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  • Writer's pictureMj Pettengill

Sitting in the Dirt: Marya of the Wood

Ruby Meadowhawk, Dragonfly, CCO
Ruby Meadowhawk, Dragonfly, CCO

With a trowel in one hand and a dandelion weed picker in the other, I sat in the rich, black dirt at the edge of an overgrown pumpkin patch.

At first, I was carelessly bent over, digging and pulling, making no progress. In the name of preserving my muscles and joints, and eliminating the anxiety that comes from rushing or impatience, I choose to sit amongst the plants. Not only is it more enjoyable, but it is also how one can authentically connect to bustling life at ground zero. Being present and mindful is also how one honors the plant and overall experience.

I have enjoyed this practice for many years. When summer is about to depart, there is a bit of longing. However, I am exceptionally inspired by mid-August and into September when I can sit squarely in the middle of the dirt, a field, or the woods, and not be ravaged by carnivorous insects.

This small town is famous for its unending natural beauty, rich history, and thick swarms of various bugs. If I start to complain, I stop. I remind myself that it is because this is such a healthy environment with many water sources. Therefore, when we get to the point where the relentless black flies, mosquitoes, deer and horse flies, and others have left for the season, there is no rush, no blood drawn while trying to escape. Sitting in the dirt is a reason to celebrate. This is not only because it’s possible, but it’s enjoyable as well.

I would have mentioned ticks, but we do not know when or where they are lurking. We only know their devastating potential and that they come and go. They seem to be gone, but after my infected tick bite, and the subsequent, intense treatment in June, I will not assume that they are gone, not ever. I will always carry on as if they are here.

Today, I collected mints, mullein flowers, primrose, plantain, and mugwort. But it was all about Burdock. I have been keeping an eye on the dock plants—our allies—over the summer. Like the others, it is essential to know how and when to pick these plants or parts of them. We must always keep the Wildcrafter’s Promise in mind, which has many elements. Still, we must always leave the area better than it was before finding it.

Burdock roots tend to nestle into rocks and ledge, often growing straight down. They are a popular and hardy medicinal plant, offering powerful healing from all parts, beginning with their seedy burrs down to their roots.

As I sat, digging in the dirt, careful to follow the root without severing it, I caught sight of a minuscule white spider. These are the ones that seem to like dark, unlit root places, where they could be buried alive at any second. The small yellow spiders are the same, only I see them in airy spots such as roses and lilac blossoms. Like me, they are attracted to sweet fragrances.

I often make a stir fry with (first year) burdock and primrose roots in the spring. Both are delicious and tender if taken early, before turning woody and fibrous.

Burdock, Butterfly, CCO
Burdock, Butterfly, CCO

The pollinators love Burdock’s thistle-like flowers, too. I make teas, poultices, and tinctures with the seeds, leaf, and roots. I remember my mother groaning every time we came home with burrs stuck on our clothes. Now, when I am out foraging, I purposely stick them in a cluster on my shorts. It’s easy to pull them off and place them in a paper bag to dry or make tinctures.

Another gift on this beautiful September day is the small and bright Ruby Meadowhawk. I am quite fond of dragonflies in general, but for some reason, the Ruby Meadowhawk is a curious one. It will land on or around me, providing an opportunity to admire its iridescence and appreciate its trust.

The blue jays, squirrels, and chipmunks dash about here and there, not used to seeing me sitting in the spot close to where they get cracked corn and seed sprinkled on the earth. Until the bears go into hibernation, I don’t hang bird feeders. The birds must forage, and there is plenty of food in the wild during this season. Well, I do put out hummingbird feeders, but I bring them in each night to keep everyone safe.

I will admit that I am still secretly looking for Swift, the gray fox, to show up. I know that she is gone for now, but I do miss her. I miss singing her forest song and knowing that, although maintaining our boundaries, we make eye contact, as mothers often do. It's all about remembering our instincts and long-forgotten wild ways. Marigold Moon Wildcraft Apothecary

Burdock Root Tincture, Marigold Moon Wildcraft Apothecary
Burdock Root Tincture, Marigold Moon Wildcraft Apothecary

Mj (Maryjane) Pettengill, Wildcrafter

1 Comment

Sep 09, 2020

Mj, I enjoyed your post. I think you shared your name with readers like me who were curious about the Mj handle. Maryjane is a lovely name for such a down-to-earth woman and author as you are.

Did you mean that you and the grey fox are both mothers? That makes me interested in learning more about you as a woodland woman writer. How old are your kids? I have a 15-year-old daughter who lives with her mother,

Should I seem too inquisitive, throw your trowel at me but please miss me?

Please tell me which of your stories or books you think I should read first.

Best Regards,


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