SILVERSWORD - REFLECTIONS ON A PHOTOGRAPH
SILVERSWORD Maui, Hawaii 2015
The sun lowers into the ocean and the sapphire blue sky soon revises itself, deepening in shade first to lapis, then navy, and furthermore to an indigo blue with a deep purple influence. By this time, my focus was no longer on the atmosphere above, but rather on the volcanic cinder underfoot. My descent into the depths of the dormant volcano, the Haleakala crater of Maui, was underway. Beginning from the summit, an elevation of over 10,000 feet, my attention was now solely focused on the few feet of area ahead, being lit by my headlamp. Of course there was still some attention lingering with the atmosphere, but now it was focused on the cool, dry, crispness moving in and out of my lungs. “That’s reason enough to hike on a mountain - it results in further attention to breath,” I think to myself, as I navigate my way further down the crater interior, nearly 3,000 feet below.
By the time I reached my destination and once again turned my attention upwards, there was no color left - only blackness, vast spaciousness, with little specks of form, glowing bits of white scattered throughout. I breathed it all in deeply and held it at my core, allowing my inner warmth to mingle with it. The space of the cosmos filling the space within my body, momentarily becoming one, with no difference between it and I. Words surfaced in my mind and they said, “A deepening of attention to space in one stream is a deepening of attention to space in all streams. Space is space.” I feel a wonderful sense of stillness.
Soon, my attention comes back to Earth and the otherworldly landscape around me, as the flashlight illuminates my surroundings. It is all without much color. Well, coffee, penny, cinnamon - all various shades of brown, shaped dramatically like only land that was molten lava just 500 years earlier could be - ruggedly mutilated, yet aesthetically alluring.
But there was something else there in this ethereal landscape that the light revealed, something so magical and unfamiliar that words begin to fail. It was she that brings me here on this night, and now my attention is fully with her - manifest like a thousand sword blades sticking out of a single point, the rare Silversword - a plant like no other on Earth. To see one is a special treat. To see one in bloom, with its spectacular flowering stalk reaching skyward, and containing up to 600 heads of up to 40 flowers - it feels as if you are looking at an alien being from some distant galaxy who has come to impart deep wisdom, a secret containing the answers to the universe. One would never suspect that soon after their flowering they will die, scattering drying seeds to the wind and returning to the cosmos above. But, that is their fate. Although by some reports they can live to 90 years or more, they are a threatened species, now dependent on management efforts for survival. In the past it was people who mindlessly ripped them up to take home as souvenirs, or goats who came into the park and ate them that decimated their numbers - now climate change presents a new threat. Rising temperatures and lower rainfall may prove too much even for this hardy plant.
But, as I stand here humbly under a dark sky full of possibilities, with a faint glow of yesterday or tomorrow smoldering on the distant horizon - my wonder does not rest on these things of death and passing, nor whether the plant will survive, nor whether our human race will survive, nor of goats. My wonder is solely in the moment. At this moment, the light of my attention reflects with the form of this simple but mystical plant. Silversword. I certainly do not understand her better or know her more intimately because I can name her or speak her name aloud. But I do know her more deeply because I stand in awe and listen to her message from here-and-beyond - a message I can’t transcribe, but which points to that of spaciousness and stillness and presence and wonder.