Archive for the ‘nature’ Category

Sun seeking jungle vines are heliotropic. They race one another up tree trunks to the light. One type of thorny bramble whips from side to side, shoving other plants out of the way. How rude! It is a jungle out there.

The Queen Victoria’s Water Lily has circular leaves that can grow to over 8 feet in diameter and float holding up almost 100 pounds in weight. Air is trapped in the ribs of the leaves. Air mattress plants.

The Africa acacia tree produces a whistling sound from the bulbous of its thorn. It also makes friendships with ants. Ants who can be whistled in? Maybe not.

Smart kites and falcons in Australia fly into active fires to pick up smouldering sticks and carry them away to area the flames have not yet reached. They start new fires to flush game from that area. They use fire to hunt. So much for a romantic view of nature. Yikes! Mice, snakes, lizard and rabbits should all move out of Australia. Find a nice, small suburban yard in London or maybe San Diego.

Forest trees have learned to live in mutually beneficial relationships. The trees communicate using a collective intelligence much like an insect colony. They share water and food through networks. Cooperative. We could learn from the trees.

Sand dunes are built one sand grain at a time. Each dune type is the result of different wind patterns, and the presence or lack of vegetation on the ground. It’s a self-organizing phenomenon. Beautiful! It’s natures geomancy, the art of arranging buildings auspiciously.

Our world! Strange. Instructive. Brutal. Beautiful.

Today I helped a butterfly escape from our patio cover. It was trapped there banging frantically against the fabric until I guided it with my hand down to where the cover ended. Then it fluttered away, freed. Safe.

I like the cooperative elements. The forest trees working together. The acacia and the ants. Beautiful and safe. It’s coming.

Isaiah 11

The wolf will live with the lamb,

the leopard will lie down with the goat,

the calf and the lion and the yearling a together;

and a little child will lead them.

7The cow will feed with the bear,

their young will lie down together,

and the lion will eat straw like the ox.

8The infant will play near the cobra’s den,

and the young child will put its hand into the viper’s nest.

9They will neither harm nor destroy

on all my holy mountain,

for the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Lord

as the waters cover the sea.

Anne Dagg, a Canadian zoologist, was the first person to study giraffes in the wild. In 1956, as a young woman, she bravely traveled to South Africa alone to study giraffes. Returning home she got her PhD, but she found a stone wall of resistance from the good old boy network in the sciences. She was refused a job as a tenured professor, but tenaciously she still published over 60 scientific articles and 20 books an animal behavior. She also became a strong advocate for women. Anne is now getting her due through apologies, awards and a documentary on her life is available on Amazon Prime’s CuriosityStream.

The sloth bear is a species native to the Indian subcontinent. There’s nothing slothful about it. So much for names. It has a long snout to vacuum up insects and a shaggy back for its cubs to ride on. It was made famous as Baloo, a fictional character featured in the movie based on Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book. The species is now endangered.

Hayabusa2 is a Japanese spacecraft that successfully rendezvoused with a diamond shaped asteroid named Ryugu in 2018. In an amazing display of technology it landed on the asteroid and picked up subsurface “organic matter” that scientists hope will help clarify the origin of life. The probe is on its way back to Earth to deliver the samples to eager scientists. In December of 2020 it will deliver its asteroid material by launching a small capsule with the material it collected.

Honeybees are disappearing from the earth. Many believe that our increasing use of chemical pesticides and herbicides, which honeybees ingest during their daily pollination rounds, are largely to blame. Parasites, viruses, and fungi also take their toll, especially on commercial bee colonies. In the US, to help with the problem huge numbers of bees are now carried around on semi trucks from California to Washington to the Dakotas to pollinate almond trees and apple trees. In 2015 one of the trucks overturned in California. It held 448 hives and an estimated 14 million bees.

What do a Canadian zoologist, a sloth bear, a space craft and bees have in common?


“The lover can see, and the knowledgeable,” writes Annie Dillard.

We are capable of learning about our world and our universe and understanding it better at an astonishing level of sophistication. From vacuum-cleaner bears to teams that produce astroid landing spacecraft, we earth creatures love life and hoover in knowledge.

The heart of the discerning acquires knowledge, for the ears of the wise seek it out. Proverbs 18:15

Seeking! Seeing! That is the beginning. Seeing of loving and doing. Loving is understanding and continuing to vacuum up knowledge to better care for our world and ourselves.

Secondly, our learning and the application of it has dramatically altered the world. Some of this is good. We are figuring out the universe. We are keepers of the bees. We understand and preserve some bears and giraffes.

But some of our application of knowledge has resulted in a very harmful state of affairs. The proverbial “ears” of wisdom haven’t always been a wise. Bears and bees, giraffes and space — we are in the process of devastating them, our planet and space.

There are 1 million animal and plant species are now threatened with extinction. There are an estimated 28 million pieces of human made debris smaller than 1 cm (0.39 in) in space.

What to do?

Protect and nurture. Use wisely. That was the Genesis command. It is a misunderstanding to think that we are here to dominate and destroy. We are not commanded to do that. We are commanded to responsibly love and nurture the creation, all races and genders and classes, bees, our earth, it’s atmosphere — all creatures, all persons.

A huge garden spider is now connected to my patio umbrella. I’m leaving it alone. I’m watching it increase its web. I not so fond of spiders, but I am absolutely sure that messing with this beautiful creature is wrong. It will spoil my backyard ecosystem.

But not messing with creatures hasn’t always been the response.

Beginning in 1958, chairman Mao in China decreed that all the sparrow should be killed. The whole country attacked them furiously. It was a national grotesquery. The result was a huge ecological imbalance that was in part responsible for the great Chinese famine. It turned out that while sparrows eat grain, they also eat insects — and without sparrows to keep the insect population in check, China’s crops were fair game. Locusts, leafhoppers and other insects descended in droves. At least 30 million Chinese died in the great famine.

The birds matter. What happens when the birds and bees are gone? This morning I close watched a pair of brown towhees hopping in my lawn. They were right in a place where I used to apply weed killer. I’m not going use that anymore. My earth care friend Brenda Smith influenced me this way, as well as my wife. We have a rabbit living in our hedge, birds and butterflies galore in the yard. We planted flowering bushes and trees to attract them. It is senseless to poison the wonders, the ground hopping extravagances that we created home and food for. The world is full of billions of these. We live in world teaming with life.

“The universe has continued to deal exclusively in extravagances, flinging intricacies and colossi down aeons of emptiness, heaping profusions on profligacies with ever-fresh vigor,” writes Annie Dillard.

The Joy is in seeing it. For many years we bought passes to the San Diego Zoo. My wife and daughter have volunteered there. The zoo is a world leader in conservation and species preservation. And in part, as a result of this, my daughters are fascinated with nature, one even getting her PhD with an emphasis in ecofeminism.

There are simple things we can do to help. Several years ago, even before it became popular, my wife insisted that we stop getting plastic bags from the grocery store and that we stopped buying disposable water bottles.

I have to admit that despite my fascination with nature, it is the influence of others, very often women, that have led me to begin to change my behavior.

Wised-up ears listen to good counsel. We are so capable, even of Sisyphean labors to create refuges, conservation education, address poverty and preserve species. My intellectual hat is off to such as Anne Dagg and also to the Hayabusa2 space craft team, and to my wife, daughters and earth care friends.

If we can send a craft to an astroid can’t we turn from the destruction of our planet’s and nurture its profligate intricacies and natural extravagances?

We can.

What protects and feeds the earth?


Every year, over a hundred million tons of dust is picked up from the deserts of Africa by mountain winds — picked up from the massive Bodélé Depression, the “dustiest place on Earth,” picked up from the giant old lake bed of Mega Chad, and blown across the Atlantic Ocean.

7,000 years ago, the Sahara wasn’t a desert at all, but a land of huge lakes, and the largest was Chad, bigger than all of the Great Lakes combined.

Much of the dust consists of fossilized microorganisms, diatoms, billions of diatoms that fell to the bottom of the lakes as they evaporated.

Diatoms are micro-algae. They are the only organism on the planet with cell walls composed of transparent, opaline silica. Diatoms live in houses made of glass.

So billowing clouds of desert dust — glass diatom houses — from the Sahara waft into the atmosphere, form a plume that stretches 4,000 miles — more than the size of the continental United States — and head out over the Atlantic Ocean. There, in part, the dust clouds play the role of hurricane spoiler. The dry air shreds the forming clouds.

Some of the Saharan dust falls into the Atlantic and sinks to the bottom. Full of nutrients, it feeds the phytoplankton. They in turn help create our oxygen.

Some of the dust keeps going, traveling high in the atmosphere. An estimated 27 millions of tons of Sahara dust reaches the Amazon. Water vapor in the Amazon nucleates on the dust particles, and mineral-laden rain falls — fertilizer from the sky.

This is needed. Surprisingly the Amazonian soil is poor. The heavy rains wash away its phosphorus. The Shaharan dust adds back in phosphorus, present in its microscopic diatoms.

One of the driest places on earth nurtures one of the wettest. Former lives feed current lives.

The interconnectedness of the earth is astonishing. The complexity of our ecosystem is amazing. The sequencing is first rate.

I can just imagine God working this all out ahead of time saying, “Hum, what if we solved that problem with this solution. Dust. Cool!”

Then he paused and said, “I can do a lot with dust.”

And when a flock of bluebills, pitching pondward, tears the dark silk of heaven in one long rending nose-dive, you catch your breath at the sound, but there is nothing to see except stars.”

So writes Aldo Leopold in his A Sand County Almanac: And Sketches Here and There, a beautiful 1949 piece of nature writing. Aldo was an iconic woodsman, ecologist and environmentalist.

Reading his poetic lines you can just see him out in the marsh in the dark — waiting early or late there to hear and to wonder. Leopold is our model, our nature guru, our father forester who reminds us the land is sacred and the creatures sacred too. And we should wait on them.

This morning my wife and I sat in the family room looking out at our small backyard pond. We were waiting. We were waiting for the birds to come. We were waiting for some new migrating spring birds to show.

Sometimes seeing and hearing is all about getting in the right place and waiting, waiting for something to pitch pondward toward you, to tear the silk of heaven in front of you. To see you.

And sure enough, pitching pondward, a flash of color, a bright orange and black, a male, hooded Oriole. He landed on the trellis above the pond, all brilliant yellow-orange and deepest black, dropped aflutter to the water, splashed, and then winged back to the fence, rear end fluffy-wet and clean.

The first Oriole of the season! We felt so honored. And then as if that was not enough avian showboating suddenly brown phoebes were hopping on the ground all puffy and fat. And a white crowned sparrow lit on the stucco walland turned to show off his amazing eye stripes. And then a bit later a rare — to our yard — Rüfüs hummingbird darted into our blue plumbago, hovered over the pond and then in a reddish-brown flash — was gone.

When we planted all yard we planted for birds and butterflies. When we made a small pond, we made it for water lilies and water Hawthorne and duckweed — and birds. Doing so we tipped our hats to Claude Monet, Aldo Leopold, Emily Dickinson, Annie Dillard, Jean-Henri Fabre, John Bartram, God and other favorite environmentalists, poets, botanists and painters. 

What to do?

Build a pond set up a blind, or plant flowers, put out seeds and bread crumbs — and wait more.

The wonders are worth the wait.

We are small, limited and ephemeral. But space is vast, expansive and ancient.

How might our modern knowledge of Earth, the solar system and outer space help us in our view of ourselves and God?

Our earth is 239,000 miles from the moon, 93,000,000 miles from the sun and 6.2 light years or 38,000,000,000,000 miles from a star in the constellation Cygnus. What is a light year? It is the distance that light traveling at 186,000 miles per second would move in one year.

That is a speed and distance that we can’t even really get our minds around. How astonishing our universe!

Our galaxy, the Milky Way, is about 100,000 light years across and 10,000 light years thick. It consists of billions of stars and our star, the sun, lies in the Orion arm or spur at about 28,000 light years from the galaxy’s center.

Our sun, our solar system is not still, but travels with the galaxy. Our solar system travels at about 515,000 mph and yet it would take 230 million years for it to travel all the way around the Milky Way.

There’s more. There is much more that we have discovered in the last few years. The earth is about 4.5 billion years old in the universe around 13.8 billion years old. Our existence lies within vast spaces and vast also periods of time.

How did this amazing conglomerate begin?

In the 1930s a Russian American physicist George Gamow worked out a theory now known as the big bang which stated that the universe originated in the fiery cosmic explosion from a dense particle smaller than an atom. For we Christians this sounds a lot like what we’ve always believed!

Life began with a dense fireball that erupted in less than a trillionth of a trillionth of a second and was 1 billion trillion times hotter than our sun.

Think about this says Judy Cannato in her book Radical Amazement. In its latent potential, the … person that you are at this very moment was present in the Big Bang … in an astonishing burst of light. We came from the light!”

This is truly astonishing! And it is mysterious! We now know that 95% of the universe cannot be seen but exist as dark matter or dark energy that holds the 5% that is visible together.

Judy Cannato takes this kind of information and challenges us to ask what this tells us about God.

She says that this newly discovered “story invites us to expand our commitment to emergence, to participate in the divine unfolding around us and within us as fully as possible.”

“ All life is in flux, all life is groaning toward fuller expression of greater consciousness. We can look for new life and nurture it where we find it, and we can challenge ourselves to be open and grow into things that we never knew existed.”

What may God have ahead for you? With an expanded sense of reality what might God be opening to you?

When I flew into the airport and saw the palm trees, they looked like home, but odd, almost artificial, pseudo-tropical — they weren’t pines.

I had spent the morning driving through Montana’s rolling hills, ogling the lovely farms, the sparklingly clear rivers, the pines wandering along the rivers, the pines strolling up into the hills.

But now I was back home. As we drove from the airport, into San Diego, I still had a smile on my face.

I love airplanes, I love travel, I love cities — their museums and restaurants –and I am smitten with hills, rives and pines. New places change how we see, allowing us the luxury of contextualizing love — and beauty. I love a new place, anchored in eating, sleeping, wandering, exploring, fishing, hiking, slouching and smooching.

It brings up the question, how does one enjoy life? How does one really mouth it, chew it, savor it, kiss it, dive down deep into the cold, clear, refreshing liquid-rush of it?

By sloshing in it!

In Montana, on the Blackfoot River, I stood stiff-legged in the front of the boat, locking my leg into the curved plastic of the hull and cast my dry fly to the right bank. The boat sloshed, I rocked back and forth, Matt yelled “Mend,” I did, and an eighteen inch Cutthroat trout boiled to the surface, took my fly right off the top of the boiling water, and dove.

I reared back on the fly rod, it bent toward the water, and the Cutthroat took off like crazy toward the far bank. Beautiful! Thrilling! Perfect!

That night when we got off the river my back hurt like crazy. It didn’t matter. I had sloshed in it, in the river, in life. I had done what it takes to receive the beauty. I had placed myself in a posture to receive.

This is how you do it, but something else is required too.

You have to prep like crazy!

For the last year before my Montana trip, I had worked like crazy at my job, and made and saved the money to go. And then I had thought and planned and talked and arranged. I had practiced with my fly rod on my front driveway, casting to imaginary fish in a concrete river. I had made an arrangement with my friend, I had paid my money, I had made the long trip, I had hired the skilled guide, had gotten in the boat, cast the rod and I had mended the line.

It takes an effort to enjoy life, and sometimes some pre-work. But when you do that, you get it — some pleasure, a Cutthroat trout, some loveliness, a bit of the gorgeous whip and womp and woof of the wonders.

That day, as we rocked down the river, we watched a bald eagle soar overhead, perused a black bear as it wandered along the bank, peered at a herd of elk on a far hill and watched Mayflies dance in a tall, white column above the river.

We were immersed in the Blackfoot and the ecosystem of the Backfoot — the sparkly white, rapids, the bumpy, rocky bottom, the cool rain that spotted our coats and brought a fresh, damp fragrance to our senses, the deep fish-filled water along the banks — the gorgeous speckled shinning rainbow trout, brown trout and Cutthroat Trout that we caught and released that day.

This is how you do it, how you enjoy it.

Life is so good, from time-to-time, and we can enjoy it, the columns of Mayflies, and then again, the churning fish-filled rivers, when we get a chance, the lovely pines, if we put ourselves out in it — the soaking rain — and do the work, and make a choice to get up and get out, and slosh in it.

It’s spring. It’s almost Easter.

Every morning now I wake up hopeful.

Reality seems good to me. I accept what is.

I accept the the proofs that God is good. I am not offended.

One of the most compelling proofs for me is sunlight, another starlight, another shadow, another color.

I am astonished by these simple realities. Everyday among the miracles of reality I find a renewal; every second alive I happen again upon my own resurrection from the dead, from the death found in unawareness.

I’ve taken to writing fables, about what is true. Here are is one for you.


The Sun

Looking south, the sun cast one arm over the Amazon basin.

Looking north, it put the other, covered with golden bracelets, lightly on the Sierra Nevada. It draped itself upon the earth.

Sliding through the jungle and slipping off the peaks it withdrew to the rumpled Pacific, and pausing there, and reaching its hands down to the west coast beaches, it ran its fingers through the tidal pools. They turned pure gold.

“And there, and there and also there,” the sun said softly, and it laid tender fingers of light across the stirring sand.

We are the best,” said the mountains, always first and last to warm and be warmed.“

Then the palms and pines along the western beaches whispered, running their fingers through their lovely hair.

“What about us? What about us?” they called out.

The sun flipped its fingers playfully and splashed sunlight up into all of the leafy trees lining the beaches, and seeing this they rose up on their pointy root toes, grabbed pieces of the light and fixed it in their hair.

Suddenly, each wore a sparkling tiara.

“Oh,” the trees murmured softly. “Give us more!”

But there was too much for them to hold.

Big pieces of the sun broke free and sailed toward the east.

The great sun slid along, pulling a shade across the Pacific ocean. It rans fast now towards Asia and Australia, crying out for Europe, calling out for Africa.

It ran, singing out for the Himalayas, the Tien Shan, the Urals, laying itself down upon the Tibetan Plateau and the West Siberian Plain.

“I’m coming now,” it whispered softly to Lake Baikal, to the Bay of Bengal and to the great Sundarbans.

“We are waiting,” they called back, “for you.”

Jealous, the great peninsulas of Europe, the Iberian, Italian, and Balkan, beckoned to the light. “But us, but us, but what about all of us!”

“Fall on our peaks too!” called the Alps, Pyrenees, Apennines, Dinaric Alps, Balkans, and Carpathians,

And the sun, with a total, complete and utter equanimity, sang out softly to the glowing earth, “But you know so well my precious ones from all my time with you, that I … I have no favorites.”

And then it fell with a laughing, loyal, lasting love upon the whole of the great Serengeti.


You can find more fables like this at one of my blogs,



It’s my humble observation that heaven overlapps earth.

The other day, I put my head up against my wife’s head, my check touched her cheek, the skin of her face presed up flat against mine and the porous boundaries of our individuated existances merged. We hugged with hugs that only thirty-three years of marriage can hug. We Venn diagramed.

Venn diagrams, and the nature of earth and occassionally a fleeting idea or two about heavenly possibilities, have long interested me. In Venn’s, circles represent sets. The interior of one circle represents the elements of a set, while the exterior represents elements not members of the set. If two circles, representing different sets are overlapped, then the area of overlap represents members of one set that are also members of the other. For example, one circle may represent creatures which walk on two legs, the other creatures that fly. Creatures in the area of overlapp both walk on two legs and fly, for instance, ducks.

The concept underlying Venn diagrams is commonality. One thing which is different from another thing may yet have something in common with it and even crossover into it. I like it; I  have always liked it, two things sharing common space, cheecks for instance, and I don’t much care for “this-is-nothing-like-that!” and the “us-and-not-them” perspective and other various separating distinctions, selfish individuations and nasty polarization. Legs go nicely with wings. I have legs; I wish I had wings. Antithesis and this-has-nothing-to-do-with-that is not that much fun.

Take heaven. What a weird and absolutely bizzare concept. Heaven is the idea that there is a place which we go after we die, and that it is better than this earth, and it is better than Mars and the time-space continum that we, Mars and Earth inhabit! Really? How would anyone know that?

It makes me nervous when people talk about heaven.  I find myself particularly nervous when people talk about who is not going to be there. The “in heaven” versus the “not in heaven” — how would anyone know that?

It is my rumination that the set of things that make up heaven somehow overlapps with the set of what make up earth and that earth and heaven have things in common, and that no one on earth has any accurate idea of what barriers or for that matter, doorways, exist between earth and heaven.

When Jesus was born, the scripture says that “Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared …  praising God and saying,“Glory to God in the highest heaven,  and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

That’s an interesting report, from a Venn perspective. According to scripture, the set of things that make up heaven include God and angels, the set of things that make up earth include God’s favor. But elsewhere in scripture, Paul, a fairly repectable authority on the spiritual-space continum, says that in God, “we live and move and have our being.” So, if this is true, then earth’s set includes God too, and if we trust Dr. Luke, angels too, seeing they showed up for the shepherds.  So then if  we look at the teachings on heaven in the Bible, we might conclude that the set of things that are in heaven share with the set of things that are on earth,  things like God, angels who talk, and other attendant and following vague-itudes like “peace” and “favor.”

It’s overlap; heaven overlaps earth. Heaven isn’t some kind of alien place. Heaven shares underpinnings with earth. If we do go there, after we die, it will feel familiar. When we put our faces up against it, it will put a warm face up against ours. When we hug heaven,  heaven will hug back.

It is my observation that some people think heaven will be long church!  I think it won’t! Thank God!

C. S. Lewis posited that heaven is found in our longings for a place that is suggested by the beauty and wonder of earth. We see a beautiful mountain. We long to climb to the top. That longing — its’ a longing for heaven, stirred by the beauty of earth. Earth’s mountains have something common with heaven’s mountains and one suggests and creates hunger for the other.

Speculation? Perhaps, but the hints at what-will-be after-what-is-present-now  indicate commonality. Perhaps, earth  does mirror and even contain pieces of heaven, the angels, the peace, God himself. The best of what we taste here? It’s realized and finalized and perfected there. Coal here, diamonds there. Legs here, legs and wings here and there.


I think we might be experiencing a bit of it now.

Think Venn diagrams.

I clearly remember the moment I first  took responsibility for the earth.

It was the day I found big Red. He was a mangy male on the plus side of the scale, lots of ginger hair with some facial scars that belied his kick-back personality.

When I found Red, wandering, I drug him home with me, his forelegs hanging over both my arms, his stiff ears brushing the underside of my chin,  his back legs and tail bumping along on the ground behind.

My mom let me keep him, but he was pretty much confined to outside, where he wanted to be anyway, just in case there was a chance to mix it up with the feline cuties flirting in the neighborhood.

To get a sense of Red, you must understand something: He was so large and prowlish that when he was out and about, mothers pulled their small children back inside the house.

I was very, very proud of Red; his homecoming put me in a God-like category.

Genesis 1:26 states rather underwhelmingly that in the amazing and astonishing beginning of the very beginning of us, God said, “Let us make human beings in our image, make them reflecting our nature so they can be responsible … “

And then, in perhaps the greatest omission in world literature, the text goes on to say, “for the fish in the sea, the birds in the air, the cattle, and, yes, earth itself, and every animal that moves on the face of Earth.” In other words, for Red.

The author, seemingly unawares, blithely glosses over the emotional reaction — an unbelievable ellipses! Upon creation of beings like himself, God must have jumped up and down, waved his arms and  hooted! Adam and Eve must have screamed with pure delight. The animals must have jumped into a celebration chorus so raucous and joyful that it forever upstaged any and all imitative, animated, Disney-movie hit tunes!

What? The emotional response to creation was not mentioned? Perhaps, it was shockingly lost in the Hebrew oral tradition, or perhaps Moses thought he couldn’t do it linguistic justice.

But the effect wasn’t lost. According to the record, Adam and Eve jumped right into the forray and started happily naming things. With all the acumen of a Carl Linnaeus they classified the marvelous creatures they were  now wonderfully “responsible” for.

Cool! They acted out the DNA of God. They named, they brought home, they cared for — Red!

To care for the creation, to name it, feed it, pet it and bring it home with us– this is the image of God in us. The image of God is reflected in human responsibility for creatures. The sacred text itself says, God made us like him, so we could be responsible.

And in a damaged world and a broken creation, it is certainly the most God-like thing we can do to find lost creatures and to bring them home and care for them.

Want to be God-like?

Feed the dog.

Bring home a lost  humanoid too.


Posted: December 8, 2010 in nature, plants
Tags: , , , ,

I am in love with her. I confess; I have stocked her, bagged her and brought her  home. I have pealed her,  devoured her, and I will again. I can’t stop. I’m addicted. I love solanum tuberosum.  I love her  hot and mashed, with a pool of butter or gravy on top and salted — suck, smack  and bam, mouthfuls of  comfort and love.

And this is only the beginning of my confession. I am permanently, incurably smitten by the whole kingdom, Plantae — lovely. It’s not just the veggies, though I love my vegetables, the spicy lentil soup last night, the firm, moist slices of avocado with my mushroomed, onioned and green peppered eggs for breakfast yesterday.  I love the whole of this kingdom, the trees, bushes, grasses, herbs, ferns, vines, mosses and green algae. Amazing! I love them all so much that I go out, on the hunt, and find them and bring as many of them home with me as I can, and I lovingly  nurture each ones idiosyncratic beauty in my cupboards and in my backyard gardens.

This week, driving up East H Street away from my house, I couldn’t help but notice  the liquid ambers in the center divide. I almost drove off the road ogling them. It’s December and  fallish in San Diego and the ambers are red hot and fiery yellow and orange —  wicked pretty, like Maine earlier in the year,  but less so.

I fell in love with plants early. I’m sure it was the mashed peas, the yellow squash and the cereal my mom spooned into me.  Or perhaps it was the lovely, dolled up tiger lilies in the front yard, or the curvy iris she planted at the top of the drive,  big purple-golden and voluptuous blooms.

When I was big enough to get out on my own, into the woods, I was seduced by the Podophyllum peltatum with their long skinny legs, their deeply cut lobes, their single secund white flowers, their reaching rhizomes and their shapely  umbrellas. I found them in the open mesic woodlands of Benton County, Missouri where we lived. I discovered them as clonal, encamped  green canopies, gathered like beach umbrellas on a hot day at La Jolla Shores. I wacked them with a stick, knocking down whole forests of them for fun. It was fun, the harvest, or the battle, which is similar, I guess, but  now I regret it.  The mayapple is a larval host plant for the Variegated Fritillary. What dismay when the fritillaries came back! I repent, and now I plant passion vines in my yard  to try to make it up to them.

One other special plant I remember from the primordial woods of my childhood is the lovely Morchella. When I first saw her in the woods, moist and supple among the dying elms, I was undone. I took her home, washed her, laid her down in egg and flour, fried her up and ripped her apart with my teeth.  “Yum!”  I went looking for more, and that was a good deal of the fun, the hunt, almost as good as looking for arrowheads, but tastier when found. I remember going out in the spring, after a rain, and looking around rotting logs, in soft, moist, rich soil,  safe spots in the shade, eyes scanning, then suddenly the find, and another and, “There is another one!” Love it.

Some authors suggest that the genus only contains as few as 3 to 6 species, while others think there are  up to 50 species. Phylogenetic analysis based on both RFLP and  restriction enzyme analysis of the 28S ribosomal RNA gene support the former hypothesis, that the genus comprises only a few species with considerable phenotypic variation. The morels deserve the attention of the botanist as well as the gastronome. I’m  good with the attention given to these lovely beings, and the findings. It has also been discovered that  morels contain small amounts of hydrazine toxins, and have been thought to be a bit intoxicating, another reason to hunt and devour them.I’ve eaten too many. I’m irreparably intoxicated.

After I got married to a human, I confess that I went after the plants with even more passion. I got books, plant identification books, dessert plant books, marine plant books, mountain plant books,  and I went out with literature in one hand and my wife in the other to find more lovelies. There was Claytonia perfoliata,  a California trailing spring beauty. Their cotyledons  are bright green, succulent, long,  narrow bowls filled with tiny white and pink flowers. Like the morels, they love cool, damp places, under trees, along logs. Their common name is Miner’s lettuce and refers to their use by California gold rush miners to prevent scurvy. I like it when a plant has a known history like that, that ties me to the plant hunters of the past.

This fall, I visited the Chelsea Physic Garden in London,  a walled, “secret” garden founded by the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries of London in 1673 so its apprentices might study the medicinal qualities of plants. A worshipful society — I’m a part of that, in awe of God’s plant work.  It was cold the day I visited the garden,  and much of it was in winter mode, but the long history of the place was in full parade. Dr. Hans Sloane had a hand here too, purchasing about 4 acres and leasing it to the Society of Apothecaries for £5 a year in perpetuity. Some of the  plants that have taken sanctuary here, such as Rosmarinus officinale  and Jasminum officinale, have been in cultivation in this spot for several centuries. Official plants; I’m impressed. I went inside, where they were serving food, and ordered a veggie lasagna. It was hot, and vegetablish and delicious, a perfect feast at the Physic Garden.  

The World Health Organization estimates that 75 to 80% of the world’s population still uses plant medicines. It has been estimated that   70 percent of all new drugs introduced in the United States in the past 25 years have been derived from natural products. Plants are the medicine cabinet of the world.

I honor this, and pay tribute to the Rubiaceae. When we visited the lovely island of Kauai a few years ago, we stayed one night on a coffee plantation, and took a tour. We awoke to green geckos on the walls and green tropical  plants all around.  Fascinating — the evergreen shrubs  and small trees, the  glorious green berries, the dark glossy leaves. The berries are green when immature, then they ripen to yellow, then crimson, and turn black upon being  dried. I love this plant, and what she does for me. I live through this one.

Every morning when I wake up, the first thing I do is to go downstairs, with Megan following, her tail up as she descends the stairs, and together we enter the shrine to edible plants. I take down the special container with  the dark brown  Coffea canephor or Coffea  arabica, and I pour the filtered holy water into the clean, clear glass pot, spoon the  large scoops of the finely ground, roasted seeds into the paper filter,  close the top with a click and press the bottom button. The magic commences —  the steamy dripping, the seductive aroma, the growl and sputter as it finishes up, the slow pour into the mug with the warm milk at the bottom, the creamy tan swirl,  the warmth in the hands, the first bitter sip slipping over the tongue, the flow of   life down the throat, the return of energy and sanity after the long night — this is a bit of the summon bonum.  By the second mug, I feel the magic, the buzz, the alert signals, the brightening colors, the return of hope. It has been said that coffee is proof that God loves us and wants us to pay attention.  Yes, and yes, I feel the love.

This gets at it, the thing about love. Plantae is proof that we are loved. The plants delight us, heal us, feed us, shade us, energize us and more and more and more. Yesterday someone brought peppermint bark to a Christmas party I attended.  I had four pieces, with coffee, and left the party happy with the world and  assured that we are all loved.  Theobroma cacao has to be one of the great sweethearts of the earth; it is so divine, so full of love, so helpful when life isn’t going quite right. Studies show that the plant originated in the Amazon, the hotbed of some many love-rich plants. I would not want to live without her, white, dark and every other form.

And even if we didn’t energize and glow from the use of the plants, the mere presence and appearance of this kingdom would alone be enough for us to glory in it.  Take  Cezanne; he loved the apples; he loved them for what they are, and taught us to love them too.  He loved their special roundness, their unique color.  I’ve seen the essence of the essence of the apples  in his Pommes et  bisquits in the  Musee de l’Orangerie in Paris. Cezanne instructs, points, suggest the possibility of loving  more of the less,  the simple forms,  the minute variations in tone and color, the basic geometry of  nature – the beauty of the cylinder, sphere and the cone. The plants offer this, the arc of  the leaf, the sphere of the seed, the cylinder in the trunk, and thus they so look good up against the straight-edged world that we have created. 

I’m undone. A world without plants, can you even imagine how vacant and comfortless it would be. It would be an unloved world. And so we must not let this go unnoticed. We must wake and shout, rave, jump up and down, dive in, look around, surface and praise God for the plants that decorate and energize our lives.  We have way under-reacted. We are far to silent. If we don’t wake up and raise our voices, the rocks will animate and cry out.

And so today, waking and alerting, I celebrate Plantae, each and every one, my society garlic, raising their purple mouths to the sun in my backyard. My water lilies retreating into the rocks in my pond, preparing to rise again next spring,  my Ficus standing guard in front and back.

And I sit and sip my strong coffee and chew my wheat checks drenched  in soy milk,  and I am thankful for plant life washing my eyes and washing down my throat again today.