- A Story -
When I was 18, I was convinced I was a bonafide herbalista. I started my first garden on the rickety balcony of a cheap apartment in central California. Three plastic tubs housed a smattering of red leaf lettuce, sweet basil and one slightly tragic tomato plant. Meager though my garden was, I fell in love: the lettuces were snipped and placed on hand-me-down plates, the basil was plucked for all those experimental meals one creates as a poor college student, and the tomato saw me as a hovering mother hen, checking water at least twice a day.
In the 15 years since that first garden, I've moved countless times up and down west coast, a nomadic wanderer of sorts, but I've always managed to carve out a gardening space. Sometimes no more than a tiny porch, sometimes as broad a sunny driveway full of containers, but I've always grown something. However, the caveat of limited, container-based spaces always translated into a fine display of pragmatism: If I only had six square feet of space, then I obviously needed to grow six square feet of vegetables that would nourish my family and herbs that would spice up our teas. Anything else seemed to flippant to "waste" my precious room on. This mind-frame ruled my planting choices for a great many years: window beds were always filled with collard greens and kale, baskets hung heavy with strawberries and cherry tomatoes, ceramic pots at the front door grew lemon cucumbers and thyme.
Then late last winter, something shifted. For years I had been purchasing crisp white smudge bundles of sage and thick braided ropes of sweetgrass from consciences companies, never thinking too deeply on the lives of the plants before they offered their medicine up to me. I did not know where exactly those plants sunk roots into the earth, how they unfurled and grew throughout the seasons, who tended them (if anyone aside from Mother Earth), and with what ceremony were they harvested for my sacred use. And suddenly, it became Important. The sacred practice of smudging was a daily ceremony for me, yet I felt unconnected to where these herbs came from. As I walked through my home, wafting smudge smoke, cleansing the air, I realized that I wanted to, no, needed to understand that process. I already understood what it was to grow seeds into food to place on my family's plates, but the act of tending life that would nourish my spiritual practice illuminated a new fire in my heart.
Armed with the power of Google, I found a gardener in Northern California who would ship out baby sweetgrass, still infantile in their propagation plugs. After the last frost melted from the Seattle ground, my postman delivered a small package holding six wee bundles, each carefully wrapped and tucked in plastic and paper. And the mother hen, from that first tomato so many years ago, came back out.
As the months slipped into high summer, my garden bloomed on. Tomatoes, beans, carrots, berries, greens were all gratefully plucked for our bodies and bones. But the sweetgrasses were something different; they were deigned for our hearts and minds. So it was to them I sang the longest songs of thanks, them I combed over and cleaned with the gentlest hand, them I brought out gratitude offerings of aventurine chips and crushed sage. And under that love, they thrived like I would have never expected, growing fat and glossy leaves, wafting their earthy vanilla scent over all the garden.
When I harvested them, it was with appreciation that bubbled up from my very marrow for I knew these plants. I knew what they looked like with dew drops sparkling, how they smelled when the wind lifted their leaves, how quickly they grew when the sun shone bright. I was the first to tuck them into soil, I was the one to watch them grow, and I will be the one to feel their sacredness every time I light a braid. I harvested as much as I needed for the year and left the rest to the earth, for their perennial roots. Now, as the autumn settles deeply and the mornings promise frost, I see my sweetgrass settling in for the winter sleep. And when I light one of those pale vert braids, my heart will know that it was in the sacredness of full understanding, full season, full circle.
* * *
Now for you, my friends, I'd love to offer one of my precious sweetgrass braids. Just a simple little gift-a-way, from my hands and heart to yours, this baby will be wrapped up with love and a couple other small goodies from me.
To enter, just leave me a comment below! Say hello, tell me a story of your autumn, or what delicious concoction you're sipping right now. I'll pick a winner at random on Wednesday November 6th and announce the name right here on the blog. Be well you glorious souls!
- U -