I went to Whitenight’s Farm and Greenhouse sometime back in May. The weather was warming up. I was in the mood to plant vegetables and flowers. I have a friendly relationship with Karen who works there. She may even own the place. I don’t know. I like her and the business alot.
My intention was to cultivate a colorful garden. I also wanted to build upon my efforts to farm and nurture Monarch Butterflies. Gardening is a healthy spiritual practice for me. I wanted some Mexican Sunflowers (Tithonia) and Milkweed plants. They are key ingredients for farming butterflies. The farm didn’t have any as it was too early to plant them. Karen wasn’t there that day so I didn’t get to check in. The cashier was kind enough to take my contact information. She ordered the amount of plants that I wanted. I went back to the house and planted my peppers, tomatoes, and some other things.
Then, life happened. Other priorities and diversions came along and I forgot about my gardening goals.
Someone from Whitenights probably called at some in time. I don’t usually answer calls from unknown telephone numbers. They didn’t leave a voice mail message or maybe I accidentally deleted it. Regardless, about six weeks later, I stopped in again to ask Karen about how the monarch butterfly season was going for her. I wasn’t seeing any monarchs in my backyard. She indicated she hadn’t seen any monarchs either. She then inquired whether I still wanted to buy the milkweed and sunflowers I had ordered.
Crap, I had forgotten.
She wasn’t even sure that the greenhouse still had them. Karen hadn’t ordered a lot more of milkweed and Mexican Sunflowers because of the dearth of butterflies in the area. Weather and conditions south of us were preventing monarchs from making it to Pennsylvania – at least that’s what we heard.
She asked someone to look for my ordered plants just in case. They were still there – about to be thrown away and looking very parched. I felt awful because of my poor memory. I was responsible for the plants dying. Karen told me to go ahead and take them home. “Plant them anyway and see what happens.” I offered to buy them. She gave them to me for free. Feeling guilty, I bought some planting soil and some other stuff. How many flowers and vegetables wind up in compost or garbage bins because customers like me aren’t as responsible as we should be? Nature’s unpredictability and human shortcomings don’t probably help much either. I headed home with my almost dead garden plants and a heavy heart.
I planted the Tithonia in a section of my garden were the lilies and bee balm were doing great. I used a heavy dose of planting soil, watered the twigs, and offered a prayer of gratitude for Karen’s generosity and hope for some growth. Maybe the flowers and the butterflies would survive despite my forgetfulness. Maybe I should just be thankful for the manner in which my tomatoes, peppers, hydrangea, and other garden plants and vegetables were thriving. Well, was I in for some surprises as spring turned to summer.
We had a very rainy summer. I traveled quite a bit; so, I was away from home. My garden was on autopilot. I came home to this picture.
My sunflowers had flourished! There were bees and butterflies all over the place. Monarch caterpillars were crawling all over my milkweed plants elsewhere in the yard.
I understand simplistically that these plants don’t need me or my feeble expertise to grow. They are like the mustard seeds that Jesus speaks about in a fairly famous parable. Little seeds can grow into great big plants as long as they have good exposure to sunlight, healthy soil, and enough water to drink. This is not rocket science. Some would say, me being among them, that people are doing much more to harm than good to our planetary environments. The most recent United Nations Climate Report suggests that human beings must take unprecedented social changes if we will survive and avoid catastrophic planetary peril. It was more than 90 degrees in Norway and over 100 degrees in Japan even as the rains fell in Pennsylvania and wildfires burned uncontrollably in Europe and Oregon. “Weirdness abounds” according to Rutgers University Scientist, Jennifer Francis.
We lose or waste billions of tons of food on this planet. Americans are especially wasteful as we throw away $165 billion dollars of our (un)prepared food. (Quention Fottrell). What would we gain if we would at least compost some of this supply? Who is going hungry as food spoils on our garbage dumps? What I find spiritually, ethically, and theological renewing is that there are emerging efforts across the globe to confront these realities. Episcopalians have decided to make the Stewardship of Creation an important goal by funding environmental stewardship initiatives. Organizations such as Columbia University’s Earth Institute purposefully blend research in the physical and social sciences, education and practical solutions in order to assist people and nations adopt a path toward sustainability.
One of my core personality principles that I commonly lose sight of is that everyone and everything is ultimately connected. I have a deep longing for some idealistic future even as I overlook the beauty of this present moment. Wholeness already exists. Paying attention to the joy I experience by going to Whitenights and planting flowers will help me to avoid becoming anxious or fascinating upon an unrealistic future.
Dr David Daniels astutely says that those of us who desire transformative change for ourselves, our gardens, and this island Earth our home must identify where we feel violated, angry, or afraid. How do these negative emotions shape and harm our future and our present? It is only then by confronting what is really going on that we can choose to act differently, and become someone who is born anew.
In my own experience, I may look at myself as being ashamed of throwing away the flowers and letting them die at the nursery and along my life’s pilgrimage. Instead, I may choose to receive the gift of these dying flowers and plant them to see how they will grow and beautify my life and the lives of the people around me.
Developing daily rituals such as enjoying the beauty of the garden I’ve participated in growing, valuing the relationships I have in this moment, and continuing realistic, inspiration advocacy for the causes I love. These changes will have immediate as well as long term benefits . This pilgrimage invites a sustainable, beautiful path.
I’m going to purchase some mums from Whitenights today.
Blessings along The Way, Jim