Saturday, 31 December 2016

The story of our 're-wilding', continued; trust

I realize that I may be misleading folks when I say that we have a big back yard. To us, it is very, very big. But that might be because living in the city all my adult life, I never had more than a postage stamp to work with. (I did some marvellous gardening in very small spaces of course - flowering vines are your friend!). I blush to tell you that in all, our total property is probably no more than 1/5th of an acre. Half of that is taken up by the driveway, our little house and the front yard. The other half is the yard proper - and we sure do have a lot going on in what I suppose is only 1/10th of an acre.

Wait, 1/10th of an acre?? Can that be right? It has to be bigger than that! We cannot possibly have fit 4 apple trees, 3 pear trees, 3 plum trees and all those beds of medicinals and flowers and the sunchoke patch and two half barrels and the bird baths (one has a brick path edged with lavender leading up to it, it's so pretty) and the benches and then there's all the plants along the sides - currants, the ever expanding rhubarb patch, the roses and more roses and more roses, the big elegant sweet cicely, the asters, the wild grapes ..

Oh I'm terribly sorry, that was a heck of a tangent. You'll have to forgive me. There is always an inherent risk that I'll get lost when I write about the garden.

The yard/garden (I use the terms interchangeably) is about 50% planted by us and 50% volunteer plants, although the ratio changes from year to year. That which we plant is always allowed to grow quite freely, too, we're not big on imposing order, so it's a decidedly wild-ish place.

It was all extremely tidy when we got here, some would say excessively so. To our wild-ish eyes that monoculture lawn was an abomination and the monotonous shrubs made me recoil in horror. We took possession in the autumn, and set about to wrecking the place immediately. Before the snow flew those bloody awful hydrangeas and hostas had been dug up and tossed down the ravine behind us.

Yes, really.

It was enormously satisfying.

Over the next few years we let the lawn get shaggy. We didn't stop mowing entirely, but we let it get long enough to be able to see what sorts of weeds were coming up where. That's a trick we learned at the camp - spot something interesting and mow around it. Next thing you know, other wild things come up in succession and in a circle of about 3 ft in diameter you have a nice little eco-system in the making, tall grass, dandelion, red clover, self heal, maybe some golden rod later in the summer and there's nectar & pollen for the bumble bees and wasps and hummingbirds and 4 kinds of medicine for the gardener. Soon enough, along came mullein and motherwort, violets and ..

..and although what I'm telling you here is technically correct, it is not the story.

The story is about those first couple of years, moments stolen to lie on the lawn, curled up in a ball, weeping, because the pain just keeps getting worse and I can't sleep at night for the hot flashes, and the crazy pounding palpitations of my heart that are happening several times a day are scaring the shit out of me. I can't control my emotions from one moment to the next and don't get me started on how out of whack my moon cycles are. The story is about being enchanted by the sight of a damsel fly perched on a plant I don't know, looking that plant up and discovering it's motherwort. I learn to make a tincture of it, and dammit if it doesn't help me sleep and calm my heart and help me get a grip on my emotions. One plant. That just came up, of its own accord.

Then along came the St John'swort, and I made tincture and oil that could wrastle all that pain into submission better than any tylenol or weird topical steroid, all the while supporting, not stressing out my liver. And the plantain ointment I learned to make finally healed the slits on my fingers from cleaning houses. Plants that came up of their own accord.

I didn't lie on the lawn curled up and weeping any more, but stretched out, relaxing, the very ground under me seeming to send love up into my body as I sent love and deep gratitude back down into it. More and more plants came up, food, medicine, beauty, love.

I wish I could convey to you the shock of recognition here, that this is how it is supposed to be. That nature actually does provide for everything on this planet - including me. Imagine the relief and wonder I felt as the worst of my physical ailments melted away because of the weeds that we had allowed to come up in place of the lawn. Talk about shock and awe.

You see, it's one thing to know, intellectually, that certain plants can help us with certain ailments because they have this or that enzyme or antioxidant. We then choose which ones to try, we buy them, we cross our fingers, and we get some relief, certainly. But this was not about choosing or decision making. These were gifts from the very ground that I had wept on. I gave it my pain and it gave me something I didn't even know I needed.


I could trust the land to have the answers. The answers came first - up would come a plant or a colony of plants and that would set me to asking questions. Who are you? Why are you here? Off I'd go, diving into research. Not only asking what they could do for me, of course, but what that plant was doing for the land itself. For as all of these wonders helped me, they were also creating the conditions necessary for the ones who would come after them. Everything has its place, its reason for being here.

And I was part of it, too. I was no interloper, I was not forcing my will upon the land. I was helping it to do what it wanted to do, and in return it embraced me.

Us, it embraced us. Paul is of course as much a part of this as I am. He had a deep yearning for trees, fruit trees, and as he planted them the land embraced them, gladly. It needed trees too. He was as much of a wreck when we got here as I was, and some of the same plants that helped me, helped him, and others came up that helped him specifically. When I harvest dandelion root, I have to picture Paul in my mind's eye as I do so. When I do, the root comes up easy and clean, when I don't, it snaps off in the ground. It's amusing, that. A bit spooky, too.

The whole experience is spooky. There is no point in pretending otherwise, this garden is communicative, as is all of Creation. The more we've taken these plants into us - as food, as medicine, inhaling their pollens and fragrances on the breeze - in short, the more we're made of the stuff of them, the more we can 'hear' their voices. It's just what happens. It's how things are supposed to be.

That's the wild-ish-ness that the re-wilding lifestyle folks in their toe-shoes just don't get, and will never get. You can't fake it. You can't pretend to have bare feet, you either have bare feet or you don't. You aren't re-wilded or even wild-ish if you don't understand what wild means, what wild feels like.

That trust, that Creation has the answers, it comes from finally accepting that Creation knows more about my body than all the science of the last two hundred years or next hundred ever will. Yarrow knows about blood. Stinging nettles know about kidneys. Violets know about breasts. Usnea knows about lungs. There is no rational, intellectual way for me to explain this to you and why should there be? Why is it not enough just to accept that as the plants and critters are part of the Whole, the interconnected self sustaining marvel that is Creation, so are we?

We may not fully understand our place in the grander scheme of things, yet that doesn't mean we don't have one. What wild feels like - what the garden and the surrounding forests and fields and streams and lakes have taught me - is to accept that belonging. Period.

So no wonder I felt like a charlatan when I was selling tinctures, that's not the real message I'm trying to get out there .. This plant medicine 'thing' isn't about what I can make out of the plants, it's what they make out of me. They've re-created me, from the inside out.

They taught me something that the social-justice/eco-activist/anti-agricultural/blame-the-patriarchy types need to hear. The planet, Creation, doesn't need our help. It can, and will, get on with it just fine. We're in need Creation's help, and it knows that. It is offering its help every moment.

Every time we step off the sidewalk onto the ground, the vast mycelium network of the soil senses our footfalls and sends a message to the next tree. That tree greets us as we walk under it. That bird that chose to land in that tree just as we came along did so because we were walking by. The breeze catches our scent and passes it along to the flowers - they smell us as we smell them, don't you see? Creation is aware of us more than we are aware of it.

When we take wild things into our bodies as nourishment - and I don't mean 'wild-harvested' chaga in tea bags or (shudder) bottled spring water, I mean nibbling whatever green thing is springing up at us from the ground outside our door, and sticking our tongues out when it rains - when we get it right from Creation, then that stuff wakes up our cells which in turn shake our awareness awake again. We're simply being made more fully human.

And you know what? It's a shit-ton of fun being this kind of human. This is a light-hearted life. It's a jolly thing to know that chattering squirrel is actually telling you a story (or telling you off, as they so often are). It's a freaking delight when the local raven takes to doing tricks in the sky above your yard because he likes it when you laugh at him and praise his skills. It blows your mind when a wind blown aspen tree falls across the path you often walk, and it tells you "take me, use me!" and you hesitate because you don't know how to use it, then you harvest some bark anyway,
trusting the tree
then you get home, look it up and discover it can be made into an infused oil and then for
years and years afterward
that oil soothes aches and pains
(from chopping wood and carrying water)
yours and your loved ones',
and it always smells just like the day that tree spoke to you, it always smells like trust.


  1. Oh my! Oh, yes, indeed! The joy, the love, the delightful laugh, the head reared back and the twirling feet. It is all there, waiting in anticipation to come tumbling out of us as we join Creation in and with our heart. Good read.

  2. Such an awesome story written and lived by two ex-city people. There are many city people who would like to walk similar paths when it is their time. All is beautiful here and now, but you know what it is very different when I am surrounded by trees under a wide sky with full of stars. Look forward to it.

  3. Well, it doesn't sound too scientific, but I'll go with it. :-) I haven't turned my yard over yet, but my garden does have a mind of its own. I'll plant something, and lament it doesn't grow well. Then the next year, it will have re-seeded itself exactly where it wants to grow, and we can't seem to eat enough of it and feel better for it. Small steps here...------Really enjoyed this thought: "They taught me something that the social-justice/eco-activist/anti-agricultural/blame-the-patriarchy types need to hear. The planet, Creation, doesn't need our help. It can, and will, get on with it just fine. We're in need Creation's help, and it knows that. It is offering its help every moment." And this one is starting to ring to me: "So no wonder I felt like a charlatan when I was selling tinctures, that's not the real message I'm trying to get out there .. ."

    Good message. Thanks.