Joseph Anderson

Tree Calendar: Salal

O Salal of the autumn
Teach me to face the darkness

I have always loved darkness. My very favorite time of the day is that moment when I turn off the light and lie in the dark for a little while before I fall asleep. Especially in those first few moments before my eyes adjust to whatever dim light is in the room, there is an exquisite experience of utter blackness that feels full of nutritious healing energy. The seasonal movement toward darkness in the autumn is equally delicious: the leaves changing color, the smoky crispness of the air, the sense of emerging clarity and the coming simplicity of winter. And then comes the stillness of that stasis of the solstice season, when the sun retires early to leave us with the rich darkness of our thoughts.

Of course there is the other side of darkness: loss of freedom and mobility, the constriction of warmth and color, a greater awareness of loss just around the corner, and death not much farther beyond that. Depression, anxiety, the breath of the Adversary: these too reside in the darkness.

I found my way to Salal as the emblematic plant for this important and double-sided season of the year because of its steadfast greenness as we head into winter. It has tough, leathery leaves, a delightful zigzag pattern of growth along the stalk, and a vigorous abundance just about everywhere in Northwest forests. There are a couple of nice stands in Carkeek Park near my house that I like to visit this time of year.

Salal reminds me that I too have inner strength, and a capacity to flourish in any season. Despite the sensitivity that goes with an awake emotional life, we are tougher than we think we are!

All plants have one characteristic that can teach us all: they stay rooted in their place. No wonder trees and other plants have always been such powerful teachers for humans! Evolution says that we come from the animals, which like us roam from place to place, looking to find what they need or escape what they fear. But plants: with the sun and the rain and the soil they have all they need. If Destiny comes looking for them in the form of a forest fire or a crowd of munching caterpillars; well, such is the way of all living things, sooner or later.

Making use of our swift legs and cunning reason is good to do: it’s how we get along. But it is also good to remember the power and the virtue of staying put: facing what is coming toward us, staying strong, and at the same time opening ourselves up to what we have to learn, coming up to us from the wisdom of earth, raining down on us from the spirit of sky.

So I encourage you to take your stand where you are, and let Salal give you toughness. The good, deep dark is coming, and there is much to learn.