Tuesday, March 28, 2017

By the Moon

"When April with his showers sweet with fruit
The drought of March has pierced unto the root
And bathed each vein with liquor that has power
To generate therein and sire the flower."
                                    ~from The Prologue to the Canterbury Tales

The Indians had come in the night and, as was their custom, had left two large woven baskets filled to the brim with herring they had caught for Goody Prymm.  After Samuel had died all those years ago, Imagination took care to develop a rapport with neighboring tribes and had often provided medicine for ill members of their communities.  Thereafter, every spring they would bring to Goody Prymm herring they had caught to be used to feed her gardens, just as they did their own crops.  Being gardeners themselves, they knew when the time was ripe.  And Goody Prymm and Remember were ready, as well.

To grow and maintain her gardens, Goody Prymm had planned  every last detail.  The gardens purposely faced south to protect them from bitter northwest winds.  Within the larger fenced-in area, multiple raised rectangular dooryard beds, built eight inches above ground so that the soil would heat quickly and promote an early crop, were now fully prepared to receive seeds.  The paths, now walkways three feet wide, were packed with earth and crushed shells, allowing easy access for tending.  The wattle fences built to discourage animals were repaired and complete, and it was nigh on April.  The next week would bring the New Moon, propitious for seeds of above-ground plants, Goody Prymm instructing Remember that the Moon at this time would pull moisture up into the planted seeds, expanding them until they burst and nudged their way up into the light.  Then, as the Moon waxed, she told her, the increasing light would aid leaf growth.  It was her way to plant with the phases of the Moon.  It was all One, in Goody Prymm's mind.  It had been her mother's way…and her mother's mother's way, and even further back than that.  During the Full Moon in April, which the Indians called the Fish Moon, though Goody Prymm referred to it as the Hare Moon, would be the best time to plant root crops, and that was in the next several weeks.

As they walked around the raised beds, the small fleeting black shadow skipping once again afore them and little Smoke darting between their skirts, Goody Prymm reviewed what would be planted where.  In one large bed there would be parsley, chives, thyme, sage, sorrel, chamomile, and caraway, herbs to enhance the palate and to ease digestion.  In another bed would be pleurisy root, rosemary, garlic chives, wormwood, bugleweed, and monkshood.  In yet another bed would be orrisroot, bee balm, tansy, basil, lavender, and hyssop, wonderful to make oil for arthritic joints.  Catmint, lambs ears, angelica, feverfew, echinacea, peppermint and lemon balm in yet another bed for various ailments and the trials of childbirth.  And finally, spiderwort, mugwort, mullein, foxglove, and yarrow there in the back.  Many of Goody Prymm's plants were native to the area, but she had also brought with her from the Old World seeds and dried rootstock, which she had taken great care to maintain and keep producing each year, so that her seed chest was now a veritable treasure chest of flavors, treatments, and cures-to-be!  The fruits of their labors now would eventually turn summer and early autumn into an earthy ritual of tending and harvesting, the flowers and leaves to be bound together in bunches and dried from the rafters, the roots to be dug and stored in the lean-to, until the time came when these gifts of nature would become tinctures, ointments, oils, poultices and teas.  How delightful the aromas, coming from those rafters!

Soon their dream gardens dissipated, and with them their imagined earth-essences, bringing Goody Prymm and Remember down from the rafters and back to the reality that one last chore remained before the planting.  Turning then, the women walked to the front gate and, each taking a handle from one of the large baskets containing the herring, carried their gifts from the river to the first garden and began to bury the fish deep into the soil.

***With a nod to "Planting by the Moon," from Organic Lesson:  Live the Natural Lifestyle (2015-17); and "Full Moon of April~the Hare Moon" from the blog Pagan by Design:  An Online Book of Shadows From a Green Witch (February 2, 2017).

***Images are my pictures, the bottom two from the Whipple House in Ipswich, Massachusetts, and the Jonathan Corwin House in Salem, Massachusetts.

© Nancy Duncan 2017

Thursday, March 23, 2017

Anne of the Thousand Stitches!

Catherine of Aragon, once among the wives of Henry VIII, is credited for having made Blackwork, also called "Spanysh Work," popular in Tudor England.  Sadly, she was discarded in favor of the young and beautiful Anne Boleyn.  Now, both fair ladies have been brought together once again in this intricate Blackwork sampler stitched by The Bonnie White Hare!  Nearly all the designs are sixteenth-century authentic Blackwork embroidery patterns, charted by Karen Larsdotter, from guild collections and the Victoria and Albert Museum.  The bottom band, named "Small Row of Violets," is the only exception and is an original Blackwork pattern inspired by historical resources and created by Paula Kate Marmor.

The sampler is stitched almost entirely with black Tudor silk thread, except for the Tudor Rose in the center, which has some gold metallic thread accents, also typical of traditional Blackwork.  The Tudor Rose is my design based on many Tudor Rose designs, the outer stitches and trailing vine done freehand, and the inner fill-in patterns taken from some in the sampler (Can you find them?).

The ground for this small 10 1/2 x 6" Blackwork sampler is special 35-count aged "Boleyn" linen from the Primitive Hare, professionally printed in Anne Boleyn's handwriting.  I plan to mount the piece on black-painted distressed wood, which will allow it to be hung on a wall or propped neatly on a shelf.

Despite its being at times exasperatingly tedious to stitch, I thoroughly enjoyed working on this piece, as really, it was not difficult to do…just very intricate and precise.  I will add…it was wonderfully contemplative work, Ladies!

***Note:  For those of you too young to know, the title of my piece is an allusion to the 1969 movie about Anne Boleyn, Anne of the Thousand Days.

© Nancy Duncan 2017

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Mending Fences

At long last, spring had arrived in Ipswich. Of course, snow was always still a possibility in early spring, but the signs were everywhere, with trees budding their colorful blossoms and green springing to life from the ground up.   Although the mornings still had a chill in the air, by afternoons the sun had warmed things considerably, and this got Goody Prymm thinking about her fences.  Planting time was close at hand, and she needed to get all in readiness.  Years ago, she had planted a little willow coppice, one that would be specifically used to grow and harvest willow suckers to be made into seven-foot "withies," or "weavers," for wattle fencing.  These woven panels of willow sticks in a sort of basket weave fashion were very good for keeping wild animals, as well as wandering farm animals from other homesteads, out of her gardens.  And it was the type of fence that she could build quite easily herself, which suited her.  However, the nature of their structure remained good for only about three or four years before needing replacement, and now that time had come.  She had taken care to rotate the making of her fences, so that all would not need replacement at one time.  At almost seventy-one, Goody Prymm did not move as easily as in earlier days, but fortunately she had Remember, young and strong, as her helpmeet, making building wattle fences a task they could accomplish together in time for planting.

They stepped out into the gardens to survey what needed to be done this year.  Goody Prymm's gardens were the most productive gardens in Ipswich, and it was rumored that she spoke to her plants, almost as though they could hear her and understand her.  Regardless, it seems she had a magical touch when it came to her plants.  Not only did she grow copious vegetables for stews and pottage…lettuce, spinach, carrots, turnips, melons, squashes and more…she was a master of growing herbs for flavoring.  But her chief concern was propagating those herbs that would be used in the various ointments, salves, poultices, teas, and astringents necessary for healing.  She was, after all, a healer and midwife first.  She had numerous raised rectangular beds, all laid out wherever they would fit in her dooryard.  Many would need new fencing, and Imagination and Remember would have to clear the footpaths around the beds, packing the dirt firmly.  After figuring what needed doing, she and Remember went to the coppice to harvest the saplings, which, newly cut and green, would form the basket weave.  Late winter was the perfect time to harvest them, and to Goody Prymm's way of thinking, they were right on schedule.  Remember brought with her the tools needed for harvesting and they both set about their business.

After a time, they had harvested enough for the weaving.  The upright stakes, called "sales," were made of hardwood and so a few on the old fencing were still quite good.  Nevertheless, Goody Prymm sent Remember to the edge of the woods to cut some branches of hardwood, approximately 1 1/2" in diameter, for additional sales, if needed.  After removing the old fencing around the beds, they sharpened the bases of the newly cut hardwood posts using a hatchet, and drove them down into the ground, about 14" apart and 12" deep. Then began the weaving.  Beginning at the bottom, each row of willow saplings was alternated around the sales, while the next row up was woven on the opposite side of the stakes, Goody Prymm and Remember pressing each sapling row firmly down as they went.  It was hard work for hands more accustomed to linen and thread, but it was gratifying to see their weaving become beautiful little enclosures for their soon-growing gardens.  As they worked, Goody Prymm spoke of what would grow where, and how, like the Indians, they would fertilize their plants with herring caught in the nearby streams.

The spring afternoon passed pleasantly with productivity and the sharing of dreams, their taking breaks only for sustenance and tea, until the early vernal sun began to dip below the horizon, lending the air a chill once again and signaling that it was time to clean up and put away their tools.  But before going in, as gardeners are wont to do, they stood back, arm in arm, admiring their work of the day.  Tomorrow they would concentrate on the garden paths and begin the task of preparing the soil.  Tonight, though, they would take out the ancient seed chest in the lean-to room and pour over what seeds would be planted.  And then... sitting in the settle by the fire... they would together dream aloud of their gardens to come.

***With a nod to Adrian Higgins' "The Lost Art of Wattle Fencing" (March 1, 2007); and Keiren's post "Wattle Fence" of Nifty Homestead's blog (June 2016).

© Nancy Duncan 2017

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Crone Moon

When babies are ready to enter the world, they wait for no one.

Remember had been working on her Blackwork---endlessly, it seemed--- and, restless, walked to the diamond pane window for the fourth time now…snowflakes, thick ones, still falling fast and yet faster.  Wasn't it just last week that she and Goody Prymm flew their handmade kite into the blue spring-promising sky?  Sighing deeply, she started back to her handwork when she saw a figure taking shape through the flurries, followed by a loud and insistent knock.  Imagination, settled comfortably with her stitching in front of the fire, started but allowed Remember to answer.  Opening the door ushered in a gale of icy winds and snow, Remember quickly bringing in the visitor and leading her to the fireplace.  Clearly, their visitor was chilled to the bone.  Removing her head shawl revealed that she was a helpmeet at the Allerton house, and she burst out with the news that Goody Constance Allerton was about to give birth, and could Goody Prymm please come immediately!  Without a moment's hesitation, Goody Prymm rose keeping an alarmed expression under wraps that only Remember could detect, and quickly set about gathering what may be needed.  Later Remember would learn that this was to be an early birth, as Mistress Allerton was not expected to deliver for at least another month or more.

It seemed that it took longer than usual for Goody Prymm to prepare…but when she emerged from the lean-to, she obviously had more to bear for this journey.  Bundled for the cold and opening the door, the three put their heads down to the blasts of wind and made their way, leaving Smoke behind, mewing insistently.

Making their way was a trial indeed, winds whipping and snow freeze-burning their barely covered faces.  Finally, though, they made their destination and, upon entering the Allerton house, Goody Prymm, uncharacteristically stern, handed over juniper berries along with lavender and dried roses to those around, instructing them to burn them on the hearth to purify the room.  Boiling water was thankfully already under way for the ergot tea which Goody Prymm intended to hasten labor and aid in the mother's recovery after childbirth.

Imagination liked Goody Allerton.  To her thinking, the young woman was a true person with great strength, despite her small size and outwardly gentle spirit.  When Constance had first come to Imagination about her condition, Goody Prymm knew she would need a little extra help and had made a special lavender and rose oil to alleviate the inevitable backache, along with a regular tea of chamomile, valerian and St. Johnswort to ease her anxiety.  Also, having a good relationship with the Indians, Imagination knew, too, that beth root (or birth root) often helped to reduce the pain of labor and lessen the loss of blood, and so had given Constance an internal tea during her pregnancy to prepare her.  All was set in motion, and she had intended to give Constance small doses of blue cohash a week before, as the Indians do, to prepare the womb for the inevitable trial…but…now the labor had started far too soon.

Now the contractions were coming hard and fast, Constance no longer groaning but screeching, not the pitch of the travails of childbearing…but rather, a blood-curdling cry of something not right.  After examining Constance, Goody Prymm took Remember firmly by her side and looked pointedly into her eyes, entreating Remember to be strong for what she had to do.  Remember was strong and lean in her features, the only one who could do what had to be done.  Braced for Goody Prymm's every instruction, Remember steeled herself and reached inside. After a moment, she turned with horror to Goody Prymm, exhaling that there was not just one baby…there were two!  Goody Prymm then instructed Remember to determine their positions in the womb.  After tense moments, Remember relayed that one was head position down…the other, not so.  Within moments, the first emerged…a beautiful baby girl!  She was so tiny, so very tiny…but her delicate skin nevertheless had a healthy, rosy glow.  Quickly the other women set about washing the babe in fresh-fallen snow, which they had melted and heated over the fire.

For whatever reason, the second baby was reluctant to come into this world.  As old age and experience can often do, it impressed upon Imagination a fleeting feeling of kinship there…but only momentarily.  The cries and screams of Constance brought Goody Prymm instantly back to the moment.  To induce stronger contractions, Goody Prymm gave her a small dose of squaw vine and sat beside the young mother, patting her hand and caressing her forehead, encouraging her to breathe deeply and regularly.  Thankfully, the second baby turned correctly, coming into the world kicking and screaming with all her might!  Like her sister, the wee one was whisked away to be cleansed in the heated fresh-fallen snow, the very snow which earlier had brought such a dismal feeling…but which now served a most beautiful and uplifting purpose.

 After all was settled, the sweet ones were brought into the arms of Goody Prymm and Remember, their deliverers.  Remember held little Primrose, named for being the "first rose" of the two, while Goody Prymm nestled tiny Patience, a name which smacked of irony and brought smiles to all around.

After all the euphoria, there came the exhaustion, though there was still much to attend to.  The young mother would need help to revitalize after such a difficult birth.  There was lemon balm, rose hips, and other tonic herbs to help her to regain her strength.  An internal astringent of beth root, yarrow, and oak bark would help check the loss of blood, if necessary.  And then, for nursing, there was marigold oil to give the mother some relief.

When Goody Prymm knew that things were well in hand, she and Remember prepared for the journey home, pausing only to gaze on the blissful young mother, healthy babes in arms, resting peacefully.  Stepping outside, Imagination and Remember saw that the snow and wind had ceased.

Exhausted from the day, they reached their home and prepared for bed, neither speaking a word.

Goody Prymm and Remember lay in their beds that night, thankful for the healthy births.  But while the ancient Crone Moon rocked in her bed of twinkling stars in the vast heavens, each of them inside cradled her own secret sorrow---Goody Prymm, for the child she never had…and Remember, for the one she let go.

***With a nod to Kat Morganstern's "Herbs for Pregnancy and Childbirth," from her blog Sacred Earth (September 2002).

© 2017 Nancy Duncan