Friday, July 25, 2014

Walk With Me Past the Fennel Tree

You've probably guessed that my longer than usual silence here has to do with Elk Lines, and the rhythm this big beautiful new writing project brings to my days, filling them up to the brim. Well, the good news is--the first installment is finished, and has been sent out to its faraway subscribers beyond the oceans (and northern borders)! Eda, the Elk People and I have had a wonderfully intense month getting to know each other, and it feels a fresh and tender thing, like a birth, to send out the first pages of their tale through the air and over the water, to the hands of faraway readers. 

I was struck today, eyeing the first pile of these wild Lines (pictured here in my summer Felting Studio...) by how grateful I feel to all my readers and subscribers; that this is what I fill my days with (including all the frantic printer escapades, post office debacles and late-night wax-sealing meltdowns)...Thank you & bless you all; I put my whole heart into these tales, and into each little brown-paper parcel too. This week I feel like a dandelion seed-head sending the little ships of her seeds far out into the world, giving a little dance in the wind. 

Besides the long days of hand writing pieces of Elk Lines, typing them up, editing, drawing the Feral Palm Reading that accompanies it, I share my daytimes with this darling fellow, my beloved Hawthorn, who has grown up into such a handsome and rambunctious young buck, always escaping his pen to have adventures in the fennel bush, or to steal bites of other people's kale, or make himself a bedchamber in the sage. Long stints hunched over my little writing table (a lovely old Victorian letter-box my aunt gave me several years ago, tilted upright and so at a perfect angle for pen and paper) are broken by rambles in the yard with Hawthorn, who does indeed bring light and infectious happiness to the heart whenever one is near him. 

He leads the way, and I wander. Right now, the garden is a jungle, well and truly.  Those bean poles stand a good eight or so feet high, and I think the fennel is almost there with them. A fennel tree. This beautiful fecund vegetable plot (below) is tended by our landlords, who live through the main entrance of our big old Victorian home with their four sweet children. Regularly the little ones are sent on missions for string beans and tomatoes, to feed the chickens or collect the eggs, and I am privy to all sorts of strange and wondrous child-conversations as I sit in the shade with my notebook, or a needle and thread. Of course when Hawthorn is about, I may sometimes be seen with a small caravan of children behind me as we follow his hopping through the garden.

The amaranth grows in rich magenta spires, and puts me in mind of some great trunked being.

Old grandmother Comfrey has grown her leaves nearly as big as my torso.

The fennel seems to live in the sky, a gathering of yellow stars.

And the dark and elegant poppies have turned from lustrous purple silk to the old magic of seedpods.

The apricots and peaches are all but done on the garden trees, and the apples are starting to ripen. Nothing quite like a warm apple right off the tree, and ever-so-slightly under-ripe, so that it's tartness puckers the tongue.

In our own garden plot, the tulsi (holy basil) is vibrant and near to seeding.

Both the tulsi and the motherwort, harvested above, I grew from seed this year; I'd never grown either of them at all to begin with, and to have known them since they were tiny unfurlings, to their full medicinal splendor--what a treat! The motherwort is away in tincture form now. She is one of my greatest plant-friends, working wonders for moon-cycle related tension, anxiety, hysteria, and cramps. Hawthorn isn't especially fond of the taste of motherwort, as it is very, very bitter. I've gotten used to it, perhaps because I associate the flavor with an almost immediate sense of calm and grounded-ness, as if my mother has just given me a hug. But otherwise, this rabbit truly is a small herbalist. His diet is entirely medicinal, not on purpose but simply because rabbits adore herbs! Nasturtium, raspberry leaf, comfrey, plantain, dandelion, sorrel, basil, lemon balm, rose, borage, mallow—the main cuisine.

And speaking of Hawthorn, he is also the inspiration for a new piece of writing—a column, possibly for the rest of the year (though this is not certain yet) in the Plant Healer Magazine! As it stands now, this column will be for children and adults, and it will be the tale of a rabbit and his young herbalist companion, and all the thing she learns from him and from the Rabbit-witches who live in the brush. And by way of a small hint—the tale, which will include some plant illustrations, and which will be filled with herbal learnings, will also be set in the world of the Leveret Letters, in Wild Folk Land and Country, in the early days of the Holy Fool's Inn. Some of you will know what I'm talking about...In any event, I'm quite excited and honored to be sharing these writings in Plant Healer! 

Otherwise, I've been trying to balance the work of the head with the work of the hands. While writing with pen and paper does come from the hands, there is something different that seems to happen in the heart and body when other tasks are undertaken, such as the preparation of herbal medicine, or textile-making. Near the full moon, a dear friend and I gathered rosemary, yarrow and comfrey from the garden and made a salve with beeswax and coconut oil.

We named it "Wise Wound Salve," because the triad of herbs all have an old, strong crone feeling about them, the wisdom of the ancient grandmothers. And standing over the stove, stirring a pot of strained oil with shavings of beeswax—this feels an old, old, task, one that lives in the blood. Shortly thereafter, my lovely six-year-old downstairs neighbor came up to see if I had anything for burns, and she went away again with a little cap full of Wise Wound Salve! It rather made my day to actually have something useful to give her (though of course I would rather she hadn't burned her finger on a pot!). Both comfrey and yarrow in particular are excellent for burns, though probably best made into a cold compress/poultice rather than a salve. Still, one uses what is on hand, eh?

My busy fingers have also been at work sewing and embroidering and felting in my outdoor "textile studio," where the haystacks are my side-table.

These are soon to be up for sale at Wild Talewort--new story cases, embroidered with antlers, to hold Elk Lines! 

Something so nourishing happens in the mind when the hands are the ones literally telling the story against cloth, or wool, or chopped herbs, and the narrating brain can have a little rest. As I know I have already written many times, there certainly is a reason for the saying, "to spin a yarn"— as the hands make thread, the mind is free to roam and to wander.


  1. Sylvia,

    It's always inspiring to read your beautiful posts!! Hawthorn is so adorable :) :)

    I used to have a couple white rabbits as pets. They had the most beautiful eyes and soft fur, back home. But unfortunately they got stolen, right before they had the babies :(

    Hindus worship Tulsi, and we had one in the middle of the courtyard to ward of the evil spirits, and welcome the goddesses and gods. We would light a terra-cotta oil lamp and place it by her (Tulsi) in the evenings. Oh those good old days!

    Well, anyway, keep on writing and educating people like me! xo

    1. Vino, what a beautiful memory of Tulsi and the oil lamp in the courtyard of your childhood, oh my goodness. Thank you for sharing that. I have such a beautiful image in my mind now. Tulsi is such an extraordinary plant. She brings me joy every morning when I go out to the garden. I don't have quite enough to make much tea, so I'm thinking of making a tincture. What a soothing nourishing plant! & yes, rabbits are the most wondrous animals. I am totally in love. Actually just got in from starting to shear Hawthorn-- his wool is so long and coming out! It's a slow process, so he's about 1/3 done and looks so silly right now. Anyway, bless you & thank you for visiting. I hope you're doing well! Love, Sylvia

  2. Looking forward to seeing your new items on Etsy. Your stuff is wonderful. :) I would love to order your new series of stories. I think I have missed the first one, can I still get it?

    Terry L

    1. Thank you so much Terry! :) If you live in the US, it's not too late! You can totally still sign up, I'd be thrilled to have you. Domestic orders will probably go out next Tuesday-ish. I do take subscribers on a rolling basis; it just means you start the first installment September 21st instead. You can sign up here: - And actually the story-cases will be sold through that website too.. Trying to streamline a bit. :) Bless you for visiting & your kind words!

  3. I've been meaning to email you!! But yes, I saw your column in Plant Healer - how wonderful!! It's such a fab publication and a perfect fit / extension for you. And soooo good for them and their subscribers too :)

    Thank you for your ever-magical posts! What a garden, what a rabbit!! xxoo

  4. Thank you so much for another beautiful peek into your world! It's magic, and so inspiring.