First, a huge thank you to Katie Barrows. The Barrows family of Katie, Cameron, Colin and Sendy is the undisputed First Family of our local natural lands. The family business has been protecting our native lands, being stewards, listening to and understanding the interconnections of other species, and inspiring more stewards. Please let’s acknowledge our gratitude to Katie and her family.

Our beautiful area is hurting. The eastern valley is already 5 degrees F above historical averages. The increased heat for some plants is too much and some species are failing. Many parts of Joshua Tree National Park lack Joshua seedlings. Many encelia in the eastern valley are dying. The Bajada Nature Trail is barren. Even pencil cholla are dying and the creosote are stressed.

Some species are shifting to higher elevation. But as Katie emphasized, in our tangled web it is about habitat not individual species. Will their food sources and nesting sites move as well? What if they need loose blow sand – then how do they climb the hill?

How do we stay optimistic? How do we not just resign in despair? Jane Goodall offers us her answer. She has seen first hand the deforestation of once the massive African forest to now just the tiny Gombe National Park for her chimpanzees. Yet she remains highly optimistic.

How? Focus on what you can do. Do something right where you are, right now. Pick up trash. Plant a tree. Grow a garden. Plant a Monarch garden. Raise awareness. Jane Goodall has founded the Roots & Shoots project to encourage youth to embark on such projects. Then the youth find out that other groups have similar projects, and that there are over a thousand such projects going on. That builds hope and optimism. We can follow her example, right here.

Dr Cameron Barrows has wondered if a component to the survival of many of the desert species might be our backyards, our developed areas. As the wild areas get hotter and drier, maybe lightly irrigated yards with native plants will be the refuge? Can we re-imagine the developed lands as refuges?

We have a sacred space that can be a refuge for these native species. It can be a model of existing with nature, supporting and preserving native species and habitat. That choice is ours.

Before 2004 our amazing three acres were blow sand dunes – As Katie referenced, we still see it across Dinah Shore. The endangered Coachella Valley Milkvetch and the fringed toed lizards need blow sand to survive. Development has shrunk their area to 5% of the original area. Regardless, each year we still see a number of Coachella Valley milkvetch germinate and flower on our grounds, trying desperately to survive among development. The life force is strong.

We also admire the three pairs of Desert Iguanas that live here, raising young every year. But humans have led to an imbalance in the roadrunner population and I have seen many young iguanas eaten. We need to restore the balance through better understanding of habitat, food sources and shelter.

We have 54 species of plants on our grounds, mostly native, some horticultural and a few invasive. We have 12 species of lizards within a half mile radius. Some like blow sand, some like stabilized sand, some like rock piles, some like particular bushes, some even love to eat ants. How many can we invite to our Sacred Grounds? 50 species of birds have been seen within a half mile. All told, 350 species of life have been noted within 1 mile of UUCOD. The desert does not mean dead!

But what happens as development occurs? Where do these species go?

It has been a long, long time since Sacred Grounds was a major church Initiative. Two years! You might recall that our special Sacred Grounds Sunday service and huge event was planned for Earth Day 2020. Plans were drafted and over $20,000 donated. But then the church closed due to Covid just a few days before that event. And we went silent.

Sacred Grounds has been hibernating. Most of the leadership shifted to the critical tasks of keeping the congregation together during the pandemic and getting the services online. Important stuff.

The self-funded Sacred Ground vision encompasses providing both beautiful habitat and refuge for native species and a healing, nurturing space for people to connect to that natural force larger than ourselves. These two goals are not separate: Dr. Gordon Clarke, a UCR Professor and Cahuilla tribal council member, teaches that we are part of nature, one species among many, completely interconnected, with a reciprocal relationship and obligation to that land.

But the Sacred Grounds Initiative is about to reemerge. You might have seen the gradual teaser articles in the newsletters, and the latest article in the monthly newsletter. It is time to rekindle the dream! It is Earth Day again!

Despite the quiet, there is considerable progress to celebrate. Volunteers have virtually eliminated the invasive mustard and fountain grass, and make continuing progress on Mediterranean grass. We are working to restore health to the trees. Tiny wildflowers are flourishing. Debris and dead bushes have been removed, milkweed planted for the butterflies and mallow for the lizards, and art and a commemorative bench installed. Community events continued at the labyrinth.

Plans have been defined that include a Celebration Garden for the commemorative pavers, a Patio expansion to allow a better coffee hour experience, and a Garden of Hope. Those projects are shovel-ready and Board-approved, just needing volunteers to lead the contractors. More ideas are ready to develop in Phase two, including native gardens and a Peace Garden by the labyrinth. It is time to rekindle the excitement from two years ago.

Please visit the tables on patio – sign up to learn more, to help us finish the Phase 1 projects, to put together plans for the native areas, to pull weeds, to donate, to help with communications, to lead an educational series or film nights, or any other way your skills and interests intersect with the Sacred Grounds.

Hope comes from acting here and now. Please learn more about this Initiative and join in to make the grounds truly sacred.

Sacred Grounds Recent Posts

Fall Kickoff!

Sacred Grounds relaunches! Seventeen people met after the November 13th service to introduce Sacred Grounds to newcomers, rekindle excitement, and get moving on Phase 1 projects. Enthusiasm was high!

Volunteers jumped in to start planting native species, join the Love the Land work parties on the 2nd and 4th Tuesday, staff the patio info tables and communications, and select the material for the paths. As we complete visible projects we should gain more visibility and more volunteers and be able to move forward on the other parts of the Phase 1 projects.

Sacred Grounds Update

Remember the Sacred Grounds Initiative? After a long Covid hiatus, the Initiative will be starting back up.

History
Oh, didn’t Covid change everything? By March 2020 a large group of congregants had formed the Sacred Grounds Initiative, a vision for our amazing grounds that included support for the native plants and critters, plus nourishing human souls with places for meditation, connection and reflection. The minister spoke from the pulpit, a couple of congregation-wide meetings were held, and a Love-the-Land work party

Our Lovely Desert Iguanas

With the warming temperatures, our three pairs of Desert Iguanas should soon be making an appearance on our Sacred Grounds. First will be the youngsters who hatched last fall and should come out of their burrows for the first time this next week or so. Soon after, as the sand becomes reliably warm, the adults will appear. The Desert Iguanas are one of the last lizards to emerge because they are unable to digest their

Our endangered species re-emerges!

Our grounds are one of the few spots supporting the endangered Coachella Valley Milkvetch, which was once prominent on the vast sand dunes before we all built our houses. Our Sacred Grounds provides critical habit for this federally listed species. Most years we get a Fall crop but alas Fall was so dry that nothing sprouted. And with the dry January and February, it appeared this would be our first year with no germination. But those rains a few weeks triggered the milkvetch! We now have perhaps a dozen little tiny plants and one bigger one that is blooming. Blessed be our Sacred Grounds.

Our Lovely grounds

Our grounds are one of the few spots supporting the endangered Coachella Valley Milkvetch, which was once prominent on the vast sand dunes before we all built our houses. Our Sacred Grounds provides critical habit for this federally listed species. Most years we get a Fall crop but alas Fall was so dry that nothing sprouted. And with the dry January and February, it appeared this would be our first year with no germination. But those rains a few weeks triggered the milkvetch! We now have perhaps a dozen little tiny plants and one bigger one that is blooming. Blessed be our Sacred Grounds.

Rescuing Our Trees

Our gorgeous Palo Verde trees suffer from years of neglect. But the rescue has begun! The dead and diseased wood was trimmed out this Tuesday and Wednesday. Upgrading the irrigation for the trees continues into next week, followed by treatment for disease.