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Yesterday I met Sorcha again, loping with our dogs to the woods where we strayed off the path and into dense networks of young trees, moss, fern, briar, and flower. She foraged for the leaves of ground elder along the river, musing aloud about its curative powers, a wood nymph in that afternoon hour.

Ground elder, or bishops' weed, is thought to have been introduced by monks from the mainland, who grew it in their gardens. The 17th century English apothecary and physician Nicholas Culpeper claimed it was good for aching joints and healed gout and sciatica. Culpeper, like so many during his tumultuous age (what age isn’t, though?), died young, from tuberculosis. A ‘rebel physician’, he tried to break the monopoly of information by the medical establishment, to benefit the poor and needy.

On the walk back to town, Sorcha stopped to admire a cluster of wood sorrel, tiny bells of five white petals traced in purple veins, surrounded by clover-like leaves. To examine properly, one has to lift up the bell and peer into in its heart, as if it was a face. Radiating from the flower was not only the finger that lifted it but also hedgerow and field, road and town, this island. It was the delicate yet obstinate centre of the world in that moment, because of the eye that had regarded it: “the process of looking is the beauty” (David Hockney). In looking with my friend, I felt less isolated, no longer a speck of dirt afloat. Time expanded in that look, and the world was less something I happened to be in, but complex and replete with vitality.


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