Bloom Where You Are Planted


My husband Vic died in early June 2008. Even though my heart ached, I was grateful for long days and spring green. Nature made it clear there was more than death to consider. There was wild growth, rich color, and bird songs. There was life. Unstoppable life refused to let me sink into a hole of darkness. To make sure I got the message, I had a dream eleven days after Vic’s death:

GM drawingI’m living in the house of the Green Man. He’s large, naked and muscular, resting in his porcelain tub of water. He’s the right color for June—not newborn or adolescent, but a man in early summer glory. He’s handsome, clean-shaven, and square-jawed with pale green skin and hair the color of red maple leaves.

I grabbed that image and held on. I didn’t know much about him, but a friend loaned me a book. Green Man became my hope at a time when death felt closer than life. He was purple lupines in the fields and red lettuce in the garden. The season of birthing, Beltane, marriages, green shoots, nesting, and the passion of warm nights.

249860Before the dream, I assumed I would leave the home Vic and I bought in 1972. How could I care for seventy-one acres on my own? The dream persuaded me to stay.

“I’ll decide what to do next year,” I told myself. “For now, I need this land.”

That summer, I believed in the Green Man as much as I believed in anything. I spent long days tending my gardens and watching young plants sprout and grow. I listened to birds and watched wildflowers as they bloomed, browned, and fell to the ground. At night, I read about the Green Man and painted him.

In August, as the vegetable garden matured and produced tomatoes and red peppers, the pale green of spring darkened. Green Man’s world was forest green, not the soft yellow tones of spring.

Green Man (with a few Orpheus qualities) guiding me back to life

Green Man (with a few Orpheus qualities) guiding me back to life

By September, I saw hints of orange and red. The aging Green Man reigned, the dying one whose leaves fall to the forest floor and rot back into the Earth. I knew him from experience. What was once young, vital, and pulsing with life would change and age.

In the Middle Ages, devotees of the Green Man honored Death as part of the natural cycle leading to Rebirth. This aspect of the Green Man is rare in our world now compared to the youthful face that remains as a face on garden gates. The pre-Christian Green Man reminds us everything that is born will die.

Green Man of Neumagen, Trier Germany,

Green Man of Neumagen, Trier Germany,

At Vic’s death, I craved the youthful aspect of the Green Man. Now, I’m more conscious of the full cycle of life, including the waning, withering, and wasting.

I will bloom while I can with all the color and joy left to me, but I don’t forget the inevitable outcome. Mythology and many spiritual traditions show me this truth over and over again. Nature handles this reality with equanimity while we humans do all we can to escape and forget.

In my dream, the Green Man said I would live in his house for a year. I still haven’t moved on.


Thanks to Ellen Schmidt of Writing Room Workshops in Ithaca, NY for offering a spark. Thanks to William Anderson who wrote the book Green Man: The Archetype of Our Oneness with the Earth (Harper Collins, London, 1990). The image of the withering Green Man is from his book.

If you’re interested in learning more about the Green Man, you’ll enjoy my recent article A Green Man’s Guide to Life in The Edge Magazine. I’ve also written extensively about the Green Man in Leaning into Love: A Spiritual Journey through Grief. For another blog about the healing power of nature, see Planting Joy in a Season of Sorrow. For a fascinating blog series about dreaming, see Susan Scott’s A-Z Blog Challenge, 26 blogs about the importance and meaning of dreams. Scroll down to A and begin reading there.

  1. Thank you for showing us the many iterations of the Green Man here.

    Maybe you yourself are the archetypal Green Woman, ever stretching and growing.

    • Thanks, Marian. I have a “self-portrait” of me as the Green Woman. I didn’t share it, though. Maybe I should have. Next time, since I’m still thinking about this topic.

  2. I read both articles Elaine, and of course shared. I’m so happy for your success and for your strength to overcome with finding the beauty around us as comfort. 🙂

  3. I know all that is born will die, yet I live as if that is not true for me. When Adrian died, it hit me powerfully that I was going to also.

    As I watched the flowers in my recent mothers-day bouquet die, I again was reminded of the cycle. It’s there, all around us.

    Thanks for pointing it out in beautiful words, Elaine.

    • Hi Lynne. Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. Nature is so helpful in this way, at least for me. The waxing and waning are everywhere if we notice. I remember reading Carlos Castenada so many years ago with Don Juan’s advice to carry death on our shoulder and consult with it. I’ve found that an excellent practice in one form or another.

      You must see this in painting all the time. The forming and dissolving…

  4. So good to read about The Green Man again. I always loved this image of Vic.
    Our season of blooming got a late start but a powerful one. I’m glad you hung onto your land, GreenWoman.

    • I had more to say about the Green Man, Robin, because he was more than a spring deity. He was about the whole cycle, including the parts we’ve had to face in recent years. I have to dig out that image where I painted myself as the Green Woman. I’m glad to be planted here on the land until it’s time to move on.

  5. Wonderful Elaine. I like the idea of a vibrant, muscular, Green Man attending me and supporting me through life’s passages. Jesus has filled that role in my past. Ah, the power of the myth.

    • Diana, I’ve found the Green Man in many forms and ways since that dream. I knew so little about him, but once I knew more, I found his image in many churches and old buildings, especially in New York City. Apparently Chartres Cathedral and most medieval churches in northern Europe have many images of the Green Man in original sculptures. I had no idea. These archetypal energies show up in many ways in our lives–the greening moss of spring, various spiritual teachers and guides, and in dreams. It’s important for me to remember I have outer and inner support at a time when all feels lost. Jesus is a wonderful support for many in this way. In some of the old Green Man stories, he was the son of the Earth Goddess the way Jesus was the son of Divine Mother Mary. It’s an interesting mix of the Christian and pre-Christian.

  6. You mentioned Carlos Castaneda In one of your responses. I have always vibrated deeply to that one bit of knowledge… every action, every word in the context of death upon your shoulder. Perhaps this is not the place, but tell me how you are doing. I’ve been working each week with my friend David who took me upon that first shamanic journey. Things are changing for me. Spring is near! (My email has changed… shown below.)

    • That idea from Carlos Castaneda grabbed me around 1970 and I never let go. It gives me a way to broaden the perspective and see beyond my first ego response. I’m nearly healed from surgery, but it’s been challenging for my body because I wasn’t allowed to do much exercise. My next blog post is about relighting my physical fires. Sound goes on Monday and that will be a new challenge–but everything about hearing loss has been a challenge so this is the reconstruction part of the journey to re-enter the world of hearing. I’ll know more after my appointment in Rochester on Monday. I’m glad you’re getting help from your shamanic friend. I’m glad things are changing for you in a positive way. Today is a burst of spring and tomorrow another dose of winter, but spring will win. She always does.

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