It doesn’t look like much at all, really. Just a big jumble of bright green, floating like a platter on my bucket pond. But it is precious to me, the very heart of one of my first annual rites of spring.
This is my fourth year of this ritual that first began when I kept a sort-of pond in a kiddie wading pool at our old rental house. Just a block down the road from us was a bog at the far end of an empty pasture. Plastic bucket in hand, I would wade through the sea of grass to the bog edge and collect water plants and once even two small frogs to create a makeshift water garden outside our kitchen window…
My favorite plant at the bog was—and is—a particular variety of duckweed that grows luxuriantly deep green. I’ve never seen its like anywhere else. Maybe it is particular to only this little bog. It grows crisply atop the water surface, supported by surprisingly long single root strands that are the joy of pollywogs and water bugs, who hide from hungry raccoons and bullfrogs in the hair-like tangle beneath the sea of shining green. All summer, that living carpet would expand and flourish, to suddenly disappear in the fall, leaving the water surface bare and sad.
My first spring in the rental house I collected many handfuls of duckweed, spreading it across the full face of the kiddie pool. So enticing was all that green that a spring peeper frog joined the two small Columbia spotted frogs in the pool and started singing nightly love songs in loud decibels to all the lady frogs within earshot.
Each spring since, I return to that bog now miles from our new house to collect the precious duckweed, the spring joy of our pond fish, frogs, and all the insects who come to stand delicately on that magic carpet and drink the cool water beneath.
This week, I took my bucket to the bog, marveling at tender, shy heads of skunk cabbage just peeking up from the wet ground. The cattails were straw-brown and bent every which-way across the surface of the bog. Creeping creeping jenny is just beginning to send curious tendrils toward the water’s edge. But what made my heart sing a little song was the brilliant flash of green already thriving in the black water: Weeks ahead of schedule, the duckweed was celebrating spring.
I inhaled sweet air that tasted like mushrooms and moss with just the slightest aftertaste of decay. Around me, birds secreted in the old rushes and willows made songs like water trickling over cold stones. The sunshine sang a song, too, of honey and blossoms and golden light.
I realized I had been waiting all winter for that moment—that moment when I plunged my hands into the green invitation and pulled up handfuls of wet, glistening spring.
The soul speaks in symbols and signs, in patterns and textures, and in awe. Much deeper than our self-made words is the sacred language at the heart of all things—of all embodied, made-manifest things—that would have us listen more fully to dreams, to water song, wolf-howl, winter, to the hollow bell of time itself, and—most especially—to beauty.
We are called by the heart to the soul’s call in a language beyond words. One of the most powerful of languages is the language of ritual and rite. In ritual voice and gesture, we may say particular and important things: Thank you. Please. I see you. I am. I promise.
I have many habits and seasonal routine that I have come to call “rites,” because when we frame what we do in a different light, it may take on an entirely different power and meaning. Gardeners are the keepers of many rituals: The fall raking, the seeding time of spring, putting up the gardening tools for the season and closing the shed. Bringing sacred intention to these simple doings elevates them in meaning and in grace. They become not a chore, but a song, a wordless language and a call to the soul of life. “Thank you,” we say for another season’s growing season.
Beekeeping is becoming another world of rites and rituals for me, as I don the sacramental vestments of bee veil and jacket and prepare to delve deeply into the holy body of the spring hive.
A few weeks back, Lucy Lu, the duck, enacted her own spring rite: Each morning now, she deposits a large pearl-colored egg into a straw cup of nest she rebuilds each night. “I am,” she declares.
What spring rites are you celebrating now? Is your animal family stepping into the season with new routines and rituals? Are there places you have not visited in winter, but are eager to reconnect with in this season? How do you honor the springtime? Please, share your stories and your pictures!
Yesterday, I noticed the crows were very into their pomp and circumstance of finding a mate. In the driveway I noticed a pair of black-capped chickadees patiently waiting my over-fed squirrel to scurry from the feeder and allow them a moment to sneak a peanut or dried cherry or meal worm. I like to provide food this time of year so that the songbirds’ eggs are strong and their clutches are many. I’ve cleaned out the birdhouse with prayers my mountain chickadees will choose my yard this spring and allow me to watch the miracle of the tiniest of feathered singers. I placed a suet feeder near full of horse hair, cattail fluff, alpaca wool, bits of yarn and ribbon. That is a first for me and I hope I see the materials dissipate quickly soon to alert me that I have a bevy of well insulated nests in the neighborhood. Often in May we get more snow and rain. Wet parents return to the nest to incubate, but their nesting materials get wet and the wee ones fail to survive due to hypothermia. I took great care in choosing water resistant, highly insulating nesting materials. I look forward to driving west of the divide come June to find Beargrass in full bloom towering over my head and filling that sacred space in the Bitterroot Valley with sweet perfume. I’ll be tickled and humbled as the seasonal round for Spe^m (bitterroot) begins with that first pale pink bud peeking from the gravel high above on Red Sleep Mountain.
Jennifer, may the chickadees hatch and fledge many soft, dry babies in honor of your loving guardianship!
“The Salish practiced a seasonal round of hunting and gathering. The tribes annually harvested
hundreds of plants for food, medicines, personal hygiene, household goods, and tools. Tribal
knowledge of the land and its resources informed the seasonal activities and elders say that the earth provided everything that they needed. The modern Salish calendar is a reflection of the seasonal round that the people practiced for generations.” opi.mt.gov
“March- k̓ʷsixʷ spq̓ni (The Month of The Geese)
When the geese were spotted flying in from the south that was a good sign that the winter months were coming to an end. It was time to look ahead to warmer weather. During the first part of the month, some of the people would go to certain lakes to snag, and trap fish. The people would be preparing for their hunting trips, berry picking and root digging. This is also when ƛ̓čƛ̓a (Blackbirds) would be arriving.” http://www.cskt.org/fire_history.swf
seasonal round graphic: http://www.fs.fed.us/emc/rig/lucid/cifor/cifor_img84.gif
picture of budding bitterrrot on Red Sleep Mountain, June 2013, Jennifer Stadum
At this moment I am in great anticipation of SPRING as hopefully this day, today, will be the last day in which we must endure sub–freezing temperatures. The forecast starting tomorrow and for at least the next week appears to predict above freezing temps during the day with a gradual warm-up and on some days a dip below freezing at night. This is good because it enables a gradual melting of all this accumulated winter energy and will slowly reveal spring’s energy as the ‘earth’ is once again revealed. I have no doubt there is a lot of energy just below the surface that is patiently waiting to bring forth its new life force!! As always I appreciate visiting you and your garden delights via this blog since I don’t have the equivalent where I live.
I particularly love the paragraph in your posting where you talk of the soul’s sense of beauty. I took the libery to make some very minor tweaks to a few of the words that tunes it to my experiential parameters – I hope you don’t mind!! [I can’t format the words so unfortunately I can’t show the subtle changes.]
“The soul responds to symbols and signs, to patterns and textures, and lies in awe. Much deeper than our self-made words is the sacred language at the heart of all things—of all embodied, made-manifest things—that would have us listen more fully to dreams, to water song, wolf-howl, winter, to the hollow bell of time itself, and—most especially—to the beauty from which we experience awe.”
Wonderful thought, Richard, and beautifully expressed, as always!