I think my earliest memory of huge jungle woven vines is from a Tarzan movie. Traditionally spiderwebs are more closely associated with weaving, but for me it is the wild vines in the woods that wind their way around trees and each other, and go from one tree to another, connecting them. The sheer life force and voracious growth of the vines is something I feel in my bones and it rises through my feet and into my fingers who are never happier than when they are weaving. So naturally, the vines themselves have ended up in my weaving. The spiraling vines hold so much of the organic life force of the Earth that it takes my breath away. For me, the curve of the vines twisting around each other or another plant is sensuous and erotic, and it captures the very life force of our Mother Earth.
In my first blog, It Starts Here, that I wrote in August this year, I talked about how at first the vines in my backyard forest were the enemy, killing the trees, but then I realized that they also were what drew me TO the forest and that was their first gift. I also collected many of the best vines as I was cutting them back. Their curves were so eloquent, and I learned they hold their shapes as they dry without snapping. I have piles of them in my studio waiting to be used in weavings.
Vines often get vilified because they tend towards chaos rather than structure. They don’t grow in an orderly, nice and predictable fashion and they don’t keep to themselves, and their slithering crawling nature often reminds people of snakes. Because vines don’t have to put a lot of energy into upright support structures, they can put all that energy into growing very quickly, searching for the quickest way to the light. And like anything that grows quickly, they often find themselves out of balance, taking over and killing the very host that is supporting them. Kudzu in the south and Bittersweet in the north are two of the more notorious vines that tend to get out of balance in disturbed areas.
Vines can be viewed as smothering their host plants and trees, or they be seen as growing in the forest community in ways that allow the wildlife of the forest to be more connected, allowing animals to travel between trees without touching the ground and generating a massive amount of green matter quickly. The sheer amount of green leaf mass does a hero’s job of carbon sequestration, helping reduce the CO2 in the atmosphere. This balance between the “good” and “bad” natures of vines is like any good story, a mixture of both. There are scientific studies about how the total mass of vines IS in fact increasing in tropical and subtropical forests in the Americas. And how that is probably indicative of rising carbon levels and human interference in the forests, giving the vines more opportunities to grow in disturbed areas.
What if the vines that we see “taking over” are just part of a larger regeneration scheme of the earth that we can’t see the pattern of yet? Perhaps the vines are weaving us together in ways we can’t understand now. What if we saw the vines as prayers for weaving the forests back together? What if they are one of the ways our Mother Earth is rejuvenating our world? When ruins are left to nature, it is the vines that most visibly start the regenerative work of breaking down the structure to be reclaimed by the earth. They are part of earth’s demolition crew at work, like vultures of the plant world.
My best gift from the vines has been to lead me to the name of the Lady who came to me in my artwork in 2015. I had had an arched vine on my altar over Her image for a couple of months, and another twisted vine frames the woven mask I made this summer that became Her also, and both were on my altar. When I asked again one day with an open heart, “My Lady, what is your name?”, I got an immediate answer. “Our Lady of the Vine”, she told me. OF COURSE. I felt a little silly for not seeing Her name sooner. And so now more than ever, when I see lovely twisting vines, I see Her. And after all, roses also grow on vines.
Vines are prayers from the Earth, and for the Earth. They pull Her life force up from the earth, entwining themselves with everything they touch, bringing Her deep knowledge and prayers up from the dark womb of the forest soil to be shared with us all.