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News Archives » Sr. Maxine Pohlman

Biophony and Mindful Listening July 17th, 2023

By Sr. Maxine Pohlman, SSND, Director, La Vista Ecological Learning Center

Early in June as I sat on the porch in the morning listening very carefully to the outdoor bird symphony, I heard an unusual sound, “chuck, chuck, chuck”, and I thought, if this is a bird it is new to me. I doubted that, so I researched vocalizations of chipmunks since they have been quite active around the yard lately. Sure enough, I learned that chipmunks use that call when there is an aerial predator around, and I had just observed a hawk in the trees! I also learned that if the predator is terrestrial, an alternate sound is chosen. I delighted in becoming more familiar with chipmunks that entertain me throughout the day, and I was captivated by their caring for other chipmunks with this warning sound.

(Photo by Veronika Andrews, Pixabay)

Recently I have been spending some of my morning meditation time listening intently in the backyard, thanks to learning about the ecological soundscape. This name includes three distinct sounds we hear all the time and usually just lump together: biophony, the collective sounds produced by all living beings in a particular area; geophony which includes all nonbiological natural sounds like wind, water, thunder; and anthrophony, the sounds we humans generate like music, language and noise. Soundscape ecologist Bernie Krause coined these words, calling them the voice of the natural world!

Krause’s study of natural sound led him to see the importance of expanding

(Photo by GDJ, Pixabay)

our perceptions beyond the visual, giving us a deeper experience of the wider world which he says is always more complex and compelling than we think. He points out that careful listening “rivets us to the present tense – to life as it is – singing its full-throated choral voice where each singer is expressing its particular song of being”. I hadn’t thought of mindful listening as riveting me to the present moment, but this message called me to include careful listening in my morning meditation, expanding my mindfulness to include so many lovely voices singing their songs of being. And I find what Krause found – creation is way more complex and compelling than my mind can wrap around.

There is one more thought about listening to all forms of sound that I want to include, and it comes from Thomas Berry who links us to an often ignored source of our ecological crisis: We are talking only to ourselves. We are not talking to the rivers, we are not listening to the wind and stars. We have broken the great conversation. By breaking that conversation we have shattered the universe. All the disasters that are happening now are a consequence of that spiritual ‘autism.’

May the practice of mindful listening help heal our broken world.

Restoring the Forest and Ourselves June 9th, 2023

By Sr. Maxine Pohlman, SSND, Director, La Vista Ecological Learning Center

RESTOR is a global restoration movement with an inspiring mission: “accelerating the conservation and restoration of nature for the benefit of people, biodiversity, and climate”. RESTOR does this by “connecting people and their projects to resources like scientific data, monitoring tools, funding, and each other to increase impact, scale, and sustainability of these efforts. We believe that anyone can be a restoration champion”.

The Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate have been restoration champions since 1993 when they were the first landowners in the area to dedicate sixteen acres, the “Missionary Oblates Woods Nature Preserve”, as part of the Illinois Nature Preserve System. In 2001 they added one hundred forty-three acres in the Forest Legacy Program. With this history, OMI has become a member of the RESTOR movement; consequently, it is possible to explore specifics about biodiversity on their land using RESTOR data. On Oblate land in Godfrey, IL, diversity includes 1,409 plant species, 31 amphibian species, 46 mammal species, and 174 bird species. That’s a lot of biodiversity on a little over 250 acres!!!

Photo courtesy of K8, Unsplash

La Vista’s Monday study group just completed reading Robin Wall Kimmerer’s Braiding Sweetgrass, and one of Kimmerer’s insights we loved is appropriate here. She comments that when we think of ecological restoration we think about what we are doing to and for land like invasive species and trash removal, controlled burns, and planting native species which we do at La Vista. However, Kimmerer expands this thinking when she explains that, in the indigenous tradition, when we do ecological restoration we are really restoring ourselves! This must explain why, when volunteers head back to their cars after restoration work, they comment about feeling happy, fulfilled, nourished. It is true. Why else would volunteers drive a distance to get dirty, work hard, and brave tick bites? The principle of reciprocity as at work here! Once again, native people help us with an alternative reality.

Kimmerer also phrases it this way, “Land loves us back”. In the case of preserves, it does this in part by providing a peaceful and healthy environment for those who visit; by increasing wildlife, thus reducing species loneliness and countering biodiversity collapse; by cleaning the watershed, contributing to a healthier Mississippi River for humans and other species.

Truly, ecological restoration is a two-way street, and Pope Francis agrees. In the encyclical Laudato Si’ he shows awareness of this deep connection: “God has joined us so closely to the world around us that we can feel the desertification of the soil almost as a physical ailment, and the extinction of a species as a painful disfigurement”. The opposite is also a reality – when we help heal damaged land, we are also healed. Healthy people and healthy planet go together.

Biomimicry & Learning from the Humble Moss May 2nd, 2023

(Photo courtesy of Thomas Hendele, Pixabay)

By Sr. Maxine Pohlman, SSND

Recently I participated in a Biomimicry Retreat sponsored by Sisters of Earth.  Sister Gloria Rivera, our presenter,  described biomimicry as learning from and emulating natural forms, processes, and ecosystems to create all kinds of sustainable design and ways of living. She taught us that biomimicry is about valuing nature for what we can learn, not what we can extract, harvest, or domesticate, and in the process, if we listen carefully, we can learn about ourselves and our connection to each other and our home on Earth.

After the first session we were encouraged to take a half hour walk outdoors, paying attention to what offered itself to us. As I hiked uphill from the river through the woods what presented itself to me over and over and over was moss. It was everywhere – all shades of green, fresh and beautiful, on the path, downed trees, even asphalt! I decided that emulating moss would be a great way to live into not only a sustainable future, but a flourishing one. I imagined what mosses might say to us, aware that they have properties we need at this challenging time on Earth:

  • We are on rooftops, under your feet, on cement, in streams and on dry rocks of glades. We are comfortable in extreme conditions. Be adaptable!
  • We are 350 million years old and have survived and thrived through drastic climate changes. You an do it too.
  • You can find us on every continent and in every ecosystem habitable by plants that use sunlight for energy. Renewable energy can also be your way.
  • We impact the temperature of soil, warming or cooling it depending on the environment. Use your creativity for the health of our planet.
  • We make up a major part of the biodiversity in moist forest, wetland, mountain and tundra ecosystems. Please protect biodiversity.
  • We even offer microhabitats where a variety of insects can live, lay their eggs and hunt for food. Find ways to serve animal life.
  • We are in no hurry. It may take us 25 years to grow an inch. Slow down and enjoy each day.
  • We are never alone; rather, it is our nature to be continuously in contact with other beings, like the ones we grow on. Value the web of life and be in touch.

Maybe you will also take a hike and see what presents itself to you for your emulation. May all of us embrace biomimicry as one hopeful way into a flourishing future!


Volunteer Gratitude Luncheon at La Vista January 4th, 2023

Sr. Maxine Pohlman, SSND, Director, La Vista Ecological Learning Center

Throughout each year groups of volunteers come from far and near to the Immaculate Heart of Mary Novitiate in Godfrey, IL, to spend themselves caring for the land by removing invasive trees, vines, and bushes; conducting prescribed burns; removing trash after flooding; restoring the Pollinator Garden to health; and caring for the renovated Lodge.

After our usual December workday, volunteers were invited to gather the Novitiate for lunch so I could express gratitude for their generosity. As it turned out, much more happened during our time together.  Since there are four groups who work at various times, we found this an opportunity to meet one another on a deeper level.  As participants introduced themselves and their interests in the field of ecological restoration, we were all enriched and amazed at the varied talents and areas of expertise among the group. Young and old felt encouraged by belonging to this unique blend of generous volunteers. 

As I reflected on the experience, I realized that even more was happening: volunteers were giving flesh to Pope Francis’ encyclical Laudato Si by “caring for our common home”, as well as to the Oblates’ Land Ethic by valuing the land known as La Vista.



La Vista Ecological Learning Center’s Outreach Ministry October 5th, 2022

Photo courtesy of Philippe Oursel, Unsplash

By Maxine Pohlman, SSND

As part of the outreach ministry of La Vista Ecological Learning Center, I recently offered a four-day retreat to the retired School Sisters of Notre Dame (SSND) at the Sarah Community in Bridgeton, Missouri. The theme for the retreat was Laudato Si and SSND, during which I explored with the Sisters how our SSND charism aligns with and is challenged by Pope Francis’ encyclical. The hope for the retreat was that Sisters would learn more about the urgency of the ecological crisis along with ways to be more integral to the solution than the cause.

Each day I addressed one concept from the encyclical, showing how Pope Francis’s words revealed new ways to live and express SSND’s charism of unity.  Themes included universal communion, ecological spirituality, ecological conversion, and ecological education. Along with the morning presentation, each Sister received a handout with quotes from the SSND Constitution, Laudato Si, and a prayer experience that gave flesh to the theme of the day. The retreat had a unique hybrid form, offering morning presentations and the option of individual direction in the afternoon with SSND spiritual companions.

Not wanting to overly burden the Sisters with facts about our crisis, I embraced Pope Francis’ attitude and ended each morning with one of my favorite quotes:

Let us sing as we go. May our struggles and our concern for this planet never take away the joy of our hope. (244)

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