As I began to write this morning, my MAC’s little rainbow wheel kept spinning, yielding up one letter or three or four at a time. Pretty much how I feel in week five of “recovery” from the flu. Not sure when I respond to a question, a directive, an email what might come out by way of wisdom or irrelevancy. As a human I am a creature of rhythm. My rhythms have been wildly disrupted between ragged breathing, coughing, and no routine. I have felt out of sorts.
Then last night I stumbled into a wonderful antidote: reflections on the relationship between human nature and Mother Nature.
I sat down to leaf through two photo albums I had put together during my second year as an herbal medicine student. Our assignment had been to spend a full year exploring some aspect of “People, Plants, and Seasons,” and present our learning to our classmates in some material form. As I began to work on the project in the spring of that year, I had a fundamental question. What is the relationship between human nature and Mother Nature? Between the patterns, cycles, behaviors of humans and other living creatures and the whole messy collective that we are?
Over the course of that year I filled three sketchbooks with field drawings, botanical and medicinal information, and personal reflections. I took photos, pressed plant material, tucked away quotes that touched me. I lived life, became a grandmother for the second time, and tended my mother through what turned out to be the final three months of her life.
As the project due date approached, I spent several weeks sifting, sorting and ordering images and words, and they took on a life of their own. I remember sitting on the floor, surrounded by scraps of paper, photos, dried plants and glue sticks. The process of cutting and pasting and arranging to making a meaningful whole of all those moments. How absorbed I was in making meaning, in finding the story that was mine to tell about people, especially my people, my plants. my seasons. How much room there was for the fresh grief of my mother’s death, the joys of grandmothering and the wonders of the green world. How healing it was to assemble and offer this story to my classmates, and be fully received.
The unsettling and awe-filed potency of birth and death, the generational shifts, full of feeling and poignancy: the relationship between human and Mother Nature revealed through the seasons.
What astonished me last night as I paged through the albums was how the whole experience sprang fully to life. The observing and recording. Aromas and sounds and places. Voices of teachers and classmates. The excitement of discovery. Sorrow and delight.
SPRING: Andre’s birth and garlic mustard SUMMER: nettles and St. John’s Wort
FALL: Ginkgo leaves, and fall too and fruit harvest WINTER: Seasonal forms and light
Sometimes life says, “you’re on” when I am “not ready,” and I am reluctant to act in the face of unknowns. Other times life gives me room to recover and shift in ways that feel natural to me – breath, pulse, night and day, work and play, season, giving and receiving. Change of viewpoint, change of heart. Refreshed rhythms.
As drawings and photos and words transported me back to my true place in the large scheme of things, there was a place even for being out of rhythm and cranky. And then I had a change of heart.
Invitation to practice:
Pick an outdoor location that you regularly pass through and that draws your attention.
It can be as simple as a square foot or two of ground.
Or a place where you stand and slowly turn in a full circle, taking in the unique features of this place and your viewpoint.
Revisit it regularly as the seasons unfold. Observe. Sense. Notice changes.
Notice colors, smells, textures, light and shadows, sky and clouds, effects of rain or snow, evidence of insect or bird or animal life.
Notice changes in your relationship to this place, your relationship to yourself.
Keeping a simple log of your observations, taking photos, drawing are icing that will enrich the experience, but there is plenty of cake in the practice itself.
And let me know how it goes!