Story and images by Sue Wasserman
Have you ever heard the expression “when the student is ready the teacher appears?” A healer, who became a dear friend and mentor, shared this wisdom from Lao Tzu many years ago. Back then, however, I always assumed the teacher would be human.
Never in my wildest dreams would I have imagined my greatest instructor would be Mother Nature. Her lessons have been as varied as they are compelling—and sometimes even lifechanging. Of course, since this student isn’t always ready, there are times I need to repeat some of those lessons to understand and embody the intended gifts.
Seeing the first patches of Indian Cucumber Root these last few weeks led me to revisit one such lesson. About this time of year seven or eight years ago, I was staring at a patch along a favorite Blue Ridge Parkway trail, trying to figure out how to capture the flower, which typically sits beneath a set of whorled petals. Given this unique blossom’s size and somewhat obscured location, it’s one that’s often missed. I wanted to share it with friends so they might know to look for it.
As I stood there contemplating, I heard this voice in my head say, “take a step back.” I think I was so shocked I followed instructions without giving it a second thought. I was even more shocked to discover that this step back gave me just the perspective I needed. That little extra distance helped me harness the sunlight to bring out the flower’s fabulously funky features.
The thought continued to sink in even after I’d captured the image. Take a step back. Hmmm. Having severed ties with the small marketing firm I moved to Asheville to work with, I was struggling to figure out how I was going to cobble together a living. Perhaps I could apply this same principle of taking a step back to the “bigger picture.” That advice couldn’t have been timed any better. It helped me step out of the stress of the moment.
I recounted this story just the other day as I pointed out the plant and flower to neighbors with whom I was wandering (from a distance, of course). The message hit home again as I thought about my current life situation. Yes, Covid-19 temporarily took away my writing residency in Great Smoky Mountains National Park and most of my paying projects. But then I took that proverbial step back.
Before the “you know what” hit the fan, I had just moved into an apartment in a nature-rich intentional community. Had everything gone according to plan, I would have barely settled in before heading to the Smokies. I would have missed exploring spring in this new place. Since being somewhat grounded, I’ve been getting to know a few of the neighbors as well as the community’s wildflower-rich trails. I feel more settled, rooted. I’ve had the opportunity to see and share some flowers neighbors hadn’t noticed before and been given the opportunity to reflect on my strengths as a guide who inspires people find the wonder in nature, something I’d like to do more of. The more I see, the more I percolate on prospective project ideas.
The key is being open to the possibilities. Nature offers such a relaxed environment, one that makes it easy to ponder in peace. Who knows what lessons or ideas the flowers may have in store for you?