Monday, February 28, 2011

Invest in the fall, bloom in the spring

      Anything that blooms against the odds has a place in my heart. -David L. Culp

Culp is referring to a plant called Galanthus (Common name: Snow bells) one of the first spring bulbs to bloom. The 'odds' stacked against the bulb are the typical weather conditions at the time when the bulb wakes up.

Right now, across Zones, 5, 6, and 7, as we continue discussing whether or not we've seen the last of winter, we can observe little green points poking their way through the last of the snow and announcing Spring.  Galanthus is just one, but there are Crocus as well and soon you'll see, Tulips, Daffodils (Narcissus) and Callas. 

Planting bulbs in the Autumn is an investment, it represents hope, it's believing another spring is coming and it's saying that you are going to stick around long enough to see your investment bloom.

You have to put a bit of faith and foresight into planting bulbs.  They cost more than seeds.  They could rot.  They could dry out.  A squirrel might dig them up.  They might bloom too soon.  They might not bloom at all.  But if we let the fear of failure or disappointment prevent us from the planting, we'd have nothing to push winter away and transition us to Spring.  The purposeful purchase and planting of bulbs is why they have a place in your heart when they finally poke their brave tips up through the ground and point the way to the spring.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Freedom isn't free...

...and neither is anything else worth having

Downtown Cairo from the Nile April 2009

jumping down the biggest pyramid in Giza

My dear friends are traveling back to Egypt today. They will begin to put their lives back together in Cairo.  We send them back to a country that can now be called "The land of the free and the home of the brave." Regardless of what the future holds, I am still marveling at the miracle that happened in Cairo and how fortunate we are to get to be a part of this historic time.  

In light of what occurred in Cairo today I thought it was important to reflect on things that we value and their price.

What's revolutionary about the situation in Cairo is not that the people are demanding a new government.  What is remarkable is that the citizens of Egypt have peacefully protested for 16 days without resorting to violence. They represent a new generation of Arabs who bravely believe that change can occur without bloodshed. At this moment, preserving that belief, seems paramount.

Besides history books, I haven't witnessed a revolution, seen its momentum, or understood the panic and power of  the people.  I heard one protester say, "Freedom or death, we will stay here until he leaves."

It seems the government really is corrupt and is pushing them, patronizing them to become violent so that they will have reason to strike.  As dawn rises in Cairo, the world is looking into the abyss . Will they be able to maintain the peace?  I'm writing tonight because I'm afraid of what is to come for them tomorrow.  

This revolution could go down in history like the peaceful transfer of power that occurred in  January of 2009 when Barack Obama became the U.S. President and part of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.'s dream came true.  If things go the right way, the Egyptians will be leaders in the Mid East, showing that peaceful victories over dictatorships is possible.  This would cause a ripple and a shift in the balance of power in that volatile part of the world. The reaches of the influence of this protest probably cannot be measured.  How precarious is this moment then, when we can say, "This could change everything?" And know that the world will not look the same again no matter what happens in Egypt tomorrow.

Among the precious things we take for granted apart from freedom, are gardens (fruits, flowers, basic sustenance) and relationships, (love, friendship, etc.)

I would argue that all three-- gardens, relationships and freedom-- take great work before the reward and when that is not the case, neither the plant, the freedom or the relationship last long.  They are all costly and they need a 'Gardener, ' because it turns out, they don't grow themselves.  All things of value need someone to cultivate and care for them, to watch over and weed for invaders who might interfere with their ultimate growth and goodness. There has to be tearing out and churning up.  There are sacrifices and risks on the part of the gardener, back breaking digging, scorching heat, and then disappointment, loss and perseverance in flood or drought.  Don't forget time, not just to tend to the soil, but to figure what the thing needs when it doesn't seem to thrive.  Having vegetables and flowers on your table comes with a price, having love in your life isn't a guarantee, getting freedom is risky and obviously life threatening. 

There might be fire in this life, there will be tears, and there will be death, but while we are alive, we might as well live, because the Egyptians are risking their necks this very minute for what we already have.

And so I stick with my original statement: 

Freedom isn't free, and neither is anything else worth having.

"Those who risk, win."--Motto of the British Special Air Service

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Witch Hazel

Today is February 17th.  It's unseasonably warm.  It's been winter so long that I feel like an alien visiting from another planet, walking around in a climate that I've never experienced before.

And so it's not surprising that today, I saw the first official blossoms of 2011. Near the National Cathedral on Woodley Road are about three Witch Hazels (Hamamelis Japonica) in bloom.

I'm sure I walked by the same plants a few days ago and saw nothing.  If I felt like waxing poetic about this phenomenon I'd say to us all, "Chin up!  Don't lose hope over something that looked dead never know what a little warm sunshine can do."  But I'm not feeling that poetic, so let's move on...

This shrub is one of the first plants brave enough to bloom each year.  Its tiny yellow petals look like streamers on a skinny pom pom and they make you look twice because its so shocking to see a color other than brown in February.   A certain temperature, a certain angle of the sun says, "It's time to come out!"  Without a guarantee that the frosty days have departed, they follow their Instincts and take the first warm day to show us what they've got.

Witch Hazels don't just delight the eye, they also give off a lovely fragrance that reminds us that spring is a reality.  Life will not always be callous and cold or at least if it is, it will sometimes smell good and have pretty flowers...

Monday, February 14, 2011

Cordate Shaped for Valentine's Day

In honor of St. Valentine's Day, I'm re-posting this blog from the fall.  When your heart comes under fire that is the time to be brave and turn up the love, right?

Cordate : a botanical term used to describe a leaf when it is shaped like a heart.

The most common cordate-shaped leaf can be found on the Redbud.  Redbuds are comparable in height to Dogwoods.  Before the the Redbud's leaves emerge, it first produces red or purple flowers. There are a few special days in the spring when the hearts and the flowers cling on the branches together and it can be quite breath-taking.

Through the Spring and Summer the Redbuds are covered with garlands of hearts.  No matter how bitter, jaded or cynical you are, it is difficult to think of anything except love when you see them.  In the Fall, the Redbuds steal the spotlight again when their leaves turn yellow.  As the breezes blow, the whole yard is dappled with yellow hearts, like a classroom strewn with construction paper after the kids create their Valentines.  I find myself feeling sweet and happy as I rake all the hearts into a pile, I find myself singing even.... I begin looking around the garden and taking stock of all the Cordate shaped leaves I find.  Here are just a few:

morning glory

Elephant ears


It seems, people are always looking for signs and direction.  We are looking for encouragement.  We especially yearn for these signs from the Universe, or other people, or a feeling inside ourselves.

I think the Cordate-shaped leaves all around us just might be the sign everyone is looking for.  (Isn't it sweet that the universe communicates with us in a modern 'emoticon' kind of way?)

....I would guess that the universe is saying:   Love really IS the answer,'love really IS all around, what people really need IS more love... you get the idea...  Maybe that verse in Corinthians that they read at weddings isn't just about romance, maybe it's about life and how we conduct ourselves.  Maybe the 'greatest of these' really is love.

When you get to the bottom of why people want to give, to help, to spend time, there is love.  People want to receive more love. They want to feel more love and the best way to do that is to give it away.

As a result: love, not money, becomes  the answer to a world of hurt.  Our best moments are motivated by love.  Think of your power as an individual if you were brave enough to always act out of love.  Love is not risk free, but its returns are infinite.  If we are looking for a sign, we've got it....and it's not in the's in the trees.

"Time is how you spend your love."  Zadie Smith

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


Plants are instinctual.  They don't know rationalization or compromise...or fear.  When they follow their instincts, they survive, they thrive.

Most seeds go through a period of hibernation or dormancy.

Wikipedia defines seed hibernation this way:

"The ability of a seed to preserve itself without germination when there is a lack of things essential to its development (water, sunlight, nutrients, etc.) or in harsh conditions (extreme cold, extreme heat, hard ground, etc.). There is no specific time limit in which a seed may hibernate; some seeds found in the Arctic grew after an estimated 10,000 years."

One of the most fascinating examples of seed hibernation is found in the pines, woody plants and wildflower seeds that have adapted over the years so that only the heat of fire can wake their seeds from hibernation.  This amazing adaptation guarantees the continuation of a species after a forest fire and shows the wondrous tenacity of plants to endure. 

Something important to remember is that the length of hibernation has no bearing on the beauty that will emerge when the time is right.

At the appropriate time, the environment tells the seed it's time to wake up.  When the seed gets the message it does just that.  It doesn't consider waking up or decide to do it later.  It isn't afraid to wake up.  Seeds don't figure maybe they can manage on their own without help.  Seeds will lose the opportunity if they don't follow their instincts at the appropriate moment.  For the plant, there is a indispensable relationship its instincts and its ability to flourish.  The same can be said for us.  

When it's time, the little sprout struggles to break through the shell of the seed case, and then more struggling to push up through the earth. As it is with the fire-- that seems burning and devastating-- being the very thing that opens the seed to life, so it is the very struggle the sprout endures to get to the surface that makes it strong enough to begin to live. 

So, I think it's interesting that no one says, "Be aware of your instincts" or "Consider your instincts." They always say, "Follow your instincts."  The phrase demands action.

Here is what I've gathered from looking at this plant habit...
1. Hibernation is important and there is no reason to come out too early.
2. It could be the fire of life that wakes you up.
3. If you are healthy seed or a healthy person for that matter, following your instincts is the way to live abundantly.

When our instincts appear, it seems we should take a lesson from the plants and go confidently in their wake.