* listen *
Solidago sway and sing
of summer’s ending.
Gilded golden on the wing.
It seems like only yesterday the path to her stone cottage was worn from the footsteps of the villagers. During the day they came for her soothing elderberry syrups and her clover and linden teas. And when the shadows lengthened and curled around behind the evergreens, they would slip along the path for rose petal and hawthorn tinctures to mend the cracks in their broken hearts and agate amulets scripted with sigils to banish their fears.
On that late summer day they last saw her, the milkweed pod split and its silky white seed tails scattered across her fingers and floated down the meadow. The blood in her veins quickened to the rhythm of the cicadas and as she set off to gather herbs, she hummed her own heart song to the purple loosestrife, orange jewelweed and the cloudy white flowers of virgin’s bower that climbed through the thickets and sparkled in the green overgrowth.
All morning she gathered tangy wood sorrel and succulent purslane. She dug stubborn burdock root and snipped the brittle stalks of dusty green seeded nettle and carefully laid them in her woven willow basket. And as she worked, the cicadas sang on and the sun rose higher until its honey warmth poured down upon her head and shoulders from above. It was only then that she stood up stiffly and realized that she would need a strong staff to lean on as she traveled home.
She rummaged through the ground for a fallen branch, but there was none to be found, so she picked up her basket and began her journey home. The path was stumbled and steep and her heart beat more quickly. She paused to catch her breath in the soft green filtered shade of the cedars that grew on the edge of the forest. The cedars sighed softly as a light breeze moved through their sweet scented sprays of green. “Our branches are too delicate,” they whispered, “And none are strong enough to support you.”
She continued on, her basket pulling her arm and her feet dragging along the rooted path until the cedars gave way to ragged Scotch pines who creaked and rasped and muttered crossly, “Go your way old crone. The needles on our branches are too sharp and they would poke you as you walk.”
Still struggling, she came upon a dancing family of spruce trees, their branches clasped together in a ring. “Oh no, grandmother,” they laughed. “Our branches have too much sap on them. You would dirty your hands and ruin your skirt.”
And so she laboured on until she came to a fragrant grove of balsam. Their citrus earth scent was like a hymn to the heavens and it lifted her spirits to breathe it deeply, but they too would not give up even one branch. “So sorry healer woman”, they sang in unison, “We have nothing for you. We need all our branches to reach for the sky and to send our prayers to the Goddess herself.”
By then, her heart was filled with such heaviness that she lowered herself to the ground and her skirts billowed out around her. She watched as the auburn sun floated level in the western horizon and its golden light burnished all it touched. The cedar boughs trembled under its warm kiss, the spruce trees swayed in their sacred circle dance and the Scotch pines sighed and finally settled. The scented song of the balsams flowed into the air and made the Goddess smile. And there, hidden among the grasses, she found an old stem that was strong enough to raise her up and help her carry on.
As dusk fell, she took those final steps home. Her aches and pains evaporated and the wearisome weight of her long years fell away. The villagers heard her singing her heart song to the sturdy stem that helped her on her journey home and her voice floated higher and higher above the trees until her keening drifted far and wide and it was full of love and lightness of being.
Some say she was transformed into a beautiful winged fairy and wherever she flew, golden dust poured among the meadow grasses and a new plant began to grow. Its stems are straight, sturdy and strong and its golden yellow blossoms nourish us and lighten our hearts.
Goldenrod Grandmother, where are you now?
Does your heart song still hum in the gilded corbiculae of honeybees who visit the bright and brilliant goldenrod that dances tall among the swaying grasses?
Do you still gather the greenest herbs in the sunniest meadows?
Do you still search for the deepest roots near the clearest running streams?
Do you remember us Goldenrod Grandmother?
We remember you.
This piece is dedicated to my friend Amber Westfall who originally told me this beautiful story based on a folktale. Visit her Wild Garden here: http://www.thewildgarden.ca/
Image used with permission: High Tor Guardian by David Wyatt. Visit his shop here: https://www.etsy.com/ca/shop/davidwyatt?ref=l2-shopheader-name
Music accompanying reading: Listen to the Grass Grow and Hinna Djulo by Seckou Keita and Catrin Finch from their album: SOAR