Written by: Hope V. Horton
Reflections on the Spring Equinox, March 20, 6:28 AM EDT
Every act is an act of faith, because you don’t know what will happen. You just hope and employ whatever wisdom and experience seems most likely to get you there.
--Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark
Most trees are flowering plants. Not just the showy varieties such as the cherries, whose white petals puff up early and then flurry to the ground like echoes of winter snow. Not just the tiny redbud florets that candy-coat bare branches, exploding into pink wands of wonder. Not just the tulip magnolia whose queenly blossoms yawn and stretch out of warm, fuzzy bud-beds, trusting blindly in the warmth of the late winter sun and taking a gambler’s bet on trickster temperatures that can nourish or nip.
When you look closely, most every tree flowers at some point in its lifespan. Otherwise there would be no seed, no fruit, no life-going-on. But it’s easy to miss this when your eyes, like mine, are scanning the ground for the tinier sentries of spring; the hepatica, spring beauty, trout lily, bloodroot and the like. Every year I go exploring early in the woods, in the gardens, on the trails, my eyes to the ground, determined to greet the little friends who signal a big shift in seasons.
I can look for a long time, because most of what one sees in the woods this time of year is a lot of brown ground and grey bark. The odd evergreen or Christmas fern carries the chlorophyll torch through the dark days, but even these faithful soldiers seem dull and tired by now, awaiting reinforcements. So it can take a while before I notice anything interesting poking through the thick and crunchy covering of decomposing leaves. I try to be patient and appreciate the early spring scene in its totality, but really it’s hard. All I want is the flowers.
I’m taking a marvelous seminar right now called Sacred Wild.* We meet every Wednesday afternoon, coming together in a Circle and receiving principles and practices for engaging with the natural world as though we belong to it. On the first day, we scattered across the generous land to find a “sit spot” that would be a focus for us throughout the span of our encounters with this place. I was drawn to a narrow seep of water snaking into the nearby woods. Following its course through a forest still bare and bleak, seeking the site that was waiting for me, I approached this one and that one before noticing a place on the other side that seemed just right. I hopped over the shallow, rippling water and headed towards a tree growing straight out of the bank and back-bending up to the sky. I thought that the bowing tree was what attracted me, but then I saw them: dozens of delicate white rue anemone flowers—my own personal welcoming committee—signaling that yes, this spot is for me.
The sight of those flowers brought me so much joy, delight, gratitude. I was rapt. My whole being lifted out of its groove of gloom where I’ve been wallowing in all that seems wrong with the world for some time. Now I had eyes only for the tiny white blossoms, paw-shaped leaves, delicate stems, and fluffy yellow stamens; for these whorls of renewal, harbingers of hope.
Today, as I gaze into the treetops from my vantage point on the 2nd floor of our local library, it strikes me that it still looks pretty bleak out there. Even though Spring has come very early, the plant world appears mostly dingy and threadbare from a distance. But I know that Spring is here; I feel it in the warmth of the sun, the freshness of the air, the shifting winds, the wild rise and fall of temperatures, and yes, the flowers here-and-there, bolting out of the ground and bursting out of tree branches like silk scarves out of a magician’s top hat.
And this presents an opportunity to see things differently. How much of my attention has been habitually lured towards the dismal and grim, so much so that good news seems like too-bright spray-paint over corroding rust? So much so that my biggest fear coming into Spring this year was that I wouldn’t allow myself to enjoy it, mired as I’ve been in depressing news and fear of the future. But right this minute, I see a brilliant bluebird preening on the top of a tall stem of a dead tree. I can’t take my eyes off him. Why would I study the broken and jagged remains of his lifeless perch instead, except to notice that if there were leaves on that tree, this beautiful bird would be hidden from view?
In an interview I heard the other day between Krista Tippet** and John Lewis, the Civil Rights activist and current congressman, he made this comment about what sustains him through tumultuous times:
When I was 11 years old, I traveled one summer with an uncle and aunt and some of my first cousins from rural Alabama to Buffalo for a visit, for a trip. I had never been outside of the South. And being there gave me hope. I wanted to believe, and I did believe, that things would get better. But later I discovered that you have to have this sense of faith that what you’re moving toward is already done. It’s already happened. And you live as if you’re already there, that you’re already in that community, part of that sense of one family, one house. If you visualize it, if you can even have faith that it’s there, for you it is already there.
This is my Spring challenge, to attune to all that is whole and beautiful and true and live into it now; to sweep my gaze from the ground to the sky and love it all.
Walking to the library last week on a frosty, dim day I spied something odd sprouting up out of brown beds of mulch mounded between wide-set trees. At a closer look, I could see little green sprouts clustered in shapes that might be letters. And sure enough, when I came closer, I could see big words spelled out in thousands of tiny green stems and leaves: “INSPIRE” “CREATE” “SPARK” “CURIOSITY” Out of the dull, grey, raw, cold, drizzly day came these glowing emerald messages, planted some time ago by an idea with legs, now arising in Spring as a dispatch from the past to feed the future. How wonderful! Someone thought to do that and went about planting seeds in the dark, secret folds of the earth, imagining that something marvelous and surprising would later emerge as a gift to unknown passersby.
Rebecca Solnit in her book, Hope in the Dark, says: How do people recognize that they have the power to be storytellers, not just listeners? Hope is the story of uncertainty, of coming to terms with the risk involved in not knowing what comes next, which is more demanding than despair and, in a way, more frightening. And immeasurably more rewarding.
We can change the stories we live by. Just as I intently search for early signs of Spring amid the waste of winter, I can also faithfully seek out and nurture blooms of goodness in the world. Like the magnolia, I can risk unfurling out of winter’s dark womb and raise my inborn bouquet into the light of justice and harmony, come what may. I can grow a word from the billions of seeds in my being and call it HOPE.
*With thanks to Sarah Haggarty and the Eco-Institute at Pickards Mountain for offering this experience.
**On Being with Krista Tippet, January 26, 2017, Love in Action