Some believe that the future can be forecast by reading tea leaves; I believe there is much knowledge and wisdom to be learned by breaking leaves.
My kin on my father’s side were Mississippi farmers, chicken raisers and toilers of the land. A person learns a lot by planting, growing, harvesting and raising, and by paying attention to signs revealed in weather, dirt and leaves. I recall my grandmother walking through our backyard and pulling off sample leaves from a variety of plants as I am sure she did throughout her life. She would then break them in half or crush them slightly before sniffing them. It was as if she couldn’t not perform her routine. She always had an observation to share after taking a sniff, though I remember none of the specifics. It wasn’t until much later in life that I began to somewhat understand what and why she did what she did.
The other day I walked to the gardens and greenhouse at work. My inclination was to take some leaves, break them in half and take a long, slow inhale of the scents from the split photosynthesis machines. It was more than an inclination, it was an instinct. The aromas were marvelous.
I’m sure that grandma got a lot more out of her leaf sniffs than I do. She could also differentiate between plants of similar leaf shapes and I suspect she re-kindled her special relationship with the land by taking in the scents of various plants in our backyard. She would call out plants by leaf shape, bark texture, vine characteristics, and so on. I get pleasure and a sense of connection to a lifestyle that I’ve never experienced, but I don’t have the experience-borne knowledge about life with earth.
There is much wisdom and knowledge required to live amidst nature, particularly when working with it for sustenance as my, and many of your, relatives did. Their lessons were learned with back-breaking labor, not the labors of classroom study; their knowledge was gained by surviving challenges of weather and soil, not the challenges of finding parking spaces at university; their wisdom was developed by persistence and judgment, not over reactions to the conditions of the moment.
As I learn more about plants, specifically the herbs and vegetables in my garden, I further those connections and my knowledge. While some seek tea leaves to see the future, I will try to tap into knowledge and wisdom from the lessons of the past through leaves. I will learn patience, stewardship, symbiosis and much more. Let the lessons continue.