June, 2004, Earthsprings Retreat Center
My friend, who knows my sense of the impact of our ancestors upon us, recently called me a lineage keeper, even with my plants.
She said that because I had been holding forth about the beauty of “Mama’s day lilies,” starts of which I had long ago dug up from my childhood home, carried around with me to several states, and which are now blooming profusely at Earthsprings. Before that I had remarked on “Dick Donceski’s irises” and “Seth’s rose bush,” “Jacob and Catherine’s seedlings,” and “Selena’s azalea,” “Johanna’s garden,” and “Liz’s paperwhites” along with “Eliot’s apple tree,” “Kerry’s canna lilies,” “Margaret’s Louisiana iris” and “Dawn’s little red rose bush.” My friend has many times heard me detail the origins of various flowers and trees, as well as the dates and places of their coming into my life. “These over here are third generation azaleas that I rooted from those that came from New Summerfield that spring we went there together,” for example, might be the way I lead off a conversation with her these days.
I like that. I like being called a lineage keeper. On the wall in my office is a huge chart with names of my ancestors. I like to sit and look at it. I did a lot of the research on it during a time when I was desperately worried about something and again when I was pretty depressed. I now know that, without conscious thought, I was calling upon my ancestors to aid me. And they came, announcing themselves on Genealogy.com or Rootsweb or in the SFA University Library. As I read their stories and experienced in my own life various uncanny and synchronistic events concerning them, I was touched and inspired. I felt such a connection to all that had come before me, such gratitude for the lineage of beings that come together to create me in this moment, that help me live each day.
I feel that way, too, when I look at plants. Especially those that are perennials warm my heart. One day there’s nothing in a certain spot but dirt–sacred, precious dirt, to be sure, Mother Earth. But right now, in this particular spot, there’s not a stem, not a leaf. Then, lo and behold, the next day there’s a green shoot sticking its little self up out of the ground, and soon there is an old friend, full grown and covered with blossoms, back again after a long winter’s absence, to bless the world with its beauty.
Day after day, I go out in the garden first thing in the morning to see what’s happening, who has shown up, who’s in trouble. I love most animals, birds, lizards, some bugs, and various fish. But plants—oh, my. Most of these plant people are so fragile, so tender. The cardinal flower perches along the side of the creek, which could and often does, after a turbulent rain storm, rise over the top of the bank and inundate the little flash of red flower waving in the wind there. How long I wait for the delicate little cactus flower, only to have it torn all to pieces by a passing vehicle! How easily the grasshopper takes all the petals off the first dahlia bloom, or how casually the dog tramples the cilantro! How wilted the lobelia gets in the hot sun, or how crisply frozen the impatiens become in icy weather! How maddening it is when a nocturnal raccoon, that little bandito, unearths the only strawberry plant I have going for me as well as half the dill. It’s amazing that any of the plants make it, and yet, here they come, again and again, bravely thrusting forth into the sunlight, out of the rich, dark earth.
Some of them are even vigorous to the point of being bullies, of course, and they overrun and entwine and choke out the rest of their surroundings. Poison ivy vines are a constant threat around here, but the wild grape and yellow jasmine and honeysuckle vines are just splendid. I remember the day another friend came to Earthsprings for the first time in May, how she said, “Oh, my word, it’s the Garden of Eden! Look at all those dangling vines and dense bushes! I’ve only ever been here in winter; I had no idea.!”
A young boy, a special friend of mine, was here this weekend with his parents, and he spent almost all weekend outside, often alone, barefoot, exuberantly going from plant to plant, looking for bugs or lizards or spiders or “those snakey-like skank things.” He helped me harvest herbs. He chattered away about “whacking down those thorny ones that are not supposed to be coming up in the blooming ones.” He helped me spread out a new soaker hose in the sun, and he couldn’t wait to turn on the sprinkler to water the plants, probably because it was so much fun to squeal as the water got him too. (Reminded me of my mother, long ago, sitting in her wheel chair in the front yard, water hose in hand, never failing to grin wickedly and mischievously spray my sister or me or anyone else who happened by, all the time pretending it was an accident. She loved plants too, and would hang almost upside down in that chair to push soil around some little thing she had sprouted. I probably get my love of plants from her. Lineage thing, again.)
But wherever I got the habit, I love plants, the “green people,” the tall standing ones, the oxygen-makers, the tender, wind-waving ones. I love to water them, feed them, talk to them. I gird myself with courage and prune them when necessary. I gather their nuts and berries and fruit. I pull up dried bluebonnets to scatter seeds into new places, and then I watch until the next year to see if they come up there, and if they do, I clap and cheer and thank them loudly. I actually did a dance of joy when the blowsy yellow thing I dug up on the side of the road last year came up this year in my meadow for the very first time and bloomed gloriously. I need a bumper sticker for my riding lawn mower that says “I brake for wildflowers,” since I swerve this way and that, leaving ragged patches of weeds because some lovely red mallow was blooming in the grass, and I wanted it to reseed.
Yep! I have a plant addiction. I love fooling around with plants.
They affect all your senses. Touching the various textures, the prickles and thorns, the smooth and the fuzzy, it’s all a sensual touching delight. And I talk to them, and I listen. It isn’t true that they don’t talk back to you. They have a lot to say, and if you pay attention, you get to tune in to the secrets of the universe. The pines actually sing to you, a very special pine tree song, when the wind passes by. And the scents, oh! The gardenia is blooming right now, and it makes me drunk when I walk past. Last week it was the star jasmine. The climbing rose bush will perfume the air for the next few weeks. And, well, we all know about the tastes, the sharp mints and the hot peppers and the juicy melons, and so on. Sensorium. That’s the word Jean Houston used to throw around, and whatever she meant by it, it comes to mind when I am knee deep in dewy flowers.
Anyway, summer is happening at Earthsprings. It may be hot as Hades here in East Texas at midday, so that I must hide out away from the humidity in the air conditioned lodge, but, oh, I’m out early and late, in the cool of the day, going for walks to watch squirrels leap about from tree to tree in the lush, jungley forest, and I also putz about in my own special little garden I’ve imported into the place, one plant at a time. And yes, I certainly can tell you where most of them came from, and what their lineage is. Seeing those plants reminds me of people I love and of my own history.
I love it all. It takes my breath away, it fills me with gratitude and bliss. It reminds me of the cyclical nature of everything. And it gives me courage to claim my own little bit of territory in this life thing that’s happening, and despite any threats to the contrary, I want to just bloom, bloom, bloom.
Come see me at Earthsprings. I’ll let you water the plants or pull a few weeds. You might even sprout, yourself, some fresh, green, new, growing aspect of yourself. It could happen!
My love and prayers are with you, always.
Grandma Glenda Little Hawk