What I’ve written below may look like a list of plants.
In my taxonomy work, I have been for several months in conversation with one such list. It has been a many-layered joy: because I enjoy the puzzle of taxonomy, because I know many of the plants, and because I rejoice generally in the kingdom Plantae. The names of plants are dying in our language. I like to speak and write them as a counterspell.
My list is derived from many sources, but its best inclusions come from the catalog of a particular Oakland nursery, East Bay Wilds. I’ve never set foot there, but I love them. Their species list contains the raw ingredients of a powerful incantation.
Last afternoon, my cat companion died. She was old, and it had been expected. Still, it was a shock to see her husk: her eyes sunk in and fur in ragged clumps, the muscles gone slack that had held each piece minutely, the pattern that had made her starting to unravel. For a dozen years, she was my friend, my little owl, my Gwenhwyfar. I will never speak with her again.
Our present times are overfull with heartbreak. It helps me to work, and I’m lucky to do that with good folks, who know when to speak their sympathy and when to ask distracting questions about attributes and values. It also helps to reach out to my community, gathered all about, as ordinary and miraculous as a bowl of stars. I did both those things today, and both have held me up.
I had marked out for my work today this list of plants to finish wrestling with. Grief – not just for Gwenners – has loosened my self-consciousness of late. So I didn’t stop when I realized I was speaking aloud the genus and species and cultivar names that pleased me. They felt cool and soothing, the way it feels to gain admittance to an ancient grove. Merely listing them was not what I heard myself doing; I was punctuating. So I wrote them down, and I stopped and paused and drew out these names the way they shaped themselves to rhythm, and what I have on paper is…a prayer? A poem, a paean, a mourning song. Beautiful words from the woods and hills of my first beloved home, chanted or whispered or sung to meet the hurt in my heart, to lift the memory of my loved, my lost small friend.
You may share them, if you like. I do not think their magic is particular to me, or to my loss, or to loss at all. Speak them, if you have a quiet place. I hope that they might bless you, too.
Lace-lip fern & leafy reedgrass, lily-of-the-valley.
Leather root, lotus, living stone.
Oceanspray & olive; owl’s claws.
Pacific Mist manzanita. Pearly everlasting.
Pink-flowered buckeye, Point Reyes bearberry, prickly pear & purple moor grass
— Quail bush. Radiant kinnickkinnick!
Rushrose & Sandhill sage, sapphire ceanothus.
Sea buckthorn & serpentine sedge, sequoia.
Sorrel, snowdrop, slender-footed sedge.
— Shatterberry manzanita.
Spearmint, spicebush, southern silktassle. St. Catherine’s lace buckwheat.
Staghorn, stonecrop, strawberry tree;
Sweet pea & sycamore, tarragon & teak.
Thyme & tickseed & tiger lily. Torrent sedge & toyon.
Twinberry honeysuckle, water lettuce;
Wax myrtle, & weeping fig.
Wild ginger, wishbone bush, windflower, wisteria…
Wright’s buckwheat bastardsage!