Indian Plum foliage in early spring. Photo by Katherine Eggers
Today I had a conversation with Indian Plum (Oemleria cerasiformis). I have been very struck by the gangly shrub this year, how they leaf out before anything else, and put forth their delicate, dangling, white flowers long before most things have even begun to bud. A few days ago it snowed, yet the Indian Plum filled the understory of the forest with brilliant green, its slender and delicate leaves nodding gracefully in miniature currents of frigid air. I have been having a difficult time with all of the transition in my life lately and I thought Indian Plum might have some wisdom for me, leafing out as she does at the threshold between winter and spring. I talk to plants and was taught how by my plant medicine mentor, Scott Kloos. When plants talk to me it’s not in words. It’s in intimations that the brain then translates into words. According to Stephen Harrod Bruhner in his book The Secret Teachings of Plants, the heart hears the essence of things. It has as many complex neuronal connections as the brain and can make sense of the world in equal measure. Because our culture is no longer in touch with this ancient way of knowing, the ability to “know” with the heart is atrophied in most westerners. It can still be cultivated, though, and speaking to plants is a great way to practice. I approached the Indian Plum and stood for a few minutes in silence, centering myself with a steady breath. My mind quieted and I attuned to the shrub beside me. “You are so brave. I admire you so much,” I said finally, in heart language. “What can you tell me about transition?” “Come closer,” Indian Plum said, and I moved closer, right underneath the arcing branches. The bright green leaves perched like butterflies on the woody stems. I closed my eyes. Over the years I have learned that if I try too hard to hear a plant speak, I won’t hear a thing. To talk to a member of the plant kingdom, I must arrive to the conversation in a spirit of receptivity and with an open heart. On this particular day, I was trying too hard at first, still stuck in my head, holding onto expectations of what I wanted from this encounter. For a long time, I felt nothing, then I let go of my agenda, relaxed into my heart center and heard Indian Plum say in heart language, “I am able to brave the cold of early spring because I trust in what I am. I know my gifts and I offer them, regardless if anyone knows or acknowledges my offerings.” Finally she finished with, “Know your gifts, and then you will find you are able to trust.” I opened my eyes. They were filled with tears of gratitude. “Thank you for offering your wisdom,” I said. “Thank you for offering your beauty to the world. Thank you for existing.” My gaze lingered on the delicate, almost translucent green budding leaves, then I turned to go. I left the shelter of the wood, contemplating the instruction, "Know your gifts" excited about exploring mine.