Sunday 3 March 2013

52 FLOWERS: moschatel

When we came to Suffolk ten years ago the first thing we did was to walk the territory. We stepped out of the door to find what plants grew in the fields and marshes, shingle banks and heaths, when they flowered in their wayside and secluded places. And in the years that followed, we would make small pilgrimages to sit amongst them, tune into the season, to the turning of the year. Under the goat willow, beside the angelica, alongside the seakale. 

We still do.

Today we went to witness the first emergence of the year, a band of snowdrops in a small clifftop wood of yews and sycamore. They mark the beginning of the flower year after a winter of semi-hibernation. The following piece was originally written for the Plant Communications section of 52 Flowers That Shook My World, and is about a moment when these visits first began. It may appear a short and seemingly insignificant entry in this decade-long log, but, like the snowdrop, it describes the power of small things at a time of shift . . . 

marsh lane, suffolk
Before we came we imagined this house where we now live. We wrote down what we wished to find waiting for us down a Suffolk lane, the shape of the cottage walls, the colour of the gate, its glasshouse with geraniums and washing line open to the seawind. And then we discovered it amongst apples trees and blackcurrant bushes, jackdaws on the roof, sea in the distance, space all around, a ragged hedge of hawthorn and elm, a wood and marsh beyond, a barn owl flying past at twilight, and paths that lead in all directions. 

I am walking on one of these paths today in March, exploring the first flowers of the season.

Past the reedbeds now faded gold and the silhouettes of silver birch, past a grove of large leaning ash and oak, the footpath leads between pasture and barley fields, a line trodden by cantering horses and walking people, jumping stoats and fleeing rabbits, by the slow stride of pheasants and the small scurry of field voles. There are spikes of bluebell coming up either side of the path and great stands of ground ivy and lesser celandine. As I follow the curve in this circular route, I stop suddenly in my tracks, and look down at my feet. In amongst the arrow-shaped foliage, under a stand of spindly wych elm, I can see another kind of leaf,  curvy and wavy and soft, and a tiny flower I have never seen before but immediately recognise from years of reading wild flower guides.

Adoxa moschatellina. The flower is the only one of its kind. A plant that so defied categorisation, botanists had to give it its own house. A five sided cube-shaped green flower, sometimes fragrant, depending on the time of day. Sometimes called the town clock because of its shape. It is a delicate plant and no more than six inches high. The spinney floor is strewn with these tiny green clocks, and its collective vibration is palpable, so strong it has stopped me in my tracks. The flowers are unusual in so many ways. And yet their name means “without glory”.

You are without glory, they say to me, as I stand amongst them on this path.  It is a shock this moment. I realise that no one I have ever known in this life knows I am here. I could disappear in this moment, standing by these small flowers, and no one would notice. Everything that once defined me has vanished: the people who once shared my history, the books that are no longer in print, the by-line that has gone. No longer categorised by property, job or social position, what remains now is what always remains - the mysteriousness of the earth. Myself, Mark.

I am at the beginning of 2003. We are starting again. Our plant communcations, once closely entwined with other people, with teachings and sessions, with our inquiry into medicine flowers, have come to an end. From now on the communications will be with the land, with this solitary path before me.  I am without glory, a nobody in the world, but somehow this realisation fills me with an excitement I can hardly name. I do not have to prove myself to anyone anymore. No one will tell me how I should or shouldn’t be. And in this shocking moment I feel the whole universe open up. 

I am in my own house at last!

It is the beginning of a new territory. After many years of moving, we will grow roots here and make ourselves at home. Mark will grow the collection of seeds from our travels in the glasshouse conservatory. It is a signature year and this small plant is making me aware of its resonance and meaning: how does it feel to be without glory? 

I am walking down a flower track. It is a completely other track than all those I have walked so far, along the green river paths of Oxford, the dusty red trails of the Arizona desert. On either side are the harsh realities of modern country life: gamekeepers, guns, dogs, sulphuric acid, piles of fertiliser, dead foxes, razed flowers, derelict farm buildings, dying trees, a low and hostile frequency. But on the track there is everything you could ever want to feel: lightness, possibility, joy, beauty, freedom, colour, the high and vibrant frequency of the heart.

Time to walk it.

The flower clock faces the four directions, north south east west, with a fifth that looks up at the sky. The flower path of England stretches before me: this is how you walk it. 

You walk in four directions and look all ways, and you look up into the sky. You see the weather moving in the clouds, how the light is always changing and the starry constellations always moving, the moon that waxes and wanes. As you walk you come to know time. The moving time of the earth. You know the time of the fox calling, of the song thrush singing, the time when the red butterfly feeds on the ivy and the goldfinch on the dandelion. You smell snow and mist and rain coming in on the wind, and the scent of sweet violets as the winter turns. You see the spring coming into the hedgerows as they ribbon the land; hazel, cherry plum, blackthorn, crab apple, hawthorn, dogwood, dogrose, elderflower. 

You make a pilgrimage to the tumulus at the time when the daffodils dance, when the alders are dark and tasselled, when the stags roar. You know which berry feeds which bird, and why the clover feeds the bee. You know time from the flower collective that appears and disappears, with the neighbourhood trees in their leaf and fall, seeing how everything connects in time, As you walk, this is the time you keep: with your feet, as you walk, with the rhythm of your heart, as you walk, in time with the rabbit and the stoat, the sun and the star, and the sound of the invisible wren. This is the path of the heart.

I am without glory, but I walk a glorious path. I just have to keep walking. Holding our virtue and grace and intelligence, our own heart frequency, is what the flowers feel from us. Our recognition of beauty, our knowledge of time, our memory of how everything comes and goes and then returns. The moschatel doesn’t care whether you have friends or have succeeded in business, or own a big house. None of these things concern it. The self that walks among these flowers has nothing to do with the self that jostles for fame and glory in the human world. Human glory counts for nothing on the flower path: here your unusual presence is everything, your participation is everything. Your communication is everything.

This is what adoxa is saying on this March day. You are here, you are here, walking by me on this track. It is important you walk this track. Walking it keeps it alive. I am here, I am here, sings the chaffinch.  His song is keeping the world alive. And something extraordinary grows inside your being when you feel this. You realise in this mysterious moment there is another path to walk on this earth, apart from the ones that appear on the map and atlas, and you have just stumbled upon it. A path that goes by the big trees and the golden marsh, a green track, strewn with spring flowers, with lesser celandine and ground ivy and a tiny insignificant plant with curly leaves and five faces.

Adoxa moschatel.

It’s the only path you want to walk.

52 Flowers That Shook My World - A Radcial Return to Earth is published by Two Ravens Press

1 comment:

  1. Just discovered a small patch of Moschatel in my wood - a very special plant!