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.

The Woman Pot

IMG_3698.JPG

The Woman Pot as it looks today… since that time one more woman has added a plant!

IMG_2354.JPG

Curious Bb looking in the window!

 

Last summer when I returned to Maine I was very homesick for Abiquiu. I had collected a couple of succulents to bring home with me. The first was a string of pearls that I got from the office of the veterinarian in Santa Fe who saved my dove, Lily b, from dying after he had been mauled. I treasured those pale green pearls. At Thanksgiving my friend Sabra let me have a couple of rosettes that I also planted. And in the spring while caretaking Iren’s plants I brought back another spikier rosette that had fallen away from the mother plant and a tiny piece of jade plant from her beautiful solarium. All of these were placed in individual pots.

 

All the plants thrived! By the time I returned to Maine I decided to pot all my succulents into a rectangular clay pot along with another succulent that I received from a woman in Maine and a couple of other rosettes I had collected myself.

 

One July morning I sat outside in the shade with various pots scattered around. I heard a rustling sound behind me. My yearling male bear, Bb appeared, materializing through the forest veil and was approaching his seed can that was about 15 feet away from where I was working. He let out an annoyed “huff” and slapped a nearby pine letting me know that he wanted me to return to the porch while he snacked.

Normally I acceded to his wishes but I had pots scattered everywhere and knew if I re- entered the house he would be unable to resist coming over to see what I was up to. My plants would be toast!

 

So I spoke to him quietly. “I’m going to sit right here until I finish repotting and then dear friend I will leave you to your seed.” Bb behaved as if he understood every word. Instantly he lay down on the shady ground he began munching his seed as I continued my project. Every now and then I would turn around to watch him, this beloved bear of ‘mine’. We worked companionably for the next half an hour, with Bb eating and me repotting. True to my word, as soon as I was finished I turned to him and remarked, “I’m done and I am going into the house, thank you for your patience”. Bears, I knew from experience, liked to hear my voice and appreciated words of respect. In seconds Bb bounded down the hill to investigate the empty pots I had left to collect later. Bears are incredibly curious.

 

Once in the house, I admired my handiwork, so pleased that all these plants were going to live together because plants enjoy each other’s company just like humans do. For the rest of the summer all my plants thrived! I had to keep cutting some back to keep the slower growing rosettes from becoming overwhelmed.

 

It wasn’t until the end of the summer when Bb’s visits became nocturnal due to hunting pressure that I recognized that this one pot was special in two ways. The first was because all it’s plants had come from women. The second because Bb had allowed me to finish re –potting my new creation in peace. Bb was initially named after someone else. It was months before it occurred to me that Bb was the nickname I had been given as a child. So this woman, her plants, and her bear are related if not through blood, then through naming!

 

For the rest of my days I will associate this pot with women I care about and a bear that I love.