The vegetable gardener knows the joy of growing cultivated plants from seed. It is among the most satisfying garden activities. These plants, through generations of human handling, accommodate us generously. They emerge within hours or days of one another, each nearly identical to the seedling beside it, predictable and civilized like cultivated plants should be. After the prescribed number of days has passed, the intended crop appears, and the long-standing relationship between plant and human again bears fruit. One may go further and collect seed from an especially strong plant to improve the strain, and in this way, the cultivation continues. Our relationship with these domesticated plants is essential and sacred, just as our relationship with wild plants should be.
When I was in college, I had a history professor whose uncommon way off assessing the performance of his students remains with me to this day. He told us in the beginning of the course exactly what would determine the grade we eventually received. If we regurgitated everything he told us perfectly, read all of the assigned books and understood and could repeat what we learned in them, and otherwise mastered the details of what he was attempting to convey, then we would receive a C. If we added to this some valid additional source, other than him or those he referred us to, then we would have the possibility of being awarded a B. In order to get the A, we had to come up with something novel in addition to this, an interpretation of events and other data that reflected some kind of creativity on our part, that indicated we understood the information, and could interpret it in an interesting and unique way. I have always found this archetype to be most compelling.
It is best to leave an animal alone when it is giving birth, and also when it is dying. The manner in which a mammal dies is best kept private, there are simply moments there that should not be shared. Of course death can be shared in other ways. One may even look directly into the eyes of another just at the moment of death, and see clear to eternity: desperate, desperate eternity.
A lovely little beast expired today. One that had only recently joined my menagerie. She was an odd one no doubt. If anyone were to accuse me of anything regarding the animals I keep, it would be that I am extreme in the adoration and care that they receive. The sin I commit simply that I care for them a bit too much. They race to me from a distance, and joyfully leap into my arms. To feel that burst of energy from them, when their exertion reaches my chest, is to feel love and appreciation from another warm creature in a most profound way.
The price of love is grief. All that is irreplaceable will inevitably be lost. The only reprieve from this relentless and remorseless chain of suffering is death. It is by this calculus that we may conclude death is the only promise life holds, and that it is therefore the most sacred thing we will encounter. Faith is not the belief that everything will turn out well. It is instead the belief that whatever the consequence of virtue, the meaning of our action is not determined by the excruciatingly unpredictable outcome of our endeavor, but by the nature of our struggle to create beyond ourselves, and the values we embody.
To be just and kind when all is well - when we have been victorious, when no truth eludes us - is known to be quite easy. When things have not gone our way, this is more difficult. Are we up to a sort of magnanimity even in defeat? I have long concluded that magnanimity must be preceded by victory, but it may also be our ally when the purpose has not been realized.
At the heart of every sad story, there should be love and hope and perseverance. This is the redemptive quality of grief; it can be gorgeous as the most triumphant tale. But in order for this to be, we at the heart of it must fully accept the pain of our loss. No attempt can be made to diminish the impact, and moving on must wait until the sadness is lifted by time, and the transformation complete. On the far side of such an experience we are better for the suffering, changed in permanent fashion; something dear has been lost, and nothing will be the same.
I lay in the grim, gray dampness of the ward, among the grumbling numbers of tortured souls. Their sleep is never more settled than the hours they spend awake here, scraping slippers along the cement floors of the institution that confines them. I find it hard to slumber in the night, much better to nod away the daylight.
Once the nurses have retired I will rise, scurry down the hall in my bare feet, and meet the warm body of my accomplice. There I will commit the mortal sin that keeps me sane in spite of all that surrounds me. She has kept our secret thus far, although there is some murmuring now that has me wondering what trouble may await. No matter, tonight I will again tempt fate.
With the return of light rain to western Washington, and the end of what passes for a drought in these parts, I am relieved to report that the 90,000 or so native plants that we at Sound Native Plants in Olympia propagated this Spring and carefully tended through the increasingly hot and dry Summer, have landed on the welcome shore of Autumn. This is something to be grateful for.
Autumn also means the return of our work study crew from the Evergreen State College, which is literally just around the corner. We are near enough to the campus to consider ourselves a practical part of it; the college radio station comes in loud and clear on a less than high tech tuner. Many of these students are returning to us, and some will be entirely new. For the former, much will be familiar, but we take a lot of time to orient them, and really consider ourselves a significant part of their educational experience. A couple have even told me that they learn more about Botany with us, than they do from the faculty down the road.
We teach more than Botany here though, so below the fold are two distinct documents I wrote up to share with the students, and I thought there might be a place for them here as well.
Today I stood beneath the trees and watched yellow leaves descend as a strong breeze blew in from the bay below me. Each individual floated to the ground, finally striking the earth so gently. Fall, I thought, is almost upon us, and the great trees above are beginning to shed their summer ensemble.
Magnanimity must follow victory. Victory demands courage. An act of courage emerges out of a life of faith. Faith is the consequence of love. Love is an act of forgiveness. Forgiveness is an emblem of generosity. Generosity is the result of magnanimity. In this way one transcends justice.
From the first seconds we are granted; life is escaping. It races out ahead, leaving us behind. Unguided and uncertain, we heedlessly go forward, hot on the heels of life escaping. No sooner do our bones firm up within us, than they begin to diminish and soften again. Organs grow to perfect proportions just so their symmetry can fail. Hardly a moment of beauty enjoyed before the decay begins. Supple flesh, vital muscle, a fleeting spectacle worthy of each tear shed in its honor, enraptured gaze cast in its direction, and full-throated rendition of any love song ever written. By the nature of being we exist this way; our entire lives consumed in spinning velocity. Nothing touched can be held, nothing witnessed can persist, and it is because of this that every impossible atom of existence is immeasurably valuable, and every instant of it should be adored and embraced most passionately.
Some may find themselves ready to complain about the endless supply of rain descending from on high, but I find myself all the more grateful than I might otherwise be for the fact that the humidity is up and the temperature is down and the water precipitates out of heavy clouds ceaselessly. This may lead my readers to wonder just what it is about the dripping and plopping and rat-a-tat-tat that comforts and encourages me through what should be a warming and drying period of Spring. Well, for one, my future depends on the fate of thousands of stiff, little cuttings plunged into soil filled pots and assembled carefully in rows neatly aligned on black landscape fabric out in the nursery at Sound Native Plants.
One never knows what catastrophe has been averted by a little inconvenience, or so I like to tell myself. Of course, one can similarly never know which small disruption has affected the outcome favorably, and which was simply an unnecessary dalliance, but I like to imagine that every distraction has bound up in it the potential to avert a greater disaster. It is in this way that I continually comfort myself and encourage myself to carry on in spite of the way the universe resists my sincere efforts. It is also common for me to find myself pleasantly surprised when friction gives way to smooth operation, and things finally move along as I hoped they would. Invariably, this sensation of unencumbered motion is accompanied by some degree of apprehension, wondering just what calamity I will not be spared this time.
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