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In the Midst of Flora: Finding My Family in the Woods

My familiar friend the Whipple’s penstemon started jumping up in the grass just the other day, first as tight balls of amethyst lining hearty green stalks and today as loudmouthed chalices longing to be met. I can see all the way down their gullet. Their dark stamens wave at me like sassy tongues.

The neighbors, the moon roses, have expanded their homestead. This summer they are everywhere gallantly greeting the day with open hearts. I have four chambers in my heart and the moon roses have four hearts, four hearts for sparkling white petals. By midday they will wilt into a sad roll of pink reminding me of wringed suede. Flowers as nearly as big as my face die to the heat of the sun only to be reborn again each evening recharged overnight by the moon’s cool rays. Sphinx moths come to drink from the well by moonlight. The moon roses resurrect for weeks on end. People can’t stop noticing them.

The yellow sprinkle of sweet clover swaying in the breeze blends into the sea of grass seed heads unless, of course, you are one of my horses. The three-foot high clover stems are so thick that the gals can barely cut them off with their incisors. This morning, my white mare’s breath smelled like vanilla-flavored honey she stuffed her mouth so full of the plant. I smiled for her with gladness. It is good to be an herbivore this time of year.

It is good to have eyes this time of year, to drink in the wealth in the forest. Simply learning the names of the masses brings me joy. It is a constant challenge of memory. The plants need have no use. Their companionship is plenty. The deer and her fawns can dine away. Still, I cannot help but research and learn that the diversity of plants, flowers, roots and bulbs carries a cornucopia of medicinal properties.

Penstemon leaves mashed soothe the welts caused by gnashing deer flies. Moon rose roots relieves inflamed sores. My love, scarlet globemallow, lends her services to alleviate burning throats and lungs. Curly dock moves digestion along while Prairie Smoke settles it down.

Yet to make an appearance is the self-heal, which is a cure-all for wounds of all kinds. I’m also still missing the presence of the creamy white, fuzzy yarrow. She rushes in to stop the flow of blood, preventing the loss of valuable energy. I caught of waft of wild mint by the beaver pond a long while ago, but I couldn’t find the plant my shoe had forced the odor from. I am wondering what the tiny, clinging lavender flowers are waiting for.

I am living an entire secret life with the foliage. I salute the flowers, bend down to stroke new leaves, and twist this way and that to catch a view of them in precisely the right light. All I need do is walk ten steps and I’m at a different neighbor’s residence. The diversity is astounding.

I used to hike into the woods for hours and miles carrying glass bowls and bottles to brew wildflower flower essences. I wanted to bottle up my friends and bring their sweet elixir home. I tried growing as many of them at home as I could manage, which was an unfortunate too few. As a child I would press blooms in books, and felt the sharp pang of failure when the drab, flat crumbling mess fell from the pages.

I didn’t know what I was trying to do. I don’t even think I knew that the wild plants were my lost family. But, I know now. Now that we spend days, alive and free in each other’s company, I know. I know that “You have made us together.”

I’ve made a good deal of sacrifices to be here in the woods with my kin. A lot of options that come with living in a place more populated with people are lost to me. I don’t have the choice of numerous non-profit animal rescues to assist or the ability to network with a host of others that believe as I do. I spend a lot of time indoors on the computer. The student in me only gets to study online as I can’t afford to travel to my teachers. I have to make concerted effort now to commune with humans and this effort is fueled endlessly by the inspiration of globemallow, penstemon, larkspur, lupine, wallflower, puccoon, paintbrush, clover, and wild rose.

I so often serve as a mouthpiece for the wild ones, the deer, the hawks, the bear and fox, but what about those that are silence? Who speaks for those that open their mouths and open their beings in the unleashed forest? I do because I know that…

“We are all one silence, and a diversity of voices.
You have made us together,
you have made us one and many,
you have placed me here in the midst
as witness, as awareness, and as joy.”

- Thomas Merton, Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander

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Stacey Couch, creative mystic and Certified Shamanic Practitioner, is the author of Gracious Wild: A Shamanic Journey with Hawks. She empowers people with the ability to explore life's big questions by calling on nature, story and synchronicity as a source for guidance and healing.


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