Monday, February 23, 2015

Thoughts on Despair and Hope

saw tooth oak
It's February. Every February is a bit of a challenge for me…the last month of winter, and often the coldest. I long for the warm sunshine on my skin, for gentle breezes, for fresh greens in the garden, for the buzz of insects. I long to open the windows again, to fall asleep to the sound of peepers and creek gurgle, and awake to the raucous chorus of birdsong. February is often the hardest month because we know that very soon now things will begin to change swiftly. Already there are stirrings…sap rising in the trees, buds swelling, bulbs beginning to push their greens up through the soil. I become excited at the first hint of yellow in the emerging witch hazel blooms…but then comes more snow and more freeze.

witch hazel

When I was a teenager I would often decide at this point to just act as though spring were here. I would go to school in shorts and a tee shirt. I got a lot of weird looks, but I do remember a dear art teacher commenting, "April, you are like a breath of fresh air". That made me smile. Maybe those early signs of spring from the garden are there for our spirits as much as anything else…little signs of hope from Mother Nature to say, "don't despair, spring is coming". 


I'm grateful for them, all those little signs of hope, because not despairing gets more difficult every winter. In the summertime it is easy. The garden is full of life and activity. There is so much to do and marvel at that little attention is spared for the larger view. In the wintertime though, when we are closed up indoors in our quietude, my attention wanders to goings on beyond my little protected earthspace. What I see scares the crap out of me. Our rainforests and boreal forests being destroyed, our water polluted, oil spills weekly, the oceans in terrible states…How can we continue to do this to the earth?

Years ago, when I first began this garden on this little piece of land, it was with the belief that no matter where we found ourselves, we could start to make things better. By working in a respectful and loving way with Nature and Mama Earth, we could start the healing process, begin to mend the wounds of the land, begin to heal the rift between humans and Nature. Through gardening, and I'm not just talking about planting a vegetable patch, but tending a garden that becomes our home, one that cares for us because we care for it, a garden of co-creation and interdependence, though this practice we could begin to find our way back to the way of life we were meant to live on this planet.

Every year brought me more hope as I witnessed life returning to this small patch of earth. Barren pastureland became a butterfly meadow, full of wildflowers. Trees and shrubs invited more and more birds. Building the soil every year filled the earth with life and held the water. Just being in the garden, so full of life, filled the heart with joy. Making medicine and meals from our harvests satisfied more than our bellies. I wondered at the reason for folks actually preferring a lawn of mowed grass over this.

Sometimes I have to ask myself, what is the value really of trying to restore a balanced relationship with the land on less than two acres, surrounded by fields of mono crop corn and soybeans. But I know I'm not the only one trying to find their way back. The world is dotted with individuals and families, communities even, who are trying to find a different way to live, one based on reciprocity for the gifts of the earth, that doesn't take anything for granted. The question is, are we enough? Is this work happening fast enough? Because the machine of industry is eating up what they call resources, and what I call Life so fast I shudder to think what will be left when my grandchildren are born.

asian pear buds
But I can't lose hope, because Nature never does. She keeps on patching things up the best she can, with weeds coming up to repair the deadpan, and bacteria proliferating to eat up the toxins. Like a good mother, she never gives up. And so I take my cue from the great Mother. This spring I will continue to plant my seeds and offer thanks for the life surrounding me. But I will also continue to sign the petitions, to state that I do not consent to taking more than we need and give nothing back. It's time we took a hard look at what the destruction our way of life in the modern age has wrought on the earth, and ask if we truly consent to this…for what? For cheep plastic crap, denatured food and a lifestyle full of emptiness because it is cut off from the natural world?

monarda flower head
The architecture of Nature in the dead of winter holds more beauty and inspiration for me than anything I could buy in Walmart. What can each of us do? We can plant a garden, anywhere we can, and then let it teach us (oh, the garden has so much to teach). I wonder, can we slow down enough, quiet down enough, to listen to Life? I hope so. Can you hear her? The Earth is calling us home.


  1. Beautiful photos and reflections. I resonate with everything you say here. x

    1. Thanks Lucinda. I still have your Birch Polypore post open on a tab. I can't wait to get out and look for them.