Friday, 19 July 2013

Weed Wife

FROM THE LOVELY late Maying to this humming cloudless unfamiliar summer heat, the Earth has been laughing in flowers. I have watched the lanes and the hills and the riverbanks as they've blossomed in a great rush of colour – one after the other after the other – a froth of petalled joy spilling my heart over and calling, calling in weedy green voices: a chlorophyll chorus, this time unignoreable.


Something has happened this year. The plants have started calling louder than ever before. 


Those of us who have loved the plants since childhood and dreamed of a cronehood stalking the fields with a basket, kitchen windowsill a stained glass apothecary of sunlight falling through bottles of herb-infused oils and tinctures – a Church of Weeds – have heard the hedgerows calling clearer and more insistent this year than ever before. I wonder for how many of you the seasons' turning this year moved something in you that had perhaps learnt over the years a handful of plant names and their uses and maybe collected many books on plant lore and craft, but not before with this new purpose and dedication wanted to know the whole great encyclopedia of leaves?


The rushing of life into summer has been my church, and the green hands of this land have pushed up and out and taken mine, a willing but green apprentice, and they've begun to whisper things, now audible, that I've been hearing and yet not hearing for many many years.


The beauty of our Dartmoor hills stirs me every day. “We live here!” we say to each other, incredulous. On these hot hot days, we have swum in the cold thrilling rivers, alive with leg-kissing fish and haloed with an aura of insects. This land feels healthy and we fall endlessly, unquenchably in love with it.


And the plants go on calling. I feel a need to be able to name them, which seems at once ridiculous – how can two Latin words given by an eighteenth century Swedish man equal the complex ancient magic of a particular plant growing in a particular place? And yet somehow the Latin name, an international and specific way of reference, becomes helpful: It can tell us a story about humans' relationship with this plant (St John's Wort – Hypericum perforatum – is named for the midsummer saint who replaced the pagan sun magic with which this plant is associated. The hyper-ikon was a herb placed above the icon of St John attesting to its power over ghosts or bad spirits  also known as depression – for which the herb is most well known these days. Yarrow – Achillea millefolium, an excellent wound herb, which arrests bleeding and disinfects wounds, was used according to legend by Achilles as a field dressing for his soldiers' wounds during the Trojan war.) The Latin name of a plant can tell us where that plant can be found growing (- palustris – in marshes, - arvensis – in fields, - sylvatica – in woodlands), or whether it was part of the folk medicine chests of old ( - officianalis). Valerian - Valariana officianaliscommonly called All-heal, has significantly in German-speaking countries been given over 500 distinct names, and by the Romans was given feminine names, honouring the tall upright white-flower-crowned grace and importance of the plant.
The common names of plants conjure stranger, more wonderful uses and stories, tying us to our hedgewalking forebears, and reminding us how they knew the plants ~ wolf's bane, wet-the-bed, jump-up-and-kiss-me, fireweed, bastard killer, woundwort, sweethearts, sneezewort, simpler's joy, mother-die, bedstraw, heartsease, devil's plaything, gypsy's baccy, white man's footprints...


And so I have continued to walk the lanes and to ask the plants and to write down what they say in my book of the hedge. This writing has been not only in words and names but in paint too. Out of this ongoing hedgerow-thrall came a painting – Weed Wife – an expression of my love for the wild plants in particular, the ones who can thrive between pavement slabs and motorway sidings, the ones who grow strong despite bad weather and trampling, and in whose green veins thrum aeons of medicine for our bodies and spirits which we've strimmed and poisoned and walked past for too long.



She began in pencil on a beautiful heavy gnarly piece of burr oak. This one had no preparatory sketches whatsoever; all that came before this was the thought of a woman surrounded by plants: a Weed Wife.


And slowly the weeds began to grow around her.


The wood was an awkward shape to work on – too solid and unwieldy to rest flat on a drawing board. And so I wedged it inside an old school desk with its lid open.


The painting began with the Weed Wife herself.
 

And then the colours crept around her in tendrils of pigment



growing a forest of weeds.





The detail was small and required a meticulous brush, attempting to achieve a good likeness in every plant portrait.


Finally (just hours before the delivery deadline for the gallery!) she was finished:


See if you can find all the plants in the painting... 

 Weed Wife - prints available here
Hogweed, Goosegrass, Bramble, Lady's Mantle, Hedge Woundwort, Ground Ivy, Mallow, Dandelion, Dock, Heartsease, Nettle, Hawthorn, Herb Bennett, Elder, Ivy, Poppy, Shepherd's Purse, Plantain, Yarrow, Mullein, Holly.



This painting seems to have touched some gentle yet powerful part of many women who have seen it, bringing tears to their eyes. I can't explain why this might be because I don't really know, though I was very moved to hear it had this effect. Some kind of plant-song must come out of it, revivifying a deep and long-held womanly knowing.

 

The weeds continue their lessons as the year burns on, catching the light of every day in their green blood, in their thorns and hairs and petals, throwing me riddles and conundrums, singing me songs, and I listen as best I can, my ear still not fluent in the nuances of the language of their country.



I have begun to properly collect and dry plants found around and about where I live (all of the close up photographs of plants in this post were taken within a few yards of my home, and the rest within a few miles). I feel that the plants sharing soil and water with me are bound to have better medicine in them for me than some commercially grown and packaged herb flown in from overseas ever could, not to mention the extra and particular magic that will be inevitably mixed into any brew I make based on the intentions and reverence I hold whilst picking and preparing.


I've fashioned a very rudimentary drying rack for a tiny house out of an old crate, some strips of muslin, bits of bamboo and gaffer tape. This hangs over our wood burner on the clothes drying rack in between the towels and socks. One of these days I'll make a nicer version out of willow but this works very well for now.


 And the dried plants are going into jars, for which I have yet to make labels...


Three plants flowering about our home at the moment combined to chase away a cold that threatened to drag Tom under. I brewed up Elderflowers and Yarrow (which both have excellent exterior-releasing qualities causing an illness-eliminating sweat) and Honeysuckle (which has wonderful antiseptic and soothing properties). A few hot brews of this with honey chased it away good and proper, and Tom awoke the next morning free of the cold! 


Some years ago during my Book Arts studies, I made a book of plant lore – a Herbal Alphabet with one plant for each letter, each one illustrated by a woodcut illustration of a story surrounding the uses and folklore of the plant. The text tells of botany, history, folklore, superstition and medicine, and I bound the whole thing by hand. It was a one-off creation, my love of Herbals and the plant knowledge therein strong even then; and I find myself coming back to it now and referring to it, finding information in it that I'd forgotten.





It shares shelf space with many other excellent Herbal tomes, a few of which you can see here:


A small selection of plant books that have caught my imagination recently or become oft-referred-to old favourites follow:

52 Flowers that Shook My World A Radical Return to Earth by Charlotte Du Cann
The Energetics of Western Herbs Vol 1 & 2 – A Materia Medica Integrating Western and Chinese Herbal Therapeutics by Peter Holmes
The Secret Teachings of PlantsThe Intelligence of the Heart in the Direct Perception of Nature by Stephen Harrod Buhner
Traveller's Joy by Beshlie
Wild Flowers of Britain by Roger Phillips

This last book is by a true weed wife of whom many of you will know. Juliette de Baïracli Levy spent her life travelling and living with the peasants and nomadic peoples of many countries, learning their medicine. She raised her children and Afghan hounds according to what she learnt along the way. Her life was a flourishing garden of glowing health and a deep and simple love for the Earth. I was first captivated by her ways after being given her book Traveller's Joy by a friend at the Weird and Wonderful Wood Fair this year, but she has written many, which are full with remedies for both humans and animals, that you know she has used and perfected.
This beautiful hour-and-a-bit-long film about her life will beguile you utterly, I heartily recommend taking the time to watch it:






Meanwhile the plants go on calling, and the small beautiful creatures who know the language of plants best of all answer in their miraculous iridescent orchestra of humming and scraping and buzzing and weaving and tasting and pollinating and egg-laying and cocooning and Keeping It All Going... 



The Weed Wife original painting is on display at the Green Hill Arts Gallery in Moretonhampstead, Devon until 7th August and prints small and large can be purchased here


Yesterday, down our lane, we found our beloved hedgerow massacred by brutal farm hedge-cutters which had hacked the whole living ecosystem back to a stubble of chewed stems and gouged banks. I found myself profoundly affected by this - heart-sad at the loss of specific plants I had come to know and love and watch grow day by day. I mourn their destruction and am left speechless at the way supposed "stewards of the land" can come at a tiny delicate rare variety of Imperforate St John's Wort which I'd found growing there a few days before with a huge indiscriminate cutting machine. I don't suppose the farmer even knew that little flower was there. 


I will go on walking the hedges, listening to the plants, learning their names, telling them how I am glad that they live and thrive and trusting always in their ability to crack concrete.



stay together
learn the flowers
go light

~ from For the Children by Gary Snyder



45 comments:

sarah said...

So much beauty! I feel blessed by this lovely post, by your art, and the wild art of the place where you live. Thank you so much for sharing it.

Nuit said...

You put into words what was chasing my thoughts since the end of winter... yeah I feel it too, this year there is something in the plants which is calling ... for what, I am yet not sure...

Hullut teekutsut said...

Thank you so much for this inspiring post! I've always been interested in herbs and wild flowers, but just recently found myself falling more and more in love with them. Partly because of my English herbalist, whose remedies have helped me a lot. I'm especially intrigued of the history and magick of the weeds and am trying to get more knowledge about it all. Not easy to find any books about the matter, at least here in Finland. If anyone knows something to recommend I'd be glad to know.

ann @ studiohyde said...

Such a lovely post. I've enjoyed seeing your photographs and learning something more about the plants I see every day. Your Weed Wife painting is gorgeous and thank you for sharing the process :)

Nif Already said...

Rima, your work is always so beautiful, but this one, oh this one, this Weed Wife she speaks to my soul. Particularly poignant for me is the yarrow in her hand.

A small story: when I moved to my home, the area was bare. I purchased two small seedling, no taller than 2" and gingerly planted them. That year (4 years ago now) they grey tall and mighty. I knew they spread and anxiously awaited the following year. I didn't anticipate what came next. Over the next years my garden has become absolutely a carpet of yarrow. Magnificent, right? Until I learned that I get quite the skin reaction to it. Noooooooooooooo! A weed wife allergic to her weeds.

Oh Rima, I know these feelings you speak of all to well. I am moved from across the ocean. Thank you.

Abby Nolan said...

Rima - Yes, and yes to all you have written here. And the weed wife, married to the plant world itself, is poignant and beautiful. I thought this quote might be particularly interesting to you:

“When we know the name of something, it brings us closer to the ground. It takes the blur out of our mind; it connects us to the earth. If I walk down the street and see “dogwood,” and “forsythia,” I feel more friendly toward the environment. I am noticing what is around me and can name it. It makes me more awake.” Natalie Goldberg Writing Down the Bones

-Abby
http://travelingchariot.blogspot.com/search/label/The%20Great%20Outdoors

Judith said...

Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us Rima. I always feel blessed and uplifted by your words, and by your art - so very moving. Judith x

Anonymous said...

This is such a beautiful painting,
I got goosebumps.
And you are as beautiful.
Feels so good looking at these pictures, I love it.

Herzliche Grüße
aus Kassel
Melanie

pRiyA said...

The comment before this one said it so well - I got goosebumps...

That was such an inspired painting. Thank you for taking the time to lead us through your process. It was like we viewers were watching you holding our breath and then we collectively let out a gasp when we saw the final piece.
Somewhere I read that if your surroundings are beautiful, you know you are on the right path in your life. When I see the glorious photographs in this post, I feel blessed at knowing you through this blog.

Denise Vitola said...

Thank you so much! Your post is so inspiring and it's just what I need right now. Color!

Carmine said...

Rima, you are so right about the magic of the archetype of the wood-wise, herb-growing cottage witch (and I say "witch" meaning wise woman living close to the earth in tune with its cycles and powers and transformations). That calls to me strongly and it is so wonderful to see how you have listened to that voice and expressed it through your art and your life. I LOVE the story of healing Tom's cold with your herbal knowledge, love the herbal you created, love the lore you have passed along to us in this post and The Weed Wife fills me with joy. Thank you so much for generously sharing your beautiful life with us, and blessings to the plants in the hedgerows and cracks to thrive more strongly than ever.

Nao Sims said...

Rima, your exquisite word-smithing combined with your deep love of the green and growing ones, brings their medicine to the page; one can taste their offerings and feel your connection with them.

Weed Wife also brought tears to my eyes and a rush of shared sisterhood, an ancient knowing. As I walk through the wild woods and the meadows where I live, I too hear the whispers and wisdom of the ones growing there. Sometimes I follow the blessed bees into the centers of flowers, getting as close as I can to the alchemy and majesty of the petaled world.

You have such a beautiful way of putting into words the felt nuances of soul. Your paintbrush brings to life the old songs and stories and truths, in danger of being forgotten. Blessings and Gratitude dear sister, for the work you do and the wonder with which you do it.

Heather said...

This post is utterly fascinating - a delight for the soul as well as the eyes. I wish you success with the Weed Wife - she is so beautiful and the plant portraits are excellent. Your talent is amazing.

Mascherina said...

Wonderful reading as always.
Your posts make me homesick, hopeful and tickle my spirit all at the same time.

Charlotte said...

When I read this lovely post for the second time I realised you reminded me of the girl in The Gift by Carol Ann Duffy and Rob Ryan. The next thing that immediately sprang to mind was the fabulous Italian Herbiary (I know it's not the correct term but I love the idea of a plant bestiary). We were shown a facsimile by a lovely lady we met in Edwinstowe. One of the very few hand illuminated scripts that were done from life studies and not the scribes imagination. I did wonder if you know it, but am damned if I can remember the book's title. I love the cherishing of old names for plants and the weed wife is such an eloquent picture. All the best to you and yours this fine summers season. C

Trailshome said...

Such a wonderful post, and the picture too. My husband recently remarked to me that he had read that from prehistoric times, men and women had developed brains tuned to their particular skills. The writer said that men are best at seeing motion, in particular small movements at a distance. Women are more skilled at identifying and separating plant life, so that hey could forage for the food and medicines around them. That made sense to me, and your whole weed wife here echoes that as well. I believe your woman and the delightful plants echo deep in our primitive-deep brains and speak to our deepest thoughts. Well done, thank you for expressing what most of us can only fleetingly feel.

Sylvia V. Linsteadt said...

Oh Rima. Thank you. Just, thank you. She gives me chills and tears and a lurch deep in my soul, your Weed Wife. Thank you for all this beauty and old wildness you share. It is a great gift! And it is very strange and magic, the plants calling this year! My house is too small for all the scrabby bits of nettle and yarrow and elderflower I have tucked about, in less order I daresay than yours, and the cupboards are getting stuffed with various tinctures. I wonder what's going on... it's time I suppose, that's what they are saying, come on already. Cheers to the old crone lady I've always dreamed of becoming, as have many I know-- with her basket of herbs, her stories, her bare feet dusty and strong in the summer evening, on the porch singing. So much love to you, xxx S

Carmine said...

P.S. I just realized that the Weed Wife is of course a goddess and a madonna, an icon, with wise and ancient eyes. She is us, isn't she?

Tiffany Davidson said...

Rima, dear, your Weed Wife is beautiful & you are beautiful. I've been swimming in rivers here, too. Very cold ones :]
I loved this post. Thank you, thank you x

Basht said...

Your world always seems so magical.

Ronnie (RR) said...

Your posts seem to have me more drawn into them with each one I read.

spiritbear said...

Hi, the weed wife is so magical!! Painted so beautifully.I am also called to the plants and have studied herbologie for many years.Julliet is a very special person, I was honored to have met at an herb conference a few years ago, the movie is wonderful. Your posts are so magical. A couple books you might like are by Rosemary Gladstar, and Susan Weed two wonderful herbalists here in the U.S. and close friends of Julliet. Sweet summer too you!!!!

Elle Mental said...

Thank you for sharing your knowledge with us! I also very much appreciate you sharing the video on Juliette de Baïracli Levy. It was wonderful and inspirational! Shalom!

ramona said...

Rima, It's so wonderful to read your words, I love the weed woman! This post makes me feel as though we have known each other a long, long time. Keep tending the garden. You are WONDERFUL!!!

Leaf said...

Rima, you are such an inspirational soul. I am one of the women who got tears in her eyes seeing this, and I feel so grateful for you and your talents. THANK YOU!

Mrs Black the shoppe keeping cat said...

This post is heartbreakingly beautiful! But uplifting too, Like you I feel that the hedgerows and all who live in them have sung out louder to us this year than ever in our lifetimes. It feels urgent that we acknowledge this life force. Your photographs are stunning and so alive. I love your words and the Weed Wife. I miss Devon, thank you for sharing. xxxx

Geoff & Fuggo said...

Hi Rima, enjoying the pictures as always and the weaving of thoughts and words. We have just received a magnificent book you might enjoy should you come across it, "letting in the wild edges" by Glennie Kindred. Keep on roaming and sharing. We will continue to enjoy the wild lands of Scotland and the little views of your southern places too (I know the distress of the machine slashers too, we are hand tool people and like to "speak" with the plants before we cut them) Fuggo and Geoff

Velma Bolyard said...

YES!

mamãju said...

Rima, (sigh)... 1st it was chils and then tears. I wasn´t surprised (yet, I was) when I read just bellow that other women had the same reaction to your painting. I also am attracted by plants, its names and its many uses... and since I live near nature and as I grew up I feel that in a more strong way...
You really live in a magical and such beautiful place, you are blessed by that land... I know.
Thank you for keeping sharing with us that place, your art, your eyes, your surrounding nature.
love
joana

Barb Cady said...

I always love your posts and your art. This speaks to me very well, I use essential oils and flower essences -you can hear them speaking too. I'm sure the earth provides everything to cure, if only we all listened more. Your herbal book is absolutely beautiful. Thank you Rima. Blessings. X

Shveta Thakrar said...

This makes me so happy, not just because of the plants/herbs (which I adore), but because your Weed Wife looks like she could be me! ♥♥♥ I will definitely be buying a print. Thank you, Rima, for this gorgeous creation.

acornmoon said...

I am always fascinated by the way you work and how you are so very true to yourself.
I can relate to the hedge cutting as it happens around here all the time, even worse three fields full of meadow flowers, ground nesting birds, shrews, toads, snakes etc sprayed to detroy all the flowering plants for no earthly reason other than the farmer wants to sell the land for building.

Alice ~ Wandering Writer said...

Lovely post Rima... I too feel that same heavy heart when I see the countryside destroyed with such carelessness. Thank you in particular for sharing the link to Juliette of the Herbs... we watched it in our van the other night and were utterly captured. If ever a way of life, sentiments and feelings could mirror my own heart, then it is those found in this film. I am now off to find some of her books... I cannot thank you enough for bringing her to my attention because it has helped to centre my thoughts about our current journey. Hope you are well.

Country Mouse said...

I'm amazed and - blessed - reading your post. Yarrow, hairy honeysuckle, Mexican elderberry - these grow natively on the Central California Coast where I live (and blog on native plants etc with a friend). Your weed woman does touch me too. Thank you so much for sharing your love of the nature around you - here I am more and more immersing myself in the place I'm amazed to call home - and beginning to learn a little of the native American ways with the local plants - so much to relate to what you have written and beautifully illustrated with painting and photographs. So sorry about your hedgehog. That too I can relate to - the brutal hedge trimming - along the single track road to our home also the workers slashed back, no leopard lily this year for us. But disturbing the soil - it can be good for the life within it. Suggest you read Kat Anderson - Tending the Wild, about native Californian ways of land management. I feel so lucky to have come across your blog - thanks thanks thanks.

P. Peters said...

A heartfelt thanks. My heart is shot through with green.

Maggie said...

Beautiful post. The greenworld always calls to me, and this painting...it's just beautiful. I think you've touched on a bit of many people's hearts.
Maggie

Fee said...

I was touched by this post too, you really see the beauty that is all around and thanks for capturing it. The Weed Wife is such a strong intricate image, it has stayed with me and I am coming back to post as you inspired me to pick and dry some camomile today which is the only herb I dried last year and I so needed it ... as I had a few bouts of not sleeping it was so calming! The plants are really calling out to us... a friend gave me the Flower Spirit cards from Melanie Eclare last year and I feel more in tune with plant messages.

Maggie Emm said...

Very excited to have found your beautiful site via Re-enchanting the Earth. Your art is brilliant, and a great post on the weed wife. I got married to plants a long time ago, but still want to get closer to them and learn more of their stories. It's a wonderful marriage!

Karen said...

Beautiful! I love The Weed Wife. x

Jack said...

Rima - you are inspirational. Wonderful, wonderful words and pictures. Thank you.

Maud said...

I've followed your blog for a while now, as a city-dweller it provides me with a much needed countryside fix!
A couple of weeks ago I decided to treat myself to one of your prints... I am now the very happy owner of a Weed Wife, and how beautiful she is too!

Thank you for your words and pictures, they truly gladden my city-locked heart

Barbara Simler said...

Lovely post and painting, Rima! Your writing took me back to my childhood wanderings amongst the spring-blooming weeds.

Barb said...

Wow. What a truly beautiful, beautiful blog! Thank you so much for sharing :)

my420friends said...

You are truly an exceptional artists.

Madison Woods said...

I'm so glad to have read your post here. I've felt the urgency this year, too. Your Weed Wife painting is very lovely.