I wake up slowly on the second day of a writer’s retreat in the foothills of the Cascade Mountains in Washington State. The morning is cool, the air gray and hazy. Unzipping my tent, I’m surrounded by green. Moss-covered trees flank rolling hills just beyond a forest where coyotes, mountain lions and wolves hunt in freedom. In the clearing, I see that dandelion flowers have gone to seed, overnight changing from sun-yellow to moon-white to form hundreds of pale spheres. Painted in the morning mist, they look like spirit flowers.
My dreams from the night before were of water. “Distill” was the word that came. The story that I’m writing is dense and layered with too many characters. The dream tells me that I need to get to the heart of it. In order for the story to live, I need to become quiet. I want to be filled with gratitude and little else for awhile, and so I go to my teachers, the plants.
I’m drawn to one of my most beloved medicine plants, Alchemilla, also known as Lady’s Mantle, the shawl the Green Woman wraps around her shoulders as she walks at sunrise. Drops of water coalesce around the ruffled edges of this silver-green plant, catching the moisture from the pregnant air, dozens of tiny globes refracting the weak morning sunlight.
My grandmother, a Welsh witch, poet, and herbalist taught me that women who wash their faces in this liquid at dawn stay beautiful forever. Her memorial service was packed to standing-room with male admirers. And so I dutifully press my sleepy face to the furry wet leaves each morning.
Alchemilla can also save your life. Tincture of Alchemilla will staunch bleeding in childbirth or with menstrual hemorrhaging. Its astringent and skin healing qualities will staunch any wound.
As the name implies, Alchemilla has long been used in magic. The plant has many secrets. Today I will ask it to share some of them with me.
The air here is full of birdsong: chickadee and robin, Western jay, red-winged blackbird and swallow, all high in the towering cedar trees above me.
The ground is wet and little cold, but I know it’s best to go barefoot when listening to the plants, and so I take off my Wellies to walk to the bottom of a rock garden behind the main lodge where Alchemilla has become quite at home.
After introductions, letting the plant know my name and intention, I give Alchemilla an offering of my breath, breathing from my belly and imagining the energy of my spirit flowing out to meet her. I look at myself inside the tiny orbs of water dotting her toothed edges. I look like an eyeball. I am tears outside of time, not flowing but hovering, reflecting all of the lush green beauty around me.
“Yes, “ Alchemilla says, “I can teach you to be gratitude, rather than just to have it. “
I have become quiet enough, sitting here in the wet grass, for a robin to come close, hopping hungrily after his morning worms. For a time I’m blissfully empty, like a cup, like a vessel, like the Alchemilla plant that catches the wondrous morning dew. This state is necessary for creativity, and later I reap the benefits with a burst of inspiration.
I think about this state of being in terms of physical pregnancy as well as that of ideas. Alchemilla, when taken regularly internally, typically in the form of a tincture, helps to balance women’s hormones. In this way it is a fertility plant as well as a help with PMS and menopausal symptoms.
Alchemilla holds mysteries that cannot be written down in prose. They must be sung or danced. But I can say that they have to do with a state of being that anyone, male or female, young or seasoned elder, can attain and revel in… that state of catching what falls, of being open, of being in gratitude for beauty and possibilities.
Alchemillia is truly a goddesses’ chalice. May you find her and glimpse yourself within.
**The magical retreat place is called Mosswood Hollow, the wonderful writer’s retreat was Robert Moss’ Writing as a State of Conscious Dreaming, both of which I highly recommend.