Passionflower Autumn

maple outside my door one week ago

I am gazing out the window; an almost bare leafed apple tree’s sap has begun its descent for the winter months. Trees participate in a great round; breathing slows as the tree becomes drowsy. Soon the merciful cold will put her and others of her kind to sleep, not to awaken until life each tree’s life – blood thickens to rise and soar into the highest branches with a warming sun. Only tree roots stay awake throughout the winter searching for nutrients, exchanging carbon and carbohydrates, water, meeting new friends and avoiding foes, their root tips  branching, fusing, glowing – solving earth problems far more complex than those of humans… 

Last night a full white ‘falling leaf moon’ slid unobstructed through apple branches casting shadowy silver arms around our bed. My dogs were restless. I could see the rounded luminous pearl embedded in an ebony sky shining through all the deciduous trees that were dressed in scarlet splendor just a week ago. Last night those trees were bare.

There is a transparency to the forest that opens a secret door. With the wheat colored ferns curling earthward and the frosted brown ground cover laid low I can peer into the dark wood beyond the brook; such a comforting darkness spun out of deep Tree Peace and the change of season.

Raking leaves and apples into a pile of compost that will nourish next year’s garden and bringing down more wood to the porch are the last fall chores to be done. The mighty winter tasks are still ahead… coming with frigid temperatures and snowfall.

I am uneasy about winter because I tire easily now. Emphysema slows me down and lowers my energy on some days. I can no longer expect my body to respond to physical stresses with impunity. I must caregive myself. Fortunately, I have help nearby if I need it, and this makes the difference. 

Although I still climb mountains I do so more slowly, my breathing is often labored; yet in many ways this allows me to see the stark colors of a glacial stone, the ribs of the great oaks. I take more time to identify each tree, each new seedling, each mushroom or fungus. The details of my surroundings if anything sharpen my attention and intention to stay present like never before. I am never in a hurry. Just to be able to breathe and walk is an incredible gift.

Breathing in and out with the threat of Covid on the rise.

Today, light rain moistens the few remaining leaves; most are scattered like fading rose petals covering the ground, slippery at night. Out of habit I listen for a rushing brook and hear no sound. The parched earth is ‘a lady in waiting’… and waters are stilled in pools that make no sound. The nourishing cascade of rain is still being withheld. My grief blends with that of Nature. I cannot separate the two.

My biological family is no more and I am currently repeating a cycle of mourning, though hope of a different kind hovers on the horizon. 

The soft afternoon light and lengthening shadows seem to draw my eyes and heart towards the plants in my room. A giant passionflower is sending out more new shoots much to my astonishment (fall is usually the time these plants slow down). She is not yet ready for sleep. But most astounding are the small cuttings that languished for months during the fierce heat of summer as my fear and worry grew. Like me they collapsed in the sauna of stagnancy that characterized months of endless waiting for house help to appear. Three weeks ago in a moment of despair I almost threw these struggling root cuttings out.

 I could barely discern that little voice that comes from both inside me and from without out when it admonished “don’t give up- put them in your bedroom.” And so I did. 

Disbelieving.

 I have always had an unusual relationship with plants and although I was ignorant of its identity for maybe thirty years, the Passionflower had been coming to me in dreams, telling me to keep my ear to the ground. Eventually I grew a Passionflower cutting of my own into a vining bush of monumental proportions and this plant and I became inseparable. Once, one of her children died when I was in crisis and was about to make a terrible mistake… it was then that I was forced to acknowledge that on some level this plant and I shared a mind and a body. I kept focused on the fact that a new mother plant thrived here this summer when nothing else did. I couldn’t ignore the message. 

Almost immediately after bringing the cuttings into my room I noticed a dramatic change. Tips turned green, tiny nubs appeared at stem scars; life was returning in the fall! All this within a week. This morning when I gaze over at the healthy unfurling leaves I feel amazement, gratitude, even a few sparks of hope rising. That plant is telling me that although my life may appear to be fraught with difficulties, (house problems remain unsolved) something is happening… at least inside me.

Faith remains an anathema probably due to childhood/ adult abuse – Trust, even in Nature (except for my dogs), is withheld by some unconscious part of me. And yet, the presence of those green plant tips remind me of words I wrote without understanding “the deep green religion of hope lives on” and it manifests in the mind and body of these plants that are also the mind and body of me.

Postscript:

Trees, plants, and women have been in intimate relationship since the dawn of humankind. In our culture this kind of knowing has been bred out of us. However, if we choose to develop relationships with plants/trees inside or out and are able to keep an open mind these amazing Beings begin to speak through our bodies and minds. If we listen carefully we will learn which plants to use in order to help heal ourselves, which plants we need to grow for our emotional/spiritual/bodily health. Women were, of course, the first healers, and we still embody that ability. If ever there was a time to develop this relationship on a personal and collective level it is now.

Mourning in Blue

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It took you three months to die.

 

I watched, holding my breath – “hang on” I cried in silent desperation each morning as I touched your leaves – I wept as each a fragile green shoot appeared and withered before my aching eyes. Stunted palm shaped fronds curled, turned gray with the poison in the air as invisible fungus spores settled on insect weakened leaves. I managed to kill the bugs within a week but it was already too late.

 

Some part of me knew that I was losing you almost from the first day we arrived there, but I couldn’t stay with that truth. I could not help you because I could not help myself. We were both drowning in grief – You became the mirror for the two months of torment that we both endured, the lack of sleep, the weakening of our will, our inability to fight a kind of darkness that became your death shroud…

 

I had a prophetic dream two days after I arrived. In the vision Iren and I were in a hospital watching a woman die. That woman dear passionflower, was made of plants and human flesh. That woman, of course, was the two of us entwined…

 

Who can separate a woman from her plant and animal soul?

 

Maybe when we get out… I would think in desperation as I too became ill.

 

I had moments of wild hope.

 

When Grace opened a door for escape we fled.

 

Perhaps, in this house made of light you might still recover? I mused. You were hanging on by a thread. I brought you into our bedroom hoping to warm dying roots. I saw each new shoot struggle to take form as you tried so desperately to live while I choked on the same prayer. “Oh please grow,” I begged, “I cannot stand to lose you.”

 

I know one truth. If I could have I would have let you go more gracefully than I did. Decomposing roots and leaves returning to the warming earth to nourish new plants and trees is closing the circle of life.

 

But I had already lost too much too fast…

 

And I am human.

 

Forgive me.

 

I was selfish, I know.

 

As the warming light settled on your pitiful trunk, now cut back to it’s only living arm I still hoped, even as I watched bud after bud appear and shrivel until at last, a week ago, there was only one tiny green nub left…

 

This morning that one bud gave up the ghost of your soul.

 

The canyon was flooded with mountain bluebirds returning for spring…

 

All day I circled back to stand over your dead body. I held you close to my heart – imagined you wrapping your beautiful leaves around me – you were part of my family – and I was grieving.

 

When the cloak of night closed on bleeding crimson sky I picked up your dead trunk and pot and gently placed it outside in the cold night air. It seemed for a moment that even the stars cracked and dimmed over my head, or perhaps it was the tears I shed. A solitary coyote howled down by the river.

 

You were my sister for thirteen years. Losing you I lost a part of myself that I will not recover. Your bountiful passionate vines that spiraled to the sky and blossomed impossibly fragrant crowns of blue tipped flowers, to my endless child-like delight, have entered deep time. Our joy in each other’s presence has been stilled forever.

 

I asked Iren for cuttings….

 

These came from your mother. Last year I gave this plant to her as a gift – (my most precious plant besides you) – in the depths of my gratitude for this woman who has such a great and generous heart.

 

Perhaps, one day, I will once again see a fragrant pink multi – petaled face with a startling cobalt blue crown appear out of the emerald green of healthy spiraling vines that will begin their lives flourishing in the same house where you once bloomed with such joyful abandon.

 

Each morning I search for that first root to appear… Be patient I remind myself ruefully. Be patient!

 

But no other plant will ever replace my love for you, not ever.

 

When I awakened in the pre-dawn hours this morning I went outside and stood there at the river’s edge watching the sky turn crimson again… my heart was torn in two – and yet from sunset to dawn, the Earth closed round us both.

 

Postscript one day later:

This morning one of the cuttings I am trying to root developed a small blossom – literally overnight. Although it will not bloom – I know this from experience having rooted so many cuttings for others – it was if the passionflower cutting responded to this writing in the most powerful way she could.

Some would call this synchronicity – I call it interspecies communication and offer my heartfelt gratitude for this message of hope.

Passionflower Muses

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When I pulled the shorn Passionlower out of her pot I winced, experiencing the familiar anxiety and grief because I have known for a long time that plants feel pain. I had already traumatized the Passionflower once the week before when I had clipped the plant’s graceful spiraling vines with their three lobed leaves close to the plant’s central stalk leaving only one vine and a few tendrils intact. By cutting her back I have made it possible for her to make the long distance trip to Abiquiu, New Mexico safely (She has to be covered in order not to freeze).

 

For the second time in a week I apologized to the plant profusely for the trauma explaining that I had to re-pot her in the same size pot because I couldn’t lift anything heavier. In order to create enough space for new soil, I had to rip away tender roots. The plant responded almost instantly with drooping leaves and wilted tendrils. My plant was in shock. I silently begged her to forgive me as I quickly packed new soil around the remaining ragged roots, watered, fed, and placed her back in her window, noting how similar her bent posture was to my own when I am grieving… I told her I loved her.

 

Four hours later I returned to see that my Passionflower leaves were spread out plump and evenly, shimmering emerald in the late afternoon sun. A few tendrils were climbing through the air searching for purchase. I tenderly turned them towards the center trunk in a spiral fashion knowing that this would keep them safe during the trip but also aware that these vines had minds of their own and would try to thwart my attempts to control them even for a brief moment in time!

 

When my impossible bird, Lily b. ripped off a tasty leaf to eat I hid the new growth behind two cactus plants that I hoped would deter him from creating further damage. With two days to go until we leave, I hope my bird continues to behave himself.

 

Now every time I inspect my Passionflower I feel gratitude that she seems to be thriving and relief that the trauma is over for both of us.

 

Most folks find my relationship with plants very strange, and yet plants grow for me in ways that are sometimes astonishing even to me! I treat plants with the same respect I accord to animals, believing them to be wise ones, teachers, and guides. After all, plants have existed in some form on this planet for 450,000 thousand years, animals for 350,000 years and in my way of thinking, they are literally our “elders.”

 

For most of my life my “anthropomorphizing,” that is attributing human characteristics and feelings to non – human beings, has brought me skepticism and ridicule, but my feeling/sensing body has not lied.

 

Recently, groundbreaking research informs us that trees in an untouched forest experience pain, have memories, communicate extensively with each other, develop close relationships between parents and children, and in some cases when the elders are cut down children continue to send the stumps sugar nutrients and water to keep the remnant of a once proud and stately tree alive for generations. In a natural forest community trees and plants need each other. The prestigious science journal Nature has coined this interdependence of forest species the “wood wide web.”

 

I feel vindicated at last.

 

My intimate relationship with plants stems back to my earliest childhood years. Plants and trees seemed to speak to me through my senses without the use of words. As I matured I never lost that sense that plants/trees and I were engaged in relationship even though I didn’t know the specifics. Eventually it became clear to me that they thrived on being loved. I trusted plants, much the way I trusted animals and unlike humans, they have never let me down.