Recently I attended an evening zoom writing workshop upon the recommendation of a friend. As I waited for the leader to open the session, my mind was still whirring from my busy day. By 8:05 pm I was still waiting rather impatiently, thinking of the things I needed to do that evening.
I got up to get a drink of water and when I sat back down, the facilitator, Christine, was welcoming everyone. She had a calm demeanor, almost like she was leading a meditation, talking slowly, deliberatively. Then she asked everyone to close their eyes briefly and take several deep breaths.
Do I really have time for this? I asked myself. I could exit the session and my friend wouldn’t know. I was waffling when Christine invited everyone to open their eyes.
She began talking about the book Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer. The book’s essays explore the reciprocal relationships between people and nature, with a focus on plants. Earlier in the day she had emailed several excerpts from the book for attendees to read in advance of workshop. In a second email with the zoom link she asked everyone to bring a flower. I hadn’t noticed the first email but I’d cut a jonquil from my flower bed. It sat in a vase before me.
I wasn’t the only person who hadn’t read the passages, so Christine began reading, soon asking for a volunteer. The essay, written in first person, was about a woman who had just said goodbye to her daughter who was starting college. She strapped her new red kayak to the top of her car and set out for a nearby pond to go paddling alone. “I was going to celebrate my freedom rather than mourn my loss.” While paddling on the pond she came upon a mass of waterlilies and spent some time contemplating the flowers.
At this point Christine stopped the reading and gave us our first writing prompt. For fifteen minutes we were to study the flower and describe it in detail. Here is what I came up with:
I stare into the stunning orange central cup of the jonquil, its edges crenellated like a castle wall, encompassing the central pistil and the stamens arranged soldier-like in their guardian circle. Six yellow sepals frame the cup symmetrically. Looking more closely, however, I see the sepals are asymmetrically arranged in two layers of three. I am fascinated: asymmetry within symmetry. The sepals, rich and buttery, are lightly striated with a slight fuzz that lends a velvety appearance. This array of beauty hides the essential reality of life force hidden below: the slight bulbing of the ovary an inch down the green stem – itself a display of asymmetry.
Here Christine interrupted our writing to give us a second prompt. We were to write about what the flower provides to us, what we appreciate about the flower.
Jonquil, you have brightened my life this spring, maybe more than any other year. You appeared a bit later than your neighbors, the daffodils. Blooming first, they braved the return of winter and a late snowstorm. As they, and you, bent over with the heavy wet load, I feared your life would be cut short this season. But with the returning sunshine you all lifted your heads, although you still hid your flowering beauty. Seeing the emergence of your colorful, joyous orange cup – an eye of sorts – gladdened my heart. You, especially, announced that life and beauty were returning to the dun-colored land. You, promising spring would soon burst from the soil with bright green shoots, burst from the tight buds of the trees as the waves of color soon followed – the first rose of the plumping tree flowers giving way to the white Amelanchier flowers and then the myriad pale greens of the first tree leaves.
Then came Christine’s final prompt, to write about this reciprocal relationship from the perspective of the plant.
Woman, you care for me, encourage me to bloom each year by carefully loosening the soil compacted by winter’s snow and frost. Each spring you remove the rocks that rise up from the soil depths so my roots can breathe. You pluck the early green shoots that can smother me, giving me room to move gently with the wind. You nourish the soil around me with compost, ensuring I have what I need to continue the age-old cycle of new life. In appreciation, I lend you my beauty; I enrich you as you enrich me. Beauty is necessary for happiness.
As Christine said goodbye and closed the workshop, I felt relaxed and refreshed. Slowing down after a busy day was just what I needed.