Scraped knees. Leaves in my hair. Rocks and shells in my wool coat pockets. It never failed. Leave the house in a dress, tights and patent leather shoes ready for what the world would teach me. The slender, freckled, straight bangs, brown headed child that would carry robin eggs in her pockets to “keep them warm”. Rolling down the grassy hill and stopping at the bottom, looking up at the spinning clouds. Wild. Happy. Wild and happy because I was aloud to be. Of course I had a mother who would dress us up in lovely coats and dresses, curlers in our hair the night before and all. But I was raised in the late 80s early 90s, in a small neighborhood town and given freedom and trust.
Memories of playing in the woods across the street from my childhood home was a world of wonder. A world of imagination and free exploration. A world of problem solving and independent learning. A world where a red wooden bridge would lead us into a landscape surrounded by life and lessons that flourished all around us. The overgrown summer paths of thorn bushes ran along hundreds of years of old farm stone walls. The seasons would change and all that surrounded would turn into a colorful autumn mosaic of leaves forming a painting. The winter approached with a whisper and a foreign landscape would bare newly dormant trees covered in green shaded lichen, wet from a winter snowfall. It all brings a nostalgia that lives so vividly in my mind today.
I learned at an early age about this world growing around me in our own yards and the woods across the road. With my siblings and the neighborhood children, we lived. We explored. We let the natural world around us become our playground. I thank them now, because as I have reconnected more with nature deeper these past few years, memories that have been locked away waiting for me to find them again have emerged. The way we called stinging nettles “meadow flower” and ran as fast as we could with our arms up in the summer sun as they stung our legs below. To the skunk cabbage games, where we would try not to step on the newly emerging leaves and flowers because if we did the we would lose “the game”. The pungent smell would send us running from the stench.
We learned at a very young age about how to identify poison ivy. Were we good at it? Not the best, but we knew what to look for. The problem wasn’t the identification, but the actual awareness of looking while playing I suppose. It could be a vine slowly reaching upward to the top of a tree. Or a colorful shiny three leafed plant creeping slowly along the stonewalls we hopped over while playing Man Hunt in the fall. We learned from the older children and sometimes a parent. There wasn’t a time in the summer that one of us didn’t get a rash. But we grinned and bared it and back into the woods we would go.
Wild mulberries covered the street like small paint blotches. We would sit on the side of the road near the woods and eat the uncrushed ones off the cement. Even hitting the high branches with a tennis racket or sitting on eachothers shoulders to gather them. The crab apple tree that was right next to the mulberry gave us delight. Daring who would take a bite out of the tart apple that sometimes had critters living inside.
We sat for hours on our driveway that had daylilies and japanese knotweed bordering it. In those hours we would dissect our findings all in the manner of playing house. Nibbling, peeling, and drinking the water out of the knotweed which we called bamboo. Tasting the pollen stigmas of the Day Lily and and weaving the long leaves. We went about gathering yew berries that we added to our “Little House on The Prarie” imaginary meals. We knew what not to put in our mouths. Not only from of our parents but mostly our older siblings who were with us. They then continued the cycle in teaching us. It was as if we had our own ancient ancestral teaching system right in our own neighborhood. A system that has gone dormant in many of today’s modern neighborhoods.
These memories were mostly unstructured play. There were no helicopter parents hovering over our backs to make sure we were being nice to one another. They were working or inside tending to other things, with a check in every once and awhile. It was a community of siblings and children of all ages that helped us learn about ourselves and the world around us. Again, a community that is missing in child development and in many communities today. There is a need for freedom. A need for trust. A need to take risks and explore.
As I grew older, I remember everything from the salt on my lips from a swim in the ocean, to the constant buzz of the cicada awaking me on a summer morning; I carried a certain awareness with me. An awareness I wasn’t sure how to embrace. I was attuned to wildlife, birds, and plants. Quizzing myself in my father’s birding book. Even enjoyed having a job at 14 at my uncle’s plant nursery. As I grew I noticed certain plants would show themselves more and it wasn’t the cultivated ones for my Uncle’s nursery. It was the wild ones.
One summer, while vacationing on Martha’s Vineyard when I was 14, I was at the bookstore and was drawn to a section on plants, herbalism, alchemy, and paganism. I used my saved money from babysitting and I read. I read about plants I couldn’t pronounce. I read about cures for illnesses I had never heard of. As I read, one plant that was in every book let herself be known. Yarrow She stood out. I was curious. She was a herb that was used for so much for hundreds, even thousands of years. I wanted to find her. But with no guidance on identification, I wouldn’t find her for another 8 years. My husband and I were living on a farm property in New Hampshire. 125 acres to run free and explore. It was an amazing place to live while my husband was working towards his Masters degree. There she was again. Growing in an old overgrown wild flower garden. I asked my husband on the identification. He was not positive on an ID but went on to explain the caution that should be used with the apiaceae and asteraceae family if one is not familiar.
Back of the brain yarrow would go again for another 8 years until we bought our first home. Another overgrown wildflower garden graced me with her presence. I knew it was her. I always knew it was her. My husband cautioned again, so I researched. Then,
I jumped down the rabbit hole of plant knowledge. Each new spring brought me peace in identifying and learning about the green life that grew around my home. How could I work with these plants? How could I use these forms of life to help my own family? It brings me a peace. But also this peace comes with learning, creating and teaching. With not only plants but all of the life that lives around our home.
We have reached a point in this society where people have become disconnected from the natural world that is living and growing all around them. While I continue to learn daily, I hope to teach or inspire those willing to be reawaken. It is in all of us. Every human on this Earth shares a love for some form of nature. Unlocking it, becoming aware and expanding the appreciation and knowledge is the key. We owe this appreciation to our children and our children’s children. We owe it to our Earth.
This awareness has always been inside me. But it has also always been within yourself. You don’t have to be a botanist, herbalist or wildlife biologist to feel connected to the Earth. You can work that 9-5 job everyday to provide for your family. You don’t have to have an social media account with thousands of followers to feel connected. You just have to be aware on how to feel it. To open your mind and find your inner ancient soul. I hope as you read this post you unlocked memories of your childhood submersed in a world of nature. Memories you once forgot about but now remember bring a smile to your face. Use those memories. Get outside. Slow down. Open your eyes. Be aware. Learn what is growing in your backyard and gain knowledge on how it can be appreciated within your family’s lifestyle.
Do it for you.
Be well. Be Wild.🌿💚