Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Snow outside, I contemplate seeds

As often happens this time of year, I find myself bubbling awake after a long winter's rest, bursting with plans and schemes for what I will do on that day when the world makes the shift from winter to spring--and I move my home outside walls, into the garden.

I am thinking about seeds... how they contain everything of what they will become, everything except the outer conditions—the soil, sun and water they will need to germinate, sprout and ever so gently, unfold.

I am thinking, also, of the way that once grown, plants become other things--the way that clover becomes milk and also honey. Which reminds me, laughing, of the early summer day when I discovered huge swaths of red clover taking over the garden bed in front of our house. Furious, I climbed up and stood in the center of the garden, yanking great handfuls of "weeds" onto the compost heap. A few minutes later, I came indoors and realized that I'd just tossed away a year's supply of the healing "herb" I'd just purchased at Whole Foods Market!

This reminds me of the way that, in our modern world, we bridge identities: We are consumers, multi-tasking at our workstations in our sealed and temperature controlled environments, energizing our bodies with caffeine, sugar and all too frequently, prescription drugs.

But we are also natural beings--animals--who are, at our core, meant to live in the rhythms and seasons of nature. When we allow ourselves to exercise, sweat and eat fresh, local produce in summer, and to shiver, introvert and sleep in winter, we are aligned with our true nature. The more seasons I pass through, the more experience I have with this body I inhabit, the more convinced I am that these rhythms are vital to our health.

Our give and take relationship with nature is exemplified in the folklore of herbs and gardens. Author Susun Weed claims that when we need an herb it often appears in our garden, an offering from the nature spirits. And folklore provides countless examples of the symbiotic relationship between man and plant.

This reminds me of the day when Max, 10 or 12 years old, told me, “If you ask a stinging nettle not to sting you, it won’t."
“Did you try that?” I asked.
“Yup,” he said with his Cheshire Cat grin. He has always loved teaching me (which reflects another natural rhythm of life--that of children growing beyond their parents, as nature, ever expanding, ever increasing moves outward).

Plants clothe and heal us. Their bodies ARE the food that nourishes us, their exhalations ARE the oxygen we need to survive. In a brilliant inversion, our bodies exhale the CO2 that plants need to perform photosynthesis, their version of breathing and digestion rolled into one.

Plants are archetypes for our own growth processes, instructing us, if we pay attention in the ways of natural cycles: The bursting-into-life expectant spring of sprouts, the lush and lazy abundance of July and August, the cooling of the harvest when we gather our stores, pull indoors, the work stoking our hunger for the turning inward, quiet sleep of winter.

We are part of nature. It shows us to ourselves, like today, when we, seeds of what we will become—sit warmly indoors (I am sitting beside a blazing fire as I write this). I am dreaming of spring and the new plants I will meet in the soil of our new home.

I am, creature of the rhythms and cycles of the season, stretching awake, feeling hungry for something new, getting ready to venture outside my winter cave to meet the plants that are, right this minute, stirring beneath the snow.

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