This summer, my boys and I were running errands, listening to Dragon of the Red Dawn, by the amazing Mary Pope Osborne,* when my heart was linked to a seventeenth-century Japanese poet: Basho. In the book, Basho’s character says, “[M]y banana tree is more beautiful to me than all the beauty of the Imperial Garden.”
“Mine too,” my heart sang. I understood his sentiment perfectly. And although I had been introduced to Basho’s work before—had even shared his “frog” haiku with my former middle-school students—at that moment, I became a fan.
If you came to visit me, you might be surprised to find no trace of a banana tree in my yard. I have never planted one. The rosemary bush I started from seed, the thriving gardenia that wasn’t supposed to grow in my soil type, the rose that began from a cutting from my grandmother’s flower bed . . . these are my “banana trees.” And the plants under my care, the plants I see every day, are the plants that whisper to me of God’s beauty and faithfulness. In the dirt right outside my doors and windows, I see miracles.
To every other human eye, the public botanical gardens, in all their splendor, would put my gardening efforts to shame. Oh, but the tiniest bloom one’s own hands have helped God to create can inspire more awe than a field of tulips sown by hired gardeners. Seeing a rosebud in my garden early in the morning gives my heart a lilt – like I am witnessing a birth.
The master of haiku loved his first banana plant, given to him by his students, so much that he borrowed its name, Basho (“banana tree”), for his own. He would have seen it die back, its leaves and stem melting into goo in freezing weather. He would have seen it reemerge, full of vigor, each spring. And, he would have understood that a plant we care for through every stage of its journey—its beginning, its thriving, its struggling, its resting, its awakening—teaches us what it means to truly love.
*#37 in The Magic Tree House series
Here are some of my favorite haiku by Basho:
Come out to view
The truth of flowers
Blooming in poverty
The banana tree
Blown by winds pours raindrops
Into the bucket
In the fine company of
Along the mountain road
Somehow it tugs at my heart—
A wild violet
The old pond:
A frog jumps in—
The sound of water