A wild iris at the Council of All Beings

White iris douglasiana on the King Mountain Trail, Larkspur, California by Betsey CrawfordI am a star that has grown out of the earth, created from the gifts of my celestial sisters and the rich ground at my roots. I hover above the soil I grow from, luminous in constellations of white and rare, palest yellow in quiet, dappled forests. A vibrant sea of purple, royal in exuberant, sunny meadows. My petals and sepals are soft and silky to the touch, to the eyes. Yet I can withstand the wild winds of coastal grasslands, sturdy on my strong stalk, emerging from the narrow sheaths of my leaves.

Purple iris douglasiana, Chimney Rock Trail Point Reyes National Seashore, California by Betsey CrawfordAs the winter rains end, I send out those leaves, taking in sunlight, breathing in carbon dioxide, creating sweet sugar, breathing out oxygen. My flowers bloom for a few fleeting weeks of spring, making nectar to lure bees, receiving the pollen they carry from other iris. Sending them off newly pollen-laden to provide for the next generation.

White iris douglasiana just opening on the Hoo-Ko-E-Koo Trail, Larkspur, California by Betsey CrawfordBut I am ever here. As my petals finish their spring alluring and curl inward, my ovaries swell, my seeds ripen in their long pods, my leaves persist, my roots grow deeper.  I form communities by sending rhizomes just under the soil. They put down more roots, send up more leaves, stems, flowers. We talk to each other — and the trees, the ferns, the grassesalong a powerful network of delicate fungal threads, sending messages, exchanging news, taking in nutrients, water.

Pale yellow iris douglasiana on the Hoo-Ko-E-Koo Trail, Larkspur, California by Betsey CrawfordI have been doing this for more than 130 million years. I am an endless cycle of life. I carry the ancient intelligence of patient evolution. My large flowers needed strong stalks and lots of energy, so I grew leaves that could absorb sunlight from both sides, powering me with sugar. With those inviting flowers, I evolved an intimate and enduring relationship with bees. I provide bright stripes so they can find their way to my nectar and pollen. By creating communities of my fellow iris, I give bees lots of places to pollinate. I offer nectar in one flower at a time, so bees are inspired to take my pollen to another iris, strengthening the genes of my descendants. I send some of my pollen to neighbors on the wind. We iris are steeped in reproductive wisdom.

Purple iris douglasiana bud opening on the Hoo-Ko-E-Koo Trail, Larkspur, California by Betsey Crawford

During a webinar in early May, I participated in a Council of All Beings, an interactive process developed by environmental activists Joanna Macy and John Seed. We were asked to spend time inviting beings to choose us to speak in their voice. Then we took turns sharing whom we were speaking for and the messages we brought. People became the voices of all sorts of beings — deserts, rivers, dogs, butterflies, bears. The messages we heard were unfailingly moving. 

The process can be an hour or so, as ours was, or grow into the day-long centerpiece of several days of a retreat. The aim is to foster compassion for our fellow beings, whatever form they take on our shared planet. To become ever more aware of the challenges they face. For some, the process may be more about their grief at the environmental devastation they see. Their loss of faith in our ability or will to stop traveling the path we’re on. It could be about rage or mourning for what is already lost and what is on the brink of extinction.

It’s no surprise that in the middle of the glorious California iris season, when I am blessed to be among them every day for two months, a wild iris showed up and claimed me. She has been with me since.

White iris douglasiana on the King Mountain Trail, Larkspur, California by Betsey CrawfordMy ancestry goes back to the beginning of the universe. My roots grow in soil eroded from the rocks of ancient lands, formed when great plates moved on the surface of the earth. As they met, they pleated into existence mountains flanked with forests and the spacious grasslands of valleys. I go farther back to when stellar rubble first gathered in a vast, seething ball to form our planet. And even farther to my elemental formation in the earliest stars. 

Purple iris douglasiana on the Hoo-Ko-E-Koo Trail, Larkspur, California by Betsey CrawfordI draw water formed when hydrogen, born at the beginning of the cosmos, joined oxygen 13 billion years ago. Water that arrived on earth frozen in those early rocks as they whirled together. That primordial water, carried on the breathing wind, showers the soil all winter so I can bloom each spring. From the soil water brings me minerals formed when the earliest stars exploded.

White iris douglasiana with ferns on the King Mountain Trail, Larkspur, California by Betsey CrawfordThese powerful forces operating in endless time have brought me to this moment when I glow in the shaded woods and stop you in your tracks. My petals curve in several different directions, drawing you in from every angle. I quiet you. In that pause, that precious interlude of luminous beauty, nothing else matters. I am a portal to the wide-open spaces beyond the path of your days. In my presence, you remember that you are in love with life.

White iris douglasiana on the Hoo-Ko-E-Koo Trail, Larkspur, California by Betsey Crawford

Another goal of the council is to facilitate stepping into the larger story that we all share. The long history of our cosmos, which gave birth to every being and entity created along its vast timeline. To develop, in Joanna’s words, a more ancient and resilient sense of our true ecological Self. This feeling of timeless rootedness is what drew me to Thomas Berry’s work when I first heard Miriam MacGillis speak about him at a native plant conference in 2000. I went up to her afterward, along with half the audience, to tell her that I’d been waiting all my life to hear what she’d said.

The sense of cosmic belonging, of being a manifestation of the deep creative forces that launched the universe in the first place, has provided a feeling of resiliency and a source of courage ever since. That certainly doesn’t mean I have no fear or that my grief isn’t great. But I have a counterweight of trust in the infinite generativity of the cosmos. 

Mourning honors love. Compassion is one of our great gifts as humans. Embracing both allows us to be fired by love — rather than fear — for the world we want to help create. Therein lies the joy needed to nourish continued action on behalf of the beings we live among.

White iris douglasiana with ferns on the Baltimore Canyon Trail, Larkspur, California by Betsey CrawfordI need cool temperatures in a leafy forest reverberating with the tapping of woodpeckers, the sweet song of the thrush, the cool, haunting, evening hoot of owls. I need a shimmering expanse of grasslands crossed with the shadows of floating clouds and gliding raptors. I need cool winter rains and damp soil in the spring. I need my fellow spirit beings and pollinators, the bees. If changes come, I need them to happen very, very slowly.

I need love. The love that comes from seeing me as a living, breathing being, as crucial to the cosmic order as everything else it has created. I need you to pay deep attention. To protect this gift, emblematic of all the gifts the earth showers on us. To protect the land, the air, the water on which I depend.

Purple iris douglasiana on Ring Mountain, Tiburon, California by Betsey CrawfordI need you, my stargazer, to catch your breath. You can’t see your fellow beings when rushing by. Linger, visit. Beauty and wonder, the great consolations, slake some of your vast thirst for a world you are afraid is disappearing. We have common ancestors, starting with the earliest spark of life. The first cell to come alive in the warm ancient ocean. We are kin. Family. Half of our genes are the same. We share molecules formed at the beginning of the universe. Our elements, gifts of the stars, are the same. We are interwoven. Our atoms flow in and out of one another. Our breath intermingles: you drawing in my oxygen-laden out-breath, I drawing in your carbon dioxide. Without each other, neither could breathe.

Purple iris douglasiana on the Hoo-Ko-E-Koo Trail, Larkspur, California by Betsey CrawfordWe are the same life, lived over and over again, echoing for billions of years. We are the birth of the universe, the explosions of stars, the fire of volcanos, the flow of water, the pull of the moon. The gift of carbon, of gravity, of photosynthesis. Connected to all the deepest forces of the universe. We sing together in the chorus of the cosmos, luminous energies, messengers of the divine. We rise together from the soul of the earth.

Purple iris douglasiana in Indian Valley, Novato, California by Betsey Crawford

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Related posts:

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the mystery of beauty
A flower made for a bee, who enters the beautifully designed portal, where the filaments of the beard rub pollen off the underside of the bee, which the pale blue 'shelf' scrapes it off the back. The bee drinks nectar, and as it backs out the white pollen on the stamen drops onto its back, but the scraper doesn't work in that direction. A bearded iris in Manito Gardens, Spokane, Washington by Betsey Crawford
The patient genius
of transmutation
Hummingbird sage (Salvia spathacea) in Solstice Canyon in the Santa Monica Mountains, California by Betsey Crawford
The Work that Reconnects:
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7 thoughts on “A wild iris at the Council of All Beings”

  1. Di Shearer, South Australia

    I too was touched by an iris recently – a photograph I had taken, I don’t remember where or when. My pastel painting attempts are far from perfect but the photograph and the two paintings continue to speak to me of gentleness and tenderness – so much needed as I face some health issues. Thank you Betsy. I have followed your posts for some years now and been glad to meet you in Deep Time circles. I’m drawn to wander and to wonder where wildflowers grow.

    1. Thank you so much, Di. I, too, am delighted to see you in our circles and know that every time you speak I’m going to say to myself, “I love her spirit!”

  2. This reading leaves me goose-bumped, teary-eyed and emotionally moved. Betsey, thank you for sharing your amazing gift of words and insights and beauty within. Love this entry and will share it forward … yet again.

  3. Betsey, this is exquisite… I will share this with the Earth-Speak Conversation group in our next Wednesday notes. I have a sense of the vast cosmology informing the specific through this beautiful flower. (Iris has always been one of my favourite plants!) You are such a fine plant story-teller! And the wisdom that can flow through us when we listen to and through their beauty is of the Earth speaking. I also hear the layers of the particular plant and the deep earth-wisdom both calling you, like a choir with soprano, alto, tenor and bass voices, all at the same time. This essay is a lovely song! Thank you… Andrea

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