As I walk through the old Zoar cemetery, down in the country, I step carefully around the headstones, trying to read what is written, though it is often impossible to make out names, or birth and death years. The stones, covered in lichen and faded by time, have a strange beauty, as those who love cemeteries can appreciate.
It is approaching middle springtime in the Piedmont, when a cold snap can threaten the initial bursts of enthusiasm from the early blooming plants and trees. Today, the grounds of the cemetery are virtually blanketed by bluets, a wildflower species that often reaches no more than one inch in height. The blooms are small and delicate, and they are usually gone by early summer. They are a treat for the eyes after a winter with little color on the ground. So I step lightly around them, around the headstones out of respect for the deceased, and around the delicate blue, white, and purple-tinted blooms of the wildflower with the same sort of reverence. As I do so, I cannot help stepping on the moss, the grasses, the smaller rocks that are everywhere in the cemetery. For a moment, I attempt to step around some of the more interesting (to me) combinations of ground cover. The more I do that, the more I have to try to avoid squashing with my hiking boots. It pulls me to a standstill as I consider that I have been showing favoritism for one or another plant. Why? Because I think it’s pretty, or delicate, or fleeting. But what of the strength and character and subtle beauty in the wild grasses, the moss that stay green year-round, growing plush and vibrant at different times of year, but always there, an important part of the ecosystem? Why dance among the little flowers while walking all over the rest of the earth? I am troubled by this, because if I conclude that there is just as much reason to avoid squashing the other plants among the headstones as there is to avoid damaging the pretties, well then, where do I walk? Should I even be there? Where is it OK to walk, to step all over, to squash, how is such a decision made? Do we intuitively know that no, we have no right to do damage, but since we live on the planet we have to make some decisions? We say well we should never do such and such, but we can sometimes do this and that, but other things, well, that’s just the way it goes, buddy.
There are a few of my friends who have heard me say that in the past couple of years, I’ve gone from being the friend-who-brings-beautiful-flowers when she visits your home, to the one who cannot stand the thought of cut flowers, flowers torn from their natural (or created) habitats to be put in water in a vase on a table. I suspect it comes from having spent a ridiculous amount of time over the past several years, wandering back roads, looking closely, deeply and intimately, at blooms as they run through their life paces, on trails, roadsides, and in deep woods, that I feel like to cut a flower for the express purpose of putting it on a table for a few days for all to admire is an unnecessary assault on the plant. Let it be! I’ll bring you a bottle of wine instead. J So, how different is this feeling from wanting to protect all living things? Why do I struggle with the idea of giving up meat more than I do giving up flower bouquets? Selfishness, basically. I hold that there are ethical ways of letting live, and killing, animals for human consumption and I try to make choices around that as much as possible. Is it dancing around the wildflowers again? Yes, in a way. I’d go mad if I were to pay that much attention to my every move, every moment of each day. Yet it feels a spiritual illness not to pay attention, too. Working towards balance, every day.
Photo credits: Deborah Marcus