Rhythms of Light

My friend, Leila, died four weeks ago after battling stage four cancer for over seven years. It still seems impossible that she finally succumbed to the disease, so valiantly did she fight, her spirit rarely flagging. She was an extraordinary person, and I will not soon forget her, especially since she entrusted me and Wonder Spouse with her most beloved companion – her 8.5-year-old Japanese Bobtail cat, Rose. Rose has brought big changes to our household, which had been without pets for about a decade, when the last of our very senior cats and dogs finally died.

Rose has embraced our gardening life.

Change has been the theme of the spring season that ends today. In addition to losing Leila and gaining Rose, the non-native invasive Emerald Ash Borer has found the stand of canopy-sized ash trees currently shading our floodplain. I have been mentally steeling myself for this moment for several years, and we’re implementing a number of strategies to ameliorate the inevitable transformation wrought by the demise of these forest giants. The imminent loss still stings.

Emerald Ash Borers caught on a sticky trap hung among my ashes this spring.

On the other side of our house, the nearly 50-year old septic field that has served us for 30 years was pronounced by experts to be failing. A new system will be installed next week, necessitating the disruption of our deer-fence-enclosed north acre that shelters many cherished native magnolias, rhododendrons, viburnums, etc. That work required the preemptive removal of a massive water oak that presided over part of that acre. It was showing early signs of heart rot, and if it fell, the root ball would have destroyed a good portion of the new septic field. Thus, yet another great friend was lost to us.

All that’s left of the great water oak that dominated the north side of our yard.

Despite spring flowers and a growing influx of vegetables from the garden, this spring has brought much darkness as the losses continued to mount. I find myself unable to stomach what passes for news these days – darkness and more darkness.

Even the once-reliable turning of the astronomical seasonal clock feels broken as human-induced climate change roils weather patterns and rampant pollution blackens the blue-green jewel upon which all life on Earth relies. Temperature and rainfall patterns grow increasingly unpredictable. Plants and animals that evolved with those patterns are disappearing, unable to adapt to human-made planetary chaos.

Hurricane Florence-wrought flooding from last autumn.

As I thought about all this yesterday while pulling what felt like an endless number of invasive plants from a neglected bed, I remembered the light. That’s what our solstices and equinoxes are really about after all. Yes, those changes in the balance between dark and light once correlated neatly with seasonal changes that are no longer reliable, but the dance between dark and light has not changed, because that underlying rhythm is something humanity cannot easily damage. That heartbeat of light is the truth I choose to hold on to amidst the threat of darkening chaos.

Embracing light.

No matter what humanity does to itself and the other inhabitants of Earth, it cannot alter that fundamental dance of dark and light. Both are required to keep Life moving, and just as Winter’s darkness cedes inevitably to Summer’s light, it is my hope that this personal moment of darkness will eventually brighten. I remind myself of that as I stand in Summer sun watching busy pollinators dash from coneflower to blanket flower to Stoke’s aster to Joe Pye Weed and on and on. I remind myself of that as I enjoy lightly steamed pole beans fresh-picked from the garden.

Gather ye vegetables while ye may.

I remind myself that Leila knew about the light from the rigorous training she underwent to become a Buddhist nun, depriving herself of sleep and food until perpetual meditation brought her to a place most of us don’t see until we’ve left this mortal coil. The knowledge of that light never left her, and I know beyond doubt that she revels in it now.

Leila’s lilies the first spring after planting, June 2014.

May the light embrace us all. Happy Summer Solstice!

  1. #1 by Julie Higgie on June 21, 2019 - 8:03 am

    Thank you for your beautiful words. I agree with you that we seem to be in a dark place right now. I feel sad for future generations, such as my grandchildren. For them, sadly, violence and hatred and endangered wildlife and plants are a way of life. I have increasingly lost hope that things will get better. But as you say, it’s possible for light to break through eventually. Here’s hoping!

    • #2 by piedmontgardener on June 21, 2019 - 1:08 pm

      Hope and prayers are about all we’ve got left to hang on to, Julie. May they be enough to overcome the darkness! Thanks for stopping by.

  2. #3 by lovelyandgrateful on June 21, 2019 - 8:48 am

    So sorry for your loss, but I cant think of a greater honour than being entrusted to look after her beloved pet. We adopted our cat when her previous owner died (though we never knew them). Definitely agree that the seasons seem out of kilter, it’s very worrying.

  3. #5 by Pamela on June 21, 2019 - 10:01 am

    John 1.5. The light shines in the dark and the dark has not overcome it

  4. #7 by Kate on June 21, 2019 - 11:40 am

    Catherine, such a beautifully written post. I am sorry for your losses. And happy for the embracing light. Some of Rumi’s words of wisom come to mind……”The wound is the place where the light enters you.” Rumi. Onward into Summer!

    • #8 by piedmontgardener on June 21, 2019 - 1:04 pm

      Thank you, Kate, for your words of support. Happy Summer Solstice to you and yours.

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