Metaphors are more than pretty literary devices. I have come to believe they are essential and powerful medicine for coping with and processing an often nonsensical world. While so much of life on a farm is dictated by routine, there is never a shortage of potent, fresh imagery on any given day to invite an element of unexpected surprise and reflection.
My favorite chore is mowing the lawn. There is something about the neat pacing across the property that allows me to see the details of my surroundings more clearly. It is while pushing the mower that the refuse that has piled up during the week is most easily let go. Sometimes I don’t even know I have been carrying extra weight until I see something growing on the property I had previously been too busy to notice —a concrete representation of more complex emotions.
On National Public Radio that morning I heard that the monarch population was threatened in part because of the scarcity of milkweed (the only food they eat). As I milked and listened to the story, I remembered finding chrysalises with my sixth grade students years before and watching the tent where we kept them in our classroom for the transformation to occur. We studied the brave journey the last generation of Maine butterflies make each summer all the way to Mexico and talked about the strength it might take to make the adventures our hearts dreamed of a reality one day. Finally in an emotional ceremony that fall, we set them free. I finished milking, set the sweetness of the memory aside and set out in blazing August heat to mow.
I had been working extra hard this summer to expand the fields and further define the edges of the property in preparation for our daughter’s wedding planned for the fall. There was more to mow now, but things were shaping up. I spent an hour lost in the back and forth, when I suddenly noticed that along the edges of the forest, in places I had cleared earlier in the season, new growth was springing up. On closer inspection, I realized it was milkweed — lots of lovely young milkweed filling spaces I had cleared.
Sometimes when we clear space, envision expanding our boundaries into new territory, it can be alternately frightening and exciting. Often it is hard work to stretch beyond the regular pathways of our days and yet when we do, we invite new life to fill the spaces we have created. Perhaps wonderful surprises await if we can just open up a bit of room in our routine. In many cases what takes up residence, makes not only our lives brighter, but the world a better place too. I only imagined I was preparing a space to celebrate my daughter’s move into marriage, to Texas and into all that her new life might bring. In the process, I inadvertently provided some fuel for monarchs as they set off on a similar flight pattern towards Mexico.
Be the mower. Make space in your day for the unexpected. Prepare to be surprised and delighted by what fills the opening.
Let’s be real. Life can be shitty. Other people may look at our lives and only see the glossy postcard version, but anyone living deeply knows, everything is NOT coming up roses, no matter how good life is.
I spent the last month fixated on a pile of manure some well meaning person dumped on the edge of the lawn behind the barn. I spend a lot of time trying to keep the presence of things that smell bad and attract flies to a minimum and this pile of goat poop was in plain sight on the edge of the field. I could easily have found a wheelbarrow and a pitch fork and moved it to a place that seemed more reasonable, but as a flawed human, found it more entertaining to silently stew over its presence each day.
One day, my husband called me over, his eyes bright like a 10 year old. He was standing with a huge smile on his face in front of the manure pile. “Check it out! A PUMPKIN.” I am by my own admission prone to exaggeration, but the pumpkin plant which has seeded itself is HUGE. I could not have grown a more impressive one if I had tried.
I had to laugh out loud. Some metaphors take some time to extract. This one was as plain as a pile of manure on a freshly mowed lawn.
We can choose to be irritated by any number of things in our day, but ultimately if we are not willing to do anything to change them, we might as well be open to the possibility that maybe a crappy situation is just an opportunity to grow in unexpected ways, or an opportunity to laugh at how silly we are and how playful the world can be if we let go of the reins a bit.
Be the pumpkin. Embrace the round orange, preposterous side of your soul. Let it grow so absurdly large it eclipses all the space that used to be filled with unimportant daily irritation.
I used to love sunflowers because I thought they always faced towards the sun. This seemed simple and lovely, a reminder to be positive. The truth is even better. According to a article on NPR by Merrit Kennedy, “A young flower faces east at dawn and greets the sun, then slowly turns west as the sun moves across the sky. During the night, it slowly turns back east to begin the cycle again…The researchers found that the plant's turning is actually a result of different sides of the stem elongating at different times of day.” It is the growth of the stem that turns the flower. When scientists tied up the flowers so they could not move throughout the day, they found they actually had decreased biomass. This is so much more realistic a metaphor and parallel for life. In times of growth, we are strongest if we can embrace both the light and the dark, more powerfully alive if we can move fluidly between all the emotions that make us human. Sometimes it takes great courage to keep moving when faced with the pitch dark of reality in ourselves and the world around us, but the reward is we can more fully appreciate the brilliance of sun on our face when it occurs.
When sunflowers reach maturity, they stop moving and face East where they can collect the most warmth and sun. We all know what times like this feel like, times when we feel centered, calm, in no rush to go anywhere. This is the prize for the work of moving even when growth is tiring. Unlike Sunflowers, humans live long lives and these times of stillness and contentment are fleeting, but perhaps the universal draw of the sunflower is not so much about blind positivity as it is about moving to face both the good and the bad with equal grace, so that we are always growing.
Be the sunflower. Soak up the radiant beauty of all emotions. Move between darkness and light each day trusting a time will come when the light will win.