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Monarch butterflies in steep decline across North America

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You see them especially in late summer, the elegant monarch butterflies, with their large vari-colored orange and black wings fluttering by on their way south. They’re a fixture of the North American ecology, a common sight that's becoming less and less common, as it happens.

Researchers say that in recent years their numbers have been cut in half, due to habitat destruction both here on their summer ground and in Mexico where they overwinter.

Monarchs lay their eggs on milkweed plants, Only that species will do for this purpose. And the milkweed is in decline because of genetically-modified field crops. Farmers spray these field with herbicides that the crops are resistant to. Weeds, among them the milkweed plants that were once common in such fields, are wiped out.

On their winter ground, in central Mexico the trees on which they perch in great clusters are being cut down.

“It’s clear we’ve lost an awful lot of habitat, mostly over the last ten years,” says Orley Taylor, who heads “Monarch Watch,” based in Lawrence, Kans. “The population has declined significantly.”

2011 Gulf of Mexico \"dead zone\" could be the biggest ever

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Researchers from Texas A&M University have returned from a trip to examine the scope and size of this year's "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico and have measured it currently to be about 3,300 square miles, or roughly the size of Delaware and Rhode Island combined, but some researchers anticipate it becoming much larger.

Read more about this year's "dead zone."

Mary Magdalene: The path of the heart

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July 22 is the feast day of Mary Magdalene.

When Mary Busby, co-founder of Sagrada Sacred Arts, an interfaith book store in Oakland California, tried to a find a children’s story about Mary Magdalene, she discovered that young readers’ collections “just didn’t include her at all.”

So Busby wrote one herself. Magdalene, the Path of the Heart is a saga based on traditional scripture accounts, oral tradition, the Gospel of Mary and other Gnostic texts. Beautifully illustrated by Holly Sierra, a Vermont artist, its sweet message will captivate both children and the adults in their lives. Magdalene,Path of the Heart weaves the simple tale of a little girl who would come to be known the world over as “the apostle to the apostles”, -- a strong compassionate woman who clearly articulates the teachings of her beloved friend, Jesus, for all times and places.

The Russian Orthodox Church, progressive Catholics and other Christians with feminist leanings view her this way, while traditionalists tend to dismiss Magdalene as the penitent prostitute, Busby noted.

Questions to ask at your local farmers' market

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Farmers’ markets are open-air outlets where anywhere from a few to dozens of [img_assist|nid=25795||desc=|link=none|align=left|width=225|height=169]farmers/producers regularly gather throughout the growing season to sell their fruits, vegetables, meat, eggs, dairy foods and other items. They are currently in peak season. Their bins and tables overflow with fresh offerings.

One of the most important ways to get the most out of the market and all it has to offer is to ask questions, lots of questions. Farmers' markets and sustainable agriculture in general are all about establishing relationships between eaters and producers.

Instead of yes or no questions like - Do you use pesticides? Or, Is your beef grass-fed? -- you can ask open-ended questions: How do you grow your strawberries (or corn, or tomatoes)? Or, How do you raise your beef (or chicken, or lamb)? Let the farmer/rancher tell you about what he or she does. Most of them are more than happy to tell you all about what they do.

The Catholic love of nature

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By Katherine Reynolds Abbott

About two miles from my parish in New Jersey, there is a place where on these blazing hot summer days, you can enter a green lawn under an enclosure of towering oak trees and feel ten degrees cooler. The oaks surround an ancient spring-fed pond, which has been enlarged and adapted over the years into a pond/swimming pool hybrid. In the 1930s children dove off a floating dock in the middle of the pond, but now they use diving boards and tubular plastic slides along a straight cement wall at the deep end.

Color to match the July sky

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This was written by Hal Borland, nature columnist for many years for The New York Times.

Chicory is in blossom at the roadsides and in neglected fields, in vacant city lots everywhere. It's one of the few wildlings of the season that have a color to match the July sky. Chicory bloom is one of the warmest blues on the rural landscape, and the individual flowers are as big as silver dollars, big as the field daisies that always seem to be near neighbors. In fact, some call it the blue daisy. Others know it as blue sailors, or succory, or coffee weed.

Green Catholic parish: Nativity of Our Lord, Detroit, Mich.

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Another Catholic parish that lives and teaches excellent spiritual, social and green values is Nativity of Our Lord Catholic Church in Detroit, Mich. Nativity has taken the message of “being good stewards of the earth” seriously as shown by their positive environmental activities.

Continue reading about this parish in "Nativity of Our Lord Catholic Church: An environmental treasure in Detroit."

Database of Catholic religious communities and the land

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A Benedictine monastery in North Dakota has introduced the use of wind power in a coal-producing state. A Dominican women's community in Western Kansas sponsors a large organic vegetable growing and animal raising enterprise, Heartland Farm. A Catholic project in New Mexico is cited for its use of straw-bale construction and solar energy. The 80-acre campus of St. John’s University in rural Minnesota has introduced a 250-year sustainable rotation of thinning and harvesting of their extensive forests. The monks there have managed the land since 1979 with a goal to restore biodiversity in both flora and fauna. They are planning a 150-acre wetland, savanna, and prairie restoration project. A task force is establishing a native habitat arboretum that will embrace the entire property. The monks offer land ethic outreach to the local community.

Green Mountain: First monastery devoted to care of the Earth

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In 1982, the sociology department of a Catholic university invited Passionist priest Fr. Thomas Berry, to reflect upon the future of the Catholic church in the United States. Fr. Berry, a cultural historian, author and geologian who had served as president of the American Teilhard Association for a decade, did not waste words.

“In my view (the church’s future)will depend above all on its capacity to assume its religious responsibility for the fate of the earth. … so far, church authorities, religious orders, the Catholic universities, and seminaries, priests and people have shown an amazing insensitivity to this most urgent of all issues confronting the human … My question is, after we burn our lifeboat (the Earth) how will we stay afloat?”

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October 10-23, 2014

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