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Perhaps the earth can teach us,

as when everything seems dead in winter

and later proves to be alive.

—Pablo Neruda  

While most would agree that we are still in the midst of winter, and the Spring Equinox is almost a month away, a hint of the coming change of season is in the air here in the Bay Area. You can tell by the way the light has changed, and the way the sun warms the earth on the clear days between winter storms, around the hopefulness I’ve heard from folks here and even in the still snow-covered parts of the country.

Things are waking up. And it’s important to remember that such a change, in the cycle of a year, or over a longer period of time, always comes. No matter how cold and gray the winter might be, and how much we’re ready for warmer weather and blue sky, we have to have the faith that such a change—in our lives, in our work, and in our world—does happen. 

Thoreau wrote “Though I do not believe that a plant will spring up where no seed has been, I have great faith in seed. Convince me that you have a seed there, and I am prepared to expect wonders.” Many of us working to build more sustainable communities, working to build anything in our lives that is greater than we are—an organization, a family, a community—know the value of having this faith in a seed; in knowing, as the Earth does, that “everything seems dead in winter but later proves to be alive.”

You can see it now in California, as native plants like the poppies and wild lilac begin their bloom—and we can see it everywhere in the individuals and small groups across the country and around the world working for change. It’s often so challenging in community building and social change work to see the small movements that result in larger transformations over time. We must be prepared to expect wonders, though the season might have us feeling differently. As the poet and novelist Marge Piercy has shared: “For every gardener knows, after the digging, after the planting, after the long season of tending and growth, the harvest comes.”

February 2005