Of Sweet Peas and Smooth Stones
This year I planted a late batch of sweet peas, not expecting much as they rarely thrive all summer. To my surprise, they rose up in a huge mass over six feet high and bloomed endlessly all summer long. Eventually a wild autumn wind storm blew most of them down yet they kept on blooming, if more sparsely, even while bent double. Several strands somehow clung to the house wall and they have continued to flower through freezing nights and several more gusty wind storms. Out of season flowers always seem especially precious, bravely blooming no matter what the world brings them. For many years I’ve made little end of the year tussy-mussies from such belated blooms, bound with a grassy ribbon to gift to friends.
In homage to the originals (bundled herbs held near the nose to cover up the stink of the Elizabethan streets), I always include fragrant herbs, from rosemary and sage to thyme, oregano, and a bit of mint (there’s always a bit of mint, even under deep snow). This year, my little bunches will hold a rosebud or two, along with the ever-productive calendulas and a spray of feverfew, but no sweet peas. Admiring the way these lingering flowers hang on day after day, producing bud after bud, I don’t have the heart to cut them. In the cool, moist air, they last far longer on the stem anyway; taken indoors, they fade and flop after just a day or two of warmth and dry air. Outside, they still attract hummingbirds as well as a few confused bees which stumble around like little drunks, probably wondering why they bothered to stay awake.
Persistence And Hope
When it feels like the fate of the world and the planet hang in the balance, hope isn’t easy to find. It’s tempting to ignore the many dire situations developing all around the world yet I don’t think we really can. Once we become aware of both the reality and the potential for worse, we can’t unknow that information. We can cover it up with various distractions but part of us is always aware that things on the brink can topple in a moment. I keep reminding myself that things can change for the better as well, if rarely in the blink of an eye. Looking back over my lifetime, it feels like there have always been looming dangers and difficulties like shadows in my mind and I know I’m not alone in this. Yesterday I overheard two passersby exchanging childhood memories of hiding under school desks in case a bomb hit nearby. One said she felt like that threat is back in play and the other nodded sadly, adding, unless the Big One hits first; then it’ll be tsunami time!
When we lack agency in so many arenas, I find it both hopeful and helpful to remind myself of things I CAN do. For starters, I can plant trees; whatever tomorrow brings, they will go on trading breath with other living beings. I can teach younger people to garden and to engage with plants more fully, so they know it’s not just about picking tomatoes. Every garden of any size is a gift to the planet and all its’ creatures. Learning to love bees and bugs and birds and bears and understand that they all deserve a peaceful place to live is an ongoing gift that really never ends. Learning to observe what’s happening in a garden beyond the human activity we may engage in is eye opening and helps us develop actual relationships with the plants and the critters. Walking around with younger (or older) people and noticing native plants, birds, and squirrels together can be eye opening too and maybe even life changing as well.
Hope Is Good Medicine
Instead of buying a bunch of holiday gifts this year, my family is gifting each other time and attention. We’re taking nature walks where we try to be as observant as possible, even though that may slow us down to a crawl. Sometimes the crawl is literal, as we get down on knees (and that ain’t always easy) to check out tiny fungi and mosses. Sometimes we spend time examining the intricacies of lacy lichens on twigs and branches and the flat, spreading ones on stumps and stones.
The grandkids always like to bring home a few treasures, from glossy chestnuts and acorns to glittery stones and shiny seashells. Truth be told, I still do that myself, especially when I find just the right water-smoothed stone to carry in my pocket. Holding such a stone feels like connecting to the earth; I love to imagine the long history that brought it from rugged cliff or mountaintop to river and ocean and finally to my path, a soothing, comforting gift from the earth. Thinking about the millennia, maybe even eons, it took for that stone to reach me reminds me that my perspective is extremely limited and short sighted. That in turn reminds me that taking comfort and finding peace wherever we can is good medicine for us and for the world. Onward, right?