Verdant View – November 2022


When I lived in the U.S. my dear friend Eavonka would invite me every year to be the guest lecturer at her 6th grade elementary, inner city public school. The student body was made up mostly of Latino and Black youth and the topic was Day of the Dead. The Latino kids, mostly born in the U.S., did not have any schooling around this important holiday. The Black students were equally unfamiliar with the Mexican tradition, so it was great to bring this celebration to life in their classrooms. I’d bring items for a “show and tell” altar, as well as a PowerPoint presentation for the class. Eavonka said that it connected them with a culture that was ghostly present in their lives and only now had come to life through my lectures.

I’ve always loved Día de Los Muertos and have embraced the ritual. I believed that my understanding of its features, symbolism, and significance would help me understand the reality of death and dying. The familiarization and intellectualization of this information does not help me process and feel the passing of loved ones. The reality still is grief and longing for the loved ones gone.

Every year some of my plant friends pass on while others remain with me one more season or year. I feel their passing the same way I feel a passing of an animal loved one. When the plants suffer, I look for ways to make them healthy and happy again; and when they die, I grieve my loss. Always I remain grateful for their having been part of my life and their having brought me such joy. I guess this is the way we remember loved ones during Día de Los Muertos, through recounting memories and remembering the part they played in our lives.

Día de Los Muertos is a wonderful expression of Mexico’s indigenous past and religious tradition that dates back centuries. The origins of the Día de Los Muertos are rooted in Mesoamerican culture and possibly Aztec festivals that celebrated the goddess Mictecacihuatl.

All across time and cultures people have developed a diversity of practices to remember the passing of loved ones. Almost every culture and religion have their own practices of mourning and remembrance, since the death of a loved one creates the paradoxical impulses of both wanting to hold on to someone and the need to let them go. One feature of these traditions is they are a public method for processing private grief; the transferring of private grieving into a shared community activity.

What to plant in November

The rains have finished and Mexican weather is just about perfect in November. The days are sunny and  bright with cool, refreshing evenings that only require a light jacket or sweater. Save some of your wood fireplace ashes for the compost pile. Look for snapdragons, stocks, fuchsias, poinsettias, pansies, petunias, and phlox at the viveros. Sweet peas may begin blooming. Snapdragons will re-seed, but not with the same vibrancy of color. Plant lettuce, peas, kohl rabi, spinach and Swiss chard (the rainbow variety is wonderful to look at and good to eat).  Start dahlia, alyssum, mallow and poppy (Papaver) seeds now. Mist fuchsias and water garden regularly, keeping in mind that the native plants know how to deal with the dry seasons. Most orchids can take more sun now. Order seed catalogues for next year and begin planning. Now is a good time to get the garden cleaned up really well. You can fill in bare spots with blooming plants from the viveros and plant sellers. There are many seasonal plants to choose from.

“The wise ones know this; to grieve deeply is to praise and love life.”

– Kristina Trejo

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Francisco Nava
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