I remember my fourth birthday party at the Navy Base in Corpus Christi, Texas. We lived in one of the top apartments of a quadruplex. There was a balcony between the top two apartments that overlooked a small yard with burnt grass, and on the other side of the yard was a large oval shaped stand of oleander. I learned to ride my bike when I was still to short to put my feet on the ground, so I would just crash into the oleander and trust its slender branches to hold me upright. My birthday is early February, and so for my party my mom bought two of the same books of punch out valentines day cards. (I remember this, because I punched them all out when I found them, and got in some trouble for it.). My Mom hung the cards from one book on the oleander bushes, and passed out the other set to the kids who came to my party. I remember there were quite a few of us. With card in hand, you had to walk around the bush until you found your match, and then you received your prize, which I remember being a balsa wood airplane with a rubber band powered propeller. I remember it flew surprisingly well from the balcony above the yard.
And then my Dad went to Vietnam, which I really did not know or understand. I actually was not even really aware that we were in Corpus Christi because he was in Officer Training School. But I know now that he had been drafted as a surgeon and had been shipped off to Vietnam and assigned to a division of Republic of Korea Marines where he put bodies back together in a M.A.S.H. unit that was never more than a mile or two away from the front lines. He learned there to be a brilliant vascular surgeon. If my Dad could not save somebody on the table, then they were just going to die. Plain and simple. He had no restrictions on the need to try novel approaches, and he had to work fast. I think he was chief of surgery at every hospital he ever worked at after that.
My Mom took me and my sister to my father’s parents house in Miami, which was the same house my father had been born into, and was about a mile and a half from Doctor’s Hospital where I was born in 1967. My fifth birthday party was at that house, and I remember this because we had a pony. So it was sometime between my fourth and fifth birthday that we moved back to our hometown of Miami.
My Mom has always had an amazing green thumb, and to pass the time, she would volunteer at the Fairchild Tropical Garden. David Fairchild had been a close personal friend of my Grandmother. So had most of the old Miami families, because back in the 1920s there were not any people in Coconut Grove except those who could stand the heat and the mosquitos. My parents bought the house from my Grandparents, and they moved to a smaller house with more land near snapper creek. This sets the stage for my story, which revolves around a stand of bamboo.
My Mom brought home one day a bucket from an exotic plant sale at Fairchild that had bamboo in it. We planted it in the jungle that was the front half of the acre where the house was. On this land, back in the 1940s, my Dad’s family had dug out the soil from a sink hole and used it for a victory garden, and so in the front yard, which was a beautiful lush tropical jungle, there was this excavation of what we called “The Big Hole”. It’s still there today, and it’s about 15 feet deep. It looks like it was some sort of spring from ancient times. Mom planted the bamboo at the back of the big hole, and I used to try to make blow guns out of it. I also used to sit on the edge of it with my BB gun to shoot toy soldiers that I would set up on the rocky coral ledges on the other side of the hole. I had green good guys who were the American soldiers and grey bad guys who were the Germans. World War II had left such an indelible print of good vs evil that we did not have with Vietnam. With Vietnam, war was the bad guy and the people who fought it were all victims.
This stand of bamboo grew and grew. As the stalks got taller and thicker , they started to sprout horizontal sticks with sharp thorns, and created a completely impenetrable thicket. For many years cat birds would nest inside the thicket. I’m sure several generations of the same family lived in there. They would pop out and coo to me while I shot my BB Gun.
It was there in the big hole that I sat on the day of my wedding to Stephanie and prayed and listened over and over to a hymn called “I Invoke My Master” which talks about being a son of the truth and living in integrity. It was just the right vibration for the start of a strong marriage. My kids grew up going down there too. My Mom put a concrete alligator statue in the bottom, and the kids all believed it came alive at night and wandered around the woods. Maybe it did.
That was 50 years ago that my Mom brought the bamboo home in the bucket. Last month we were all delighted when it bloomed, as you can see in this picture. But then the towering stand of bamboo started to break and fall over. We did a little research and found that this is the end of the life cycle for the bamboo. It lives about 50 years, and grows to 70 feet high with thick rods of bamboo about six inches in diameter, and then it explodes into a giant geyser of bamboo rice and flowers, and then the whole stand dies.
A couple days ago, I went and looked around the base for new shoots, and there simply were none. I remember years ago seeing new shoots protruding from the ground as the stand spread, but now there are none. I had thought that each shoot of bamboo was a separate organism, like a bunch of trees growing close together, like an aspen grove. But the entire stand is a single organism, that blooms and dies.
This amazing creature was planted when I was a boy of five years old. I am now a grandfather of 55 years old, and it feels so poignant.
I often write here about astrology, and for me a lot of astrology is like a clock that measures the progress of our life. We have our twelve year cycles of Jupiter returns, our 29 year cycles of Saturn returns, our 84 year Uranus return, and on the shorter scale we have our 29 day lunar months, our four times a year Mercury retrograde, our beautiful oscillating Venus clock as she moves from the evening star to the morning star and back again, and the faithful sun marching out one year at a time… never in retrograde, like the march of a maracá.
This bamboo takes me from my early childhood almost right up to my second Saturn return, and its demise is a milestone in my life. I have been going through a personal process of letting go of being the one who does all the tasks, the Dad role, and of assuming the role of the Grandfather. In the Tarot, this is the fools journey from the Knight to the King, where the Knight is in the battle swinging the sword and the King exerts influence from wisdom and moral authority, but no longer is the one taking the actions.
The other day, when I walked down to the big hole to take these pictures, I could still feel the presence of my little boy spirit with the BB gun. I could still feel the cat bird’s soft coo in the bamboo. I could feel the strength in my heart on my wedding day as I listened to that hymn, and I can feel the incredulous gaze of the children as they pondered the concrete alligator. All this happened under the shade of this big bamboo, and now it is casting those memories into the air in an explosion of flowers.
My Mom, she was about 30 years old when she brought home that bucket from Fairchild Garden, is 80 now. A whole lifetime has passed, but so little has changed.
It makes me feel peace in my spirit. I hope this story brings peace to yours too.