Saturday, May 21, 2011


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (5/21/2011)

When my friend, Loni Shapiro, asked me to speak at a memorial service for Zane, a therapy dog, I looked at my own personal therapy dog, Roxie, to see what she thought about the invitation. A three-legged yellow lab, now white with age, she spoke from her soul through her eyes, making it clear that I should speak for Zane. Now, the word “therapy” comes from the Greek word “therapeia” which means “healing.” So, Zane was a healing dog. The service was held in the Olivia White Hospice Gardens where Zane had served many of the residents.

Now, many people think that dogs don’t have souls. They’re generally people who don’t love dogs and don’t have dogs for companions. Some dogs, just like human beings, don’t have souls, but some do. Their souls can be seen in their eyes which I’ve heard are the windows to the soul.

Some people have apparently traded their souls in for money and power, striking a Faustian bargain with the devil. Their eyes have no depth and are windows to nothing. They’re flat, resembling the eyes of snakes, cold, calculating, and predatory. Nowadays, our word for these flat-eyed people is “sociopath.” It’s always important to examine the eyes of the rich, famous, and powerful to find out if they’re flat. They’re a lot of flat eyes on television. Criminals are flat-eyed.

Getting back to Zane’s soul, the reason why some dogs are healers is that they have souls and, thus, have what’s called “intraception.” A term coined by the late Harvard Professor H. A. Murray, it means the ability to understand the emotional and perceptual experience of another person. Without intraception people communicate only with shadows, artifices, and appearances, not someone else.

Martin Buber, the Jewish philosopher and theologian, made the same point with his distinction between I-Thou and I-It relationships. Without intraception, the world is one of I-It, a world of relationships with objects, not persons, a world of loneliness. For Buber there was always the Eternal Thou.

A therapy or healing dog isn’t burdened with internal toxins, such as male abusers of women being terrified at heart of women. Flat-eyes see only objects to be exploited. Dogs understand the other person because they don’t have to fool around with all the internal conflicts that clog most people’s perception of others. In other words, they’re simple, and simplicity is always the beginning of understanding because clarity requires simplicity.

Gardens are a great place to begin leeching these psychic toxins. Paying attention to our physical sensations draws us away from out inner, psychic turmoil. It’s difficult to stew in our indignations while smelling a rose or eating a fresh tomato. We equate gardens with peace for good reason. They bring peace to the soul.

A healing dog in a garden, as at the Olivia White Hospice Gardens, is a great combination. Dogs not only draw us away from our fascination with our own malaise as do roses and fresh tomatoes, they also draw out the malaise because of their simple insight into our situation. A dog understands. As we run our hands along a dog’s back or hold its head in our hands, we can feel the tensions release. Dogs with souls are always happy to see us.

Zane died last Christmas Eve of lymphoma after working at the Olivia White Home for more than 6 years. The Pet Idol of Flagstaff for 2006, he was more than just a pretty face. Loni Shapiro remembers him “as kind, gentle, and comforting to all he met. He was playful or serious as the situation indicated. He always made each person he encountered feel special and important by sensing what they needed.” “He soothed residents, family members in time of sorrow, staff on a busy day, and volunteer gardeners between chores.”

Zane was adopted by Dave and Terri Hill of Munds Park and Cottonwood from Rescue a Golden. Terri said of Zane, “Dave and I learned a lot from Zane.” “Compassion and feeling is what we absorbed from his presence.” Now, Zane has a successor named Murphy. For more information, Dave and Terri can be reached at

Copyright © Dana Prom Smith 2011

Thursday, May 12, 2011


Tam Ngyuen

While my husband, Sam, and I were walking along the Clear Creek in Camp Verde, to my surprise I saw a plantago major L (common plantain.) It was a dead ringer for what Vietnamese call ripple grass. For me, the leaves look like a soup spoon. Americans treat it as a weed, but in Vietnam it is herbal medicine.

My Dad used it as a treatment for urinary tract infection for me. He pulled all the plant from the ground, cleaned off the dirt, cut it small pieces, and then boiled it in water adding a little salt, making as a soup. I ate the soup for a week and then my urinary tract infection was over. It was cured.
The people in village mashed the leaves and use the viscous liquid to apply on burns from flames. In the hospital, they made an ointment from the leaves to apply on smaller burns. There are different uses for another treatment, too. The plant is processed inside a laboratory and turned into a good product for hemorrhoids used topically.

It has many uses for health. It depends on how the laboratories compound it for using.

We can cut enough fresh leaves into small, thin pieces to fill a small pot and put glycerine on it to cover the leaves. Mix the leaves together and stir until finished. Sift the solution and keep in a dark jar. This ointment works calming the itching skin rash.

With me, I like plantagino major L because I can eat it as soup. This plant growth begins at spring and grows fast in summer. The good time the collect leaves is around May to July, but for the seeds it will be later one more month.
It was surprise me when I saw them here in the desert. I was so happy to see this kind of plants again. It reminded me a wonderful time with my Dad, talking about interesting plants, spending time to watching them, and, also, stories about climates, weather, soils, all the necessary conditions for plant grow up. It seems my home town here. It just looked exactly like the plants which my Dad used for me. And it was also the plant my Dad and I have been talking about it. It was a kind of weed that has many cures for health, but it still has secrets for me because this kind of weeds grow many different places on the world

This plant still is a grass on the forest. I did some researching around for plantago major L. There are several experimental programs using plantago major L. It was proof for me about my Dad. He was not just a farmer in the highlands of Vietnam, using folklore to help me cure about urinary tract infection. And he also had been using the plant for hypertension and blood sugar control. He told me about the miracle of the plant because it can be used as treatment for the symptoms of asthma. This is important for me because Sam has suffered from asthma for most of his life. The plantago major L permeates the bronchial passages and brings relief. The folklore will maybe become the truth, but it also has a long story of us as an alternative medicine dating back to ancient time.

The plants are still out on the creek. It just make me feel good about the wild weeds. It can turn out for good purpose if we can domesticate it for herbal medicine or just simple as a green house vegetable.

The leaves of plantago major L in the salad are a rich source of vitamin C. In the early spring, it becomes used especially for extra vitamin C when people want fresh vegetables. It is so nice for culinary uses and can be used in a vegetable soup. It is simple to make a bowl of soup. Just cut the leaves in small pieces as you want and cook with shrimp or chicken broth, maybe even though with only the water. It is so delicious. It helps for intestine. Just put a little medicine in the soup bowl.

Tam Ngyuen is a student at The Literacy Center and NAU. Dana Prom Smith edits GARDENING ETCETERA, blogs at, and his email is

Saturday, May 07, 2011

The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (4/15/2011)

In the morning damp, Gretchen found a hummingbird lying on the cold stones of our front patio. At first, we thought it dead, but when I picked it up, it quivered, its long peak twitching, thirsting for nectar. For a moment I didn’t know what to do, but then I remembered that God kept his eye on the sparrow.

The hummingbird was beautiful with a bright bronze breast, a miniature Roman centurion. I took it off the cold stone and placed it in the sun on our deck in the backyard. It ruffled its wings and flew off. We were jubilant. Shortly, Gretchen saw it lying on the ground below the deck. I brought it back to the deck to warm in the sun, and Gretchen gave it a cap full of nectar. There was no movement. The bird was dead, and I buried it in our garden amidst the peonies, a butterfly bush, and larkspur with enough nectar for the flight into the next world.

We wondered why we were so moved at the death of a bird. It brought to mind our helplessness at the death of our mothers. We began Sigmund Freud’s “free association” and William James’ “stream of consciousness.” Gretchen first mentioned the death of her mother and that brought to mind the death of my mother.

Gretchen’s mother died just short of her 96th birthday after she had eaten breakfast and had decided the time had come to finish her journey on earth. She wanted to die alone, having made it clear to Gretchen that she did not want nurses hovering around her bed or Gretchen making a special trip for her parting. Alfred North Whitehead’s said that religion is what individuals do with their solitariness. She wanted to die in God’s presence in her solitariness.

My mother died, riddled cancer, near Thanksgiving at age 67. As she lay dying, I held her hand, talking with her of our lives together. Each time she would slip away, I would raise my voice to call her back, but then finally I could call her back no more. I kept talking past the nurse’s futile attempts to usher me from the room. With a few gasps she had gone deep within herself on that silent journey into of eternity. A life-long gardener, she, too, was buried in a garden, her faith carrying her on her journey into eternity. The great Hebrew poet of the 6th century, B.C., Deutero-Isaiah, said it best: “The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand forever (40:6).”

Then began a flood of associations, the death of my father of leukemia at 58, my grandfather of gangrene at 85, my brothers of cancer at 65 and Altzheimer’s at 95, and then a long line of parishioners with whom I had kept vigil at their deaths, children, adolescents, adults in their prime, and the old. The overwhelming sense was a dumbfounding helplessness. Whitehead was right. A solitary journey into a Void, the Void of God, it’s a silent journey of faith.

What remains for the living is grief, the immense sadness of loss, an experience for which there are no words, as Saint Paul said, “with sighs too deep for words.” Grief is an experience which, too, is ultimately solitary and a journey of faith into that Void.

I’m baffled about what people mean when they say “closure.” I think they mean nothing at all, except that having spent their life denying the Void and the helplessness of their own grief, they fill their emptiness with chatter. There is no closure. If there were, we would be nothing more than machines with interchangeable parts, automatons without heart and soul.

The death of those who bore us, nurtured us, and abided with us is far more than the death of someone out there disconnected from us because our lives are intertwined. More than a being, we are a becoming, and for that there are no closures, only openings.

It doesn’t take much to find openings to the depths. All it takes is the death of a bird.

Copyright © 2011 Dana Prom Smith

Monday, May 02, 2011


The Rev. Dana Prom Smith, S.T.D., Ph.D. (May 1, 2011)

Dirty Harry once said, “A man’s got to know his limitations.” More importantly, Georges Braque, the famous French 20th century Cubist, said: “In art, progress lies not in extension, but in a knowledge of limitations.” So it is with gardening in the high country. If we don’t know our limitations, we’re in trouble, but if we do, then we can have beautiful gardens.

Now, some people, even well-known horticulturalists, gripe and whine about the limitations of gardening in Flagstaff, fondly recalling other climes and cultures where “all you had to do was stick a plant in the ground.” Now, those fondly-recalled climes are often hot, humid, sticky, and buggy. More important, however, than their short memories of yucky climates is their tendency to “look at the present through a rear-view mirror” to quote Marshall McLuhan. Lot’s wife also stole a fond rear-view glance of Sodom and Gomorrah as she fled their destruction, and for that she was turned into a pillar of salt (Gen 19:26.)

Rear-view, preserved-in-salt people aside, gardening is a tutor for the way inevitability and necessity beget creativity. We all work within limits, and it’s important to know them. For Calvinists, it’s the doctrine of freedom within destiny. Freedom is always within limitations, such as being born male or female. This awareness of limitations applies not only to art, but to gardening in Flagstaff.

Although gardens are artificial, human constructions, as are paintings, they’re extensions of the wild, or else they won’t work. The wilderness is the testing grounds for gardens.

Braque began his career painting landscapes in 1908; however, he, alongside Picasso, discovered the advantages of painting still lifes instead. Braque explained that he, “… began to concentrate on still-lifes, because in the still-life you have a tactile, I might almost say a manual space… This answered to the hankering I have always had to touch things and not merely see them.”

Braque touched on the genius of gardening as a form of art. It’s reaching out to touch, hear, taste, and smell, to bring life up close and personal. Seeing often keeps things at a distance, as in “over there.” However, if something is tangible, it is limited to time and circumstance. As Robert Frost said, “I play tennis better because the net is there.”

Rather than importing plants that don’t belong in Flagstaff, it’s far better to garden with the plants that work in Flagstaff. The sad fact is that we can never fully trust the advice of someone who anticipates making money off their advice whether it’s cars, clothing, or plants. It’s called caveat emptor, buyer beware. It’s not that they can’t be trusted, it’s that their advice needs to be checked. The late President Reagan said, “Trust and verify.”

Most of us have the greatest ever research tool available sitting somewhere in our homes or at work. It’s called the Internet. The things to look for in the search
are climate zones, last and first frosts, length of growing season, water, soil, and so forth. Perhaps, the best guide for gardening in the high country is Busco and Morin’s Native Plants for High Elevation Western Gardens. It’s the real skinny on plants suitable for Flagstaff’s gardens.

We live in one of the most beautiful places in the world. If we take our cues from the beauty around us, we can have beautiful gardens in Flagstaff that will rival gardens anywhere. It’s all a matter of accepting the limitations inherent in the beauty of our environment. We’re not necessarily limited to native plants, but if we go beyond, we have to make sure they’re adaptable. As it is psychologically, so it is horticulturally, it’s a matter of authenticity, being faithful to ourselves and our place, and not pretending to be someone else or somewhere else.

Martin Buber, the Jewish theologian and philosopher, told the story of an aged pious man, Rabbi Susya, who became fearful as death drew near. His friends chided him, "What! Are you afraid that you'll be reproached that you weren't Moses?" "No," the rabbi replied, "that I was not Susya."

“Go ahead! Make my day!”

Dana Prom Smith © Copyright 2011