Plants and their wisdom

Sea Kale emerging

Sea Kale emerging in my garden, April 3rd.

This morning, I have been reading Farming While Black, by Leah Penniman. It is a marvelous book on so many levels–history lesson, gardening guide, liberation manual–and it feels a privilege to learn so much from a work that is actually focused toward Black farmers and gardeners. I knew so little about the skills of enslaved Africans who brought with them to these lands African plants and knowledge of growing them.  I knew so little about the work of George Washington Carver who was one of the first to study and promote regenerative land practices.  I know so little about multiple plants and their habits and their gifts for us.  Get this book!  

But then, after reveling in reading all morning, I find myself opening to multiple layers of deep grief underneath the joy of reading the book.  Grief for the African peoples who were stolen from their land and enslaved.  Grief for these Turtle Island lands, whose balanced ecosystems and soils were so depleted by the cutting of forests, and the plowing under of the soil, as well as by the war waged on their people.  And grief for myself and my communities–that we have lost our connection to the ecosystems, we have lost our connection to the wisdoms, we have lost our connection to the plants.

I get overwhelmed with the abundant knowledge in the book, and I remember this feeling in other wonderful books I have read, the feeling that I have no hope of learning everything I need to learn, in the limited years left to me on this planet.  I get the feeling that I have no hope of regaining access to the collective wisdom that has been cut off in so many ways.  And I realize that this too is part of colonization.

My East Frisian ancestors were some of those who plowed over the fertile prairies back in the 19th century.  Grief.  But at least they knew how to grow their own food, and provide for their families from their land.  I read online recently that in the last two generations, most Americans have lost the capacity to do that.  More grief.  I don’t know how to do that.  And I can’t envision getting to that ability before I die.  Plus, it is not really something we can learn from books.

In Farming While Black, I was reading about herbs and their healing properties, and there were too many to take in–even though it was a limited list of the herbs they grow and find to use in their community.  I feel lucky if I can learn about two or three herbs in a season.  All of us should have been learning the herbs since the early days of childhood wandering in the woods.  The plants are our elders, our guides, the wise beings who know how to feed us and heal us and care for us.  This separation from the plants is also a part of colonization.

One answer to my dilemma is about community.  No one is meant to have all the knowledge on their own.  It is okay that I can’t learn it all on my own.  But I feel grief too for the fragmentation of communities that has kept us from sharing this learning and wisdom with each other.  And I feel grateful for each person who has shared their knowledge of plants with me.  I feel grateful for organizations like the Resilience Hub, who bring people together to share so much wisdom of soil and plants and ecosystems.

But for this moment, I want to honor the pain of colonization, honor the pain of what has been lost, honor the pain of so many threads of connection that were torn apart and destroyed, never to be rewoven.  It is a long journey to healing.

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Winter Kale

winter kaleI just have to say it once more:  kale is amazing! I picked this kale yesterday morning, leaves frozen on the stalk, snow on the ground.  I had already picked most of the kale–just leaving a few tiny leaves that didn’t seem big enough for anything.  But they must have grown a little in the meager sunlight and freezing snowy weather we’ve been having the last two weeks of November.  I don’t know how they do it, but that is why they are so amazing.  The plant just isn’t willing to succumb to the freeze/thaw weather that has killed off most of the other plants.  So when I was walking through the winter orchard, I found several small frozen leaves, broke them off, and cooked them up for breakfast–they taste great!

Kale in snow

The Fox

Path over the brookToday I set out on my usual walk around the neighborhood. When I got to the newly paved way that leads over Capisic Brook toward the new Rowe school, I saw a fox cross over at the other end, and slip into the path into the woods (before I could catch them in a photo). So I felt invited to walk that path along the brook as well.  I couldn’t see the fox anymore, but I could hear squirrels doing their alarm chatters, and guessed they might be warning others about the fox.

I hadn’t walked that path for at least a week, and along the way, I noticed that someone had been upgrading the trail, with logs positioned on the edges, and a gravel/sand mix spread out over the trail.Brook Trail Upgrades That made me smile. I like to see the evidence of other people caring for the trail.

It is a beautiful sunny day today and I was enjoying the trees and the shifting colors in the leaves.  We’ve learned to speak about the weather in our Wabanaki Language class.  “It’s sunny” would be “Kisuhswiw.” The word for sun is kisuhs.  It’s pronounced starting with a hard “g” sound, and a “z” sound for the first “s.”

On my walk I was thinking about Findhorn, the community in Scotland that was founded by Peter and Eileen Caddy and Dorothy Maclean. The three had been living in a caravan park, with few material resources, so Peter started a small garden. During her meditation, Dorothy began receiving instructions from the spirits of the plants, showing how best to grow them.  The plants thrived, and became so huge that they attracted international attention.  I was thinking about the possibilities for communion between myself and the plant beings.  Even as I attempt to learn about gardening, the plants are actually my best teachers. Yet, in our materialistic society, it is easy to doubt or forget that communication.

When I reached the river of rocks, I wondered if the path workers would have built a new bridge over the drainage area, but it was the same.  Then, further down the slope, I saw the fox! I think they were eating an old dead squirrel.  This time I was able to take a few photos, before they decided to move on with their day.  I felt blessed. Anytime a wild shy creature lets you spy them, you know it is a blessing. May you also be blessed today!Fox

Medicine from the Yard

Dandelion Leaves

[Dandelion leaves]

Today and the past two days, I’ve been eating these lovely gifts from our yard–dandelion leaves.  They are best to eat before the bright yellow flowers appear, so you have to search for them by their pointy leaves arranged in a starburst pattern.  I asked the plant for permission to pick them, so that they might become a good medicine for me, and then picked some of the leaves from several plants.

Dandelion leaves are a blood purifier, great spring detoxing for the liver, have a lot of vitamins and minerals, and are full of anti-oxidants. (But be sure you pick them from a place with no chemicals or road run-off.)  I am just beginning to try eating them, so I rinsed them off and chopped them up, and mixed them into some kale I was stir-frying for breakfast, after the kale was already pretty much cooked.  They have a really mild flavor, and I enjoyed them.  You can also eat them raw or in salads.

So often, we just ignore the so-called “weeds” in our yard, or worse yet, try to eradicate them.  What if we saw them as gifts sent to us from the earth, to help our bodies with what they need?  This is what I learned from herbalists–the plants appear when we need them.  So, to ignore them or not use them would be rude, wouldn’t it?

I first began to understand this when the St. John’s Wort started appearing in our yard last summer. St. John’s Wort has traditionally been understood as useful for depression and wound healing. Last summer, at the Healing the Wounds of Turtle Island ceremonies, the spiritual wound that revealed itself to me was the Great Forgetting:  first there was a great disconnection of my ancestors from their relationship with all of creation, and then there was a great forgetting so that the people would be unaware that they were wounded and disconnected, and thus never even seek to understand that they had once been connected. I heard in my mind, “St. John’s Wort can help when you remember the wound of disconnection from the earth, and when you open to the pain underneath the great forgetting.”

And the St. John’s Wort is returning to the yard this spring as well.  The flowers are best picked just after the Summer Solstice (feast of St. John the Baptist, which is where they got that name), but now the plants are starting to put forth new stems and leaves around the old stalks we picked the tops of last year.  I think picking them has helped them to grow and expand.

I like learning about the plants in this way, one by one, as they make themselves known to me here in this land I call home.

St. John's Wort

[St. John’s Wort]

Celebrating Grains (as someone who doesn’t eat grains)

Today is the celebration of Lammas, the Grain Festival–or how I often have thought of it here in North America–the Corn Festival.  This is the time when local corn on the cob is finally ready!  In its European origins, “corn” meant wheat, and it was a celebration of the wheat harvest, complete with Lammas breads eaten during the rituals.  But lately, I have been following a mostly grain-free eating plan–no wheat, no gluten, and no corn.  So how might I celebrate Lammas?

I am planning to go outside for a fire this evening.  We had our first fire in our fire circle on the new moon on July 23rd.  (the photo is from that fire)  A fire always feels like an invocation of the sacred.  Perhaps it would work also to celebrate with nuts and fruits, which are like grain in that they are the seeds of the plant.  They are freely gifted by the plants to human beings.  All cultivated plants co-evolved with human communities.  So perhaps tonight I will celebrate that partnership between human beings and plants!

First Fire

Solar Energy

Solar Energy LeavesToday, as I walked in the woods, I was suddenly seeing all the leaves budding open as if they were little solar energy panels for the plants and trees–only much more beautiful and efficient than the solar energy panels we humans are able to make.  We are in those weeks when the plants are waking up and starting their solar production once more.  And our own celebration is to make a decision about solar energy, so that panels can be put on our roof as soon as possible.

Last week, we had a roofing company come to replace all the worn shingles, so the roof would be ready.  Then we read solar proposals and asked questions, and tried to decide between some great local companies who are installing solar panels in our area.  That was the toughest part of the decision.  We also took into consideration the total life cycle environmental impact of the panels themselves, and that helped us to choose SolarWorld panels which are made in the United States, and score high on all measures of environmental accountability and worker treatment.  Who knew there were so many factors to consider?

Meanwhile, my time has been very busy with church work, and I am sorry to have neglected this blogging.  Yesterday, I preached on a topic related to Faith Climate Action Week, and found this quote by Gus Speth, a U.S. advisor on climate change:

“I used to think that top environmental problems were biodiversity loss, ecosystem collapse and climate change. I thought that thirty years of good science could address these problems. I was wrong. The top environmental problems are selfishness, greed and apathy, and to deal with these we need a cultural and spiritual transformation. And we scientists don’t know how to do that.”

It is good to be serving a congregation that is interested in such a cultural and spiritual transformation!  They support the changes Margy and I are making, and many other families are also asking how they can lower their carbon footprint.  We give each other hope and strength.

How Everything Changes

Since my last posting, so much has happened with the book that it is a new being.  Last summer I cut up my draft, and rearranged everything, cut many things, and shaped it into a new kind of flowing.  I also update the sub-title, and decided to use that for the blog as well.  I am on sabbatical now, and revising and editing, and trying to begin a book proposal to find a publisher.  The revising and editing is a joyful process, but the proposal is very hard.  It is a great challenge to the ego–who am I to share my words with the world?  Hard to describe the book in a few words, hard to describe myself in a few words, hard to imagine how to “market,” when what comes up in my heart is the desire to transform the world so that we rediscover our connection to all beings.  The process of writing has also brought me more deeply into the brokenness we live within.

I have been thinking I might come back to some occasional posting here, just to remind myself of the marvelous wisdom all around us.  Today I am excited about a book by Robin Wall Kimmerer which I just recently started reading, called Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants.  I felt such a great sense of kinship with the writing in this book, and inspired by the stories she tells, and the possibilities of learning from so many of our fellow beings on this earth.  I have read several chapters so far, and am savoring each one.  Get this book!

New Ferns

New Ferns