a standstill gives way. . .

by mulberryshoots

sunrise at thacher island, cape ann -- photo, a. dalton


There are periods of time when everything seems to come to a standstill. Last year was one of those times. From the autumn through the end of the year, family misunderstandings abounded. Then they took a turn for the worse. During that time, my three canaries went through their yearly moult. Silent as stones, they sat lethargically in their cages for weeks. Tiny feathers littered the floor and down floated in the air. I gave them egg food to supplement their diet; then gradually added back their usual song food. Often, it took awhile before the birds would sing again as their feathers grew back in. During this standstill, no sounds were heard at all, not even little peeps.

Two years ago, somebody gave us a good-luck money plant. It was about four inches high and sat on our kitchen windowsill. Since then, it’s had a couple of intense growth spurts. I repotted it twice and moved it into the other room as it got taller. In November, as I adjusted the support stake, the thin trunk doubled over and almost broke in half. We bandaged it with a splint taped around it, but the plant looked like it was not going to make it. Distraught, I started misting the wound where it had cracked open, four feet midway to the top, hoping that the added moisture would reach the tiny leaves above. The lower leaves began to discolor and fall off, one by one every other day.

The winter solstice arrived on December 22nd and the days began to lengthen and brighten up a little. As I cleaned the house in preparation for the holidays, I came across an old string of prayer beads made out of fossilized coral. Not knowing where to put it, I impulsively wound it around the old bronze Buddha which sat on the maple chest under the skylight. A day later, I found another string of prayer beads made of fossilized bone that I looped three times around a second Buddha, the silk tassel dangling like a pendant on the gilt statue’s chest.

One snowy day in January, I heard soft chirping noises. Short snippets of song followed. Soon, even the bird that hardly sang at all was joining the other two in song. After four months of eerie silence, a cacophony of canary song filled our rooms. Nothing had changed except the passage of time and the quality of light coming in the windows. The maidenhair fern made a comeback too. As for the money plant, we counted twelve new shoots appearing over the course of three days in the same week that the birds started singing again. As I watered the plants along the west side of the room, I also noticed that the Trader Joe orchid plants had branches of new growth with flower buds on every plant. We couldn’t believe all this was happening at once.

According to the I-Ching, a period of stagnation will eventually turn into its opposite. Change is the only thing that does not change according to this ancient book. Although I have had my share of ups and downs, it is still hard during a time of despair to have faith that things will improve again. It is human nature to worry that perhaps this time, the dark will stay forever, even though we know from experience that it is darkest before the dawn.

This dawn arrived, ushered in by a chorus of birdsong, a multitude of new leaflets on the money tree and a dozen orchid buds ready to open.

I am thankful and filled with awe. Hallelujah!