A Time to Gather

I had never been the one to do the gathering.

It was always left to the older women. Those with experienced eyes and quick fingers. Those who could work their way around nature’s woodland store cupboard, knowing instinctively what would heal and what would harm.
I was one of the followers, as things were picked and named, they were placed into my outstretched palms or in boxes or bottles.

Glynis would stop to stroke a patch of moss, admire a foxglove, point out a patch of deadly nightshade, her keen eyes always alert. She picked plants with tenderness and love, then passed them to me saying, ‘careful, poison’ or ‘breathe deeply, this is a love herb, tuck it behind your ear.’

She and I developed our own code as we worked together over the years. A subtle system of blinks and breathing. Often, she didn’t need to speak out loud, I still heard her clearly.

So when Glynis became sick, they said I must be the one to do the gathering.

‘But how will I know what to gather?’ I asked.

‘Go into the woods and listen,’ said one of the elders kindly.

I went into the woods at dusk, a time when I was usually fearful, but immediately I heard Glynis’s voice in my head. She told me to peel off a sliver of bark from the tree at the exact spot where the moths were dancing. To follow the trunk down and pull the plant beneath, being careful to leave the roots in the ground. Then to crawl along on my hands and knees until I smelt spicy pepper, violets, and joy. I was to weave a basket of gorse and bramble and be sure to bury the pinpricks of blood that fell on the forest floor from my prickled fingers.

All these things I did.

Then I took the basket back to Glynis, and through her rasping breaths and rapid blinks, I learned the magic of the gatherers.

Over the coming days, I tended to Glynis day and night. Returning from the woods every night with weeds and wildflowers that would transform into medicine under her directions. Waiting, hoping, praying. I wiped the sweat from her brow with my scratched hands, my fingertips leaving behind soft trails of soil.

I have never forgotten the morning I woke to find Glynis smoothing my hair from my face and kissing me gently on the forehead. She was glowing with new life, a fresh garland of honeysuckle in her hair.

These days, Glynis is retired from active gathering, but her mind still wanders through the woodlands, helping and healing.

I am now one of the gatherers. A young woman called Isla follows me everywhere and I know that when the time comes, she will be the one to gather for me.
Terri Mullholland
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