Dead and Alive
One of the autumnal practices I enjoy while wandering the desert is identifying wildflower species when they are dried up and in seed. This is more difficult as botanical keys mostly have pictures of plants with flowers and green foliage. Although I am not very good at late season identification, I am improving. Sometimes I am blessed with a surprise hint—a desert flower that is both dead and alive at the same time.
This phenomenon begins as a species showing all the signs of winter retreat: dry blossoms, stems, and/or seeds. The surprise is sometimes finding the same plant graced with green foliage more common in spring or summer—both dead and alive. One particular plant on this particular walk is a large flowered goldenweed (Pyrrocoma carthamoides ssp. cusickii). The dried flower with its many rays sits atop an equally dry stalk surrounded by desiccated leaves. At the same time a nest of greenery remains.
I have to laugh because, upon closer examination, the green leaves belong to another plant (a species of buckwheat—eriogonum)! The symbolism is profound. On the one hand, there is life and death co-arising. On the other hand, I got it all wrong. Right plant, wrong leaf, or right leaf, wrong plant. It does not make any difference. How wonderful! It just show that everything is dead and alive at the same time—even my notion about it.
If everyone lived their lives with this awareness, grateful for their precious life and cognizant that they will die, I think the planet would experience less suffering. We would practice the ‘remembrance of death’ as a moment to moment appreciation. Knowing the fleeting nature of life, how do we want to live? In dying to the moment, love has a chance to blossom.
In this moment, as I write this reflection, I am sitting in a tire dealership waiting for my vehicle to get new tires. The old ones have surrendered their treads to the roads they traveled. I am also gazing out the window at trees dropping some leaves while others remain partially green. I am overwhelmed by the beauty of this dance of life and death as fall moves toward winter—and love blossoms in my heart.