There’s still night stars over Lake Pontchartrain as Mom and I drive home from the New Orleans airport.
We are returning from an early morning run to deliver Dad to his latest international adventure. He’s on his way to Swallow Reef for a HAM Radio DX-pedition. This isn’t the first time we’ve seen him off to explore his wilder side. Adventuring is in the genes.
As a child, I grew up hearing the soft dit-dats of his morse code keyer on Saturday mornings. Next to his radio desk was a giant map of the world on the wall. I would stare at it, fascinated by all the pastel shapes, wondering. Little multicolored pins stood on different countries. Each pin was a place he’d made confirmed HAM radio contact. Dad started this hobby when he was a teen, and by his retirement he had collected contacts in all but three of the places one can across the globe! He then decided to go to one of the places he needed to make contact… the South Sandwich and South Georgia Islands … and it launched a whole new world of possibilities for him.
As a child, I knew the world map represented other places. But I had no idea what that actually meant. When my own international travels started at 16, I was astounded to see that one pin meant an entirely different way of life, language, people, food, beliefs… with it’s own local colors of landscapes, smells, feels, and history… I learned making a generalization and having ignorance is easy until there’s personal contact.
Why bring this up? The world of wildflowers is not so different.
I look down, and see a cluster, and if I don’t know it, I think “weed“.
The problem with labeling a ‘weed’ is this: I don’t have to bend down and look close. I don’t have to discover the intelligence of the plant species: it’s adaptations, it’s strategies for survival and reproduction, it’s community role, and it’s delicate beauty. Not to mention it’s spiritual energy. I can mow it without remorse. My ignorance protects me from my mercy. It is a lesson of our time.
And so, the map ain’t just a map, and neither are ‘weeds’.
Back at Mom’s house, I try to sleep. The sun rises. I’m restless. I feel compelled to go outside. I throw on my clothes without a thought, and wander into their backyard, all 9 acres.
Several plants spark up and catch my attention.
Is this what I’m doing this morning? (This project has a life of it’s own!!)
I make a mental note, and move behind the barn. There’s crawfish mud towers erected in a lower wet area. Beside this, I find a miniature meadow of Louisiana native White Violets.
White Violet! I hoped I’d see you again! I met a few of you on Judy’s property a few weeks ago… And here you are, an hours’ drive away, en masse. Maybe now we can essence you?
A word about wild plant clusters: they broadcast a different sensory experience than a solo plant because a group has strong presence. Walking into a cluster feels like entering a separate field of energy, set apart from the regular terrain. I’m aware that I’m in their community when I step.
This is different from sensing a large wild animal in the bush.
I used to walk a mountain path alone in the Sierras, and at times I felt the loud energy of a substantial sized wild animal. There’s nothing Walt Disney about it! The body goes on alert, the ears go up and the senses sharpen. Approaching a feral consciousness I can feel but not see is like negotiating with Self and Other, a touch and go of probing senses, twitchy reflexes and gauging safety repeatedly, that is both thrilling and scary to me. At the core of this negotiation is the message I sense you, I belong here too, I am part of this place, I mean no harm. (So far, it’s been successful.)
But flowers? So different! I enter among them, I am surrounded, and if I let go of my human separateness in that moment I feel what it is to be one of them. Mostly, it’s a friendly experience.
This became clear in the spring of ’08. Near where I lived in the mountains, there was an explosion of native California Poppies. My dog and I went for a walk, irresistibly drawn. To be amidst huge swaths of their spindly necks and bobbing neon heads was to feel in an alternate reality, gently lifted up out of my body. Their orange contrast against the blazing blue sky was nothing short of psychadelic for this artist. From a distance, their numbers looked like rippling fire across the mountainside.
Such displays of generosity in nature can be felt inside.
We are not separate from this beauty.
This beauty is also in us.
Back in Louisiana, I am feeling the white violet meadow. It is light, uplifting, soothing, and centering all at once. I feel free. I am with a new friend.
I continue walking and observe a trend: there’s several established species small and close to the ground… most likely due to the fact that Mom likes to mow regularly in the warm weather.
This day I harvested into Essences:
- White Violet (V. primulifolia)
- Hairy Buttercup (Ranunculus sardous)
Yes, for those who know. As a disclaimer, I will tell you now that this is one plant not to mess with.
Even though it’s poisonous: toxic to cows and irritating to human skin due to it’s protoanemonin toxin causing nausea, burning mucus membranes and skin itching, rashes and blisters… I still made it into a flower essence. Why? Ignorance. Call me dumb, but I left my plant ID book at home as I wasn’t expecting to Essence that morning. I simply had no idea when I made it. (Imagine my shock that night as I discovered what I’d done!)
I won’t be using this as an Essence to proof with volunteers. But I thought it was important to mention this as a part of the discovery process. While every plant has a vibration, not every vibration is imminently understood for it’s healing. Maybe this particular flower essence is healing, maybe it’s not and has some other use! but my ignorance of that shouldn’t limit the possibility for it to someday make sense. The kingdom of plants is filled with it’s own mysteries. And I felt like I’d just bumped into one.
Because it’s a flower essence and there’s virtually no plant matter in it (only a vibration preserved), which means that it theoretically shouldn’t be a toxic product, and because I’d already made it, I thought I’d give it a go. Cautiously.
On using it, I was rewarded with a curious flushing and gathering of energy right up to my head, which sat there for 15 minutes, like a mask pressing on me, or rather like an octopus suctioned right on my face, drawing all my attention to my nose and sinuses before dissipating.
What the *@#$%?!?! What is this useful for?
Because of this, I’ve started a category of Essences called “Flower Essences I Don’t Yet Understand Why Nature Did It”.
Also because of this, I see the wisdom of my original intent of not including toxic plants in this Project.
Mom found me outdoors while the essences were solidifying in their sunning process. We walked and I showed her tiny flowers across her property.
She was amazed at the detail and beauty. Some she’d never seen. Also, plants she thought were ‘weeds’ were actually Louisiana Natives with their own story to tell. (Yes!)
“I had no idea these were there. You’ve opened my eyes to a whole new world.” she said.
(Yay! This is part of the Project!)
Thank you, Mom.
I drove back to my house that night and unpacked my field kit for essence making.
I thought, should I put a scale map on these photos? Some of these flowers are the size of my pinky fingernail!
That’s part of their mystery. They need to be discovered to be appreciated.
Let the curious do a treasure hunt… there’s a tiny world of beautiful genius underfoot.
P.S. Note to self: get equipment for making six essences at a time!
All photos, text, illustrations copyright 2018 Megan Assaf
A Louisiana Flower Essence Project and it’s materials are not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease. All material on this website is provided for informational purposes only. Always seek the advice of your physician or another qualified healthcare provider.