Jeanette McDermott photographs Mother Earth for Laudato Si (Praise You!)

Jeanette McDermott captures the beauty of this world through her camera lens, even as much of it is vanishing. Her love for “Mother Earth” is evident in her pictures. Jeanette is currently serving as the Communications Coordinator for the Sisters of the Good Shepherd and represents Sisters of the Good Shepherd on the InterCommunity Ecological Council in St. Louis. She is also a member of the Sisters of Earth, an informal network of women who share a deep concern for the ecological and spiritual crises of our times. Here’s the link to the exhibit of her work at Good Shepherd Arts Center.


Jeanette McDermott photographs three pines covered in a forest of snow
WINTER STEWARDS: Cedars (Juniperus spp.) are sacred in Native American beliefs. Believed to have many special healing properties, the cedar represents the Southern direction in the Medicine Wheel and is used in rituals. When seen through the eyes of wildlife, the cedar can be a matter between life and death. They shelter birds from severe winter winds and climate and provide berries for deer, cedar waxwings, American robins, raccoons, and other small mammals when other food sources are no longer available. And just look at how stately they stand, even when small. They inspire me. Photo by Jeanette McDermott


Jeanette McDermott photographs a 3-tier fountain in Tower Grove Park in St. Louis

THE FOUNTAIN POND: Henry Shaw left Tower Grove Park as a legacy to St. Louis, Missouri, when he died in 1889. Prior to his death, he built a pond and a three-tiered fountain to sit in it. The fountain pond is the premier landscape feature in the park, along with the mock ruins nearby. The ruins are made from stone blocks artfully arranged from the old charred remains of the Lindell Hotel that burned to the ground when Henry Shaw was living. Shaw originally intended for the fountain to be a dramatic backdrop to the pond, which Shaw designed to accommodate model sailboats. Over the years, the artistry of the pond and fountain grew in popularity and the model sailboats slipped from view. Photo by Jeanette McDermott


Jeanette McDermott photography of vanishing farmland

VANISHING FARMLAND: Agriculture was once the strong backbone of the US economy. In less than 100 years, urban sprawl and rampant development have swallowed farmlands, causing them to all but vanish from the American landscape. Rural land has become housing subdivisions, sprawling malls, workplaces, roads, parking lots, theme parks, resorts, and the like. The amount of arable farmland left in the United States is only 16.8 percent of the U.S. landmass. While farmland may stretch far and wide, farmers and ranchers themselves make up just 1.3% of the employed US population, totaling around 2.6 million people. Today, there are about 2 million farms in operation in the US, a steep decline from 1935, when the number of farms peaked at nearly 7 million. Photo by Jeanette McDermott


Jeanette McDermott photograph of giant red rock formations in Arizona

ARIZONA LANDFORMS: The red rock landforms in Arizona are arresting and unlike any other scenery. I spent a year traveling across the United States with my dog Red and visited many of the plateaus, buttes, canyons, and mesas of the southwest, including Arizona’s most famous landform, the Grand Canyon. One of the best features of the landforms is that they are in mildly populated regions, allowing a person to focus solely on the grandeur of Mother Nature. And the red coloration is spectacular. Especially when sun-bolts strike them. On a scientific level, the deep red color of the sandstone is due to hematite (iron oxide) which stains the normally white quartz sandstone. Photo by Jeanette McDermott


Jeanette McDermott photography of a blue sky with streaks of chemtrails

SKY TRAILS: Cloudy bands against a bright blue sky look beautiful and make good subjects for photography. But what are they really? And are they harmful? That’s the question many people are debating. Some people believe the cloudy trails contribute to the climate crisis. Others, who call them chemtrails, believe governments are using airplanes to secretly release harmful substances into the air and onto the land. Still, others look at the formations with a view to science and call the cloudy bands contrails (short for condensation trails), knowing jet engines emit hot, humid air into an atmosphere that is cold and has low vapor, resulting in condensation. And then there’s the point of view that the contrails consist of not just ice crystals and water vapor, but also of other byproducts of engine exhaust, including carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxides, sulfate particles, and soot. Some point out that these, in addition to the extra cloud cover, can have negative environmental effects. Nature will always be a source of debate among people and wonder among photographers. Photo by Jeanette McDermott


Jeanette McDermott photograph of mountaintop removal in eastern Kentucky

ONCE A MOUNTAIN: I lived in Appalachia, in eastern Kentucky, for two years and saw first-hand how mountains in Appalachia get reduced to ground zero. Mountaintop removal mining (MTR) extracts coal seams from a mountain by removing the land above the seams. This is done by using explosives to blow apart the mountain. The animals living in the forested mountains can’t read the “Blasting Zone” signs and don’t know to run for their lives. Huge machines —some the size of an entire city block — push rock and dirt into nearby streams and valleys, forever burying waterways. Mountaintop removal mining turns areas that were once lush with forests and wildlife into barren moonscapes.  In recent decades, over 2,000 miles of streams and headwaters that provide drinking water for millions of Americans have been permanently buried and destroyed. An area the size of Delaware has been flattened. Local coal field communities routinely face devastating floods and adverse health effects. Natural habitats in some of our country’s oldest forests are laid to waste. Photo by Jeanette McDermott


Jeanette McDermott photograph of Mississippi bluffs in Godfrey, Illinois

BLUFFS OF THE MISSISSIPPI RIVER: An order of priests in Godfrey, Illinois, built a small lodge for novitiates on the ancient sandstone bluffs overlooking the Mighty Mississippi River in the early 1950s. These cliffs, capped with creamy limestone and modern soil, are the lithified remains of the expansive beaches of an Ordovician sea that covered the midwest 450 million years ago. How could the priests not want young novitiates to sit, mesmerized by this captivating overlook to contemplate God’s creation? Humans are hard-wired to gaze upon Mother Nature’s perfect beauty and geologic wonder. Photo by Jeanette McDermott


Jeanette McDermott photograph of earthship in Taoi, New Mexico

EARTHSHIPS: There is a community of houses that sit on 630 acres in Taos, New Mexico, where the houses are built into the hillside with one side constructed of glass, exposed to harness the full bounty of the Taos sunlight. Taos has been on the road to sustainability since the pre-recycling days of 1971 when architect Michael Reynolds departed from traditional architecture. His off-the-grid architectural designs, called Earthships, use passive solar technology, wind power, recycled water, old tires, car batteries, glass bottles, and every bit of off-grid technology available. Over the decades, his designs continued to evolve, incorporating thermal mass, passive solar energy, and natural ventilation to respect the environment and to counteract climate change through architecture. In 2007, Reynolds was the subject of a documentary titled Garbage Warrior, which remains a great introduction to his philosophy as well as telling the story of several of his building projects both in New Mexico and around the world. I dream of building and living in an Earthship. Photo by Jeanette McDermott


Jeanette McDermott photograph of a pink lotus flower in bloom on a pond

LOTUS FLOWER: Cultures assign a number of metaphors to transformation. There is the butterfly born of a chrysalis, the snake that sheds its skin or the phoenix that rises from the ashes, and there is the lovely lotus flower that emerges from mud in the bottom of a dirty pond. The lotus knows the murky darkness because it grows from it. The muck at the bottom of the pond depicts attachment, anguish, and suffering for the lotus. Above the muck, there’s sunlight streaming through the leaves, representing enlightenment and freedom. Each culture lends a slightly different take, but the lotus reflects spiritual awakening, purity, potential, rebirth, creation, and eternity. Photo by Jeanette McDermott


Jeanette McDermott photograph of sunflower getting ready to bloom

SUNFLOWER WISDOM: The Sister who founded the Catholic order Our Lady of Charity of the Good Shepherd (better known as Sisters of the Good Shepherd) — Rose Virginie Pelletier — went on to become Saint Mary Euphrasia after death. While living, she had a special relationship with sunflowers and wrote about them in her teachings. There is a significant amount of folklore attached to sunflowers. In Greek mythology, there was a maiden who fell in love with the god Apollo.  Every time he passed overhead in his fiery sun chariot, she stood in her garden and gazed at him longingly. Apollo, who made a point of shining brightly so people on Earth couldn’t actually see him, became annoyed with the girl. He flung one of his sun arrows at her, and she turned into a sunflower on the spot. To this day, she faces east in the morning and west in the evenings, following the path of Apollo, or as scientists would say, the path of the sun. In some versions of the story, it was not Apollo but the other gods who took pity upon the girl and turned her into a sunflower. That’s the beauty of myths and flowers — their stories are enlivened through human imagination. Photo by Jeanette McDermott


Jeanette McDermott photograph during golden hour with sea gull on a log

RADIANCE OF THE GOLDEN HOUR: The golden hour is that magical time right after sunrise and again just before sunset. This is when the sun is low on the horizon, producing orange and soft light that is perfect for photography. In reality, the golden hour doesn’t last a full hour, so you’ve got to be ready for it and anticipate your best opportunities for capturing good photos. Every now and then, Mother Nature serves double duty and sends along with a helper during the golden hour who finds you and poses just for you, as this seagull did in Mendocino, California. Photo by Jeanette McDermott


Jeanette McDermott photograph of mycellium in a forest

MYCELIUM: Most of us know what a mushroom is, but how many of us know the underground system of mushrooms and other fungi called mycelium? The mushroom is the above-ground part of a fungus. It’s called the fruiting body, and some are edible while others are poisonous. Most of the vegetative parts of fungi actually lie underground as a life support system called the mycelium. Mycelium is so fascinating that entire films have been made about them. Lewis Carroll’s interest in mycelium and the mushroom led him to include it in his classic fantasy novel Alice in Wonderland. Some mushrooms, like the one in Carroll’s book, have psychoactive chemical compounds that can alter perspective. Bacteria is the most ancient land-based life. Next comes fungi. Mushrooms and other fungi have existed for almost a billion years, at least 500 million years older than the first land plants. With this kind of back-story, it’s no wonder I can’t pass by fungi without stopping to photograph it. It calls to me to be my Muse. Photo by Jeanette McDermott


Jeanette McDermott photograph of Ohio River at sunset

FASCINATION WITH RIVERS: There is something restful about rivers that beckons us to sit idle for a while to relax, clear our heads, and reflect on life. They call us on river journeys and lure us into swimming holes. Rivers are what dreams are made of, and even some nightmares when going on a river gets tough. Poets and novelists write about them; filmmakers build stories around them; artists paint them; musicians sing about them, and photographers create entire portfolios around them. Those of us who know rivers from childhood never lose our fascination with them or the love of how they sound. Photo by Jeanette McDermott


Jeanette McDermott photograph of monarch butterfly and bee pollinating wild quinine

THE BUTTERFLY AND THE BEE: Butterflies and bees work in different ways as pollinators. With its short, hairy legs, a bee can pick up more pollen from a flower than a butterfly can with its long proboscis. Butterflies visit more frequently, but bees are better pollinators. Ultimately we need them both. In fact, we need all pollinators, including hummingbirds, bats, wasps and other insects. Pollinators are essential to human survival and the ecosystem. They provide services to over 180,000 different plant species, and more than 1,200 crops — fruits, potatoes, squashes, and almonds to name just a few. Without the actions of pollinators, agricultural economies, our food supply, and surrounding landscapes would collapse. Pollinator health affects everyone. Grow native plants for the pollinators, and don’t use chemicals in your gardens or yards. Photo by Jeanette McDermott


Jeanette McDermott photograph tiger beetle

BEAUTY AMIDST DECAY: The six-spotted tiger beetle (Cinindela sexguttata) is a marvel of the natural world. A familiar insect in Missouri, and throughout the world, the tiger beetle is one of the fastest bugs on six legs. It is most often seen in spring, as it darts in and out of trails just ahead of hikers. Tiger beetles are one of the good guys. They help maintain the natural balance of insects in an ecosystem. Some scientists use the tiger beetle as an indicator to determine the health of a particular ecosystem. Pollution, habitat destruction, climate change, and land development are the main threats to tiger beetles. So are people who kill them, mistaking them for the emerald ash borer. The emerald ash borer is destructive, while the tiger beetle is harmless. Decaying wood in forests is a natural habitat for the beautiful six-spotted metallic green tiger beetle, such as this decaying tree on the property of the Franciscan Sisters of Our Lady of Perpetual in DeSoto, Missouri. Photo by Jeanette McDermott


Jeanette McDermott photograph of Canadian goose on pond

THE PERFECTION OF GEESE: Some geese are residential parents and stay put, and others are migratory birds. Those who are programmed for seasonal migration breed in summer in the northern part of their range. They fly south in autumn and return to their birthplace in spring. The migratory geese are marvels of wisdom. They fly in V-formation. This helps conserve their energy, an important factor when flying long distances. Flying in this shape also helps all the geese in the flock maintain visual contact with each other and communicate so they stay together as they fly and don’t have mid-air collisions. Monogamy, or pairing for life, is common in geese (and swans). There are other things to love about geese. They are very curious and eager to see what’s going on around them. Each goose has its own distinct personality. In all of my years of photographing geese, I have never been chased or threatened by one. They get a bad rap. Few of them have the mean streak that is often associated with the bird. In fact, most geese are docile and prefer to be snuggled by the person who raised them. Photo by Jeanette McDermott


Jeanette McDermott of wild flowers growing out of rocks on Greek island

SURVIVAL: Mother Nature teaches us well — to persevere and never give up. Time and again, she shows us how to rise above adversity so that we never lose hope that we will prevail. When I see flowers, shrubs, and even trees growing seemingly out of rocks with no soil or water to support a root system, I stand in awe and marvel at Mother Nature’s resilience and determination to survive. Two years ago, I took this photo on a windy and rocky Greek island, right before Covid brought the world to its knees. Hardy wildflowers growing out of rocks became my symbol of the human spirit’s ability to persevere despite all odds. As we watch the frightening war between Russia and Ukraine unfold today, this photograph has become a symbol, for me, of how we must learn to struggle well if we are to find a strength we didn’t know we had. Photo by Jeanette McDermott

Top feature photo:

HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL: Ah, what better joy is there than that of seeing dogwoods in bloom after a hard, cold winter? Missouri’s state tree is the lovely native dogwood (Cornus florida). It is a beautiful and most welcome ambassador of spring in the Show-Me State and many parts of the U.S. The dogwood blooms usually mid to late April when we are finally at wit’s end with the bitter days of winter and chilly early April showers. The pretty little dogwood gives us renewed hope that all will be well. Photo by Jeanette McDermott

Glynis McManamon

Glynis McManamon

Sister Glynis McManamon is engaged in a ministry of the arts, with a special interest in the Byzantine style, and more so, in the creation of sacred art featuring women and diverse ethnic groups. She is the founder and director of Good Shepherd Arts Center in Ferguson, Missouri.