Articles by Diane Tait
Moccasin Flower Wisdom
In June of 2014, a very dear friend of mine and I had a drive near my sanctuary through a recent selectively logged woods. To our delight and amazement we came upon a patch of 23 Pink Lady Slippers in bloom! They were gloriously reveling in the wonderful sunlight let in from the thinning of the forest canopy. I had noticed in Eden Hyll how those of my Moccasin Flowers in bloom always seemed to be in a spotlight of sun. It is no accident. These particular members of the orchid family can live to be a hundred years old and only ever flower five or six times. It all depends on the light.
For the past few years I’ve been diligently and carefully weeding out the tree saplings and seedlings in my woods, leaving the mature ones, thus opening up the forest floor. I’m thrilled by the results. Where I had maybe five Trilliums in total when I first bought the property, in just seven years I now have them blooming all across the slopes leading down to the pond; three species. I did not plant them, they just came. The Partridge Berry has spread, Goldthread thrives everywhere, Wild Sarsaparilla abounds and my imports of Bloodroot, Goldenseal and Black Cohosh are holding their own and starting to spread. Elder bushes have arrived and are already producing fruit. I noticed a Staghorn Sumach down by the water this past year, and the blackberry patches are thriving. Where I had only two mature cedars, I now have many four-seven foot cedars. The babies were there all the time, gasping for breath and struggling to find light. Luckily, I found them and gave them the room they needed. Oak trees are also appearing and growing quite quickly.
Seems like a small thing, sunlight and space, but it takes quite a lot of work which requires persistence and diligence. Trees such as White Pine, Yellow Birch and Maple are bound and determined to have it all-all the light and all the room. It’s amazing what I find every spring as I do my few days of tree weeding and pruning, which I do again midsummer, as the suckers appear from the cut off trunks. With this simple method I’m inviting more diversity of plants, shrubs and trees into my sanctuary. I leave brush piles for the critters and I try to work within the rhythm of what is happening naturally. A human with tools, eyes to spot what needs to be done and a stubborn, persistent nature, can fast forward many good things. Gaia is always the master gardener; I’m the minion, paid in the beauty we are creating together.
Being only 68 years old, I have many great years left to enjoy my sanctuary, but let’s face it. Mother Nature can work faster with a little help from her friends, the two-leggeds. What a great team!
What is a Sanctuary?
The parcel of land comprising Eden Hyll sanctuary is a mere 4.83 acres. A shared road cuts through it and a shared pond forms its northwestern property line. Just a few miles north, one of the largest army bases in the US sprawls across 65.7 square km, or 107,265 acres. Many days the sounds of men and women practicing the strategies and skills of armed combat resound through the woods. Sometimes fighter jets roar overhead, yet the birds singing in the trees never miss a beat and those of us lucky enough to be on this land feel at peace.
At first I wondered if I’d totally misread my certainty when I purchased this land. I’d always envisioned my long-coveted bit of wildness as a part of pristine wilderness, away from other people and the reminders of the frenetic pace of our world. Over the few years I’ve been the steward of this place, although I’ve come to think of myself as the two-legged free helper to the land’s agenda, I realize I was absolutely called here by some force of the natural world.
I looked up the dictionary definitions for ‘sanctuary’. It can mean a holy space or a safe haven for people, plants and/or animals. Sanctuaries are usually looked after by a person or persons; stewards, as we are called as part of this botanical sanctuary network. The stewards perform maintenance and necessary chores to keep the sanctuary healthy, but we also perform another very important function. It can only be a sanctuary if those seeking refuge feel safe. This security comes from trusting and respecting the stewardship of the sanctuary.
It’s taken a few years for the land and me to get to know, trust and respect one another. Let’s face it, this land has been and will be long after I’m gone. The indifference to my presence the first few months was palpable. But I kept walking and visiting and journaling and noticing and touching. Little by little, I started to hear the voices of the trees, the plants, the critters and the pond. I found myself knowing exactly when to cut down some trees to make room for others. The year after I freed a Pin Cherry tree of strangling maple saplings, it started to bloom and produce fruit which the cedar waxwings and resident chipmunks now enjoy. I found that keeping the forest floor free of so many baby trees allowed other plants to multiply or appear. The trilliums are spreading every year. I now have three elderberry bushes producing fruit!
This is not my private sanctuary. It is a partnership. As I become more quiet and peaceful when I’m here, I’m given more and more gifts; the glimpse, at last, of one of the minks I knew lived along the shore; witnessing an intense quarrel between the pileated woodpecker and the red-shouldered hawk; the otter fishing under the melting spring ice; the hummingbird sitting in her tiny nest; the beautiful white partridgeberry flowers all through the woods; the intense, sweet smell after a summer’s rain.
For me, a botanical sanctuary is about the partnership between a human being and nature. When I’m in the sanctuary I am allowed to just ‘be’. From this intense stillness within me, I can re-attune to the more basic rhythms of this wonderful planet we call home. It’s totally a win/win!