This may sound absolutely crazy but it is totally true.
There is a major intersection I need to pass almost every day. On the corner is a restaurant–and old fashioned inn. They have a pretty garden which does a lot to brighten up an otherwise dismal urban corner, full of concrete and speeding cars. This time of year that garden is full of sunflowers.
Every time I pass, I comment on them, exclaiming to Max (my perpetual passenger) “Look! Look how spectacular these sunflowers are!” These particular ones have flowers the size of my head. Their stems reach at least eight, maybe ten feet tall, maybe even taller. I have never gotten out of my car to stand along side them (though I have secretly longed to do so). Its not good “busy intersection” etiquette. And the garden is private property and all that.
One recent morning, Max and I passed by in the early morning. The intersection was not terribly busy, even though he and I were running late. As we passed those sunflowers, whose heads are now bowing, whose leaves are now yellowing, I said one more time, “Look Max…Look at sunflowers.”. From the back seat a tired Max piped up. “Mom, you always are telling me to look at the sunflowers. Why?”
“Well,” I said, “Because they are beautiful.”
“But they are dying” he said. “”Look, that one is almost dead”.
“They are not dying”, I said. “They are changing. They are giving their power back to the earth, and they too will go there and their leaves and roots and decaying bits and parts will be food for the plants who grow next. And next year they will return again. There are always sunflowers here every summer.”
We turned the corner and I took one last fleeting look. “Oh how I love them,” I sighed. “The sunflowers are so beautiful.”
And just like that a voice strong and clear but gentle and sweet rose up from my heart and whispered to me, “And the sunflowers think you are beautiful too!”. I immediately, without warning started to cry.
Several years ago, during the height of my grief over my marriage, I would go out to my yard an sit with my back against the oak trees. It was the oak trees that initially attracted me to this house–their ancient arms seem to embrace the whole property. This space feels held, if a little shady. It is always several degrees cooler up on my hill than in the rest of town. And I always feel protected. Whenever I would lean my aching back against that tree, I felt like a little girl leaning against her strong grandfather. I knew I was safe.
I have been thinking a lot this week about our relationship to the plants around us. Perhaps it is the fact that I am keeping a garden now. My veggies are not just something that show up neatly stacked at the grocery story, or charmingly arranged at the farmers market, but they are growing in the ground before my eyes. I planted tiny seeds, watched with surprise when shoot grew, was amazed as I saw the plants grow up before me. For the longest time my chili plants seemed to do nothing and then all of a sudden after weeks and week of heat they took off to the races and are now laden with fruit. When I pick them, I realize that something living, something which is always changing, is now changing to the point where it can share with me. It drew some power from the earth and now offers gifts. I will take those gifts and consume them and the power will be transformed. I will be transformed and the cycle will continue.
What i do with that power is up to me. Will I be as generous as the cherry tomatoes that never seem to stop? Will I be as sweet as the carrots which keep surprising me with the size of their carrot roots/hearts? Will I be as beautiful as the sunflowers that take my breath away no matter how heavy the traffic? Will I offer shelter and protection like the oaks.