We left my hometown and have come to the place where we will stay until it is time to leave Georgia, once again. It is a peaceful place with lots of trees and green space. There is a magnolia tree behind our bedroom window and it wraps the room in the loveliest green glow in the afternoons.
On our first night here we went for a walk to check out our new temporary home surroundings. I was delighted to discover a beautiful grove of Smooth Sumac (Rhus glabra) just down the way. Soon after I first began my study of plant medicine, and for several months now, I have felt strongly that I am being called to work with Sumac. It has come to me in dreams several times and the message that I intuit from them has lead me to believe that this plant, particularly, will help me to resolve some of the deeper-seeded struggles tied to my upbringing / hometown, my family and to the South as a wider source of unresolved and inherited trauma.
For a plant that is wide-spread and plentiful in many places, it has proven frustratingly elusive to me. I have found a single shrub here or a stand on the side of the interstate there, but never plentiful in a place that I felt comfortable harvesting. The day before we left for our recent trip to Ottawa, I found a small stand of it in an auspicious place. It was just down the road from the day care center I attended before kindergarten, now defunct and in disrepair. I had been out on a last minute harvest of mimosa flowers that morning and came by it unexpectedly on my way home. I was so excited to finally find a harvest spot! I gratefully took a small amount and told myself I'd be back after my trip.
In Ottawa, I discovered that another type of sumac (Staghorn, Rhus typhina) grows literally everywhere in huge bountiful swaths, but with no way to legally bring any back with me I had to content myself with a smile and a self-reminder that I'd be able to harvest at my sweet lil' auspicious spot when I got back to Georgia. Unfortunately, that chance never materialized. When I went back, the sumac was nowhere to be found. Those beautiful plants had practically jumped out at me before, but now -- nothing. I looked around, down at the ground and then could see the remnants. Every last one of those sumac plants had been chopped down and mowed over. I couldn't understand why someone would do that -- especially because they had left other, less "ornamental" brush just beyond where it had been. It was upsetting, but I knew that we would be leaving my hometown soon and I would find a better place to harvest once we landed in the next town. And so it was that when I came upon a massive grove just steps from our front door on our first night here, I couldn't help but feel like there was a touch of providence involved. We had come to the right place and this was where I would finally begin my work with this medicine.
That same evening, a rain storm came through. It wasn't that bad; mostly rain and not much wind, but it was enough to bring down a giant Northern Red Oak that stood behind the sumac grove. The oak buried the grove and so now only roughly 1/3 remains standing. Part of that is now also shouldering the weight of several downed branches and so there is a chance the rest of the grove will also now fail.
As someone who finds meaning in just about everything, when I allowed the more underlying implications to sink in, I couldn't help but wonder if this was some big cosmic joke. What is the reason for this and what does it mean given the personal context as relates to my struggles with where I am from? Since coming back to Georgia, I have had a very difficult time trying to reconcile who I am today with the person I could have been, had I never left my hometown. I've been trying to find common ground with the tribe I was born to -- even when parts of it are rife with unapologetic racism, deep ignorance and moral hypocrisy.
I try to make my peace, but what if the only peace to be found is in walking away? This is different than running without first examining the reasons for running in the first place. It's seeing a thing for what it is, and knowing your heart and the incompatibility between the two, you then create a boundary there. Is that the lesson I am here to learn this time around? To salvage what I can, cut my losses and then move on? To accept what I cannot change?
It is a difficult lesson, but I guess that's why it was made into a prayer.
(Photo below: Smooth Sumac, Rhus glabra, in flower. Griffin, GA. Copyright: Vanessa P.)