MacLEAN'S WAY: LIVING THE LESSONS OF WHISKEY FLATS
One of my favorite teachers was Angus MacLean. I met him when I was twelve or thirteen and went to the Unitarian Universalist Camp in Rowe, Massachusetts. Angus was a big, rugged man, with a thick Scottish accent, and immediately I saw there were a lot of unusual things about him. You might find him almost anywhere out of doors. He might be sitting on a log whittling a stick, and you might think he was busy and shouldn't be disturbed. But if you went up to him you found out that he wanted to talk to you and could whittle and talk at the same time. He was always interested in who you were and what you had to say. Years later I went to the college where Angus MacLean taught, and there I found what an unusual teacher he was.
He was the kind of teacher who didn't tell you things and expect that you were just going to believe them because he said so. He wanted you to think about what he said and ask questions and discuss things. And he took you places to show you things, so you could learn for yourself.
Angus said something one day in class that didn't make a lot of sense to us. He said, "in order to love other people, you also have to love the earth." What did that mean? Angus didn't tell us. He just said that our next class would be a trip to Whiskey Flats to see if we could find the answer. "In order to love other people you have to love the earth." Now that sounded very strange until we saw Whiskey Flats.
We drove through the beautiful countryside, past farms with green pastures, fields with spring wheat growing, and all of a sudden we came around a curve in the road and the green fields ended, and the farms stopped, and there was a great big desert, a plain of sand and more sand. Dry, dry sand. And that was Whiskey Flats.
We got out of the cars as fast as we could and ran out onto the sand, and it was rippled like sand at the beach that's been blown by the wind, but after few minutes it wasn't much fun. It was hot walking on the sand and there wasn't any lake or ocean and there was nothing growing. It was just ugly and barren.
And the story that Angus MacLean told us was that where that sand was there was once a town and farms, and people lived and raised children and grew corn and wheat and green peas and carrots. And the earth was fertile.
The trouble was that the people had gotten greedy, and they'd planted and planted the earth, and never let it rest; they'd never fertilized the soil; they'd never cared for it; and because they'd never cared for it, the rich top soil got all used up, and the wind came along and blew away the little bit of top soil that was left and exposed the sand beneath, and soon it was all sand. The farmers moved away, the village was torn down, nobody could live there anymore. You could see the foundation stones where houses and barns and silos had once been.
The government had come in to try to rescue the land and help build up a new
layer of top soil, so that the land could grow crops and feed people again, and
they had spent millions of dollars, but they hadn't gotten very far; there was
nothing growing and there was no soil.
Some time when you're way up in northern New York State, near the Canadian border, see if you can find Whiskey Flats and see for yourself if that desert is still there. Angus MacLean would like it if he knew you were learning about things by seeing them for yourself.
About the authors:
The Rev. Dr. Peter Lee Scott is Parish Minister at First Universalist Church of Southold, NY (out at the eastern end of Long Island). He was a student at the Theological School of St. Lawrence University for five years. He holds degrees from St. Lawrence, Hartford Seminary Foundation, and Lexington Theological Seminary. Dr. Scott has served Unitarian Universalist churches in Massachusetts, Connecticut, Kentucky, Wisconsin, and Virginia. He is married to Faith Grover Scott, who is a candidate for a diploma in Ministry of Religious Education.
Rev. Eugene Navias, graduate of St. Lawrence University and Theological School and student of Angus Maclean, is a religious educator, story-teller, music man and Director of the Department of Religious Education, Unitarian Universalist Association. He has served churches in Shaker Heights, OH and in Concord, NH.