The Dragonfly


I was walking up to our chicken coop and found this dragonfly resting on the ground.  I had never seen one so close up.  This is a lesson to me about paying attention to small things rather than looking at and for big things.

Dragonflies are really interesting.  They zoom over our meadows and ponds during the early twilight.

Dragonflies date back 325 million years.  The are symbols of courage, strength, and happiness in Japan.

Who would have ever known?  And what woulds have happened if I hadn’t paid attention?


Email to Nikolas Ureta

Peruvian Highands

I have recently finished Sebastian Junger’s book called Tribe: Homecoming and Belonging.  His thesis is that “We have a strong instinct to belong to small groups defined by clear purpose and understanding–“tribes.” This tribal connection has been largely lost in modern society, but regaining it may be the key to our psychological survival.”

I was a Peace Corps Volunteer in Peru between 1963 and 1965 in a small Andean town called Pucara.     I became close to the Ureta family, whose youngest son, Hugo became my Godson.

I  have been back twice and remembered each time.  Hugo came to Washington to be with Betsy and myself on our 50th wedding anniversary.

The following  are emails I recently received from Hugo’s son, Nikolas, and my response:

Dear Charles and Betsy,

I know it is too late but I wanna thank you for having been so kind with my father Hugo and my brother Sam during their trip to DC last year. They have told me how wonderful the city is, also how quite it is but they also very grateful with you. Maybe my father haven´t said you, but one of his dreams was not only to visit USA  but to be with you there enjoying a lunch or maybe discussing about any subject. He and all my family appreciate you as persons as couple and thank god we are blessed to know you.
This year, 2016, I will finish my Fachabitur and the next challenge for me is to study in a university in Germany. I have already a couple of options but next year I will decide it. The winter semester start the 1. October 2017 so I will have more or less 8 months in Peru before I go to Germany. One of my dreams is to visit USA and know different cultures . So I hope you can receive me in Januar 2017 in DC, I will be very happy to spend time with you. All depends of your availability, the last thing I want is to interfere in a trip or plan you have already shedule.
All my family wish you good vibes. Hope to hear from you soon.
Yours sincerely,
PD: I am sorry for all the mistakes I have made, I’m still learning english 🙂

Dear Nikolas,

What a delight to here from you!

And what a delight to have had your Dad and brother come visit us during our 50th wedding anniversary.  It was just a pure pleasure to have had both of them here. 

It is amazing how lasting our contacts with the Ureta family are, particularly with your dad, but also with the rest of the family.   And Pucara continues to be one of my very special places.  You all are very important to us, and continue to be very much a part of our family.

And, of course, you are truly welcome in Washington.   As the time gets closer, we can be more specific.

And your English is pretty amazing!  Your writing is really fluent.

Betsy sends her love to everyone.

Many hugs and blessings,


My insight about belonging to a tribe is that members can be interconnected even though they are separated by distance.  And that is clearly the sense that I have about our relationship with our friend Roy Lara in Honduras.  He is closer to me than many people I know.

Contemplative Life


Thomas Merton

While on an extended stay at our farm in West Virginia, one of my practices is to read the Book of Hours by Thomas Merton.

Here is a part of the readings for Monday dawn.  I guess that I have read it a dozen times, but  it still freshly resonates with me:

When I speak of the contemplative life I do not mean the institutional cloistered life, the organized life of prayer. I am talking about a special dimension of inner discipline and experience, a certain integrity and fullness of personal development, which are not compatible with a purely external, alienated, busy-busy existence. This does not mean that they are incompatible with action, with creative work, with dedicated love. On the contrary, these all go together. A certain depth of disciplined experience is a necessary ground for fruitful action. Without a more profound human understanding derived from exploration of the inner ground of human existence, love will tend to be superficial and deceptive. Traditionally, ideas of prayer, meditation, and contemplation have been associated with this deepening of one’s personal life and this expansion of the capacity to understand and serve others.

Thomas Merton

And being here, where we are off grid and without easy internet and cell phone coverage, simply reinforces the notion, for me, of leading a contemplative life.




The Empty Bowl and the Spider Web (Updated)

By Collie Agle

There are several intentions that drive this blog.

I find myself in two simultaneous stories.  The first is that I feel as if I am a small child learning to walk for the first time.  And, I am aware of the limited time I have before I am on the final glide path.  And I am excited by both- finding my way as an infant, and dealing my remaining years.

So this blog will help me to develop a tracking device for myself.  As such, it will be living notes.

The other intention is to do this in the full presence of the communities of friends and family to which I belong.  I feel that this is an important part of my legacy that comes out of deep, quiet Kairos moments.

The title of the blog, Empty Bowl and Spider’s Web, has particular significance for me:  when I empty by bowl of all my busyness, be still, and listen, some pretty amazing things start to happen.  The spider’s web is all about how we are individual shining jewels at the intersections of an infinitely large spider’s web: we all reflect on each other, and whatever we do reverberates through the entire web.

Here are some pretty fundamental parts of me:

1: Belovedness

I live in interconnectedness rather than in a small cardboard box.
I am beloved by my truth
When I belove another being, that belovedness may ripple through the entire net.
2:  Doing small things with a big heart
I often feel overwhelmed by what feels like the collapse of so much of what is important to me. I have to remind myself, as Mother Theresa would say, “We can’t do big things but we can do small things with a big heart.”
3:  Energy flows:
I often feel as if my batteries are drained, and that my long list of involvements can’t be sustained.  An insight that I had from our last trip to Honduras suggests something else going on:  when I put out energy and compassion, it comes right back to me.  If I put out empathy and loving kindness, then it comes right back to me. .
4: Foundation blocks:
I operate from foundation blocks.  Some of these are my own hard core intuitions, while others are writings coming from such diverse individuals as St. Francis, Thomas Merton, the Buddha, Mary Pipher, Wendell Berry, Thomas Merton, and so many more.  This is a pretty eclectic list.
5:  Nothing is permanent:
To think that I can live my life with fixed guide posts in my life simply doesn’t work.  What is real is the moment.  To quote from one of Kris Kristofferson’s songs, “Yesterday is dead and gone, and tomorrow is out of sight.”
6: Consistent interconnected  networks:
I have been operating from a number of interrelated networks for a number of years.  These include Honduras, our place in West Virginia, the Anacostia, Monday night meditation, St Marks, and family.  All of these come up in both engagement and and heart work.
7:  Being and Doing
Striking a balance being and doing is challenging.  Put another way, it is operating from both the realities of the ticking clock and just being in a deep, timeless spaciousness.
8. Hero’s trip
We are on a hero’s trip, as Joseph Campbell would describe it.  We are constantly leaving safe and comfortable place, on the road, encounter darkness, lightness, adversaries, and allies, and then come home transformed.  And this trip repeats itself time after time again.
That is about it, at this point, for the foundations.  I am sure they will change and morph.
A bit about my thoughts of how this blog will emerge.  On the one hand, a lot of thoughts have already been happening, so that this will be a cataloguing of those.  On the other hand, a lot of stuff just comes to me, mostly in the early morning.  My brain has nothing to do with what emerges.  So I will be attempting to catalog these thoughts and feelings without brain-filled self- editing.  And I intend to do weekly postings, right through the summer.  The next set will be from our farm in West Virginia.
I am grateful for your participation in my life.


It Is Finally Raining in Honduras

Honduras Mountains

I live in privilege.  When I turn on the faucet in the kitchen, water comes out.  I can go to the market and the shelves are full of food.  I typically don’t  don’t pause and think very much about either one.  I don’t even pay a lot of attention to where the water comes from when I open the tap or the what the source of food is that I buy.

It operates differently in the five villages in Honduras that we are working with.  People don’t buy food, they produce it.  When there is no rain, there are no crops. And when that happens, an alarming number of people leave their villages and migrate to dangerous urban areas. Or go hungry.

Honduras has many problems.  Among them, there are no longer stable weather patterns.  And large parts of the country have been in prolonged drought.  So, the rains have finally and belatedly come.

And that is a cause for celebration in Honduras.

And it makes me acutely aware about how much I take for granted.


Mathew King, Lakota Wisdom Keeper

This undated photo provided by the Office of the President & Vice President, Navajo Nation shows Matthew Martin, 84, of Crownpoint, N.M. Funeral services are scheduled Saturday, June 27, 2009 for the former Navajo Code Talker, who died at his home Monday, June 22, 2009 after a lengthy illness. Martin was part of an elite group of Navajo Marines who confounded the Japanese during World War II by transmitting messages in their native language. (AP Photo/Office of the Navajo Nation)

Several years ago, I was a computer consultant with the Library of Congress.

One day when I was at the Library, I stumbled into a luncheon seminar about Mathew King.

Mathew King lived in a trailer in the South Dakota Badlands, not far from Wounded Knee.  Mathew King had provided Native American spiritual support to the Lakota Nation as they have protested  uncaring policies and actions. On the face of it, there should be no reason why he should have any compassionate feelings towards people outside of the Native American community.

On a National Geographic assignment, Harvey Arden interviewed Mathew King.  The interviews resulted in a short book called Noble Red Man: Mathew King Lakota Wisdom Keeper.

Here are some excerpts from the book:

Listening to God

When I go up on the hill to pray I don’t just talk to God. I try to get the talking over quick. Mostly I am listening.

Listening to God- that’s praying, too.

You’ve got to listen. God’s talking to you right now. He’s telling you all the words you’ve got to speak and all the things you’ve got to do in this life. If you don’t listen, you don’t hear what God’s saying, and then you don’t know what God wants you to say or do.

So that’s how you pray to God.

You listen.

Everyone Is Sacred

Everyone is sacred. You’re sacred, and I’m sacred.   Every time you blink your eye, or I blink my eye, God blinks his eye. God sees through your eyes and my eyes.

We are sacred.


Goodness is the natural state of the world. The world is good! Even when it sees evil, it’s good. There’s only goodness in God. And that same goodness is in us as well.   You can feel it in yourself. You know when you feel good inside.

Yes, you are God’s child, too. You are good. You are sacred/ Respect yourself. Love the goodness inside ourself.

Then put that goodness into the world.

That’s everybody’s Instructions.

God made you so you feel good when you do right. Watch when you feel good and follow that good feeling. The good feeling comes from God. When you feel good, God feels good, too. God and you feel good together.


The Irritated Grouse

Ruffed Grouse 3

We have been having an unusual encounter with at least one ruffed grouse at Hammer’s Hill, our Appalachian mountain farm.  It could be as many as three.

Generally, ruffed grouse are secretive birds.  Because of their camouflage, they are hardly ever seen.

But not this one (these ones.)  He (they) appear/appears without a sound, walks up to us, encircles us, and then starts to peck at our pants.  He/they is/are not to be scared off.  Even the presence of a dog is not a deterrent for hanging around.  It has been mating season, so maybe we are invading his territory. We have tried to make his life difficult be putting him in a cage.  He still comes back after being released.

Which all goes to show that there is not much you can do with an irritated grouse, but grin and bear it.

And that is what we have to do sometimes:  just grin and bear it, and just be comforted by the knowledge that everything is in a state of change, even with irritated grouse.



The Egg Carton

2016-06-23 06.18.59

When we go out to West Virginia, we stop by a small market called “Graden’s Market” that is outside Lebanon Church, Virginia.  It has gas pumps as well.

We generally stop there to fill up our Subaru, because gas is $.20 per gallon cheaper that in West Virginia.

We stopped by the last time that we went out.  Betsy went into the market to buy some supplies that we needed at the farm. She also bought a dozen eggs.  They were in a styrofoam container that had the following label:  “Please return egg cartons for reuse.”

When we buy eggs in a carton in Washington, the carton gets recycled- not reused.  And that is how we do things in the city.  I am reminded about how little things do make a difference.  And so we are going to change our habits on our way to West Virginia:  we will stop by Gradens each time we go out to return an egg carton and to buy a new one.

The other surprise was the eggs that we got.  They came from Alan and Patie Ferrell’s farm and from chickens that are range fed. And the eggs themselves are almost too delightful to eat:  the are soft pastels of brown, light blue, and soft shades of white.


On Being A Wandering Pilgrim

Wendell Berry

I am a huge fan of Wendell Berry’s.  I love his story telling and delight in the contour and simplicity of his words.  And, as I continue on my path, I am struck by his wisdom.

The following paragraphs are excerpted from his book, Jayber Crow.  Jayber Crow is a mythical figure who is trying to find his way, but often gets lost.

“If you could do it, I suppose, it would be a good idea to live your life in a straight line- starting, say, in the Dark Wood of Error, and proceeding by logical steps through Hell and Purgatory and into Heaven. Or you could take the King’s Highway past appropriately named dangers, toils, and snares, and finally cross the River of Death and enter the Celestial City.

But that is not the way that I have done it, so far. I am a pilgrim, but my pilgrim has been wandering and unmarked. Often what has looked like a straight line to me has been a circle or a doubling back. I have been in the Dark Wood of Error any number of times. I have known something of Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, but not always in that order. The names of many snares and dangers have been made known to me, but I have seen them only in looking back.

Often I have not known where I was going until I was already there. I have had my share of desires and goals, but my life has come to me or I have gone to it mainly by way of mistakes and surprises. Often I have received better than I have deserved. Often my fairest hopes have rested on bad mistakes. I am an ignorant pilgrim crossing a dark valley. And yet for a long time, looking back, I have been unable to shake off the feeling that I have been led- make of that what you will.”


Inspired by Faith, Committed to Action


Four of us  went to Honduras in the early part of March, 2016, to spend time with villagers in five mountain communities that were a part of our ongoing support to the Trinidad Conservation Project. Three of the towns had previously been in the cluster, while two new towns had been added.

On previous trips, we had been engaged in projects and lived in the communities. And a part of our presence there had been to witness changes in the communities regarding number of trees planted, fuel efficient stoves built, and house gardens planted. We gloried in how much organic fertilizer had been made, and how no one was using harmful tradition methods such as slash and burn, and chemical insecticides and pesticides.

This year, we experienced a different deeper layer.

Hondurans are going through tough times: a drought has pervaded the country; a plague is destroying the country’s pine forests, crops have failed, and a well known and respected environmental activist was assassinated. Some families may have to leave their villages because there is no source of income and food.   They may have to migrate to dangerous urban areas if the drought continues. Security, drugs, and corruption continue to be realities.

Having to face all of this, it would be completely understandable if the people that we met were despairing. Yet, that is not what we saw. What we saw glimpses of were shining, smiling, faces and hopeful discussions.

There was also a sense of living in intergenerational communities (grandmothers and grandfathers, parents, children); much less attachment to things for a sense of well-being, But something else was evident, and that was their living in a faith that they would be empowered to care for themselves and each other. And that is the power of the Vecinos Honduras presence, embedded in what Roy Lara does; he is a skilled agronomist, and he cares for the villagers. He himself is carrying out his calling, that work with people in small communities can make a difference.

Here is another observation about the trip. A two way interconnectedness exists between the Washington and Honduran communities.  We do serve an important role each hour we spend listening and observing in our five villages, and with both Roy and Edwin. It has to do with the caring qualities and energy that we bring to the relationship. So, we inspire by our interest and compassion. And, in return, we become inspired by what we are witnessing up close and from photos. It is truly a mutual exchange of energy.