Here in my Nevada City pine woods I have a new friend and neighbor, Julie, who is a botanist. Her arrival at that title—with Latin names and scientific expertise—came after her heart’s awakening to wild flowers. And so we have begun meeting for a couple of hours each week to pursue this heart direction of crossing communication thresholds to connect with elementals, plants, animals, and the beings of earth, water, air, and fire.
Julie’s intense interest in and love for plants blossomed when she found herself with a unique opportunity: she had moved and suddenly had the freedom to walk out her back door into the wild mountains and meadows of Tahoe, just wandering and soaking up their beauty. She might take a nap under a tree and wake up to see fox kits playing by their den, or spend a day exploring a meadow of buttercups and violets, touched by their sweet fragrance drifting in the morning air. She worried at first that this was not a particularly responsible way for a wife and mother to spend her time, but she was compelled into a new spaciousness, and, as it turned out, into her life’s work.
Soon she began writing a wildflower column for the local newspapers, which sparked her to go more deeply into the wildflowers, and then to teaching wildflower field classes. One day, getting ready to take a class into the field, she spontaneously announced that they would be talking with the plants. She hadn’t planned to say this and immediately wanted to take it back, for fear she had promised too much. When the experiences her students had were deep and amazing, she gained the confidence to continue, developing inviting ways to introduce and guide students to hear the messages and teachings of the plants.
When asked how native people knew how to use the plants, she tells her students that many of their people say it wasn’t merely through trial and error, but that they gained this knowledge mainly through their close relationship and communication with the plants. Often Julie notes a rolling of eyes by a skeptic or two in her classes, but she addresses this skepticism straight-forwardly: “It’s true we live in a culture that doesn’t believe in such possibilities. But why close your minds and deny yourself the chance to experience something that could be life-changing?” Her kindliness, coupled with an easy way of approaching the plant talk, turns the doubt into curiosity. And the letters she has collected from children and adults about the plant messages they have received are validating and inspiring—like the 8 year old who said, “You taught me a very important lesson. You taught me I can talk to flowers through my feelings. I think this has changed my life forever.”
The two of us often go across the road to a nature preserve to be in the presence of a fine old oak growing in a granite outcropping. Last week we spent the first half hour on our backs under the vast expanse of branches, striving to connect. When we compared notes, we both had the same message (hers delivered with more embodiment than mine—more pictures and words): Go easy on the “striving”. Don’t come with an agenda. Don’t worry about doing it properly or well. Relax, doze off, sink in. Come at all times of the day and night to see what it means to be rooted in one place, within a particular context.
After this “dropping in”, we found the atmosphere shifted into quietude and intensity—something like I imagine T. S. Eliot’s “still point of the turning world.” Each word was more deliberate, fuller . . . we chattered less, left more spaces. We agreed to begin each session this way. Will we remember?
Julie and I will soon visit Barbara in the redwoods for a few days of conversation and study, believing that having her share her work with the Council of Gnomes will bring to life the nature spirits’ presence and role in this “mysterious intelligence of nature.” Over and over the gnomes asked Barbara to “be aware of us when you open to nature, send us love, speak to us, simply say hello when you are in nature.” This is a good reminder as Julie enlarges her conversation with plants to include the nature spirits behind them, and I continue to refine my practice of just showing up.