Twinkle twinkle little star, how I wonder what you are?




The following text is adapted from a talk by Father Richard Rohr and includes thoughts from Edward Abbey about Warren Johnson’s book Muddling Towards Frugality.

Statue of Saint Francis in the snow at the lake - bruce witzel photo

Most of us know we are not heroes. Most of are not like St Francis who can dive into a life of voluntary simplicity, but most of us our muddlers . . .

We can try here and there . . .

Christams star over the lake & universal peace - bruce witzel photo

We are all encouraged and allowed to make choices and decision, to do our part, to live in the personal form instead of the commodity culture.


Kristen's subdivision @ Christmas 2013

About the commodity culture – it’s not all bad.

It’s given us so many good things – in the world of medicine, in the world of understandable needed comforts for many. But as we all know there seems to be no end to our need for more comfort, more convenience, and things that we thought were luxuries ten years ago have now become even necessities. This is not going to serve us well.


Oak Bay Village, B.C. - bruce witzel photo

After generations of extravagant and reckless industrial expansion we are clearly entering an age of economic scarcity. While human demands continue to rise natural resources do not, especially the non-renewable kind. These become harder to find and more expensive to extract, process, transport and distribute. This simple brute fact is the basic cause of inflation, despite the inability of most professional economists to see it.

The law of diminishing returns is coming into its full effect. Technological developments can delay the process but they cannot halt or reverse it – nor can we rely on government or big business to save us. Planning for further growth delays the adjustments that must be made. The best way to deal with the end of affluence is to accept it, not fight it, and to begin here and now the unavoidable adaption’s on an individual, family, and community basis – piecemeal, experimental, muddling toward frugality.

Montreal Canada (in spring) - bruce witzel photo

Jesus and so many spiritual teachers down to our time say that the only way to experience your own experiences, to experience your own depth, is to live in the personal mode – being present to what is, to what is right in front of you before you judge it, critique it, analyse it, explain it, or try to manipulate it.

It is what it is.

Artwork by Dan Hudson exhibited in the Whyte Museum of the Canadian Rockies

We all have to find very concrete practices, and practice it every day – maybe a bit of chosen solitude, maybe a walk in nature, maybe some silence where I don’t fill the moment with noise, or with any kind of entertainment . . . 

As Neil Postman once warned, we are going to “amuse ourselves to death” much more than “our freedoms are going to be taken away from us.”

Holiday In the Sun by Dan Hudson - 1984

(the above artwork is from the exhibit Theories of Entanglement by Dan Hudson)


Happy Christmas and peace - from Bruce Witzel

~ Bruce ~


… twinkle twinkle little star how i wonder what you are


“Compost is more than fertilizer or a healing agent for the soil’s wounds. It is a symbol of continuing life . . . The compost heap is to the organic gardener what the typewriter is to the writer, (and) what the shovel is to the labourer . . .”

J.R. Rodale





Fran and I recycle our kitchen scraps and human manure here at the cabin. We have never had a flush toilet. When I first built the cabin in 1979, the large Toa-throne compost toilet was one of my first major purchases, along with a woodstove and two small solar panels.

Commode to our waterless composting toilet - bruce witzel photo



Diagram of Compost toilet from The Humananure Handbook - written by Joe Jenkins

  Two photos of The Humanure Handbook written by Joe Jenkins

Excerpt form the Humanure Handbook - written by Joseph Jenkins

I share this topic of toiletry with some trepidation, suspecting it may conjure up images of the good, the bad, and the ugly. A persons initial reaction is often to recoil in horror.

However, I ask you this:

Is it not horrible that we think nothing of urinating into 3 gallons of clean drinking water, pipe it away, only to re-collect it and spend millions of dollars to make it drinkable again? Especially considering current droughts and water shortages in many areas of the globe. 

I don’t mean to cast any stones here. I only suggest to take a moment,  and a deep breath  . . .  a breath of fresh ideas . . . now breath out.

Next time reaching to flush and forget, we’d do well to invoke Walt Whitman. “Do I contradict myself? Very well, I contradict myself. I am large, I contain multitudes.”

It is like this image of the cabin . . . in this case we’re burning firewood. I’m certainly not proud of the pollution. Not to minimize it, but life is complicated at times. The world isn’t black  and white.  Humanity does require basic necessities like food, shelter, energy and water . . .


View of the cabin from the lake - bruce witzel photo

Francis and I have been privileged and lucky. As the years have gone by, living in our microcosm of the world, our whole system and infrastructure has changed, evolved and generally improved – almost in direct proportion to the sweat equity we’ve expended and the money we’ve earned and saved.

Not to detract from this down to earth topic at hand – the downside (and integral part of all this) is that Climate Change events are a common occurrence now, throughout the planet.

As I currently write this, the coast of British Columbia is experiencing a massive storm front with unusually high winds and rainfall. 


Vancouver Island storm as seen from our window - bruce witzel photo 

Being quite concerned, earlier today I sent an email to a few friends:

Out the window, we can see the earth move upwards, as trees bend over sideways, their roots straining to hold them upright against the stress of the extreme wind.  It’s a little frightening to witness the earth like this. Fran and I have been here together for 22 years now (though Fran lived in Victoria from  2003 –2009). She says she can’t remember seeing the lake so turbulent before. 

Then a few hours ago it was reported that the city of Courtenay, in the mid island region, has declared a state of emergency due to flooding and  power outages. It seems a week doesn’t go by without this kind of news.

In A Buddhist Response to the Climate Emergency Thich Nhat Hanh has a chapter entitled The Bells of Mindfulness.



In it he writes;

“ We need a collective awakening. There are among us men and women who are awakened, but it’s not enough; most people are still sleeping. We have constructed a system we can’t control. It imposes itself on us, and we become its slaves and victims.”


Government and societal attitudes can evolve. To give a microbial solution from here in our locale, regional health authorities now require all cabins and dwellings to have legally approved septic and greywater systems.


Site plan - bruce witzel drawing


Cartoon printed in my old union newsletter - bruce witzel photo

Hence, we improved our greywater system which takes care of the soiled water left over after washing. Our toa- throne composting toilet passed inspection with flying colours. The authorities were pleasantly surprised when a litre sample from the toilet was tested by a laboratory to be well below the legal limits in biochemical oxygen demand, suspended solids, and coliform count.


Cross section of compost toilet - drawing by bruce witzel

I won’t  impose upon you the finer details of composting human manure . . . Like how to balance the carbon and nitrogen ratio.  Or emptying the finished compost every few years – I  refer to it as my Gandhian duty.

Suffice to say that we enjoy plenty of scrumptious vegetables “grown in our own.” 


scanned photos - the garden back in the early 90's - Fran Guenette photo 

My Gandhian duty has been fascinating to learn about and I give thanks to Joseph Jenkins, author of The Humanaure Handbook and an international expert on composting human manure.


Joe Jenkins at Health Symposium - Soruce, Cornell University                                                                                                        photo Cornell University web

The Humanure Handbook began as Jenkins’ Master’s Thesis. Like good compost, it then morphed into a popular book that has sold  55,000 copies in three editions over twenty years. All you writers out there will be amazed with that!

The book is philosophical, funny, practical and academically sound.

The Humanure Handbook is a priceless resource for people who want to live a happy and sustainable lifestyle. An excellent newspaper article about Jenkins’ journey (on the road less travelled) is by-lined  with the title Protest Carves Unusual Life Path.


Our toa-throne compost toilet 

The Humanure Handbook holds a hallowed space in our home along with Goodbye to the Flush Toilet.


toilet tax 

 Original Toa-throne brochure

From original toa-throne brochure 1981

To conclude this treatise I’ll take you back to the 19th century French writer Victor Hugo, author of Les Miserable’s and The Hunchback of Notre Dame.

Hugo earned deep respect as an advocate for social justice and the abolition of the death penalty.

“Science now knows that the most fertilizing and effective manure is the human manure . . . Do you know what these piles of ordure are . . . All this is a flowering field, it is a green grass, it is the mint and thyme and sage . . .  it is the guilded wheat, it is the bread on your table, it is the warm blood in your veins.”


Our garden in the 90's - bruce witzel photo

There’s food for thought . . . Gone, But Not Forgotten


Cheers – Bruce

The American Welfare Myth: Who Gets It and Why (You’ll Be Surprised)

bruce thomas witzel:


Tanya over on ‘Illuminate’, brings us this excellent 13.33 minute “must see” video that exposes the truth about the American Welfare system. It concludes with details of the arising movement in the emerging economies of the global south for a Guaranteed Minimum Income, a modern day New Deal. This creative analysis is produced by Evolve Video and the Global POV Project at the Blum Center for Developing Economies, University of Berkley. All sources are cited.

Tanya is studying journalism in New York and she wants us to remember, “knowledge is truly power… my goal is to empower people to create change in society.” Thank you, Tanya.

Originally posted on Illuminate:


Courtesy of

See video here

Here is a short documentary made by a professor at the University of California-Berkley about welfare and poverty. The idea for it came after the professor heard her students discussing welfare and government’s role in society. She was shocked to learn that these college-educated students, some of whom were on welfare themselves, harbored deep-seated, negative stereotypical attitudes and beliefs about welfare recipients. It was then that she realized that today’s young people have inherited the harsh Reagan-era ideology of how society should deal with the poor- mainly that welfare programs, like food stamps (now called SNAP), actually reinforce poverty by creating dependence on government assistance. After all, these programs are supposed to be temporary aid, so why should the poor get to live off them, right? Why can’t they just get up and work, right?

View original 141 more words


bruce thomas witzel:

One year ago today on Dec. 5, 2013, Nelson Mandela died. Suffering and destruction in the world can make us feel helpless at times. Yet one single individual (like you and I) can make a difference… To reiterate this I quote the Dalai Lama, “if you think you are to small to make a difference, try sleeping with a mosquito.” In this re-blog, I give you “A Rainbow World”, my thoughts from last December… please click  ‘through the luminary lens” in the white font just below here, for the full text of my story.   Peace to you all – Bruce

Originally posted on through the luminary lens:


A rainbow in the forest - Northern Vancouver Island

Sun image

Nelson Mandela - google images

Nelson Mandela - Ambassador of Peace, Symbol of Struggle - google images

A bridge in Oregon, USA

Nasa image - Europe, Asia, & Afica at Night

Nelson_Mandela - Painted portrait on a wall - from google images

Batoche, Sakatchewan - Loius Riel Memorial

View original



~ Converge ~


Come together, bring into focus, unity, connectedness


Memorial Chapel - Stanford University, Palo Alto California - Bruce Witzel photo


“Peace between countries must rest on the solid foundation of love between individuals”

~ Mahatma Gandhi ~


Two friends @ near Memorial Chapel, Stanford University - Bruce Witzel photo



Rodin Sculpture Graden, Stanford University in California


“The more we value integrity, the more securely we will find and keep a worthwhile civilization to set against prevalent abuse and ruin.”

~ Frank Lloyd Wright ~


Hanna House @ Stanford University (Frank Lloyd Wright design) - Bruce Witzel photo



The natural house - Frank Lloyd Wright's honeycomb house - bruce witzel design



Living room of Hanna House as seen from outside front window

 “We no longer have an outside and an inside as two separate things…

they are of each other.”


~ Frank Lloyd Wright ~  


Rodin Sculpture Garden, University of Stanford - Bruce witzel photo

“A human being is part of the whole called by us “the universe,” a part limited in time and space.  He (or she) experiences… thoughts and feelings, as something separate from the rest – a kind of optical delusion of consciousness. This delusion is a kind of a prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening the circle of understanding and compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”

~ Albert Einstein ~


Hanna House fenestration - Bruce Witzel photo

Concluding Commentary:

On May 27, 2010 Francis and I had the privilege to visit Stanford University in Palo Alto California. Featured above are images of highlights including the Memorial Chapel, the Rodin Sculpture Garden at the Cantor Museum, and the Hanna House designed by Frank Lloyd Wright.

In the later half of the 1800’s, Leland Stanford  was a prominent Senator and railroad tycoon, who along with his wife Jane, co-founded the University that bears their name. The Stanford Memorial Church is located at the center of the University, and was commissioned upon Leland’s death in ‘93.

It was intended by the Stanford’s to be interdenominational. For more than a century the church has kept this ecumenical spirit.


Memorial Chapel -Stanford University - Bruce Witzel photo 


 Dedicated to all which is plundered and pillaged…

                     men, women & children

and Mother Earth herself…


~ Bruce ~


Weekly Photo Challenge – lines and shapes (and words and people) can converge in interesting ways


~ the Brandt Series ~


Fr. Charles Brandt is a hermit monk from Vancouver Island, British Columbia, who recently celebrated 64 years of ordination. At 91 years of age, his gentle activism and quiet mannerism is deeply respected by people of many walks of life. Charles is active in the bioregional movement and in work that is underway to preserve the landscape in his Pacific Northwest location. He is also a leader of Christian meditation.


The Land as Sacred Commons

(Sacramental Commons)


Photography and text by Charles A.E. Brandt (except as noted)


Barred Owl - charles brandt photo


“It’s the right thing to do.” In the past several years this has been a favorite statement of intent by politicians, environmentalists, etc. Recently, President Obama used these words in addressing a group in Indonesia. What does “it’s the right thing mean?” The statement has ethical if not moral implications.

As our community and other communities grapple with environmental issues that effect us as a community, and by extension the very land itself (which includes the soil, water, plants, and animal life and the atmosphere as well), we look for solutions to these issues. We seek a way to resolve them, whether it be politically, scientifically, socially or philosophically – or a combination of the above. In these discussions, watersheds are a common concern.


Elk Falls - charles Brandt photo

The philosophical or Zen approach in resolving these issues is worth considering. It is helpful to understand that the land, a watershed, is a sacramental commons, a sacred commons.

In 2010, Edwin Grieve, vice-chairman of our Courtenay/Comox Regional Board asked me to speak briefly about sacred or sacramental commons at a forum of farmers, foresters, and fishermen which he convened at the regional board office. Sacred Commons had come up briefly at one of our Oyster River Watershed Management Committee meetings when the forest companies were present and I suggested that a watershed was a sacred commons. Curtis Schofield picked up on that and perhaps inspired Edwin Grieve to make this request.


Mew Gull in Flight - charles brandt photo

Catholic bishops of the Northwest in their 1992 pastoral letter were concerned about the pollution of the Columbia river caused by a nuclear power plant, by the placement of dams in the river, etc. In their pastoral they stated that the watershed belongs to every one, that it belongs to no one: All have rights: the winter wren, aboriginal people, loggers, farmers: that we must respect these rights. They referred to the watershed as sacramental commons.


Columbia River Wetlands near Radium Hotsprings, BC - Bruce Witzel photo b.witzel 

Stephen Hume writes from time to time about the sacred commons, and his understanding of the sacred commons is: “I would say it is the visible manifestation of the sacred, invisible rhythm or spirit or divine presence or Godhead which infuses the natural world. Perhaps it is what William Butler Yeats called the “animus mundi” or Dylan Thomas “the force that through the green fuse drives the flower.” It is a physical place in the metaphysical matrix which supports and animates the natural world and, as it is the place we inhabit, we are called upon to be responsible stewards whatever our faith or creed. I understand there are more precise definitions in theology but that’s how I would attempt to define it.”


Red Elderberry, June 22, '14, Black Creek, B.C. charles brandt photo

Fr. Tom Berry lists… the three laws of the universe at all levels of reality… differentiation, subjectivity and communion. These laws identify the values, and the directions in which the universe is proceeding.

The Universe is an expanding universe, which begin l3.7 billions years ago as a tiny teardrop, smaller than an electron: before this there was only emptiness, nothing.

The expansion was just right according to cosmic physicists. Had it been one billionth of a second faster no galaxies would have formed; 1 billionth slower, just black holes. Some scientists believe that this rate of expansion manifested great wisdom.


The lake and the universe, Sept. 12, 2014 Bruce Witzel photob.witzel

There are three characteristics of the expanding universe: greater and greater bonding, greater interiority, and greater and greater bio-diversity.

Today this diversity has plummeted, now there is less and less instead of more and more… It is the hope of Thomas Berry and others that we are now moving into a new phase of the universe’ history, a new period that Tom Berry labels The Ecozoic Era. This occurs as the human community and the natural world move together as a single sacred community. It will be a community not of objects, but of subjects in communion with one another, truly a sacred community.


Lambing Time - charles brandt photo

Other thinkers who think along the lines of Thomas Berry and Stephen Hume are Henry David Thoreau & Aldo Leopold..

Thoreau, who lived and wrote in the eastern United States in the mid-l850s, went to the woods to discover what life was all about, so that when he came to die he would not have lived in vain. He believed that most people lived “quiet lives of desperation”. He gave us an important principal when he wrote “In wildness is the salvation of the world.” We sometimes see environmentalists with “In wilderness is the salvation… “ printed on their T-shirts. Thoreau said wildness not wilderness. We can save the wilderness yet lose its wildness, all those creatures that have rights to be respected in a commons that is sacred.


Northwestern Crow - charles brandt photo 

Aldo Leopold is another person who looked at the land as a sacred commons. Professor Leopold, the father of North American Ecology was the founder of the science of wildlife management. He said that conservation “is the harmony between people and the land. In 1949 he published his classic work the Sand County Almanac, in which he emphasized biodiversity and ecology.

As a young forester in New Mexico he was assigned the task of eliminating the wolf, the belief being that with the wolf gone hunters would have greater numbers of deer at their disposal. At the time he did not realize that killing the predator wolf had serious implications for the rest of the ecosystem.


Buck deer @ Hermitage - Nov 18,2014  charles brandt photo

Later, he had an experience of killing a wolf, and while holding it in his arms he saw the green light disappear from its eyes. He realized through this experience that the wolf and the mountain knew something that he did not know, which led him to a conversion experience, a conversion from a resource manager, man over nature, to the realization that he was a plain member of the biotic community, and he begin to think like a mountain.

In Sand County Almanac … he wrote: “ A thing is right when it tends to preserve the beauty, integrity and stability of the biotic community. Otherwise, it is wrong.”


Oyster river salmon hatchery under construction in mid 1980's - charles brandt photo

Thomas Berry, a cultural historian, who authored such works as The Universe Story, along with Brian Swimme, and The Dream of the Earth, is the foremost ecologist of our times. He spoke of himself as an geologian. As a child he had an experience with the earth that became the referent for all he did and wrote in the future…


Oxeye Daisies - Charles Brandt photo

His father was constructing a new home on the outskirts of Greensboro, North Carolina. One afternoon Thomas walked down the slope from the new home and crossed a small stream and saw the Meadow, a field covered with lilies rising above the thick grass. It was not only the lilies, it was the singing of the birds and the crickets, the color of the sky. It was a magic moment. This experience gave to his life something he knew not. It seemed to explain his life at a more profound level than any experience he could ever remember. This experience he wrote “… has become normative for me throughout the range of my thinking. Whatever preserves and enhances this meadow in the natural cycle of transformation is good; what is opposed to this meadow or negates it is not good. My life orientation is that simple. It is also that pervasive. It applies in economics and political orientation as well as in education and religion and whatever.”


Pink Salmon spawning grounds Sept 24 Oyster River - charles brandt

And so with The Land, our Watersheds, our hope is that all shall be well… if we are willing to share in the Great Work, helping to bring about a transition of our Society that is having a disruptive influence on the Earth to one that will have a Benign Presence to the Earth…


Trumpeter Swan - by Charles A.E. Brandt


We make this transition by experiencing the Earth, the Universe with a sense of wonder and delight, rather than a commodity for our own personal benefit. 

We have to fall in love with the earth. We only save something if we love it, and we only love it if we think it is sacred (sacramental commons). Only the sense of the sacred will save us.

Fr. Charles A.E. Brandt, erm


This is abridged from an article published Dec. 3, 2010 in the National Catholic Reporter.

Best cheer to you all, during this month of December ~ Bruce


Postscript from Charles…

Thanks for this, Bruce. 48 years a catholic priest, 64 years in religion.  I began it in l950 in England as a novice at the Community of the Resurrection where I was ordained an Anglican priest, then to U.S. to live as an anglican hermit, then anglican benedictine and was received into the catholic church in l956 and entered New Melleray Abbey and then to the hermits on Vancouver Island in l965, ordained in ’66.     charles  



To preserve the natural world as the primary revelation of the divine

must be the basic concern of religion.


Water fall in the woods near the neighbours with zoom effect - Dec. 31, 2013 

A nearby creek – December 31, 2013


Thomas Berry & Brian Swimme


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