Inspired by snails!

Do you believe some hurdles are insurmountable?

Sometimes I honestly relate to snails attempting to get from one end of a hot, dry side-walk to the other, while their leg-less body oozes out a trail of limited moisture reserves. (Despite the fact that snails unwittingly compete with me for my own garden vegetables, I am sympathetic to their plight under these impossible circumstances).

Well, dear snails, I’d like to thank you for inspiring me to believe in greater possibilities this week.

Scientists at the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute recently published evidence that snails have long been migrating across massive stretches of land an ocean (let alone a 3-foot stretch of pavement). They accomplish this task—it turns out—by hitchhiking on the legs and bellies of shore birds. Brilliant.

This publication made me think. What kind of resources have I not been paying attention to?


I wonder about the plasticity of souls.

I mean that in the way a botanist talks about genetics.

The same species of tree can look very different, depending on its environment. For example, in sunny, hot, dry, windy region with depleted soils, a tree might grow to have small leaves that are very thick and waxy: built just right to withstand the sun’s intensity. Its trunk and branches will twist and turn in their relentless fight against the wind. And the roots—like a third-world dog—will have searched in countless directions for any promising bit of nutrient.

Compare that tree to the same species growing in the plush understory of a taller canopy, or in a pampered urban yard. Its leaves would be considerably thinner and broader, to maximize sun-catching potential. Its trunk and branches—that have been protected from the harsher elements—might look closer to a textbook’s idea of perfection. And the roots, which have always been surrounded by plentiful water and fertilizer, would likely remain close to the trunk. This tree would radiate plumpness and moisture.

Are people’s souls just as plastic as trees’ genetics?

A tree’s environment can’t really change the tree’s essence, but it can considerably alter the tree’s course of existence, its potential for growth, its ability to thrive. How much of me do I owe to my environment? And, how has my impact on my environment altered the growth of others?

This thought came to me after waking up in cold sweat last week. I dreamt that a shy, outcast boy in my highschool class was a serial killer. I knew it. But nobody else did. Now awake, I turned on a light to push away the creepy morning darkness. It was just a dream.

But, if it was true? What could have happened in his life to inspire such hideous actions? Or would he have chosen to be a serial killer no matter what else anyone did? Is it possible that, given another environment, he never would have dreamed of treating people that way?

A significant handful of people have influenced the shape of my core. What if I’d never met them? Would my core be a different shape?

poinsettia are not poisonous

I’ve been admiring the uniqueness of poinsettia flowers, and wanted to share some botanical Christmas cheer.

Poinsettias have been associated with Christmas since the 16th century: the leaf shape is reminiscent of the star of Bethlehem, and the red crown reminds us of our Savior’s blood sacrifice.

Euphorbia pulcherrima flowers are a bit unexpected. To find the flowers, you must look past the large red showy things, which are technically modified leaves called bracts. Bring your nose in close, so you can smell its earthiness. At the heart of the little saplings (which, if given the opportunity, will grow into a full-sized tree…which you can see later in this post) you’ll see a cluster of green bulbous heads, each with a tuft of red spikes topped with yellow powder. Each of these radical hair-dos is actually a full bouquet of flowers. The botanical term for this type of flower grouping is cyathia, which is Greek for cup. Each staminous spike projecting from the cup is really a single flower with it’s own ovary and stamen. That dusting of yellow powder is pollen, akin to tiny plant sperm.

In my photo, one of the lower-right cyathias has one mature flower projecting out of it. Its ovary has grown too large to remain inside the floral cup. My favorite morphological features of this plant are the luscious yellow lips, oozing with honey. These are nectar glands. Usually individual flowers have their own nectar gland, but in the case of poinsettia the whole grouping of flowers shares the pot of gold with the lucky pollinator.

I spent some mindlessly mesmerizing time at work pasting pins onto business cards. The little glue dots reminded me of poinsettia nectar.

Another thing the glue dots and the poinsettia have in common is that they are both relatively non-toxic. I admit that I’ve more than once joined in the rumor that these Christmas plants are highly poisonous, but some recent research reveals it’s just not true. A study of 849,575 plant exposures by the American Journal of Emergency Medicine showed no know fatalities from the plant. Another study predicted a 50 pound child would have to ingest 500 bracts before any toxicity would result. It is true, however, that the plant has a milky latex-like sap that might cause some mild skin irritation. So, if you have an allergy to latex you should probably fore-go the poinsettia rub-down this year. The toxicity misconception probably arose because poinsettias belong to the genus Euphorbia, which contains some truly toxic species.

Even though I don’t have a latex allergy, I likely won’t be serving up poinsettia saplings for Christmas dinner. I just want to prevent anyone from freaking out if they catch a child or pet gnawing on a bract.

Cheers to Euphorbia pulcherrima, and Merry Christmas to you.

manna to my taste.

On my morning walks to work there are many familiar faces. I don’t know anyone’s name, but they have become regulars in my life. The TRAX driver who smiles so good-naturedly when he opens the door for wheelchair-riders, the orange-clad construction workers huddled around the Chuvi-Duvi taco stand, the sister missionaries dutifully filling two-by-two onto Temple Square, the pan-handlers assuming their posts with their worn cardboard signs, the man with the two-foot-long silver ponytail who just stands at the corner watching traffic go by.

And, somewhere between 1st and 4th south I cross paths with a wide-eyed, shaggy-haired man in 80’s-length running shorts. He has some of the longest, skinniest legs I’ve ever seen. Or is it just in relation to those short shorts? Today he stopped maybe 4 yards ahead of me. He swooped to the ground and picked up a small object. I didn’t see what it was, but only that it went straight into his mouth. An indulgent grin spread across the man’s face. He looked so contented with his apparently jack-pot-of-a-find that I couldn’t help but smile for him too.

I grinned all morning remembering that startling encounter. How many busy morning walkers passed right by that anonymous morsel before the hungry man seized the treasure? …Sweet goodness appearing at his feet, just as the dews from heaven. How many of us would have thought to eat it? The children of Israel had to be taught to recognize their heaven-sent food. According to Biblical record manna was small and white like coriander seeds; it appeared as hoar frost and had to be collected before it was melted away by the sun. The name for this bread of heaven is said to have come from the question, “What is it?” or “Man hu?”

Other scholars suggest the name is derived from the Arabic word for plant lice, man. They suggest that when the travelers in the wilderness saw manna they stated, “Man hu. This is plant lice.” Some breeds of scale insects produce a type of honeydew. Such a meal would have provided Moses’ people with both a sweet mouthful and a complete protein. Other scholars cast in votes that manna was a type of lichen, or fungi, or a kosher species of locust, or the sap of an appetite-suppressing plant.

I won’t rule out the possibility that manna was a celestial concoction altogether different from any other earthly thing, BUT there is something thrilling to me about the notion that a group of God’s chosen people subsisted for generations on wax-secreting insects. And, honestly, who wouldn’t call an insect a celestial wonder?

Waxy scales from plant parasites and unwrapped mouthfuls on dirty sidewalks don’t make me anxious for lunchtime. But maybe they would if I was intensely hungry. Or maybe they would if I knew the source from which they came. My fellow morning traveler has inspired me with a desire to wake up to the heaven-sent morsels at my feet. I worry I too often mistake celestial gifts for earth-crawling commonalities.

I want to be aware enough of the path under my feet, and hungry enough, that I too can unhesitatingly drop to my knees and graciously savor empyrean gifts. In honor of the lesson from the man with the familiar face, I’ve decided to re-name my blog: Manna to my taste. With the same spirit of James Montgomery’s famous poem,  I will use this blog to record the manna in my life.

The Sacrament of Birth

My article entitled “The Sacrament of Birth” was published today in Square Two. I think it’s a lovely celebration of Earth Day. (Particularly relevant to Earth Day is the section of the paper entitled “Another Mother” ).

This is how the editor of the journal introduced my piece:

“… one of the most beautiful essays we’ve been privileged to publish here at SquareTwo. It’s by Analiesa Leonhardt, who helps us to recast the international issue of egregiously high maternal mortality rates into the spiritual issue it really is. Leonhardt does so by providing a exegesis of scripture concerning the earthly ordinance of birth. We promise that you will never think about birth the same way after reading this eloquent article.”

Here is a link to the online journal, where you can read the paper that has been rolling through my mind and heart for the past year and a half. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the matter.

Happy Earth Day to one and all!

poetry in unexpected places

This weekend a long lost friend invited me over to make bread. She and I are both novices and so needed some guidance. While the bread turned out nicely, the words we read from The Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book, ended up being an even more helpful lesson for my heart:

Adjusting the Consistency

Now before you continue, take a moment to evaluate the dough and decide if it is too slack or too stiff.  You can learn to do this by feeling the dough. Clean your hands and moisten them slightly. Pick up the dough and squeeze it. Feel deep into the dough, not just the surface. It’s sure to be sticky and wet, but is it soft? or is it stiff? A soft, pliable dough makes a lighter bread.

Does the dough resist your touch? Does it strain the muscles in your fingers when you squeeze it? Then it is too stiff. On the other hand, the dough must have enough flour to hold its shape. Does it feel water logged, as if the flour is not contributing much substance to it? Does it have a runny, liquid quality? Then it is too slack. Again, feel deep into the dough.

As is the Microcosm so is the Macrocosm.

While recently staring into a slushy puddle on the side of the road, a spot of oil spillage reminded me of the Hubble’s 2009 Advent Calendar. My memory tripped me back to 2001 when I learned the phrase: “as is the microcosm so is the macrocosm. I learned about this concept during a course I was taking entitled Science of Creative Intelligence. It was taught through 33 films by Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, who you might know from this song.

Here are some of my favorite Hubble Space Telescope images from the 2009 Advent Calendar:

And here are my microcosmic photos taken of the oil-splotched puddle on the side of the road: