The Persistent Rose of My Childhood

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Stewardship of the earth leads us toward sustainability. Anything less than full commitment to stewardship and an attitude of humble, respectful co-creation in relation to subtle energies leaves us vulnerable. Without this, we will all be homeless. If we can change how we interact with the biosphere, we may find ourselves able to edge back from crisis. Were co-creation and relational consciousness the secrets of Eden? Will the children of the first keepers of Eden rise to the challenge and earn the right of return?

There is a place where people are engaged in this process. It is called the Findhorn Foundation. It is in Scotland. The Foundation seems to be quietly leading the way toward planetary healing. I am hopeful that by accessing our inborn sensibility to perceive subtle energy we will help find our way. It takes practice and courage to awaken to the flow of energy from earth to heart to mind, and then to others, but it’s not complicated. What do I mean by subtle energy? For example, in my kitchen I ask the plants what they need and sometimes I “see” what they want, whether it is water or light or feeding. If I can, I’ll provide it. Earlier this morning on this March day in Vermont, the aloe vera plant in the kitchen showed me that it wanted more light and warmth: With my eyes closed and my hand held at the place where I sensed its energy field meet mine, I saw a desert scene of bright sun and blue sky, but I can’t give it the sun it craves. Moments later, a baby spider plant showed me a pool of water, so I gave it water. It’s not much different from asking my friends or neighbors what they need. Or myself. Perception begins with desire. The desire and ability to connect will frame our fundamental potential for survival. Can the human community learn to move in the direction of healing these subtle but necessary dimensions of our relations?

It is possible to explore pathways such as these that were once well known but are now hidden, or perhaps forgotten by choice. I only sense a fragment of the awareness that is available. Beauty called out to me from childhood onward, many times. I learned to listen for it’s call in return. When we seek relationship with the natural world, Beauty desires our attention as much as we desire it’s presence.
I knew how to hear the call to Beauty because, whatever other crises arose to tear our lives apart, my parents held to one fundamental: When beauty nudged they responded. They showed me that responding is up to us and it matters. They showed me how to respond to nature’s subtle energies by focusing my perception. I knew how to invite and be thankful for openings. Very slowly, I discovered how to let myself fall through beauty into the living hands of love. I gained an expanded awareness of the creative, intelligent presences of nature, Christ, the presence of the Sidhe, my ancestors, the Angels. I discovered that the threshold of awareness, the simple grateful appreciation of the beauty of nature, could become a doorway to transcendence.

It was on a cold, wintery day in 2016 in Vermont when I turned my awareness in a more focused, intentional, back toward the persistent rose of my childhood. In my book, Notes on Hunger httml, I describe this rose and how it showed me everything I know about courage. My mother first showed the rose to me where it grew against the foundation of the house the day we moved from our home in Calgary to the farm east of Sundre. She reached out to touch it as we approached the door of the house. It grew against the foundation. I could tell she loved it already. That was in the early 1960’s. Why was it that this rose seemed to continually resurface in my memory in a newly persistent way over 40 years later? When I began writing this, I contacted my brother, who still lives on the farm. He assured me it is still growing there.

The reason for the re-emergence of the rose in my consciousness soon became apparent. My husband, John H. Townsend and I would be needing her help. After nearly 20 years of marriage we were about to enter a new stage. He would soon be preparing to transition and I would be asked to let him go. Our long and happy relationship was about to change due to illness.

To respond to this inner call from the rose, I focused on getting to know her better. I tried to remember how she had looked, and I followed an impulse to find out more. Research showed me that the rose I saw in my mind was called the rosa damascene httml. I discovered her history as a medicinal agent, and found out that the rosa damascene is one of the precious adaptogens the earth has provided for us. As such, she has not only the ability, but also the desire, to help balance all human body systems. I learned that the petals and buds could soothe and quiet irritated bronchial passages. I learned that she could work with the crown chakra to open the 3rd eye, facilitate meditation, and address the heart chakra to calm anxiety.

As I thought back, I realized that these were all gifts from that the little rose that grew by the foundation at the house on the farm. Just by reaching out to my senses she grew into my thoughts and gradually what she wanted me to know and embody became clear. More about the story is in my memoire, Notes on Hunger.

As I began to deepen by awareness of the rose, I continued to search for information. I found that new, practical uses for this plant are still being explored by researchers, and the story is expanding. I continued to add to my base of knowledge. Then, I discovered a website where I could buy a pound of dried buds and petals grown on an organic farm in Bulgaria. When the package arrived a few weeks later, I was surprised at how many dried roses there are in a pound and wondered what to do with them.

At the time, I had little experience making infusions, but following another impulse, and after finding information on-line, I divided the contents of the bag into two gallon-sized jars. I covered the roses in one jar with organic almond oil. I heated the contents to over 180 degrees in order to discourage the growth of bacteria. Into the other jarful of roses I poured Russian vodka. I put on lids and set the jars in a still place. I added more oil or vodka to the jars as needed over the next few days as the roses soaked it up, in order to keep the contents covered. They infused for six months. I tipped the jars upside down and back right-side up once in a while to redistribute the contents.

After six months of waiting, I poured out and strained the oil. I tried it out on my face and hands. I noticed that the fragrance lifted my heart and made me feel loved. My mind cleared, I felt relaxed. Then, I gave some to a few friends and asked for their feedback. What we found out was that in addition to carrying a lovely, gentle fragrance, it nourished and moisturized our skin, and protected it from the summer sun and winter winds. We verified that for all of us it seemed to open the 3rd eye and soothe the and heart crown chakras.

In another experiment, I put the rose petals and buds that I strained out of the oil into little muslin bags and tied them shut. I dropped them in the water when bathing. These little bath sachets were perfect for hot water soaks: There was enough fragrance and oil to soften the skin, relax the body and soothe the emotions. Friends and neighbors loved them. They asked me to give them more when I could. I did, and now I often am able to provide them at Christmastime.

What about the other jar? The one I filled with vodka, the tincture? When poured out, the tincture was helpful and healing as well: It was a dark, rich garnet color, and had a lovely fragrance. When I rubbed a drop of the tincture into the third eye of my forehead, I began to have soothing dreams. I found a feeling of calm spread through me if I used it anytime I felt anxious. When John was ill with cancer and beginning to walk apart from me, I put a few drops in a glass of water and “saw” tiny flashes of light like the facets of a gem, as I drank. I felt comforted and hopeful, more confident that we could manage the challenges we faced. When the muscles in my jaw were tight and sore from grieving, I rubbed a few drops onto the outside of my jaw, and the knotted tendons relaxed just a little. Sore joints in my fingers felt better almost instantly when I rubbed it in. These small comforts meant so much. The effect didn’t always last long, but it was very soothing. I felt connected, cared for, and loved. More resilient. Friends reported similar effects.

As an adaptogen, the damascene rose I now know that she reaches into our chakras to promote balance and smooth out the energy flow throughout the body. (A couple of friends that I left these living rose gifts with happily reported a distinct positive shift in their libido.)

Continuing my exploration, I used the tincture and oil along with shea butter and a little organic beeswax with home-infused arnica and calendula oils to make a salve that helped to relieve soreness in muscles and joints in the neck, hands, feet and hips. Sometimes helpful suggestions appeared through research or feedback from friends, other times not.

The second batches of rose tincture and oil were made in 2017, also from rosa damascene petals and buds. They infused during the final period of John’s illness httml link to his bio. During the last weeks of John’s life the house was filled with grace-ful peace, and I began to feel the distinct presence of Mary, mother of Christ, although neither of us had any Catholic background in this lifetime. I can’t explain it, I only know that John and I both needed comfort and perhaps Mary came because she found me waiting for help at the threshold of Beauty when I reached for the roses.

I knew of the strong mythological connections between Mary and the rose, but I did not expect that I would feel directly connected to her. Why would I? However, when the time of infusion was completed there was an added high sweetness and strength to the contents of these second jars. The oil and tincture both seemed to penetrate to the heart of prayer and mindfulness. These comforts provided gentle relaxation, and gave our awareness a leading edge that feared no light or darkness or change: I felt as though it was upon the energy flow of these roses that John went into his time of transition. It was his wish to die at home, peacefully. He got his wish. Beauty itself called to us through the roses: it came to lift us up. Beauty moved with us, a living grace in present time, strongly, sweetly, and one day at a time. We were beautifully supported by the Vermont system of hospice care and our many friends.

Early, one morning in March, 2019, almost two years after his death. I awoke with John’s voice gently, firmly, clearly in my consciousness. I heard one word, “Findhorn.” Because of this clairaudience, I knew I was meant to go there, and did so that fall. Findhorn is one of the places on Earth in present time where people are working together toward intentional, sustainable community based on the idea of co-creation with the earth. They seek planetary, ecological healing.

As I prepared to go, I meditated on the call of John’s resonant voice, while I sat watching the morning light come to the sky. I thought of him as I drank my cup of morning tea from the blue chair by my bedroom window, looking down on the apple trees.
In the opening chapter of Notes on Hunger httml, I describe how I followed my grandfather, George Robert MacLean’s pocket stone, on a journey through Scotland in 2008. That stone was silent all the while that I was in Ireland in 2014. I wondered if it would wake up again when I returned to Scotland, when I arrived in Findhorn. As I pondered, the stone rested in my left hand. It whispered to me of patience.

As part of my former journeys to Scotland and Ireland one purpose was to ask my innermost questions about the time when my family were refugees after they were forcibly removed from their ancestral lands and traditional lives. You can walk with me as I visit the even more remote origin of that first human habitation at Mount Sandel in Northern Ireland. Refugees walk, sometimes for generations, until they find their way home. Is Findhorn where I belong, if only for a renewed moment in time?

All things are connected. There seemed to be many secrets hidden in the persistent rose of my childhood and the recent iterations I have found to bring into my home. Sometimes I feel she led me through deep memory, toward deep questions that are rooted in the most simple: The earth is in us. We are of the earth. Is that what intuition is? Remembering what we knew long ago? How much information is available within us if we take the time to look? I felt like she brought me to rediscover forgotten treasure.

My story is a living thing. It evolves: A story is woven into and out of many days and as long the white-throated sparrows in the apple trees chatter and Crow flies, it will not end. The sparrows speak of humility, human connection and grace. Crow tells me she flies on two wings, one is unconditional love and the other is forgiveness. My friend, Dr. Miranda Selby, Soulstone Wellness httml told me yesterday that she dreamed I flew up onto her front porch on the back of a large crow. In her dream, I told her I’m again headed for Findhorn. Perhaps my family once lived in the area. We laughed like children, joyfully fueled by this loving information.

As I drop my memories of trauma and leave them in the past where they much lie, I take up the responsibility to change my story, I am fully present, and by being present in my own life, I am empowered to act. I know I am part of the story told by refugees, but I am only one of millions. As I am renewed, brighter threads discover themselves and fall into my hands. Unknown but welcome colors and patterns emerge. We are held in the heart of the Master Weaver, and it’s only together that we are a fully expressed tapestry.

We are, each one of us, singers, but none of us sings the whole song. Who is the Master Singer? We hear the sound of many poems, but none of us are the complete poem. Who is the Master Poet?

What will happen next? It is a mystery. Crow is the held in the Weaver’s hand, tugging this way and that, beating her wings as the shuttle flies across the loom. The stars awaken one by one as she moves through the dark flow of night. I see the shape of my mother’s eyes emerge from the background, and realize that she has never been absent from me, although until now I was too afraid of losing her forever to open mine and see her there, nearby, waiting. John is never far away. I listen carefully, and hear the echo of melodies that Crow has woven all around the edge of the fabric of my being. She has caught the colors of all the laughter of hidden in the secret jokes she tells. We will rediscover new connections: New friends, new hope, new love will emerge. All shall be well again, I know, as Hildegaard von Bingen httml told us from the midst of her experiences so very long ago.

On this cold March day, the white sparrows have not yet returned for the spring, and neither has the rose of my childhood emerged, but they will come. I know they will come. Crow is here.

Darlene Witte
Darlene Witte

Professor of Education, (retired) at Johnson State College in Vermont leads the Green Mountain Writers' Poetry & Performance workshop that meets on Zoom each month on the 1st and 3rd Tuesdays at 7 PM ET. Find out more at

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