Once upon a time humans spent half their time beneath a canopy of stars. We knew them by name and understood their rhythm. Then one day we received the gift of fire. Not only did it frighten away circling predators and hold off nightmares, but so did the stars flee away and a curtain of darkness fell.
I was struck the other day by the number of different kinds of maple leaves I saw in all their magnificent fall colours blowing along the roadside. I picked a few up, I’m a bit of scavenger when it comes to Nature’s prettier droppings, thinking that I would identify them when I got home. But then I remembered I’ve packed my books, including Trees of Canada. I must have found six different kinds including Japanese maple which doesn’t really count, and the ubiquitous, prolific, invasive Norway maple. The others, which I don’t know the names of, the native species, are all different shapes, including one which is just like the one on the Canadian flag so I think it may be sugar maple.
The book of trees is just one of the hundreds I’ve packed in boxes scrounged from the liquor store in preparation for our eventual move. Already I’ve found it inconvenient, so I suppose that’s a good sign. My collection of books is a living, useful one.
A point to ponder: what is the difference between love of the land and patriotism? Is there actually any point of similarity at all?
One leads to a sense of place, a feeling of belonging, security. The other is the trigger for war, fear of the other, desire for conquest.
What is home? Is it the house we’ve lived in much of our life? Is it our town or city or country? Is it things, old familiar things, books you can find on your shelf, familiar kitchen tools, the way the light changes through the day, through the seasons? Is it the view from the kitchen window, or the neighbours passing by on their regular walks? Is it something we can take with us no matter where we go?
Is home in my heart?
The little girl, walking slowly up the hill to school in the snow, observing meltwater running down the ditch. A fairyland, a miniature river with space for fairies. She tells herself stories all the way, imagining the lives of little people.
The old woman, walking briskly under a summer sun, observing flowers and grasses, hearing birds, seeing insects, trying to name and classify everything in this burgeoning natural world so full of wonder and mystery.
What is the difference between seven and seventy, except for decades of life, decades which seem to have leaked unnoticed through careless fingers, hours and days, months and years running down the drain of time, flowing eventually into the ocean of infinity from which they once emerged?
The pink flowered shrub which we have in our garden and also grows along the trail is spirea. Have seen creeping bellflower, touch-me-not, pussy toes, possibly purple loosestrife (another bad plant) although its leaves seem different, various goldenrods, and both yellow and white sweet clover are blooming. Cattails are forming their large brown seed heads. Last year thoughtless people took away, “harvested”, all the cattail heads. There is a tall yellow-flowered plant of the Queen Anne’s Lace family and I think it is wild parsnip, which has a reputation for being toxic, burning the skin when touched and leading to photosensitivity, like giant hogweed. Not going to touch it to find out! It’s a jungle out there!
Add to the list: bindweed, mullein, some sort of wild mustard, rabbit’s foot clover, steeplebush, tansy, viper’s bugloss, the last an invasive, not just alien, species.
Pleased to see the delicate little Deptford pink is thriving and spreading along a rather arid, open section of the trail.
I paid more attention to the vegetation along the trail this morning. I saw at least twenty plants I hadn’t listed yesterday, although there are a couple I can’t really identify. Some I just ignored yesterday: forget-me-not, dandelion, sorrel, plantain, buttercup, because they are so common and ubiquitous. Today I took note of rhodora, pineapple weed, a stunted little plant of yellow sweet clover, hop clover (I think), groundsel (probably), butter and eggs (toadflax), wild mustard, thistle, St Johnswort, bracken, Deptford pink, Queen Anne’s lace about to open, a little creeping plant with white starlike flowers which I think is a kind of chickweed (not mouse ear chickweed), fleabane, evening primrose, something which might be crown vetch although it doesn’t look quite like the plant in my book, and several more of those dandelion-like species. Fruiting spires are starting to form on the staghorn sumac. There’s also a shrub with bright pink flowers, I even have some growing in my garden, wild-seeded, but I have no idea what it is. And, for the record, the birds were in more evidence: the usual pigeons, starlings, a couple of crows, but also sparrows, robins and I caught a fleeting glimpse of something which was probably a “confusing warbler”.
It makes me wonder, with all this amazing diversity, why so many of us are intent upon maintaining lawns of only one or two types of grass and wage war upon all other species which dare to sprout amongst the blades.
This morning, to beat the heat, I went out early for my walk. The overzealous maintenance crew has not been along the harbour trail recently, so the paved walkway is fringed with meadow flowers. I identified common vetch, oxeye daisy, red and white clover, common knapweed, birdsfoot trefoil, yarrow, two kinds of wild roses, blackberries in bloom, cinquefoil, common nightshade, coltsfoot leaves, ferns, various grasses, cattails, a tricolour field of lupins, musk mallow, various dandelion-like flowers which could include yellow goat’s-beard, wild lettuce and hawkweed, a small plant with clusters of tiny yellow flowers which I can’t identify. All around me hidden in the trees and shrubs was the rustle and twitter of birds although I only caught sight of one song sparrow and one goldfinch.
The thought came to me that this is an extraordinary burgeoning of life, somehow succeeding despite humanity’s best efforts to mow it down. Would the world become a different and better place if everyone spent time simply observing nature? Would we learn humility? I wish we could make every dictator or wannabe dictator, corporate bosses who only see money, women who more subtly exercise power for personal gain, all those whose greatest pleasure seems to be to control others and glorify or enrich themselves, I wish we could make them all spend time in nature, surviving only by their own wits.
And every child deserves to bathe in the riches of the earth. Generations have been denied this, one of our most basic needs. No wonder the human race is essentially insane and we struggle to regain our lost connections to the world.
I wonder how many of us can look back on the genesis of our chronic illness as far back as previous generations where our parents or grandparents suffered injustice, and the stresses carried through into our own lives. So often I hope that whatever I have carried with me, handed down in part from my ancestors, part things that have happened to me, how often I hope that I’ve not inflicted too great a burden on my children. I don’t think we will ever be able to prevent diseases where our body turns on itself because the human tragedy is too great. But as individuals we do what we can, what we must, to ease our own burdens and try not to inflict more suffering on others.