When we first moved to Michigan I went through a Nora Roberts novels phase. There is a part of me that feels shame about consuming literature I ought not to be proud of, so I’ll try to remedy that by saying that I was working at Mott Children’s seeing cancer patients at the time, so that those of you wanting to join in the judgment can give me a break. I had become quite an expert on celebrity gossip while working at the Denver Hospice before that, which provided me with a healthy/balancing dose of triviality. We all do what we have to in order to survive the heaviness life happens to be serving us at a particular time.
One of the things that stayed with me from her various novels was her description of the honeysuckle plant; it’s beauty, heartiness and fragrant aroma. A point I bring up often in my writing is that I grew up in a city of 15 million inhabitants with very little focus on nature in order to appeal for sympathy around my ignorance with plants, even though I am well aware there are many city dwellers that are simultaneously greatly educated in these matters.
It is impossible not to grow in awareness and fondness of nature in general, and birds and plants specifically, while living in a town like Ann Arbor. I’ve been learning things organically, without a need to study deeply, or have a specific interest in plant life (which I admit I don’t). We lucked out with a house that has a huge backyard with many trees, a small pond that hosts a snapping turtle I’ve seen only once in the eight years that we’ve been here. Ignorance got me close enough to get this photo of her. My neighbor informed me later that it wasn’t a wise move as these magnificent ancients will attack when threatened and won’t let go once they bite down—who knew?!
Anyways, all this is to prepare you to not be shocked when I tell you that my husband accidentally cut down a honeysuckle vine I had been growing for the past five years, one of my rare gardening successes. The general vibe of our backyard is that of a wildlife refuge as opposed to an exactingly groomed English garden. The birds, butterflies, bees, wasps, mosquitoes, bats, wild turkey, blue heron, deer, squirrels, chipmunks, raccoons, and moles don’t seem to mind it. I try planting one or two flowers a year to see what will take and what won’t, so it’s a trial and error method I’ve got going that fits my style—maybe it is my lifetime of schooling that has created such resistance to studying. No visitor has complemented our gardening, and that is fine by me.
This particular honeysuckle was one I had developed a heart relationship with that I was barely aware of. I would often stop by and visit with it after I walked my labyrinth, enjoying its blooms and health, despite my lack of care. Seeing it thrive always gave me a big smile that extended all the way to my heart.
The honeysuckle was doing so well that it had pulled down the trellis it was climbing, and my husband, seeing it on the floor, thought he’d do me a favor and clean it up. When he told me expecting a big thank you, what he got instead was my anger. How could he not have known that wasn’t a weed (it hadn’t had time to bloom yet), how could he not have known it was my favorite of all the flowers I’d planted over the years? I must have talked about it, I was sure! Had he never noticed my big smile after I had visited with my dear honeysuckle? His confusion was now beginning to be replaced by anger that I just couldn’t let it go. The first thing I asked him upon waking up the next morning had been whether or not he ripped out the roots, maybe my honeysuckle could grow back from it’s chopped down place, that is possible isn’t it? He said I should just go look at it to see for myself.
I finally braced myself to take an up-close look and the tears started flowing. Initially I wasn’t thinking, but somewhere in the midst of my grief, it occurred to me that I was bawling over a plant for the first time in my life. I love people and have cried over human tragedies many times. I love animals and have cried over their demise whenever an image of a beached whale, or documentary on tortured elephants manages to get past my defenses. I also cry yearly at the forest fires devastating the west coast specifically, and stories of atrocities toward our precious rainforests. I have also accidentally killed many houseplants due to under or overwatering and had learned not to get too attached to plants. So as painful as this ended up being, I was suddenly beaming at the revelation that I must have reached a new level of depth in my relationship with the plant kingdom. While I was deeply hurt that a plant I loved was damaged, I was nevertheless comforted that I had finally fallen in love with a plant.
I was working on a tree spirit painting as part of an Art of Allowing class on Mother Earth, and took all my feelings to the canvas. My love of the honeysuckle turned this Tree Spirit into a Snake charmer, reminding me of the heart connection between all things. Humans to humans, humans to animals, humans to plants, plants to animals…This will be another painting I won’t want to let go of, as it is a reminder of a deep personal transformation that was the result of many small choices that expanded over many years. Rumi says: Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it. I am forever grateful to the sweet honeysuckle for this special gift.
Sibel Ozer is a licensed professional counselor and board-certified art therapist currently doing private practice in downtown Ann Arbor. She started her career as a clinical psychologist working with earthquake survivors in Turkey. She continued her work in the United States in hospice, hospital, and private practice settings further specializing in grief, loss, and trauma. She is a certified EMDR practitioner and a graduate of the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland. She gives experiential workshops nationally and in her country of origin (Turkey) on different art therapy topics. Visit www.sibelozer.com, call (303) 905-1109, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.