We Are Fireweed

Fireweed Mountain by Seth Patrick Martin

This was the message I shared at our first “All Community Worship” at Guilford College since before the pandemic.

I am grateful for this opportunity to building multifaith community on Campus. The Quaker roots of Guilford College allows for and nourishes this rich tapestry of religious identities to thrive at the college. I believe like other identities we carry with us, our religious identities are essential to who we are. So, again, I am grateful for this space to explore those questions, identities, and learn from one another.

Moment of Silence

I want to be like Fireweed.

Years ago, while my family and I were still living in the Pacific Northwest, I met a Quaker folk-singer, close in age to myself, who has continued to be a source of inspiration for me.

Seth Martin is his name, and you can find his music on Bandcamp if you’re interested. I love Seth’s music because it blend of deeply spiritual music, traditional folk tunes, old camp songs, and original music he’s written that can be both hopeful and prophetic. I would say that most of Seth’s music is most inspired by Quaker spirituality and the crises of ecological devastation, poverty, empire, and white supremacy of today – so like I said, I like it.

But there is one song in particular that has become a kind of sacred text for me over the years: Fireweed Mountain.

Two images side by side of fireweed. A purplish, pink flower that is tall and kind of narrow or cone shaped in form. The image on the left is a close up of one flower, while the image on the right is a field of flowers with mountains in the backdrop.
Image of Fireweed – Credits below

I didn’t really notice Fireweed before Seth brought my attention to it, and then I began to see it everywhere. You know how that is, where you don’t really notice a thing until someone brings it to your attention and then you have a hard time not-seeing it.

Fireweed is like that for me.

Fireweed is a beautiful wildflower that grows in higher altitudes and mountainous regions. In and around where we lived in Washington, it is very abundant. Often growing up around the highways and old worn out parking lots of abandoned shopping plazas.

Every time I saw it, I felt like I was seeing it for the first time.

That may strike you as a little unusual:

Why is seeing something fairly common exciting – [you might ask is my life really that boring?]

I think in part, it helped me in my practice of being awake and noticing the life all around me.

As Seth sings in the song:

I stop and breathe and put down my machines, and I hear them sing, and I hear them sing.

Seth Martin – Fireweed Mountain

Anything can help us pay a little more attention – hearing bird song, noticing trees, offering gratitude for the people we come across, recognizing and identifying wildflowers all helps us be more present in this moment.

I call these things “spiritual technology” – tools that help us develop our awareness and other spiritual muscles.

Fireweed is like that for me.

But there’s something else that is equally interesting:

Fireweed is special bc of what it does.

It is a healer crop.

It grows up in devastated places, in places scorched by the flame of fire, annihilated by the eruption of volcanos, or smothered by the winds and rains of increasing climate devastation.

Fireweed is a catastrophe crop.

Mount Saint Helens [Loowit] after its eruption in 1980 was covered with Fireweed.

After death, comes Fireweed, growing up through the devastation and healing the soil around it so that new life can re-emerge.

Fireweed nourishes environments that looks like a waste of time and energy to nourish.

In other words, before there is hope, or a new plan for how everything will be made right, Fireweed gently but assertively comes in and does the necessary work of bringing about resurrection and new life in the “more-than-human world.”

But Fireweed is also known to have healing properties for humans.

For instance, Native Americas used it medicinally for inflammation, but it could also treat burns and draw out infection. If you eat it it is a source of vitamin C and A. (See Link)

Now do you see why every time I see Fireweed in the wild I feel like I am witnessing a miracle.

What resurrection work is this Fireweed up to right before my eyes today?

In preparation for today I was surprised to learn that:

“In the United Kingdom [fireweed] is also known as bombweed, as a result of its rapid appearance on city bomb sites during the Blitz of World War II.”

Chamaenerion angustifolium

It is known to help speed up recovery in areas that have been burned or heavily logged.

Here’s another quote:

“Fireweed can quickly establish itself across the landscape and prevent further damage, while providing a blanket of vegetation for recovering fauna to create new habitats in and for pollinators to foster the re-establishment of a diverse set of flora.”

Chamaenerion angustifolium

I wonder if Malvina Reynolds knew about Fireweed when she wrote the words to her classic folk tune:

God Bless the grass:

God bless the grass that grows thru the crack
They roll the concrete over it to try and keep it back
The concrete gets tired of what it has to do
It breaks and it buckles and the grass grows thru
And God bless the grass

Malvina Reynolds

I hear echoes of Jesus in Fireweed when he said in the Gospel of John (12:24)

Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much [a]grain.

Jesus

Fireweed reminds me of the possibility of renewal and resurrection that is all around us all the time.

This flower has become for me a symbol of what is possible in the wake of devastation and catastrophe.

These are themes that are not only true in the natural world but in the spiritual one as well.


So what would it mean for us to be like Fireweed?

First, I think about what does it mean for me to find healing and renewal. What do I need to be able to grow or grow again?

Then I think about us as a community:

What would it look like to be able to say that we are the kind of people, the kind of community, the kind of organization, that is known to “help speed up recovery in areas that have been burned…?”

How can we be a community of healing, forgiveness, love, and nourishment.

In recent time we have faced our own burning.
We have individually been met with catastrophe.
We have collectively – as humans sharing this planet, and as a community – faced many challenges.

I know that it can be hard when we have been scorched, when we hurt, to think about things like healing, forgiveness, and resurrection.

So what work do I need to do to continue my own healing and nourishing process?

What is my Fireweed?

And what would it look like for me, and for us, to be like Fireweed in the communities we are a part of?

How can I become like Fireweed?

What resurrection work is this Fireweed up to right before my eyes today?


Image Credits:

  1. First Image – Link
  2. Second Image – Link

Ways to Connect with Wess:

If you like this post and/or have feedback you’d like to share you can connect with me on Mastadon: @wess@writing.exchange or through the Contact

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