October 22, 2017

The Forager in the Wild Wood



Once (or twice) there was a farmer's daughter whose task it was, at least once the dishes were washed and the laundry hung out, to forage in the woods. She had a knack for finding treasures there - wild blackberries, truffles, an ancient magician's heart in an acorn, apples. And so in she went, curious and full of star-bright wonder.

But after a long while of this, the ways she took became paths, tramped down by her own feet. And once she got on a path it was hard to get off it again, to go wading through undergrowth, to ramble freely. Her efforts consequently began to dwindle. She brought home less of value. And yet, each time an unpathed part of the woods beckoned, the farmer's daughter remembered how tiring and time-consuming it could be to rummage in the weeds, looking for something tasty, something interesting. She feared that, after all her work, whatever she might find - a misshapen nut, a strangely beautiful bone, small mushrooms, always so random - would not be wanted by those at home.

So she took her old paths, and brought back only apples. "A great treasure awaits somewhere in there, I know it," she told herself. And walked round and round the paths, waiting for it to fall on her head or rise up out of roots to trip her suddenly, wonderfully.

She took too paths others had tread through the woods, but returned only with stones that looked like apples. "They're beautiful jewels," she said. And everyone at home was pleased. But to her the jewels were not berries staining her hands with dreams. They were not acorns full of secrets.

And so she began avoiding the woods, for worry and grief. Her family survived - they had jewels, after all. But her own heart began to starve.

There was a way back into the wild wood, but she had to wild herself again in order to find it. Not so easy to do, rewilding feet that have become accustomed to paths. Rewilding a heart that has become frightened. The way back went only one direction : through the worry, through the fear, into the tameless dark beyond herself, where magic whispered like oak leaves.

The farmer's daughter sat in the kitchen, peeling apples, waiting on her courage.


illustration by annie french