The Daily: 28 April 2023


Cosiddetta Flora from the Villa di Arianna in Stabiae near Pompeii, 1st century Roman fresco

The festival of Floralia is another very old holiday. It honors Flora, the Roman idea of fertility that is embodied in spring flowers. Flora is one of the oldest deities in the Roman pantheon. She is older than Rome, being closely related to and likely derived from the Sabine Flora whose festival, Flusalis, was an entire month in early summer. Floralia was celebrated on 27 April in the Republican era but was moved to the 28th under the Julian calendar. It was a day of feasting, but it opened a week of games, the Ludi Floralia.

This is also another holiday that is linked to the plebeian class. Like the Cerealia, which immediately precedes Floralia, the plebeian aediles were responsible for organizing religious rites that crossed over into entertainment (or the other way around). There were performances, games and public banqueting. The patrician writers who gave us the records of the time were prone to sniffing at the earthy nature of the celebrations. Juvenal tells us that prostitutes engaged in mock gladiatorial combat in the nude, lambasting the whole of Roman culture in hilarious theatre. Hares and goats, animals of noted fecundity — and not a little chaos, at least in the case of goats — were set loose in the streets, according to Ovid. The crowds were pelted with beans and vetch and lupines, all symbols of fertile fields.

There is some crossover between Cerealia and Floralia. The official Florifertum, the offering made to Flora in her temples, was a sheaf of wheat that had been paraded through the streets by the office of the flamen Florialis. Flora is the unbridled maiden — a deity that scared the tunics off patrician Rome. Ceres is the care-giving matron, who was only marginally more tolerable. Arguably, these goddesses — Ceres, Flora, Venus, Juno, Persephone — all share the same root in the sacred feminine, an ancient deity that represented not merely potentiality, but total control of reproduction and food production. The first owners of wealth and well-being. The gods who were deposed to inaugurate male rule.


Arbor Day

Today is also Arbor Day, a very recent addition to the year round, a day to reflect on our relationship with trees.

We have a fraught relationship with trees. To mask our utter dependence on the green world and to justify taking whatever we desire from the planet, we have stripped even the possibility of consciousness from other life forms, woody ones in particular. We name them resources, so that the value of trees is determined only relative to ourselves, usually proportional to the profit that we will extract when we kill them.

But sometimes we value living trees.

Arbor Day is a day to value and salute living trees. Admittedly, the history of Arbor Day is somewhat tainted with white privilege and a general air of cluelessness. But the Arbor Day Foundation is working hard to refashion this day into something we all can celebrate and participate in, a day of planting, a day to ameliorate some of our past destruction and to propagate trees for the future.

While most holidays celebrate something that has already happened and is worth remembering, Arbor Day represents a hope for the future. The simple act of planting a tree represents a belief that the tree will grow to provide us with clean air and water, cooling shade, habitat for wildlife, healthier communities, and endless natural beauty — all for a better tomorrow. (Arbor Day Foundation)

I wholly support planting trees wherever you live — natives, fruit-bearing, nut-bearing — on this day and every other. In fact, I tend to do this, sometimes even buying saplings from the Arbor Day folks and planting them on property that I don’t own, rather like Johnny Appleseed, but with more of a penchant for oaks, maples and walnuts. Wherever you are, a tree is needed. So go find a seed or a seedling and set it on its future path. You are planting delight for your descendants.

the grandmothers

our grandmothers
wisdom keepers
guardians of life
they stand in silent sentinal
witness to the fall
from the center
and the margins
they know our hearts
people our dreams
bind our world
create our earth
they forgive and give
yet we take and unmake
we are their children
their flesh made anew
our debts can ne’er be repaid
but they do not demand reciprocity
to grow into old age
passing light into the new

From the Book Cellar

A small selection of picture books for Arbor Day:

Arbor Day Square by Kathryn O. Galbraith, illustrated by Cyd Moore (2010, Peachtree).

A Tree Is Nice by Janice May Udry, illustrated by Marc Simont, a Caldecott Medal winner (1956, HarperCollins Children’s Books).

The Busy Tree by Jennifer Ward, illustrated by Lisa Falkenstern (2009, Marshall Cavendish Children).

©Elizabeth Anker 2023

1 thought on “The Daily: 28 April 2023”

  1. I agree with you about the need for trees. We planted over sixty trees in our garden when we arrived here thirty-five years ago and I bless their presence during the heat of summer.

    Liked by 1 person

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