Horse Chestnut flowers. Do you see the elephant heads?
This morning in late spring, rain falls with abundance and blessing. The plants continue their upward, outward surge. California poppies in cheerful petal-flame, the fireworks blossoming of Hawthorn, the cream-and-pink spires of the Horse Chestnut (shaped like tiny elephant heads!), the purple spires of Lupine. The field swells green, and as the earth welcomes dawn, the song birds erupt into music, weaving the landscape with this aural water.
Spring is well in motion, and has been for weeks now. Plants we harvested for spring cleansing and tonics (Nettles, Cleavers, Dandelion flowers, Violet flowers, Dead Nettle — or the name I prefer, Purple Archangel) are past their season. Red Elderflower harvest is also past — the time for Red Elder’s flowering is especially brief.
Douglas-fir spring tips
The young Douglas-fir needles are perfect for harvest, vibrant sunny-green, soft, pungent and flavorful, losing the bitter, sharp, and supremely astringent qualities of their earlier growth. Pluck some and dry them for a lovely addition to your spring teas, or for winter respiratory support. Add spring tips to your coffee as you make it, and then add a dash of honey, for a delicious and unusual Doug-fir spring tips coffee drink.
The days continue to lengthen, and we here in the Pacific Northwest have had stretches of heat. But with the rain’s return today, I might characterize the day, and perhaps even still the season in this way:
In movement upward and outward, yet still with some containment
Vibrant, alive, joyous
In addition to Douglas-fir spring needles, I have much to harvest at this time — wonderful plants whose expressiveness I wish to capture right now in order to bring their qualities forth half a year from now: Thyme and Garden Sage flowering tops in honey for a bit of spring lightness and cheer, plus the anti-viral, aromatic, respiratory supportive qualities of these plants to offer bodymind support in the cold and boggy times.
The plants themselves beckon to me to create with them, inventing new formulas that will bring forward some healing nature of this warm, moist, vibrant, enlivened season to aid us when we are in an opposite expression of nature — whether in terms of the land or in terms of our own physical-spiritual bodies. A certain strength and fecund beauty strides through the land right now, and I understand how Beltane/May Day is a celebration of fertility, and of the strength, beauty, and power of masculine and feminine energies.
Hildegard of Bingen’s sense of viriditas is so apparent at this time of year, at least in the Pacific Northwest ecology, in the land and in my bodymind. Viriditas in the medieval European mind and the Church Fathers of the time was the surging greenness of forest and field. But as Dr. Victoria Sweet points out in her doctoral thesis, Rooted in the Earth, Rooted in the Sky: Hildegard of Bingen’s Premodern Medicine, the Church Fathers also used the term viriditas as a metaphor for the fruitful expressiveness of a virtue or of the spiritual life. Here’s just one example:
Plant in me the roots of true virtues and the seeds of holy contemplation, and with the viriditas of good works make them grow and sprout …
– Thomas a Kempis, De elevatione mentis, vol 2. as quoted in Dr. Victoria Sweet’s, Rooted in the Earth, Rooted in the Sky: Hildegard of Bingen’s Premodern Medicine
Hildegard of Bingen spoke of viriditas as being the sap of plants, and as being a substance in the body. For example:
The menstrual flow of a woman is her generating viriditas, her flowering, because, just like a tree by its viriditas produces flowers and leaves and fruits, so a woman by the viriditas of menstruation brings forth flowers and leaves as the fruit of her womb.
Viriditas in Hildegard’s concept has wetness and heat, and is a potent liquid of both substance and power, entering us through the plants that we eat. While much more can be said about viriditas as a physical as well as spiritual substance, or as a greening force (and no doubt I’ll continue this conversation!), I want to go back to you, me, our personal experience within nature, and as nature.
If you can, take a few minutes tomorrow morning (or each morning!). Settle into stillness and openness. Connect with your heart, express some gratitude. Nestle into the beauty and unfolding expression of the day, and feel — or imagine — yourself as Nature — and Nature as being in expression as you, but also as any plants around you, any birds or humans. What is the movement of the greening force in all this, the tangible expression of in the life cycle of the plants, in the activity of the land?
Inside you physically and emotionally, notice what you might describe as warmth or cold (or any temperature state), dry or wet (or any moisture state), in movement or stillness, tension or laxness/relaxed (or any state of tone or lack thereof). Nuances exist within all these sensations. Feel free to describe it in whatever way they appear to you. Where does viriditas move within you? Where do you feel life-expression, generative and creative expression, in whatever way that idea means to you?
Notice the same in the world and beings (human and otherwise) around you: hot/cold, dry/wet, movement/stillness, tension/laxity. Viriditas–the life force. Go ahead and ascribe emotions to your experience. Emotions are part of our language of perception.
Hawthorn in flower
Notice and experience. Let words go, find them again. Do you feel yourself as an expression of the nature around you or as out of step, in dissonance, separate? Or is there a music in the differences you sense between you/your bodymind and nature’s expression/mind?
Be playful, be poetic. Close your time in gratitude, and then make notes or journal about your experience.
You might repeat this process at noon, at sunset, at night. What shifts? What returns? What remains the same?
This sort of awareness and feeling state is at the heart of working with herbs and healing in the way that humans have done, and in many traditions continue to do, to this day. To work effectively with herbs and earth medicine ways one needs to begin or find oneself here: with Nature as truly our Mother, Nature as teacher, Nature as ourselves.
We root and unfurl from here.
Would you like to immerse yourself in an experience of nature, the plants, and yourself as nature? Gather with other women in a sacred circle as we open our senses to the delights of the land, source our body’s wisdom, and awaken our ancient relationship with plant intelligence in a day-long retreat, Gifts of Summer: Celebrating Body/Earth. Somatic movement educator/therapist and nature immersion program director, Stacey Hinden, and myself will co-facilitate this beautiful journey on Saturday, June 29th, 10am to 4pm. Find out more here.