Friday, 13 May 2016
"And the little hills rejoice on every side"
Lines like the one I've used for this post's title just jump off the page at me and stick in my brain.
No, make that heart, they stick in my heart. Heart-mind. That line is from the 65th Psalm, in case you're wondering.
It's spring, finally, and as the world grows greener by the hour the little hills around us do, indeed, rejoice. It's in the bird-song in treetops and the fragrance of forest floor, it's in the laughter of running brooks and the glow of lichen on wet rock. Here, in my own back yard, I could swear the unfurling leaves of comfrey that come up in the lawn (where they're not 'supposed' to) have a slightly defiant musical note to them and when I smiled at finding the first violets yesterday, they most assuredly smiled right back.
I take from what is offered in the most abundance, so right now a small pile of that slightly defiant comfrey waits on the counter; it shall go into my lunchtime soup. So will a few nettles. The nettles are not (yet) quite so abundant but the more I pick 'em, the more will come, so pick 'em I do.
"You crown the year with Your goodness,
And your paths drip with abundance.
They drop on the pastures of the wilderness,
And the little hills rejoice on every side .."
Mmmm, what a lovely image.
Way back when, our yard had a smooth suburban-style lawn. Now that lawn is more like the pastures of the wilderness, offering me all sorts of food and medicine, none of it planted. Well, some, like the comfrey, was planted nearby, it just migrated out into the lawn when I dropped a leaf. (Yes, one dropped leaf = a colony of comfrey.) We mow around it. You can't get rid of comfrey, it's just not possible, and I take that as a hint that we really shouldn't try. So tasty and useful an ally can never be considered undesirable. In fact, in my do-it-yerself religion, to get rid of something like comfrey is an insult to the One who provided it in the first place. Nature, as directed by God, is always saying "Here, you might need this".
And well I might.
There are some who tell me I am more courageous than they are because I 'dare' to eat wild plants and herbs in such abundance. I can only say that I no longer dare NOT to eat them. I just don't have the courage (?) to say no to God when He carpets my lawn with gifts.
I suppose all of life is a matter of recognizing what is a gift and what isn't. Now if I can only learn to apply the message of my lawn - what looks like a weed is actually food - to the rest of my life. How much of what I weed out is actually there for good reason? What should I embrace, what should I avoid? What should I encourage and nurture, and what should I discourage? And what is this courage thing anyway?
Beginning wildcrafters are often told to buy a good field guide. That might help, but the best thing is to have a friend already familiar with the plants to walk you through the field and forest, offer you nibbles of things and tell you their own stories of how they used what and when it worked and when it didn't. (The stories of failure are just as valuable, believe me.) Life's like that too, right? You can read self-help books, and the Bible, but having someone who is a little further along the path to share their experience just can't be beat.
Ah, youth. The older I get the less I feel like I really know what's what. Yet - somewhat hilariously - it comes down to me, as an 'elder of the community' (coff coff) to guide others. This growing lack of certainty I have is why, when you write to me with your questions about this illness or that herb, I so often have to give you that most unsatisfying of answers - "it depends".
That's also why I still write more here than on the wildcrafting blog, because wildcrafting is about a lot more than being able to recognize and use the plants, it's about knowing why and when to use them. And that depends on knowing your own heart. That blog is about the what, this one is about the why.
We can look at the gifts of this planet as there for our taking - and I think to a degree we should. We also have to look at these plants as living creatures. In most cases we don't have to take the whole plant, it gives parts of itself that regrow, but sometimes we are actually taking a life to enhance our own. Once we come to realize that all creatures are sentient in their own way, taking that life is a pretty serious thing and it shouldn't be taken lightly. This is why, from time immemorial, there has been some degree of ceremony or ritual involved in the collection of medicine plants.
Creation, as we like to call it, is a collective - not a collection - of creatures. We, too, are creatures in that collective with a place in it, a role. The rest of Creation understands this. The medicine plants understand it. We are, in a very real sense, family. We're united in Spirit.
If we harvest the plants we need mindlessly, we still gain. The phytochemicals still work their healing. When we gather the plants mindfully, or more accurately heart-fully, the healing works on a deeper level.
These gifts of healing are not only from the ones giving their lives or parts of themselves for our benefit, they are, at their source, from the Creator. I find that acknowledging this is both humbling and awe-inspiring. Suddenly my purpose changes, my understanding, my belief .. from a fingers-crossed 'I hope this works' mindset I shift to a sense of certainty. I'm no longer relying on an intellectual understanding of how the physical medicine of the plant will work in my body, I'm opening my heart to allow God in on the business at hand. I'm stepping back into my place in Creation, my place in the family. And I can't help but rejoice, you know?
We can rid ourselves of annoying symptoms just by knowing which plant will balance or nourish our bodies, yes. I can teach you what I know of that, to some degree, but there are herbalists out there who know far, far more than I do. That's why I have them on my side-bar here, in hopes you'll learn from them too.
But really my role, my place in this family of Creation, is to be one of the smaller voices, speaking a different language. The plants have been healing my body and nourishing every part of my life for a very long time now, but far more importantly, in doing so they awakened my heart and introduced me to the Creator. It's almost impossible to find words for this that don't sound hokey, but it is my understanding that my role is to point out that they can do the same for you.
I didn't go looking for that to happen and I know I was free to ignore it, as are you. But if there is the slightest crack in your armour, the slightest thought that maybe I'm speaking some kind of truth, catch on to it. Use it. That's why it's there.
So - every plant may have its own specialty, yes; there are liver-specific plants and kidney plants and plants to knit bones and plants to help us fill sad, barren wombs. But in the end, they are all healers of hearts, too, if we allow them to be.
It's raining now; we need it, and the farmers will be happy. So it's appropriate to quote a bit more from that lovely Psalm 65:
"You visit the Earth and water it,
You greatly enrich it:
The river of God is full of water;
You provide their grain,
For so You have prepared it.
You water its ridges abundantly,
You settle its furrows;
You make it soft with showers,
You bless its growth."