|The magnificent spring umbel of the cow parsnip|
I've long loved to be amidst them, but subconsciously, like breathing, not in this new and deeper way, this longing to know them all, like friends, like mentors or brothers, who have great and deep knowing and medicine in them that we have evolved, with them (and more so all of our older hot-blooded mammalian and avian ancestors), to learn and to use.
Since I was a tiny girl my mother grew and tended beautiful, tangled gardens full of sunflowers, string beans, roses. I remember being maybe three or four, and, in summertime, standing with my feet deep in wet mud in the garden, rooted down so I felt very solid in the ground. I remember wondering to myself if this was what it felt like to be a sunflower... and wouldn't it be nice to try, for an hour or two, standing very still, hands reached up to the sun? At all the three houses I grew up in, at different ends of the same small town at the base of Mount Tamalpais called Mill Valley, my mother grew such gardens, in a way that seemed effortless to me, the roses wild and tangled enough to make caves, the summer annuals blooming in such color-riots it almost made you want to weep, just looking at them— how can there be such beauty in the world? Thank goodness there is this beauty in the world!
My whole life, they have been there, they have been here, and I am so grateful for my mother and her green thumb.
In the midst of my recent excitement, every plant new all over again to me—the redwood tips, the false solomon's seal all over the hillside, the elderberries, dandelions, plaintain, California poppy, manzanita, all singing out the things they've always held that I've only just begun to ask— I read a magnificent piece of writing by Loren Eiseley, called "How Flowers Changed the World." It is an excerpt from his longer book, The Immense Journey. In it he beautifully describes how the evolution of hot-blooded, fast-metabolizing mammals and birds really could only take off once flowering plants, with their nutrient dense seeds, flowers, pollen and fruits, had evolved too. That we deeply and directly shaped and leaned on each other. In the time of slow-moving, huge reptiles, the world was giant in its proportions, and mostly green, but when the angiosperms arrived, the world transformed, butterfly-style....
|California poppies, dry clovers, so many grass seeds!|
|Blooming California buckeye, intoxicating to smell|
|The red elderberry of the Pacific northwest|
|Little wild plums|
|The seeds of the wild cucumber fruit, and behind my hand the huge cone of a sugar pine from the Sierra foothills|
|Dire wolf skeleton, from La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles|
"Flesh-eaters though these creatures were, they were being sustained on nutritious grasses one step removed. Their fierce energy was being maintained on a high, effective level, through hot days and frosty nights, by the concentrated energy of angiosperms. That energy, thirty-percent or more of the weight of the entire plant among some of the cereal grasses, was being accumulated and concentrated in the rich proteins and fats of the enormous game herds of the grasslands."
To read this whole marvelous essay, I found an online pdf here.
These words are just deeply and wildly moving to me, to remember how we have all grown together, feeding each-other, the insects little seeds of nectar, the deer made up of the grass, our own bodies nourished by all— deer, seed, fruit, bird, fish. Being omnivores, Eaters of All, from nectar to mammal blood, we have the honor of bringing all life into our bodies, like placing prayers upon an altar. But with this honor comes immense responsibility, and I daresay the other side of the coin seems more our forte at the moment—consuming, destructively, everything in our paths, without heed, without honor, with great violence and blindness.
Perhaps if we remember more often the wise words of Gary Snyder, below, we can begin to right this balance, at least in our own lives...
Song of the Taste
Eating the living germs of grasses
Eating the ova of large birds
the fleshy sweetness packed
around the sperm of swaying trees
The muscles of the flanks and thighs of
the bounce in the lamb’s leap
the swish in the ox’s tail
Eating roots grown swoll
inside the soil
Drawing on life of living
clustered points of light spun
out of space
hidden in the grape.
Eating each other’s seed
ah, each other.
Kissing the lover in the mouth of bread:
lip to lip.
* * *
We are, after all and always, that which we eat, that which we breathe, that which we drink, and the tales we tell ourselves. May they be wild, may they be magic, may they be joyous, may they be honored.
|Lupines on the steep coast of Mt. Tamalpais (a few months ago. Now these hills are entirely gold)|