Last year on February 15th, Brendan and I hiked deep into the woods to try and shake off winter's oppressive weight. Cold air in our lungs...bare trees watching with imposing silence. We found two laughing streams, just on the other side of rise in the forest. So many animals had left their imprints in the soft mud of the bank...wild turkey tracks, heron tracks, skunk and racoon. As I knelt in the mud to examine, I found the most curious thing sprouting from the water. Most obviously a plant form, but it's identity was a mystery to me. It held its thick roots deep in the bed of the stream and yet reached up through icy water to splash through the surface with green and red spotted arms. We found more along the bank...out of the water's reach. The snow was melted in patches around these ancient-looking plant sentinels that seemed to command such unlikely presence in this spartan, winter forest. What are these giant, amphibious-looking sprouts that they can literally melt snow??
Further research done at home under a cozy blanket led me to skunk cabbage. Thermogenesis. An ancient dinosaur of a plant that grows deeper into the ground with each passing year, while its ability to generate heat makes it completely invincible to frost and freezing temperatures. This "plant" uses the same amount of metabolic energy as a hummingbird. And it begins visibly poking up through winter's blanket of ice and snow right around this time in a defiant harbinger of rebirth. I have loved this primordial plant from the moment I first reached down through the icy water and touched it. I've clutched it metaphorically to my chest as protection against the black, cold death of winter. "I will last through this death because I'm unstoppable", the sprouts whisper into the sleet.
Yesterday, at the height of my exhaustion, I thought of that hike, and I longed to see those sprouts again, whatever the cost to my energy. We mucked our way through a bog and finally arrived at that hushed place in the forest where those 2 streams laugh together all year...one a higher cascading pitch, the other a low mellow chortle. I found no paw prints...no turkey tracks this time. And no sign of sprouts. Just the decaying leaves and the frigid waters. "Too early" I thought. "Maybe next week." And I bent down at the water's edge to touch the current. Then it was like morel-hunting in April...one momentarily jumped out of camouflage beside me and then they were everywhere.
To my right, my left, behind me, beneath me....everywhere. And in that same spot as last year, I found the very same plants...splashing up through water, reaching towards the bare branches above them.
We were victorious. We found the promise of rebirth and it wasn't a hollow concept. It was a thick, dense mass of budding potency and power...full of hot life and breath, red and green, whispering into the cold "I am returning now with deeper roots, deeper strength."
We stayed until the moon arrived.
I would stay there always, if I could.
ways of saying goodbye
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