“To see a world in a grain of sand, and a heaven in a wild flower, hold infinity in the palm of your hand, and eternity in an hour….” (William Blake, “Auguries of Innocence”)
To hold a bloom of California buckwheat in the palm of your hand is to admire an infinity of heavens. Each little round flower is a mass of tinier flowers, their delicate pink stamens pointing out in every direction of the universe. The tough stems of the plant, with their little spiky leaves, stay green even now during one of the worst droughts in memory. Hiking on the flanks of Boney Mountain in the Santa Monica range a week ago, in an area ravaged by wildfire, I stopped to gaze at a buckwheat bush and congratulate it on its survival.
Buckwheat is but one of the species of plants that together are called “chaparral”, the brush that covers coastal California’s hillsides in areas lacking forest cover. These natives feed a very wide variety of bees and butterflies and bugs that pollinate not only the chaparral, but also the non-native species planted by humans.
If you’re looking for heaven in California, a walk through chaparral will deliver you to the throne of God at least as swiftly as will worship in a church… especially one that landscapes its property with native plants.
Lisa Novick is on a mission to do just that. She’s the Director of Outreach and K-12 Education for the Theodore Payne Foundation for Wild Flowers and Native Plants in Sun Valley, CA. An Episcopal layperson, she sees her work as a spiritual calling. And that led her to help the Throop Unitarian Universalist congregation in Pasadena and St Paul’s Lutheran church in Alhambra to convert their yards to native plantings. Throop wanted to plant fruit trees that could feed people in need. Lisa recommended a mix of California native plants that now host lots of different native pollinating insects that benefit the fruit trees. The native plants need much less water and maintenance than grass or other typical landscaping. They enhance the ecological balance of the neighborhood around the church, as well.
Lisa hopes that if a church converts, its members will catch the spirit and convert their own yards, too. “Native and edible landscaping is a way to care for one’s community and the miracle of life. It is a way to counter the food desert that large parts of our urban and suburban areas have become, both for people and wildlife. It is a way to model the mindfulness, respect and right action needed to help heal our beautiful struggling biosphere. It is a way to practice the deeply spiritual understanding that all of life is connected. It’s also a way to rebel against the conceit that we can kill life on Earth while preserving our own souls,” she writes. (See more in her recent Huffington Post article)
In the rest of the U.S., there are many congregations making the conversion. The monks of St John’s Abbey in Minnesota have stewarded its big property for many years with native trees and grasses. Trinity Covenant Church in Livonia, Michigan, has turned its yard into a gorgeous native prairie, saving $5,000 a year in lawn mowing and maintenance costs.
If you want buckwheat salvation for your church in Southern California, contact Lisa at email@example.com. Join the native plant revival!
Website: JIMBURKLO.COM Weblog: MUSINGS – tcpc.blogs.com/musings Follow me on twitter: @jtburklo
Associate Dean of Religious Life, University of Southern California