Tales of Love and Mystery in Beltane’s Blooms

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By Maria Padhila

Once again, I noticed on a run through the woods that there were tulip poplar flowers under my feet. They’re blooming early again.

Poly Paradise at Burning Man. Photo by Eric.

Tulip poplars are tall, broad, covered with wide leaves, a great provider of shade in the canopies of the DMV parks. Because they’re so big, and because their flowers are mostly green (though they have lovely yellow and pink or even bright orange features) it’s really easy not to notice them. You often see them only after they’ve fallen to the ground. The cherry trees are as showy as a general at a state dinner, the dogwoods bloom right at eye level, redbuds are neon ravers, and the magnolias are just plain huge.

But it’s from the tulip poplar that the bees in this area get enormous amounts of nectar. I never thought that bees would fly that high — you think of bees as on a par with the flowers you see around you in the garden — but they head for the tops of the trees and gather it from the flowers. The flowers are so full of nectar that it drips from the cuplike petals. If you were a kid who ran around a lot in the woods, they were one of your food sources along with the honeysuckle (invasive, where the poplars are native).

But as the researcher in this NASA article noted, the trees are blooming earlier each year. This is messing up the bees, and so it’s messing us up, too. I feel like it messes up my own rhythms to see these flowers more in May than in June. Two years back, when I first started noticing it, I wrote about it:


From early on, I stopped paying
Attention to the numbers
Of books lent, kisses given
And received, numbers of nights spent
Crying, either on each other’s sofas
Or in each other’s arms, or beers,
Or any rounds passed around–
The return on keeping
Track of these is mean.

But track I did the phases
Of the moon, the path of sun,
The rise and fall of bodies
Of water, the week to expect
Certain fruits and flowers,
When to look for mud or drought
Or storms. The earth’s clockwork
Fueled my faith in abundance.
I knew more would be given.
On Beltane, at my feet lay
A nectar-sticky tulip poplar flower,
A full month before blooms of other years,
A full month before the bees
(Fewer every year) come to harvest,
And I felt the outrage of betrayal.

In seeing the seasons themselves go haywire, I feel what I think those who are not poly might in feeling like their relationships, or how they define relationships, change. Most of us expect constancy in relationships, that they always continue under the same terms, ignoring bright young Juliet’s counsel about the inconstant moon. If you say you are a certain way, or have a certain relationship established, you want it to continue under the same terms.

But I don’t expect that from people or relationships, and I guess I shouldn’t expect it from the natural world, either. What I know is that people change — and not in the cyclic way of the seasons. And what I commit to is giving them space for these changes.

Last week we saw a man who had been engaged to a woman for several years come out as gay very publicly: Jason Collins (yay, Washington DC) of the NBA. Coming out is exciting; there’s a burst of energy there and it can surely be helpful for others. But I don’t hold anything against those who, like myself and the other tulip poplar flowers, hide in plain sight. Anyone who chooses to look can see sweetness there, but the flowers aren’t showy and they’re easy to overlook. For some, it’s a necessity of keeping their lives going — would that it weren’t — and for others, it’s simply that they don’t want to call attention to themselves. For a small group such as pro athletes, it might be necessary to actively hide their identity, a trade-off many still seem willing to make.

Those who are used to being ‘out there’ have, if they’re smart, devised a delicate balance between maintaining their identity and putting all their business out on the street. The recent flapadoodle around actor and director Jada Pinkett Smith’s Facebook posts about her marriage are a case in point. She and Will Smith have often been the topic of ‘open marriage’ gossip over the years.

It hasn’t seemed to have hurt their careers any — hell, if Will Smith can survive The Wild Wild West, he can survive anything. Their children don’t seem to be hurting from it; one of their daughters, Willow, who has had some success in music and videos, recently declared that she decided to turn down performing opportunities for a while, because she wanted to be “just a kid.” That, to me, is evidence of one amazing child (and good parenting), though of course no one can judge from just one piece of celebrity gossip. Which is sort of her mom’s point as well, as can be seen from this close reading posted on The Root:

Professor Jada Pinkett Smith is back in the building, and class is in session. Continuing her online university-esque lecture series disguised as Facebook posts on everything from haters and bullying to goddess energy and last-resort lesbianism, Pinkett Smith recently sort of addressed the persistent rumors of her alleged open marriage to fellow actor Will Smith.

“Do we believe loving someone means owning them? Do we believe that ownership is the reason someone should ‘behave’? Do we believe that all the expectations, conditions and underlying threats of ‘you better act right or else’ keep one honest and true?” asked Pinkett Smith in true Socratic method form, attempting to school folks through pointed debate and questioning.

She continued, “Here is how I will change my statement … Will and I BOTH can do WHATEVER we want, because we TRUST each other to do so. This does NOT mean we have an open relationship … this means we have a GROWN one,” then signed off with a simple, “Siempre, J.” For some, the actress-director’s post led to more questions than it answered.

But does she have to answer any at all?

To me, the answer is no. She doesn’t even ‘have’ to be an actress or director. And she’s probably going to get more attention and controversy for her executive producer role in the new Angela Davis biography than for her marriage, particularly in light of recent events. At least for now, it’s more dangerous to call out redbaiting, racism and similar shadow-puppets as threats to civil rights than it is to declare that trust is needed for a ‘grown’ relationship.

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One Response to Tales of Love and Mystery in Beltane’s Blooms

  1. Lizzy Lizzy says:

    Thanks for this lovely, wise piece, Maria, and the beautiful nature analogy.

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