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Clark County Sounds And Voices: The Faithful Naturalist

To many people of religious faith, the issue of climate change transcends partisan politics.
George Tan, Public Domain Mark 1.0
Flickr Creative Commons
To many people of religious faith, the issue of climate change transcends partisan politics.

For many Americans around the country, climate change is a partisan political issue. But to many people of religious faith, the issue transcends politics. To them, the planet is “God's green earth” and should be treated accordingly. In this story we meet one Miami Valley man of faith whose long-held beliefs shape his view of climate change and the environment.

Alan Barone’s take on human beings’ relationship with nature is clearer than the water of the Little Miami River. Like water, it reflects his 40 years as a United Methodist Minister and his current calling as a volunteer naturalist at Clifton Gorge State Nature Preserve.

"I think God gave us the Earth in order to be good stewards of the Earth, and to take care of not only the physical Earth but the biological Earth – the things that have lived on this planet far, far longer than human beings," Barone says. 

Barone’s beliefs began to take shape in 1951 when the Barone family was evicted from the cramped attic where they had been living rent-free in Orange, N.J.

His father scrounged a primitive cabin on nearby Lake Grinnell. There water was fetched by rowboat; a privy sat out back; and the three Barone boys, including 7-year-old Alan, caught and cleaned sunfish for dinner.

Sixty-seven years later, Barone’s voice is still buoyed by his immersion baptism into nature.

"When I’d walk out there, I would feel the sensation of muck between my toes, which is a totally impressive experience. To see the glistening of dewdrops on the strands of these orb spider webs. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard a loon on a lake, but it is the most eerie sound, very loud. Lots of bullfrogs calling mates. It made such a strong impression on me. When I was walking in the woods or out in some natural area, I would just feel very strongly that God was there with me, walking," he says.

Barone’s earthly father also shaped his beliefs. A self-taught naturalist, he shared his beloved mineral collection with his boys. And as they came of age, he took a deep interest in their spiritual values as well, Barone says.

"He was very concerned that we had a very limited understanding of who God was. So, he took us out of that Baptist church and taught us for six months on his own. And after that," Barone says, "he gave us the option of going to any church we wanted to."

At the Verona Methodist Church, Barone connected with Pastor Donald Webb. He then collected a college biology major and did a stint with the Peace Corps in India.

The two reunited at the Methodist Theological School in Delaware, Ohio, where Webb was dean of admissions and where Barone would meet his lifelong love before the first day of classes.

"We met in 1970, in the fall, on the steps of the registration line. I’d just gotten back from a summer music tour in Europe. And so, I had pictures of Europe, he had pictures of India. So, we met that night, I believe, and we were engaged three weeks later," says Adlelia Irene Barone, who goes by Dee Dee.

Asked what it was that brought the couple together so quickly, she replies: 

"God. Truly, god."

For her husband, she says, climate change is inseparable from his own relationship with the same God.

"Believing that the Earth has been given to us by God, when we start polluting and destroying it, it is a sacrilege – a spiritual slap in the face to God for what he has given us. Basically, at its root it's not a political issue, it’s an issue of taking responsibility for what we as humans are doing. Whether we’re a believer in God or not, what we have on this Earth is special and sacred," he says. "And we need to realize that and treat it as a holy, holy place."

To Barone, climate change would seem to be a crucial issue to everyone for a simple reason: it involves the future of our planet.

Auston Barone is 7 now, the age his grandfather was when his toes first sank into the muck of Lake Grinnell. In their Cedarville home, the Barones are teaching the boy a tune -- one they hope will help him keep the faith with the Earth and its creator and perhaps change the climate of the discussion on climate change.

Together, the Barones sing:

"Oh, the Lord is good to us, and so we thank the Lord for giving us the things we need, the sun and the rain and the appleseed, the Lord is good to us, a-a-a-amen."