Residual | Part 6

residual | part 6

roots like veins

dyingleaves

Roots like veins:
How gently they reach first;
Then, not at all.
Suddenly they’re shoots that call
Unto the soil, the earth’s
Very core.

So doggedly
Will not dissolve
Until you know what
They have done so for.

I know this rhythm
All too well:
Overplayed song
I’ve listened to too long.

My garden was
A mess, my friend.
I woke up in July,
Realized all the green had died off;
Every vine, gone dry,

And
All those roots, so much like veins,
Were fallow.
I knelt and wept, because
Not one had a tomorrow, and
I had nothing else left.
Was hollow; so bereft.

But when the sun
Had crested, and
The sweat smothered my skin,
Ruthless, I ransacked it all—
Reckless, I could begin

To unravel and to reckon and to unroot
Every tree,
Those parchment-thin remnants of
All that could never be.

Every page has filled up and
I repeat the words now.
Because I have met my shadow, because
I know now
That I was once the grasshopper, sleeping
Beneath the song
Of what seemed to be rifer days.
But that exoskeleton’s gone.
Now it is the crusted-over chaff left
For the birds.
And I’m starting over with these seeds;
All I have are my words.

*

More gardens. More roots. More of that old life cycle—sprouting growth, fading death, rebirth. Maybe it is the most obvious of metaphors but it works for me.

It’s one that my porch reflects well. Every spring since moving here I have planted literal seeds there in pickle buckets and aluminum bins: cauliflower, carrots, calendula, cherry tomatoes. Every year, they’ve started to get their roots beneath them before the heat and humidity or lack of space or shuddering shadows get to them.

When it comes to the more figurative seeds, it seems to be the same situation. Highly temporal, slow to get going, fading fast.

Perhaps it’s a lack of the right timing. Perhaps it’s not the proper environment or soil. Perhaps they need fertilizer, or compost, or some kind of herbal medicine.

Or perhaps I don’t really know what I’m doing.

But what I am finally starting to integrate is this: the act and the art of trying, those are the important parts. Process over product. That is wherein lies the beauty.

A simple lesson, to be sure, but maybe one to learn anew each morning.

*

Residual | Part 2

residual | part 2

He could not fathom it:

gardenview

In his garden he spent each day
With the moon at his feet, and
There he sang to the wolves as they
Prowled and preened around the trees
And they howled. Echoed, empty. Lonely
He stood steady with the pines and
Howled –

As if to ask God for something
Heavy and whole as a
Brick in the belly.

In his eyes the flurries fell,
Little crystal daggers,
Inconsequential flecks.

Under heaven he stood still
And his hair turned slate.

*

sky blue sky

Sometimes you see a space and it tells a story. Gardens in particular do this for me: they prompt thoughts of growth, yes, but also of the cycle of death-life-renewal, and of melting into a more natural environment.

And sometimes that environment reflects you in ways that are more painful than productive. And sometimes you realize the seeds you planted didn’t sprout — or that you forgot to place them in the earth in the first place. And from that, sometimes you learn, but then, maybe you also yearn.

*

Sprouting

It would be great to be able to say that spring is sprouting, but it’s sort of been a tease (she wrote, as freezing rain pelleted the ground outside). Still, its sunny inklings have been relief, anticipating when good things can grow, both green and otherwise.

floral

Of course I’m clear on the climate change implications woven within such unusually warm spring-teases, but I don’t find it helpful to dwell. The problem is there, in rather bold and loud tones. But instead of ruminating, part of my plan of action is to take advantage – to use the more hospitable days to spring into a different kind of lifestyle.

(Hah. Spring. Pun entirely intended, I think.)

What I mean is: what exacerbated this warming was our all-too-human tendency to hide from (the occasionally admittedly harsh) natural world, right? We followed a habitual self-protection until it led our exploitation of her natural resources. Perhaps there are more layers than that, but let’s keep it simple for now.

What if we decided to use these changes, as they become more and more obvious, to teach ourselves to start embracing Nature? And – here’s a crazy thought – what if she responded to that?

Hope: it springs eternal.

When you are raised on a rhythm that says the supermarket fills every need, how do you even begin to sink your hands into new earth? How do you swap old measures out for new habits?

You don’t go it alone, first of all. I’ve been reading about prepping and homesteading lately. Such systems do have helpful how-tos, and frankly I understand the desire for self-sufficiency that they betray.

But I also believe that holding onto this old evolutionary must-protect-self-at-all-costs mindset can do more harm than good. My gut tells me that the way to make this meaningful is through the guidance of others — through community.

Do you start with permaculture? Or an urban garden? What about CSAs and food co-ops? There is a Richmond Food Cooperative starting this summer, but until then, I’m testing my plant-based interactions on a smaller scale, growing calendula, eggplant, broccoli, and onions out of cartons and containers into which I drilled drainage holes (did not actually drill any cartons).

sprouted

Strange’s is my source for sustainable seeds; Ellwood Thompson’sfor wheat in a first-time attempt at sprouting grains.

But it’s the Richmond Herbalism Guild that has drawn me deeply, with its heart for the gentle healing spirits of plants. Their first workshop of 2017 was a surprise find that slowly started my initiation into herbalism. I am so buoyed by the existence of an art and science that speaks to plants’ power to heal, something which seemed so intuitive yet esoteric, and is the former but not the latter.

One of their events was a guided plant walk at Forest Hill Park. The guides in question were Dave and Lena Welker of the Blue Heron Outdoor School.

tree walk 1

What they teach is less an ideology, and more an all-encompassing philosophy. They spoke to the idea that one could get to know plants as easily as if they were people. That so captured my attention, and I needed to learn more; next thing I knew, I was making my way to visit Dave and Lena at their home in Amherst. The hope was a simple one: to tap into their way of seeing and moving through the world.

This lifestyle (for lack of a better word) contains a great many lost practices – tracking, firemaking, and foraging, for a few – and leads to, in my eyes, a deeper realization of the interconnectedness of everything.

Because the truth is, each of us leaves an imprint as we move through this world. We do this on a physical level, yes, but also on an emotional level; in my imagination, these two combine in a colorful, crackling, metaphysical math problem that equals a web of energy. Invisible, and yet so visible, or at least palpable.

This is what we human animals do. We leave things behind. We make our marks. We carve our initials into tree trunks, dive into lakes, and build houses on old farmland. We drop plastic on the pavement, start our own gardens, and plant new trees. We pull dandelion weeds. We mark trails with cairns. And even when we think we’ve left no trace, we have left more than a few.

Each of us is more than meets the eye, and our actions, as do our thoughts and emotions, resonate with one another. We are connected.

So this time of great change – I want to embrace it, almost as if to turn it into a gift instead of a curse. Could that happen? Could we choose to leave a trace that vibrates with love instead of fear? Could we plant the seeds that need to sprout, starting now? Could we use this growth to help one another – and help this earth – be more whole?