This post is part of the Epilogue of my book, The Business of Botanicals: Exploring the Healing Promise of Plant Medicines in a Global Industry. Though it was first posted on the SHP blog in 2017, the issues and questions I ask seem even more pressing now. — Ann Armbrecht, SHP Director

What Makes a Difference?

by Ann Armbrecht, PhD

My sister, a writer living in Teton Valley, Idaho, just published a piece in the Jackson Hole News and Guide about connection to place. She traces the connections she has forged with the places that have been her home to a time in her childhood when we were working on a badge for Girl Scouts, a time I’ve written about as well.

One of the requirements for the badge was to visit a place weekly to observe the changes. I don’t remember being very enthusiastic about the exercise, but our mother, who was also the leader of our troop, was. She found a place in the woods where we would stop on the way home from the barn where we rode our pony to observe signs of early spring. We kept going long after the badge was completed. I’d forgotten how long, but Molly’s piece reminded me it was long enough for ice to form over the creek.

After reading the piece I’d written about stopping at that place to see the first trillium, my mother said it was nothing, suggesting that I was reading more into what was just a stop on the way home from riding. The main event in her mind, and in ours at the time, was the time riding, not the rushed moment on the way home to dinner, in that big white van filled with a pack of kids.

I thought maybe she was right until I saw my sister’s piece. Which made me wonder, really, what makes a difference in our children’s lives? Of all the many things we do and do not do each day, what are the things that might add up to something that matters? Given the turmoil in the world right now, given the demands calling from every direction for our attention, how do any of us know, really, what we can do that might make the difference that is needed?

Meeting the Day

“Humanity is in a strong argument about the future of the earth,” mystic Elizabeth Hin says in her recent podcast, Earth. Instead of engaging with that argument, she continues, ask what it means to stand beneath the moon in silence and know we are part of something so mysterious and holy that if we would give our attention to that holiness it would teach us every moment what we need to do.

Beth isn’t saying stay under the moon. She isn’t saying do nothing. The world is a mess. Cleaning up the soil, the oceans, the air; making things fair; spreading the wealth; protecting freedoms, and so much more is going to take time. She is fierce about our moral responsibility to, as she says, care for all the creatures of the earth.

But she is saying that the first step to finding our instructions about how to be and how to respond is outside beneath the night sky, in a forest, with a child – in awe at the beauty and the mystery – not inside engaging with the news of the day, in anger and in judgment.

standing in the moonlight

Fishing on Lake Nicaragua, photo by Chase Millhollen

Watching the Trillium Bloom

Our mother didn’t have any grand plan or big ideas about mystery and holiness when she stopped to look at the spring ephemerals begin to bloom. It’s just she loves plants more than anything, almost, except for birds, maybe, and her five children and eight grandchildren, and our father to whom she has been married for over sixty years. She followed what she loved. And she shared it with us. She stepped into the moonlight. She didn’t only do that. She lobbied Congress on environmental issues. She was head of the board of the WVa Land Trust, marched against climate change in New York and DC, and much, much more. But it started, for us, with that moment in a hollow watching the trillium begin to bloom.

Our Great Grandchildren

In the poem, “Hieroglyphic Staircase” Drew Dellinger writes,

It’s 3:23 in the morning
And I’m awake
Because my great great grandchildren
Won’t let me sleep
My great great grandchildren
Ask me in dreams
What did you do while the planet was plundered?
What did you do when the earth was unraveling?

Surely you did something
When the seasons started failing?

As the mammals, reptiles, birds were all dying?

Did you fill the streets with protest?
When democracy was stolen?

What did you do
You knew?…

What Will You Do?

We all know now. No one can’t know that the seasons are failing, the streets are filled with protest, our democracy has been stolen. It is impossible to ignore that the planet has been plundered and that the earth is unraveling.

What will you do?

How will you spend your day?

How will you spend your life?