Coming home to tea
On the cusp of every summer my sense of smell alerts me to the elderflowers blossoming in the woods before my sight catches up. That unmistakeable, sweet, floral aroma. Those creamy, corymbs. Constellated dinner plates of early summer froth.
I still remember the first time I tasted elderflower. It was early on at secondary school, in my early teens. One year we all had to organise mini work experiences for ourselves with a local business. I did mine with a screen print artist. I have no recollection of who or where it was exactly, or how this got arranged and who organised it. It seemed a huge stroke of luck, to find an artist who would have me in this rural, agricultural area. I remember being excited and mildly bemused that I had a creative, arty placement to go to. How had I wrangled this? (Sadly it didn’t translate into an art or creative academic/initial career path for me later, as reason and practicality took over.) I remember I designed and screen printed a t-shirt with a repeating question mark motif in various bright colours. So ‘90s and also, I guess I’ve always been full of questions…? Anyway, I digress…
On one of those work experience days, I was offered a drink of homemade elderflower cordial. It was floral and perfumed and sweet and delicious. It was unlike any drink I’d ever tasted before. It tasted how I imagined a summer garden might taste. But mostly I was wonderstruck at the magic of it because she had made it using flowers picked from the hedgerow. Something that was completely unheard of and foreign to me. A drink made from real flowers? Picked fresh from a wild bush?
I don’t remember the face of the artist or much else about the work experience, but I can still remember the taste and revelation of the elderflower. It was quite some time afterwards before I would have elderflower again. It wasn’t so ubiquitous as a flavour and a soft drink back then (or maybe I just wasn’t so middle class back then). My parents didn’t have this kind of knowledge of the land to bestow upon me. And even if they did, they had their noses to the grindstone every hour of the day, six days a week (and when you work six days a week and have a young family and household to run, is that seventh day even really a day off?), I’m not sure when they would have found the time or energy to.
Sometimes, when I think about it, I feel a grief at all the knowledge and knowing that has been lost to us. Knowledge that might have been ours in another time and another place. Ancestral ways of being in kinship with the land that we will never know. I feel a sadness for all of us - for the loss of our deep connection with the land and our fellow animate beings on it. Industrialisation, enclosure, urbanisation, capitalism, colonialism, consumerism have all conspired to remove and dispossess many of us from an intimacy and relationship with the land, our more-than-human kin and our ancestors. A relationship and a knowledge and wisdom that our forebears would have had.
Now, all these years after my initial encounter with elderflower, I have the privilege of living and growing in a place where elderflower is wildly abundant on my doorstep. It grows in the woods. It grows in the garden. It grows along the footpaths. I have the time and space and knowledge to identify, recognise and appreciate the plant and gather the blooms. I make a herbal tea with the starry blooms, learn about the myths and stories of elder, give thanks and reciprocate care for the plants, the earth they grow in and the other life they sustain.
It’s remarkable, the sense of grounding, rooting, love and gratitude a connection so simple is capable of fostering - despite what other humans may think or perceive about how much I may or may not belong to this place.
I may not have elders that can teach me the ways of this land, but this kind of relationship with my nonhuman kinfolk in the place where I live is mine to nurture and it connects me to where I find myself and where I call home. I can cultivate an embeddedness and intimacy with where I am. There is magic in this*.
When I think about identity and belonging I find myself feeling most settled and comforted by the idea that we belong to the Earth. That we are all in the process of becoming kin. To me this feels resonant, liberatory, organic and expansive. It does not tie me to narrow, exclusionary, human constructed notions of boundaries and borders and identities. It also nurtures a mutual care, responsibility and reciprocity that encourages us to look after each other and all our kinfolk. When I build a relationship with the plants here, we are kin-ing.
I shared part of this excerpt below at the Radicle X LINDA talk back in May and I thought I’d share a slightly longer section of it here. It’s from an essay titled “Settled Kin: Coming home to where we now belong” by Amba Sepie from Volume 5 in a collection of books called Kinship: Belonging in a World of Relations edited by Gavin Van Horn, Robin Kimmerer and John Hausdoerffer (2021):
“It is quite irrelevant to Earth whether I, or my ancestors, were born on the precise stretch of limb that I presently occupy, for her whole body remembers me. We are the children in this story, her offspring - and she will embrace us wherever we land, irrespective of the delusions we might hold about the importance of identity.
…we are named by Earth as belonging where we are now. Identity is not a possession or something we confer. Earth cares not what we name her - do it as you please, but know that it is she who confers identity upon us as kin. “Who am I?” was never a question that could be fully answered by reference to identities conferred by myself or other humans, or by tracing where those many threads of known ancestry lead.”
(*I can’t help but wonder about the privilege involved in being able to access this. Is it available to everyone? How do we/should we help make it available to everyone?)