An integrative approach to healing ourselves and our world: honoring people, plants, planet

Archive for March, 2013

Spring Ephemeral Walk with TN Valley Chapter of Wild Ones

Tiarella cordifolia (foam flower) at The Pocket 3-23-13

Tiarella cordifolia (foam flower) at The Pocket 3-23-13

Once a year, we have the opportunity to witness the awakening of the forest floor. This is one of the most obvious times to see how nature is in constant change. The spring ephemerals, so named because of their here-today-gone-tomorrow way of being, rise from the blanket of last fall’s leaves to receive the brief sunlight available before the forest canopy overshadows them. Some of these flowers bloom only for a day. A true schooling in being present and aware awaits the soul that visits the same place day after day from late winter through spring. Join us as we walk along the boardwalk of one of the southeast region’s most spectacular displays of spring ephemeral wildflowers. A waterfall over limestone rock awaits at the end. Hard to leave here without gratitude.

Saturday, April 6th. Meet at 9am at St. Elmo Bi-Lo to caravan to the Pocket. Only open to members of TN Valley Wild Ones, and limited registration. Free.

Wheelchair accessible.   Contact TN Valley Wild Ones to register.

Anatomical ways of knowing

Lichen Heart in moss at Rock Town, GA

Lichen Heart in moss at Rock Town, GA

I love language expressions that convey a deep intuitive knowing using human anatomy, blending body and mind. Two of my favorites are “to know by heart” and “it’s in your blood”. Within these expressions are a poetic understanding of life’s phenomena.

“To know something by heart” is to say that one has learned something to the degree that she no longer has to think about it. It becomes a different quality of memory, which seems to bypass conscious striving for recall, and emanates from a place other than the brain, a place where Taoist acupuncturists say a powerful source of the human spirit resides, the heart.

When we say we know something by heart, the context is usually within the recitation of something that has been memorized. I played the piano years ago and memorized many pieces, playing them by heart at recitals and for the Guild. I’ve also memorized Shakespearean monologues and soliloquies and recited them by heart for teachers, students, friends and for my dog.

A farmer's market potato heart.

A farmer’s market potato heart.

My knowledge of plants is in this heart realm of knowing. When I’m with a plant that I don’t see very often, and I stop to greet it, it’s name comes to me from another place where there is no effort. It’s a different place of knowing.

Recently, I listened to a program by an agency who works with people with Alzheimer’s disease. The presenter described how the mystery of memory presents in people who seem to have lost crucial aspects of their memory, though other memories still remain. The challenge is in discovering what these memories are for each person with Alzheimer’s.

The agency presenter described a case of a caregiver who met with a male patient with Alzheimer’s who had grown quite despondent. The agency learned that this man had been an artist, a painter. The agency suggested that the caregiver get some paints, brushes, canvas, and an easel. Then the agency said to the caregiver to set up the easel in the patient’s room and begin to paint even though she didn’t know how.

The caregiver painted every day in the patient’s room, while he sat in his chair disinterested. One day, the patient got up from the chair and walked behind the caregiver to look at what was on the canvas. The patient grew angry, and said to the caregiver, “No, no, no. You’re doing this wrong.” (That’s my paraphrase.) He took the paintbrush out of her hands, sat down, and began to correct her painting. The agency said that he continued to produce many paintings on his own after that. This was something that he knew by heart.

I wonder if knowing things by heart strengthens that spiritual aspect of the heart which Taoists describe, and if that is the strongest, longest-lasting place of our memory. Perhaps memorization of poetry and music does something for our hearts and our spirits in addition to strengthening our memories. What do you know by heart? It’s likely to be something even more special than that which you could do in your sleep, or know like the back of your hand.

My other favorite expression, “it’s in your blood”, also has a connotation of the type of knowing that avoids the brain; it has a meaning that says we come to something more from a genetic fate, than from learned reason. When something is in one’s blood, it also joins a person to a host of people, the individual merges into a pool of ancestral genes.

We can easily get into the question of nature and nurture here. What about the stories, though, of people who weren’t conditioned by their immediate caregivers to do what they feel led to do?

I was born in West Virginia near my grandparents, but moved to suburban Atlanta when I was a small child. Though we visited the WV family farm annually, I was raised far from the farm-life of my grandparents and great-grandparents. Natural areas and going home to the farm were always special to me. When I discovered from a local herbalist in college how to make medicine from plants, I fell in love. Although it might have looked like lunacy in my suburban upbringing to pursue becoming an herbalist, I knew that it was what I needed to do. While on this path, and visiting with grandmother Ruby, I learned that my great-grandfather James Dovenor (he never knew how to spell his middle name, so I don’t know either), a fur-trapper, carpenter, farmer, and fiddler, also grew ginseng. Knowing that made sense, somehow, of my mysterious longing to work with the healing properties of plants.

Since then, I’ve learned much more from my father and grandmother of how they harvested and used local plants. It was knowledge almost forgotten except that it’s life was in my blood, latent, waiting for a sign.

What is in your blood? What do you know by heart? I would love to know.

Love after Love

The time will come
when, with elation,
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror,
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

Derek Walcott, 1986

http://download.publicradio.org/podcast/speakingoffaith/20090416_opening-to-our-lives_uc-poem-walcott.mp3?_kip_ipx=1453630575-1364431090

A rare spring beauty of Southern Appalachia

Oconee bell (Shortia galacifolia)

Oconee bell (Shortia galacifolia)

Beauty is a word for the ineffable. It is a word to describe vast feelings that arise within us when we’re in a meaningful relationship with an experience. Birth and death can be beautiful. A bright moon, a child’s laughter, a shared meal, so much in our day can be beautiful when we’re present to it. When we call something beautiful, we are stating that we are aware of being called to a higher place as a witness in this life.

A flower called me to this highest of places. Though it is not a striking flower, something about its rarity, its subtlety, its survival in adversity gives this Southern Appalachian flower the beauty of empowered presence.

The Oconee bell (Shortia galacifolia), or in Gillian Welch’s song Acony Bell, grows in the mountains near the wild and scenic Chattooga River. It can be found in Oconee County, South Carolina, where it gets its name, and also near Highlands, NC, northeast GA, east TN and western VA.

When I saw this plant bloom for the first time on a sunny day in March, I got down on my knees and knelt with it. Another life was here before me. It was a life I wanted to know more deeply. Time passed, yet it didn’t. I continue to call upon the Oconee Bell in my mind’s eye when I need to be reminded of the message of its life and existence.

This flower led me to my favorite Gillian Welch song describing the beauty of its life. This time of year I find myself humming this tune. Hopefully I’ll learn to play it on my hammered dulcimer one day.

The fairest bloom the mountain knows
Is not an iris or a wild rose
But the little flower of which I’ll tell
Known as the brave Acony Bell

Just a simple flower so small and plain
With a pearly hue and a little known name
But the yellow birds sing when they see it bloom
For they know that spring is coming soon

Well it makes its home mid the rocks and the rills
Where the snow lies deep on the windy hills
And it tells the world “Why should I wait
This ice and snow is gonna melt away”

And so I’ll sing that yellow bird’s song
For the troubled times will soon be gone

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