Gifts of the Spring Equinox

Ever had to begin again? Start anew? It’s a lot of hard work, isn’t it? Leaving the past behind. But it’s a time effervescent with possibility. A newness to be wholly trusted.

For thousands of years, the spring equinox has come bearing gifts of renewal, rebirth, and reawakening to us and the emerging landscape. The word “equinox” actually means “equal night” in Latin. It’s one of only two days out of the whole year when the earth’s 23.5 degree axis is not tilting toward or away from the sun. The sun shines completely perpendicular to the equator, at a right angle. Dark and light are available for roughly the same amount of time, existing in a state of total balance, and the seasons shift. Light takes the lead.

The renewal of life is one of mother nature’s greatest teachers. Want to know how I found that out? Years ago, I found myself trying to put myself back together after a mental and physical trauma. I was lucky enough both to be recuperating over the spring months and to live in an area where I had access to a park. Before then, spring had just been a season, like all the rest. But that spring, I woke up. It felt like I was seeing the earth for the first time. That spring, I had to stop and examine every flower, tree, shoot, and bush. It felt like mother nature was leading me by the hand from one to another, revealing herself to me all at once, and the earth came alive. From my disabled state, I experienced something I never had before: the underlying magic of spring. I was changed, more connected to nature than ever before. It forged an unforgettable reverence and hope in my soul, leaving me with a deep appreciation for the gift life’s renewals really are, both inside and out.

Throughout history, the spring equinox has been heralded and celebrated worldwide. The Persian
calendar, still used by Iran and Afghanistan today, celebrates the “equinoctial new year,” marked by a 13-day festival, as the first day of the year. In India, the famous Holi festival, signifying the triumph of good over evil, where revelers cover one another with brightly colored powdered paint, is celebrated at the spring equinox. And Easter and Passover, two of the most widely celebrated spring religious holidays, are both determined by the timing of the spring equinox.

You bet it’s a time to celebrate! We don’t have to bow to the powers of winter anymore! Watching the
earth reclaim herself every year never gets old. She shifts us from turning inward, hunkering down in
place, “wintering,” to coming outside into a universe teaming with life, working the land, gathering and growing together. The snow melts and the ground softens, leading us, once again, to abide in a reciprocal relationship with the earth. What we sow, we reap.

Around Hope Grows, we make room for the new by starting seeds, pulling weeds, raking leaves, removing dead stalks, and integrating fresh compost into the soil. Come Memorial Day, we want to be ready to PLANT.

As spring draws us outside in the next few months, it’s a great time to create space for the gifts of
the equinox in our own spiritual landscape. What will you leave behind under the covers of winter?
What newness will you cultivate? What seeds are you going to sow, inside and out? It’s a great time to clean out anything that is no longer serving your highest good, and an even better time to choose something you’ve always wanted to do and start. Setting intentions during this time can be very powerful.

When the sun’s new light of spring dawns, what new thing is it going to nourish? Think of a seed
germinating, cracking its shell, breaking open, and let light take the lead.

Written by Jessica Giannotta, Hope Grows Horticulturist

Reflections from the Iris Respite House Healing Gardens September 2023

“The earth laughs in flowers.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Laughter knows no bounds. Like the natural world, it serves to connect. Truth and innocence often carry it. It can serve to link us together when we least expect it, even in the scariest of moments, and the best ones are simply unforgettable. We need good laughs, like we need each other. It’s part of what connects us as humans. And, in today’s market of stress-relieving products, it can ease suffering without costing a cent.

The therapeutic effects of laughter on the mind and body are well documented. It’s a powerful healer. The next time you laugh so hard you pee your pants, think about this: a hearty laugh ripples through the motor cortex, which is involved in muscle control (including the bladder!), the frontal lobe (which helps one understand context), and the limbic system (which modulates positive emotions). It creates social bonds, builds resiliency, facilitates intimacy, increases immune cells and antibodies, relieves tension and stress, and can lower levels of anxiety and depression. As someone who has battled high levels of anxiety, I can vouch for how much genuine laughter can temper it. Even better: you can never overdose!

Like bouquets of flowers, good laughs always leave you wanting more. I discovered that the physiological benefits of laughter actually parallel the ones experienced by people who are enjoying a bouquet of flowers, even more so if they spend any amount of time arranging them. They both can trigger the release of dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin, the “feel better hormones,” as well as reduce levels of cortisol, the “stress hormone.” They both serve to create social bonds, facilitate an appreciation for life, can lower anxiety, and help lift depression. Looks like Emerson had it right!

This fall, as you enjoy the earth’s autumnal laughter of flowers, see if you can spot some autumn crocuses. They have a chalice shaped flower, like that of the spring blooming crocus, but autumn crocus flowers are a bit larger. My favorite part of this plant is the unique quality of blooming long after the foliage has died back, like resurrection lilies. That’s how autumn crocuses got the common name “naked ladies,” since it’s only the flower that comes up in the fall. To anyone who didn’t know the plant, with such a long stretch of time in between foliage dye back and the “naked” flowers, it could be one of the earth’s more unexpected autumn laughs.

Genuine laughter, like great music, can’t be forced. It has to move through you from the inside out. That’s why, when it’s real, it’s such a gift. And it almost always has a great story behind it. I leave you with this: I’ve been writing this month’s blog from a cabin in the woods where my extended family has gathered for the week to celebrate my dad’s 80th birthday. After a day of hiking, I had the door shut, my laptop open, and was researching the health benefits of laughter when my cousin came in the room. After chatting calmly with me for a few moments, her facial expression changed drastically when she felt what she was sure was a tick bite her on her rearend. Mind you, she was completely covered from the mid-neck down. I don’t know how any insect would have even gotten beyond her outer layer of clothing. Nevertheless, without wasting a moment, she dropped her pants in a panic right in front of me and had to make sure there were no ticks attached to her in any way. Turns out it had been a piece of plastic that had gotten lodged in her underwear! We both laughed so hard it hurt. When I finally caught my breath, before my oxytocin levels had come down, I marveled at the moment. Innocence and truth had us riding the waves of laughter once again. And my anxiety? Nowhere in sight.

Written by Jessica Giannotta, Hope Grows Horticulturist

Reflections from the Iris Respite House Healing Gardens August 2023

Apple trees are ominous. They’re not just for food. They bear the tempter’s power. Don’t hang out around them. If you do, eat at your own risk. Mythologically speaking, apples have earned the right to be feared. One bite and you lose your innocence. A gateway to darkness.

Nutritionally speaking, though, apples lose that power. Packed with 400 phytochemicals, 10% of the daily recommended dose of vitamin C, high in water and fiber (making them both hydrating and filling), apples are the picture of health. There is data to support them lowering the risk of heart disease, cancer, and diabetes; aiding in weight loss; and promoting the growth of good gut bacteria. This is something you want to put in your body, daily! That said, Eve certainly wasn’t tempted by all of the phytonutrients God had been denying her. Instead, it was the knowledge of good and evil, the promise that “your eyes will be opened and you will be like God.” (Genesis 3:5)

Ever struggle with temptation? A trip to the dark side? A decision you regret, one made out of blindness, pleasure-seeking, or, God forbid, ill will? Who hasn’t? So often, we think it’s a way out of misery, when in the end, it always ends up yielding more turbulence. The struggle is just as real as all those phytochemicals you find in every bite. Sometimes it’s anger, sometimes it’s pride, sometimes it’s just pure selfishness. No matter what the reason, falling to temptation has always taught me some higher lesson about how great the disparity actually is between God’s will and my own desires. His ways, I have learned, really are much, much higher than ours. The fallout, loss of wisdom, light, grace, and momentum from any temptation drives that home unforgettably.

Have you ever tried to find yourself? A journey rife with temptation and blind alleys. I used to get too angry, too often. Simmer and boil. However, thanks to a prayer life, and a benevolent and loving God, once I realized an infuriating situation was not just about me, that there were other minds, experiences, and souls involved, whom God also loved very much, I started to get over it more easily. When I’m tempted to get angry about something, it’s often because I’m not seeing the whole picture. And once I do, the fire quells a bit. This doesn’t mean I am without anger, not at all. It just means I can see a little more of reality than I could before. My eyes have been opened.

One of the lessons that the Hope Grows gardens have taught me about temptation is to feed myself. I have always been tempted to blow my body off until I can’t anymore, often prioritizing something else in lieu of stopping to eat so I can get more done. Or, eating something without any merit (unlike raw apples, of course) for pleasure or just to keep moving. During the growing season at Hope Grows, I’ll sometimes find myself with extra cucumbers, peppers, or tomatoes that need to be eaten. If I’m hungry enough, I’ll wash them and eat them on the spot.

I grew up in a city apartment, so aside from an occasional backyard tomato plant, I wasn’t picking fresh veggies. If you’ve never eaten something fresh off the vine, I urge you to volunteer at a local farm. I do believe if everyone had access to fresh picked fruits and vegetables, levels of illness would take a marked downturn. The amount of healing energy that one ingests with a freshly picked vegetable or fruit never fails to stop me in my tracks. It’s still vibrating with the sun’s love and the earth’s energy, leaving me all the more fortified and able to proceed in my work. The physiological return on the investment of time it takes to stop and feed myself, with fresh food, is far higher than not taking the time to eat. Once again, my eyes have been opened.

Growing apple trees requires patience. They take 4-8 years to produce their first fruits. But they are worth the wait. An apple tree in full bloom is one of spring’s most gorgeous sights, sweet smelling and a delight to the pollinators. In the years to come, I would actually love to see apple trees, maintained of course, have a greater presence in our urban landscapes. Not only for the pleasure of their beauty and yummy fruit, but simply to offer abundant natural reminders to seek God’s will in all matters and choose wisely.

Written by Jessica Giannotta, Hope Grows Horticulturist