Thursday, January 28, 2016

First Plum Blossom


While folks in Washington DC are shoveling snow off their cars, I stepped out onto my deck in San Francisco and saw my first plum blossom. Such a tiny, fragile wisp of pink flower, but so much power in its whisper: “The earth shall bloom again.” It will soon be followed by others awakening from their short winter’s nap until the branches are filled with a riot of color that lifts the heart and inspires poetry. Compared to Washington or New York or Boston, San Francisco’s winter passes in a wink of an eye, marked by a few deciduous trees amongst the ever-green eucalyptus, Monterey pines and cypresses, heavy (we hope) rainfall, wearing sweaters to work and considering the ski trip to the mountains. Already in January, the magnolia trees say, “Enough. Here’s a few blossoms to announce Spring,” followed by the plums in February and the cherries in March. Then come the Spring winds and the wildflowers in the Marin hills, each with their own pleasure and delight.

Such comfort in the reliable return of these natural cycles. Never in my lifetime has the plum refused to blossom or the wisteria remained bare. Precisely when it all happens and how much rain and what the daily temperature is enough variety to keep us interested and wondering, but the big cycles never fail to come through.

In his excellent book Family Matters, Robert Evans puts his finger on the zeitgeist of our times with a formula:

High predictability = Low anxiety.

            Low predictability = High anxiety.

He talks about it in terms of schools and parent’s anxiety about their children. Will they get into a good college/high/school/elementary school/ preschool with increasing competition? Will there be jobs for them? Will there be jobs for us adults? What about climate change? When parents send outraged e-mails to teachers, it can be a sign of that anxiety at work. By contrast, if a kid grows up in a fishing village where most everyone turns out to fish for a living when they grow up, they’re pretty relaxed about the kids’ grades in math.

When things are changing around us at a tempo never before experienced in a few hundred thousand years of human evolution, with no sense that we can count on anything we hold dear to continue—be it the Constitution, Social Security, our jobs or the glaciers—it creates ongoing stress and anxiety, conditions crippling to human health and happiness. We’re in a constant state of flight or freeze or flight, hunkered down in our brain stem and unable to access the glories of the neo-cortex or the open heart. We cling to false certainties, grope for the illusion of fundamentalist truths, allow ourselves to stop thinking and throw ourselves at the mercy of power-hungry pundits who don’t care to be bothered by facts and aim straight for our fear. It’s not a happy situation.

But the tiny plum blossom on my tree sings to me to cast such fears aside. Align myself with nature’s way of rest and rejuvenation, slow down and step away from the manic screams of distracting screens (except to write this blog).

Friends, Spring is on its way. Even if covered with three feet of snow.

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