Some might consider the things I consider sacred a bit silly. One of these is the bloom of bloodroot in the spring woods. It flowers in April. The petals do not last more than a few precious days. Its leaves look like a tender version of a grape leaf. Its stems run blood red if you pluck the plant from its muddy place in the earth.
It is this last trait that makes me appreciate bloodroot the most. It seems to share the frailty of life itself. When cut, it bleeds.
This morning while running a course through a local forest preserve, I glanced into the woods to find bloodroot sticking up in little clumps. It is not a prolific flower by trait. Not nearly so prevalent or aggressive as the trout lily that spreads like a school of mottled fish across the forest floor.
I stepped off the running path with my camera and took a photo of the bloodroot. In several days its petals will fall and turn black against the prairie soil. If you do not pass through the woods during its springtime appeal it is gone for another year. This also makes it sacred.
While standing again on the trail, I glanced up at the western sky to see a yellowing moon sinking toward the horizon. It sinks because the earth is turning toward the east. By all appearances, that makes the sun seem to rise. It is all an illusion that convinced all of humanity for thousands of years that we existed at the center of the universe.
And now we know better.
The moon circles us just as we circle the sun. Not so long ago it was thought that the sun circled the earth. That was a human attempt to define ourselves as the most meaningful product of creation in God’s eyes. It turns out that is nothing more than a desperate and distracting illusion, for it excuses so much self-centered behavior disguised as an expression of providence.
The self-centered beliefs of priests and chiefs and laymen are so persistent there are still many who imagine themselves to be a perfection somehow of God’s work in this world.
But those of us who run or ride through the woods on a cold spring morning know better. We trek with moonlight on our backs and mud on their feet, caught between worlds of inspiration and grift.
We have a right to ask: do those who imagine themselves the center of the universe cover ground on their own? Do they consider that the roots of living prairie plants beneath the soil go so much deeper than we are tall? And that it took thousands of years of dying prairie plants to build the soil we plant with seeds to create food that sustains us all? We are not the center of anything. We are merely earthly beings caught between earth and sky. Carbon and water. Minerals and salt.
We are the ephemeral ones. We are the bloodroot of humanity.
It is true that we are all as frail as the blossom of bloodroot in the spring. Pale as moonglow under the pall of death. It occurred to me as I posted this photo that somewhere on the prairie behind me in this photo are the ashes of a wife that I scattered with my children the week after Easter four years ago. But those are gone as well. The earth gives forth and the earth reclaims.
Even our holiest garments and fervent prayers do not spare us this fate. That is why the bloodroot is sacred. It is a reminder to live in the moment. To run or ride or swim for all you are worth, and to be grateful for the opportunity. Take stock and languish for a few moments in the spring woods as the moonlight loses its power to the sun.
And be alive.