Harvesting milk weed.
Last summer every Tuesday and Friday I biked along the east river from the Brooklyn Neighborhoods of Greenpoint to Red Hook. On the way I crossed many neglected areas where wild plants are claiming back their freedom. My relationship with some of them has developed playfully. As I pass by and recognize them, I call our their “name” . This is my way to say hello!
Along the sidewalk wall of the Navy Yard I passed 3 milkweed plants that I had never noticed before. A few of their seed pods were still closed. Since I was still getting to know milkweed, learning how to recognize and identify her, I was super exited to have spotted some that quickly. I stopped my bike immediately. I really wanted to harvest at least one seed pod.
Milkweed seeds are like feathers. When they first open up they spread open like the feathery robe of a brown peacock. As they slowly continue unfurl, every seed separates from each other with a delicate, soft white tail. This fan-like expansive design helps the seeds to take off, to travel.
The very moment a Milkweed seed sets flight is miraculous – a soft and silent explosion suspends in the air, light as a feather. Milkweed seeds swim really well too! They float in wind and on water, enjoying a ride where every they travel.
I have used milkweed “feathers” for the hair of the dolls that I craft by hand. I really wanted to witness their opening process, to get to know it better. Through the making of the doll, its character develops teaching me about Milkweed; and I hope the on-going life of the doll continues to teach me more.
During this commute last summer, I was aware that milkweed is the only plant on which Monarch butterflies can lay their egg and it is the only food the monarch caterpillar can feed on. Knowing that monarch butterflies are in extinction, milkweed require utmost respect. And, New York is one of the locations on the monarch migration pathway from north to south. Spotting a milkweed for me symbolizes the hope that the Milkweed can provide the necessary support for the monarchs. It is sacred . The more the milkweed and its integral ecosystem can thrive, the more wildlife habitat can support migratory and further help to the repopulate the monarchs.
Even knowing this, I felt a strong desire to harvest a milkweed seed pod. The urge trumped my knowledge of the need to preserve and support the growth of milkweed. I drove back to the site and picked the pod like a thief! Yet I took the time to promise and reassure the plant that I will honor it the best that I know how. I will out this sacrificial seed pod to do a good use!
Please, take a seed and plant it somewhere where it can grow and give monarch butterflies food and shelter!
Corinne shares about Mugwort
I was reading Braiding Sweetgrass Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge and the Teachings of Plants by Robin Wall Kimmerer. In this, Kimmerer teaches about the honorable harvest, which related to an indigenous way of interacting with nature. With intelligence about how plants are living and growing along side holding intention to honor a plant’s gifts and generous spirit the act of harvesting, can actually have a positive impact on the balance of an ecosystem. This was a revolutionary idea for me.
I learned about specifics on plants, how much to harvest and when. My relationship to harvesting and using plants began to shift. Eva and I wanted to harvest mugwort for making smudge sticks as a gift at our performance of roodərəl in November 2014. We also wanted to smudge the site where we performed roodərəl as a way to set the space.In search for blooming mugwort at the end of the summer, I biked to Prospect Park. Knowing it likes to grow near water I went directly to the main pond. I found a tall forest of mugwort, silvery small bud-like flowers gently blowing in the breeze rippled like water. The fluidity of mugwort holds a powerful effect on our bodies’ physiology, opening flow in our circulatory system, and on our creativity and dream life. This can be seen in its botanical properties as well as the environmental conditions where mugwort can grow well: by water. I laid down my bike and walked in slowly to approach this mugwort grove. Standing together, I perceive the mugwort like a group of women, all generations living together. I connected with their heathery florets and followed the line of its stalk down to the earth. Its short, stout horizontal root system lies just underneath the surface. I communicated silently with “muggy.” I befriended her in a silent interaction. I asked permission to harvest individual selections from the group, specifically for the purpose to make smudges for our gift giving. I sat and listened first. Eventually, and with a careful touch and selection of small groupings, I snapped stalks not to clear-cut any one area. I foraged only the amount that I needed for our wild-craft, and only those particular mugworts who communicated they wanted to offer them selves for this gifting. I took a spot under the sun with my harvest, my ladies, lying on the grass by the pond near their community. I laid the collection of muggy on my torso. I took time to breathe and acknowledge the loss of these women, and also those who they were leaving behind. I thanked them. I connected with their spirit. By taking the time to honor their offerings and loss I felt touched by the feminine and generosity being shared. This bled into the making of our smudge sticks. A few weeks later the mugwort had dried. I sat around Eva’s table with our friend Ali and we crafted the smudge sticks together. Wrapping and chatting and laughing, we made this offering. I hope those who receive the mugwort smudge celebrate the legacy of the plants’ life and its gifts that we all have access to in nature, right here in the city.