Friends Wherever I Walk

yarrow picAs as a small child on the prairies, my grandmother and I would together visit a nature area across the street from my home. It was a piece of land set aside by my small home town, where the poplars, saskatoons and chokecherries held meandering unkempt dirt pathways that no matter how well I knew them always felt like an exploration. I would spend afternoons and evenings there, avoiding ant hills for the fear of it, and searching for tadpoles, mosquito larvae and water beetles in the deep ditch, dug out by the town, where the bit of rain that we did have would gather.

Grandma would bring two foldable wooden stools, her bird and plant identification books, a juice jug made of two plastic oranges stacked on top of each other, and Peek Frean cookies (the kind with strawberry flavoured sugar in the middle). We would spend hours set up in a small clearing where pathways would converge. She would show me the plants that were on the edge of the pathways, identifying wild flowers and pointing them out in her book. I would later pick bouquets of aster, yarrow, purple and white vetch, and harebells to enter in the agricultural fair, arranged in teacups or special vases. Grandma and I would quietly sit amongst the trees, listening to the birds. She knew some of their calls, and would show me pictures of the bird that was making it, and we would search the green for their shapes, talk about life and what it meant to love all that grew, and she held my heart through the confusion of being a child in this world.

Auburn Japanese GardensWhen I could I left prairie roots for the city. Rows of caraganas were replaced with Vancouver's so-pretty cherry blossoms and life became city life. You all know it, I'm sure. The busy, goal-oriented disconnected, occasional walk in the green, but mostly just going from “here” to “there” as quickly as possible. I was really happy, but something, just beyond awareness was missing.

Gardening filled some of that and began to connect me back to that love I learned as a child. Eating that which is “from here”, literally putting down roots in my backyard that would then become a part of me is thrilling. Getting sprouted potatoes from a neighbour that I found on craigslist that could then be re-planted the next year felt like growing community. Bringing my grandmother's rhubarb along to each new rental home is an honour.

Solidago ... IMG_2198I experienced so much relief and joy when I started learning about the plants that grow in Vancouver's parks and along alleyways. I started to, again, be able to recognize and put a name to the plants that are growing around me. The disconnected feeling a lack of recognition brings, was being replaced by depth, by starting to “get to know” plants, by feeling like I had friends wherever I walked. Respecting something enough to want to know it's name and know something about it, meant that looking at a patch of green, though very lovely and enjoyable just as a patch of green, went from haziness to more clarity. Something slightly beyond words changed in the feeling experienced. Character started to emerge, and the overall green, beautiful, peaceful feeling that I could describe when being in the trees was complicated by beautiful shades and tones and varying levels of understanding. Gradually, I was starting to understand some of what different plants offer, some of what has been lost as we have become a society that reduces everything to chemicals. Continually learning to discern within the green feels like opening places in my heart that were quiet for too long.

See the City GREEN Sept 2014-350x220If you'd like to join me in deepening your connection with the plants and the land, check out See the City GREEN - the Herb Walk Series.

Learn to identify plants, it opens you up to more than you'd think.

Raquel Park