Fall 2015 Equinox Newsletter

Fall 2015 EquinoxA few weeks ago, four days after the fall equinox, the earth tilting in delicate balance between darkness and light, my wife and I strolled one early evening across a parking lot, returning from a student art show at our nearby university. A retired friend, living on Brown Deer Road, greeted us just as we were climbing into our rusted Jeep Cherokee for the ride home. “Are you going to the Beethoven and Banjos Concert tonight? Come along,” he said with a grin. “There are local folks playing you probably remember. And it’s free.”

Moments later, we squeeze ourselves into a couple of seats in the back row of the Reynolds Recital Hall. It’s a standing-room only crowd. This particular setting holds special significance for me.

A few years before her death in 2009, Phyllis Reynolds, long-time resident of Marquette, donated funding for a performing arts recital hall at Northern Michigan University. Phyllis was known as a modest, gracious, generous, no-nonsense descendant of a prominent family in the Marquette community. I came to know and respect her as a fierce opponent to the intrusion of multinational mining companies in the Upper Peninsula, a dedicated Episcopalian, and a faithful supporter for the interfaith Earthkeeper Initiative -a collaborative, faith-based effort coordinating the planting of 23,000 trees and establishment of 15 community gardens across Northern Michigan.

Guitar and FlowersHer daughter and son-in-law invited me to visit her a few hours before her death at a nearby nursing-care facility. It was late in the evening. We were alone. She was in a coma. I laid a small piece of cedar on her chest and whispered, as is common in my tradition, a last prayer of commendation.

This evening, four musicians are playing. The Reynolds Recital Hall rings with foot-tapping melodies, hymn-like folk songs, and classical pieces accompanied, to the delight of the audience, by a banjo.

Program notes inform us the young adult performers are from Vermont, New York, and California; two of them spent their childhoods here in the north woods of Michigan. Laurel Premo and her brother Evan, founder of Beethoven and Banjos, were actually, I suddenly am recalling tonight, part of a family musical group that played at my installation as a campus pastor 20 years ago at this university. Their parents, Bette and Dean, are gifted musicians in their own right, and still work with the environmental consulting firm they founded in the small community of Crystal Falls. During that long-ago night of liturgy and square dancing, their family and mine met for the first time. Laurel was eight years old, her brother ten.

The last song of the opening set is an original composition called “Still Water on Point Abbaye.” Written and arranged by Laurel and Evan, it’s being performed for the first time in a public setting. Harmonies fill the performance hall with a medley of magical sounds, mesmerizing us all. There are no lyrics. Instead, lilting, playful sounds of two violins, guitar, and double bass resonate, stirring our hearts, as no words are able.

Barry Lopez, a naturalist from Oregon and a National Book Award winner, once wrote he believes the universe is being held back from destruction, unacknowledged by most of us, with prayers played and sung by tens of thousands of unknown, modest people who live, step by step each day, in gratitude and quiet hope.

Tonight, I close my eyes. And know, as autumn turns to winter in our often forgotten, remote corner of the Great Lakes Basin, this is most certainly true.



  1. RENEWING, PRAYING: Notes on the Religious Life
  3. RESTORING, PROTECTING: Partnering with American Indian Communities
  4. INTEGRATING HEALING: Mind/Body Medicine



Notes on the Religious Life

The Cedar Tree Institute is committed to support the life and mission of the 250 diverse faith communities here in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. We continue to work, as invited, with interfaith leaders, encouraging and challenging them to stand together and take collaborative positions on social justice, health and environmental issues.

* In April, CTI accepted an invitation from Mike Thibault, U.P. Labor Council President, to address issues of justice and spirituality in a guest presentation for the AFL-CIO Memorial Day Vigil in Negaunee.


* CTI’s Director presided over the renewal of wedding vows for Cindy and Jeff Noble in September (their 18th wedding anniversary) and Lowell and Sonia Johnson’s 50th wedding anniversary in June. That month, he also offciated, along with Babette Welch, a community memorial for eighty-three year old Pat O’Day, beloved editor of the Marquette Monthly from 1992-2015.

* In September, along with Pastors David Van Kley and Amanda Kossow, the Institute assisted in orienting a Spanish-speaking delegation (Hebert Gutierrez, Ana Mendelviso, and Rev. Jairo Suarez) who were visiting from Messiah Lutheran Church’s sister congregation Luz Yvida Lutheran Church in Caracoli, Colombia.

* The Watercourse Way, a retreat on mindfulness and the meeting of Western and Eastern spiritual traditions, took place at Our Lady of Guadalupe Abbey (a Benedictine monastery) outside Santa Fe, New Mexico, November 5-8th. Thanks to Rev. Lee Goodwin, and Ruth Almen, longtime friends of Cedar Tree Institute projects, for serving as co-facilitators for this event. Thanks also to Bob Krause and Louise Hanna for their splendid South West hospitality.

* Hats off to Jeff Noble, former forest fire fighter, who traveled to Faith Lutheran Church in Mason, Iowa in early November to assist leading a men’s retreat “Fathers, Sons, and Lovers.” Over the past three summers, Danny Stone, Pastor John Albertson and youth volunteers from that mission-focused parish in Iowa, helped Institute volunteers plant 300 Northern white cedar trees across Marquette County’s watersheds.

* In September, Pete Premeau assisted in presenting a workshop on “Spirituality and the Challenge of Saying Yes and Saying No,” for a Post-Polio Wellness Retreat at Bay Cliff Health Camp. Six years ago, Fred Maynard, a retired rehab physician, initiated these retreats for individuals first afflicted with polio as children, who now are experiencing progressive disability and physical pain. An extraordinary vision based in a holistic medical model.



Music for All Kids MFAK

MFAK begins its fourth year of service to under-served youth in Marquette County. Thanks to the guidance of volunteer Ken Kelley, MFAK has now established itself as a legal entity and is awaiting final confirmation as a 501-C3 nonprofit organization.

For two years the Cedar Tree Institute shepherded this outreach to young people who seek musical instruction, but lack resources or finances to purchase instruments or pay for music lessons. Our thanks to volunteer music instructors, MFAK Board members, and 23 donors who implemented this dream with us over the past months.



Partnering with American Indian Communities

RestoringIn 2004, leaders of nine faith traditions in Northern Michigan pledged ( Ref: The Earthkeeper Covenant) to stand alongside five American Indian tribes in protecting our natural environment.

Since 2004, we have been committed to carry out this commitment in cooperation with congregations and parishes. Jan Schultz, recently retired as botanist for the United States Forest Service, continues to provide key leadership for this intertribal and faithbased effort to protect and restore threatened native plants and pollinators in our Northern Great Lakes Basin.

* During the last week of May, Maamaadizi II marked a second trip by youth from the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community visiting Isle Royale National Park, an archipelago of 400 islands. Youth learned how to set up tents, organize meals, and read navigational maps. Thanks to Ken Vrana, the Isle Royale Institute, Marty Auer, Michigan Technological University, and Diana Magnuson for coordinating and serving as lead teaching staff.

* The 11th Zaagkii Native Plants Workshop was hosted by Earl Meshigaud and the Hannahville Indian Reservation in June. Thirty participants representing four tribes met to strategize and plan increased protection of natural resources, especially protection of rare species of plants.

Botanic Garden

* The 12th Zaagkii Workshop was held in September and hosted by the Chicago Botanic Garden in Glencoe, Illinois. Thanks to Pati Vitt, CBG botanist and Ken Kelley, CTI project leader, for logistical arrangements. Representatives from three Michigan tribes were present. Our gratitude to the US Forest Service and KBIC’s Natural Resources Department for providing support.

* A Monarch Butterfly Protection Training Event was held in July in Milwaukee. Mike Rizo, who works with the International Programs Division of the USDFS, worked with Jan Schultz to coordinate that training experience. (Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is a central “flyway” for the migration of the Monarchs.) Tribal members participating included the Lac Vieux Desert Band of Lake Superior Chippewa, the Sault Ste Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians, the KBIC Indian Community and the Pokagon Band of Potawatomi Indians.



Mind/Body Medicine

One of the frontiers in modern medicine is renewed interest in mind/body research (the effects of the mind with physical processes) as applied to clinical practice. During recent months, CTI volunteers and staff provided several trainings in this area for caregivers and families.

* Michael Grossman and Larry Skendzel, family practice physicians and medical directors with Marquette County’s two hospices, once again provided key leadership in the Cedar Tree’s fall Janus Project, a continuing education seminar for medical providers in end-of-life care.

This fall’s seminar, “Navigating Uncertain Seas: Palliative Care and the Treatment of Chronic Disease,” included presenters Lucille Marchand, Director of the Palliative Care Program at the University of Washington and Samantha Holmes, speech pathologist with Denver’s Public Health Hospital. This was the 29th small group Janus training event. All projects involved a physical component depending on the season (hiking, snowshoeing, or kayaking). Janus Projects have trained over 200 nurses, social workers, clergy, physicians and certified nursing assistants who carry on a difficult mission to under-served populations here in the U.P.

* In late October, CTI’s Director joined Mike and Larry in facilitating a workshop for the third Annual Upper Great Lakes Region Palliative Care and Hospice Conference titled “Listening, Yielding, Asserting.” Along with CTI volunteers Nancy Sullivan, Ruth Almen and Jim Borowski, facilitators used a Shaolin mind/body practice called “push hands” to explore levels of self-awareness and empathy relating to challenges of patient care.


Resting on the journey. Janus Project, September 2015

* Thanks to the invitation of Craig Kitchen in September, the Institute also provided resources for a class on “Mindfulness Practices and the Environment,” a course sponsored by NMU’s School of Social Work.

* In May, 2015 Mike and Larry also facilitated a workshop along with CTI staff for the Upper Peninsula Alzheimer’s Conference held at Northern Michigan University, “An Uneven Journey: Dealing with Aggression, Irritability and Depression in Patients and Caregivers.” Participants included family members, students, and medical providers.

* The Cedar Tree Institute continues to sponsor weekly classes and monthly workshops on the practice of Tai Chi Chuan. First developed by Chinese Buddhist monks in the 8th century, this gentle, health-based mind/body exercise is offered at the Mayo Clinic as a core component of their evidence-based complementary medicine program.

Come join us.


Maamaadizi II, A Youth Service Project; CTI, in partnership with MTU, KBIC and the Isle Royale Institute. May 2015



Our mission is to contribute quietly to the Common Good. The Cedar Tree Institute owns no property and has no full time employees.

We choose not to compete with United Way agencies or local faith communities for limited nancial resources. We carry on this work, thanks to small grants and donations by residents in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and to individuals, some as distant as New Mexico, Hawaii, Washington State, and New York.

To you our deepest appreciation!

Isle Royale

Marty Auer instructs KBIC youth on navigating Lake Superior around Isle Royale. May 2015

“No one ever learns or achieves anything without being stretched beyond themselves, til’ their bones crack. Every little step forward is made of sweat and mutiny. Until the insight is won, until the craft is mastered.” -George Steiner

CTI is a nonprofit organization initiating projects & providing services in the areas of mental health, religion & the environment.

One-third of our services are pro bono. Counseling services are available with Jon Magnuson (MDiv., MSW) and are covered by most insurances.

For information contact us at 403 East Michigan Street, Marquette, MI 49855 or contact us via email. Telephone & Fax: 906-228-5494

The Fall 2015 Equinox Newsletter is brought to you by Cedar Tree Institute.

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