I wasn’t looking for wildflowers. Much less listening for them.
No, I was careening through the forest on my mountain bike.
I was in my early twenties, and I loved mountain biking. It forced me to be the exact opposite of my default nature, which is (still) rather like molasses––slow-moving and meandering. Careening down a mountain requires hyper-focus on your path. It’s fast and thrilling and it’s in the forest. I found a sort of jubilant power in it.
So there I was, careening. I zoomed past a profusion of purple right by the trail. A choir of purple. My biking mind, racing ever forward, said go, keep going but my child mind said, emphatically, turn back, go see what that was.
I heeded my child mind. How could I not? Something beautiful was happening!
It was a little patch of wild irises. I don’t think I knew at that point they were irises, but I did know that I’d never stumbled across anything so rooted in bliss before. I pulled my bike off the the trail. Other bikers zoomed past. I sat enraptured.
Honestly, I don’t think I’ve ever been the same since. Something happened that day, between the wild irises and me. It’s the kind of memory that lives in you. I could say, simply, that they were the first plants to ever truly speak to me. But that doesn’t quite evoke the radiance of the encounter.
I’ve long since given up mountain biking, but the pace of our lives is much like it. Very fast, and hyper focused. It takes effort to step out of that flow and stop. Even when I’m in the forest with that very intent––to stop, to sketch, to listen––there’s a voice inside me that demands I validate how I’m spending my time.
I recently came across a short summary of internalized capitalism and I think that explains this toxic and ubiquitous obsession with productivity that is inherent in our culture. It’s not nearly as fun as mountain biking, but it has a similar quality––a sort of uphill-downhill hyper-focused human-driven machine. And I know I’m not the only one considering capitalism and thinking, There is a better way to do things.
We have a lot of work to do, as human beings. But it’s not the kind of work that demands we validate our time. It’s the work of reconfiguring the distribution of power, reorienting our society towards the common good. No small task, but I’m heartened by Ursula K. Le Guin’s words:
“We live in capitalism. Its power seems inescapable. So did the divine right of kings. Any human power can be resisted and changed by human beings. Resistance and change often begin in art, and very often in our art, the art of words.”
But there’s something more here. Change begins in art, yes. But art arises from stillness. From deep listening. From feeling, in your body, the messages that words can only translate.
It’s something the wildflowers are teaching me. Potent change begins within, like a seed of truth that takes root in our bodies. It aligns with the powers of the Earth and cannot be stopped. Like Spring coming. Like the roots gathering the rain, the buds thickening with sap. Like the irises that will soon begin to sprout, even though there is snow on the ground right now.
But we have to align with the powers of the Earth.
The wildflowers are revolutionaries. The most dangerous sort.They are intoxicatingly beautiful, though they don’t like the word toxic. They know they are de-toxicatingly beautiful. They live in the world with the grace and power––the revolutionary power––of the song of the Earth.
The wildflowers are happy for you to join their ranks of the beautiful chorus. They say, quite simply, there are infinite ways to sing, but remember, while you careen about in a world made by the human mind, that it’s the open-up-your-body-and-bloom type of singing you are here for.