More than one hundred million years before the birth of the first human ancestor. Long, long before Pier Magnol, in a time before bees were even being, trees we now call magnolia began their lives on Earth. Their spiraled flower parts and primordial petals setting them apart from their fellow angiosperms, and forever marking them as ancient forbear of dogwood, plum, and crampbark, oak, birch, and lemon.
I envisage dinosaurs anticipating the bloom and feasting on its ephemeral flowers. A pack of stegosaurus, sensing with the secret knowing we all possess, that some miles away, fuzzy buds are filling. As they travel, pointed petals part those wooly cheeks and slowly reveal their fragrant throats.
Used as medicine by humans for thousands of years to calm the spirit and uplift the mood, it is not a long hypothesis that the flowers could have a similar effect on other animals. And what of the streams upon which they float, as the blossoms give way to fruit?
I can’t speak for the water, but I do know how it feels to have petals strewn across me, scattered by spring winds. Learning from a squirrel, I know the aromatic crisp sponge of the petals on my tongue. Imagine a time when humans knew, instinctually and by learning from others, what was good to eat, which flowers blessed a new born, which tree to be buried beneath. For most of human history, this was our experience, the language of the living land coursing through us.
This shared language was proof of our divine connection with all of creation. Without it, we are lonesome. Having forgotten the secret inexplicable knowing that weaves us into the web of life, we are estranged. Humans who feel unloved by the world behave without compassion, without reciprocity, without humility. If we allow ourselves to feel this terrible sadness, if we let the tears come with abandon, we might taste the old words in our mouths.
If we want to speak magnolia again, and I do, if we want to feel the buds budding, we must listen. Her voice is soft and gentle, her medicine easy to swallow. There’s not a human who can look upon a tree of blossoms without marveling at the beauty, not one who can pass beneath M. alba without breathing deeply of its perfume.
If you get close enough, perhaps you’ll experience what I have – the visceral sensation of a blooming heart, effervescent joy spreading over your soft face, a deep belonging pulled up through the bottom of your feet. Watching the Earth change, flower to seed to seedling, 3,000 times longer than humans have lived, it is not so hard to believe that magnolias have joy, compassion, and peace far beyond what we can bring up alone.
This isn’t some esoteric art form or an excerpt from erotic literature; this is simply the power of human curiosity, and the openness and tenderness with which the world greets us. Nor is it a gift only for ascetics and naturalists; it is a human birthright. It is born through us when we explore the world with awakened senses. I believe our future, yours and mine, and the Earth’s one hundred million years from now, depends on us learning to sense the magnolias preparing to blossom.