From The Garden of Ed. Submitted for publication in The Towne Crier on January 11, 2006

The Force That Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower #7

...a continuation of my overview of the history of plants and their important influence on man.
The series comes to an end.

Never, Ever, Underestimate Plants.

In 2005 I wrote six columns under the umbrella title of "The Force That Through the Green Fuse Drives the Flower ..." with homage to Dylan Thomas's poem that inspired me. They are my overview of plants' important influence on man throughout history. This column will be the final one. It's about plants and man's spirit.

In the winter of 1977, I walked deep into a woodlot near my home in Samsonville. I happened upon a large open space with a boulder resting somewhat near the center. Entering this hemlock forest opening felt much like entering a great cathedral, so still and full of mystery was this place. The trees, high and mighty, were the only hint of the hidden and probably abundant wildlife all around me. This was my church that December afternoon. I returned many times to meditate. Now and then, I shared it with a few friends. A "power spot" one proclaimed. Others had the same feeling that this place felt sacred or was revered ground.

Native Americans and many other cultures have from the beginning of recorded history identified countless locations endowed with some sacred or special significance. Spots where one might communicate with higher beings, or simply lose oneself in nature. It occurs world wide. It's a collaboration among mother nature and all of her creations. Plants are a key ingredient.

In my previous columns I've written about plants' abilities to provide us with food, shelter and clothing. To heal us, kill us, cure us. To intoxicate us. It should come as little surprise to include that plants uplift us by appealing to our earthly senses. As I've said frequently in this series, we are the sentimental ones. As far as we know, plants have no concern for life and death, neither ours, nor their own. I devoted a whole column to plants' astounding ability to survive. It's not a sentimental journey. It's to fulfill their destiny.

So, what do we have? One one hand, we have roots, stems, branches, leaves, flowers, fruit. All of these have influence over us. We, a.k.a. "the other hand", have our five senses of sight, taste, touch, smell, and hearing. We also have some known external senses of balance, heat, hunger, pain and thirst. I suspect that there may be many other senses that we are unaware of, or, whose responses to stimuli are unknown or unstudied.

A bite from a fresh, warm, sun drenched tomato or strawberry can excite the pleasure centers as can a gourmet meal. The sense of taste is at work and it can be uplifting, as in this particular case. I'm sure this is why food and cook books are the best selling books in the publishing industry?

New discoveries in, not only the food plant industry, but also, the floriculture and ornamental horticulture industries, delight and even elate producers and their future customers. The reasons involve the other senses. Taste and smell have long been known to be partners in experience. It is about pleasure centers again. But, there's more to it than taste and smell. There is also sight, and it has been argued that this is the predominant sense.

Imagine a contest among the five senses for value. Imagine the visually beautiful flower, the succulently delicious taste, the exquisitely fragrant herb, the sensual touch of a fern frond, the subtle rustling of grasses. The appeals all trigger a pleasure center. No winner. All divine to their claimant. All important movers of our psyches.

Somewhere near the beginning of recorded history, there appeared representations of a tree that was very unique. "Tree of Life" and the 'Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil" from the Garden of Eden, come to mind. There were many more variations. All had to do with the beginning and the end of life. They appeared in every culture, and representations continue today.

Beautiful and fragrant flowers frequently accompany funeral processions and marriage festivities. Less often, birth celebrations. Is death a return to Eden? Is birth a welcome party hosted by the more experienced in life? Weddings celebrate a new and different life ahead.

Look how often flowers have been employed by a reluctant suitor to do the speaking for him. When all else fails, a bouquet or even a single bloom, might replace a lot of fumbling words. Potent symbols, flowers, to be sure. Because man is a thinking (sentimental) being able to connect the visual with the other senses, he can see something for much more that it appears. Flowers and the unique emotional responses to them explain why they're employed in ever corner of the world.

I've written previously about "tulipomania" that seized Europe in the 1630s. Flowers have been used in every culture for their aesthetic beauty, their formality, their fragrance, color, shape, theatricality, and symbolism. From festivals and celebrations, to personal adornment, wreaths, bouquets, displays celebrating life and death, even victory. Flowers uplift us in hundreds of ways.

And, not just flowers, but also the other plant parts: branches, leaves, fruits and nuts, roots, thorns and parasites. (Mistletoe). Any and all of these serve as symbols, from the pain of unrequited love to the promise of new beginnings to suggestions of strength through perseverance.

I'd be hard pressed to find a plant, tree, seed, blossom or any other plant part that had not figured in one or more of the world's many religions. Questions about the wood that made up the cross upon which Christ was crucified, to the tree under which the Buddha sat when he attained enlightenment, to the symbolism of the lotus flower, the rose, the palm frond, the mulberry seed, etc..

Are you a gardener? Vegetables, a few? Flowers? What would you think, if I told you there were very small creatures that were garden assistants to those pure of heart? I've hinted at this before. Devas, fairies. Have you heard about these? You should look into it. Remember Findhorn, the sand dune community in Scotland that was transformed by organic gardening practices and the help of nature spirits into a thriving oasis where vegetables grew to five times the size of their norm?

History records tree spirits, too. That is, spirits that inhabited trees, trees that transformed into human beings, usually women, and back again to trees. Trees that talked. These are very powerful myths. In 1400 B.C., Egyptians worshipped trees as embodiments of the ultimate female principals.

Treating plants in special ways led to unusual creations for reasons both spiritual and decorative. Also, for entertainment and exercise. English landscape gardeners of the 18th century gave us hedges cut and pruned into fantastical shapes, some odd, some geometric, some animal. Knot gardens, parterres, mazes, labyrinths, walled herb gardens. Does anyone remember the film "Last Year at Marienbad"? The extraordinary use of formal French garden style plants, the shadows or absence of same served as powerful symbols that were ground breaking in the early 60s. The film itself was largely experimental. Plants in partnership with film-making, shaping our emotional responses.

Imagine potted plants that are 800 years old. Somewhere around 200 A.D., the practice of growing and training plants in pots or rooted to rocks took hold in China and spread to Japan. One could instantly transport oneself to a spot beneath an ancient tree in a serene landscape and meditate for hours. The term Bonsai, from the Japanese, means "potted tree". An opportunity to find peace. A science and art passed on through generations.

I cannot think of an art form that has not been influenced by plants and their many forms. The strength and longevity of trees is reflected in the inner structure of many of our most magnificent cathedrals, as well as our modern skyscrapers. As a youngster I marveled at the grandiose sky-like ceiling of the RCA building and its towering tree like columns, adorned with decorations reminiscent of plant parts. Architecture inspired by trees? Not unlike some serene spot in a wood.

In all of the figurative arts, from ancient mosaics to Tiffany lamps to modern fireworks, plant parts play a key role. No less important in poetry, dance, music, photography, theater, literature, painting and sculpture. I cannot think of any that don't pay homage to one or more of flora's gifts to the human race.

The images and symbols, the fragrances and colors, the taste and feel, the quiet sound of a seed pod exploding, the strength and power of any and all of these represent "the force that through the green fuse drives the flower".. the force that allows the hollowed out apple tree across the way, 90% of its wood dead, only a thin ribbon of life remaining, to leaf out, flower, and fruit year after year. We, the sentimental beings, reap the reward. May the "force" be with you and all you hold dear.

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From The Garden of Ed. Submitted for publication in The Towne Crier on January 11, 2006

© 2006 Ed Mues. All Rights Reserved.