Showing Up With A Plant Teacher

Several months ago I decided to apprentice myself to a plant.  In this case, it is a particular Hawthorn in our “front yard” (an area of the farm close to the road).  I didn’t have a list of logical reasons for choosing this particular Hawthorn, just a sense that if I was to take my herbal learning to its next level, I needed to commit to listening and being–with every cell and ounce of myself–with a particular plant.  For various reasons Hawthorn spoke to me.  I’m not sure why I was drawn to this particular one, except that I can get to it quickly.

So, each day I can, I show up.   At first I nibbled a hawthorn berry at each visit–my version of Holy Communion, I suppose.  I engaged in my various Sit Spot routines (opening my senses, thanksgiving).  These days, I just connect with my heart, sensing its beating, feeling grateful (Hawthorn offers nourishing heart medicine on all levels).  I sit here, am curious.  Sometimes I sing.  Now I nibble on any edible plant I see around the feet of Hawthorn — tiny Cleavers, new Dandelion, a bit of grass, Blackberry leaf.  And I find that Hawthorn — a tree that generously produces glorious little (edible) flowers in spring, and all those red dry berries in fall, is coated with a generous amount of lichen in winter.  I nibble on the lichen, too, a survival food.

Hawthorn In Winter - photo by Jane Valencia
Hawthorn In Winter - photo by Jane Valencia

When one commits to a plant, magic truly happens.  I’m finding myself absorbing Hawthorn’s calm, beautiful being.  It’s changing how I respond to my children when I would normally get urgent or exasperated.  I (at least this morning) responded more like a tree.  Loving, present, with a deep focus and openness.  I didn’t try to be like Hawthorn.  I just felt (today at least) that I didn’t need to try to not respond in my usual fashion.  I just felt differently.

Ever since I listened to herbalist, poet, and activist, Sean Donahue‘s interview on HerbMentor Radio in which Sean described his practice of gifting Hawthorn (an ally of his as well) with milk and honey, just as his Celtic ancestors did, so I too have been doing so each morning.

This morning at Hawthorn I decided on the subject of the next Paloma And Wings (my kids herbal comic).  As I nibbled a Hawthorn berry, I suddenly realized that instead of spitting out the pit I would take the pit indoors and attempt to start it.  I had a vision of planting Hawthorn–and other herbs–at my other Sit Spot, a tangled place where dead trees were shoved aside some years ago, and where Elder, Red Alder, Birch, and Canadian Thistle are growing in wild profusion.   I might tend that garden.

When you ally with a plant, engaging in a conversation with nature and spirit on many levels, and seeing through the eyes of the plant (and it seeing through you) little urges drop into your being.  This is how gardens grow.  This is how you grow in ways that are bright and true to your deepest soul.

When we open to being in relationship with nature, to engaging in silence and story, our truest self blossoms.  We know it is authentic–who we really are.  And it becomes all the more astonishing and exciting when we begin to create together.

We grownups may end up being surprised.  A child, when nourished to be outdoors, will discover these friendships naturally.  These days the challenge is to give our children plenty of opportunity to be outside, and inspire their curiosity and connection.  Yes, we can send them to a nature program (I encourage you to find one that practices what’s known as coyote mentoring.  I’ll humbly note here that Wise Child Learning is grounded in these practices!), but, honestly, the very best is to get outside ourselves, unearth our own benuine curiosity and sense of wonder.  To apprentice ourselves to the Dandelion or the Chickadee or the twirling cloud.

What wise, alive nature awakens when you unearth your own singular, expressive, expansive connection with just one tree, or herb, or stone?  What do you begin to discover about your — and your children’s — birthright as a human animal on this bright gem of a planet, Earth?

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