When I first met Blair Frank about ten years ago, he was a United Methodist pastor struggling to find his way in an institution that just didn’t fit his character. Not long after that, Blair went through the excruciating process of watching his wife Sue die from cancer. His struggle with depression made it impossible for Blair to maintain his role as pastor.
But pain and suffering are only part of a larger story. There are also periods of joy and light. And all of life becomes more livable if at some point along the way we are able to shed the baggage of what we think the world wants us to be in order to embrace our more authentic selves.
Blair Frank has done this with more courage than most people I know. He sees clearly what conventional wisdom says a 62-year-old white, male preacher should be, and instead decided to be himself. Is he a little weird? Yes. But as we say at Corridor Characters, “No one is normal.” Blair is also incredibly generous, caring, thoughtful, and passionate about healing human beings through a deeper connection with Mother Earth.
All this is immediately evident if you take a walk with Blair on the land where he spends most his days during warmer months. In fact, even before you arrive, you get a sense of Blair’s personality by just looking at his place on a Google map.
At first, it seems like nothing extraordinary. A small, neat subdivision of expectedly nice homes tucked into the north edge of Iowa City. But look a little closer and you’ll notice the lot marked by this Google map doesn’t have a house on it. Instead there seem to be several strange shapes carved into the landscape. Is it a small park? Zoom in a little more, or better yet click on “street view”, and take a closer look at Gaia’s Peace Garden, a one-acre perma-cultural cornucopia of herbs, berries, vegetables, and good vibrations dedicated to Mother Earth.
Blair and his wife Mary Kirkpatrick created the garden as a place for healing where people could come to experience the earth’s abundance. Visitors are encouraged. For example, while I interviewed Blair, he pointed to a patch in the garden and said, “This is creeping thyme. You can lay down in that if you come back and I’m not here. You have my permission. A lot of people will lay down there.”
While we stood talking, the next-door neighbor came out of her house to leave. I had been wondering what his neighbors thought of the garden. It clearly does not fit in with the large cookie-cutter homes and tastefully boring manicured lawns. (Harry Potter fans could imagine Aunt Petunia peaking out her curtains at it with horror.)
Blair offered to move his car (it was parked on one side of her driveway) ventolin online canada. She said no, it wasn’t necessary, and they exchanged quick pleasantries before she pulled out the drive. “They’re Italian,” Blair explains, “so I grow garlic and oregano and basil. They’re sweet people. I don’t live here, as you can probably tell.”
When his wife Mary bought the plot of land several years ago, neighbors expected another house to be built, but Blair thinks most have grown comfortable with the garden. He knows it is just one small piece of earth in a landscape of chemical-soaked monoculture, but it’s amazing what he, his wife Mary, and other friends have been able to do with it.
As we walk, Blair describes different features in the garden. Here are the ones I heard about in our relatively short walk-through.
- Butterfly garden
- Fire pit
- Gem and chrystal area, which is a play place for kids
- A labyrinth built by Blair, which can be seen through Google earth. “It’s a place for prayer or meditation. The idea is that people walk into the center of their hearts as they walk into the center of the labyrinth,” he says.
- Indigenous prairie plants, elder berries, service berries, hazelnuts, raspberries, blackberries, and a grape vine
- Culinary edge: basil, tomatoes, asparagus
- Sacred herbs like sage, Valerian root, and oldenseal, an endangered herb, which Blair says can be used as an antibiotic
The garden is also home to plenty of wildlife. Blair mentioned seeing deer, foxes, bluebirds, cardinals, and “the biggest garter snake I’ve ever seen.” He said they used to have a lot of mice, but not as many anymore. He plans to add bat houses soon, and already has five bee hives tucked back into the woods.
The subject of bees launches Blair into an impassioned critique of the agribusiness and health care industries, which he believes are poisoning people more than they are helping them. He talks about bees and other insects dying from pesticides (“Their stomachs explode!) and how those pesticides cover most of the food we eat.
“Roundup is now quadrupling or quintupling their potency as of this spring.” Blair says. “They’re putting the agent orange element into Roundup. We’re being sprayed basically with what they used to defoliate Vietnam.” (Note: I did not fact check many of Blair’s statements, but here is an interesting article from BBC that describes some of what he is talking about related to Roundup.)
Still, while he can be highly critical, he also seems to recognize that change takes time, and the world’s healing is not helped by getting overly angry or depressed. “We’re all waiting for a rising consciousness, I guess. I’m sending out prayers for agribusiness right now, because I know it’s hard on them. I know they’re having a big transition.”
Blair believes a revolution in consciousness is beginning to take place, and that permaculture is a major part of that revolution. “At its heart,” he explains, “permaculture is care of earth, care of people, and share the abundance.” He believes food should be free. “Let’s start off with food being free and not poisoned, and then let’s see how many social justice issues remain.”
I can’t say whether he’s right or not. I admit I probably don’t see as many signs of this rising consciousness as he does. At the same time, I am glad people like Blair are out there, doing their thing, believing in a better, more peaceful, generous and abundant world. We need them to stand out against norms, to show us what’s possible. Or if nothing else, to offer us a patch of thyme to lie down in and rest for a while.
Story by Courtney T Ball. Photos by Braden Kopf.