Wild nettles

Once upon a time, a long time ago, when I was young and foolish, I met an old woman.  I was searching for a stream.  

I met her only a couple of times, to talk about the stream and then the past history of the place, before she passed away.  

She told me her story.  

Her stream rose in the mists of the Eastern mountains.  Between her and the coast.  The stream flows West, inland, to the new cities.  

She had lived next to the stream all her life - her mother before her.  In an old wood house high in the mountains, surrounded by decaying sheds and an enclosed vegetable patch, home to bower birds.  

She told of the droughts and floods that came in cycles.  Of how once when tending cattle in one high mountain bog, she was nearly swept to her death in a sudden violent downpour.  She looked at me, and told me to take care when walking through the narrow valleys.  Of how some years the stream simply became a series of small water holes, running underneath the ground.

Her mother, who had lived there for many years earlier had told her stories of the stream – a catalog of drought and flood.  How the stream had changed as Crack Willow, introduced from estates on the Hoskinstown Plain had gradually made its way up the creek, replacing the old native Casuarina Pines.  How the mountains were stripped of their tall timber – and how the bush had come back when the old timber was exhausted and the foresters left.  How sometimes the water was full of tannin from the willow and the old saw mill and tainted with arsenic from the sheep dips.

She had never seen any of the first people.  But her mother had seen glimpses, once or twice, far in the distance climbing along the high ridges.  Once a young white child was seen with them.  Her mother told the men, but they had shuffled their feet and did nothing.  

The men went to war, and some didn't come home.  She had an old photo of her house, surrounded by water at the end of the second war, when the rain would not stop.  

There was no store and no doctor and no medicines.  They grew everything: mutton, milk and potatoes she said.  And stinging nettles.  

In the old days, wool was made into thread and milk into butter, here.  The wool was dyed green using the nettle or brown/yellow using wattle.  When tea was scarce, nettle was boiled instead, and cooled with a little milk and sweetened with local honey or banksia.  Lozenges for colds or flu were made from sugar and gum.  The old folk used raw nettle to relieve the pain of gout or rheumatism.  Tending the cattle while young she had many encounters with the wild nettle – she thought enough to see her older years through.  

Electricity had come to her place only recently.  She served me scones made from her old wooden stove.  Despite the nettle, she moved slowly with old pain as she poured another cup.

I reread my notes of our talks when the rain comes and water sweeps the narrow valleys clear.  Spending some time thinking about the past.  Hearing her voice telling her story.  

Hoping that, like Scheherazade, she enjoyed a fair measure of prosperity, happiness, pleasure and joy until she was visited by the lord of death, the destroyer of delights and the one who parts companions.


Kevin Stadnyk said…
Hi Peter, I would like to get in touch with you, and if you are willing to chat I would be grateful. If you have a method to contact yourself, or if you would rather I can be contacted at kstadnyk[at]gmail.com. Hope to hear from you soon!

- Kevin
ARC said…
Thank you for this - I travelled a small part of her life through your words.
Rodri said…
No hablo inglés Peter. Tu relato es bellísimo.
Rodri said…
Peter hablas de una anciana superviviente en lugares agrestes.
Peter Quinton said…
Ojalá hubiera pasado más tiempo con ella: estaba llena de historias interesantes del pasado. Gracias por tus comentarios :)
i wish i had spent more time with her - she was full of interesting stories of the past. Thank you for your comments :)
Peter Quinton said…
Al Chris
Thank you :)
Old mountain folk are quiet but proud, i did not see the cracks in her ceiling or crumbs on her table because my eyes did not stray from her stories.
Peter Quinton said…
Hi Kevin - i have separately contacted you.

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