Nomenclature

The beginning of wisdom is to call things by their proper name.” 

Confucius

Carolus Linnaeus, the “father of modern taxonomy,” was a Swedish botanist, zoologist, taxonomist, and physician who detailed the binomial system of nomenclature.  Nomenclature is a set, or system, of names used by a particular individual or group. This modern, two-name system classifies organisms to Genus and species. These are the two most specific levels of classification included in the taxonomic system of living things.  Scientists use this universal system to confirm the true identity of organisms with multiple common references.  General, or common, names, often describe the distinguishing characteristics of an organism and are not necessarily dedicated to one distinct creature.  The Latin-based, binomial arrangement of Genus and species is also descriptive and detailed, but unlike its common counterpart, is dedicated to a single organism.

Houstonia caerulea is the scientific name assigned to a petite, perennial species native to eastern Canada and the United States.  Clusters of these plants produce small, blue flowers with a yellow center.  The species name, caerulea, means blue, describing accurately the aquatic, azure color of the dainty blooms.  Commonly, this species is called “Bluets” by some, and “Quaker Ladies” by others.  The first name is an ode to its clumps of cerulean-colored sepals.  The second name likens the flower color to the shade of blue fabric often used by Quaker women to sew their dresses. Both the common and scientific name specify scrupulously this sweet, woodland, wildflower that welcomes Spring.

As humans, we are bestowed our legitimate name at birth.  Chosen with purpose by our parents, our name is the keystone of our character. It is the essence of our emerging existence.  As we expand our presence on this planet, our interactions with numerous individuals expose us to a system of unremitting names and endless epithets that inters our intuition and smothers our unsullied spirit.  Labels laden with judgement and laced with rancor leave us rootless in our purpose and unresolved in our own physical body, mental acuity, and emotional awareness.  The chaste connection to our elemental essence and our deep-seated divine spirit is lost.  It is buried under murky layers of misrepresentations and myths, saturated by our own acrid appellations, or the callous characterizations from others, sowing us deep in the rumination of shame, loathing, fear, and unworthiness. Pushing upwards through the terrain of trauma, acknowledging our affliction, cultivating our consciousness, and extricating ourselves from the entangled untruths of our inherent identity restores the path to our sacred center.  In claiming and cultivating this divine space, we can unearth our authenticity. We propagate our own peaceful power, cultivate our creativity, flourish in our freedom from the opinions of others, widen our intuitive wisdom, and thrive in our intrinsic truth. Richly rooted in relevance and nourished by our own heart and tenderness, our life becomes luminous.

Nature’s Rx

“In every walk with nature, one receives far more than he seeks.” 

John Muir

Cornered by grief and perhaps fenced in by ego, it can be hard to extricate ourselves from the heaviness of our thoughts.  I began my week with my heart steeped in sorrow.  By leaning into my feelings and Mother Nature, I ended my week with my heart awash in gratitude.

When my heart is hurting, I can……

Sit outside in solitude to create space around me to grieve freely
Walk in the woods to untangle my thoughts
Wade in the creek to cleanse my soul
Hug a tree to feel safe and included
Step barefoot in the grass to ground me in gratitude
Raise my face to the sun to welcome warmth and light
Rest in the rain to recharge and regroup
Talk with a friend to give voice to my feelings
Listen to nature’s songs to soothe my anxiety
Gaze at the stars to sit silently in humility and awe
Grow something from seed to cultivate my compassion
Inhale deeply to center my awareness
Sift soil through my hands to affirm my sacred bond to nature

Nature provides us with a vast variety of landscapes in which to immerse and restore ourselves. Her remedies are limitless. A daily dose of the outdoors saturates our senses, encourages emotions like compassion, gratitude, humility, and awe, clarifies our thoughts, centers our awareness, and calms our anxiety. Nature’s countless concoctions connect us wholly to ourselves and our well-being.

Companion Planting

“Be with those who help your being.”  

Rumi

In our garden of life, many people come and go.  Our interactions with others can be beneficial or detrimental to our well-being, growth, and development. I have always carried a very romanticized view of love and relationships. Only in the last few years have I become to understand and appreciate those who grow nearest to me within the borders of my garden.  Like herb and vegetable varieties that may be planted together for mutual benefit, the perennial presence of my closest companions cultivates a clear capacity for collective encouragement, strength, protection, and love. 

 In gardening and agriculture, companion planting is the practice of growing certain plants in close proximity to each other.  These garden ”friends” improve intake of nutrients, promote the presence of pollinators, preclude pernicious pests, and bolster biodiversity.  Growing gracefully together, these companion plants complement each other. Tomato and basil are savory partners both in and out of the soil. Alongside each other in the garden, the aromatic basil deters pests from the tomato, allowing the tomato to bear fruit more bountifully. Moreover, many gardeners have noted that neighboring basil brings about a noticeable sweetness in the tomato. In the kitchen, these two plants mingle together deliciously in a variety of Italian dishes.

Another familial trio of garden companions is known as the Three Sisters. For centuries, these three culinary crops, corn, climbing beans, and squash, have been celebrated in Native American tradition and cultivated together to complement each other both in and out of the garden. Corn provides the stalk to support the climbing beans vertical growth. As nitrogen-fixers, the beans take nitrogen, an essential nutrient for plant growth, from the air and convert it into a form that can be absorbed by the corn and squash roots from the soil. In addition, with taut tendrils twisted lovingly around the corn, the beans provide stability and support to corn in stormy weather.  Growing lush and low, the big leaves of squash shade the ground, retaining moisture in the soil and suppressing weed growth. Outside of the garden, each member of this time-worn triumvirate brings to the table specific vitamins, minerals, and macromolecules to concoct a delicious, nutritionally balanced, culinary creation. 

In the landscape of my life, I have cultivated a variety of relationships. My perennial companions are steadfast, rooted deeply in trust, loyalty, and love. We expand, mature, and thrive together. We nourish each other with understanding, acceptance, grace, laughter, and joy. Supporting each other in growth, we celebrate the unfolding of our beauty bursting forth from our authentic selves. In times of disturbance, we encircle each other tightly to weather our sorrow.  

In recent years, I have tended thoughtfully to an assortment of seasonal relationships. These annual allies settle close to me quickly and spark my passion, generosity, and vulnerability.  They sway me to stay in the present moment, share their spirit, and alter my aspect. It is through their ephemeral existence that I renew my purpose and root deeper in my authentic self. Seasons change and it is hard to let go. As I push through the layers of compacted grief and sadness, I acknowledge and honor the wisdom, support, and unconditional love so freely shared by those with whom I have spent time, no matter how brief. I continue to grow in compassion, gratitude, and patience for others, myself, and my journey.

Weeds

“Weeds are flowers too, once you get to know them.” 

A.A.Milne

In lawns and other manicured green spaces, weedy species of plants are undesirable and burdensome, often a mark of disgrace, bringing judgement upon the gardener.  These misplaced plants are denounced for their pervasive, prolific, and pushy presence in every plot of land that humans attempt to propagate.  Ecologically, weeds are referred to as “naturalized species,” or plant species that have successfully reached level one of ecological function by establishing and maintaining a population outside of their assumed, indigenous, habitat range.  In natural systems, they are recognized as the hardy, ground-breaking, resilient, pioneer species that are the first species to colonize a new ecosystem, or re-establish an area that has been disturbed by flood, fire, or other perturbation.  They are the widespread generalists, bountiful and beautiful, adept at adaptation, and experts in expansion. Weeds are only undesirable invaders in areas of human disturbance.  Looking beyond the gardener’s pristine plot, these plentiful plants are powerful.

As children, many of us discovered the wonder of weedy species wandering our back yard lawn. Chickweed crept through the thick, green turf with its ear-shaped leaves, “hairline” along its stem, and tiny, delicate, star-like, white flowers, a refuge for the garden fairies. Common clover, its white flowers buzzing with bees, brought us to our bellies in hopes of discovering a single stem with the rare and fortuitous fourth leaf. The simple, common “dandy lion,” or dandelion, with its bright, yellow flower head composed of countless tiny, single florets morphed mysteriously into a silvery, soft sphere of seeds, scattered by a single, wish-laden blow. Through a child’s perspective, these pesky perennials had magical properties. They brought joy, luck, and hope. Without judgement, their persistent, misplaced presence was valued.

Like the undesirable species growing in a utopian garden, many members of the human species are judged and devalued. Social stigma germinates around various populations; people with mental illness, substance use disorder, differences in learning styles or intellect, or a criminal background. It is through society’s lens of benightedness and burden that many of us may collectively be perceived, or perceive ourselves, as less worthy than others.  However, this is only one perspective. Just as a child appreciates the bewitchment and beauty of the backyard lawn weeds, we can learn to acknowledge and embody our own power when we are feeling misplaced. Our orientation may not be what we envisioned, but in our novel position we can stand proud in our own story. We can root ourselves firmly in the fertile ground of gratitude and self-acceptance, expand our extent to encourage others, scatter the seeds of hope and healing, nurture our natural talents, and mature wholly into our own magic.

Sojourn

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Mary Oliver

Two months have passed since my father died. I have spent many hours in solitude mourning the loss of his physical presence, reminiscing with old photos, reflecting on his generous spirit, quiet creativity, conscience connections with others, and his overall unremitting optimism and love for life. Moreover, I have thought deeply about my own sojourn on this planet. In his 85 years, my dad created and lived his best life. In honoring his presence, I am intentional in creating my own authentic life. A makeshift experience is not acceptable. As I was shuffling through some papers, I found this keynote address that I was honored to deliver at the Brook Road Academy Commencement Ceremony in 2013. The words I shared with the senior class then are still reliable and significant as I continue on my journey today.

Old Rag Mountain Overlook

 As you sit before me this afternoon, I am sure most of you recall your first day at Brook Road Academy.  You arrived from different places.  For each of you, Brook Road has been a respite, a place to catch your breath, a nurturing community in which to learn, to teach, to re-group, to choose a new path, and to gather momentum to continue your life’s journey. Extending along the Blue Ridge Mountains in Virginia, Shenandoah National Park has been a place of inspiration, respite, and relaxation for me for almost 30 years.  As an avid hiker, I spend a great deal of time in Shenandoah National Park walking amongst the cascading waterfalls, climbing to the expansive overlooks, and studying the impressive geologic history, rock formations, and wide array of wildflowers. The trail system in the park is extensive and includes areas of designated wilderness and 104 miles of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, or AT.  Many hikers traverse this trail from end to end, Georgia to Maine.  Brook Road reminds me of the shelters that these through hikers encounter on the AT.   The protective, three-sided huts are primitive, but welcomed structures after a long, arduous day of hiking on the trail. As hikers stop and rest in these lean-tos, community and camaraderie exist, however long the stay – just like Brook Road.

South River Falls Trail

So here you are – each of you has chosen a new path and the hour is here for you sort through your “stuff,” decide what stays behind to lighten your load and what is worth the weight to be carried with you as you prepare to depart our safe little lean-to.  As we are together this one last moment, I feel humbled as the experienced hiker chosen to give you a few words of advice: 

For some of you, your path may be clear-cut, for others not so obvious.   Walk in stillness and await for something along the path that feeds your purpose. Observe, appreciate, and saturate yourself in nature’s beauty and abundance for what you seek may be revealed in the unexpected.

Be mindful of every step, observe the minuscule moments and the majestic milestones along the way – the spectacular sunsets, gentle breezes, and aromatic wildflowers, as well as twisted ankles, blistered feet, and sore shoulders from carrying a heavy pack.  Live entirely in the experience, learn humbly from hardships and happiness, and let go completely of cargo that is holding you back.  Keep moving forward.

 At times, your journey may seem mundane or boring.  Stay focused, savor the familiar moments, and find calmness, peace, and purpose in everyday routines.

Skyline Drive

Practice gratitude to manifest sacredness in each day.

You will meet many different people on your journey.  Every human interaction is a chance to make things better or make things worse.  Remember, the most important person, is the one standing in front of you.  Be kind – no exceptions. 

Take time to rest and recharge on your journey.  Do not be afraid to be alone – insist on and cherish times of quiet solitude.  For it is in these moments you will hear the quiet whispers of your heart, guiding you deeper down the path to your truth and life’s purpose.

Hawksbill Summit

There will be obstacles – every path, however well maintained, still has obstacles – fallen trees, boulders, and water crossings.  Stop and pause at each obstacle.  Be thoughtful and creative in your solutions to overcome what stops you in your tracks.  Sometimes you are presented with a detour or a new path.  Point your compass in the new direction and continue on your way with confidence and conviction in your navigation skills.  Most hikers will tell you, and it has certainly been my experience, that the most magnificent panoramic views and spectacular waterfalls are reached only after miles of slow, steady, uphill climbs; steep, thigh-burning descents; or precipitous, ledge-balancing maneuvers.  These vistas are the reward for lots of hard work, effort, and sweat, while maintaining a sense balance.  The pinnacle will absolutely take your breath away.

So, pick your path, know your boundaries, but acknowledge that a little discomfort is a sign you are working hard to make progress on your journey.  If your intuition nudges you to stop at a hidden overlook or leads you down a trail that is not marked on your map, explore and lean into the unknown.  You may end up on a different mountainside, but the view can be just as beautiful and the experience just as full.  This is not the path on which I began when I graduated from high school, but here is where my path has led me in all of its climbs, descents, and obstacles.  Let me tell you, the view from where I am standing is amazing.  Just know where you are, is where you should be.  Ultimately, the journey is yours alone – your path, your walk, your destination. Godspeed.

This post is dedicated to Matthew Stone, 21, a Brook Road Academy graduate whose journey here ended much too soon. His impeccable work ethic, kind-hearted, sweet nature, and playful, happy spirit will be profoundly missed.

My Garden of Life

“Show me your garden and I shall tell you what you are.”  

Alfred Austin

This post is in memory of my father, Richard “Dick” Connelly Lyon who passed away on Saturday, June 27, 2020 at the age of 85 years. These are the words I wrote and delivered as his eulogy to honor him at his Service of Remembrance. He was an amazing man who was always persistent in being present in my life. I love him very much and his physical presence will be profoundly missed.  

As a family, we can look at each other and see the physical characteristics we inherit from our parents and our grandparents. My square jaw and teeny, tiny fingernail beds definitely came from my father. In celebrating my dad’s life today, as his time in the physical world has ended, I would like each of us to shift our gaze inward to observe what essence of dad, or grandpa, you embody. 

Both my parents have a love for the outdoors. Dad was all about the fun. His sense of adventure was conveyed to me through a multitude of ski trips, sailing voyages, bike hikes, and plane rides. His love of the outdoors was evident in all of his hobbies and he was eager to share his enthusiasm and expertise with his children and grandchildren. I see in my own children their deep, sacred relationship to nature, adventurous spirit, and love for water and snow. I know our family ski trips and the time they spent with their grandpa at Snowshoe, Keystone, and Mont Tremblant expanded their appreciation for the outdoors. In reflection, however, his love for the natural world was deeply instilled in me in the quieter moments of backyard stargazing. As a young child, Dad and I spent many a dark hour together on the back porch. He would recite the story of each constellation that we traced with our fingers in the sky. We peered through my telescope at the moon, or the North Star, or whatever celestial wonder we felt like observing that evening. Orion, with his signature Three Sisters belt, is one of the first constellations my dad taught to me and it is my favorite in the winter sky. 

In my work, I facilitate a lesson where participants imagine themselves as a plant. A plant that most describes who they are – their personality and character, their essence. As I was thinking about the characteristics of my father that I most appreciate and seek to honor and emulate in my life, as well as exemplify in my children, I wondered what plants would represent him in my garden of life. There are three different flowers that come to mind.  First, is the sunflower.  Who doesn’t love a sunflower? They are cheerful and elicit joy and happiness.  They represent longevity, optimism, and a sunny disposition.  With his enduring smile, easy-going attitude, and steadfast positive outlook, he flowed through life as gracefully as the sunflowers turn to follow the sun through the sky.  Sunflowers are big and almost animated. As they sway in the garden, sunflowers remind me of my dad’s love of the piano, music, and theater. As a child, I stood next to my dad at the piano belting out show tunes during our evening “Sing Songs,”  a tradition that continued with my children and my sister’s two girls, performing hours of Disney song and dance routines with Grandpa accompanying them at the piano. 

Secondly, is the red poppy.  The red poppy represents my father’s colorful and vibrant zest for life, his exotic and extensive travels and adventures that he would share with his grandchildren upon his return through stories and trinkets.  In addition, its rich color represents my dad’s deep love of learning and commitment to education, always encouraging his children and grandchildren in their academic endeavors.  His bright creativity was evident in his landscape photography and musical talent.

Lastly, is the stargazer white lily.  This flower represents his humility, generosity, patience, and quiet, but profound spirituality.  My father was always grateful for any small task fulfilled on his behalf and time spent in conversation. In addition to his far-reaching community service, he shared what brought him joy through so many experiences with his children and grandchildren. He offered unfettered patience through hours of Calculus tutoring, ski lessons, and T-ball coaching. 

The stargazer white lily has a distinct and memorable scent. It infuses a garden space with its abundant essence. Like the lily, my father left lingering impressions with everyone he met. He was all about connecting with people, establishing and nurturing the roots of strong and lasting friendships and community. He cultivated a joyful, authentic life rich in relationships and ample in adventure. In tending the seeds of patience, optimism, adventure, and connection to community and the natural world that my father sowed early in my childhood, those of us close to him, can honor and embrace his spirit.


Roots

“A tree’s beauty lies in its branches, but its strength lies in its roots.” 

– Matshona Dhilwayo

Simple in structure and covert in function, roots anchor a plant in its substrate, absorb water and minerals necessary for plant growth, and store excess food and water. There are two types of true root systems. Fibrous, or diffuse, are thin, profuse, elegantly branched, and relatively shallow root systems that draw nutrients and water from the top layers of the soil.  Taproots grow singularly, or in pairs, deeper into the ground, drawing in nutrients and water closer to the water table. There are many taproots specialized for food storage that are important agricultural crops. Commonly known as root vegetables, they include carrots, beets, radishes, yams, parsnips, and turnips, as well as others.  Moreover, in response to stressful growing conditions, such as flooding, nutrient deprivation, heavy metals, and wounding, plants can form roots from non-root tissues, like stems and leaves. Although not true roots, these specialized structures know as adventitious roots are ultimately considered part of the plant root network.  They are adaptations that aid in plant growth, as well as provide a competitive edge in survival. Cypress, oak, mangrove, and aspen trees, ivy, horsetail, and economically important agricultural crops, such as wheat, corn, and rice are examples of plants with adventitious roots. 

Found in North America from Canada to Mexico, the Quaking Aspen, Populus tremuloides, is a species of aspen tree with thin, stalked leaves that tremble in the slightest breeze. Their root system is shallow.  Most aspens grow in large, clonal colonies that have been derived from a single seedling. It is through their shared, adventitious root system that new trees, genetically identical to the parent, bud and grow.  Pando, Latin for  I spread out, is a colony of aspen trees located in south-central Utah.  Pando, also know as the Trembling Giant, occupies a 106 acres and is believed to have originated from a single, male Quaking Aspen tree.  Although individual aspen trees have a life span of 40-150 years, the aspen root system endures and sustains itself, even through disturbances, like fire and drought. Pando is a single organism, perhaps the world’s oldest, living on a single, archaic root system believed to be over 80,000 years old.  Aspen colonies are indicators of ancient forests and grounded in their robust, resilient root system, they grow and spread steadfast and strong.

Just as the aspens, our beauty blossoms from the stronghold and stay of our roots. We must stand affixed and deeply connected to our authentic self to remain resilient and resolute in our growth. In turbulent times, when we may feel untethered, we extend and adapt our reach to re-establish our stability in shifting ground. Immersing ourselves in activities that engage our five senses, turns our focus to the present. In the moment of feeling groundless and un-rooted, find a quiet, comfortable place to sit and take a few deep breaths. Name five things you can see; four things you can touch; three things you can hear; two things you can smell; and one thing you can taste.  Simply and purposefully plant your bare feet on the ground and breathe down like you are growing roots.  A daily grounding practice of mindful meditation, sacred connection with nature through gardening, cooking, or medicine making, a quiet, watchful walk through the forest, or a silent, sunrise stroll down a sandy beach keeps us rooted in the joyful present and provides the adaptive structure through which we may continue to grow and thrive in times of turmoil and wounding. 

Innate Resources

“Trees do not force their sap, nor does the flower push its bloom.” -Ranier Maria Rilke

Our planet is blanketed with the beauty and biodiversity of five major biomes, large, naturally occurring communities of plants and animals that occupy a broad geographic area. The five major biomes include the tundra, desert, forests, grassland, and aquatic. Within each of these major biomes we can classify these ecological communities into smaller, distinct categories. For example, forests can be classified as temperate or tropical.  Aquatic biomes are classified as freshwater or marine (saltwater).  The Earth’s distinct biomes are shaped by the interactions of various abiotic conditions with the biotic populations of the geographic area. Abiotic factors are the non-living, physical and chemical conditions of a natural system and include temperature, water (precipitation, humidity, salinity, tides and currents), dissolved gases, sunlight, atmosphere (wind), pollution, pH, soil, nutrients, topography (altitude, aspect), and geography, specifically latitude, as areas of similar latitude globally have similar biomes.  Biotic factors include all living organisms and their relationships – producers, like plants or algae; consumers, animals that eat producers and other animals; scavengers, animals that eat carrion, dead plant material, or garbage; and decomposers, fungi and microscopic organisms that breakdown dead and decaying matter and re-cycle nutrients to the system. The interactions of these living organisms with their environment and with each other move matter and energy, creating the uniquely diverse, dynamic ecosystems of our planet.  Healthy ecosystems maintain an equilibrium and can efficiently recover from disturbances and perturbations. They are strong and resilient. As a result of their well-balanced, vigorous productivity, ecosystems provide a multitude of benefits to humans.

 These ecosystem services, or natural resources gifted by the environment, are divided into four broad categories.  The four categories are provisioning, food, water, fuel, medicine, fiber, and genetic diversity; regulating, climate regulation, water and air quality, pollination, erosion and flood control, decomposition, and carbon sequestration, or storage; supporting, photosynthesis, or primary production, water and nutrient cycling, formation of soils, and oxygen production; and cultural, recreational activities, spiritual connection, creative inspiration, cultural heritage and ethnobotany, and aesthetics.  These gifts are the derivatives of nature’s prolific function.  As humans, it is imperative to our health and well-being that we acknowledge the source of nature’s gifts and honor the intrinsic importance of Earth’s systems.  

Looking deep into our own entity, we unearth the source and significance of our individual, innate resources. Digging deep with questions and journaling our thoughts connects us more intently to ourselves, revealing pattern and purpose. What brings me joy? What are my strengths? What did I love as a child? How do people that know me best describe what excites me? What do my music and book collection reveal about me and my interests? As in natural systems, our innate gifts are derivatives of our abundant, authentic self. As we acknowledge our elemental power and share our unique gifts, we connect more intentionally and deeply with others creating an interconnected support system resilient in times of turmoil. In embracing our own essence, we stand grounded and grateful, balanced and beautiful, creative and content as we freely share our intuitive gifts through our authentic power.

Aspect

“Like wildflowers, you must allow yourself to grow in all the places people thought you never would.”    –  Unknown

Living in northern Alaska,  I was acutely aware of my place on the planet. The brilliant, stark, icy, white tundra juxtaposed to the warm, saturated, vivid, technicolor sky was an awe-inspiring landscape of infinite beauty.  Equally as breathtaking was its unremitting harshness – the unforgiving, frigid cold, the months of silent, sustained darkness, the ferocious winds off the frozen sea.  In both tranquility and turbulence, the vast tundra laid bare its unique aspect.  

There are many factors that affect plant growth and development.  Along with temperature, humidity, nutrients, and soil, light is one of the key climatic conditions that determines where a plant may have its best opportunity for growth. Some plant varieties require full-sun exposure for maximum growth and development, others require shade, or partial shade.  Climatic conditions influence the distribution of plant species in different habitats. In the tundra biome, sunlight, temperature, and soil are key factors that limit plant growth.  Depending on the landscape, topographic factors such as elevation, slope, and aspect can also influence plant growth and development and determine the presence and distribution of key plant species and communities in these habitats.  Elevation is the height or depth from a reference point. Slope refers to steepness, and aspect is the orientation, or compass direction that a slope faces.  The simple term for aspect is exposure. In the Northern Hemisphere, a slope that is south-facing orients more directly towards the sun, receiving increased intensity and duration of solar rays.  Solar exposure drives factors like soil moisture and temperature.  South-facing slopes are often drier and warmer than north-facing slopes. The opposite is true in the Southern Hemisphere.  In a deciduous forest, seasonal changes in the tree canopy cover affects the understory evergreen species as they shift dramatically from a low light, low moisture, high temperature environment in the summer months to a high light, low temperature environment in the winter months. The dynamic exposure to light and other elements has created varied and unique microclimates in which particular species thrive, establishing distinct communities of understory evergreens on north-facing and south-facing slopes. As humans, it is our aspect, our position or perspective, that reveals both our beauty and vulnerability and may be the catalyst or hindrance to our growth.

Unlike plants which are stationary in their display, we are able to shift our aspect to what we wish others to see. We limit our exposure for a variety of reasons. Perhaps previous experience has left us feeling fragile, scared, or uncertain. Withdrawn and hidden, our unwillingness to expose our vulnerability perpetuates feelings of shame, unworthiness, and insignificance.  We feel deeply disconnected and lonely. What if we could lean into our vulnerability and feelings of uncertainty, fully exposing ourselves like evergreens growing in the understory on the steepest mountainside or cacti in the hottest desert?  We can stand beautifully exposed, courageous and grateful, in the unpredictable, and acclimatize our thoughts from the shade of seclusion to the bright light of opportunity and growth. As we persistently alter our aspect and lay ourselves bare we become more easily accepting of the authentic self we grow into through our own forgiveness, kindness, and compassion. We cultivate a deep sense of worth rooted in self-love that prepares us to connect more passionately and authentically with others.

Abscission

“When leaves have to let go of the tree, they wear their best colors and they dance all the way to the ground.”   – Karen Kingsbury

In the botanical context, abscission is the shedding of various plant parts, the dropping of leaves, fruit, flowers, or seeds.  Senescence means “to grow old” and is the biological term for aging. In plants, the aging and deterioration of cells and tissues, an integral and important part of the plant lifecycle, is genetically programmed and biochemically orchestrated.  The genetic sequence of senescence determines the length of the life cycle of a plant variety. Annuals complete their full life cycle, germination to death, in one growing season and must be re-planted each year.  Biennials have a two year life cycle and perennials have a multi-year life cycle, some, the herbaceous varieties, dying off to the ground before returning the next year and others, the woody species, adding to their growth year to year.  

A multitude of hormones administer strict biochemical control over many plant processes including cell division, cell growth, cell differentiation, and the regulation of developmental processes, such as germination, flowering, stem elongation, flavor development, and senescence of leaves and fruit.  Consequently, once fruit ripening has begun, the process is irreversible. Moreover, there are environmental factors, such as seasonal changes in temperature and amount of daylight, that cue the botanical biochemical blast that begets the celebrated and colorful freeing of foliage in deciduous tree species at the end of the growing season each year.  The environmental changes signal less hormone production in one very specific area of the leaf, the abscission zone, the zone of separation. As the cells in this zone experience a decrease in hormone production, a very targeted weakening of the cell wall occurs.  As this weakening increases, a complete breakdown of the cell wall results and the leaf separates from its attachment at the branch. In addition, the decrease of chlorophyll production, the green pigment in leaves, allows other pigments to shine through, resulting in the vivid yellow, orange, and red pigments, that although always present in the leaves, only are observed as the green pigment recedes at the signaling of senescence. Abscission, the regulated and timely letting go of old growth in deciduous trees, is  necessary for new growth to occur.  As humans, letting go is a seemingly more arduous, but an equally important process for growth.

Imagine if we only had to sit with what does not serve us just as long as it takes a biochemical band of hormones to recognize, weaken, and destroy our old attachments and ideas, our tired, negative self-talk, and our ancient patterns of worry. With our genetic gifts of consciousness, creative thought, and rich emotions our letting go is much more complex than a clear-cut, physical separation on a cellular level.  We must wallow through our ego, fear, illusion, and a myriad of muddled feelings – sadness, loneliness, anger, resentment, insignificance, and a loss of control and connectedness.  In addition, we are now standing in the turbid, unpredictable path of a global pandemic and many of us have been separated abruptly from our jobs, routines, and loved ones.  We find ourselves scarcely clinging to our branch of normalcy as we struggle to let go of our feelings of uncertainty around our jobs, our income, and our health. 

With some practice, we can live fully, dancing vibrantly through life like a fallen, autumnal leaf, free from suffering, attachment, and mental and emotional fixation.  Engaging in daily mindfulness practice, grounding ourselves in the present moment, setting aside time for sacred self-care, and holding space for and fully feeling our emotions, wholly affirming that it is OK to not be OK, gives us the courage to let go gracefully into the free fall of change. As we shed what no longer serves us, honoring its place and purpose in our growth, we cultivate a sense of wild freedom, unbounded happiness, limitless personal growth, and deep, engaging relationships with others. 

This essay is published in Plants and Poetry Journal’s Autumn Equinox Collection and on their website, http://www.plantsandpoetry.org