Attentiveness
A Riot of Color in Our Cottage Garden | July 2017

A Riot of Color in Our Cottage Garden | July 2017

This is the first, the wildest and the wisest thing I know: that the soul exists and is built entirely out of attentiveness.
— Mary Oliver, Poems and Prose Poems

On June 21st I began a project - a self-assigned photography project. I planned to visit every corner of my property for 365 days - through every season. This weekend, on the Autumnal Equinox, I gave myself permission to abandon my project.

Record-breaking rainfall, stifling humidity and a plague of mosquitoes aided in my decision. While I observed a number of beautiful images - the courtship of Monarch butterflies, maturing cardinal fledglings, dragonflies depositing eggs among the plants in our pond - many days were spent in the house.

In early-July I decanted a dandelion tincture I’d started in spring. The process, while nothing more than squeezing plant material to separate it from its alcohol solution, felt empowering. I had made medicine. Medicine…from a plant growing on my property. I wanted to learn more…

I picked up The Herbal Medicine Maker's Handbook: A Home Manual and began to browse its pages again; it was, after all, where I learned to make the dandelion tincture. Soon, I’d read The Golden Age of Herbs and Herbalists, A Heritage of Herbs, The Practical Botanist, and The New England Herb Gardener. Every morning I’d wake up, look outside, see overcast skies and rain in the forecast…and I’d go back to reading about herbs and herbal medicine.

By the end of August I had harvested St. John’s Wort blooms and plantain, and failed at making oil infusions of both! By September I had yarrow and garden sage tincturing. Goldenrod-infused honey and a goldenrod tincture are also in the cabinet.

Our bronze fennel has been visited by the most beautiful black swallowtail. In the early spring she would flutter and glide above the blooming stalks of lovage and sweetly-scented valerian; and by mid-summer she had begun to deposit her eggs on the wispy fronds of the fennel. Sulphurs and skippers frequented the nasturtiums, the echinacea and the anise-hyssop all summer-long. A fat toad hid among the garden sage and horehound, living harmoniously alongside a stately praying mantis (the length of of a mans hand!). Wee millipedes and pill bugs move among the detritus and I still hear a constant din of bees, especially around the blooming lady’s mantle. Monarchs remain, but the catbirds have gone. Canada geese honk daily overhead and blue jays screech in the tall trees.

I’m planning to attempt another plantain oil infusion. I have plans for our burdock root, too. And another dandelion tincture - a nightly dose appears to be soothing Michael’s arthritis. And while I am a bit regretful at having failed to complete my project, the record rainfall created in me a level of attentiveness I’d not experienced - attention to the healing properties of our plants.

My relationship with our property is intensifying as I work with the plants growing here and I am ever-enthusiastic to continue learning. ♥

Jessica Allen explores the fields and forests of Pennsylvania with her artist-husband, Michael Allen, and their son, Benjamin. She shares her observations through words and pictures of everyday magic and beauty she sees in her world.