When Nettles Smoke
I saw the smoke out of the corner of my eye, like a cigarette, pitched low to the ground and still smoldering. I was out alone, sunning myself at my favorite swimming hole, luxuriating in the richness of a hot day in early May. But in a flash I was up, eyes scanning the hillside for an unseen visitor, my brain already leaping to the fear of a small wildfire.
I glanced over… and the smoke disappeared. I looked quizzically across the water and back again. Then, the ghost spiraled into the air once more. And that’s when I saw them. On a small rock curved above the water was a whole gathering of nettles in full bloom. And they were smoking.
Not alit, but on fire in a different kind of way. At the peak of their flower, they were sending soft bursts of pollen into the still air. One after another they steamed and sighed. The sun was low enough that every cloud was caught in relief. Like the fuses from a firecracker, or the satisfied draw of a pipe, they were alive with a kind of seeking, self-satisfied pleasure. And I was stunned.
We know plants are alive (of course), that they grow and transform, but usually their movement happens in a place below our perception. Only caught by longwinded cameras or glimpsed in stop motion over the course of hours.
But here, before my eyes, I was seeing them move, shivering and releasing in a chorus of luscious hope. More than erotic, it was a display of profoundly indisputable aliveness. And I was mesmerized.
I was watching the kind of intimacy and potency that I know exists, but that normally stays hidden in realms of ridiculous privilege and breathless rarity.
I was watching the world expand.
Recently Sarah Thomas of Clarity Stone medicine posted a video on her instagram referring to the Chinese energetics of summer vs spring. It struck me mightily. In spring, she shared, the energy of every being stretches upwards, like the vine reaching towards the sky. In summer, however, we reach the zenith of that sky stretch and from there our job is simply to e x p a n d. Straight into the heaven that is here on earth.
The nettles were as tall as they would get this season, and fully adorned with flowers. Now, they were expanding outwards, past even their leaf tips, to drift downstream and create new life. I was watching the world expand in its physical form, and it was a rich, hazy, and wholly mysterious dance.
As we come close to the first new moon of Gemini, I find myself sinking into the gifts of where we’ve been. May is the month of Taurus, the astrological sign of embodiment, sensuality, physicality and the earthly delights. It marks a time in the wheel of the year when we are invited to come into the lusciousness of life and fill all the corners of our physical being. In between the wood of spring and fire of summer, May is a moment to drop soulfully into the soil of our bodies. The body that came here to experience skinny dipping in secret swimming holes. The body that loves food and music and flowers. The body that is naturally creative and regenerative. The body that is ready to expand.
So try taking a sip of some nettle medicine.
Allow yourself to take up space. Develop a daily movement ritual to tap into the pulse of how your body wants to experience itself. Nourish, celebrate, dig in, fan out. Find the things that make your body dizzy with pleasure and do them. Watch the plant world, and let them teach you about the innocent magic of passion, attraction and desire. Let them help you expand, even, beyond our society’s framework of sexuality to see these acts of regeneration for what they are— the sensuously spiritual bedrock of giving, receiving, sharing and creating that defines earthly life.
Let the gorgeousness of you being fully in yourself flow outwards like pollen into the wind’s stream. Because just being who you are, in your exact being, is the power that can cause the whole world to come into fruit.