This is the first plant that I have wildcrafted since we made the move over to the other side of the state. Cottonwood bud harvesting in my Willamette Valley homeland had always been done in the massive groves along the Clackamas, Willamette and Columbia rivers. I am so happy that cottonwood is in higher elevations too.
The first big difference is that I am doing this in April - not in February. The boundaries created by 4 seasons are growing on me. Frozen ground and dormant buds create a true time of dormancy for this plant girl. I feel more rested than ever this winter and not in the "I have to do it all right now" adrenal stress state that I often reside in. Cave time is good. Now to retrain my eyes and my psyche around this new plant kingdom calendar.
The second big difference is the bud itself. They are stronger smelling and much juicier. The resin is scarlet red and not so much the amber hue that I am accustomed to. The sticky residue left on my hands from the harvest is not nearly as manageable. Basically I am a mess - it is all over my clothes and hands and I am not sure how I am going to drive home without permanently destroying the steering wheel of my car! It is so worth it though, I wear the medicine of this plant with joy.
I have gone out to harvest for several days now. The first day I harvested while a bald eagle watched me closely. Another day was a solo journey. Yesterday was my favorite day so far. With my 5 year old daughter and 1 year old Border Collie, we spent an entire day adventuring and seeing what we could find. The weather was a glorious spring day. There were morning showers that turned to brilliant sunshine and everything was glistening and green and bright. Golden buttercups greeted us in the fields as we walked through the Ponderosa Pines to the water. Cottonwoods love water as much as I do. We marveled at how well they helped to hold the river banks. We sang songs to the baby cottonwood trees and their bright orange branches and buds. Finally we found a grove of Grandmother trees and all of the branches from a winter of wind storms that were at their feet. Many of the buds had already been picked. Do deer eat cottonwood bud? Is there another plant forager in the county that I need to meet? Ginger played in the water and threw pebbles for the little dog. She attempted to build a bridge across a little tributary with beaver chewed sticks and big rocks. I picked buds from fallen branches. The river was so loud that we couldn't hear each other and so there was no point to try and talk. We just listened to what the river had to say and took in the light and the sunshine and the glorious scent of cottonwoods and Ponderosa pines.
It is moments like this that I feel my heart may burst with happiness. The simple task of harvesting, of asking permission, and giving thanks to these plants that offer us great gifts with such openness - is humbling indeed. I feel like the luckiest woman alive that this is my work and that in a small way we are able to share this plant joy with others. Bearing witness to my child grow wiser to the plants and animals around her and her comfort level grow in this new wild place makes me feel with great certainty that I am exactly where I am supposed to be on this wheel of life. Thank you cottonwood!