Each year I look forward to seeing which of the spring bulbs have survived the winter and the ravages of squirrels. I greet each new bloom like the old friend it is, happy to see them again and excited to share in another growing season. This year, however, is different. We have sold the property we've lived on for the past decade. While I was OK with leaving the house, I was vastly unprepared - and surprised by - the depth of loss I feel upon leaving the plants.
I hesitated to write this for a number of reasons. It's deeply personal and still very raw for me and while many see me as an extrovert, the truth is, I am actually quite private about a lot of things, especially that which affects me profoundly. However, I am also a writer, and my best writing is always about that which affects or inspires me, and fires my imagination until I have to share it. The plants I've loved also deserve a homage for all the teachings they've given me over these many seasons. Finally, if you are on this path, you need to know what you're getting yourself into!
In my very first apprenticeship class my beloved teachers Tommy Priester and Madelon Hope told us that we needed to be prepared. Our lives would be forever changed by following this path. We would never look at plants - or the world for that matter - in the same way. I didn't understand it at the time, but in the intervening years had come to believe I knew what they meant. Now I know that I didn't have a clue.
That spring of my apprenticeship the double mock orange blossom shrub planted for me by my father bloomed beautifully around the same time that someone in class mentioned flower essences. We were to learn how to make flower essences later in the season, and this plant which I've loved since childhood would not be in bloom then. I called my teacher Linda Patterson, whom I had taken other classes with, and begged her to walk me through making a flower essence. She was so patient and kind to me, described to me her process and I made my first flower essence from that plant. I'd already had shamanic training through other work, so it was easy for me to connect with the plant spirit. I was again unprepared for the experience. This particular plant was a cutting from an older shrub which my parents had since my childhood. Along with the messages about what this essence can give to the world were personal messages to me of a relationship forged when I was very small, and a special gift that the plant had given to me when it sent up a single beautiful stalk of white, fragrant flowers long after the normal blooming season so that I could carry that stalk in my bridal bouquet. Connecting to this plant in this way has forever changed me.
Now I have left them. Their care is no longer in my hands. I do not know if the new owners will look at the profusion of violets and celandine as weeds or the powerful plant allies they are. I fear that they will poison the "invasives" so that they will have a beautiful lawn. Will they rip out the solomon seal? What about the yarrow, queen anne's lace and the st. john's wort? I worry about my plant friends that I've left behind. I cannot even begin to think about my beloved double mock orange shrub without crying. That's the deepest wrench of all.
Here's what I'm trying to say, kids: when you open yourself up to the plant spirits, you can't go through the world the way you did before. In the way that becoming a parent suddenly makes every news story about children more personal, because it could be your child, so too does the bond you are forging with the plants connect you to something else. When you become an herbalist, you are connected to something older, deeper, and wiser than that which we think we understand about life and how things work. Your definition of friends and family changes and expands. You are far more in tune with the true interconnection of life. Plants give us so very much - their blossoms, leaves, stems, their very roots - and ask for so little in return. They give us the oxygen we breathe and we in turn give them the carbon dioxide they need to survive as well. We are inextricably interconnected in a way the average person doesn't think about, but to an herbalist, that connection is profound.
Leaving these plants behind, which had given me so much, is a deeply painful loss which took me by surprise. The night before the closing, I went to all the plants that were visible to say a private goodbye and to thank them for their love, lessons and support. When I got to the dogwood in our backyard, I couldn't help myself. I threw my arms around it and wept. Together we had fought hard to keep that tree from dying and it was thriving beautifully. I hope the new owners will use the phone number of the lovely man who helped save our tree so that it can continue to blossom and thrive.
My new home has two apple trees and a beautiful willow tree. I am eagerly awaiting this growing season to see who else lives here. This is the part about renewal and new beginnings: there will be new relationships to forge and when I leave here, I'm sure there will be another painful parting. I hope I will be better prepared for it this time. Herbalism is not for the faint of heart, kids. You've been warned.