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This online photo caught my attention.

Mortar joins long slabs of rock probably hewn from a nearby quarry, and fashioned the cellar room of an ancient house or fortress. Dried grasses and a piece of tree bark litter the earthen floor toward the exit. Mosses, of varying species teeming with critters, seem to climb the steps toward the light.

Centuries of feet, shod in soft leather, fabrics, sandals, boots, and rags, conceivably used these steps, days and nights, to respond to the needs of those living on upper floors, whether prince or peasant. Such cellars were often divided into sections according to their use: bins of root vegetables and fruits, slabs of smoked and preserved meat, stacked drums of grains, vats for grapes, and deeper cellars for wine. Other cellars jailed enemies, with implements of torture still attached to the stone walls.

Interest in this photo joggled memories of having been in such places while traveling abroad. Such exposure to other times and cultures broadened my sense of life—Nothing much has changed.

Yet, on a deeper level, cycles of darkness follow those of light and pattern our life journey: both bear fruit if willing to learn.

Recently, I encountered a botanist with a chaste spirit. Tall, ginger of hair, broad-boned, and brimming with energy, she researched mosses for over thirty years on her father’s woodland estate in Philadelphia. This passion honed her integrity and her scientific writings, which she shared with botanists all over the world. Also versed in many languages, she readily accessed other cultures and values.

Synchronous meetings with two gifted men in her mid-life, however, opened her to travel in distant lands and even more life experience that slowly radicalized her worldview. No longer bound to convention, to customary comforts, to the opinion of others, she became the woman she was destined to become: simple, wise, engaging.

Should you wish to meet this intriguing woman, she may be found within the pages of Elizabeth Gilbert’s novel, The Significance of All Things (2013). Its title, drawn from the writings of the German sixteenth-century-mystic-and-cobbler, Jacob Boehme (reputed Father of Botany), speaks of God imprinting love-signs within ongoing creation. A lifetime student of these signs kept the nineteenth-century protagonist, Alma Whitaker, chaste–certainly a woman for these times of bewildering change.


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