The sun had just dipped below the horizon by the time I was able to leave the house and walk down to M. park. I had forgotten how much I love the hours of twilight – had forgotten that back when I was younger and went to the woods all the time, I was a crepuscular creature who moved at dusk and (very rarely) dawn. In other words, the times when most people – the dog walkers, parents and boisterous young children, casual strollers, and jogging clubs – are out of your way and you might actually encounter either wildlife or magic.
The air in my neighborhood smelled of flowers. The heady scent of magnolias, sweet perfume from flowering cherries, and the odor of Bradford Pears, pungent like spilled seed. A drift of white violets grew next to the sidewalk near my house. A few blocks farther down, I started at something that I saw out of the corner of my eye – a root growing close to the bole of a tree had been pushed up, and it looked like a wizened little man wearing a Norman-style helm. (I thought about snapping a picture but then didn’t).
Here in the front yard of an un-lived-in house is a nice plump second-year rosette of Mullein (Verbascum thapsis). Hopefully no maintenance crews will disturb it’s growth, and I’ll harvest its flowering stalk under cover of darkness sometime soon after Midsummer.
Near the paved trail where one enters the park these sweet-smelling flowers bloomed. Based on the shape of the young leaves I’m guessing they are some kind of apple or cherry; they aren’t Wild Cherry (Prunus serotina) though (the flower shape and season of bloom aren’t right for that species), I don’t think they’re Hawthorn either, so I’m not exactly sure what they might be.
The front section of the restored prairie had recently been burned, to enrich the soil and encourage new growth. It also exposed a few bones from a winter-killed deer.
When I turned from the paved areas to the less-traveled paths through the prairie, I softly spoke a request: Hail unto the spirits of this place. I humbly ask entry into your kingdom, that you might show me what you will and as I am worthy; and that I have safe passage back again.
Two Whitetail deer near the ‘goblin’s acre,’ pretending that I can’t see them.
By now it was well enough into evening that the deer were coming out to browse in earnest. This one was wary but also very interested in shoots of new green growth.
A blue-grey lichen, ghostly in the dim light at the edge of a thicket.
The light was fading quickly now. I scanned they sky for the rising moon and then remembered: tonight was the last night of the waning moon, I wouldn’t see it at this time of the night.
As night fell, I thought about how the moon was almost dark, and about the abandoned Pomology Research Field on the other side of the chain link fence from the park (into which one is, of course, not supposed to go) . Deer had made a person-sized hole in the fence, and I went through, but the light was too dim for me to see into the tangled brushy apple trees at field’s edge. I crawled back through the hole and continued on my way, keeping to the civilized paved trails once more.
I also kept thinking about a project I had started some time before but never finished – a spirit bottle in honor of Great Mullein. I just needed soil to round out the ingredients: soil from along a railroad track, or a crossroads, maybe? Some kind of potent soil from somewhere with energy that resonated with Mullein-symbolism.
But tonight was the last night of the waning moon before it’s dark! I was walking in the indigo of dusk as night fell and passing through cool currents of loam-scented air rising from the tangled brush. I tingled with the sense that if I was going to get that dirt, it was going to be right now.
But dirt from where, though?? What crossroad, what graveyard gate?
I finally decided to just ask the spirit of Mullein itself. I silently implored – Great mullein (and then I could not for the life of me remember the scientific name of the plant even though it was one I knew well), I wish to make a spirit bottle in your honor, but what soil will it hold? From whence will the dirt come?
And the answer was: It need only come from some border place.
Like, I realized, the border of the tall chain link fence between the park and the tangled apple wood. The divide between the civilized mown-grass-world and the anarchic grove. The narrow separation between the known, and an Unmapped Country.
I walked back through the pale stems of last years tall prairie grasses to the fence, about twenty feet from the trail. I knelt in the almost-dark, and asked permission to gather a bit of dirt, then scooped up a small handful of moist, gravelly soil. I spat* three times on the ground where I’d taken up the dirt, to offer something back to the ground.
As soon as I got back to the trail I thought: Verbascum thapsis! Of course! (And so I knew my offering was accepted).
It was fully dark when I got back home, and here is the soil that I carried. I’ll let it dry (lest the seeds that the bottle will also contain sprout or moulder) and finish the spirit-bottle once the moon turns round towards New.
*A note on spitting: Eww, spit?! you might be thinking, what kind of offering is that?
Admittedly, it is an “I give you… air from my lungs” kind of thing, but it’s better than nothing. (You always have something to give, more than you think you might, see?) And, like anything of the mouth or of the breath, it can be used for good or ill, to blow hot or cold. Plants and lands, at least, don’t seem to mind – it is water after all.
So, that was my walk in the park this evening; the one that the calling of evening’s birds and the scent of flowers urged me to take; and it was good of me (of course) to listen. (I thanked the park, too, as I left) – Hail unto the spirits of this place. I thank thee for all that you have shown me, and for the gift which was paid for. Until next time – hail unto all thee.