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Giving Thanks for Things Growing in New Zealand

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This evening I’m camped next to a Horse Chestnut tree, a being I’m not sure I’ve ever had the pleasure of meeting before. Very solid vibes.

The Horse Chestnut is the little round fellow to the right of my camper

New Zealand knows how to do trees, no doubt about that! It’s easy to see why people might see trees as objects of worship. I’ve fallen for any number of the lovelies and made more than a few u-turns to capture photos.

Tree with friends

 

The vegetation here is remarkably diverse, from cactus to moss to eucalyptus, from temperate rainforests to tiny alpine daisies to towering tree ferns, one of which — the Silver Fern — is the national symbol that graces their rugby uniforms and their airplanes. The Silver Fern gives off a majestic but humble vibe, if you can imagine. Strong and formidable, yet with growing centers that are vulnerable and gentle. Much the way I imagine the person of Jesus to have been. 

 

Silver Fern Fiddleheads

I think my favorite plant is the Red Tussock grass, and its proper name is almost as cute as it is: Chionochloa rubra. I can’t decide if these little guys belong more to the Star Trek genre or to Dr. Seuss, but I love how they just march up hillsides and take over entire landscapes. They wave enthusiastically in the wind, and the sun brings out the red in them. They are native to New Zealand and the country has created a preserve for them on the South Island — one of the few places I did not see sheep or cows!

 

One of the more ubiquitous plants is flax, which you see along the roadsides and also growing as an ornamental in many gardens. It’s not at all like what we call flax in the northern hemisphere, the plant that produces seeds for our backyard finches. The Maori traditionally used fibers from the sword-like leaves of the flax plant to make everything from coats and sandals to river rafts and eel traps. Our Maori tour guide at New Zealand’s national Te Papa museum spoke about working with flax the way African American elders in the southern U.S. speak about braiding sweetgrass. It’s as if the flax fibers are woven into their very beings.

Since I’m in New Zealand, there will be no Thanksgiving for me this year. However, I am in a constant state of thankfulness as I “live and move and have my being” among the green beings of this glorious landscape. Have yourself a blessed Thanksgiving stateside!

The Six Life Lessons of Japanese Knotweed

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No, Japanese Knotweed is not some new Asian meditation technique where you sit on a hard floor with your legs knotted into uncomfortable positions and try to negate your being.

It’s nothing that pleasant.

Knotweed is an invasive plant that is severely disrupting the ecology in 26 European countries and 36 American states. Originally sent to the Kew Botanical Gardens in England by an unsuspecting German botanist in 1850, it appears now to have overrun approximately 75% of the state of New Hampshire, with ground zero being the perimeter of my lovely historic barn.

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I have spent considerable time meditating on this foliated menace as I hack it and burn it and smother it under black plastic. While most of my rumination involve dreams of destruction, I also think we can learn some important life lessons from Fallopia japonica

Here are six, because I’m told that people like numbered lists.

1. Don’t give up searching for light in the darkness: Japanese Knotweed can survive a very long time in total darkness. Always hopeful, it will creep along under impenetrable barriers as far as twenty feet, always reaching, always looking for the tiniest glimmer of light that will bring it new life and energy.

2. Plan on seasons of rest: Knotweed may lie dormant for five years during tough times, waiting out the bad conditions until a bit of rain or ray of sunshine urges it back to life. It knows that rest is important and that sometimes you need to save your energy for a different season.

3. The tough times can make you stronger: If a bit of Knotweed gets broken off, even if it’s battered and bruised, it will replant itself and the new growth will be even stronger for the breakage. It learns from it’s mishaps.

4. Mutual support makes for strong community: Japanese Knotweed grows in clumps as wide as 65 feet, with new shoots springing up from a dense ball of roots. These characters know that if you hang together and support each other, you can form an impressive community over time. The larger stalks crowd around young sprouts and provide a strong framework for the little ones to lean on.

5. It’s OK not to have kids: Knotweed does not produce viable seeds, though it has pretty white flowers. Because it’s roots go deep and it grows in community, this plant doesn’t need to reproduce in the traditional way to have a big impact in the world.

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6. Be near God: The rivers of New Hampshire are lined with Knotweed. The wise weed knows that if you plant yourself near “springs of living water” as the Jewish scriptures refer to God, you can catch a ride downstream and go places you’ve never even dreamed of before.

Related reading: Because people tend to like scary stories as well as numbered lists, check out this Knotweed story in Newsweek.

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