If I had to choose which of the seven joy-bringers from my original list is the most longstanding in its exuberance, it would be growing things. My mother has had a lush garden for my entire life, and a substantial number of my favorite memories of childhood involve climbing trees, creating museums in my treehouse from found natural objects (pinecones were a favorite), and playing ‘Boxcar children’ with my cousins under our enormous spruce tree in the backyard.
My joy in growing things may have grown in sophistication a bit over the years to include cultivation and wild collection of edibles of various sorts, but it is still just as instinctual, an almost primal connection to that which is green and filled with life. The peas I planted in a pot on the front stoop are a favorite- they are incredibly dynamic, verging on having an actual personality as they grow what seems like inches every day.
The breadth of my joy in growing things has grown in the past few months as I become increasingly interested in and cognizant of the medicinal and edible value of an extraordinary number of plants. Many of these have been in my path and yard and travels for my entire life, but until recently I have never really ‘seen’ them. Example: to the right is lamb’s quarters, an incredibly pervasive weed to most, a tasty snack and remarkably healthful addition to salad to those who know. And it’s growing in my own backyard! Right next to the garden! Though I certainly won’t be cultivating lamb’s quarters any time soon (and wouldn’t ever have to because it grows EVERYWHERE), it’s excellent to know that this buttery green is available as an herbal snack.
The further I delve into herbalism and wild collection, the more resources I discover, sometimes almost by accident. It began with the excellent EXCO herbalism class I’ve been attending. Then I discovered a plethora of books on herbalism, plant identification, and alternative medicine, a couple of which I owned already thanks to the fantastic Interpreting the Fall and Spring Landscape classes I took in college, taught by the wonderful Jim Gilbert. Finally, I find that I pick up many tidbits in random conversations where I happen to mention I’m interested in herbalism and an acquaintance or friend of a friend shares their own herbal medicine or wild edibles knowledge.
Through herbalism and learning the names of wild edibles, plants have become friends, confidants of a sort. Our exchange is a conversation, one of research beforehand, lots of walks, learning when to take and how to prepare, and being in constant awe and gratefulness for the beautiful diversity of the natural world that surrounds us. Knowledge truly is power, but a mutual exchange of it rather than any sort of hierarchy.
Left to right: wild ginger, marsh marigold, bloodroot (all photos taken along Minnehaha Creek)
In my present life there’s only so much I can do to extend the joy of growing things- one only has so much time in the day for wild collecting and space in the yard for cultivation. However the future holds many possibilities, some more extreme than others.
A journal entry from January 28, 2011:
I want to be an herbalist and a poet and a community builder. I want to infuse all of my work with spirit. I want to be more in touch with my body, to do yoga more frequently, to dance freely. I want to know my food, to remember my dreams, to share with others. To do all this I will have to not work one day. When, I do not know, but the day will come and my soul will BE SET FREE.
Such a life is my heart’s true joy, and is coming I think, with time. But for now, I’m off on an expedition to search for some skullcap along the creek to make an anxiety-reducing tincture ❤
“Earth isn’t this what you want: invisibly
to arise in us? Is it not your dream
to be some day invisible? Earth! Invisible!
What, if not transformation, is your insistent commission?
Earth, dear one, I will!”
~Rainer Maria Rilke