(A red maple leaf from the online Wood Database.)
The plan for this afternoon was one of two things: Either get back to the gym (for the first time in months), or finally get to recording (two years after moving into my house) what I would call my Backyard Taxonomy, an inventory of all the plants on my property and the adjoining woods, in which I would keep a record with each plant of medicinal and other uses. I let circumstances choose for me: my Walkman apparently will no longer play CDs (yes, I still use a Walkman – or at least I did until today), and it’s exponentially more difficult for me to exercise music-less, so the Backyard Taxonomy it was.
Some quick background: the first time I did this was in 1992, when I was still living with my parents. I was getting interested in herbalism, plant lore, and other plant-related matters, so I bought a simple notebook and did an inventory of all the trees and other flora on their creek-divided acre. I would draw the leaf and then fill the next couple of pages with notes about things like how the plant could be used medicinally. I took classes in the subject at the local Divine Science church. And so on.
For awhile I got pretty well-versed in plant recognition and their uses. After about three years I let it slide, though, particularly when I went back to college. Nowadays I can tell the difference between an oak and a maple and a tulip tree, but that’s about it – certainly not even the varieties. So when I bought my own house with wooded land two years ago, I decided to try starting up with that interest again.
Two years later, finally starting it today, I immediately felt a rush of mild guilt. Maybe I should be spending that time doing some further work on spiritual / theosophical stuff instead?, I wondered. But almost as soon as I had the thought, a memory popped into my head as an answer: a fragment of a modern Buddhist quote that includes a phrase along the lines of “When done with mindfulness and care, even doing dishes is holy”. Or to put it a different way, all work is spiritual work when done with the right mindset. That was the way I tried setting about doing my Backyard Taxonomy.
One thing I’ve tried to accomplish during these last few weeks that my returning to spiritual exploration has resurged is being mindful and present – or as the saying goes, “Be here now”. Exist only in the present, rather than regrets from the past or fears of the future. I’ll write more about this eventually in its own post, but for right now I’ll mention that one of the most insidious things about depression is that it makes this nearly impossible to do.
Depression, at least the variety I’ve had since I was a teenager, is all about steamrolling you with regrets and fears. Those lucid moments when the depression backs off make me feel like I’m living a completely different life. It also means it takes vastly more effort to follow your spiritual beliefs. Mine, whatever I choose to call them, involve nurturing and caring for people, animals, places, and sometimes things, as I mentioned in my introductory entry – but the worse the depression gets the harder this becomes, and so aside from my animals, the caring gets shunted to the side, and things fall apart, or don’t get done.
This is how I could live in my own house for two years, on property much like where I’d always imagined living, without making any record of the plants that grow there. I noticed the plants, kept an eye on the health of the trees that could hit my house if they fell, and procrastinated mowing my yard as long as I could every time it needed mowing to give the yard’s fauna, especially bees, time to get as much business done as they could. But I wasn’t really nurturing it, or caring for it – and I wasn’t present in the moment with it, even to just enjoy what I’ve been blessed to have.
So this is what I set about doing today. To make the opening of my Backyard Taxonomy a spiritual exercise, being in the present of every moment of what I was doing, and taking careful notice of everything that was around me, right down to the health of the leaves I examined.
Wow, I knew I had a lot of maples in this yard and the woods, but I didn’t realize almost every tree was a maple. Even most of the tiny saplings are maples.
How did I not notice that the driveway’s maple has leaves of two different shapes? That would explain why the two sets of leaves are different colors every fall.
There’s a new tree growing straight out of the middle of and up from that fallen timber.
All of the pines on this side of the woods are the same type – and they all seem to like growing next to maples. Which is good for them since there are so many maples . . .
Those were a few of the thoughts I had while I went about drawing the leaves into the pages of my new little notebook. Then and now they all feel like spiritual thoughts to me, as I was exploring the land where I’ve been living these past two years. And likewise, now my Backyard Taxonomy feels like holy work.