I've never been one to obey a rule or code if it strikes me as nonsensical or unfair. One that I simply can't abide is the unwritten rule that a woman should not be alone in city parks after dark. If 'bad things' happen, well, what was she thinking? As an intrepid city herbalist I find myself alone at night in city parks with some frequency. I do usually bring my dogs.
Sunset. I'm on my hands and knees on the ground in Prospect Park, Brooklyn, gathering a wild, abundant medicinal plant called cleavers, Galium aparine. I'm determined to gather enough to make a quart of tincture (a lot) because this is the lushest, largest patch of cleavers I've ever seen, and its a plant that I need for my own healing. I've been searching the park for hours, and have finally found it. But its getting late. The sun goes down.
When I make herbal medicine I thank every plant as I harvest, and I chant or sing as I go. On this, the first almost warm spring night, I'm chanting Ya-Hadi, a Sufi chant, ya (invocation) Hadi (the Guide or Guidance).
I've long known about cleavers' reputation for soothing swollen lymph, and have taken it for this myself, but beyond that our relationship has been somewhat superficial until now.
As I'm harvesting, I'm intently 'listening' for what the plant has to say about itself. It gives itself up so easily. I feel that this is an excellent herb both for physical and emotional flexibility. (Its used to treat arthritis, as it turns out.)
I've almost gathered enough when the tall dead mugwort stalks I'm sitting under start to snap and I turn to see a large man looming over me. I let out the deep growling warrior's bellow my father taught me. The man jumps back.
He is not a threat, at least not to me in this moment.
I say, 'I'm sorry I shouted, but you know, you startled me.'
He replies, 'That scream... I know you are a macho girl. You have machisimo.
'Yes,' I reply.
'You are very lonely?' he asks.
Its important that the plants have good energy around them at all times when I'm gathering and making medicine, so after letting him know that no, I'm not lonely, not at all, I tell him what I'm doing, show him the cleavers, and explain some of their medicine.
'It give me energy?' I say it will. 'Delicious?' I tell him no. Its bitter. Good for the liver, like all bitter herbs. He tries it anyway, and says nothing.
I turn away from him and continue to chant and gather. He stands and watches me.
After about ten minutes I've gathered enough. Earlier I had collected a small bag of silvery green spring mugwort tops for tea and wild dandelion greens for salad. I can't find the brown paper bag in the dark. I ask if the man will help me to look for it. We find the bag. I thank him and say goodbye.
'Be safe!' he says.
'You too!' I reply.
Cleavers definitely helps increase emotional flexibility. (And next time I'll bring my dogs. I'm happy to talk to curious onlookers, but don't want them sneaking up on me when I'm deep in a plant conversation.)
What is an 'unwritten rule' you sometimes (or often) break?
As its Moonday, I'd also love it if you would post poems or art of any kind in the comments.