The ending of January and the beginning of February is when I start to get antsy. In this window of time and during these few weeks, poplar buds will begin to drop and nettles will be shooting up below these great trees. They both arrive at the same time roughly here in the Northwest, and they grow together often. These two are what start off my season of plant gathering. They're the first stirrings of spring on it's way. They make me immensely happy.
I'm always worried... will I be too soon, too late? And when you're too soon with poplar buds sometimes you feel like you might have been too late. Living in the city, I have no barometer poplars or nettles to keep an eye to know when it's happening out in the forests. So it's always a guess.
I chose a different gathering spot this year, by the opening of a river delta on the Columbia – a place I had discovered last summer. People take their dogs to roam in this super large park. I felt a little strange being one of the very few people without a dog, carrying a large pack to stuff my plant friends in. I got weird looks, “where is her dog?” but I didn't bother.
You have to walk for about two miles before you can reach the river bank, where no one ever really ventures. As I walked out I checked myself. I was feeling impatient, nervously tense, already annoyed by the fact I might find nothing. The young poplars I past by in the parking lot looked like their sticky buds had already opened a bit.
Why am I even tense? This should be enjoyable.
When I wild harvest I am shifting from one mental state to the next and sometimes I am not even cognizant of this happening. We move from rushing rushing busy world to... quiet trees, moving water, bird song. A place where time doesn't really matter. Sometimes I think we can find this shift frustrating. Or that maybe we are out of practice from being cooped up all winter and disconnected from it all.
Mental state while gathering is important. The plants, land, trees, rocks knows this. They can feel your feels.
So I walked and I walked and I was just like, UGH. There will be nothing. Then, I remembered my breath. I started to breathe deeply in and out with each step. I smiled to myself. I began to relax. I stopped and watched an eagle fly overhead, listened to a couple sound disappointed about the conditions of the muddy trail, and I inhaled deeply the scent of wet soggy earth and the scent of poplar forest and I relaxed. This is why I am here and what I will be able to take home with me, will just be an added blessing and heart medicine.
I round a corner and there it is, all laid out: shooting nettles, fallen branches laden with sticky buds and the beginning shoots of galium aparine, cleavers. It was the perfect little cove for me to do my business.
I've heard this from other wild crafters, that sometimes the forest will make you wait until you have come into the right head space to find your plants. This is true. You go to the forest, meadow, mountain... to work it out. To heal. They teach you this.
I pluck and picked and pulled away. Fingers being stung and pricked by the nettles, knowing I'd spend probably a day or two with numbness and pin pricked sensations in my hands. I didn't care.
I walked back to my car contented, feeling the green glowing sap stirring a bit more within myself.