The frosts came heavy and quick this year. Gardeners are among the first to admit there is mercy in a quick death; less time to worry. And while much of the annual garden has met its end, the surrounding landscape is ablaze with brightness and dancing colours.
One of the gardens here at the farm overflows with “tropical” plants like tomatoes and squashes. When Oscar (who is six) and I came over the hill the day after the frost, we saw black, lifeless, withered plants in the garden. He dramatically said, “What happened!” I told him, “Last night the Frost Giants rode from the North like a flood. They come this time every year near the full moon in September. Every thing they set their gaze on withers and dies.” Looking at the evidence of the selectively blackened garden plants, my explanation seemed quite compelling and reasonable to Oscar, and he nodded in saddened acceptance.
If I had given him the answer that they might have in school, something about the atmosphere inverting overnight and the coldest air pooling down to the low moist areas causing localized freezing, it would be such an unsatisfying explanation. Unsatisfying because it doesn’t capture the pathos or intimacy of real loss and it doesn’t reflect the event’s mystical heart, its real origins.
As adults we have learned to take these miraculous dramas of the natural world for granted, but for children the profound and innate wonder at nature comes easily. As we get older we learn more scientific ways of seeing things and ignore the inherit wonder of the natural world, until we forget it’s there. We learn to explain some of the mechanisms of natural events and things we understand of “nature” but our modern explanation does not explain the “why’s?” of the event, its meaning.
One of the gifts that a five year old has to offer is an innocent and un-biased perspective. Most often the physical or biological explanation of natural events ring less true for Oscar then the mythical story. It’s unfortunate that the objective modality of science often leads its believers to have a condescending tone that scoffs at and denies us the truth of spiritual reality, denies what we feel, lifes mystical core. I try to give both explanations and let him choose and take what he will. If I can I dovetail the explanations because the science behind something can actually increase the wonder when it fits within the bigger story. This takes creativity and time as a parent because like most cultures mine has lost these stories. They have been sacrificed on the altar of progress. So we have to recreate them. But first we have to remember them.
When reality has personal meaning for us we are much more conscious of our ecological/spiritual footprint as we walk through life. Our sense of spiritual danger from acting in a way that disrespects the Earth is real, immediate and understandable as Karma, as something you can’t get away from. This feeling is opposed to what we feel from an environmental explanation that is somewhat abstract and makes us feel distant, disempowered and somehow uninvolved.
Thankfully nature is so powerful that sometimes she overwhelms even the most rational minds with her beauty. The blazing colour of fall is one of these times. At some point in the fall we all have a moment where our eyes and brains awaken to the true beauty of creation and we say “WOW!”. The blaze of fall brings to us the realization of our changing life and how quickly time passes. This time of year in its beauty and drama holds the deepest truth of life, that death feeds life. When we see the death of the trees and plants in the fall it echoes with our own death. The Earth also shows us that while life disappears physically our spirit resides in the land and in the seeds. Seeds embody not just the cycle of the ecology but also the mystical cycle of our soul.
The Earth shows us that through plants and seeds that the fall is the time for “gathering in” the stored energy of summer, which are the seeds and roots. We humans need these foods to sustain and nourish ourselves through Her death, through the winter. To carefully bring in our wild relatives is a fall harvest ritual that celebrates and honours our plant ancestors. We have co-evolved with these plants and our ancestors and married into their rich family. In marrying her we created agriculture, which increased our odds of survival and enabled larger civilizations. In marrying her we co-created the domestic food most of the world eats everyday. Our rich relatives are still feeding us and healing us.
At the farm we collect seed to perpetuate these plants not just for their medicine and nutrients but because we cherish them and their place in the environment and our cosmology. Many of the wild herbs and vegetables that I grow popped right up in my garden. I honour these volunteers and take their spontaneous appearance as a gift, full of teachings. Plants like Purslane, Amaranth, Lambsquarters and Evening Primrose are most often just seen a weeds and carelessly pulled by gardeners. But if these healers and nurturers are left and even helped by gardeners they create more biodiversity, more biomass and more synergies that all bring life to and help the land recover from Her ravaged state.
When we make space for our wild relative in our garden they offer us an abundance of off-seasonal foods. Wild plants offer this abundance at times both earlier and later then the gardens domestic vegetables. In the spring these plants provide winter sweeten roots and then the first greens. Spring greens are the most nutritious and cleansing of the season. These wild greens, like all wild plants are much more medicinal then they’re domesticate vegetable relatives so some caution should be exercised when first consuming them. Over the years here at the farm we’ve learned more and more ways to process and eat these plants deliciously. Last week we were teaching the fermentation/preservation course and the participants were very exited to see we were saving the wild seed, grinding it and putting it in our sourdough bread and morning porridge.
Seeds, like roots have powerful medicine. When the face of creation withers, life pulls itself into its roots and seeds. When a plant is in its seed form it is in a time capsule virtually outside of the realm of growth and decay. When in seed the spirit of the plant is with its ancestors and future generations. This is part of why seeds are so sacred and mystical.
The teaching of the seed reminds us that a part of ourselves is, like the seed, that which moves from one generation to the next but who’s face is never seen. In a seed the plants spirit awaits the conditions to wake up and grow again. This fact also contains an important teaching. In life we often feel we are or could be something special and good, but we can’t really step into that reality and we wonder why. In the way the seed acts shows us that sometimes it’s not our own shortcomings, it’s just that the outer circumstances aren’t right for us to step into that reality. The seed also teaches us that between births we live with our ancestors and future generations waiting to awaken, waiting to die in that world to be born into this world.
If I don’t see you at the workshop, gather in and be thankful this season.