/Beauty born in the mud

Beauty born in the mud

From Shaman’s Rock

By Jim Poling Sr.

The best thing about mid-summer are the blooms. 

Orange day lilies stand wild and bold on the roadsides. Pink and white lilliums and purplish-blue hydrangeas bring an explosion of colour to peoples’ gardens. 

Even the creamy white milkweed lining highways gives beauty and a sense of peace after providing nourishment to monarch butterfly caterpillars.

Best of all are the heavenly white blooms that some Indigenous peoples consider a special gift from the sky. The Ojibwe have a legend about that bloom.

A very long time ago some Ojibwe, who say stars were the souls of people gone to the beyond, watched a star falling from the sky. A young man dreamed about that falling star and saw it as a beautiful maiden who told him she loved his people and wanted to live among them.

She said the young man should ask the wise elders where she should land on earth and what shape she should take. 

“Let the star choose for herself,” said the elders. “She may live wherever she finds rest.”

The star fell into a mountain and rested in a wild white rose. But she was lonely on the mountain because she was not close enough to the people.

She left the mountain and went to live in a prairie flower. She was unhappy there because herds of buffalo made the earth thunder and darken the sky with dust raised by their hooves.

The people watched the star rise from prairie and feared she was returning to the sky. Then they saw a breeze catch her and float her across the landscape before dropping her on a lake, where she rested like a canoe on calm water.

The next day children playing near the water ran home, yelling that a star had blossomed in the lake. People took canoes and paddled the lake to see the blossom and began chanting songs to it.

They named the new flower Wahbegwannee, the Anishinaabe word for white flower. 

Today we call it the water lily.

For many Canadian Indigenous people the water lily represents a spiritual blossoming after travelling through the mud of life.

The water lily is a symbol of a variety of beliefs among Indigenous people, and other cultures and religions.  In Buddhism and Hinduism it symbolizes resurrection because its petals close in the evening and reopen in morning, similar to a spiritual rebirth.

Buddhists also believe that the water lily represents enlightenment because of the beautiful flower that emerges from a muddy darkness.

The flowers and their large floating leaves, called lily pads, grow from root-like stems in the muddy bottom. The flowers, pads and the shoots that support them die before winter but the actual root system survives in the mud to produce new plants in the spring.

Water lilies don’t drown like other plants, including trees, when flooded. That’s because the flowers, pads and stems have air spaces that are like the air in our lungs keeping us from sinking when we float on our backs.

The flowers and pads have been described as community centres for all sorts of critters. Beetles, dragonflies and damselflies lay eggs in the stems. Other insects feed off the plant, as do larger creatures like deer, moose and muskrat and beaver. 

Some fish rest in the shade of the pads during especially hot, sunny days. Frogs jump up onto the pads to rest.

Water lilies have been a favourite subject for painters and photographers. The French impressionist painter Claude Monet painted more than 250 pieces featuring water lilies Some are among his most famous works.

Monet’s water lily art and paintings by others are wonderful to look at. We Canadians are especially privileged because there are many ponds and lake edges where we can stop and drink in the calm beauty of the flower said to have dropped from the night sky for our pleasure.

Water lilies float serenely and silently, yet speak to us about tranquility, purity and the unending cycle of life, death and rebirth, 

How can we not accept the Ojibwe belief that water lilies are a special gift from above?