Nature as teacher

From the pantry

October 2, 2016

The walk-in pantry off my kitchen is of a large enough size that occasionally, on a darkened shelf and at the back of this shelf, a vegetable or other edible gets placed — and then forgotten.


Such was the case for this butternut squash where half was used for dinner and the other half placed in the pantry for later use — and then forgotten. Of course.

But nothing is ever wasted. I don’t mean that this mouldy piece of vegetable would be used in a soup or grilled in a hot fry pan, but that there is a story in its decay.

What stands out most is that the seeds have not yet been touched by the mould. All the other orange parts of the squash have succumbed, but not the seeds. Four groups gathered in defensive arrangements holding off till the last of their protective ammunition — whatever it is — is used up.

The analogy: As we go through life, plant seeds of hope. They just might survive through this contemporary onslaught of global negativity and burst into joyful blossom when we most need it.


On Saturday the first of three cactus flowers (among many) started to open. Watching these, as Georgia O’Keefe would view a flower, I photographed their progress over three days. The poem at the end adds another element to this photo essay on “Nature as Teacher”.






You ask why sometimes I say stop

You ask why sometimes I say stop
why sometimes I cry no
while I shake with pleasure.
What do I fear, you ask,
why don’t I always want to come
and come again to that molten
deep sea center where the nerves
fuse open and the brain
and body shine with a black wordless light
fluorescent and heaving like plankton.

If you turn over the old refuse
of sexual slang, the worn buttons
of language, you find men
talk of spending and women
of dying.

You come in a torrent and ease
into limpness. Pleasure takes me
farther and farther from shore
in a series of breakers, each
towering higher before it crashes and spills flat.

I am open then as a palm held out,
open as a sunflower, without
crust, without shelter, without
skin, tideless and unhidden.
How can I let you ride
so far into me and not fear?

Helpless as a burning city,
how can I ignore that the extremes
of pleasure are fire storms
that leave a vacuum into which
dangerous feelings (tenderness,
affection, love) may rush
like gale force winds.

Marge Piercy


Too old? Never

January 26, 2015

Gosh. Just when you think life is in the final stages of ripening, nature tells you something different.


I was in the garden this morning feeling a bit tired from staying up past 9:30PM in order to watch a soccer match the previous night. I awoke quickly, though, when I noticed the “new” budding flowers of the gravenstein apple tree whose yellow/green early ripening tangy apples are now ready to be picked and made into either an apple sauce for pancakes or a pie to be eaten along side some vanilla ice cream.

The ripe apples are delicious looking, for sure, but what was more amazing was to see these fresh blossoms pushing forth well past their normal spring time period of flowering.

As if to say: “Come on tree, make room for us on your branches”, seven whitish pink flowers spoke in unison.

The lesson was clear: One is never too old. For anything.


But if you look carefully at the photos, you will notice a green string that I have attached to the roof of the garden that helps support the branch that carries the weight of all those apples.

As the string demonstrates, it is important to have the support of a community or partner or friend or family if one wants to blossom at any time in life; whether young, middle aged, or old.

We all need help.




November 17, 2014

Two years ago a potted cactus on my front deck bloomed for the first time. Yesterday, five major flower heads had, over a period of a month, once again pushed their way past the piercing thorns and waited for night fall. While I slept, they opened up — for moths and bats, I suppose.


When I opened the glass doors and walked onto the deck and into the morning’s early light, what I found most remarkable — was not the stunning fragile display of delicate whites and deep throated yellows — but a perfumed fragrance that truly hit me with a mesmerising force more steeped in night visions than day time antics.


So very different from last week’s blog entry on the smell of the kunzia flower. This flower spoke of a sensual encounter with a mysterious stranger late, oh so late, at night while the moon misted a spell on propriety and mature manners.

In Buddhist teachings, the lotus flower is symbolic of the transformation from muddy beginnings into a blossoming of full enlightenment and self awareness.

In the cactus flower, the symbolism for me is this: the birth of the sacred feminine pushing through the prickly phallic masculine and opening up into a full vulvic display; proud and fragrant with delight.


Much has been written about our culture’s view of the vagina as vagina dentata, but looking at this flower’s display of it’s sexual organs, there is nothing that would suggest a Freudian castration complex or anything sinister or malevolent.

The fears men have of women’s sexuality leads in its most drastic form to FGM — female genital mutilation.

flower cactus

To bring an end to this mistreatment of our women, more men should be sticking their noses into the business of flowers. They just might come away with an hierophantic experience where the sacred made, not just an appearance, but a life changing appearance.


This morning, after posting the above blog yesterday, I awoke to find all the flowers on the cactus eaten by a possum or, possibly, several possums. I say “several” because during the night there was a lot of heavy duty scampering along the deck just outside my bedroom window. More so than normal.

I don’t know if the flower of this particular cactus has any hallucinogenic qualities, but something got these possums moving. Looking at the cactus (below photo), one can only guess at what happened. Nothing much left.



Equinoctial thoughts

September 22, 2014

From the North Pole to the South Pole, at this time of year darkness and light fall equally across the whole of the planet. As well, even though different amounts of light and dark are experienced in winter and summer, averaged throughout the year, there is an equal measure of each. This should tell us something.

It is this way in our lives as well. In our hearts the ups and downs, the downs and ups occupy equal territory. Over a lifetime, they should pretty much balance out.


One day looks promising and full of beauty.

The next day we awake to our dreams shredded of their blossoms in a single night.


Yes, I wept. Such tender beauty vanished in the dark by rampaging possums before reaching full fruit bearing potential.

When this tree and three others were planted out a week earlier, I “had” taken pains to provide what I thought was sufficient protection. But obviously, the possum’s ability to leap was higher than I had anticipated.

Frustrated? Yes.

Angry? A little.

Defeated? No.

Just wise enough to know that what happened was all in the mix of things and that I would not remain disheartened for too long.


Over the weekend I re-built the somewhat goofy looking possum barrier on this very sad looking crab apple tree and then reinforced three other trees where the possum’s footsteps told of exploratory behaviour. It took all day, but in the end, as ridiculous as the trees looked, I felt good inside. Happy even. I had done my best.

“Try jumping this high, Mr. Possum”, I said to myself as I lay down my tools and looked out across the gathering beauty of the land and sea, content to be mellow whilst riding the highs and lows of existence.


As with the crab apple tree, out of the wreckage of the picnic table smashed a few weeks ago by a falling tree, there now stands the new table. Firewood cut from the fallen tree will warm the house in winter. The old table will make fine kindling.

We make of the dark days what we will.


And this morning I saw from the tip — of a previously denuded twig — red blushes determined to push forth announcing their rightful place in the world.

May we all find hope in this simple act.


Autumnal blossoming

April 16, 2014

Getting older doesn’t necessarily mean that one can’t continue to blossom.

I take this advice from the hakea tree just outside my kitchen window.


Here it is, mid April — autumn in the southern hemisphere. A time when dormancy should be the norm. A time when approaching winter cold usually signals the stoppage of flowers coming into bloom.

Not with the hakea. It seems to thrive on the challenge of pushing out white, musky fragrant white flowers on the edge of winter’s doorstep.


The autumn of one’s life doesn’t have to mean conserving what little one has of a diminishing body and mind, but actually bursting forth into something/someone wholly fresh and tasting of the deliciousness of youthful spring flowers.

I’m not just talking about surviving into old age, I’m talking about blossoming into old age.

mona group

Sitting around my dining table last week was a group of MONA art tour people whose average age was 65. The oldest (top left corner) was Australian landscape artist John Olsen. At 85 — and despite really bad knees — he exuded, along with charm and wisdom benefiting his age, a childlike curiosity synonymous with eternal spring.

DSC_3330 A phrase I constantly hear more frequently now is: “Best to kick back and conserve what’s left of your energy” — “Be careful” — “Only expend energy on things that are appropriate for an elder”.

Fuck this advice. Why should I become just a leafless, flowerless stick hobbling along?

If I have to hobble — a scenario more true than not — may the fragrance of budding delight continue to emanate from my eyes. If I have to crawl, may I look at the ground with the youthful exuberance of a teenager’s first taste of love.