It was another quiet walk this morning. I was anxious to visit the dayflower I had seen yesterday to see if it was true that the bloom only lasted one day. But as you can tell by comparing this morning’s photo (above) with the one I took yesterday (below) …
It was true! The tiny bright pedals were gone a mere 24 hours later. There wasn’t even any trace they had ever been there at all. So it felt really special that I got to appreciate it for its short but inspiring life, especially since I should never have seen it in the first place (since it was an invasive species that belongs in Asia, not in America).
Less inspiring, however, was what I found instead. I usually pick up a few pieces of litter at some point along my walk and deposit them in one of the two trashcans along my trail. Today, though, was ridiculous:
You can’t see everything from the photo, but that’s an empty bag of grapes, an empty plastic container of mixed munchy snacks, a Wendy’s bag and a Chick Fil-A straw wrapper, a Bass Pro Shop receipt, an empty wipes container, an empty plastic water container, several caps, and some other human detritus.
So I wasn’t feeling too charitable about my fellow humans. I knew it was Labor Day, but the labor I had planned for today wasn’t picking up everyone else’s garbage. I left it in trashcan #1, figuring maybe it was supposed to make me grateful for the workers who take care of the trash in my life. Unfortunately, I was thinking it, but wasn’t feeling it.
I started reflecting on the nature of Labor Day. These days, it’s not remotely related to what it was supposed to celebrate, which was US blue collar workers. To the extent American workers were mentioned at all in the news, it was to talk about how many prominant companies whose carefully-currated brands include “principled” stands on behalf of progressive causes, such as LBGQT+ rights and racial and gender equity and reducing their carbon footprint and embracing alternative energy sources, that are VEHEMENTLY resisting their employees’ attempts to unionize. Yep, Amazon, Starbucks, Chipotle, and even my beloved Apple are all strongly anti-union. So, yeah, Labor Day is not a celebration of Labor.
I got to thinking it’s a weird holiday because these days, it is mostly seen as a farewell to summer. However, mostly we Americans don’t like endings; we like beginnings. So we celebrate Christ’s birth and his resurrection, or we celebrate (totally hypocritically) our gratitude for the Native People who kept our original settlers from dying since they didn’t know how to feed themselves in the new land, or Columbus for “discovering” our continent (also a falsehood), or heroes like veterans or Dr. King. We celebrate the start of our democracy, and recently began celebrating the start of freedom for slaves in Texas. But endings…we don’t celebrate them that much.
When I was growing up in Northern Virginia suburbs outside of DC, it was an exciting holiday for us because it meant the beginning of the new school year. Little nerds that we were, we couldn’t wait to go back to school! We loved our new notebooks or new lunchboxes or new boxes of crayons or markers or colored pencils, and looked forwards to the new teachers and classmates we would have and all the new things we would learn in the coming year. Honestly, Labor Day was almost as exciting as Christmas for us. Like I said, we were little learner nerds.
But here in Research Triangle NC, so many of the students go to year-round schools that many kids are in school all summer long. Even the schools that go by the “traditional” 9-month calendar start two weeks before Labor Day. So here it is our “last” summer BBQ and our “last” day at the pools before they are closed for fall (although it is plenty warm here to stay open through September at least), or our “last” trip to the beach (again, September and even October are great months to visit the Carolina shores), and so on. My son and husband are both out of town this year, so I’m not having our usual “last” BBQ. So Labor Day was just seeming weird to me this year.
Then I discovered something that really made me mad:
It was a cluster of iridescent ribbon that probably came off a package. It’s bad enough for people to just throw down their trash along the greenway (which I think of as Nature’s home, although obviously it was built by humans for human’s use). It’s thoughtless, but what can I say? People do it.
The trouble is stuff like this is really attractive to some birds and other animals who think it is a worm or something tasty and so they eat it. But they can’t digest it, so it can make them sick or even kill them. If you are being a lazy slob, that’s one thing. But if you are dropping trash that can damage the animals who lives in these woods…well, I’m not OK with that.
So I bent over and picked up all the stray ribbons I could find. On my way to the next trash can, I found this:
It felt like a message from the birds saying “Thank you for taking the time to pause your walk and to bend over and pick up these things that could injure our children.” I just felt so connected with these bird mommas that it brought tears to my eyes. I threw the stuff away and released the feather to the wind, thinking maybe it would make some creature’s nest or den softer and warmer, since colder weather is coming. I felt amply rewarded for a task that had annoyed me so much earlier.
But little did I know that Mother Earth had yet another treasure in store for me.
A little further down the path, I found this:
It was two pieces of snake skin! I’ve occasionally found snake skin before, but it has always been dry and papery. This one was still moist and supple, so its former owner must have just discarded it. What a discovery!
I brought it home to measure it, which turned out to be difficult because there was a breeze blowing and I had to use one hand to take the pictures and one hand to hold the skin and the measuring tape, so my photos aren’t very good:
But all together, the skin measured over two feet, so that was a good-sized snake. The treasure, however, wasn’t the snake skin itself. The treasure was the lesson of the snake skin.
Snakes shed their skin because it doesn’t grow like their muscles do. So they must get rid of the old skin in order to get bigger. Also, it’s hard for snakes to clean at least some parts of themselves, so shedding their skin also allows them to rid themselves of parasites and other things they might have picked up but aren’t really good for them.
Shedding their skin is not a quick or easy task for a snake. The whole process can take more than a week. They basically try to find a rocky places to squeeze their bodies through with the hope that the rough surface of the rocks will peel off their unwanted old skins. But they need to get it all off, because if they leave patches, those can become “glued” to the new skin, which makes the snake less healthy. Also, it is a very vulnerable time for them, because they have to remove the skin over their eyelids. During that process, cloudy hard scales cover their eyes, making it hard or impossible for them to see. It’s a dangerous time during a snake’s life, and they will attact blindly if they feel threatened. If you ever encounter a venomous snake in the process of shedding, just get away as quickly and quietly as possible, because it is when they are most likely to be aggressive.
So I knew this was an answer to my earlier question about the Labor Day holiday. It isn’t about the end of summer, at least not exactly; it’s about the beginning of autumn. However, as the snake skin reminded me, autumn is the season of letting go…so maybe it’s the same thing.
As a teacher who follows a more traditional calendar, summer is my most leasurely season. I had a good summer, I really did. I saw lots of friends and family and got settled into my new home and made progress on many projects. But, as always, there were also many things I had planned that didn’t get done. I know snake is telling me, Let it go.
I also know I have to look at the bigger picture. What things am I still clinging to that are inhibiting my growth, that are helping to keep me small? Just as yesterday’s dayflower brought to mind Mary Oliver, today’s snake skin is reflecting my favorite quote from Marianne Williamson’s A Return to Love:
Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.
My Labor Day weekend had no parties, no BBQs, no last dips in the pool or in the ocean. But it gave the gifts of a 24 hour flower that forced me to think about how I spend my limited time here and a discarded snake skin that chided me about my reluctance to let go of what isn’t working for me anymore and to claim my greatness. How to put that into practice? Well, that will be the focus of my meditation walks for the immediate future…
Still, I end my day in great gratitude for all the lessons Nature has served me this weekend. Thank you, Mother Earth. I’m working on living up to your wisdom.