about wood frogs at

James Baird

Baird fishing.jpg

Many of us in the DC area are mourning the sudden loss of James Baird, President of the Washington DC Stake.

Please continue to pray for his family and friends for comfort in the days and months ahead. 

I would like to suggest that our Earth Stewardship East group plant a grove of native trees in honor of James Baird. Later this spring I will contact Lindy Baird to see if this would please her.

I remember in several conversations President Baird telling me how much he loved nature and felt close to God when he could spend time in the woods or looked up at the stars. He loved fishing and spending time camping, hiking or boating. He didn't have time to join our ESE activities but he was aware of us. I treasure the book he gave me as a peace offering. After a difficult interview with him, he surprised me with a gift, the book "Evolving Faith" by BYU evolutionary biologist Steven Peck. From that time on I felt I had a friend in James Baird.

A quote from a talk by James shared by Rachel Klein: “Many people have said they would die for the Lord or for his Gospel. I say, let us live for it. We will all die and that soon enough, until then let's live for our beliefs. Do you love Jesus? Then act like it by following his teachings.” — James Baird, November 2017

President Baird inspires me to be more kind, Spirit-guided and spontaneous, generous, faithful.