Oh, Won’t You Stay? (Just a Little Bit Longer)
When the warm days linger, I am often tempted to negotiate with autumn. Of course, that is unrealistic but worth a try. It’s not that I am misaligned with the changing of the seasons; in fact, it’s the opposite.
Throughout my days, I inhabit and embrace the cycles and seasons. I sense when it is time for the changing of the guard. I made it my business to do so. And then, I have lived in other parts of the country where the sun shines most of the time, resembling the summer that I know so well. I am an authentic beach bum. I love the ocean—sand, and surf. But I always return home to the woods, lakes, rivers, and mountains.
Winter in the lakes and mountain regions of New Hampshire can be brutal. Yes, there is unrivaled beauty in this blissful place. There are many winter activities here. I used to be an avid skier. To some, this winter thing isn’t a big deal at all. I used to voice my opinion to family members who were “snowbirds,” and then I became one. It was that transition that changed my winter outlook.
For a decade, I traveled to a tropical paradise. My creative space was inviting and bright. I actually had internet access, which I do not have here. (I use my cell phone as a hotspot, but that is another story for another time.)
Every spring, when I returned to New Hampshire with a golden tan and newly completed creative projects, I was ready for the land, for farming and wildcraft. It was often shocking to see how people looked so beat—gaunt, pallid, with dark circles around their eyes. I called it the winter look. A lack of sunshine will do that to you.
Now, sometime around January, I look at my reflection in the mirror and know when I, too, have attained the winter look. It is my cue to grab my winter gear (ice clamps, now an everyday necessity with winter the way it has transformed over the years), and I go outside. Sometimes, I dash up and down the hill, enough to get my blood flowing. With my cheeks ablaze, I take note of the tracks in the snow to gain an understanding of the creatures wintering here as well.
Don’t think that I am complaining or that I’m a baby. You may be familiar with other parts of the world where winter never really goes away. As long as you make sure to absorb adequate sunlight (even through a window if need be), get outdoors, move around, and apply extreme self-care, you will thrive. Okay, maybe you won’t thrive—not all of you—but staying connected to your core being, using your time in the cave or creative womb wisely, you gain insight just by making it to spring.
Once we turn the corner, when the snow begins to settle in and pile up to the rafters, spring seems to be out of reach, at least for several months. I have often thought that those who endure a harsh New England winter have earned Spring Fever—a real, euphoric condition.
When the temps start to reach the fifty-degree mark, the shorts, tank tops, and mud boots come out. Right about then, I begin to sip my coffee on the old front steps that are now out in the field. I anticipate the greening.
When they were little, I encouraged my children to roll around and play in the mud. I know that most mothers tell their children to stay clean and avoid puddles and dirt. Not me. Mud is to be celebrated. It’s vital to splash around in icy, muddy slush before the bugs come on the scene.
Once they arrive, we are blanketed by one swarm of insects after another until mid-August. That is when we have a break. Here, the last of the carnivorous winged-ones are the deer flies. The ticks come and go in waves. This past June was the first time I was bitten by a disease-carrying tick and treated for the eradication of Lyme Disease. Thankfully, I discovered the tick and the bullseye rash in real-time. The treatment was successful, and I continue with a wildcrafted regimen to maintain my good health. It works as a preventative measure for future attacks by these deadly messengers. I am prepared and unwilling to take chances with this disturbing and possibly life-threatening disease ever again.
I am still not quite myself. It has taken some time to recover from the antibiotics. I have been beefing up my immune system and feel as if I am close to full restoration. It was the first (and last) time a tick sunk its lethal self into me. But I have been bitten and recovered from a brown recluse spider. The intensity of long-term antibiotic therapy was much the same for both bites. Knowing the consequences of such treatment, I continued to balance my gut flora as best as possible, resulting in quicker recovery time in that respect.
So, regarding freedom from insect attacks, late March and early April present a window of opportunity as do September and October. We are peering through that window now. The temperature is mild, the sun shines brightly, and much to our dismay, we have had little or no rain over the past month. This is about to change.
I’m married to the land and creatures that share this space, drifting in and out, leaving footprints behind. There are the birds that stay throughout the seasons, and there are those that come through during their migration. Again, this occurs during those unique windows during the sub-seasons of spring and autumn.
The smaller rodents, such as various squirrels and chipmunks, are upping their game, collecting nuts and seeds, while we do the same.
Besides gathering and preparing wild plants for medicine, I have preserved the abundance of our labor from the gardens and fields. All living beings steadfastly endured an ongoing drought and radical extremes in temperatures.
Oh, but the colors—how they radiate! The bright oranges, reds, and yellows are more vibrant than ever, but I say that most years. It is the result of being awestruck by the magnificence of this fertile land.
Now is the time to go out and take stock of the wildflower meadows and woods. In late September, one by one, the wild plants wilt and retreat, ready to nestle into the breast of Our Mother. Plant energy that was previously in flowers, stalks, and leaves is usually stored in the roots.
This is the season to gather many of these roots for making medicine. It is never as simple as pulling. There is much to ponder. The most important consideration is our promise as wildcrafter’s to the land. We must not take away more than what was there before our interaction with the Earth. I know it almost sounds impossible. How can you gather plant material and leave more behind?
You begin by comprehending the pattern and life cycle of the plants. Make sure that the plant is no longer flowering. When taking roots, start by asking for the plant’s permission. Then acknowledge the miracle gift of healing and give thanks.
Next, carefully dig into the earth, keeping the plant intact, so that you have access to the root(s). Next, cut a small piece of it and fold the roots back into the earth. Do this with the other plants, ensuring that the plant will return the next season. Depending on the plant, clean and dry for roasting, tincturing, or making oil.
So, what is all this about staying a bit longer? This morning, when I was walking in the fields taking note of which plants have retired, I had the nerve to ask, “Oh won’t you stay, just a little bit longer?”
That is unfair. I didn’t really mean it, not one hundred percent. It was the child inside, asking for one more piece of candy or to hear one more story. I simply wanted to dwell in the golden, final whispers of the passing summer.
I put aside my need to remain wrapped in the creative abyss of Our Mother. I acknowledge the swirling of my summer dreams and visions. I am ready to surrender to the upcoming winter. It is within the depths of this barren season that illuminate the gifts that have helped to shape me. It is in these darkest, coldest days that we must practice perseverance and self-reliance while sifting through the heart of all things that have come and gone before.
Sometimes, I awaken early and climb the icy hill. Between heaven and earth—where the old porch steps are buried deep beneath the snow—I pause to listen to the land and feel our pulse in unison. After giving thanks for the bluest and brightest sky, I nod to the skeletons of plants that may have made it into my basket but didn't.
With so much crumbling away of what we thought we once knew, this flawless view of the world reminds me that we may become tired and weary if we are not careful. As I look out over the pure white fields and shiver, I remember. The rich brown and green earth will soon return. Until then, I shall rest, rejuvenate, and replenish my soul. I will keep the lamps lit and stoke the fire. I invite you to sit with me by the hearth.