“In the 1900s, 'plant hunters' travelled in search of new and exotic species, especially their crowning glory of unseen before flowers. Dictionaries appeared for the 'language of flowers', it was a romantic trend to compose a poem by which flowers were included in a bunch to spell out love, or otherwise. An apothecary in the same period could compose on ode to health similarly, in a tincture bottle.
Both types of poem are signs of the added medicine of intent when making, perhaps why herbal medicines of high quality are often made in quiet edge places.” and herbalists too thought Sam. “Monastarys often have a meditative kitchen garden space, why not homes too.”
It was a beginning this writing. Damn you getting mixed up with regulators and the law you pair of old bats. I need you here now, I want you in the flesh, present. You, not troutmen and plant women. Sam flopped, her eyes wafted towards all the piles of paperwork. This den of herbal iniquity. Damn it!
She was disturbed from her self pity by a shuffling through grass, a seeking sound. Like someone looking for something hidden. She froze. It was out round back and getting closer. Right, she thought this’ll be the bloody secret police, and avoiding thinking who or what else it could be she strode to the back door, bursting it open. “Can I help you?” she demanded. A man ducked and froze like a startled rabbit under fire, wrench in hand. “ I just come to read the metre miss, disconnect the services.”
“Which services are those exactly.”
“Water, the company sent me....bills unpaid. Older lady like that should be living in town anyways. What if something happened to her, a fall?”
“ Thanks for your concern but nothings happening to this particular old lady” Sam replied, determined it be true. “Ill make sure the company gets their money.” He outstretched an obligatory looking form on a clipboard and she scrawled a half assed version of her initials. “There’s a real nice place in town, she could have nursing staff around...”Oh god, thank heavens Clary’s not hearing this was all Sam could think, saying “Right have a nice day then.” She sat on the back doorstep and the tears came, slow and quiet. She could have nursing staff around, and eat them for breakfast....
She’d been mostly drinking tea, and barely making an attempt at some of the piles, looking for a number for Edna or some kind of lead on the mysterious disappearance of Ms Clarissa. There really are some beautiful images here she thought. A lot of just readable scrawls and notes, but also some clear visions of a cast of plant characters who offered much in friendship and medicine. The book seemed to make sense the further she delved. It was a patchwork cloak stitching these fragments together in a reweaving for those who couldn’t see the beauty Clary had, in the green ones. She was like a translater offering up sounds for silent oral traditions. She pulled a card from the pouch and wasn’t at all surprised to find an image of a quill donned medievalist writing on parchement by candlelight. Just don’t take em to seriously.....rrright....
She picked up the leather bound volume Clary had begun writing in, maybe she’s run off on a pilgrimage, actually that’s exactly what she’s done. A pilgrimage to the mecca of her medicine makings for the last 20 years, to protect them.
“Some of the lessons learned in such meditative states working with plants were recorded in early hand written and illustrated texts of herb lore upon parchement or scroll, which were then copied by those who followed. Some preserving experiential learnings for posterity, others lack lustre imitations, both locked away behind stone walls, or in the language used.
Always there is a spoken word tradition. Both church and state, now pharmaceutical companies, and regulators, have tried to silence and dominate it. Yet still it renews, even if underground. Even when much is lost in times of strife and ignorance, still it rises like the phoenix. The knowing and learning, the passion for the medicine of plants. The post apocalyotic herbals. Lets pray that next time round we can just do away with the apocalypse part of the equation and continue to build the wisdom in a piecing together by blending written and oral traditions.”
There was that shuffling outside again, God surely a promise of payment is enough for these people. She felt rage rising, but soon fall away. It was Clary, looking like the wild woman of Borneo, including sticks and leaves in her hair.
“Oh hello lovely, I’ve had such a time of it. Took the long walk home.”
You certainly did. Sam swooped and fairly scooped her up like a child and whisked her inside to beside the fire. “You had me so worried, what have you two been up to?” She hugged her, and wrapped a blanket around her shoulders in one swift motion. “Salvaging what we could, Edna was determined.” Her words were mumbled from weariness and Sam quit with questions. This is a bit of a role reversal she thought to herself, all tenderness and protection.
With a cuppa in her hand Clary seemed eased up and slowly the tale fell out. The regulators had been determined to shut Edna down but hadn’t counted on the strong will of two rather elderly rebels. There had been a rally of supporters, meetings and in the end the regulators decided that most of the medicinal qualities were in the 100 proof alcohol in the tinctures. So no harm was being done, apart from moonshining, and they could play with their roots and flowers but not sell them. Kind of a backdown position, without backing down.
“”Personal use only”, they said love, shows what they know about herbalists.”
They had confiscated the stock the women had so lovingly built up over time.
“ We’ll start up again love, but first the book!” “The book?” “ Yes. Have you made a start yet, seen the manuscript?” “well yes”, Clary smiled like a milk laden kitten, and with that she descended into snoring by the fire. Gods alive Clary.....
When Clary woke, some hours later she stretched and made her way to her study / garden bed. “Must sort this out” she muttered picking bits n pieces of paper up and putting them down again. “Aaahh you did read it!” She lifted the tome, “ I thought you might do some of your watercolours for it?” She beamed at Sam, “you could stay longer this time you know, help me with the wording....”
“You’re doing just fine yourself, but I will stay on, I don’t trust what you’ll get up to without me here.”
“Come now, an older woman like me?”
“Yes an older woman precisely like you” Sam laughed. “What’s for dinner then oh maestro of the kitchen sanctuary?” “ I thought you could cook?” they both laughed.
Sam went to sleep, feeling things were mostly right with the world with Clary back. Despite her and Edna’s ridiculous censorship, she knew now they’d carry on in their own indomitable ways.
As she drifted down into the netherworlds of her subconcious, she found herself in a dry river bed, face to face with a rather fierce wolf she recognised from childhood nightmares...
“Are you afraid human?” he asked, she wasn’t, anymore. “Let’s walk” and they headed into the woods. At the edge of a village he stopped and would go no further, “these are your realms human not mine”.
She followed the path till she reached a small stone cottage on the outskirts of the place, the door slightly ajar. “Hello?” as she entered. There was a blazing fire, bunches of dried herbs hung from the ceiling and an older woman worked away at her mortar and pestle, her eyes misty with blindness.
“A visitor is always a pleasure, come child, sit with me, gaze into the fire and tell me what you see.” Sam didn’t have to try hard, her eyes were naturally drawn to the licking flames on the base of the pot hung above them, they wove a dance of trance through her and the rhythm of their pulse became as a heartbeat out loud.
As she watched the flames took on human form, women pounding a mortar the size of a bucket with long pestles in their strong dark arms, lifted up high and then dropped, rhythmically down, up and down with sprays of dust and shed outer husks rising in a dispersed cloud. Then they morphed into another woman squat on a dirt floor, rolling a grinding stone back and forth on its flat base dish. Crunching corn kernels to a fine flour, she worked, sleeves rolled up...back and forth. Then still another woman, wild haired threshing grain, tossing it up and down, up and down. The images flowed without ceasing, playing out imagery of a global legacy of women processing foods and medicine, the hard way if needed. Sam came out of the trance lightly but still the pulse, as she realised the woman was grinding away to the same heartbeat.
“Come again to sit with me, and gaze into my hearth.” She said.
Sam thanked her and left quietly, the rhythm still carried with her.
She was met outside by her wolffriend who seemed to grimace “Look up wolfsbane human..”
Then she was awake and back in at Clarys. What’s ‘wolfsbane’ she wondered?
“Aconite my love, strong plant used by the ancestral wise women in their flying ointments, along with others like hemlock, henbane and belladonna, not to be messed with. Spirit journey triggers, our version of peyote or pituri. You see it’s all part of the teachings from the plants. Witch, shaman similar journey different guides. Aconites nickname came from her deadly aspect, being used as a poison to dip arrows in to hunt down wolves in the ol days.”
Hearing Clary say ol days was so much more comforting than from the fishman, what seemed weeks ago, but he wasn’t quite ready to relinquish his proximity. She felt freed of any saving of ol days apart from the presence of the book that Clary was determined she stay and help finish.
They got into a kind of routine, with writing by Clary and illustrations by Sam, but she was a hard taskmaster.
“We want people to be able to identify the plants from the illustrations, but add something else, a bit of magic to reflect the plants character. Not too dry but not as embellished with fancy as to be medieval.” “I quite like the medieval illustrations.”
“ Yes, but that’s been done hasn’t it?” “I suppose so....”
What Sam found was that she’d draw the plants, but creeping in on the edges were images from the card deck. That must have been where they came from? Tendrils and spirals, beings half light and half greenery. Were these plant spirits? Clary of course loved those illustrations best, “Now youre getting it!”
Clary wanted all her friends in the book, some of whom were verging on the poisonous. She’d come back from her meetings with the regulators raving about the stories untold of women in ages gone by being oppressed, tortured and killed for knowledge of plants. She had a point.
“If we want people safe and confident about using herbs then they need to know those that are more potent as well. Your wolffriends Aconite was once included in the pharmacognosy of 1930s doctors and pharmacists, along with henbane and hemlock. It’s us who’ve changed, not the plants. We’re oh so proud of modern medicines potency, but fear it in the plant world. Some plants like it strong and are not so easily bent to serve human ways, their wildness is part of their fascination. They are to be respected with miniscule amounts, homeopathic doses rarely taken internally. Don’t get me wrong they can be deadly, but so can ignorance.”
Sam worked from live plants and her watercolours showed the benifits, but it also meant they needed to find or grow the plants for each portrait to go ahead and to catch flowers and seedheads. This was a long term project and they both knew it, now. It seemed Clary had enrolled her apprentice without a formal process. Organically as she painted, Sam was drawn in to the world of the herbs, both mundane, and magical. The two were not separate but both innate parts of a whole. It was at times difficult to illustrate.
“Dandelion roots can compare to mandrakes in their figurative nature, and who’s to say they don’t scream when selfishly harvested without concern for preserving a patch as well!”
Sam was begining to realise that the ol ways didn’t require wrote learning of lists of obscure plants, she may never have encountered. An intimate knowledge of a handful of plants based on direct experiences with them, could rapidly become a list of many plants to research. Once you recognised a few, then other members of their family became as fascinating to trace as any other geneology.
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