Listening for a Who…

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Peeling bark on a Manzanita

One of the children’s stories I read to my kids when they were little was Dr. Seuss’s Horton Hears a Who – where Horton (an elephant) discovers a whole world of beings too tiny to see or hear, except that Horton can hear them. He tries to protect them and is ridiculed for it because no one else is able to hear or see them.  The theme of the book is “a person’s a person, no matter how small.”  It came to mind this morning as I poked around a little woodland clearing taking pictures for a recent blog post. Down on my hands and knees taking a close-up of Shooting Star seed cups and some tiny lavender flowers in bloom right now, I noticed some perfectly built little entry holes to someone’s home – tucked into mossy humps. I think they may belong to a native bumblebee – but I don’t know. I know that the tiny purple flowers blooming around the woods right now are visited frequently by a small bumblebee. The bees seem much too big for the dainty lavender flowers which dangle from tall wispy stems – but they visit them nevertheless!

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Possible Bumblebee nest entry?

It is always a source of wonder to me that wildflowers continue to bloom into summer – in soil that hasn’t been blessed by rain for many weeks. And yet the forest floor is green with a wide array of different wildflowers through the summer! They come in little waves from February on. Some plants stay through the summer – like the little starflower plants and the Oregon Iris. Others – like the Shooting Stars – carpet the ground through late winter and spring – then slowly disappear – leaving behind the candelabra-like seed “cups”. I sometimes carefully pick a few and carry them to a place that has none – and tip the cups and sprinkle the little black seed around.  Even without my help they have slowly spread down the hill to the garden over the last 10 years.

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Shooting Star seed “cups”

The thing that struck me this morning in discovering the bumblebee homes is that we are so very oblivious of the life around us! Even in the city there are billions of creatures whose faces we never see that live all around and under us! If we had Supermans’s X-ray vision and could look at the soil beneath our feet – city or wilderness – we would, I’m sure, be astounded! Science has even discovered that our own bodies are homes to an incredible array of tiny lives who keep our body functioning properly – lives that are the very source of all life on this planet.

And the same is true of the whole planet. We truly don’t have a clue as to the role that all the seen and unseen lives around us play to keep the earth functioning and healthy. We kill things indiscriminately, never knowing the part they play in the balance of life in the eco-system around us. We are so incredibly ignorant, but believe ourselves to be wise and powerful and superior to all other life here.

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wild flowers in the orchard — sweet peas and California Asters

Our ancestors actually had a greater understanding of our true role and honored and respected the earth and its resources and the plants and creatures who share it with us.  Many also had the ability to communicate with those other lives – an ability that most industrialized humans have forgotten we possess. Some of us may still hear their voices but have been trained from a very early age to discount and ignore them. Ridicule is a most effective tool. Perhaps one day enough of us will, like Horton, truly listen when we hear a “who” speaking to us and begin once again to have conversations with the myriad “others” who share our planet with us.

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Yarrow and sweet peas


  1. Flowers and flora have been getting by just fine long before we started enjoying them in our gardens. Although most prefer to be watered, they are all native to somewhere where they were satisfied with whatever the weather gave them. I would guess that we water so much here in California is that most plants are from climates that provide more rain through the year. Yet, there are many California native plants from desert regions that rot if watered too much. The California fan palm that does so well in the arid heat of Palm Springs likes water as long as the soil is well drained and the air is warm and dry. (It lives around springs out in the desert.) It is not at all happy in humid coastal regions or in dense soil. Even though I know what they like, I am always impressed with how happy they are out in such harsh environments, and how they make the desert their home, regardless of what the rest of us might think about it.


  2. Just like plants and other living creatures we humans each have an environment we prefer and thrive in. I am so grateful that there are people who LIKE living in the city – or on the plains or in the desert. If we all loved and did best in the same environment we would be in big trouble… 🙂 It really is a challenge, I find, to keep some of the plants we love to grow (like tomatoes and summer squash) alive and happy here in my garden – in this environment… I have come to so appreciate the plants that just LOVE it here – just as it is. It’s so much less work and less stressful…


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