Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Green Mystery

Ah, spring, thou art come at last. I am in my garden, and the students are drinking green beer. Both of these are related to the celebration today of St. Patrick's Day. Who or what St. Patrick was is scarcely relevant to the fact that it gives us all a chance to wear or consume green. But it is also the day on which I aspire to be planting my first crop of the year. I didn't quite make it today because my vegetable garden is still a little too "mudlucious" (apologies to e.e. cummings). Since it was in the mid-60s today, I'll see tomorrow whether I can cultivate a row of soil and sow some lettuce seeds. Some years I have been able to do this on St. Paddy's day. I cover them with row cover and after the obligatory late March snow storm, I find little lettuce seedlings smiling up at me. It means we can enjoy early salads.

I think every human being must notice and rejoice in spring. But to a gardener it is truly like a universal rebirth. There is nothing to make the heart rejoice like the first flowers. I found snowdrops and winter aconites blooming under the shrubs on our east border just a few days ago. But what is even more notable is that our plants are preparing to do their work again to make possible human life and all animal life on this planet for another season. Pretty generous of them, all considered. Although I am thoroughly enchanted by the flowers, another important discovery was that the garlic I planted late last fall is sending up sprouts. The garden has begun.

As a botanist, I've studied details of the miracle of photosynthesis, by which plants convert the energy of sunlight into carbohydrate and thus food. Think about it— our entire global economy is based on it. It is the basis of our "growth strategy"—without a continual energy input, nothing we recognize would exist. And though this process varies in some qualities within organisms that practice it, it always requires chlorophyll, where the actual energy capture occurs. And that is green.

It is surely not an accident that many ancient religions made spring into a special event. And many of them celebrated the green. Most notable of these were perhaps the Druids. From my extensive reading of the literature— er, that's the English mystery novel literature—I know that the Green Man is still regarded as a mythical figure in some English recreations of rituals.

The "mystery religions", secret societies that celebrated the renewal of life, often through the rebirth of a dead god or emissary, have often been cited as the precursors of Christianity. Of course this has been controversial but many Christians, including Martin Luther King, have taken the trouble to rebut this concept. As one of these explained, "The annual vegetation cycle was often at the center of these cults. Deep significance was given to the concepts of growth, death, decay and rebirth." It might be noted that we of the Christian tradition celebrate Easter in the spring, with eggs a symbol of new life. Zorastrianism, another religion sometimes credited as a predecessor of Christianity, made the first day of spring as the beginning of the New Year. Persians (Iranians) still celebrate this festival, called Nowruz . Though they are mostly Moslem now, this ancient Zorastrian holiday (at the spring equinox) is very important in Iran, and is celebrated among other things by having a bowl of wheat, lentil or barley sprouts on the table, as well as an egg for everyone.

My own belief is that all of these rituals and celebrations indicate a deep understanding that those first green sprouts of spring mean that the universe will continue, the plants will bring it to life around us, and we will also persevere, by grace of the green. Lift a mug to it, if you will.


Buttercup said...

I'd like to know what the thinking was behind the MacArthur Foundation's avowed goal to "building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world". They seem to have gotten the green (verdant)idea.

Buttercup said...

Hooray! Got three kinds of lettuce planted today. Clouds moving in and temperature dropping, but not before I got several bucketsful of compost mixed in and seeds planted under some row cover.

People Power Granny said...

Don't we love spring! But it seems so unsympathetic for Mother Nature to show off all her splendor while the world is in a deep recession. How dare she! Hope you get a chance to read my take on this all at peoplepowergranny.blogspot.com and vote in my poll about what you're doing this spring.

Buttercup said...

Things are looking good. The lettuce is up, and also some arugula and spinach I was able to sneak in a day or two later.