I just returned from an afternoon jaunt through a rapidly gentrifying Brewerytown and Fairmount Park inspired by two friends – David who sent the lovely feature photo of dandelions looking so perky nestled alongside a UK curb (“in the gutter but looking to the stars”) and Luke who shared a new Ben Goertzel video with me and noted that at least he referenced John Coltrane in his talk on the progression towards Artificial General Intelligence.
Here in Philadelphia, it’s been two steps forward into spring, followed by a step back into winter. In my postage stamp backyard, I’ve been enjoying the Lenten rose and the summer snowflakes. Most of the daffodils suffered bulb blast, though a few poet’s narcissus seem to be coming through. I have about half of the red and yellow tulips than I started with. Looking out the kitchen window a few days ago I caught a squirrel karate chopping the flowers, nibbling the petals before throwing it to the ground. Each stem tidily sliced off. We don’t have deer here, just brazen rodents. We’ll see how long the rest of them last. In my herb pots the oregano, thyme, mint, and sage are reviving along with one luxurious dandelion that has lots of dent de lion leaves and just one bud.
I told my friend Luke that it seemed like it was past due for a visit to the John Coltrane House, which is about a half-hour walk from my home. So, this Easter morning with the bells ringing at St. Nicholas’ church at the end of the block, I did some gathering from my tiny garden, scooped up a small container of dandelion seeds on the counter from my Rochester friend, dialed up Coltrane’s “A Love Supreme” on my phone, put everything in my basket, and headed due northwest.
I carry a Swiss army knife with some tiny, but sharp scissors, that I use to snip plants along the way. Winter pickings are sparse. It’s so much fun to have color to work with again – crabapple blossoms, some euphorbia from an apartment building planter, and petite vibrant red rose hips from a planting bed in the park, only a little bit withered.
It was two years ago that we gathered on Park Avenue outside the Council on Foreign Relations to usher in the dandelion summer of healing and mending. We read from and tore up CFR’s 2016 treatise on impact finance and place intentions for good things in the world. I was right about the importance of spiritual healing and love, which is needed now more than ever as bile and antagonism have emerged as coins of digital realms, barbs in so many hearts.
I consider the idea of the dandelion a true gift of the lockdowns. As someone I once considered a friend, told me, anything can be a symbol, a communication, as long as the sender and receiver understand its meaning – even a dandelion. I talked about dandelions a lot those first couple of years – mostly on Twitter and donations in all forms came from near and far. Someone even made me a painted plaque “Grow in the Cracks” that is hanging in my living room and cheers me up when I need it. Quite a few people have told me they now look at the golden drops of springtime beauty in a new way. Dandelions opened a door for me for which I am grateful.
I consider every dandelion I see a friend and an ally in the perhaps Quixotic quest to preserve natural life. When I see their silvery orbs offered up on graceful, long stems, seeds poised to alight on their own adventure down the gutter and beyond, it triggers a bittersweet memory. I stood in a circle of families, a moment before the scheduled departure. We would be leaving our children in the North Carolina Mountains for four months of expeditionary learning, and one of the teachers read from Kahil Gibran’s The Prophet, “On Children:”
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you, yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow that is stable.
And though I didn’t know it at the time, my child – an arrow- was shot from the bow on a course that would leave me behind before I was ready. Do those toothy rosettes feel the same? I’ve been left with a hole in my heart but remain convinced that love will overcome. Those yellow dots so full of life and light encourage me to stay rooted, deeply. They remind me to disentangle from the inter-webs and make time to lay on picnic tables in the park with eyes closed listening to “A Love Supreme” feeling the warmth of the sun and the vibrant energies of lush grass, and woodpeckers, and passing dog walkers and frisbee enthusiasts all around.
Part of what led me to travel Coltrane’s house today was looking into Michael Levin’s work on morphogenesis. He’s a professor of developmental biology at Tufts University who helped lead the effort to create Xenobots – “living” robots made from frog cells. He’s quite interested in bio-electricity and how fields shape the patterns of tissues that become organs and organisms. I posted a clip to my channel yesterday in which his disdain for nature and god are on full display. Levin makes alarming claims about biotechnology, giving people gills and tails and extra brain lobes, saying that biological engineers are now the adults in the room who will solve global health disparities and aging. He as much as proclaims “god is dead” while marching forward into a materialist dystopia.
I was drawn today to a busy park-side street in Philadelphia, N. 33rd St, a few doors down from an automotive garage, because I wanted to read lines from the yellowing poem papered around the door of a vacant house, Coltrane’s house. The poem below was included in the liner notes of the album. Some of the stanzas were printed and paper the windows in and around the door of the house. I remember how surprised I was to see it the first time I visited two winters ago.
A Love Supreme
I will do all I can to be worthy of Thee, O Lord. It all has to do with it. Thank You God. Peace. There is none other. God is. It is so beautiful. Thank You God. God is all. Help us to resolve our fears and weaknesses. In you all things are possible. Thank you God. We know. God made us so. Keep your eye on God. God is. He always was. He always will be. No matter what… it is God. He is gracious and merciful. It is most important that I know Thee.
Words, sounds, speech, men, memory, thoughts, fears and emotions–time–all related…all made from one… all made in one. Blessed be his name. Thought waves–heat waves–all vibrations–all paths lead to God. Thank you God. His way… it is so lovely… it is gracious. It is merciful–Thank you God. One thought can produce millions of vibrations and they all go back to God… everything does.
Thank you God. Have no fear… believe… Thank you God. The universe has many wonders. God is all. His way… it is so wonderful. Thoughts–deeds–vibrations, all go back to God and He cleanses all. He is gracious and merciful… Thank you God. Glory to God… God is so alive. God is. God loves. May I be acceptable in Thy sight. We are all one in His grace. The fact that we do exist is acknowledgement of Thee, O Lord. Thank you God.
God will wash away all our tears…He always has…He always will. Seek him every day. In all ways seek God every day. Let us sing all songs to God. To whom all praise is due… praise God. No road is an easy one, but they all go back to God. With all we share God. It is all with God. It is all with Thee. Obey the Lord. Blessed is He.
We are all from one thing… the will of God…Thank you God.–I have seen ungodly–none can be greater–none can compare Thank you God.
He will remake… He always has and He always will. It’s true–blessed be His name–Thank you God. God breathes through us so completely…so gently we hardly feel it… yet, it is our everything. Thank you God. ELATION–ELEGANCE–EXALTATION–All from God.
Thank you God. Amen.
The house has been decaying for decades. Local community groups struggle to raise the funds to turn the once elegant row house into a museum and community center. It really shouldn’t be that hard, right? In a predominately African-American city in the Black president of City Council’s district. The nearby historic Smith Playground has many philanthropic suitors, but not so the Coltrane house. Why? Could it be the power it represents? A connection to the sacred rhythms of the universe, a man who overcame his own challenges to make his peace with god, who had the temerity to play it in public at the dawning of a new era of scientific secularism, an age suited more to the steely-eyed Michael Levins of the world who proclaim the “Garden of Eden” story crumbled long ago than to soulful musicians?
The role I’ve chosen for myself over the three years is a scout and an aspiring energy tuner who moves natural materials from one place to another to intuitively tell stories of places that have touched my life, and in the telling, and in the placing of positive intentions, work with the fields that exist beyond our meager faculties of perception.
On my walk, instead of placing Easter eggs in my basket, I gathered dandelions. From weedy lots and sidewalk cracks and the forgotten places, to create a tribute to a man who I think would have appreciated the exuberance they bring to a tired, empty concrete planter that stands before his former home.
As I approach, some sort of motion activated sensor brusquely told me I was being filmed. But I went up to the door anyway, to read the lyrics framed by the transom. I waved at the Ring doorbell and continued with my work – a dandelion-ringed heart, a dried cactus pad, a hellebore flower, some hyacinths buds, Eve’s shells, Eileen’s hummingbird, a generously sized clam shell picked from the sidewalk on a walk to the post office last week, a chunky mushroom…and mug wort. Mugwort is a “weedy” companion to dandelions in the empty lots of Philadelphia and used for enhanced dreaming. As I was leaving a young woman stopped to check out the intention. She says her dad loves John Coltrane.
So, I wandered back home by way of the Glendinning Rock Garden (more sitting on rocks in the warm sun, breathing in the fragrance of a luxurious viburnum, and watching families take group photos in their Sunday best). At the base of the cliff was a stone-lined spring leading to a silting in pond. Red rose petals floated on the top of the water. Three stems were placed nearby. A love supreme. In a synchronous way as I headed up towards Girard Avenue, I paused at a metal staircase covered in stickers. One said “Supreme.” An adjacent sticker showed a red rose.
Blessed spring. Blessed vibrations. Thank you John Coltrane and happy Easter!
PS: If you want to send dandelions from your neck of the woods, I’ll find them a good home. You can get them to me at Alison McDowell, 852 N 24th St, Philadelphia, PA 19130.
The dandelion spectacle of Brewerytown! This intrepid plant is an inspiration to us all.