Belonging and Loving
Each year I take note of the procession of the seasons by the plants that grow and bloom, particular birdsongs, the shift in the path of light across my garden.
My garden, in fact, marks the Equinox of Spring and Autumn. The edge of the shadow cast by the house borders the raised beds almost exactly, and it was no accident. Living in this way connects me to the earth I walk on.
I'm not a passive participant in the wheel of the year—to grow a garden is to actively shift the soil beneath you. I forage for wild foods and my basket swings seeds and mushroom spores in a path beside me like I'm Hansel in the fairytale story. The seeds, the spores, the path, it returns me home, and home is here.
What does it mean to arrive home? What does it mean to truly belong to a place? I live and work in and around the traditional territories of the Nuu-chah-nulth First Nations: I am a guest, and yet, it's likely this is my "forever home". Being here, truly connecting to my surroundings as a home, has been an incredible learning process. The snowdrops I planted last year emerged in sweet little patches all over my garden. These particular snowdrops are descendants of bulbs my Ukrainian grandmother grew, and I hope that they will continue to multiply and grow in their new island home. Snowdrops are actually becoming scarce in their native Europe, and are protected species in some areas. They've given us important medicine: galantamine, an alkaloid isolated from the bulbs and flowers used in the treatment of central nervous system disorders like dementia. I like to think of them a little metaphor for how I'd like to live here: unassuming, respectful, and blending into the surroundings, but also showing that I am part of the landscape through resilency, determination, and encouraging hope by providing something to the community. I don't want to just live on the earth, but to be in relationship with it.
A relationship implies that there is an exchange, which would mean that the natural world then is responding to us all the time. One only needs to walk out into the world to see it! Plantain for example will grow more flattened on a railroad track or along a path, and more upright where there is space. When I pull out competing little patches of chickweed from between the tomatoes (okay, I eat it), the tomatoes reward with bigger and brighter fruit. When I cover the raspberries with straw, they "floof" out little leaves earlier than usual. My lettuce thrives all winter in a cold frame.
When I pick mushrooms, I make sure I leave the network of mycelium in tact as I remove the fruiting body of the mushroom (the part we eat). I place the mushrooms carefully in a basket so that spores can drop out the bottom. I pinch the tops of nettles and the plants grows fuller. I clear out a patch around a little ring of wild violets and they spread and bloom joyfully. Because I tend to plants, they tend to me. That's a relationship if I've ever seen one, and as Robin Wall Kimmerer says, it's love:
"Knowing that you love the earth changes you, activates you to defend and protect and celebrate. But when you feel that the earth loves you in return, that feeling transforms the relationship from a one-way street into a sacred bond."
The Spring is the perfect time to awaken that sense of love through the power of intimate observation, of being deeply present with your surroundings so that you can receive all that is being offered. Can you notice the tiny rosettes of Little Western Bittercress in your garden, in empty lots, and abandoned places? Do you notice the ferns of yarrow leaves inching out over the pavement? Can you see the exquisite relationship between the exchange of blooms and roots, the shift in color from the delicate spring greens to the rich purple berries of summer, to the earthy mushrooms of the fall, and the still, stark evergreens of winter... each blooming and returning to the earth in an endless dance.
We hold that which we love so closely and so dearly. What is it that awakens that love in you? What are you in relationship with?
Yoga and Plants
This Spring I am completing my Herbalist studies with the Wild Rose College in Alberta, a year-long journey that has brought immense joy and depth to my experiences with plants. I'm so excited to be in a position to help others to explore their relationship to the natural world, and I can't think of a better companion than the practice of yoga.
The lessons of practice on the mat are so crucial in how I present myself to the earth in our relationship: I cultivate awareness, deep listening, and attention to Truth. Learning and teaching yoga helps me practice courage, and helps me differentiate between desires of the ego and real service. Ego is as obvious in yoga asana for example as it is in wildcrafting: take on too much in a pose and it could lead to injury. Take too much of a plant, and she won't be back the next year.
Yoga is a part of my self-care, one that will be with me, always. I know that Yogic practices are a well I can go to, to be nourished so that I can act with integrity on behalf of all I hold dear.
This year I'm excited to be putting together a sort of materia medica (from Wikipedia: a Latin term for the body of collected knowledge about the therapeutic properties of any substance used for healing) that combines my growing intimacy with plants alongside my intimacy with my body. Meditation and yoga asana practice in particular really excite me as a sort of microcosm of all that's unfolding within me, and I see this in plants as well. The transfer of breath in the body, the transfer of sugars and light in a plant through the seasons, all part of this beautiful animate Shakti-energy we embody and activate. I'm hoping to share lots on this blog, so keep an eye out for new content! (I'll always announce new content on my newsletter, sent out once or twice a month. You can sign up below!)