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  • Jennifer Jewell


Valley Oaks in the Canyon.

Native evening primrose greeting the Autumnal Equinox sunrise, somewhere near Cathedral Valley, UT

Ingathering – I like this word – its connotations of both harvest and pulling ourselves together - inward and yet still communal. Reflective and contemplative, but still gathering together. It's a word that was shared in the two episodes of CP recently exploring the role of religion and spirituality in our garden lives - the first with photographer and artist Kristin Perers in the UK and the second with Rabbi Arthur Waskow around the significance and rituals pertaining to the Jewish harvest festival of Sukkot, celebrated in fall.

All of this brings me to a story from my summer travels – to Southern California recently for a lovely day of history and garden conversation at the Chumash Indian Museum with photographer Caitlin Atkinson (co-creator with me of Under Western Skies), with the museum folk including Garden Coordinator Brianna Rotella, Director Barbara Tejada, Visitor Services Coordinator Dayle Bingham, and finally with Hupa Elder and plantswoman Kat High. Kat’s home garden and plant work along with the ethnobotanical garden at the Chumash Indian Museum are featured as visionary gardens in UnderWestern Skies.

Kat refers to her garden as a "gathering garden".

Full moon setting before the Autumnal Equinox; September 2021, photo by John Whittlesey

To get to the event, John and I drove the 7 hours down the I-5 corridor, a long straight and often flat drive on this stretch through the central valley of California, essentially bisecting California from North to South .

What was once a vast expanse of native valley plain and grassland – dry in summer as now and damp in winter, is now a landscape layered (littered) with the history of settler mentality, overlaid with years of booming big agriculture, overlaid with water reality both past and present, and seasonal, as well as the consequences of the longer term drought we are in. All told, the result is miles and miles of abandoned orchards - rows and rows of standing dead trees, and this interspersed by a now industrial transport mindset resulting in outposts of large distribution centers for Fed Ex and UPS and Amazon - behemoth lifeless concrete things.

While the contours of the land is still visible – rolling golden hills to the west as you drive south and the craggier silhouette of the Sierra across the great valley to the east, the details tell a tragic tale to my eyes.

As we drove we noticed that the roadsides and fields of disturbed soil were often covered with Sacred datura (Datura wrightii) mounds of deep bluish-green foliage spiked with their blooms. The white trumpets making their presence known even from a distance and no doubt filling the air with fragrance each evening and then folding back into themselves by mid morning. A buzz with bees and hummingbirds and pollinating moths come nightfall when they are open in full.

I mentioned the abundance of these white flowers – datura well known as being poisonous but also a longstanding powerful medicinal and culturally significant plant for Indigenous peoples of the American west, including the Chumash and Kat’s own people, the Hupa.

Kat turned to me and asked: "you know why there are so many right now don’t you?"

Seasonal sun reflected on the Pacific, Tacoma, WA October 2021

I thought for a moment, and guessed “because they like disturbed land and the land is so very disturbed right now?"

And she shook her head, "Because the world needs more ceremony - they are trying to tell us that we need more ceremony."

"More meaning making Through rituals and offerings and praise songs and gratitude. The kind of ceremony that is the source and foundation of our religious and seasonal rituals in sync with the natural world all around us. We need more ceremony."

What does that mean to me - or you? Specifically what does that mean to people like me who have long been outside of a traditional cultural context, long outside of their own ancestors' traditional cultural ways, rhythms, rituals?

I am not sure. I know we we will all/should all have our own answers.

I also know that our gardens and plant companions - wild and cultivated - offer us the structure for incorporating the idea of ceremony and these sacred cycles into our every day turning to night, into our every cycle of the moon across the month, every cycle of the sun around the year across the seasons of our entire lives. Every seed planted, pot watered, flower plucked, vegetable or fruit savored, every seed saved, every weed weeded, every tree appreciated, every tree planted or pruned with the loving care and eyes of a gardener are ceremony and ritual worth taking time for, worth being thankful for, and worth sharing forward one way or another.

Our gardens, our houseplants, our neighborhood trees and shrubs and parks and trails are sites of sacred exchange. How lucky are we?

Jennifer & The Cultivating Place Team



(just click the live link that is the green title of each program to get to the audio file and listen in....)


Fall bloom and fall compost - in the form of seed laden bear scat. October 2021


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Me. Bio photo by Eddie Altrete 2019.



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