On Becoming a Flower

wp122 2 yellow, white rhodoI’ve loved flowers for as long as I can remember. I often wonder if my amniotic sac was actually filled with petals, pollen and honeysuckle nectar rather than its traditional fluid. To my mind, flowers are creation at its most exquisite.

wp122 3 rhubarb, ocean, otherPlants eat light. How cool is that? If I could chomp on the sun’s rays and feel satisfied, I’m pretty sure my weight would regulate itself. Leaves convert light to food and push it out in the showiest way imaginable—the flower.

wp122 2 foxglove, yellowFlowers offer subtle colors and brilliant hues. They twist, turn and come in shapes from tubes to pinwheels.

wp122 3 onion, points, tulipEven an onion bursts into a flower head filled with dozens of delicate blooms once its papery sheath splits open. And tulips with ragged edges can erupt into flames of light.

Which sun-hungry flower would you choose to be?

All photos © Sondra Sula.

Light

wp121 2 leaf, fuchsiaThe brightness of the light made me stop and take notice. The way it shone through a giant pleated leaf creating the illusion of stripes. The way it pierced through a fuchsia plant, burning the leaves to white crisps.

wp121 leaf in siloThe light outlined a tan oak leaf, highlighting its fuzziness.

wp121 2 iris, grassIt wrapped itself around an iris bud and danced along the wily curved arms of a grass seed head.

wp121 river w lightThe light leapt and splashed in a lazy river filled with moss-covered logs. And then suddenly I realized the darkness and heaviness had dissipated. I was once more aware of The Light.

All photos © Sondra Sula.

A Heavy Load

wp120 ant carrying beeHow do ants do it? Carry such a heavy load that often surpasses their body mass? I know I can’t.

This week was heavy with sorrow and the practical aftermath of death—cleaning and sorting the household of my mother-in-law and her son, who lived with her and died suddenly. Not only was it emotionally taxing, but physically difficult to drag large bags stuffed with all sorts of items through the house. I wanted to crawl into a hole and never come out.

wp120 2 ants holeMy husband and I had to eat out the last evening because I had stripped the house of all food and scrubbed down the fridge. He chose a bustling restaurant his family had frequented during the time his father was in hospice. It seemed oddly appropriate.

During the meal, my cell phone rang. The call was coming from a tiny town in which lived only one person I knew. At that moment I felt sure she had died and someone had been assigned the job of telling me. It struck me then that everyone is dealing with their own crisis and must carry their own heavy load. Maybe we’re not so different from the ants after all.

wp120 4 ants w holeAll photos © Sondra Sula.

Suddenly

wp119 bee w poker 201705501The thrill of capturing the bee in flight made my own heart flutter. I was drawn to the firecracker frenzy of the red hot poker, her cha-cha skirt’s fringe flailing. But the bee was a bonus—I didn’t even see him coming. We were both intoxicated by the bright, beckoning colors.

wp119 snail, pink fleurThe pleasure of life met my eyes everywhere I looked: A snail slime-ing along a calla lily leaf. Pouty-lipped twin flowers bobbing in the breeze. There was even a bloom that looked like an umbrella blown inside out.

wp119 hibiscus like 20170501And then my reverie ended. A dead skink lay in the grass, his life cut short by a lawnmower. He was simply going about his daily business when it happened, out of the blue. My brother-in-law died this week, too, without warning. He was just getting ready for his day, as usual, when he had a heart attack. He was gone before the paramedics arrived. He wasn’t old.

wp119 dead skinkWhat does one do when confronted with such sudden death? Live. It’s our best option.

wp119 yellow flower 2016-05-24All photos © Sondra Sula.

Forest Visit

wp118 2 forget me not, whiteForget-me-nots are viewed by many gardeners as weeds, but I find their round blue petals and sun-bright centers reminiscent of Victorian-era frivolities. As I passed a frizzy haze of them in the forest, I noticed they cohabited with a delicate spring bulb whose nodding flowers began as upright white pencil points.

wp118 3 fly, slug, beetleAmong the feathery Solomon’s seal flowers, a fly turned its head to peek at me. On the soil underneath, a banana slug stared at me with its eyestalks as it sucked on a wood chip. Its retractable mouth reminded me of the gold bullion fringe found on palatial pillows and extravagant draperies. Beside it, a metallic beetle shone in the dappled redwood light. Jagged legs, a furry rump and a violin spiral drooping from its head gave it an otherworldly presence.

wp118 3 alstibe, red bug, whiteAn all-red bug seemed an impossibility as it clung to a blade of grass. How can your eyes, legs and antennae all be the same bold shade of scarlet, I silently asked. No reply came forth.

wp118 3 green fern etcTiny twin pine cones rested on a fern. A new leaf resembled a green egg about to hatch. A jointed Solomon’s seal stem held leaves mimicking flat, pointed watermelons.

wp118 slugI didn’t want to leave this magical forest, but the tendrils of tasks left undone began to unfurl in my mind, creeping into the creases of my cerebellum. Why must I go, I wondered. A slug echoed my thoughts as it curled itself into an upside-down question mark. Then I seemed to hear it say: You may come back any time. We will be here, waiting…

All photos © Sondra Sula.

Garden of Unearthly Delights

wp117 3 flowers brown, red, brnBotanical gardens are Eden-like. They astound, perplex and fascinate. Their lushness draws us in, their unbelievably odd plants keep us engaged and their labyrinthine paths keep us wandering until exhaustion sets in.

wp117 flowery shoreThe Mendocino Coast Botanical Gardens deliver all of the above, plus butt up against the ocean for spectacular views. Clumps of colorful flowers cling to the cliffs inspiring alliteration.

wp117 3 yellow, pink, rustAlien forms protrude, curl, billow and thrust.

wp117 3 pink-green groundThe ground is littered with floral confetti, and strange lanterns hang with bulbous tongues sticking out.

wp117 3 flowers yellow, green, whiteSilky, delicate petals encircle a veined sunburst, while a whirling dervish of succulent lime-green leaves bursts forth in an explosion of buds. White cactus flowers open their fringe, dwarfing their prickly bodies.

wp117 3 cactus stoneJust when I think I’ve seen the most bizarre plant, I come to a muted rainbow of pebbles—no, they are fat, stone-like leaves. And next to them, on a tall cactus stalk, hairy pink throats cough out tiny yellow blossoms. Red buds open to reveal quadruple layers of pointy petals. The interior holds a dancer with many arms amid stars of pollen. Have I rediscovered Eden?

All photos © Sondra Sula.

Paradise

wp116 3 fly, ladybugI began my walk in a field. Wild cucumber wound its way through the tall grasses and I noticed an elongated fly-eyed insect on one of the creamy white blooms. Its jagged-edged legs matched the edges of the deep green leaves of the plant. Just beside this scene was a flat area the size of a plate filled with the tiniest pea-like flowers in shades of pink, yellow and white. Each bloom was no more than the size of a lentil, yet boasted an intricate design. And then I saw a ladybug crawling on newly forming rattlesnake grass heads. I couldn’t help but marvel at God’s attention to detail.

wp116 2 blue, purple flowersI came to a bush bursting with bunches of purple-blue blooms that gave off a feeling of feathery lightness. Pink and red ice plant flowers nearly scorched my eyes with their brightness.

wp116 iris in fieldI looked to my left, and a soothing balm of green and light blue relaxed my eyes. The field was dotted with Douglas iris and California poppies. Beige seed heads swayed to the rhythm of the wind almost disappearing into the paleness of the sky.

wp116 coral, purple in grassDown at my feet more color popped into view through spindly blades of grass: delicious orange and striped purple petals.

wp116 2 flowers in grassMore flora joined the fun—yellow and blue stars had fallen from the heavens to sprinkle the ground with celestial joy.

wp116 cypress pathCypress trees beckoned me with their cone-heavy arms to follow the trail to the ocean. I complied.

wp116 ice plant vistaA breathtaking vista greeted me: fuchsia-hued flowers spilled down a craggy bluff to the frothy jade-turquoise sea. The beauty was so intense I had to sit down lest I fall. Spontaneous psalms of gratitude formed in my head as I breathed the salty air. Paradise.

All photos © Sondra Sula.

The Miniature Secret Garden

wp115 monkey flowerWhile walking in a field of grass I noticed an interesting little flower. I crouched down to take a closer look. I had never seen anything like it: half frilly clover, half monkey-faced snapdragon.

wp115 3 orange, white, purple fleursAt once I was nosing the ground and spied a red-throated coral flower lifting its face above a series of tiny, spiky yellow blooms. Minuscule white stars on narrow, jointed stems balanced over clover leaves. Pointy lavender balls poked above dandelion tails.

wp115 yellow daisylikeAs I crawled along, more and more flowers I had never seen revealed themselves. I felt as though I had entered a miniature world where a secret garden was blooming amid commonplace grass. I discovered flowers within flowers—the centers of taxicab-yellow daisies were bursting with additional blooms.

wp115 lupine, white turtleI recognized a lupine, but not its curved, freckled cap. How can it be so blue? It leaned towards a magenta “weed” I’d seen before. But at eyelash-touching range, this “weed” appeared as a slender flowering tree, clusters of fringed petals nodding with the slightest breeze. And right next door, puffy white blooms swirled, washed in lavender and held by fuzzy, wine-hued gloves.

wp115 2 purple, yellow fleursAs I passed dainty pink pansy-like faces and petal-less flowers resembling eyeballs on stalks, I realized I regularly trample these wonders because this miniature world is underfoot.

The next time you’re walking through wild or untreated grass, look down—a mysterious garden may be growing at the tips of your toes.

All photos © Sondra Sula.

The Nature of Life and Death

wp114 grassy MKAlmost instantly upon beginning my walk on the sandy bluff, I was struck by the profusion of life there. Clumps of green grass backlit by the sun held their blades high in joy. Ice plants threw their plump red arms upwards in jubilation. A fuzzy black caterpillar undulated past my sneaker, its spiky hairs radiating outwards.

wp114 3 caterpillar, whale, flowerI took a short trail down to the beach and saw a group of buzzards crowded around a “find.” As I approached most flew away, but one held out, extending its wings to protect what I now believed to be a carcass. When it gave up and took wing, I noticed many bird footprints surrounding what I later learned was most likely a prenatal gray whale. The fetal jaws were still fused shut; it must have been stillborn. Nearby lay a dying ice plant flower.

wp114 3 seaweedAs I passed more dead, yet beautiful, ocean life in the form of seaweed, I contemplated the juxtaposition of life and death. Everything I looked at seemed to be reaching outwards…towards an unknown source.

wp114 2 spider, cloverAs I climbed back up the steep hill a bright yellow flower burst into view. It created temporary shelter for a hairy-legged spider. A few steps away, against a miniature headstone-like rock, three-leaf clovers cast shadows that resembled balloons rising, ready to float into the sky and disappear.

None of us are exempt from this cycle, so why not reach out in joy now, while life is pulsing through our veins? Wonders await.

All photos © Sondra Sula.

Patience

wp113 3 city bud sculpturesMy husband and I were headed to Ukiah, California, which is about an hour-and-a-half from our house, to do some errands. Since we were going to be there during the lunch hour, I looked online to find an interesting restaurant and Jyun Kang Vegetarian Restaurant popped up.

wp113 3 peacocksThis eatery definitely sounded unique, perhaps because it is located in the City of Ten Thousand Buddhas, a monastic community. We drove through the Gate of Three Arches, stopped at the administrative office and completed our required registration thanks to a friendly bald monk clad in brown robes. The modest building was surrounded by shrieking peacocks fanning out their plumage, which was simultaneously jarring and serene.

wp113 3 iris, grass, wiseriaWe were given directions to walk down Proper Speech Avenue or Wisdom Way before arriving at the entrance on Vigor Way. Tall white iris, winking floral grass and buzzing insects greeted us. A tiger swallowtail butterfly even posed patiently for a snapshot.

wp113 swallowtailOnce inside, I was a bit surprised that the small room was plain. Perhaps I was expecting carved red lacquer Buddhas, yellow chairs or frescoes of luscious fruit offerings painted on the walls. We ate our noodles and rolls amid loud chatter. Had I expected silence? I shrugged as we left, slightly disappointed.

wp113 2 offerings, tree hollowAfterwards we walked past Buddha Hall. Its doors were open and a service of song was in session. The music wafted out, unlike Western compositions, and sounded exotic to my ears. A fence of wisteria curled sweet scents into my nostrils and I spied a long table laden with food offerings. When we stepped inside, ten thousand golden Buddhas stared at us from a sea of red. Yellow cushions lined the floor. Everything I expected had now come to be. I had just needed to stroll down Patience Way.

wp113 wisteria gloryAll photos © Sondra Sula.

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