Before I lived on this land, a woman obsessed with roses lived here, for decades. She planted a garden of countless roses, box elders, ornate Japanese maples, and other water loving plants. We call this area of the property the 'Secret Garden', because it's as wildly overgrown and out of hand as the one in that story. We've let this area go without tending for several years because, quite frankly, I never saw any of these plants as very useful, and I only give water to what is useful. "Better to spend time on re-introducing the native oaks, the native grasses in the fields, the medicinal herbs" I thought. Well, little did I know that the roses have been quietly doing their own work to restore a habitat fit for native life.
I was recently bushwhacking through the Secret Garden to gather the first rose petals, and inside each wildly un-pruned rose bush, a coastal live or valley oak had sprouted up, shooting past my height towards the big blue sky. The roses have been a safe haven for these acorns to transform into their greatest potential: strong, resilient trees that are the very breath of this ecosystem. Trees who will one day be a haven themselves for so many creatures, pulsing with oxygen and soaking up CO2 while churning out arguably the best food on the planet. Here I have been toiling away at getting tiny acorns to sprout in the boggy fields of this three acre parcel, fencing them in with wire and stakes to protect from wild turkeys and sheep, bringing them mulch and water and song, and the rose has just been sitting there, unwatered and untended, mothering the oaks forth faster than I ever could.
Needless to say, I have been humbled. Not only at what's possible without me meddling around, but the living truth that our earth knows how to be herself - how to use what's given to rise up rooted and whole.
So how can I be like the oak, I wonder? what can I use to become as vital as an oak tree in my community, as the oak used the rose? Echoes of radical self-care come to mind: engaging with not only experiences that feel good, but using the uncomfortable, prickly parts of life...like how struggle makes way for deep rooted growth.
Then I wonder, how am I the rose? What or who can I offer safe harbor to become more than I will ever be? What can I nurture that will be here for the next generations? These questions - in the face of looming climate catastrophe - are not small ones. But asking them gives rise to hope that there is something to be done, some great effort to rally for.
Even in a withered, tired, "unwatered" state, we each have the capacity to make room for something as strong and resilient as an oak in this world. The problem is, many of us think we are too exhausted, too old, too busy to offer our greatest gift. Or maybe we think we've already done what we can. Or maybe we think that nothing we do will help anyway. Well, these old roses planted at least 35 years ago now, had their heyday as beautiful cut flowers on many a table. And now, they are doing their real work: harboring the next oak woodland that will overtake the forced pastures of my rural neighborhood no matter what. So I've been asking myself this question lately: "What is the strongest force (be it child, community, legislation) that I can nurture today?"
~frieda kipar bay, rh