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April 2021 CIA: Skunk Cabbage

The April edition of our church newsletter, Concern in Action, can be read here and our letter from Pastor Shepherd is also posted below.

April 2021 CIA[1625]
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Last year, our oldest son Brady attended the Sharon Cooperative Nature School at Moose Hill Farm for pre-K. When the COVID curtain fell and the kids could no longer go to the school, they put out short videos instead to teach the kids some of the things they’d normally learn while out on their daily hikes around the farm. One video, in particular, became a favorite in our house. It was about one of the first plants that emerge in springtime here in the wetlands of New England: skunk cabbage. These leafy plants pop out of the mud along creeks and vernal pools just as the snow is melting, and get their name from the pretty gnarly smell they emit in order to attract flies and creepy-crawlies, who, in turn, act as pollinators for the plant. The coolest thing about them, though, is the reason they are able to sprout so early in spring is that the plants themselves can generate their own heat, melting the snow around and above them as they are sprouting. The other morning, I was taking my usual walk down the Rhododendron Path in Bird Park, and, even through my facemask, I caught the distinctive smell of something rotten. I looked around and realized that the forest floor, especially over by the creek, was dotted with bright green skunk cabbage leaves bursting up out of the soil. It smelled like death, but it looked like life.

In Buddhism, the symbol for enlightenment is a lotus flower, whose beautiful blooms grow in the midst of muck. On Easter Sunday, we see Lilies, another tropical flower that thrives in swampy soil. But perhaps the plant of choice to call to mind the meaning of resurrection ought to be the skunk cabbage. Sure, it isn’t beautiful. Sure, it smells like death. But skunk cabbage is vital to the ecosystem in the early spring season, coming out of hibernation to lend its presence and its warmth to melt the winter away.

In so many ways, this Easter season will be a time of “melting away the winter.” There is a sense that life is beginning again—not “going back” to normal, but approaching some “new normal” (or maybe a “new new normal.” We can be a part of that by continuing to take appropriate precautions against COVID, as well as by getting vaccinated as soon as we are able.

Even though I felt a bit chagrined to be “jumping the line,” I was able recently to get the first dose of the Pfizer Vaccine, thanks to a special availability of vaccines for clergy provided by Stewart Healthcare. If you have concerns about being vaccinated, or about not wanting to take someone else’s opportunity, let me say: remember the skunk cabbage. These plants do what they must in order to emerge from the tight grip of the frozen earth. Get vaccinated when you can; if you need help, we’ve got a church full of members who can lend their know-how to help. The heat is surely building up to melt away this pandemic, but we’re still in the skunk cabbage phase. It’ll be some time before the blooms of spring open completely.

Easter Sunday itself marks the beginning of a new season—an opportunity to look to the future, to what comes after resurrection, when Christ is alive and with us. I’m looking forward to exploring this with all of you in the coming weeks in our worship together. As the blooms of spring grow sweeter, so may we all sweeten our prayers, our hopes, and our faith for what happens next.

In Grace and Peace,

Pastor Shepherd


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