It’s the time of year when everything feels a bit frenetic. The garden is growing by leaps and bounds. I’m finding it hard to decide where to place my efforts – weed out more of those plants choking out their neighbors? Thin the greens under my new apple trees? It’s truly a game of whack-a-mole in many ways. And the garden isn’t the only place.
There is simply So Much Going On. But I am reminded that this is how spring goes around here. I have many details to attend to with regard to the Taos trip which is mere weeks away. And always I find myself feeling behind there. That sense of not enough time to get it all tended to. I have one kid just recently graduated from University and about to spend the summer at a music fellowship out of state. His worldly possessions must get from his place to ours somehow in the coming weeks. The other kid is over seas in Africa working this month (you can read about her adventures here.) So there is the quiet noise of worry in the back of my mind. But if I am to be honest, it’s not as great as one might think. No more worry really than when she is just up the road at school. This is good.
There does come a time when they outgrow the nest and must forge their own paths. I am grateful for it.
In spite of all the goings on, with my art work, the family, our green space, I opted again this spring to take one more thing on board. Last year at this time it was a 6 week oil painting class focusing on portraiture. Because painting faces is scary and I wanted to learn about it and challenge myself. I wanted to be the beginner, the non-expert, uncomfortable, making bad art – before I go out to Taos and challenge my own students to do the same.
I remember last spring feeling much the same during the arc of that painting course as I do now. That I had taken on too much. That I wasn’t very good at all this. That I wasn’t enough. It is good for the ego to sit with these feelings every so often, just so we don’t get to feeling too smug. And so I keep tackling new challenges where I can. This spring’s challenge has come in the form of a class called Intuitive Plant Medicine. I am only a week and a half in and already feeling overwhelmed by all of the new things to learn and consider.
I know just enough to be dangerous in the garden. I have a green thumb by nature, actually talk to plants, believe in fairies – the works. But I am no herbalist. I am not a scientist prone to the Latin naming of things. I appreciate a good metaphor and enjoy delving into the edges and hedges of things. And lately, the edges have been those found here on our little green space. And so I took this class, knowing I’d be flying a little close to the sun with it butting directly up to my time in Taos.
As a class we gather virtually in a wonderful online community forum, rich with beauty, and so lovingly stewarded and curated by our instructor, Asia Suler, of One Willow Apothecaries. I find such comfort in the vulnerability and openness of my fellow classmates. Some of them are already quite knowledgeable in the realm of plants and medicines and the like. While others of us are new to this side of things. For a few of us, the gorgeous onslaught of so much information has been a bit overwhelming, as written in this lovely blog post by a fellow plant intuitive. We are learning not only the ‘woo’ side of plants, but also a lot of the nuts and bolts of basic botany. We are being guided to find plant allies which both physically and metaphorically may have a thing or two to teach us.
For me, I had one before the class even began. I had read Mary Reynolds’ lovely book Garden Awakening over the winter and had been spending a fair amount of time outside – really listening to what our space wants and needs. We’ve downed a number of trees due to the ravages of the emerald ash borer beetle and age, and I could sense that we needed to pay attention. I had been wondering, Oak? Or Maple? I knew Willow would be placed out front by the creek. But what about the yard?
And then, one day, I got an unexpected answer. Apple.
Unexpected because I have never grown a fruit tree. Aren’t they notoriously troublesome? Don’t the deer ravage their young trunks and eat all the fruit? The idea came out of nowhere.
But I had my marching orders and I began thinking about apples. A few weeks later, at a local seed swap, I spied what I believed were apple trees across the room and went to introduce myself. I learned I would need more than one apple tree to promote proper pollination. Eventually I looked all around town at expensive and chemically raised apples and was beginning to feel a bit down hearted but finally came back to the same folks I had met at the seed swap. I bought two young trees to put in the ground and plan to raise them chemical free, which I hear is possible, unless you talk to the guys at the local garden center. We shall see how it goes.
I’ve shielded the trees from the deer with little individual fences. And I will keep an eye out for signs of problems. But so far they seem really well adjusted and even have some young fruit growing.
The other ally I have from this process is an Iris down near the creek. We have a fair number of these which grow there, blooming golden and lovely each spring.
In spite of stormy weather, which brings a force of water through our creek bed at times, these plants continue to grow and bloom, letting the rushing water wash over them and go right on by. I feel a bit like these Irises just now. The rush of life going by so fast, and me, just trying to root down and hold my ground in the midst of it all.
And so I dig in the dirt, literally and figuratively, as my yearly offering in Taos draws nigh. My workshop began, years and years ago, as a little evening class here in town where I shared how I take a blank book and fill it with life’s little details. Everything from to-do lists to ta-da! (voilá!) lists, sketches and skepticism, weather reports and vacations recalled and catalogued through drawn and painted imagery. I marvel at how far this work has come and what gifts it has bestowed upon me. In recent years, it’s become so clear to me that this process is so much bigger than merely keeping an active sketchbook. It is a practice in mindful meditation on what makes our hearts sing. These books of ours are a compass of sorts. As Frederick Franck puts it so eloquently:
” SEEING/DRAWING as a way of meditation, a way of getting into intimate touch with the visible world around us, and through it… with ourselves. “
In class I encourage students to trust their own visual voices, to trust that the marks they make with their paints and pencils and pens are important in developing those voices. That to be the beginner is their only job. In the intuitive plant medicine class, I am remembering what it is like to be that beginner again as well. I am reminded that we are enough, right where we are just now. There is real magic in that knowing.
See me sparkle….
And a quick p.s. on the notion of Allies and Weathering the Storm:
The other night I spoke in front of our village council in favor of a new resolution which would call for specific non-discrimination language to be adopted by our village. Vital language and a cultural tone which states, all are welcome here. That hatred and vitriol will not be tolerated. That this is village is filled with allies to the marginalized. Some may be thinking that I have backed off of politics here on this virtual space of mine. And perhaps on the surface, I have. But I am quietly paying attention. And just as quietly, and subversively, I continue to #resist all that the White House and #45 Himself stand for. I am planting a garden which will feed us here and there – without chemicals. I am forging a path of beauty in the world with fellow creatives. I am attentive to the goings on of my local government where change really begins. These are subversive acts of politics. I believe we as a country can do better than the likes of who we’ve placed into power at the very top of things. I’m beginning with my own back yard.