Friday, May 3, 2013

Trillium Thrills


Our task must be to free ourselves... by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature and it's beauty. ~Albert Einstein

I went up to my cabin for the day yesterday. The weather was gorgeous and it seemed like a good day for a walk in the woods.

One of my favorite things about spring in the Pacific Northwest is the trillium. The blossoms dot the forest floor. When they open, the flowers are brilliant white. Then, as they mature and wilt, they gradually turn from white to lavender to deep purple.

Even though they are hardy enough to continue blooming during late snows, the plants are fragile if disturbed. If you pick the flower, the plant can take years to recover before blooming again. They are meant to be savored in place.

To me, the flowers are beautiful teachers. Here are some of their quiet lessons.

Be present. You can’t take the flowers with you, so enjoy them in the moment.

Non-attachment. Trying to grasp their beauty by picking the flowers destroys them.

Generosity. The flowers grace the forest with loveliness, freely and generously for all to see.

Gratitude. Seeing the trillium every spring fills me with gratitude for the bounty of nature’s gifts.

Delight. Walking becomes a treasure hunt for beauty, watching for the white blossoms and thrilling at each discovery.

The flowers even helped me be a better teacher! The law school where I taught is nestled in the forest on the edge of a state park. You can walk right out of the school and into the woods, along miles of trails. The lush setting of the school draws students from all over the world.

Early spring is a tough time for first year law students. They have gotten their grades from first semester, and since 90% of them are not in the top 10% of the class, there is some inevitable let down. They are also gearing up for the stressful scramble for their first summer jobs as law clerks.

One sunny spring day, I paused before starting class. The tension in the room was palpable. The normal pre-class banter was absent. The students’ faces were grim. Instead of launching into the planned discussion on anticipatory repudiation, I closed my book and instructed the students to follow me.

We went to my office where they could leave their belongings secured, and we went on a trillium hunt in the park. I figured since many of them had come to this school for the environmental law program, they should at least get out now and then to enjoy the environment! When those students graduated a few years later, they told me that one of their most memorable moments in law school was the shock of having a professor tell them to have some fun. It’s one of my fondest memories, too.

Those who contemplate the beauty of the earth find reserves of strength that will endure as long as life lasts. ~Rachel Carson

related posts: Fun Is Good; Breezes at Dawn

36 comments:

  1. Oh, I love that you did this with your students, Galen! My dad used to teach botany, and his "walk-abouts" were his students' favorites, too.
    Going to the mountains on Monday and hoping we will see the beautiful trillium. I did not know that it takes the poor things so long to recover if a flower is picked. So glad to know this!
    Blessings and love!

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    1. Martha, Enjoy your trip to the mountains. I hope you find many treasures! Thanks for commenting.

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  2. Lovely post! I enjoyed the story of the trillium and the lessons it teaches. I especially am attuned to the non-attachment lesson.

    You sound like a wonderful teacher!

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    1. Tina, I have always loved being in the role of a teacher. Thanks for commenting.

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  3. Flowers are truly a gift. I can't always leave them, thus I buy myself a bouquet of flowers every Friday afternoon. I loved having fresh cut flowers on my desk.

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    1. brenda, I used to do the same thing at work! Thanks for commenting.

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  4. Hi Galen,

    You are so right - flowers teach us so much, but only if we have the patience to stop and listen to what they are telling us. Just like you, there was a time when venturing into the wilderness of the mountains was the best thing we did as a family, and just being with nature give you such a wonderful feeling. I do miss those days, but when I visit your blog - it brings back those pleasant memories once again :)

    Thanks for sharing :)

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    1. Harleena, I am so pleased that reading my blog brings back happy family memories. You made my day. Thanks for commenting.

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  5. I feel the same way about morning glories. Such a spectacular bloom that must be left untouched.

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    1. Cairn, I didn't know that about morning glories. Thanks for commenting.

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  6. Each time I read one of your posts, I'm reminded of how connected we are and how we are at our best when we stop to notice and reflect on nature's bounty. You have a distinctive gift of bringing your readers right into what you're observing; I feel like I'm a part of the Pacific Northwest even though I've never been there!

    Thank you for the sensory escape into your environment today, Galen!

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    1. Beth, Well, I think it's time for you to come on up for a visit! I'd love to show you around. Thanks for commenting.

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  7. That's lovely, Galen. I could use that reminder myself. Like, a lot. :)

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    1. Jennifer, Glad to offer a reminder that we all need! Thanks for your comment.

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  8. I must say this was a wonderful post. You are the best and come up with the greatest of examples. My thoughts were that I need to get outside my comfort zone and look a little closer at the flowers; like "take time to smell the Roses".
    I loved the story of your law class. I can see why that would be a memorable moment for them.
    Blessings and hugs!

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    1. LeAnn, Your comments always make me smile. Thank you so much.

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  9. I wish you had been my law school professor, Galen. I don't actually think I heard the words 'have fun' or 'don't take school so seriously' in law school!!

    I think you gave students (especially lawyers to be) what was really need - perspective and practicality. Your life will move on, you'll still live (haha) and get a job and be happy.

    I've been wondering of late why we don't get the education we really need in school but simply facts, theories and subject matter. Instead of what will help someone be happy, productive or at peace.

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    1. Vishnu, I wish you had been my student! You would have been the teacher's favorite for sure! You raise an interesting question about education. I'm not sure it is a school's responsibility to teach students to be at peace. As a law professor, my job was to be sure that my students were prepared with the skills they needed to serve their clients and their communities. As a human being, however, it is my responsibility to serve others in whatever way I can. If that means canceling class to help some overwhelmed students with a life reality check and allow them to catch their breath and regroup, then I'm happy to do that. I'm not sure that I'm making a distinction that makes any sense, even to me. But that's how it seems to me, at least right now. I'll have to think about this some more. Thanks for your comment.

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    2. I may be referring more to grade school through high school as far as teaching kids tools for life - motivation, happiness, leadership, peace, etc. It may be different for graduate/professional schools although those curricula should include how to balance work/life, how to be ethical of course and maybe even how to manage stress.

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  10. Gorgeous flower. Flowers, i find, have a tendency to quickly change our perspectives. I love the lessons you listed. I am not surprised at what you did with your class. I know another fabulous teacher :D To make her class conscious about paying attention while teaching, she gave them a "talking period" much to their astonishment. It took them a while to actually talk during this special class. :D The teacher was my Mom.

    I loved your post. As always.

    Hugs.

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    1. Vidya, You were in your mom's class? That must have been interesting! Thanks for your comment.

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  11. This is a wonderful post. I can imagine what a wonderful teacher you were to you students. Taking a nature break is one of my favorite breaks. Hope you enjoy your day.

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    1. Bonnie, I loved teaching and I was lucky to have wonderful students. Hope you enjoy your day, too, and thanks for commenting.

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  12. Lovely thoughts and fabulous comments on your words here.
    We have about 75 Trilliums recovered and blooming in our woods. I am trying to put up markers to keep them ID'd and safe.

    I am just sad about my most recent spring lesson. Friday morning 4 Junkos hatched in the pansy basket by the garage door. We had spent a number of days not using that car or opening the door to give mama bird her peace.
    Saturday morning all 4 babies were gone. We think that the crow family consumed them. Sunday, this morning the nest is pulled out of the pot and on the ground.
    I am saving 2 nests for Library Girl to take to her Portland School Library to share. Her book published for early readers in the Portland School District is all about baby birds and some of the kindergarteners cry when they read about the baby falling from the nest and not making it. Glad the story is not about crows eating the babies...
    I feel the same way today...like a pinch of hope just fell out the nest.

    Happy Sunshine and moments ahead.

    I will lighten up here - I have a joke for you

    What did the Buddhist Monk say to the Hot Dog Vender? " Make me one with everything."

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    1. patricia, I'm so sorry about the nest tragedy. Thanks for the joke and for commenting.

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  13. Hi Galen

    Nature definitely has many lessons for us to learn. I did not that about those flowers. How nice to have your own little place of peace and tranquility that you can go and enjoy nature. I can imagine the quiet solitude with the birds chirping and a light breeze in the trees.

    Mary

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    1. Mary, I am very lucky to have a forest refuge so close to home. There are other cabins in the vicinity, but when I go up during the week, I'm almost always the only person around. Thanks for your comment.

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  14. I wish I had a teacher like you. Your students are so blessed. You certainly have made a difference to their lives!

    Your cabin sounds heavenly. It will be nice to have a peaceful sanctuary where I can retreat every once in a while. Perhaps, one day!

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    1. Evelyn, My students and I had a mutual exchange of learning and blessing and making a difference in each other's lives. Yes my cabin is a lovely retreat, but I think we can find or create retreats even in the city, even in our own homes. I hope you can find or create one close by. Thanks for your comment.

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  15. The reality of a flower that can't be picked is a very powerful reminder of our place in the universe. Humans may may feel we can control and dominate all, but our power doesn't alter basic laws of nature.

    The connection between enjoying without have to possess is perfect. Thank you, Galen.

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    1. Bob, I think that's why this particular flower holds such mystery and wisdom for me. I always thrill to see it every spring. Thanks for your comment.

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  16. This is so beautiful Galen.Your thoughts here tell me why you were such a wonderful mother. Sometimes just letting the flower bloom without disturbing it is the best way. It will take a child many years to bloom again if their blossom is destroyed.

    I had a professor in college that was known for sending his students out to pick wild flowers in the spring. I loved that man!

    Thank you again.

    b+

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    1. Barbara, Thanks for your kind words. I had not thought about the parenting connection. Thank you for adding that. Glad you had a prof that like to smell the roses! Thanks for commenting.

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  17. That's truly radical, Galen! It takes a lot of confidence and courage to do this. I'm glad your students appreciated it. And, the lessons are great too, one of the biggest from your story is to follow your intuition.

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    1. Thanks for the kind words, Sandra.

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  18. What a wonderful visual. I haven't spent much time in the northwest, but hope to. In the meantime, I will enjoy where I'm planted

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