Around here, we call Beltane, May Day, and it wouldn't be May Day without Mennonites. Each year at this time, we take a drive to a local Mennonite nursery and purchase the plants with which I revive my garden. I suppose I could buy my plants at any nursery. I could also, I suppose, grow them from seed myself, but then that wouldn't feel like May Day. Somehow, it is the Mennonite folks who make the day seem authentic to me. I wonder how the Mennonites would feel if they knew they were a part of my Pagan holiday. I doubt they would approve, but as I often go among them in a long skirt and a kerchief on my head, they probably don't suspect a thing.
Honestly, I can't say why the local Mennonite community has become so much a part of my spiritual landscape. We hold very few religious views in common. And I only say "very few" because it is more polite than saying "Nothing". I know they are theologically conservative, while I'm a liberal. I know they believe in prescribed roles for men and women while I believe that a person should, as the old Free to Be You and Me Album says, "do what she likes to and not just what other folks say." Perhaps I crave time among the Mennonites because I am a plain-ish sort of person, and often wish I could just chuck it all and don the Mennonite garb, hang my laundry on my line, and forget that I went to graduate school, forget that I have obligations to the world outside my home, and, while I'm at it, forget the 21st century too.
In any case, we drive to a Mennonite nursery in the countryside where we've bought our plants year after year. In our travels, we admire other Mennonite businesses. There's the bicycle shop, a clothing store where they sell collarless men's suits, bonnets, and girls' calico dresses. We admire the farmhouses, the green fields, the boys and girls on bicycles, and the horse-drawn buggies. After the long, New York winter, even the pale sun that filters through a clouded sky is welcome. It warms us so that we throw off our jackets, thankful to leave them in the car as we converge on the nursery.
My children are like shoots of young life, riotous tendrils of green twisting and climbing away from me. They want to touch and smell everything. A few words, some gentle, and some sharp draw them back to me and remind them of their manners. The nursery is never crowded so I can simply say, "Boys, " in a warning tone and they return to my side, or to that of their father, a bit deflated, but none the worse for wear. Soon, they are wandering off again in search of tomato plants, ceramic frogs, and gazing balls. They want to fill the giant cart with plants, and I'd happily obige if I only had the money to do so. I fuss over the plants doing mental calculations within the budgeted confines of garden wall and bank book. Even so, we always spend too much. But such a glorious expense! I can hardly make myself mind.
Finally, when the car is full of fragrance and flower (and the dark soil is spilling over onto the seats of the car), we go home where we set our cardboard boxes full greens, and pinks, reds, purples, yellows, and orange inside our little fenced in garden. For the next many days, there is the process of planting, transplanting, and garden-scaping. The garden gnome who has spent his winter peering at me from under a table in my living room takes his place outside between the strawberry plants where he presides throughout the summer.
I think gnomes might also be plain people. It seems to me that my gnome is plain despite his red hat. I'm not sure that "plain" has much to do with color choices or the cut of one's clothes, but more to do with a kind of earthiness. I think plain is like onions. There's not much more humble than an onion, but how bold they are as well! Herbs too are plain folk. I fill my garden with herbs not because I cook with them or use them in crafts. I just like the surprise of them. They are often such unassuming little plants, sometimes close to the ground, and sometimes rangy and wild. They may not be much to look at, but their fragrance is heaven and they dance on the tongue. I love my marigolds because they seem so very common and yet it is said that when applied to the eyes, one can see the faeries. And daisies are plain, though the very image of cheer. Sunflowers too are plain especially since they, like good Friends, know how to turn their faces to the Light.
Perhaps on May Day when I pilgrimage to the Mennonite community, I am just trying to draw nutrients from the rich soil of their faith. Especially as my own spiritual wanderings are so often through arid lands, I envy the deep roots of their tradition. Perhaps I seek to purge myself, if only for a few hours, of the toxic discontent I feel with the modern world and its cheapness, its cynicism, its naked greed, and its long-abiding viciousness. But I think, maybe, there is more to it than that. I think I travel to Mennonite country on a Pagan holiday because I'm a little bit of this and that and cannot pretend to be otherwise. I think somehow, without knowing when the process began, I slipped between worlds and grew roots there like the tenacious little flowers that creep up the stone walls of the old barn foundation in my backyard. They do not have the luxury of rich soil, but they always seem to say, "The sun is out! It seems a shame to waste it." Perhaps on May Day, I am seeking out my own plain, not in the outward forms of bonnet and apron, but in the inward hope and cheer of holding fast to the belief that one does not have to be a floral showpiece to be beautiful. No verdant paradise is required to transport a soul to heaven. Just a little dirt, a little rain, and little pluck is all we need. The sun will do the rest.
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