I’m excited to be participating for the first time in the herbal blog party this month, being hosted by Ananda at Plant Journeys. This month’s topic is “Mythical plant personalities.” Below is my contribution..
I’ve spent a great deal of time this last year trying to get to know the plants all around my house. I want to know more than just what a book can tell me about their chemical make up, their botanical name, or how to use them for medicine or food. No, that’s not enough. I want to also know them as unique spirits. My favorite herbalists, who often write about their own relationships with plants, assure me that plants do have unique personalities, and that they can communicate with us if we will learn how to listen to them.
So this past year I’ve been teaching myself to listen.
Long walks, stepping gently. Sitting in the grass, sitting in the forest, exchanging breaths. Gentle touches. Watching carefully. Tuning into my heart, sending out love. Responding with joy when they send some love back to me. It’s all quite fulfilling.
The first plant to introduce herself to me was the Self-heal, last Fall. I kept noticing it in passing, as I was rushing in or out of the house, off to that appointment or this errand. I kept saying I was going to look closer… just as soon as I could find the time. When I finally did stop to pay attention the summer was gone and we were well into Fall, and the patch had nearly died back. But there was this one beautiful stalk still flowering, thank goodness. If there hadn’t been, I’m not sure I would have been able to identify her.
I sat with her and thumbed through my field guide until I found out her name. I carefully examined the beautiful crown of flowers she wore, and was struck by how it seemed to want to sing, yet could not make a noise. I almost thought if I could just listen a little bit closer I would actually hear the sounds. It reminded me of myself and my painful shyness, and how difficult it often is for me to shout out my song, my truth. I knew that there was much this plant could teach me.
This interaction was so much different from all the times I had read my favorite herbalist’s account of a plant, and then gone out to find it and use it in the ways they had described. No, in this case the Self-heal reached out to me, and not the other way around. It spoke its truth to me directly. I understood at least part of its medicine through my heart.
That was my first encounter with a plant spirit but since then I’ve met lots of other plants and began to get a taste of just how unique and varied their personalities can be. After two years of sharing the same ecosystem, I sense that they are all finally getting used to me around here, and they convey themselves to me more and more often. I am even beginning to discover certain “neighborhoods” around my land, each having a distinctly different energy.
The young saplings in the forest on one side of the meadow are very playful. Last week I was walking there where I discovered an evergreen plant growing at the base of many of the trees – the Spotted Pipsissewa, Chimaphila maculata (more on that soon!). I bent down to examine it more closely and snap a photo. Then when I stood up, the spindly branches of a skinny young tree caught in my hair and gently raked its boney fingers through, caressing my scalp as it moved along my head. I had the distinct impression that the tree was intentionally petting me!
When I stood up and looked around, still amazed and slightly awed at having been petted by a tree, the young Beeches nearby appeared to be giggling! Every one of the faded dry leaves still clinging to their branches from last season were trembling and wiggling as if the tree was hopelessly caught in a fit of shaking laughter. I couldn’t help but laugh myself. It was a very joyful moment.
But on the other side of the meadow, the forest is ruled by a very wise and commanding Oak. The moment you step among the trees the feeling of being in a sacred space is palpable. There is no leaf litter in this neighborhood. Only many ancient layers of spongy, peaty soil. There is no sound when you walk. The air is cool and permeating. The holy silence is audible. The Oak in the center is easily two of my arm spans in width. As soon as I saw it I was filled with pure awe. I walked up to it and put my arms around it as far as I could. I felt loved and protected. I just leaned into it and let the raw strength flow into me. It seemed I was in the presence of a fearsome, yet gentle and wise, lover. My heart grew at least two sizes during that embrace.
And then there’s the Poke that keeps showing up at my door. Literally, it grew right by the front door last year, so that the storm door would knock into it every time we opened it. My husband kept pulling it down, and it just kept growing back. I find this plant the most intriquing yet, a little sharp around the edges and a bit of dark mystery and danger there. It seems a little harder to get to know, not quite as friendly as the others so far, but I’m definitely drawn to it. I think it, too, has much to teach me, so I’ll be spending a lot of time with it this year.