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Jan Kostielney

Jan Kostielney

Monday, 12 June 2017 16:25

Native Prairie at MoonTree

MoonTree buildings flowers 2015Sister Mary Baird, founder of MoonTree Studios, said, "The term "native" is often used indiscriminately and inappropriately which can be confusing. The term Adam Thada (Ecological Director at The Center at Donaldson) and I use to define native vegetation is 'a species of plant that thrived in Indiana prior to European settlement.' Botanists and biologists have identified 'pre-settlement' vegetation for our state. Native is different from naturalized. Naturalized refers to non-native species that survive and reproduce on their own. The MoonTree prairie is comprised of only native plants, and volunteers join Adam and I to monitor the 8 acres of prairie, removing any non-native species and sowing seeds of native vegetation."

At the time of European settlement, the tallgrass prairie ecosystem extended into northwest Indiana, a "prairie peninsula" covering one million acres within the state. Today, only about 1,000 unplowed prairie acres remain, a loss of 99.9%! Still, perennial plants hanging on in ditches and alongside railroads provided the genetic source for the prairie restoration movement.

Why is it important to create and maintain a native prairie? Thada stated, "Plants and animals live together in communities where they are dependent on natural resources and each other to survive. Eventually, the loss of enough native species can disrupt an entire ecosystem. Maintaining biodiverse native ecosystems such as prairies across Indiana is vital to maintaining the ecological functions on which we depend. Maintaining native ecosystems such as prairies across Indiana is vital to maintaining balance and harmony in our environment."

prairiefire"Prairies build soil, capture carbon, trap sediment, grow livestock, and support pollinators," noted Sr. Mary. "Prairies also provide us with flowers to enjoy, birds and butterflies and animals to watch." A former naturalist and educator with the Department of Natural Resources, Sr. Mary is a life-long environmentalist and has dedicated much of her time and energy to creating the native prairie which is home to MoonTree Studios.

The loss of native plants is thought to be part of the reason so many pollinators have died off. Pollinators are crucial to the survival of crops such as potatoes, onions, celery, kiwi and strawberries. Other vegetables that require pollination by insects include broccoli, collards, cauliflower, cucumber, cantaloupe, pumpkins and watermelon, okra, peppers and squash. One important crop that many people don't realize depend upon pollinators such as bees for survival is coffee.

Thada stated, "Maintaining the prairie’s biodiversity is an important part of our environmental plan. Prairie plants can survive fires since they have deep roots and grow from a point underground. A prescribed burn is a crucial component in prairie restoration. We did a prescribed burn early in the prairie restoration project to prepare the land for planting. The MoonTree Prairie is burned at regular intervals to help keep it healthy and to ensure biodiversity."

prairie grass sunset steve gadomskiCome out to MoonTree and learn about the prairie restoration movement’s Midwestern history and get a close-up view of MoonTree’s 2011 prairie planting.

Sunset photo courtesy of Steve Gadomski
Friday, 02 June 2017 13:40

Cob Building

What is Cob (or Cobb) building? First of all - no corn cobs are involved! I know...it confused me, too!

According to Wikipedia, "Cob is an English term from 1500 for an ancient building marterial that has been used for building since prehistoric times. Cob material is known by many names including adobe, lump clay and clay daubins.

cobfeetDeborah Maslowski writing on DIY Natural's website, says, "Cob house construction is an ancient building technique using lumps of earth mixed with sand, straw and water. Cob structures can be used as homes, chicken coops, barns, and even smaller ones for ovens. Cob building is easy to learn, requires no special equipment and uses sustainable materials. About a third of the world's population lives in earthen homes and cob is only one type. It has been used for centuries in much of the world, but has just begun to make its way into the US."

The cool thing about cob is, according to Maslowski, that it makes organic shapes easy to create. Most cob buildings are made with curves, bumps, and flowing lines. Roofs are often constructed the same way, and many are made with a flowing room. "Some are built with moss in the roof and some with a tarp -like fabric for more of a teepee effect. Whatever you do, just be sure it's right for your climate," stated DIY Natural.

Once the foundation for a cob building is completed, the fun begins. Using your feet (with or without mud boots), mix clay, sand and water until completely combined and then add long pieces of straw. The finished cob should form a ball and retain shape when put into position. Use the lumps of cob to form the bottom perimeter of the building and any interior walls. Make sure you have planned for any doors(s) and window(s), measuring carefully. Use a ruler to ensure that each layer of cob is the same width.

The roof can be made of any weather-proof material - or you can use the European technique of growing grass or vegetation on top!

For more information on Cob Building, contact MoonTree Studios at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

For more information about MoonTree Studios, visit our website or our Facebook page.

cobcottagecobbuilding

Thursday, 01 June 2017 20:37

The Sacred Circle

"They're omnipresent, cryptic and alluring...but what really are mandalas?" asks Altheia Luna in her article entitled, Mandala Meaning: How The Sacred Circle Helps Us Reconnect with Ourselves.

Luna states that the mandala is one of the most ancient and universal symbols known. Meaning "circle" in Sanskrit, the mandala can be found everywhere from Paleolithic engravings to medieval alchemy and Tibet Buddhism.

mandala1In her article on sacred circles, Luna says, "There are many interpretations. In Tibet, for example, mandalas are created as meditation aids for the Buddhist monks who design them. In Islam, mandalas are created purely for devotional purposes, and in Celtic paganism, the mandala represents the three worlds of body, mind and spirit."

For many tribal nations, says J.C. High Eagle, "Life is a circle of birth, maturity, decay and death. All living things follow this circle in the same cycle or path. From birth, each of us begins our journey path. Life is the path we walk and we all walk the path of this circle. True wisdom comes when we stop looking for it and start living the life, walking the path the Creator intended for us.

"When we walk this path, we are growing in its cycle of four stages: birth, vitality of youth, maturity of experience, and the wisdom of age," High Eagle continues. "If we lie down, we lie on the path. When we get up, we walk the path once more in accordance with time which also runs in a circle or cycle. When we walk the path on Mother Earth, we always walk softly because we know the faces of future generations are looking up at us from the ground beneath us."

mandala2High Eagle concludes in his article, Teachings of the Great Circle, "it is the fundamental belief of traditional people that there is one and only one Creator who is found at the center of any Sacred Circle - the center of all things."

Luna concluded, "Most importantly your mandala needs to be soulful. Don't concern yourself too much with making it look 'correct' or perfectly symmetrical. We use our analytical left-sided brains too much in daily life! Let your mandala art be free flowing. This way you'll enjoy creating it and it won't be a source of perfectionism or stress for you."

For more information on Sacred Circles, contact MoonTree Studios @ This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Fore more information about MoonTree Studios, visit our website at MoonTreeStudios.org or our Facebook page.

Wednesday, 31 May 2017 20:43

Writing Our Stories

Health Benefits of JournalingC. Baldwin said, in "Storycatcher" (his piece on 'making sense of our lives through the power and practice of stories,') that "every person is born into life as a blank page - and leaves life a full book." In May 2017, MoonTree Studios discussed and experienced the power and practice of writing some of the stories from our own 'full books.' We encourage you to write YOUR stories!

Each of us have many unique and special roles during our lifetimes...some are long term (son/daughter, sister/brother, father/mother) while others may last for much shorter periods of time (neighbor, friend, colleague, caregiver.) Each of these roles impact our lives as well as the lives we touch - and within those interactions are stories. Important stories. Life-changing stories. And in many cases, these momentous, monumental stories remain locked inside us.

Most of us believe our 'little stories' are of little consequence and can't imagine why we should make an effort to tell them. What I would give to know how my grandparents met and became owners of a dairy farm...or details of my grandfather's early life on the Wood Mountain reservation in Canada! I never thought to ask my father the who, where, when and why and how of his whittling skills or why he so enjoyed being a tool and die maker...and now I'll always wonder what he would have said. When we're young, we are confident that there will always be time to ask these things...but there isn't. It's up to us Elders to tell the stories even without the questions.

If I haven't convinced you yet that you have wonderful stories that your loved ones will cherish, that your life experiences are of great value and interest, let me ask you a few questions:

  • Do your family members, children, grandchildren know what you do/did for fun? To earn a living? To express your creativity? Could they explain it to someone else? (For example, I used to develop new erosion control materials from coconut fiber/coir; my young children told people I sold coconuts!) If not, then there are many stories you can create - whether in words or pictures - written, drawn, expressed in fabric - to pass these precious stories on to the younger generations.
  • Where were you when John F. Kennedy, Martin Luther King, and Bobby Kennedy were assassinated? When the Berlin Wall came down? When Challenger exploded? When the Towers fell? How old were you? Do you remember how you felt when watching these things on the television - or being on or near the scene? What did you do on the first Earth Day? Have you ever been in a sit-in or a protest? What pushed you to participate? How did these experiences change you? Change your perceptions? These stories are yours alone...no one else has had the same experience, the same emotion, or experienced the same changes as a result. These stories are powerful and can be priceless to others who hear or see them.

journaling is more than a diaryAll of your answers to these questions are stories that will be treasured by generations to come. The goal, according to Baldwin, "is not necessarily to feel a tidy sense of closure about the story of one's life, with every loose end tied conveniently together. This may be how it is for some...but except in Hollywood perhaps, endings do not work this way. In fact, the greater the story, it can be argued, the messier the ending and the more open the closure; the more it points to larger stories beyond it (the human story, the cosmic story), and the more it leaves us pondering and wondering."

At MoonTree, we believe that the goal is to express our thoughts and memories so that those who come after us will know who we are/were as real people, not just "Mom" or "Papa," and isn't that what we all hope for? To be remembered?

For more information on telling your stories creatively, contact MoonTree Studios at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

For more information on upcoming experiences at MoonTree Studios, visit our website at MoonTreeStudios.org or our Facebook page.