Friday, March 25, 2011

Grief and Gratitude: Wildflowers

A few weeks ago I wrote here about gratitude, and how much I love feeling thankful; I guess you could say that I’m grateful for my capacity for gratitude. Thankfulness is so much a part of my belief system, my emotional makeup and, come to think of it, my life, that I’ve decided to make it a regular theme in this blog. From time to time, starting today, I’ll go into deeper detail about specific aspects of my life that I count as blessings. Today I’d like to write about wildflowers.

Israel, so I’m told, has more species of wildflowers than any other country. Because we’re located at the point at which Europe-Asia meets Africa, a great number of the millions of birds that migrate every year between the two continents make pit-stops in Israel and leave behind their droppings, which contain seeds from wherever they originated.

Growing up in the city, I was nature-deprived (or, perhaps, green-open-space deprived; I did live right next to the beach). I longed for fields and forests; when I was in sixth grade I wrote a poem called "The Green Meadow, imagining what it would be like to go out into a meadow first thing in the morning, and to witness a sunrise. The second verse captured one of my recurring my fantasies: "The grass is green and sparkling/With drops of morning dew,/Everything looks young and fresh/As if the world was new."

So one of the miracles of my daily life for which I'm most grateful is that I live within such close reach of green-filled open spaces. And even more amazingly, wildflowers, which I never saw at all as a child.

Daniel shares my love for wildflowers, and often go out looking for them. Many times we plan our travel within Israel according to what flowers are blooming where, in whichever season we’re traveling. This past Sunday, for example, we spent the day near the Eila Valley, just wandering the fields, resting from time to time and looking closely at the flowers, leaves, and insects (gorgeous butterflies, fascinating beetles) that surrounded us. As often happens, at one point I counted more than twenty different kinds of flowers that I could see just from my place on the rock on which we were resting. This coming Sunday we’re driving to the Galilee for a few days, and will certainly take our Wildflowers of Israel book with us. (We’ll look for birds and insects too, and will be thrilled if we come across wild boars or other animals.)

Here in Jerusalem there are also a few fields whose intense green is thickly dotted with points of red, orange, yellow, white, pink, blue, and purple. One of these fields is right behind our synagogue, and in blooming season Daniel and I usually walk there after Shabbat services, in order to see what's new.

This year Daniel had an idea. During the winter, when the ground was still completely brown, we went to the field with a shovel and dug up enough earth to fill a window-box. We dug in several different spots, so as to capture as large a variety of seeds as possible. We put the soil in our planter and left it to the elements.

Our little "nature reserve" has become a source of real joy for us. First came green – the grasses, the grains, and the leaves. This itself was lovely; I'll never forget the morning I woke up to find my childhood fantasy fulfilled, in miniature: the sun was shining on one drop of dew on each tip of each blade and leaf.

A couple of weeks ago, these were joined by our tiny, deep-blue first flowers. A few days later, some of our buds opened to reveal five delicate pinkish-purple petals each; after that, another plant produced what look like little white star-bursts with dark green tips. Now a brilliant yellow sun is opening, smack in the middle of the box.

I think Daniel is right when he says that the advantage of having our own mini-field – besides being able to look at it every day – is that rather than visiting a field, looking, and leaving, we’re developing a kind of ongoing relationship with each of the flowers. We watch as they bud, open, reach their zenith and, eventually, return to the earth that nourished them – leaving behind the seeds that will bloom next year into their descendants.

In my memoir, I examined my bereavement in the context of Nature’s cycle of birth, life, death, and new birth, and found that there was comfort in reflecting on my loss in that light. Now, I get not only to consider that cycle but also to witness its miracles, literally, right outside my window.


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