20 April 2020
Stinging nettles on my mother's birthday
In the midst of the pandemic
In early April, our dogwoods bloom. I harvest wild nettles for my soup pot. And we celebrate my mother’s birthday.
This year, her birthday fell during the onset of stay-at-home orders in North Carolina. Fortunately, she lives nearby and loves long walks out in the fresh air–among our permitted outdoor activities. And at that point, groups under ten were still allowed to gather in our county.
We carefully planned a socially distant Sunday walk, followed by a socially distant open-air picnic, each with our own personal cooler of food.
My son is behind the camera of this picture. Relegated to his own blanket ten feet away, he's singing the Dutch birthday song "Lang zal ze laven" with us . . . through his mask. He’s wondering if this photo might go into a history book someday. As some kind of bandit birthday image, from this interesting age in which we're living in.
My mother was born in the Netherlands in the middle of the second world war. That was during the German occupation of her country, and over time, the occupation of their house. My grandparents evacuated on bicycles, pulling little 2 year old Carelien and her sister in a wagon for the day’s journey to relatives out in the countryside.
Along those rural routes, a whole lot of stinging nettles thrives. Actually, many areas of the Netherlands are abundant in nettles, including low-lying moist soils along riverbanks and roadsides.
When we spoke by phone just before her birthday, my mom was delighted to be harvesting from the nettle patch in her yard, in all their springtime rich green nettle glory. She includes the nettles in her cooking and teas–as her mother did before her, particularly during the wartime food shortages. As my mother's birthday neared this turbulent April, she was noticing that the spring nettles would also have been emerging at the time of her birth, as the winter of hunger came to a close.
Reflective, she mused on the big picture of these two global crisis markers early and late in her lifetime–both highlighted by nettles around the day of her birth. She shared, “This too will pass . . . we’ll get through this.”
This year, my mother is participating in a group receiving daily posts of highlights from the Dutch newspapers during the war, about 75 years ago.
To her delighted astonishment, on her birthday, the featured newspaper headline from the very day and year she was born read: “Brandnetels of paardenbloemen uitstekend voedsel.” Translation: “Stinging nettles and dandelion are outstanding food.” Indeed!
This is not just my story, or my mother’s story. It is your story too.
The Wise Woman Tradition is all of ours. When we look back far enough, around the globe, we all come from indigenous earth-based roots. And we all come from a long lineage of women who have turned to the Earth for nourishing wild plants during difficult times.
It's our birthright.