A lush jasmine-like fragrance wafts onto the evening breeze as soon as her petals open, and I am transported to another world like Alice in Wonderland where the flowers talk with me. Memories float through my mind’s eye: swaying in the tops of huge pines at dusk; the sound of rain in the dark hitting the canvas top of the platform tent at girl scout camp; watching meteors steak across the whole of the night sky. There is magic in these memories.
I have grown Sacred Datura moonflower for several years and she easily reseeds herself. But this year, the raised beds by the driveway where she usually grows were completely redone and I did not replant any new seeds. None the less, one little scrawny Datura plant managed to grow by happenstance in the crack between the new flower bed and driveway. Such determination! She only had enough vitality for one flower. And that flower grew as big and beautiful as any Datura flower I have ever seen, six inches across, and she opened on the full Corn Moon. With only one flower, I don’t believe for a minute that she opened on the full moon by chance! They say that moonflowers open in the dark to be pollenated by night flying sphinx moths or other insects. But if that were the only reason, it wouldn’t matter what night her flower opened, would it?
Does the full moon pull her open like the tides? They say that leaves and seeds grow more in the waxing moon, and roots grow more in the waning moon. The moonlight certainly radiates Datura’s beauty, and she glows with an ethereal, ghostly quality. And then, the following morning, she is just another flower, rather pale in the morning light. Moonflowers need the moonlight to be seen in the dark. The bright whiteness of their flower draws down the moonlight to our eyes at ground level and reflects it back to us. Mesmerized with her light and fragrance, our senses open to even more of the evenings’ magic, such as the summer night sounds of the crickets and the frogs, and the stars appearing in the sky. We are enveloped in a velvet cocoon of the evening darkness that transports us to that magical memory place where the busyness of the day is forgotten.
This year I was fortunate enough to be there to watch her flower open. All through the day her closed-up petals slowly emerged from their sheath, pushing up to the sky. Then as the shadows started to lengthen, the tentacles of her petal edges slowly began to release, little by little. It was like watching two lovers’ arms trying to hold tight to each other, but being pulled slowly apart, until the last finger slipped free. Then the white trumpet of her flower mouth flung open, and that incredible sweet perfume rushed out, like opening a window at the bakery, to announce far and wide the feast is ready. And with a little pale green color deep in her throat, and five pale pink stamens holding the offered pollen, she is like a maiden whose radiance needs no additional adornment.
What is the magic of a Datura moonflower? Like a siren call, the impulse to dive deep into her throat is felt. Her fragrance is so sensuous that I am carried to a long-forgotten magical garden where I can almost feel her perfume caressing me. And yet she is highly poisonous, and dangerously hallucinogenic, and her leaves and stems smell like dirty socks. So much contrast in one plant! Her beauty allures us and her poison frightens us. It would be easy to say that bad things often seduce with false beauty and write off Datura as a “bad plant”. Many ranchers have done just that because of how poisonous Datura is to their cattle, and understandably so.
But Datura’s poison is only her way of protecting herself. It is the way she has found to grow proudly and protected, so that she is able to open herself fully and without reservation to the moon when it is time, letting those protections go. Also known as Angel’s Trumpet, when she unfurls at dusk, throws herself open to the light of the moon, and sends out her fragrance, I hear her say to me: “Here, take my hand. Come drink the moonlight with me. Let me soften your fear.” And fears I wasn’t even aware I was still holding, slip away, no longer needed. My body remembers that moonlit summer nights are so nourishing for the soul, renewing a deep sensual connection we have to the Earth.
More Datura seeds are arriving in my mailbox any day now so that I can sow them in the garden bed this fall. The winter soil will hold them and sprout a new bed of Datura in the spring, and hopefully there will be more luscious flowers for many moonlit nights next summer. What memories, what prayers will be called? What fears will be laid to rest then?
Fourteen days to feast day and night on your favorite food? Party time! Your only food, the food your mother lived her whole life to find for you, laying her seed right where you would find it when you were born so you would be able to dig in. Chomp, chomp, chomp all day and all night. Ah, the smell and taste of the milkweed! The only food Monarch caterpillars like you will eat. You can’t get enough. You grow so fast that you shed your skin 4 times in 12 days!
With your immature eyes, you can’t really see how beautiful you grow to be, black and yellow and white stripes in a lovely organic pattern rippling over your tubular body, with adorable black antennae on both ends and sixteen shiny black feet with white socks. You have the zebra or tiger stripes of the insect world.
Which generation of this season are you? Do you know? Who keeps track? I have read that generations one, two and three only live two to six weeks as adult butterflies, but if you are the fourth generation? You have won the grand prize of a trip to Mexico for the winter, and back again next spring! So much responsibility – the lives of your children depend upon your return to this precious milkweed that feeds you. When did you become such a picky eater, developing such an intricate relationship with one plant species, the smell of it, the dream of it, drawing you from thousands of miles away?
Four generations in one summer, with the great grandchildren of your first spring babies carrying the legacy and hope for the next year. From our human perspective we can see your long story, the story of the multiple lifetimes your life, even though we usually can’t see our own. Who sees our long story? Maybe our ancestors? What if we could know more about the hopes and dreams, travails and wounds, of our great grandparents and/or our great grandchildren all in one life, one season? What would we do differently?
But first things first. Miracles have to happen. You will dissolve and be reformed into a lovely monarch butterfly. Do you have any idea of what you will become? Do you know that after you get too full to eat any more and get that overwhelming desire to find a safe place to hang upside down, and shed your last skin the 5th time, that the sleep that overtakes you won’t stop until you melt? At least you will be protected in a most beautiful green jewel case trimmed with gold. Is it painful for you to lose your last skin and all that you are? Does it feel like the end? Like death? Or do you just go to sleep with dreams of wings? Do you dream of flying? Do you have any idea of how even more beautiful you will become when you emerge from your sleep?
I have a confession. I go out to my garden every day intending to bask in Nature and connect with the Land, but often I just get caught up in the details of care taking. Pulling weeds, pruning over-zealous plants, planting new seeds, training new vines and looking for pests and diseases. Just a day before, I found a HUGE nasty hornworm that had eaten the tops off of three of my tomato plants overnight. Boy was I angry at him! How dare he! When I found him, he met a very quick demise. So, the next day when I saw a large caterpillar on one of my plants my quick instinct was to grab him and throw him out of the garden. Then in mid-flight, I said, OH NO! That was a monarch caterpillar!!! He was on the milkweed!! I was mortified. I rescued him and returned him to the milkweed plant, and he started munching away again within a few minutes. WHEW.
How quickly I went from thinking this caterpillar was ugly and harmful to seeing his full glory and Beauty. I remember briefly thinking the hornworm was rather lovely, for just a second, in between being grossed out by a horned caterpillar larger than my thumb, and wanting him OFF the tomato plants.
Maybe your mom said what mine always said, “Beauty is in the eye of the beholder”. If only we could see the pervasive Beauty in everything and everyone more often. Even if the Beauty is mixed with something that is uncomfortable or even harmful to us, there is usually a Beauty of some sort there. Beauty is not naïve and romantic. It is an essential way of seeing and healing our world.
I can’t wait to see if we have several monarch butterfly hatchlings in a couple of weeks and watch them gather strength for their long journey south. Maybe I can travel with them in my dreams, seeing all the Beauty in the world along the way. For how else can a butterfly see the world but as beautiful, as it looks for flowers to feed on everywhere it goes?
Stillness and serenity. A welcome balm, yet how often do we allow ourselves to fully relax into them? Recently, I stumbled upon a wide still stream, having little idea of the depth of the treasure I would find there when I first found a new path to explore.
There is a city park in our town, not far from my house, with tennis courts and softball fields and picnic areas and even a soapbox derby track. Chattering children, bike riders, happy picnic noises. Community at its best. And the park happens to be on hilly land, so that means there are a lot of forested areas and valleys with creeks in between the developed areas.
I was feeling rather silly that I did not know there were hiking trails in this park, and I went as soon as I could after hearing about them. As I stepped from the parking lot, across the grass, to the trailhead at the edge of the woods, the stillness was already palpable. The woods are such a contrast to our ordered park areas. In the forest everything takes care of itself. Nothing needs mowed, no doctors or nurses are needed to deliver new life, no one is providing food for the birds or wildlife. Stepping into a forest is stepping into a world where life feeds on the dying, and the dying feeds the new life, each and every day.
As I walked down the trail, winding around and over many roots and rocks, around big trees and small, I felt I was going down, going in. A valley in the woods makes me feel hugged and safe. I came to where a wide rock strewn stream bed flattens out, laying open a space where great volumes of water have raced through before. The banks of this creek bed are held and supported by twisted and gnarled roots of trees who have had their skirts lifted and swept away by ravaging waters leaving the stories of their lives exposed for all who come to visit. Have you ever wondered what they have endured? I think of Van Gogh when I see roots like this because Van Gogh’s last painting (unfinished) is of tree roots. He must have been captivated by the tree roots’ stories too.
Today, shallow water is slowly slipping over the rocks, carrying an infinite number of light glimmers on the water’s surface from dappled light coming through the trees. The stream is gently washing this land, soothing it, while laying open to the sky upon the rocks, deep in prayer. The peace and calm belie the days that she has raged through her small valley before. And rage again she will. But today she is still. And serene.
There is something very sensual in the way the curve of the bank is caressed by the gently rippling stream. And I realize my animal body would love to just lay in her warm waters and be gently lapped and washed over, while she tells me her stories. She is like a lover, this stream. If only I weren’t afraid of bugs, getting my clothes wet and dirty, or you know, someone seeing me.
I pick up a heart shaped rock and wonder how long has it been here? Did it just arrive with the last storm, or has it been here waiting a long time? Just for me? And holding it, I get the strong impression that the waters gather here the way blood gathers in our hearts. Today the stream is like a breath held between our heartbeats, a serenity between storms that have gone before and ones that will come again.
What is unleashed on the days that the sky opens? Is it joy or pain or fear or anger that runs through this valley as the land is scraped clean and reshaped by the surging water and dislodged rocks and fallen tree limbs? Perhaps all of those feelings and more. Certainly, on those days this land is anything but still, and the evidence of those days is all around me.
But today, there is only a calm still serenity and a call to just accept this moment, this rock, these waters, with all my open heart. Just be still She says. Accept the Grace. Just for today.
Suddenly, some afternoon thunder rumbles in, breaking up my reverie. A spell is broken that I didn’t realize had slowly woven around me. It is time to go back up the trail, thankful for this gift that allowed me to see the deep joy this Land holds. With my heart shaped rock in my pocket, I walk the path back to my car, offering my footsteps as prayers in return.
August 15, 2020
Have you ever had a day – I’m sure you have – where you realized the way you looked at a little part of your daily world has completely changed? Usually at first it is just a small noticing, but sometimes if you stay with it, you realize that a window has opened. A veil has been lifted showing you a new perspective on your life or a peek into the long story of our Mother Earth.
I have lived at our current house since we had it built for us in 2003. 2 acres, with one of those acres going over the hill into a forested area in the back half of the lot. When they cleared the front half of the lot to build the house, a lot of the trees were just pushed over the hill, and being low on funds and less aware at that point in my life, I remember thinking what a mess they made, but thought I couldn’t do anything about it and it felt unstable to walk on with all the debris. And being busy with 2 kids, running a business, travel, and aging and dying parents, I rarely if ever walked past the tree line at the edge of the yard. For 17 years. I am embarrassed to say that now, especially because I often drive several miles to the state forest to go hiking. I always like being in the woods.
Two years ago I had made friends with the hemlock that lives on the edge of the forest and sometimes sat under her low hanging arms especially on hot days when the cool wind blew up from the creek bed over the hill and I would feel the touch of her fingers whisper to me. But still, I never ventured further. Last fall, I saw a large vine that had grown to the top of a tree on the edge of the yard, and decided it had to go… and that led to spending the next month cutting out huge vines. Once I got back into the forest, I saw they had already pulled down several medium sized trees. This strongly invasive vine is oriental bittersweet, and some of the vines were as large as my forearm.
All during this time and maybe for a while before in the summer, I was hearing “heal the land”. Not actually spoken to me, but a knowing. And it meant “heal THIS land”. And I was like “really?” This suburban lot, near a four-lane highway, home for a few deer, but nothing special? And the answer was “YES, this land. It matters. Start here.”
So somehow, the clearing of the vines was part of that. I was angry at them at first. They were other, they were the bad guy, how could they pull down beloved trees? I hacked and whacked away, careful not to disturb the other plants. Then, I saw the way these twisted vines made beautiful shapes, and I started to collect them and dry them and use them in my weaving.
Then one day I saw the bigger picture.! I had made a path into the forest. I had found a favorite log to sit on. I was walking out to the forest most every day. I had found my way down to the creek. And I realized that the vines that I had been working so hard against had brought me here. And I cried! I cried for the vines.
In one hand I was the instrument of pruning and taming the vines, setting boundaries, while in the other I was developing a deep love for this vine that was strong enough to help heal a pile of ruined tree debris all those years ago. And the curves of these vines now grace my studio with their exquisite spiraling dance captured in the hardwood. And this summer? There feels like more balance in the forest. More air to breathe, room for new growth.
The forest at the edge of my yard is now for me another reality that I can step into anytime I want to, or anytime the forest calls. Like walking into the edge of the cornfield in “Field of Dreams”, It is a veil that I can walk through and be with the heart of our Earth Mother, and instantly everything is a different, -time slows and disappears. The deep time, the long story of the Earth is palpable all around me. And I am so glad She called me to this healing, for me and for Her.
Emerging from the wood,
and the ancient sea, Embodied Beauty
bringing an offering
from the root of time-
A seashell, an acorn, a flower.
for us to accept
and be held in her grace.
in that still space,
between the rising and waning,
waxing and setting.
until the heartbeat of the earth
reaches up into her core
with its raucous, teeming, wild, ragged beauty;
its roots cracking
the hard stone
for her to begin softening into
what wants to be born
and for us.
Trusting the Knowing
In the teeming forest
embodied in shadow,
the ones who know,
holding the wisdom of generations
that is imprinted in my bones.
They are intuition,
myself, but not only myself;
Love, Beauty, Sophia,
They meet me in the quiet places
when I am still
and when I ask.
May the blessing be that
now and again
I set aside my fears,
I trust their voice,
and I know.
Bringing Forth Beauty
between the cocoon of the night,
and the unfolding of the day,
connected by my roots
to the vast aching beauty
that is Creation herself.
And while my roots
hold me and nurture me,
they also release me
to see beyond myself,
to see the blazing sun
in the dying leaves falling to earth,
feeding my roots,
a Beauty so brilliant,
that in those rare moments
when I have the courage
to catch just a glimpse of it,
I learn again
makes us whole.
Dancing with Trees
The late summer heat
shimmers on my leaves,
my sap pulsing and throbbing
in my limbs,
Beckoning to you in the breeze,
come dance with me.
Set aside your trembling,
look deep in your heart.
I have been waiting
Standing strong for you
Feel my sacred life
in your bones.
Trees Dancing with Me
Until I found your buried roots
I had forgotten
this dance of life
coursing in my blood like sap.
winter after winter,
hardened to the cold.
Yet at your core,
with an undying fire
sustained by roots
reaching down to our ancestors.
holding strong your heart,
It is enough.
The Edge of the Moon
The endless music calls from the dark green depths
Softening the edges and
absorbing the burning brightness from the day.
The incessant voice of the wind
tickling, nudging, pulling, generating
to dive in the ancient waves
to dance in the light of the moon
that gives me her strength, my strength
and holds my heart.
licking the edges of the night,
igniting in me
Illuminating radiance prancing
between trees, stars and my heart.
Sacred matter and sacred spirit
forged by the light of the moon.