dweller by the river

sojourner of earth attempting to understand the journey home

Month: June, 2014

Prophetic Bug-Busting

So tonight I was staring at the plants as usual, and I invited E to come over and take a look, also as usual, and he suddenly said, “Hey, is that FEF strep doing OK?”

E never asks specific questions about particular plants. Well, once in a while he does if I’ve been talking about one quite a bit, but it’s not normal. And this particular plant is special to us:

strep progression

I checked, holding our brave little survivor of a T. streptophylla up in the deepening dark, silhouetted against the orange glow of a streetlamp… and saw webs.

We immediately did a full round of inspections, and as it turns out, two other plants (T. seleriana and T. xerographica x exserta) had tiny black bugs running around on them, which is minor compared to the white bug-infested webbing on the T. streptophylla. No other plant seemed to have a problem.

The way I see it, E’s long-unused prophetic gift is reawakening. He’s already seen some signs of that at work, and now it’s creeping back into the home. I’m so happy!

Not so happy about the bugs or the major stink caused by the bug poison (I broke out the poison this time because I’m so done with chilli padi), but I’m glad the problem was caught before it got too bad. I guess it’s an ongoing fight when you’re dealing with living things, and an environment that you can’t fully control.

Pests will take every possible opportunity to eat your plants, no matter what you do to prevent it. And my growing area is probably as sterile as it gets – they’re dangling on wire coils outside my window, freely swinging in every touch of breeze. Their only neighbours are one another, the nearest plant life are the HDB estate ti plants and grass one floor below on ground level. I doubt that bugs can easily jump from the “wild” plants to my domesticated ones but it’s not impossible – wind and birds are a factor, as are larger insects like moths, beetles, butterflies, cockroaches (ugh)…

I’m not the best gardener. But I do spend time carefully looking after my plants and doing my best to protect and rescue them from bugs. I wonder how much more our heavenly Gardener scrutinises our lives. It makes me feel kinda warm and fuzzy inside to think about it.

Re-entering the Field

So S has been sorta pulled into the mad world of bromeliad mania, and somehow she and I have agreed to work together on a research project (probably a slim volume consisting of a few articles) on the garden and the city. She’ll be jumping into it immediately after finishing her Masters thesis, and I’m attempting to get my academic gears back into motion after eight years of disuse.

I’ve not felt so excited about a project for a long time, not even when I was actively writing for and editing a now-defunct e-zine (we closed it down because the organisation it was for had shifted in direction and focus). Sure, there’s been some high points with other things like songwriting, vocal recording, and dance… but while I do have a bit of talent in those areas it’s probably nothing close to what I can do with the written word when I’m at the top of my game.

The childhood dream is no longer what it was, however. I don’t have the same misguided ideas about the sort of writing I am good at, or where my true giftings lie.

When I was a child, all I knew was that I wanted to write. And I wrote – badly.

It wasn’t that I had no skill with language or self-expression. It was bad because I was attempting to write fiction, just because I loved reading fiction. It started because someone mentioned that one should write the sort of books that one wanted to read. And it continued being bad because I lapped up advice from various sources that urged aspiring writers to just keep trying, to imitate your idols, to employ all sorts of writing stimuli and idea-spawning tools, to just ensure that you wrote something on a regular basis no matter how disjointed or bad it was.

I went through a few other phases in which I unconsciously explored and practised various genres, types of writing, and developed a personal voice and style. For the past handful of years, however, you might say I’ve produced nothing.

The recent years of non-inspiration and half-baked writing attempts haven’t been useless, however, though the world might see it that way. I’ve noticed another pattern in my life that my eyes hadn’t been open to until today, and I’m amazed at how the Lord has directed my steps even though I have been completely oblivious. The discouragement I felt at not having written anything for a long time, and the resulting “killing” of my dream in surrender (or resignation?) was real, but the time of renewal is here. I know it. I can feel it.

Since this is mainly a plant-related blog – yes, I do intend for it to keep that focus somehow – I’ll make it a bit plainer: “Unproductive” stretches in our lives, if not caused by laziness or inertia, are very likely fallow periods. Afterwards, with proper ploughing (keep studying the Word and praying!), sunshine and rain, seedtime and harvest come back into play. When we allow our lives and our gifts to “flow with the unforced rhythms of grace”, to quote a certain JP, God’s pattern and plan for our lives becomes clearer.

So thank you, S, for being a catalyst. God’s used you to bless me much more than you might realise – your simple invitation to tea/coffee might just prove to be one of the most important turning points in my writing career. I hope whatever I deposit into your spirit is as valuable as what you’ve set fire to in mine.

Exodus 23: 10-12 (NKJV)
10“Six years you shall sow your land and gather in its produce, 11but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave, the beasts of the field may eat. In like manner you shall do with your vineyard and your olive grove. 12Six days you shall do your work, and on the seventh day you shall rest, that your ox and your donkey may rest, and the son of your female servant and the stranger may be refreshed.

Proverbs 13:23 (NKJV)
Much food is in the fallow ground of the poor, and for lack of justice there is waste.

John 12:24 (NKJV)
Most assuredly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it produces much grain.

Jeremiah 4:3 (NKJV)
For thus says the Lord to the men of Judah and Jerusalem, “Break up your fallow ground, and do not sow among thorns.”

Hosea 10:12 (NKJV)
Sow for yourselves righteousness; reap in mercy; break up your fallow ground, for it is time to seek the Lord, till He comes and rains righteousness on you.

Community Irritants (Can Teach Us Something Too)

Recently, I got very annoyed with a member of a tillandsia-related Facebook group I am a part of. It’s a free-to-join community where tillandsia lovers can share photos and information, and ask for help, suggestions or advice on their plants and growing areas.

I joined the group in September 2013, when I bought my very first tilly, and have been rather active. I don’t post or comment a lot, but I check out what’s new every day. This is because I adopt a “don’t say anything unless you’re sure” and “listen/read first, talk later” approach to any new area of interest.

Mr X popped up just about three or four months ago with a self-announcement that he was an enthusiastic newbie. He then proceeded to dominate the group’s wall, posting long, technical spiels about his artificial growing environment (he keeps his plants in a specially constructed box with specialised LED grow lights, because after obsessively measuring the various aspects of wind/humidity/light intensity/temperature around his home, he was dissatisfied with the natural surroundings available in his personal habitat).

Quick on the heels of that came incessant posting and commenting: posting “before and after” photos of his plants (to show their significant growth in his customised environment), and answering questions and dishing out advice as though he were a long-time connoisseur.

Initially, I just took it as someone being really, really, really enthusiastic. But it got irritating because on the few posts that I chose to respond to, he would jump in immediately after I said something and make it sound like my information was half-assed and that he needed to save the situation with his superior understanding.

In the most recent incident, a long-time collector expressed frustration at being unable to prevent her tillandsias from being repeatedly infested by ants. As she’s been doing this for more than two years and has a significant number of plants at home and in her office, it’s probably safe to assume she would have already tried most of the usual remedies. In fact, she mentioned two methods that she’d used repeatedly without success.

I thought I’d share an alternative method that most tillandsia growers wouldn’t have heard of – essential oils (EOs). You see, normal oils (like neem oil or white oil that work well for growers of other species) cannot be used on CAM plants like tillandsias. Normal oils create a surface film that would smother a CAM plant. But 100% essential oils aren’t oily, and they don’t leave a surface film – they are absorbed almost instantly because their molecules are so small.

In any case, my advice was to apply peppermint EO across the ants’ trails and in a rough sort of circle around the tilly growing area – not only would it kill off ants and spiders, it would also deter them (and quite a few other pests) from returning. I have, though, tested peppermint oil both neat and diluted directly on an ionantha’s leaves and it suffered no harm whatsoever.

Mr X immediately jumped in (literally a couple of minutes after I commented) and said oh, no, ants normally coexist with tillandsias in the wild, there is no need to remove them, and anyway, oil cannot be used on tillandsias because it will suffocate the plants to death. He then proceeded to insist that the presence of ants does not harm myrmecophytes (pseudobulbous tillandsias are a sub-group), and spew out paragraph after paragraph on why cinnamon powder is the best and safest method.

I chose to say nothing in response. I sent the asker a private message to ensure that she got the right meaning of my suggestion (not what Mr X implied).

Anyway. I was just thinking that this could very well be seen as a microcosm of today’s church world. The plants are the people, and the collectors/growers are the church leaders (scripture does say we are also co-labourers with Christ in the fields and vineyards). And certain church leaders can’t seem to stop themselves from thinking that they’re the only ones with accurate insight, or clear discernment, or fresh revelation… and that everyone has to hear what they say (and be persuaded to agree).

I wonder what God thinks and feels about denominational and independent church leaders bickering and fighting, knowing that none of us has it a hundred percent right? Heck, we can’t even agree on an individual basis whether a person’s personal walk should be left as a personal walk – some pastors will tell you, for example, that you cannot possibly have a healthy spiritual life if you’re spending time praying and worshipping in gardens instead of in church. They will tell you that not being a member of a church means that you have backslided and are in danger of apostasy. (I’ll talk more specifically about church another time.)

Come on already. We’re all finite and limited, really, and our knowledge – of anything – will never be complete. That includes the knowledge and understanding of God, of what a perfect relationship with Him is like, and what true communion with the Spirit is, among others. What makes any of us think we know better than others? If we’ve happened to be in a situation that taught us something that another person hasn’t had an opportunity to learn, what right do we have to feel superior?

There are always going to be people who know more than you and people who know less than you, and there will always be people who think they know more than you. It’s just a fact of life. You can never control their thoughts or actions. What you can control is yourself – your knowledge (you can ensure that you keep on learning), your actions (be humble!) and your responses (be gracious). And even in that you need the Lord’s help, because as always, the spirit is willing but the flesh is weak.

The Planting of the Lord

Many years ago, I wrote a paper on the garden as one of the most important tropes in scripture. The project traced its evolution from Eden to the New Jerusalem, and swept broadly through related tropes like the city, the woman and the bride, giving a brief overview of the overlapping roles and epochs of humanity, Israel, and the Church (in this blog I use “church” to refer to human institutions, and “Church” to refer to the universal body of Christ).

The story of the Bible can be analysed from many angles and interpreted in many ways, one of which is linked to the parallel that God draws between man and plant life. Allegorical and metaphorical uses of plants abound in scripture, and as someone who’s always been fascinated with plants and who only recently found success in cultivating them, I find the lure of this relatively uncharted research terrain is growing again.

I find it good to keep in mind while studying the Word that the English translations we hold in our hands are not the original text. Unless you take time and make the effort to look a little deeper by studying a little bit of Hebrew and Greek (the languages of the original texts), I don’t think you will get a truly accurate picture of what we’re supposed to be receiving from it.

Personally, I believe that just as marriage is God’s way of helping finite and limited humans approach an understanding of the mysteries of the soul’s true relationship with God in its final perfection, so too do many of humanity’s interactive relationships with creation and one another point us to other important lessons about the spirit realm.

So what does it mean to be “the planting of the Lord” (Isaiah 61:3), and what can we learn about our role in relation to Him as the planter/gardener by studying and practising the Word and botany?

We start with the plant. What is a plant? The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “A living organism of the kind exemplified by trees, shrubs, herbs, grasses, ferns, and mosses, typically growing in a permanent site, absorbing water and inorganic substances through its roots, and synthesizing nutrients in its leaves by photosynthesis using the green pigment chlorophyll.”

Basically, it’s a living thing that is unable to decide its own location and surroundings, and which needs an anchorage site, sunlight, water and air. None of these necessary things can be affected by the plant in any way – it’s dependent. The only thing the plant does is take in what it needs, and if it doesn’t get what it needs or what it gets is sub-par or contaminated, it will simply suffer. Its only job or reason for existing is to grow and reproduce.

I’m reminded of the title of a friend’s blog, Bloom Where You’re Planted. It’s practically a duty, when you realise that you’re just, well, a cultivar. See? A search through the full text of the New King James Version brings up six different Hebrew words and one Greek word for “plant” (the noun):

chatsiyr – grass, leek, green grass, herbage; of the quickly perishing
yowneq – sucker, suckling, sapling, young plant
neta – plantation, plant, planting
tsemach – sprout, growth, branch, shoot, growth (of process)
shelach – weapon, missile, sprout, shoot
saruwq – vine tendrils or clusters
– a planting, a thing planted, a plant

Way to go. Exciting definitions. We aren’t often referred to as trees, either. I do find it interesting, though, that shelach also means “weapon” and “missile”. Although I haven’t yet tried to discover when those meanings are used (if at all), it hints of a sort of latent potential: We can be dangerous if we’re properly grown.

Anyway, as cultivated plants, we’re planted somewhere, somewhen (yes I know that’s not really a word, but you get the point). And four Hebrew words and one Greek word that have been translated as “plant” (the verb) or “the planting of” (the noun resulting directly from the verb):

matta – place or act of planting; planting; plantation
– to plant, fasten, fix, establish
– to give, bestow, grant, permit, ascribe, employ, devote, consecrate, dedicate, pay wages, sell, exchange, lend, commit, entrust, give over, deliver up, yield produce, requite to, report, mention, utter, stretch out, extend
– to plant, transplant; a poetic word

– to plant

It’s interesting how we (the plant/planted) have no active part to play and that even when we’ve been planted, the sense is that even that is undeserved and unearned and only because the gardener has given us permission to live and grow. And with the use of shathal, well – some of us might get moved around. I get the sense that those who refuse to acknowledge Him are living on sufferance.

Like I mentioned in an Aside recently, it’s not a stretch to pick up on the fact that in scripture, Jesus is often referred to as a rock and the Sun of Righteousness, the Holy Spirit is likened to wind or air, God is called the Father of Lights, and Jesus speaks of creating springs of living water in believers – the gift of the Holy Spirit. And the Word itself is often referred to as water. These are all freely available to us – our job is to take them in.

Wherever we are at any particular point in time, there will be available to us what we need to live. “He has made everything beautiful in its time” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). And that really makes me think of a passage I’d forgotten about till now:

1 Corinthians 7:17–24, NKJV
17But as God has distributed to each one, as the Lord has called each one, so let him walk. And so I ordain in all the churches. 18Was anyone called while circumcised? Let him not become uncircumcised. Was anyone called while uncircumcised? Let him not be circumcised. 19Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing, but keeping the commandments of God is what matters. 20Let each one remain in the same calling in which he was called. 21Were you called while a slave? Do not be concerned about it; but if you can be made free, rather use it. 22For he who is called in the Lord while a slave is the Lord’s freedman. Likewise he who is called while free is Christ’s slave. 23You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men. 24Brethren, let each one remain with God in that state in which he was called.

As someone who’s recently started caring for plants, a few things have become quite obvious to me. I really do want to give them what they need to thrive. I do my best to do so. I watch them carefully. I get upset if something harms them (bugs, etc.) and go on a rampage getting rid of the source of the trouble. And I am inordinately pleased when they grow and flower and reproduce.

If I feel this way about the plantings of my hands, how much more does God feel about me, the planting of His hands?

T. hondurensis – a goodbye

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T. hondurensis, circa 27 October 2013

I’ve been a bit quiet lately because I’ve been going on garden visits, introducing people to tillandsias, doing research for my next long entry, and dealing with a plant issue. That issue was with this little guy – my very first T. hondurensis. Currently, it’s also my only. And it’s dying because I made a terrible mistake and probably was the one to accidentally send it to its slow death from rot.

There was, you see, a bit of a scare concerning little black bugs that were leaving yellow and brown semi-translucent spots on quite a lot of my plants, and there were a few such spots showing up on the edges of the hondurensis’ leaves too. So I gave all of them a big old soap soak and then set them in front of a fan to blow-dry. Only, I think I was a little impatient and didn’t ensure that this fellow was completely dry before I hung them all back in their usual places.

It took only 24 hours for a drastic deterioration in its appearance to become obvious. I won’t show those pictures, because they are just so sad and pathetic. I had to strip away leaves in a bid to stem the rot and hopefully save the inner core of the plant… but every few days more of the remaining outer leaves would rot and shrivel, and it won’t be long now that there will be nothing left of this once beautiful specimen.

I will do better next time. I promise. Meanwhile, I just want to remember this lovely little plant the way it was before I made my fatal error. I’m sorry, little guy. I hope you rest in peace, eventually. Maybe you’ll show up in my garden in heaven someday.

131124_09 smallT. hondurensis, circa 24 November 2013


140205_09 smallT. hondurensis, circa 5 February 2013

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T. hondurensis, circa 13 April 2014