A more subdued landscape was left behind, with the maples, birch and much of the cottonwoods erased. The smouldering oaks and white pine appeared then, dark and smeary as a Richter painting, and the naked branches of the white birch began scribbling their winter tale on the land.
Working my way along the forest's edge, I weave myself deeper into the landscape, the weft in the warp of the trees. Coming into the perpetual dusk under the hemlocks. I pause to examine the fruiting bodies of various mushrooms, some strange, others familiar, all of them beautiful and fascinating. "All hail the decomposers," I speak aloud in greeting and deference. I make a note to return for some turkey tails growing on a rotting log.
I reflect on this growing and gathering season quickly passing, the prolonged stretches when the region went without rain, the gnawing worry over my medicinal oat crop, the gnawing worry felt in solidarity with my farmer friends and colleagues. After this summer, I more truly understood what it means to be tied to the land, and where the summer vacationers expressed joy at the endless hot and sunny days, I was more inclined to feel a faint tinge of dread. This dread was mercifully allayed with each precious rainfall of some significance.
I am grateful for the wild plants and their unbelievable resilience. I think of all that I harvested and worked with this year. The violet leaves gone unusually thick and fuzzy, riding out the drought with ease. Lambsquarters, tasty and reliable as ever. Goldenrod, elderberry, hawthorn, lobelia...and (in the end) my best harvest of milky oats yet.
Then there were the plants I didn't gather. The boneset which disappeared from the normally damp depression I have gathered it from in the past. The milkweed which was still abundant but stressed. The linden blossoms which bloomed in the blink of an eye, so desperate she was to reproduce as quickly possible.
Suddenly I am dumb in the face of all that I do not know and understand about nature's inner workings. It's been nearly a decade since I started this journey with the plants and I am still very much the novitiate in Nature's order. Some days I move stealthily through the landscape keenly attuned to and aware of my surroundings. Other days I slip and stumble gracelessly, knocking my head on low-hanging branches like a character in a slapstick sketch.
Turns out that's a pretty fitting description of my life in general, tuned in and aware, and gracelessly stumbling about, by turns. And so like any novitiate called further into the order, with the hemlock, oak and pine bearing witness, I vow to try and pay more attention, think more deeply, listen more intently. I make my supplication for tolerance, compassion, and clear communication for and with all beings. I humbly ask for the guidance and teachings of the plants that I have dedicated myself to. Increasingly disenchanted with a society that sees the earth as a collection of resources to be extracted for profit, it seems fitting to try another, more co-creative, regenerative way instead.
I return to the farmhouse relieved of a few burdens and with a renewed sense of purpose. And like the plants and animals I share a habitat with, I am prepared for winter's rest, hopeful for whatever the next season brings.