“These people have learned not from books, but in the fields, in the wood, on the river bank. Their teachers have been the birds themselves, when they sang to them, the sun when it left a glow of crimson behind it at setting, the very trees, and wild herbs.”
― Anton Chekhov
My daughter and I attended the Southeastern Women’s Herb Conference this October for the first, and definitely not the last, time. It was a rich and moving weekend, spent in the company of one thousand women, all of us celebrating and deepening our relationship with our Great Mother and the Plant People. For me, it was also an opportunity to renew my commitment to the small and beautiful piece of Earth where I make my home.
It’s true that technology specifically and busy-ness more generally have invaded the garden of my mind, like plants that are helpful but also perhaps a little overzealous. I find myself indoors and interacting with a screen far more than I find myself outdoors, interacting with the web of life that nourishes me so deeply. This misplacement of my energy has left my spirit malnourished! And not only that–over the past two summers my herb garden, once a haven for my spirit, has become overrun with weeds and grasses. I’ve made no time for it. Now I see the garden as the altar of my life, a sacred space that brings me joy and alignment with higher forces.
I’m reading an enlightening book I bought at the Herb Conference: “The Lost Language of Plants” by Stephen Harrod Bruhner. In it he writes of biophilia, a term introduced by Edward O. Wilson that describes “the connections that human beings subconsciously seek with the rest of life.” He describes biophilia as an awareness that deepens into biognosis as we get older, but only if one is given time to develop relationships with Nature. How well I remember sitting with the canna lilies on the side of my suburban childhood home, hunting little green anoles, or scrambling up the plum trees, or lying on my back in the grass, watching the clouds roll by. Certainly my experiences of Nature as a child set the groundwork for a lifelong love of the Earth that feels like the cornerstone of my spirit.
With some help from our groundskeeper, my herb garden is in the process of reclamation. Just last week during the new moon I harvested elecampane root from a plant that had been growing in my garden for several years. The thick long roots yielded to me easily, and once inside I let the them dry a bit. Later I sliced the spicy yellow aromatic roots and tinctured them in cognac. During the winter I will sip on this medicine, which has been in use since at least the times of ancient Greece, but probably longer, and I will be made strong. But more important than a specific medicine is the tonic of being out of doors, in the company of trees and plants, soil and birds. This is a promise I make to myself, and to my garden. It’s a promise I’ve made to my children as well. We will be outside.
As I write this, on the deck of my studio, basking in the last warm days of Autumn, I can hear my children far up in the woods, howling with their dogs, working on their treehouse. The last leaves of the season cling to the trees–russet red oaks and bright yellow birch leaves. Later the moon will rise and bathe the ground in silver light. It will be time to take the dogs out, and while my son might rush through the chore, as is his nature, my daughter will linger in the moonlight, walking amid mystery, unafraid of the dark and all the magic that dwells there.