Health Watch/Copper Country Mental Health/Brian Rendel, licensed professional counselor

With strawberries ripening just in time for the Strawberry Festival, this Copper Country summer is finally starting to feel more on schedule. Winter was hanging around not many weeks ago when I admitted to my father, a Copper Country gardener with decades of practice, that I was feeling doubtful about the prospects of the little garden plot at my place. He was unconcerned about the late spring. He said, “the old-timers always waited until June 15 to put the seeds in the ground, because the plants catch up.”

I don’t know if plants can sense they are running late and decide to rush to meet deadlines, but my dad’s confidence in his plants gave me hope. The more I thought about it, the more I realized plants are great models of wellness. Turns out we can learn a lot from a plant.

Dad’s plants get a late start in cold rocky soil at a place with a short growing season, yet they thrive. Of course, he deserves a lot of credit for whatever he does to nurture those plants, but I think the plants deserve a lot of credit for essentially their great attitude. We humans could be healthier if more of us faced challenges like plants:

Aim right. When the warmth and moisture awaken a seed the first thing it does is aim up. It pushes hard through a lot of dirt until it breaks through and finds the sun. Lesson: Aim for things that energize and nurture us. If we keep struggling, through whatever darkness and obstruction may block our way, we will find our sunshine.

Accept your surroundings. Weeds are proficient at this, although many plants do well in challenging weather, soil or water conditions. Trees sometimes grow through cracks in boulders. Lesson: Living well depends more on following a plan than it does on being in the right place.

Make hard choices. Plants have purpose. Their role is clear and their mission is defined, which means they stop feeding diseased and useless branches if they risk life and mission. Lesson: Instead of keeping parts of life that threaten our well-being, we can direct our resources to living in a way that helps us reach our potential. Sometimes, this means letting go of things, ideas, or attachments we hold very close.

Acceptance. A plant thrives because it accepts the sun, breathes the air, drinks the water, invites the bees to pollinate and takes nutrients from past plants that are now soil. Lesson: Sources of strength surround us if we are willing to look, learn, and accept the unfamiliar forms they may take.

Share. Plants are generous. They may host insects. Some donate roots, fruit, or seeds to the ground. Others give their best produce to feed people and animals. Instead of becoming devalued by nature, their generosity extends life to the species and brings value to the earth. Lesson: As we share our best with others, we live well today and make the world better tomorrow.

Brian Rendel is a licensed professional counselor with Copper Country Mental Health Institute in Houghton.