Sunday, February 20, 2011

A Story: The Old Woman and the Dream

Once upon a time there was a woman in the last half of her active life who decided to move to the country. When she was a little girl, this woman had a vivid dream one night, a dream that stayed with her for many years. In this dream, an old woman lived alone in a little cottage surrounded by a picket fence right at the edge of a forest. The dream woman was a peaceful sort, busy but contented. She had flowers and herbs growing all around the cottage, and she knew how to use these for healing. The forest animals were not afraid of her. In fact, they came to her when they needed help with a broken wing or a cut that would not heal.

When our real-life woman moved to the country, she was not thinking of the dream. But as sometimes happens, this dream was hanging out on a back shelf of her mind, giving her nudges. And in a few years, the real woman began to resemble the dream woman in some ways. Healing was a theme in both their lives, and they both lived connected to the earth and the natural world. At first, the real-life woman studied books about growing things in her garden and looked for advice from other gardeners. She had good success with some plants and less with others, yet caring for and learning about her plant friends filled her heart with happiness.

Gradually her attitude about her work began to shift. Rather than growing her plants to make a living, she started thinking about her work as a labor of love. This freed her from worrying about making a profit, and allowed her to experiment and think more broadly. She also began to expand her methods for making decisions. Rather than relying altogether on books or advice from other people, she began to sit quietly in the garden sometimes, when she had a plant problem to solve. She would let herself become familiar with the plant as best she could, get a feel for what the plant's experience was, and often a solution would suggest itself to her.

Then one day this evolving gardener was sitting quietly in Quaker Meeting, as was her habit on Sunday mornings, when she had an epiphany. She had been thinking about the nature of life, about the awesome and beautiful intricacy of the world, of the soaring realms of the spirit, of the invisible interconnections between all living things, and of the mystery and meaning of it all. And then her thoughts moved to her garden and the promise of spring. And as she lightly held the image of her garden, surrounded and sharpened by the wider thoughts she'd been thinking before, the sun came out in her mind like a giant smile or peals of happy laughter. She felt herself become the comfortable and fearless woman of her childhood dream, standing among her plants with arms outstretched, and a tangle of earth sprites at her feet smiling up at her and reaching out to connect. The vast world was around her, full of mystery and meaning, and it was whole and right, and she and everything else were a part of it, were connected through it. At any instant, we can be at the center of the world, she thought. We only have to pay attention. We only need to let ourselves see and feel what is right in front of us.

This is not the end of the story of the woman who moved to the country. As it is with all our stories,  we keep moving into another and yet another present moment. Each of those moments will be informed by the past, and if we're lucky, will also be open to new discoveries. May your own stories continue with adventure and sun-warmed inspiration.

Rain and Geese

Sunday morning, and rain is falling from the sky instead of snow. Today Wapsinonoc Creek is running high and free. Just a few days ago I watched the ice breaking up, fast currents swirling above, below and around the frozen surface. This morning the temperature is hovering above 32 degrees, the ground wet instead of slick, the birds singing spring songs. Yesterday, as I walked south on our gravel road, two huge flocks of geese flew north high above me, their honking deep and resonant and without stop. The sound of geese touches something in me, an instinctive wake-up call. In my imagination, even the trees respond to that compelling sound, the sap beginning to rise. I wonder: do geese call all the way to their destination?

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Cottonwood in Late Winter - Medicine in the Making

Cottonwoods are brittle trees. The huge one on the south side of my house is always throwing branches on the ground. Fortunately, there is some advantage to this in the early spring; the large swelling buds found on the tips of cottonwood branches are used for making the classic "Balm of Gilead". Watch the ground under any cottonwood tree for the next month or two. I will be doing the same!

Monday, February 7, 2011

Dug Out

February 7: I have dug myself out from the great snow fall, with the help of the county snowplows and my cousin's wonderful truck-propelled blade. High piles of snow on either side of these country roads make driving an adventure. The white is so bright outside that you can only see by squinting your eyes almost closed. Even on a misty morning such as this, the reflected light is intense. The snowpack is squeaky and hard underfoot, the air tingling in my nose. Winter has hold of us and is at the top of his game. Yet life survives around the farm. Chickens huddle together in their round house and deign to deposit several brown eggs in their nests each day. The two horses, mother and daughter, stand peacfully in the snow-covered barnyard, seemingly unperturbed by the weather, with barn cats strolling nearby. And in my house, a jungle of plants crowd all the south windows, flourishing in this protected space, responding to the promise of longer days with new shoots and ambitious growth. It is this early rush by my houseplant friends that gives me hope. Despite appearances, winter is moving toward spring.