Swampfire - A Meditation

Swampfire - A Meditation

     What power does a name possess?  Does it conjure something up from the ground or out of the brisk air when it’s spoken?  The name given to you, or a new name close friends call you, or a name you chose for yourself…. It has the power to shape your identity, how others perceive you, or how you perceive yourself.
     I know a friend who never felt at home in their birth name, so they gave themselves a new one. I know a friend who experienced a trauma and lost their old self and needed a new one. I know a friend who experienced something so emotionally profound and discovered their wasn't adequate language to describe it, so they made up a new words; shaped out of thin air like fire.
     Language shapes us and informs our mental and emotional pathways, and the names of things can change the way we view a place, a person, or a plant.

     I keep coming back to this idea of different versions of ourselves, of transitions, of thresholds, of liminal spaces, of transformation probably because I’m in a tidal season of my life and I’m shedding old skin, old language, old names, old layers and old colors - in search of new understanding, and investigating what all these metaphors mean to me.
     I know that the influence of Autumn is present as well.  It’s fall - the far leaning end of October.  This perennial season of leaving the old behind; letting it change colors on the limbs of trees, then falling quietly to the ground below - this strange miracle happens every year, yet somehow it feels unthinkably original and captivating every time.

     What do you need to leave behind as the season changes?  What colors are burning brightly within you and around you, as the fleeting year starts to wind down?

When I lived in Colorado, every October I would take all my old words from unfinished poems and pieces of scrap wood from art projects from the year, and I would burn them in my fireplace, spreading the ashes on the ground outside as a way to release the old parts of myself as they lingered and faded. In Autumn, we mimic the trees as they let go of their leaves. That was when I lived in Colorado, but now I live in a small apartment in a big city, without a fireplace, and I’ve been looking for new ways to leave and grieve the old. At times I’ve felt a little lost at how to do it.  I’ve been looking for fresh rhythms and practices to burn away the old metaphors. Then I was introduced to a new kind of fire... Swampfire.

Salicornia also known as Swampfire, is a curious plant. It grows in places where fresh water and salt water mix.  Often along the coast in salt marshes amongst the grasses or on the beach, or in the woods that fringe the estuary. The ashes of Salicornia were traditionally used in the production of soap and glass by the Chumash and the Tongva. It’s edible and has been used as a food source around the world for thousands of years, and is still prepared in meals internationally today.  Salicornia is in the succulent family, and to my delight and surprise it turns BRIGHT red in the fall.  I saw it with my friend and collaborator, Janey Winchell the other day as we drove along a gravel road next to the great marsh outside Rowley, Massachusetts.
     It caught our attention as we looked out on the overcast and drizzly day, the clouds and moisture increasing the intensity and vibrance of the colors on everything, making it glow like the inside of the fireplace I left behind. Most of the year Salicornia is a pale green, but on this day it was like a wildfire from a Doctor Suess book.

Like you, Salicornia has many personalities and names…

Here’s a small collection of what it’s called the world over (many, many names not included) : Glasswort, Sea Beans, St. Peter’s Herb.  It’s also called Pickleweed, Picklegrass, Samphire greens, and Marsh Samphire.  In Hawaii it’s called Sea Asparagus, and in Nova Scotia is it known as Crow’s Foot Greens.

The name most fitting for my experience with it, is Swampfire. 

The day I saw it in mid-October on the drive with Janey, it looked like we were witnessing some strange sci-fi scene burning miraculously on the edge of the swamp.  It was vibrant, and spread out in patchy blankets through the marsh.  Most of the year it makes no fuss, and doesn’t stand out or call your attention to it.  But at this time of year it roars up in red’s and pinks, fuchsias and burgundies and is so vivacious that we pulled the car over so I could run out through the reeds to see it up close, swamping my shoes in pursuit of a few Swampfire portraits.  

     These photos are intimate portraits intended to give you a rare insight into a small plant in a small corner of the world that only comes into being for a small part of the year. Sit with them and look closely. Sip up the words and imagery like tea.

Take time to peer into the Swampfire Portraits like you would a campfire, and listen to the audio version of the meditation below. The written version is located below the photos. And if you’re interested, here is another poem that references the wisdom that ancient giant sequoias possess about fire, and another meditation that involves The Great Marsh.

Swampfire - A Meditation


Offer all you want to leave behind to this Swampfire,
to this burning metaphor hidden in plain sight along the gravel road.  

Visualize your year - your failures, your letdowns, your stress, your trauma
Envision the joy you no longer need to hold so tight - it’s time to give it back
Hold everything in your hands, and gently toss it into the flames

On this October day, may you feel yourself transforming

Maybe you have lost yourself, or would like to
Maybe you are finding yourself, or would like to

As the leaves of the oaks and maples turn to fire,
As the Salicornia plant, with its reaching arms and many glowing names,
lives like an ember in a field…
May you burn.  May you be consumed.  May you find rest.  
May you find patience to wait for this new self to emerge
May you find release as you shed your old self, through pain and joy
May you be kind to yourself with the same lightness that trees
offer to their leaves as they drop them from their limbs - floating softly to the forest floor
May the ashes of your old self, become soil for the new

You are changing, which can be painful.  You are expanding, which can be intimidating
You are an Autumn morning, temporary and fleeting, yet everlasting and perennial.

May you find a burning courage today to let go of what needs to be let go of
And put on the colors of whoever you are and whoever you need to be.

Gaze into what fills you, and don’t break eye contact with it

You are a fire burning miraculously in the swamp,
in the marsh, in the field, and along the sea

May you find peace as you transform
Flames can cause fear, but as so many wise creatures of the earth know,
fire brings about new life, new seasons, and new names.

May your name bring you power today.  May you find a new one if you have to.
Ask for what you need and live into it openly.

May you fully offer all you hope to leave behind to this unusual and timely October fire, this burning plant of so many names, experiences, places and circumstances not so unlike yourself.  

May you find transformation as the flames kindly accept all you have to offer.  Let your heart rest as your hands are now empty.  Wipe the ash from them and sit quietly as your new self emerges.

This Autumn Fire comes each year to take away the old.  What do envision in your coming spring?  Let these thoughts linger and remain with you.

Let the list of your names increase.
Let your awareness spread like Swampfire on this October day.

What are your many names? What “colors” are you showing today? What do you need to release this fall?

All the Tiny Pieces - Meditation

All the Tiny Pieces - Meditation

The Great Marsh - A Meditation

The Great Marsh - A Meditation