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Familiar Plants

During one of our meetings of Wednesday Nights Wherever, either in a discussion of Jesus’ parables or part of our Lenten series of lectio Divina, we ended up having a conversation about joy in nature. At the time spring was still far enough away that there was very little green to our outside world. Many of the joys people shared had to do with spring coming forth from winter - the vibrant grass, the once barren trees dotted with the starts of leaves. It felt good just envisioning these things. And now they’re here, an even greater joy.

Right now, the thing I notice most along my drive are the forsythia. I’ve never been a big fan of them. There are lots of reasons I feel I should like them, but I don’t particularly. They are one of the earliest flowers of the season here. We had them in our yard when I was a kid, as did my grandma, so there’s a bit of sentimentality around them for me as well. Yet, the only thing that really gets me excited about seeing them is the memory of an art project from elementary school. Using those black sponge brushes, my art teacher showed us how to paint forsythia flowers along brown tempera paint branches.

Wild yellow bush after wild yellow bush, I think about Mrs. Tregenza. I think about the art room where we made Canadian geese out of clay. I think about tessellations and copper tooling. I do not love the forsythia, but I love those memories.

Soon it will be the magnolia‘s turn, and I will think of Mrs. Wagner and Anne and Laura. I will think of dancing to Michael Jackson and playing Full House. And when the air is filled with cottonwood fuzzies, I’ll remember more of the same - but this time with a wagon and wood bowls and a energetic dog named Magic.

There are so many memories tied to plants.

The horsetails remind me of bike rides on the Paint Creek Trail and breaking off pieces to shine pennies.

The wild grape vines take me back to fourth grade and Melodi, our fort in the trails where we would swing on the vines across the gully and pull lengths to weave into wreaths (a habit I still practice).

The willow trees will always make me think of home - the second two-story house on the right, with the big yard full of trees and the modest deck with the worn-out wood, the source of many splinters.

When I travel, I love to marvel at the plant life in my new locale - dinosaur trees in California, fuzzy rope vines in Philadelphia. The wondrous species I’ve never encountered before are simply novel and I get much joy in the feeling of being an adventurer a long way from home. It is a great privilege to have these experiences.

The privilege is the means to afford even the thriftiest of trips, the choice to go somewhere, and the choice to come back home - back to familiar settings, to friends, to family, to connections. The privilege to journey away for the sole purpose of recreation, and a home to return to.

Those displaced by war, conflict, disaster - refugees seeking asylum, seeking sanctuary - face a much different set of choices. Leaving under such circumstances is so much more than simply moving to a new place. So much is left behind, including familiar plants and the memories they may bring.

I’ve never had to uproot my life. I’ve never chosen to be transplanted to a drastically new environment either. I have lived in the comfort of well-known settings, with the plants that stir memories. The forsythia may not be my favorite, but it is a privilege to not have to live without them.

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