Spring Rites

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A bee from the Rose HIve enjoys the fresh carpet of native duckweed.
A bee from the Rose HIve enjoys the fresh carpet of native duckweed.

It doesn’t look like much at all, really. Just a big jumble of bright green, floating like a platter on my bucket pond. But it is precious to me, the very heart of one of my first annual rites of spring.

This is my fourth year of this ritual that first began when I kept a sort-of pond in a kiddie wading pool at our old rental house. Just a block down the road from us was a bog at the far end of an empty pasture. Plastic bucket in hand, I would wade through the sea of grass to the bog edge and collect water plants and once even two small frogs to create a makeshift water garden outside our kitchen window…

My favorite plant at the bog was—and is—a particular variety of duckweed that grows luxuriantly deep green. I’ve never seen its like anywhere else. Maybe it is particular to only this little bog. It grows crisply atop the water surface, supported by surprisingly long single root strands that are the joy of pollywogs and water bugs, who hide from hungry raccoons and bullfrogs in the hair-like tangle beneath the sea of shining green. All summer, that living carpet would expand and flourish, to suddenly disappear in the fall, leaving the water surface bare and sad.

My first spring in the rental house I collected many handfuls of duckweed, spreading it across the full face of the kiddie pool. So enticing was all that green that a spring peeper frog joined the two small Columbia spotted frogs in the pool and started singing nightly love songs in loud decibels to all the lady frogs within earshot.

Each spring since, I return to that bog now miles from our new house to collect the precious duckweed, the spring joy of our pond fish, frogs, and all the insects who come to stand delicately on that magic carpet and drink the cool water beneath.

This week, I took my bucket to the bog, marveling at tender, shy heads of skunk cabbage just peeking up from the wet ground. The cattails were straw-brown and bent every which-way across the surface of the bog. Creeping creeping jenny is just beginning to send curious tendrils toward the water’s edge. But what made my heart sing a little song was the brilliant flash of green already thriving in the black water: Weeks ahead of schedule, the duckweed was celebrating spring.

I inhaled sweet air that tasted like mushrooms and moss with just the slightest aftertaste of decay. Around me, birds secreted in the old rushes and willows made songs like water trickling over cold stones. The sunshine sang a song, too, of honey and blossoms and golden light.

I realized I had been waiting all winter for that moment—that moment when I plunged my hands into the green invitation and pulled up handfuls of wet, glistening spring.

The soul speaks in symbols and signs, in patterns and textures, and in awe. Much deeper than our self-made words is the sacred language at the heart of all things—of all embodied, made-manifest things—that would have us listen more fully to dreams, to water song, wolf-howl, winter, to the hollow bell of time itself, and—most especially—to beauty.

We are called by the heart to the soul’s call in a language beyond words. One of the most powerful of languages is the language of ritual and rite. In ritual voice and gesture, we may say particular and important things: Thank you. Please. I see you. I am. I promise.

My green magic carpet
My green magic carpet

I have many habits and seasonal routine that I have come to call “rites,” because when we frame what we do in a different light, it may take on an entirely different power and meaning. Gardeners are the keepers of many rituals: The fall raking, the seeding time of spring, putting up the gardening tools for the season and closing the shed. Bringing sacred intention to these simple doings elevates them in meaning and in grace. They become not a chore, but a song, a wordless language and a call to the soul of life. “Thank you,” we say for another season’s growing season.

Beekeeping is becoming another world of rites and rituals for me, as I don the sacramental vestments of bee veil and jacket and prepare to delve deeply into the holy body of the spring hive.

A few weeks back, Lucy Lu, the duck, enacted her own spring rite: Each morning now, she deposits a large pearl-colored egg into a straw cup of nest she rebuilds each night. “I am,” she declares.

What spring rites are you celebrating now? Is your animal family stepping into the season with new routines and rituals? Are there places you have not visited in winter, but are eager to reconnect with in this season? How do you honor the springtime? Please, share your stories and your pictures!

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