Love the Unloved: The Magic of A Natural Life
Summer days spent in the grass under a shade tree, barefoot firefly chasing, and joyously soaking in the heat and sunshine never fails to remind me of my Mamaw. When little, I spent many lazy hot days with my grandparents in Cambridge, Ohio. In their words, their little house was, "deep in the holler," surrounded by forest, ponds, fields, and streams. All the wonderous things that call to a child on warm days.
My Mamaw Keith was a tiny woman with bright red hair and a big laugh. She had a great love for faerie tales that she generously shared with me each and every time I asked to hear one. Gingerbread houses, the jabberwocky, brownies, an owl that loved a pussy cat, and a dish that ran away with a spoon kind of stories. She shared them sprawled under big trees in the yard, while swinging our bare feet over a stream, and while lying in a wildflower meadow and watching puffy clouds take shape. In the afternoons, Mamaw would tuck me in her giant bed, piled high with crisp sheets, soft pillows, and crochet blankets. The head of her bed was pushed directly under a window that remained wide open, fluttering light curtains and blowing breezes across us as she told another story. It seemed a magical place and time that I treasure.
Many years later, Mamaw told a tale of those lazy afternoons. She said, "you must have been nearly three years old at the time. I'd just read a story and you had drifted to sleep, so I slipped out to the kitchen to wash some dishes. Suddenly, you began to scream. Big terrified screaming. I dropped the dish in my hand and ran, knowing you had been hurt or something awful had happened. I burst through the door to find you standing on the bed with big eyes pointing to the windowsill and still screeching in fear. When I saw what your little finger pointed to, I couldn't believe it. Choking down a laugh, I scooped you up and calmly explained that bugs won't hurt you. It took some doing, but I was finally able to dry your tears and convince you the tiny ladybug in the window would not attack you. I gathered up the "monster" lady bug and held it out to you until you smiled, touched it with one finger and whispered, "pretty." Nap time was over.
"Together we carried the ladybug outside so it could fly away home. In the way of toddlers, your attention quickly shifted to some pretty stones in the drive, and you were happy to sit and sort, the bug forgotten. I returned to the dishes to finish washing and watch you through the window over the kitchen sink, and I let loose the laugh I had been holding in. I had to hang on to the countertop I laughed so hard! Wiping tears from my cheeks, I heard giggling outside too. Such a wonderful sound, a little one laughing with joy. I assumed you had heard me and were laughing with me, until I glanced out the window. "Mamaw look! Look! Pretty! PRETTY!" I ran again. You were sitting cross legged in a little sundress gripping a garden snake in both hands and waving it about your head with joy! And that's when I was sure you must be a changeling child and you would grow up to be a weird little thing.”
Her jest of a prophecy panned out, though I prefer the word eccentric to weird.
I still love faerie stories, though as an adult I look back through time and see why I may have grown confused. Many of the most popular and longest lasting tales paint nature in a scary light. The dark forest, the big bad wolf, the spider that frightened Miss. Muffet away. The lady bug with a house on fire and children alone. Fortunately, I was raised by adults with a connection to natural things who were quick to teach me truth. The forest, streams, fields, and ponds were where I belonged, not sitting inside a building on a beautiful summer day. The insects, snakes, mice, and frogs were not to be feared but loved, as they are important and precious. When you walk softly with respect and kindness, the only thing you need fear is other human beings. Every single creation on earth has a purpose, and they all live their lives doing exactly what they are meant to do, making all as it should be. Except us. Humans don't do that. Most people are driven by money, comfort, power, and the acquisition of things. We do not live our lives in a selfless way, living to make the land around us whole.
We fear the wolf so we kill it. Humans are afraid wolves could prowl the dark wood, attack their children, kill livestock, cost them money. In reality, wolves avoid humans and studies show they will only kill a creature that is sick, and only for food not malice. But we grew up hearing the tales, were taught to fear the wolves, and the message stuck. We fear the bear, so we killed them. We fear big cats, birds of prey, and coyotes, and we killed them too. In the few places these animals remain alive and protected from us, you will find a healthy and thriving ecosystem because it is complete.
When humans hunt deer, they aim for the largest and healthiest of the herd leaving the small, ill, and old to create the next generation. This practice happens over and over, year after year, exacerbating the growing number of illnesses found in prey animals. As a woman suffering with lyme disease and many coinfections, I feel like a screaming canary in a coal mine. On the other hand, when wolves are permitted to do their natural job, taking the small, ill, young and elder deer, the herd remaining is healthy and strong. Once upon a time, the wolf was not considered to be a monster, but a gift to humans.
In our family we do not crush the spider for the sin of being in our house, we scoop her up gently and take her to her own home outside. We capture mice in a live trap we watch carefully, as they don't deserve to die because they also like cookies and a warm spot to sleep. We keep seed in feeders and we learn the names of the birds. We even know some as individuals that visit us every day, which is such a privilege. I sit quietly in the grass through the summer sunsets with banana and sunflower seed to share a snack with the hungry mama raccoons that come trailed by a line of fluffy babies. I do not cuddle, pet, or even touch, simply share gently and quietly with respect and joy. I have witnessed my husband flattened on his belly, stretching his arm, apple slices in hand, to share with a mother skunk and her tiny brood. We know, love, and respect every tree, plant, and living creature that shares this home with us. We do not fear them. It is important to us to be part of the natural world, not just live near it. It is all about perspective.
In the old faerie tales, a woman like myself, who knows and uses herbs, was often cast as a villain, the evil witch or sorceress using poison apples, deadly potions, and harmful brews from her cauldron to thwart lovely princesses. Even though natural remedies and herbal medicine have been used since the beginning of time, some people harbor fear and mistrust from some long-forgotten story they have heard. I have had the word witch spit at me with hate, and whispered by those who have known me for years. I've been interrogated about teas, lotions, and salves I have created and what spells and rituals I did while making them. I am grateful that I live in a time when the accusations are laughed away as ridiculous, and not dangerous or deadly like it was for generations before me. For the record, I am no witch and no sorcery or spell work is involved in the making of my remedies. I simply make remedies with love and caring, allowing plants to do their job of healing and making lives better. That is real magic to me. Not the woo-woo magic of abracadabra and hocus pocus, but the real-world magic of fireflies, summer thunder storms, and little girls belly laughing with a garden snake.
I have hope that on lazy summer days grandparents are still telling faerie tales to little ones. It is important to teach children to imagine and dream. I only ask that after the stories of good versus evil, they take the time to teach perspective, kindness, truth, and show children how to love the unloved things of this world. Be the Mamaw who runs fast as she can to the driveway, not because she fears the garden snake, but to teach a little girl to be gentle and not hurt an unloved creature.