The other day, I happened to walk past a display of fall mums at a local big box store-that-must-not-be-named. Most of them were in full bloom, ready to be taken home to decorate someone’s porch for the season.
But a few toward the bottom shelf caught my eye. These were quite droopy and sad looking. Their leaves were limp, and I quickly realized that from the look of them, they probably hadn’t been watered in days. A closer glance at the better looking flowers confirmed that they too were completely dry, and it was only a matter of time before they would succumb to the same fate as the wilted ones.
Before I go on: full disclosure. I too have fall mums on my front porch. They were purchased at a greenhouse, and will eventually grace my compost pile to be turned into next season’s tomatoes. The cycle of life, death, transformation and rebirth will play itself out in full.
Okay. Back to the big box store… when I saw the dried up soil, and the sad looking flowers, the gardener in me wanted to immediately grab a hose and water them! I confess that I’m one of those slightly over-the-edge gardeners who sometimes talks to her plants and can easily slip into anthropomorphizing them. I settled for informing a rather indifferent looking employee. Whether or not the flowers were eventually watered, I don’t know.
As I went on with my day, the flowers remained in my thoughts, and what really grew on me is the symbolism that they embody. There’s nothing necessarily wrong with buying a potted flower and putting it on one’s porch for the season. But in a broader sense, the view of Nature as commodity is troubling. These flowers, distant cousins of their wild counterparts in their native Asia, were grown, shipped and sold without thought, without reverence. They are living things, and yet they are utterly disposable. If they die from lack of water and get tossed out into a dumpster, a new shipment arrives tomorrow. No big deal.
Yes, yes.. I realize it’s only a plant. But our view of Nature as a commodity to be bought and sold, or worse yet, as disposable and irrelevant, is at the root of our ecological crisis, and the symbolism was perfectly captured by a stand of sad-looking flowers at a big box store.
The other day, I saw an article talking about humanity falling deeper into “ecological debt,” having consumed in the past nine months more resources than the planet will generate in a year (see the link below). I get the concept of what they’re trying to convey, but the economic metaphor of “debt” reinforces the notion of Nature as commodity. Of course, by extension, since humans are Nature, we must be commodities too under this idea… but I digress.
To envision and subsequently create a sustainable world, we need to climb out of our mental box that puts economic values at the center of our lives, and uses those values as a yardstick to measure the worth of Nature. To live with integrity requires cultivating a mindset that recognizes the inherent and intrinsic value of all of Nature.
Those mums sitting on that metal stand on a concrete sidewalk are more than a pretty decoration, or a product for sale. They are living beings. Their story stretches back to their wild original ancestors in Asia, back to the emergence of flowers in the Cretaceous, and back even further to the evolution of photosynthesis itself. Their value, their intrinsic and inherent value comes from being embodied bearers and witnesses of the Great Story of life itself. They, along with all living beings today including ourselves, bear this legacy, this Sacredness. This is their message, and they speak it, whether or not we listen.
Blessings of the turning season to you.