Thursday 28th May 2020,
Frontiers Magazine

A lesson from the dandelions

Elizabeth Woodcock May 20, 2020 Column

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Nature could well be our anchor over the next few months. Such a special time of year… it just carries on ….” – 20 March 2020

Imagine your life as a front room with sofa, table with glass jug on top, pictures on the walls next to the clock, above the PC. Ordered, to a certain degree. On the whole you know where everything is, even if it is lost. On the floor is a rug – mine is red with intricate patterns, maybe yours is turquoise or beige, it all reflects your personality. Then one day that rug which has formed the grounding of your life is ripped away, like that time when you were a kid and you knew that plaster had to be ripped off, it was going to hurt. Except this time, you didn’t know it was going to be pulled. You saw a shadow beginning to loom, but you ignored it. You heard rumblings in the distance, but you chose to carry on, a bit of doubt and fear creeping in now, prompting you to possibly buy a large amount of loo roll. Personally I bought canned fished and rice, until I read some advice ‘Stock up on food you actually want to eat.’

I don’t remember now the exact day of lockdown in the UK due to Covid-19, but I remember socially distancing in a garden centre mid March, while buying plants for clients, just before it was announced. I retrained as a horticulturist a few years ago and now have my own small business. As a mum, it fitted around my child, and it meant days of being outside, with the soil and with life, and death. Through gardening I found the ground. Through hard work, and being guided by plants by observing and responding to them, I have been pulled back to my roots and essence.

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We are of the same fabric, born out of the explosion of stars, woven with the same elements that creates majesty and beauty present all around, in the silent wing of an owl or …In the bone white bark of the birch.” – from ‘The storms outside and storms within’ , Frontiers Magazine

Covid-19 took the rug. It ripped it out from under our feet and sent the contents of the room, structured life as we knew it, and smashed it all up, scattering once-loved items now debris around the room like a Roald Dahl scene from The Twits. No shotguns involved. No work, no school, no friends, no money, no travel, no walking the land. A looming, yawning future and tears in the bathroom of grief, feeling as though I had lost four hard years of graft, calloused skin and broken nails, of learning Latin names easily forgotten, now all gone.

Grief

Grief is the brain’s way of dealing with sudden change. One day it’s there, next moment it isn’t. Avigail Abarbanel, psychotherapist, author, trainer and therapist, writes in her book Grief and Adjustment to Change:

Grief is the process that builds a bridge to take us from the world as we knew it before the change, to the world as it is now.”

Our brains are dealing with safe to unsafe, suddenly. The exhaustion, tears, disorientation, numbness, and loss of senses, as grief grips us and we’re walking on a road that is being built with each step we take, and each step is terrifying, because each step is building the next part into the unknown. At this point, presence in the moment, and trusting, are deeply beneficial. Healthy relationships need trust to develop a confident connection with life. But what is there to trust when your house has been turned upside down by a force that no-one can get a grip on?

What is real?

So the room on the inside is in chaos. Life as we know it has ended abruptly. I stop watching the news and by late April drift into a space of ‘what is real?’ in a cocktail of Covid-19, who has the truth, lockdown and Deepak Chopra, medic and author, who asks us to consider reality. What we perceive is totally different to a bee or butterfly, dog or hawk. Why is our sense perception ‘right’? I put my hands in the earth and plant a seed. This is real. Anchor, down. The room is in chaos, the rug’s on the ceiling, but outside the room, just look out of the window and you will see ‘it’ goes on.

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Life goes on

Spring. It was spring. Remember. Remember the heat. The sun was intense, and we were between the Worm Moon and the Pink Moon. The ground was thawing out, the earthworms can move, and the first (pink) wild flowers are appearing. To see the first signs of life emerging, beginning with snowdrops with their anti-freeze sap, then onward and it just keeps coming, the daffodils, cherry and blackthorn blossom, and bluebells. Boom, life explodes in the hedgerows, wild garlic and nettles, wood anemone and sorrel, red campion and pignut as the sun rises every day to power them forth. They don’t stop, forget-me-nots, stitchwort, Jack-by-the-hedge, dame’s rocket and hawthorn blossom come to join the show. In the garden, purple sprouting brocolli and rhubarb.

Life is unstoppable and letting go of control, it’s a place to rest into. Frenzied chaos exploding like the first stars, in an order and intelligence beyond comprehension. Jackdaws popping up and down chimneys, songthrush fighting off pigeons for the best spot to nest in the bush, blue tits returning to the hole in the old apple tree and the tree sparrows seem to rugby tackle each other under a hedge. ‘It’ goes on.

Trusting in the process

At this point I gave up alcohol and caffeine, and fully embraced ‘We are not in control’. As an organic, sustainable gardener, that has become quite clear. And during these recent months there seems to be a choice between fear and trust, tightening up or letting go. Trusting these natural processes like the moon waxing and waning, and with the clear skies we’ve had some incredible moonscapes. We often sleep outside on our trampoline and watch the sky that ‘turns’ every night, except it’s ‘us’ turning. They don’t stop, nothing in nature stops.

For some, trust can be a word outlined by vicious points, steel barbs that are waiting to cut. A word just by the mere whisper induces cold sweats and thoughts of past experiences of when you trusted, and just look what happened? But in March 2020, nature was my anchor and the ‘best choice’. The Way was to trust and rest into that, the current moment of right here, right now, and the interdependence of life as we know it. I am, we are, intrinsically part of the natural processes and the unfolding of life, the crescendo of bird call, the running hare, and my garden, a small strip of land between wall and house. The soft soil, living tissue between the sandstone bones of my solid rock structures that keep me ‘safe’.

IMG_20200419_091840765_HDRAt this point, I had a conversation with an oak tree and began noticing the dandelions in a field at the end of the oak tree-lined lane. One day I ‘saw’ it, like BAM, the slowing down of lockdown had altered my ability to perceive and receive the natural world. I’d seen it thousands of times before, but this one dusk, I was arrested, and held, spell bound and transfixed. The ‘conversation’ went something like this

Me: “Wow, you’re so immense and old, 300 years maybe. That’s living 5 times longer than me (best possible scenario) And you (looking at the dog, Mushka), that’s about 21 times your life!
Oak Tree: “……………..”
Me: “You say be beautiful like you, the best you can be? That’s a very good idea. Mushka, we’re going to be the best we can possibly be, like this amazing oak tree.”
Oak Tree: “……………..”
Me: “I know, look at rock covered in moss, he is SOOOO old, like MILLIONS of years…sheeezzzzzzz (Shaking head, I walk home.)

Since that day, wisdom download from the oak has continued. As I stand under her canopy, noticing how slow the leaves are to unfurl and I remember an old saying.

“If Ash before Oak, we’re in for a soak

If Oak before Ash, we’re in for a splash”

So the dry weather will continue, as even though this oak is slow to unfurl her leaves, the ash are slower. My initial ‘encounter’ created reflection. Be the best I can be now, in ‘lockdown’? I started a daily, early-morning yoga practice in the field of dandelions under skylark, curlews and lapwings, curiously watched by hare and cows, tripping over badger stools on the lane. Sun salutations in a field of dandelions is an invite into silent reflection on impermanence and the nature of matter.

As a master composter with Garden Organic, I’m fascinated by decay. But dandelions do it on such a majestic scale. There had to be one who went to seed first, a poignant moment of one white head in a field of green and yellow. Then over time, the white creates a carpet of tiny, fluffy parachutes. The field whitens, like our hair (exaggerated if you dyed yours and no hairdressers are open). The seeds take flight in this perfect weather and travel miles to leave a stem to decay back down into a deep root for dormancy until the next spring.

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Looking through your window

Next spring. What will that look like? I don’t know. I’m right here, right now being the best I can be. But if I’m honest, sometimes, I feel anxiety that this spring is over and summer is blossoming. My mind skips on, sadness rises, and soon it’ll be autumn, then winter and I’ll be a year older, and who knows what next year will bring. Exciting or fear-inducing? Right now though, right now, I catch my mind and rest into the present. I am here listening to the song thrush in the tree, feeling the breeze on my skin, and watching those blue tits diving in and out of the hole in the old apple tree. And it’s delightful.

What’s happening for you, in the natural world through your window? Something will be. I once lived in a town that had one cherry tree and a grass verge that was mowed so low nothing survived but the remnants of dog poo. But that one cherry tree was a life line.

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About The Author

Elizabeth Woodcock

Elizabeth Woodcock is a Lake District National Park Walk Leader, an RHS gardener, a Garden organic Master Composter, and training as a Bryophyte New Generation Botanist. She has been a journalist, writer, and adventurer of many high, and low, places.