Thursday, February 9, 2012

Edelweiss: Because You Had Need of Me

All the darkness of the world cannot extinguish the light of a single candle.”  St. Francis of Assisi, The Little Flowers of St. Francis of Assisi

“I like it when when a little flower or tuft of grass grows through a crack in the concrete.  Its so fuckin’ heroic.” George Carlin

“The flowers in the mountains have broken through the rocks.” Tennessee Williams

“There is always flowers for those who want to see them.”  Henri Matisse

Edelweiss, otherwise known as Leontopodium alpinium or Lion’s Foot, belongs to the Sunflower family. Yet, unlike its warm and sunny cousin, this particular plant lives alone in the bleak and snowy Alpine Mountains.  One of Nature's Wonders, the delicate little flower prefers to grow in rocky climates at altitudes of between 1,700 to 2,700 meters.  Perhaps due to the difficulty associated with acquiring such a rare plant, Edelweiss, traditionally, symbolizes “daring, courage, and noble purity”. Among this Blossom’s admirers were King Ludwig of Bavaria (who built the Neuschwanstein Castle), Austrian Emperor Franz Josef, Kaiser Wilhelm I, and Adolph Hitler. (Note: In German “edel” means “noble” and “weiss” means “white” thus “edelweiss” means “noble whiteness”; rather Aryan no?)  But, in my opinion, the reason Edelweiss is a Rockin’ Blossom is due to its role in a children’s story entitled: "The Flower that Lived Above the Clouds" (published by Philadelphia's Society of Friends in 1920). Would you like to hear the tale? Sure you would!  

The narrative begins with All the Flowers of the Earth choosing a Climate to Dwell in and a Color for its Petals.  First, the Grass chose to “cover the ground and make the bare soil gay with green blades,” while the Daisy, the Buttercup, the Cornflower, the Poppy, and the Clover all laughed and said they would “live in the Fields and by the Roadsides”.  Next the Water Lily chose the Ponds and Lakes, while the Irises, Cowslips, and Jacks-in the Pulpits chose the Streams and Marshes.  Before long, the Shy Forget Me Nots and the Wood Violets retreated to the shaded and ferny Woodland Spots, while the Roses, the Pansies, and the Sweet William “wished to be Petted in Gardens.”  Finally, the Cactus declared with some exasperation: “there is not enough warmth!  I will go to the sandy desert.”  So all the places of the earth except the Bare Mountain Ridges were chosen.  But no flower wished to dwell in Craggy Ridges of the Mountainside without nourishment, warmth, or moisture. The Pretty and Newly Settled Blossoms declared: “Surely the bleak mountains must do without flowers!  How foolish it would be to make the ragged, bare mountain-tops lovely!”  And as most Happily Planted and Totally Oblivious Individuals do, the Unsympathetic Flowers collectively decided to send the Grass Moss into the Mountains because it had "not yet chosen!”  And because the Gray Moss had no means of Fighting the Flowery Mob, it followed their indifferent instructions, climbing over the bare rocks past the places where forests grew.  “All was desolate and silent up there.”  Higher and higher it crept until the Gray Moss went above the clouds where the ragged rocks were covered with ice and snow.  And when it reached that lonely destination, the Gray Moss looked on in amazement at a “quiet-star shaped flower clinging to the crags and blossoming.  It was white like the snow around it, and its heart was of soft yellow.”  To survive in the bleakness, the Little Starry Flower had encased its leaves in soft wool to keep warm.

Moss: "Oh! How came you here where there was no warmth, no moisture, no nourishment? It is high above the forests, high above the clouds! I came because I was sent. Who are you?"

Starry Flower: "I am the edelweiss. I came here quietly because there was need of me, that some blossom might brighten these solitudes."

Moss: "And didn't they tell you to come?"

Starry Flower: "No. It was because the mountains needed me. There are no flowers up here but me."

And so the story goes: "The edelweiss is closer to the stars than the daisy, the buttercup, the iris, or the rose. Those who have courage, like it, have found it high above the clouds, where it grows ever gladly. They call it Noble White — that is its name, edelweiss! Love, like the edelweiss, knows not self-sacrifice."

This plant is referred to as "coniferenmos" or "Edelweiss Moss"
In my opinion, when we are still young, most of us hope to be Petted Rose or a Laughing Daisy. And true enough, some Lucky Individuals develop into those Happy Flowers which exist in the Comfort of the Gardens and Splendor of the Fields. But for some of Us Would Be Flowers, like myself, we learn that Fate did not intend for us to Stay in the Garden or Dance in the Fields. The Blinders come off. Reality hits. We accept, often with much sorrow, that we were never meant for Bright Light or Sun Worship. We are Gray Moss so we climb higher and higher into the bleak mountains and we despair. All is desolate. All is silent. No warmth. No nourishment. Yet, if we are lucky, when we reach the Ragged Rocks, we look on in amazement. There clinging to the Crags is a Starry Flower. Those are the People who dwell with us in the Mountains, not because they were sent, but because they knew we had need of them. They are Edelweiss. With them, life in the Dismal Gray Mountains becomes more bearable. A "single candle" in the "darkness" helps us soldier on. And then something special happens for those who live Above the Clouds. With time, grace, and the aid of a Starry Friend, Gray Moss transforms into Edelweiss, shedding its Gloomy Form and becoming a symbol of hope. It is a breathtaking metamorphosis. But a Word of Warning for First Time Mountain Climbers: As anyone living in the Desolate Crags will tell you, the transformation is never permanent. Just as Gray Moss, with help, might become Edelweiss, Edelweiss will take its turn reverting into Gray Moss once more. We change with the seasons. The two are intimately linked. Only those who dance between the Dual States, Beautiful Flower and Outcast Moss, understand the pain and the wonder of transformation. Choice defines us. Edelweiss chooses to live in the Mountains with it Broken Counterpart because they have need of each other. A Laughing Daisy or a Proud Rose could never comprehend the Ecstasies and the Despair of this Duality. Understanding requires nothing less than agonizing experience. Only the Gray Moss and the Starry Flower can be so Intertwined by Connection, Healing, and Understanding.* Each assuring the other: "I came here quietly because there was need of me, that some blossom might brighten these solitudes."

*While Edelweiss means courage, daring, and noble purity, moss is said to symbolize healing, intimacy, connection, and integration.

**Two musical Offerings: The first, I mentioned before. In Hebrew the word "timshel" means choice. Thus, when Mumford and Sons declare "You are Not Alone in This", they are saying we choose to stand by one another because we have need of each other.  And Simon and Garfunkel's "Bridge Over Troubled Water" is a guilty pleasure. I suppose, like most Would Be Flowers, I always found the idea that Someone is Sailing Right Behind both comforting and romantic.

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