And I thought over again

My small adventures

As with a shore-wind I drifted out

In my kayak

And thought I was in danger,


My fears,

Those small ones

That I thought so big

For all the vital things

I had to get and reach.


Francis kayaking on Victoria Lake 2021-01-18 bruce witzel photo with best edit effects



And yet, there is only one thing

One great thing,

The only thing:

To live to see in huts and on journeys

The great day that dawns,

And the light that fills the world.


Inuit Song


Looking south on Victoria Lake 2021-01-18 bruce witzel photo


Images were recorded on January 18, 2021 near our home on Northern Vancouver Island. More photos of our morning kayak can be found at my wife’s blog here:


Cheers, as always




Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood — T. S. Eliot


slides0031by bruce witzel - artist unknown


Blessed sister, holy mother, spirit of the fountain, spirit of the garden

Suffer us not to mock ourselves with falsehood



Teach us to care and not to care

Teach us to sit still

Even among these rocks.



Our peace in his will

And even among these rocks

Sister, mother,

And spirit of the river, spirit of the sea


Photo of photo in our cabin by bruce witzel - original photo by my friend Darrell McIntosh


Suffer me not to be separated

And let my cry come unto Thee.


T.S. Eliot



Contemplation in Action — Remembering Frater Charles Brandt


“Where does contemplation lead one? Since it finds the Ground of Love in all reality, it leads to one’s sisters and brothers — it creates social consciousness, it leads to a deeper unity and love with and for the earth. Contemplation leads to transformation.”  

~ frater Charles Brandt ~


Christmas Star Card Signed 2014 by Dr. Anne Davies                      Charcoal drawing in Ottawa Art Gallery - artist unknown











 A reflection by Bruce Witzel



How can we respond to the call of the earth’s groaning, the call of the people’s groaning? In this unprecedented moment of history doing nothing can no longer be an option. Charles Brandt has left us many hints.  His gifts and example of contemplation amidst action may well be an essential guide for each of us to echo.


It’s been two months now since he died  — just 3 months ago I last saw him alive. Fr. Charles was in good spirits as we sat on the porch of the hermitage overlooking his beloved Oyster River. “There is hardly a portion of her banks from the estuary to the snows that I have not travelled by foot” he wrote in 1972. “Her music, her rhythm is a background to my life and work.” I was just a teenager then.

My father, Mac Witzel, befriended Charles upon his arrival to Vancouver Island in 1964. Or maybe it was the other way around. Charles had become a member of the newly formed Hermits of St. John the Baptist who lived alongside the Tsolum River. Not long afterwards the river was terribly poisoned by a copper mine that operated for 3 years up on Mount Washington.  Little did Fr. Charles know the part he would play in its 40 year clean up!


Tsolum-River-Mine-Restoration-Story-0016-1400x1868 photo by taylor roades (4)

The remnants of the abandoned copper mill at the Mount Washington mine. Photo by Taylor Roades / The Narwhal


Mount-Washington-copper-mine-Tsolum-River-map-3-1400x911 (2)


Steel Head Society Letter written by Fr. Charles Brandt




The group of hermits were quite poor and lived in roughhewn cabins  — true to 60’s I think. Many local people were initially dubious of them, these non-conformists. Who were these monks struggling in the woods? Shouldn’t they be praying in a monastery?


Hermits of St. John the Baptist with Bishop DeRoo in 1965

         Charles Brandt ( back left), Bernard de Aguiar (back center,) and Bishop Remi De Roo (front center-left)


The hermits disbanded with-in a few years and most of them moved away. Charles was an exception. A wealthy benefactor helped Charles obtain 27 acres of land by the Oyster River which had been logged a couple decades earlier. His cabin was loaded onto a flat bed and moved to its new site. My father was foreman of the local BC Highways Department and helped during the process. At one point the posts on the bridge across the Tsolum River blocked the cabin’s passage.  They were cut shorter to let it through — “No one ever knew,”Charles later admitted.

During those years as a youngster I barely saw or knew of Fr. Charles. He was a hermit after-all.

Our friendship began years later during the 1980’s at a weekend meditation retreat that Fr. Charles led on Spirituality and the Environment. “Follow your bliss” he said in a preamble to one of the meditation sessions while conveying the comparative religious thought of Joseph Campbell. In explaining deep ecology, social ecology, integral ecology and cosmology Fr. Charles spoke about Fritjof Capra, Simone Weil, Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme. - brian swimme




The retreat eventually helped me to make a decision to leave the security of a well-paying job on the log booms of the Port Alice pulp mill. For eight months I went to live and work with the poor in the mountains of Mexico.  The pastoral work I participated in was at the base community level with campesino farmers, health workers, and local organizers. For example, I collaborated in workshops to build and demonstrate solar ovens as an option to cooking with scarce fire wood, a common reality for many of the world’s impoverished people.

Leaving Mexico I asked the local Padre what else a person who is so privileged like myself, could do? He answered me — “First, pray! Second, don’t use more than you need and third, defend the human rights of the poor.” The time  I had in Mexico was the beginning of a metamorphosis for me.


  Campesino woman at a church in Zapotitlan del Rio Oaxaca Mexico - Bruce Witzel photo October 1990                                                                                  Mexican campesino catechists in Oaxaca Mexico  1991 with Bruce Witzel, photographer















Upon my return to Canada I choose different work I really loved and became a journey carpenter. Even though I lived 3 hours drive north of Charles, over the next 30 years I cherished our occasional visits. My wife Francis once said to me when I was feeling down “why don’t you call Charles?” At the bottom of his heart was a quiet calm multiplied by clearheaded wisdom and his caring soul. He once described to me verbatim, the Buddhist eight-fold path.



I believe the connection I had with Charles was not unlike many of those who came to know and love him — a common caring for the earth and all its living creatures. On the other hand, in spite of his steadfast gentleness Charles was never one to suffer fools gladly. Although he rarely displayed it, his critique could be quick and sharp. His priestly vocation was clearly of prophetic form. Such was the person of Father Charles Brandt.


Fr. Charles Brandt speaks at his 5oth year of ordination as hermit priest  2016-11 bruce witzel photo



Friends and collaborters of Charles Brandt at the Comox Valley Reggional District Office, May 30- 2017 - photo compliments Kathryn Jones

Some friends and associates with Charles Brandt in 2017 at the Comox Valley Regional District office



Now on that beautiful crisp fall September day of 2020, here I was sitting with Charles and a mutual friend, Willa Cannon. As a retired nurse, Willa with her husband Jim helped Father Charles in a myriad of ways. Their earlier work together with the Tsolum River Restoration Society had bonded their goodwill for many years.

The annual meeting of the 3 year old Brandt Oyster River Hermitage Society had been delayed for months because of COVID 19 protocols. Though we had support of at least a dozen friends, Charles called for the meeting to be small — only 3 of us. Previous to the meeting I had sensed an unusual urgency in Charles and likely he knew his time on earth was running short.

During the meeting we made important clarifications about the direction of the Society. Charles wanted to put more emphasis on the action of contemplative prayer and he spoke of our need to be conscious that “Only the Sense of the Sacred can Save Us.” We agreed to add these to our Vision and Purpose. It follows as thus:


The Brandt Oyster River Hermitage Society seeks to fulfill the explicit wishes of                        Father Charles Brandt, that:

The forest and house of the Hermitage is to be preserved as a peaceful centre for contemplating the spiritual foundations of ecology and nature as a sacred commons, and as a home for a designated Catholic hermit or other contemplative person dedicated to the environment and a life of contemplative prayer, who shares this vision.

The human community and the natural world will go forward into the future as a single sacred community or we will perish in the desert. Only the sense of the sacred can save us.




Rufous Hummingbird-2[ - chalres brandt photo




charles brandt card 2017

Our discussion continued. . .


The work of the creating a Land Covenant for the hermitage and forest was already complete thanks to the Comox Valley Land Trust and the work of two or our early directors, biologists Kathryn Jones and Loys Maingon. Now at the meeting Charles gave confirmation of the person he wanted to be the new contemplative resident at the hermitage —Karen Nichols, a Benedictine Oblate.

Charles explained how Karen had helped some years before with archiving the library of Bernard de Aguiar upon his death. Bernard was once a secretary for Thomas Merton and one of the original Hermits of St.John. He later became a potter on Hornby Island. Charles told us that Karen was a woman of prayer who was deeply connected with natural world and also, that her mother had been a conservationist. In Karen’s words, she would continue on with the mandate of the the hermitage to bea place of prayer and meditation and of conservation awareness”.  

We discussed a few more minor details and in 35 minutes total we were done. “An exceptional meeting,” Charles said.



As we rose from the table that separated us Charles reached across to shake my hand. I reminded him we weren’t supposed to. He grinned and without missing a beat he attempted an elbow bump. The table blocked us. Stepping back with folded hands in prayer I bowed to Charles and likewise he returned this sacred gesture. Without a word, each of us knew — the Sacred in me, recognizes the Sacred in you. This memory I’ll hold in my heart for ever — the final moments with my good friend and life-time mentor, frater Charles A.E. Brandt.


                                                Britney as an angel - Christmas play 2015 - bruce witzel photo (2)

 My granddaughter — Bruce Witzel photo




Only 10 days later Charles fell at the hermitage. He emailed people for help, if you can imagine that. A neighbour came over along with another friend, Bruce Wood, a retired doctor.  During many of Charles’ last 19 days that he was in the hospital Willa was often with him. Not long before losing consciousness he reached out and took Willa’s little hands and engulfed both of them with-in his hands, big like his heart.  The last embrace of a dying man — he gave of himself. Father Charles was true to his Christian faith to the last. . .


An example of one of Charles Brandts book bindings

                                             An example of Fr. Charles leather work and his book binding skills



“In all things there is a ‘’hidden ground of Love”. These are the words of Thomas Merton, my mentor in the life of prayer.  He was one of the guides who inspired me to live a life as a hermit.  In my Anglican days Dom John Chapman’s Letters taught me Christian Meditation…  Later, it was through the writings of Dom Bede Griffith’, OSB, I found my way into the Catholic Church. In 1989, I spent two months in Father Bede’s Ashram, Saccidananda, South India. There, the hidden ground of Love” confirmed  me in the path of “praying always”. I have come to realize that while we are distinct from this Loving Ground, the cosmic Christ, we are not separate from Him. Here lies the basis for contemplative prayer. On this foundation we build a life of prayer. To seek how to “pray always” is not necessary since this stream of love, is always flowing… We simply have to become aware of this constant Stream of Love.”  


Fr. Charles Brandt


(b. Feb. 19, 1923 ~  d. Oct. 25, 2020) 





(Come Lord) 



Charles Brandt -  by videographer Geoffry Leighton 




Fr. Charles Brandt, first Catholic hermit priest in several hundred years

by Bruce Witzel ~ Oct. 29, 2020


Rev. Charles Brandt noted conservationist, hermit monk, and priest of the Diocese of Victoria, died in the early hours of Sunday, October 25. A spiritual guide and inspiration to many beyond the Catholic Church, Charles was in the North Island Hospital in Comox Valley at the time of his death from pneumonia. He was in his 97th year.

Father Brandt lived for nearly five decades at his forested hermitage next to Oyster River. In 2019, those 27 acres were put into a permanent land conservancy and Charles has bequeathed the property to the Comox Valley Regional District for use as a public park. An active contemplative person of prayer who has concern for the Sacred Commons will live in the hermitage to follow in Charles’ footsteps.

Brandt was the sole surviving member of a unique hermit community originally established in 1964 near the Tsolum River in Merville, B.C. Bishop Remi De Roo ordained Brandt in 1966 as the first hermit priest in several hundred years within the Roman Catholic Church. This eremitical tradition had fallen into disuse in western churches after the Reformation and was reconstituted through later reforms of the Second Vatican Council 1962-65, in which a young Remi De Roo participated.

Brandt was in communication with world-famous Trappist monk and author, Thomas Merton, about joining the community on Vancouver Island in 1968 at the time of Merton’s death. Brandt had originally entered monastic life as a Trappist at New Melleray, Iowa.

Brandt earned his keep as an art and paper conservationist by setting up a special lab at his hermitage. He gained world renown for restoring many historical books like The Nuremberg Chronicles printed in 1493, many older bibles, and one of the original books of The Audubon Series.


Charles Brandt at his hermitage 2018-12-20 photo by George Le Masurier

  Fr. Charles outside the hermitage book lab ~ December 20,2018 ~ George Le Masurier photo


He taught Christian meditation practice at the hermitage and led other retreats, inspiring many people over the decades. He occasionally filled in as a parish priest in The Comox Valley and Campbell River.

Father Brandt rose at 3 AM to meditate, read psalms and practice daily liturgy. During early hours, he often meandered into nature to observe birds and wildlife and to take photographs. In his book Self and Environment, he describes this walking meditation as a time when “Every atom of my being is present to every atom in the universe, and they to it.”

  Road to the hermitage  2017-11-01 charles brandt photo

  The lane to the hermitage ~ November 1, 2017 ~ Charles Brandt photo


In later years, Brandt was much celebrated in public ways which included media profiles and reports on his pioneer environmental work. He is credited with heading up efforts that saved the Tsolum and Oyster Rivers from industrial degradation.

His stature as a spiritual teacher as well as his whole legendary reputation as someone who integrated spirituality with ecology will live on after him in the lives and efforts of the many people he directly inspired.

Fr. Charles is survived by his sister-in-law, Wanda Brandt, and numerous nephews, nieces and their children and grandchildren in the Kansas City area and around the United States. He was predeceased by his parents, Anna (nee Bridges) and Alvin Brandt, brothers Frank and Chet, and sisters Frances, Mary and Ella.

Donations in remembrance of Charles can be made to St. Andrews Cathedral in Victoria, the Tsolum River Restoration Society, Comox Valley Nature Society, the Oyster River Enhancement Society or the Brandt Oyster River Hermitage Society.

The small funeral mass was held at St. Patrick’s Church in Campbell River on Friday, October 30th, officiated Bishop Gary Gordon.


“Well done, good and faithful servant.”


  Ella (sister), Charles Brandt,  Anna (mother)  - at the Abbey of New Melleray 1959

At the Abbey of New Melleray, 1959  – brother Charles with his sister Ella , his mother Anna, and niece and nephew.




“Nothing has ever been said about God that hasn’t already

              been said better by the wind in the pine trees.”             


Thomas Merton   

 View of the forest from Charles Brandts front porch - Mid Vancouver Island 2013-11-28  charles brandt photo





Come, you lost atoms to your centre draw near and be the eternal mirror that you saw. Rays that have wandered into darkness wide, back into your sun, subside.


Sufi poet, Attar.


Sunrise on the lake taken from our deck 2020-11-20 bruce witzel photo

Image of the lake from the deck, received Friday morning November 20, 2020 


Sent with peace and love,



Sr. Ardeth Platte, OP — Presente!

Dorothy Day Catholic Worker Washington, D.C.

Sr. Ardeth Platte, OP, 84, who lived at the Dorothy Day Catholic Worker (DDCW) since 2018, entered eternal life on September 30, 2020. On October 3, 2020, members and friends of the DDCW held a Memorial Celebration of Life for Ardeth in the community garden. See:

Ardeth wrote the following “Paths I Have Walked,” outlining her faith journey. (See:

Paths I Have Walked – by Sr. Ardeth Platte, OP

My love and gratitude for these Gospel blessings given by God, family, Dominican Community, friends, Intentional Communities and so many others who have blessed and inspired this journey:

– Born on Good Friday, April 10, 1936 into a loving family of big brother and missionary dad

– Seventy-nine years of life and sixty-six years as a Dominican Sister

– Teacher of junior and senior high school, principal and coordinator of an Educational Center in inner city, Saginaw


View original post 250 more words

THE SHOES OF THE FISHERMAN – requiescat in pacem fr. Charles Brandt


Swans Abstract - charles brandt photo

Swans in flight – photo by Fr. Charles Brandt


Sunday morning close to 6 A.M. Pacific Standard Time, the soul of our friend and brother, Frater Charles A.E. Brandt, departed from this earth.  Words that are barely adequate now to express my feelings,       are from a book I recently read. This is how I will always recall dear Charles:


Yesterday I met a whole man. It is a rare experience, but always an illuminating and ennobling one. It costs so much to be a full human being that there are very few who have the enlightenment, or the courage, to pay the price. . . . One has to abandon altogether the search for security, and reach out to the risk of living with both arms. One has to embrace the world like a lover, and yet demand no easy return of love. One has to accept pain as a condition of existence. One has to court doubt and darkness as the cost of knowing. One needs a will stubborn in conflict, but apt always to the total acceptance of every consequence of living and dying.


Excerpt from The Shoes of the Fisherman  by Morris West


                                                                                    photo by Grant Callegari

Charles-Brandt-catholic-hermit- with-bible - photo Grant Callegari

frater Charles A.E. Brandt    

born Feb.19, 1923  (kansas City, MO)  ~  died  Oct.25, 2020 (Courtenay, B.C.)



“The human community and the natural world must move forward into the future as a single sacred community or we will perish in the desert. Only the sense of the sacred can save us.”   fr. Charles Brandt



A unique interview with Charles, all about his life, can be found


entitled A Single Sacred Community, and

published by the Thomas Merton Center in 2016.


Or, for a different condensed version of this interview (with photos)

try this link – Our lives, Well lived: Charles Brandt at 94.


Charles at his hermitage  in the forest, maybe a decade ago  – photo by Nick Didlick

Charles Brandt at his hermitage - photo by Nick Didlick



Charles lived a life of contemplative prayer as a hermit priest. He was also well loved and active in the larger community, with-in and with-out a diverse circle of his friends and affiliates. You may like to to watch a beautiful 4 minute 2012 U-Tube of Charles speaking alongside a Comox Valley river about The Sacred Commons, where he gives a Tribute to Aldo Leopold. 

Here is the link: 


While you listen you may get a sense of the kind of person Charles was. In his humble way, he would have liked this:  a tribute with-in a tribute.



Or, this wonderful 3 minute Shaw TV report from 2010 has a beautiful glimpse of Charles at his hermitage, on Oyster River. In a nutshell it reviews how he came to be there, and his basic ecological and faith orientation.  Fr. Charles also explains his book binding and art conservation laboratory.  Here is the link and I am certain that you will find it uplifting.




On behalf of us all, with deepest gratitude for Fr. Charles

and his example of love and care for the earth, and for one another





photo by B. Thomas Witzel – October 24, 2020

High River, Alberta  (in memorium of Charles Brandt) 2020-10-24 bruce witzel photo


“There are no goodbyes. Wherever you’ll be, you’ll be in my heart.” 





Frater Charles Brandt is seriously ill in hospital with pneumonia, so please, remember him in your thoughts and prayers.


A few weeks ago Fr. Charles was honoured to receive the Nature Inspiration 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award from the Canadian Museum of Nature. Charles worked for nearly 30 years in galvanizing a campaign that eventually helped restore the salmon population in Tsolum River. In 2000 it had been declared dead the Canadian Governments Department of Fisheries and Oceans due to toxic mine pollution and poor logging practices.


lifetime achiement award - Screen Shot 2020-09-19 at 10.09.30 AM

Fr. Charles want us to care, to contemplate as well as pray

for the earth, and for each another. 


With peace and love, Bruce


(photo below is by Charles Brandt 2007 – Antelope Canyon, Navajo Nation)

Antelope Canyon, Page Arizona - July 2007 by Charles A.E.Brandt


~ ~ ~ ~

Earth, torn and tattered


The human community and the natural world must

go forward into the future as one single sacred community

or we will perish in the desert.


Earth flag, torn and tattered - bruce witzel photo


Only a sense of the sacred can save us.


Meditation by Phil Berrigan, prophet of peace (FOR CURRENT TIMES)


Calligraphy drawing of the Atomic Bomb by Thomas Merton


“We began to realize that we hadn’t known our country, that we had been duped by its mythology, that we had been infants at the feet of power, that we had actually worked to sustain its deceptions.” 

Phil Berrigan, arrested with the Catonsville Nine  

Catonsville Nine - property of Baltimore County Public Library, Catonsville Branch

photo from the Baltimore  Public Library, Catonsville Branch




Philip Berrigan was a man of God who challenged his own religion to practice what it preaches.  He served in combat during World War Two and then for 16 years as a Catholic priest, before being married.

From 1968 to 2001 Philip spent 11 of those years in American prisons for his opposition to nuclear weapons and war. He died in 2002.


Phip Berrigan through prison gates - Cornell university Library Image

Cornell University Library Image


The Catonsville Nine burning draft files on May 17, 1968 - William La Force photoWilliam La Force photo

The Catonsville Nine praying Our Father  and burning draft cards on May 17, 1968.  Phil Berrigan is in the center.


These are some of Philip Berrigan thoughts….




For me it is a rule that a man ought to test his life against events. The United States faces a crises of staggering proportions; some call it the worse since the Civil War; others, the most severe in our history. Many sober observers are convinced that we have entered that period of decline reserved for empires that are falling apart.

No one argues about the seriousness of the crises, but most will differ about its character; in any case, our traditional institutions seem impotent before it. Business, for example, rejects both an equitable tax load and a curb on excessive profits; the military not only practices imperial terrorism but also influences high-level decision making in domestic foreign policy; the church, too, is seized with an unholy rage for law and order, while government continues to represent power rather than people.


Under neocapitalism, technology has been distinctly antihumanist, tending to make our institutions at once obsolete and unrepresentative. Burdened with the same kind of determinist and relativist philosophy as the economic and political sectors that control it, technology has thus far served as a tool of power, more to be feared than welcomed. Indeed, our mechanical inventiveness has received, assimilated, and heightened the amorality of the society that patronized it.

Such a perspective appears to shed some light on the crises gripping our society. We see the entirely traditional resolve of vested power to keep it’s crown and scepter –despite the nay-sayers… Or, to put it differently, our foreign involvements and domestic crises imply an attempt by concentrated power to maintain high levels of active and subtle violence while “pacifying” both ideological opponents and victims. And the only novel aspect of this phase of imperial decline is its apparent inevitability in a nation allegedly democratic and unsurpassingly affluent. (page 97-98)


Men still need to learn that excessive wealth, racism, and war mean the impossibility of a human, indeed a viable, society. Peace will remain an illusion until the atrocities of war and exploitation are eliminated. But it is only realism to recognize that their elimination will cost a terrible price in dislocation and suffering. And it will be the weak and the visionary who will suffer the most.

Perversely, men have always valued their poor –valued them enough to insure that they will be numerous. And men have always punished their prophets. This is because the poor and the prophet force others to look at themselves in different mirrors, the former showing men as they are, the latter as they can be. Since both reflections are painful, both are hated, along with those who show them.


When men no longer use their poor to exalt their own egos, when they no longer destroy their prophets, then justice will have come to the poor, and prophecy shall be treasured as power is now. Having banished the ancient call to strife and blood, man can begin to compete in love and service. Then we will begin to live.  (page 103)


Excerpts from Prison Journals of a Priest Revolutionary by Philip Berrigan, written in 1968.



                                                                                       artist unknown


What an amazing vision, an amazing hope…

Peace is not only possible.

With love,

It is our key.







In this world there is nothing softer or thinner than water.

But to compel the hard and unyielding, it has no equal.


clouds trees ocean - bruce witzel photo


That the weak overcomes the strong,

that the hard gives way to the gentle –

this everyone knows,

yet on one acts accordingly.


Lao -Tzu



This photo from Victoria in British Columbia, looks out onto Juan de Fuca Straight towards USA


Cheers – Bruce

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