Our family land is a world of it’s own. It is the cottage, the garden, the forest that you read about in fairy tales. There are no computers, and cell phones often cease to function just as you pull up the long, never-maintained driveway. There is a chain across the entrance: this is a secret place and you must be loved and known to find your way in.
Grandfather Ring guards this land, his purpose being to protect what is left to save. He knows each tree. In his dreams the stones and the animals and the past of the land speak to him. This is where he has come to heal after a long hard war. He grows the corn and works like the sun. He reads faces like they are children’s books. The lavender, sage, yarrow, and other herbs now grow in the field he plowed. The turquoise greenhouse where Grandma Ring starts her baby plants was a gift of his building. His love for her is elemental: she is his earth, his sun, his air, and his water.
Grandmother Ring moves like a hummingbird. Always, always she is laced into the details of the world. In her mountain walks she fills her pockets with seeds. She has planted acres of gardens on the land: gardens that fill your eyes first, but then travel through the swan’s neck of grace to your heart. River stone paths bridge small worlds of magnolia and lily, foxglove and fireweed, fern frond and mountain flower. In her life she has grown thousands upon thousands of plants. She understands them like she does children. She is resilient and joyful and determined beyond our dimension of understanding. Stranger’s babes reach for her in the store. I have seen her remove a hive of bumblebees from our playhouse with ease….humming a song as they slowly swarmed around her. I have seen her calm fallen birds in her palm. There is nothing she can’t mend if she chooses: baskets, broken chairs, unraveling certainty.
Our land is a quilt of diversity. The dry flat fields on the north end of the property are where we grow our aromatic crops: 12 varieties of lavender, rosemary, sages, roman chamomile, catnip, roses, wormwood, armoise, wild oregano, basil, yarrow, mints, lemon balm, and many others. A small stream belts the land, skirted by Wild Ginger and Mint – the land to the south of this water is all native, a hill forested in Grand Fir, Douglas Fir, Western Red Cedar, Black Poplar, Mock Orange, Indian Plum, Yew, Vine Maple and dozens of other delicate ferns and forest herbs. There is a marsh where the wild roses, blackberry, and alder grow. Beyond this is a wide clearing below a lake that occasionally overflows, laying down a cloak of rich soil.
The clearing was hard won. When I was 11 I stole my mother’s pruners and cut a secret path through the sea of Himalayan Blackberries that used to cover our land. With the same pair of pruners I worked until a 40 ft meadow was opened. I would sit high up in an old maple and look out over my secret glade with secret pride. I would watch and wish and see things that were only visible in such stillness. I saw the ferns and moss reclaim the ground. I planted flowers into the topsoil. This was my place until lightning hit the tree one night. Shortly after, lightning also shattered the core of my life. I left the meadow and the rest of the land, searching for the scattered pieces of myself.
All of the land surrounding ours was clear cut. One by one, over the years, surrounding property owners leveled their forests. The fern wetland to the east, where my church ring of Red Cedar grew, was paved and replaced with a boat garage. The southern plot was mono-cultured in fir for future harvest. The beautiful hill slopes to the west were cut and never replanted. And my lovely forest to the North was leveled as well.
The forest and stream plant and animal communities on the borders of our property began to change as soon as the shade of the surrounding forests was lost. The soil exposed by the cutting began eroding into the stream. The delicate little flowers of the understory died for lack of darkness. Root rot attacked and killed many of the trees along our border as they were no longer buffered by other trees, and were doubly exposed to wind. Our property became an island struggling to regain equilibrium in the midst of the surrounding devastation.
Seven years ago, after my son was born and my parents had retired, I got my first essential oil distiller and we started planting the “perfume farm.” At the same time we planted the borders of our land with dozens of different types of trees. The process of starting the seeds and sets, working the ground, weeding, and harvesting and distilling our aromatic crops has been a way of healing the damage that we could not prevent. It has been as profoundly beautiful as falling in love. It has been as wildly amazing as having a baby. The oils and perfumes that we transform from this land lift, move, float….they tell a story of hope and wholeness. They call you to kindness. They call you to gather yourself back to center and plant a ring of something beautiful around your soul.