"Plants help us breathe. They have healing power. Wordlessly, they lead us toward understanding. They teach by example."

Much of this charming collection by award-winning author Costanzo was inspired by visits to Sanibel Island off the western coast of Florida, a nature preserve that enjoins visitors with the sign, "Do Enjoy. Don't Destroy." She and her family were entranced by the wide expanse of shimmering turquoise water on their first journey there. Her earliest memory of flower appreciation came when, as a child mostly surrounded by a cement-covered city, she derived joy from a tiny patch of greenery and wildflowers. Her Slovakia-born grandmother gave her respect for the "tree" of family roots and connection. Costanzo found in Sanibel's plant life, from the tiniest blossoms to the thorniest trees, not only beauty and natural vigor but a kind of communicative quality, evoking the fascinating meditations presented here.

Within these brief vignettes are stories such as "Beach Garden," heard from a family who had worked diligently to create beach art from leaves and shells, only to return and see it had been deliberately trampled on. But after feeling angry toward the perpetrator, the mother of the clan remembered the Dalai Lama's stress on forgiveness and encouraged her brood to try again, with the word "Welcome" as part of the new display. "Mistaken Identity" recalls seeing a twisted branch as a snake during a woodland walk, raising questions about paying attention and jumping to conclusions. "Enduring Debby" describes an unusual vacation when a major hurricane hit Sanibel, revealing that plants endure. Seeing a cache of seashells somehow organized by the storm between two large logs provided yet another source for contemplation.

In this and other works, Costanzo invites her readers to reflect on the Twelve Gifts: strength, beauty, courage, compassion, hope, joy, talent, imagination, reverence, wisdom, love, and faith. All of these essential qualities are explored here as she looks minutely at particular flowers and trees, even finding them in what are called "snags." These are dead trees that can still nourish nesting birds and other animal and insect life. Discovering preserves of natural wonders and parsing the metaphors they exude, or simply spending significant moments in silent appreciation of them, form a path she invites readers to walk with her.

Each segment of this small, carry-with volume begins with a quotation from a variety of sources, such as George Bernard Shaw, Thich Nhat Hanh, Barbara Bloom, Wayne Dyer, Fred Rogers, and Isabel Allende. Albert Einstein, for example, stated, "The leaves and the light are one." Flowers discussed in the text are represented in delicate line drawings by artist Mary Lou Peters, another notable Sanibel visitor. The author even offers comforting reflections on the isolating effect of Covid-19 contrasted with a few minutes outdoors that give "awe and delight." Costanzo's garden meditations are poignantly personal, recalling her struggles with illness and her love of beauty. Her work is gratifyingly universal in its appeal. She uses her talents to combine widespread wisdom with her evident faith that the joy of reverencing nature and imagining its hidden strengths can lend courage, compassion, and hope to those willing to look and learn.

Winner of the 2021 Eric Hoffer Book Award Spiritual Category.

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