The winds of fall, the silence of the forest, and getting to the root of things

 In Apprenticeship, apprenticeships, caretaking, classes, earth tracks, edible plants, Edibles, foraging, gathering, harvest, land stewardship, medicinal plants, Medicinals, nature connection, Roots, spirit of plants
The first weekend in October we met near Orangeville to focus our learning on roots. The nights had grown longer and the temperature had dropped considerably since our still summery meeting in early September. With these seasonal changes, we knew that the energy of the plants was moving downwards, under the soil.  As we gathered Saturday morning, we were jolted by strong winds that battered around us and blew through the many layers we each wore.  Since we were on a private property, a home and horse farmed owned by good friends of Alexis, we ducked into the barn to circle together and start our day.
Back out in the fields, the wind was fierce.  We dug up plantain roots along our way, then found a sheltered hollow in tall grass which shielded us from the wind.  From this we made forays out to dig and gather plants such as nettle and catnip, and pulled out some field guides to help us answer pressing questions.  We moved through the property, finding plants along the way, but the winds pushed us on.  Eventually we decided to cross the road and tuck ourselves into a forested area off the Boyne Valley.  We were grateful for the shelter and ate some lunch to refuel.  After lunch we took advantage of the relative warmth to each sit with a plant and learn something from it. 
I found myself sitting under a maple focusing on a tiny Herb Robert plant, feeling questions and anxieties of the previous week slipping away from me in the space and silence of the forest, admiring both the delicacy and the resilience of the intricately-leafed plant. As we came back together, we shared stories of what we had learned sitting with the plants, what spaces the forest had opened up in us. We spent some more time focusing on digging: milkweed, burdock, dandelion, and – very conscientiously – a couple of blue cohosh plants. We marveled at how different each of the roots was, wondered what that told us about each plant, and speculated about how fascinating it would be to try to identify the different plants by only looking at their roots.
We finished our day back in the barn, washing the earthy roots in basins of warm and cold water, warming ourselves up, and tincturing the roots of our choice to take home.  We were grateful for shelter and the promise of our warm homes that night!
The second day of our roots weekend was spent in a forest in Dufferin County, an area we had not previously explored.  Much of the morning we spent very close to where our cars were parked, exploring and digging in the richness of the forest soil.  We carved some digging sticks out of a small maple sapling to help us in our efforts. We traced the long rhizomes of sarsaparilla, which link whole colonies of plants together; examined the segmented appearance of the roots of false Solomon’s seal; and admired the incredible tenacity of the deep taproots of burdock, which tested the limits of our own perseverance and digging tools.
Lunch was spent around a fire, resting and sharing songs together; our afternoon was spent exploring, wandering and digging more roots.  A strange and unexpected moment was finding an ancient Volkswagen rusting and decomposing in the middle of the woods – this find inspired much speculation and many stories!  We also spent time digging up spruce roots, useful for basket making and other traditional crafts, with Judy pulling out an impressively long rope of root; and took some time to rest and talk about our plant-related projects and research.


It was great to be out exploring the woods again, feeling joy in the new challenges of the elements as the season changed, and digging under the surface of the earth to deepen further our relationship with the plants.

Written by: Malgosia Halliop – 2nd year Plants Apprentice

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