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Words Matter

The solstice on June 20th, 2024, heralded in summer in the northern hemisphere, but I confess, I’m still deep in spring mode. Spring has been a time of discovery, revealing who survived the wet, cold winter and which lucky seeds are strong enough to grow into a new expression of themselves.


Because I am new to this land in Coastal Oregon, it’s been a time of true exploration. Nearly every time I go outside, I meet someone new: wild Nootka rose along the river, red clover on the edge of the grass, and Seep monkeyflower snug in an impressive stand of an unrestrained invasive species called Himalayan balsam.


When I speak words out loud, like here next to the river, I understand that some will float down the river like a leaf and possibly end up in someone’s yard or out in the ocean bouncing on waves, while other words might be carried across the air, like bird song, available to anyone who is listening, like a hiker or an ancient tree.


Words hold meaning and when paired with other words, they can grow or change in their essence. Likewise, words have their own energy, so I am careful what I’m cultivating here, since I sense the more-than-human kin are sensitive to my presence and utterances.


When I casually use the term “invasive”, I sense its negative vibration, so I’m making an effort to rewire my brain and upgrade my vocabulary to be more compassionate when I refer to these hearty plants. Sure, I can call them “non-native” instead, but even that feels unwelcoming in a time when many plants, trees, animals, and humans are on the move escaping heat, drought, insecurity, and violence.


What if kindness started here? Instead of lumping them into the “bad” category, I greeted them with curiosity and respect. Instead of sending the word “invasive” into the face of this plant or the wider environment, I said something to the plant like, I’m going to remove you this season, Ms./Mr. Balsam, you tall glass of water, so some of these other plants can breathe, root, and reach for the sun for a turn.  And what if I got curious and collected a few seeds for my herbal medicine cabinet (they are a good diuretic) instead of obsessing over total eradication?


I understand it’s a sensitive balance for flora and fauna, so I’m taking care not to turn into a bully of a gardener.


...I didn’t want to take a chance that I’d grow up to be a war.

I want to be a belly dance or an accordion or a pogo stick

or the fingerprints the mason left

in the mortar between the bricks

to prove that he was here,

that he built a roof over someone’s head...


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