S I S T E R  S P I N S T E R
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I open all the gates of the body / the body opens to the river”
The winds and rains have been strong all week -- it is time to harvest the poplar that has been knocked to the ground. I am standing at a favorite bend along the Sawkill River, at the edge of the meadow, scanning the coyote-brown brush for wind-fallen branches. It takes a moment for my eyes to attune to the muted green buds that are scattered around the base of the trees. Similar to mushroom hunting, spotting cottonwood buds requires shifting your sight, looking with a softened gaze. But once you find one, it’s as if the whole world opens to you and that which you seek is everywhere. My basket fills with the small gems. 
A branch from a larger story: Famed Heracles, the lion-hearted. Heracles, the one who endures. Heracles was assigned twelve tasks, or labors, as they say. Each labor tested his strength and fortitude: skinning an invulnerable lion, stealing the golden apples of Zeus that were guarded by a dragon with a hundred heads, slaying the Lernean Hydra.. the list goes on. His final task was certainly the most harrowing: descending to the Underworld to bring back Cerberus, the three headed dog who guards the gates of Acheron, one of the five rivers of the Underworld. The act of descending and returning from the Underworld was absolutely unthinkable; more difficult than confronting the horrendous beast Cerberus. The idea alone went against the order of the universe. One cannot rejoin the living after visiting the realm of the dead. An impossible task.
At home, I empty my harvest into a small glass pot that I set on the woodstove.  I pour olive oil over the buds, covering them by a few inches. The heat from the fire opens the buds and releases the sticky, scented resin from within. After a few hours of gently warming the oil, I remove the pot from the heat and let them sit overnight. I repeat the ritual for the next few days: gradual heat, remove, infuse, gradual heat, remove, infuse. At the end of the week, the buds have been coaxed open and have completely given their medicine. The oil shines bright like winter sun on faded grasses. My anointing oil is complete.
the makings of poplar oil
An Eleusinian priest gifts Heracles a crown of leafy poplar branches. This is a protective amulet, one that will grant him safe passage on his descent. By wearing this crown, he takes on the qualities of the cottonwood tree. The cottonwood carries the gift of warmth: may you remain animated and vital in the cold, cold Underworld. The cottonwood carries the gift of easing pain: may your suffering be lifted and liberated on this arduous journey. The cottonwood carries the gift of flowing water: may you remember how to surrender with ease.
There are many ways I could describe the scent of cottonwood oil. I offer a few humble attempts, although none are as good as the actual perfume:
lithic cavern
amber pigment
a path of wind over water
fresh stream
miracle, miraculous
Heracles descends. He brings no weapons. The mighty warrior gives himself over to the Underworld. He faces all kind of ghosts, monsters and demons along his way. And his crown of cottonwood enables him to travel further, to move through every complication, to go deeper into Hades. The old ones say that this is why the leaves of poplar look the way they do: the fumes of the Underworld color the underside of the leaves a smoky, silvery, hazy grey while the top remains the vibrant dark green from the realm of the living. Heracles returns. He comes back after the long, difficult journey. Just like Spring. Miracle, miraculous.
Cottonwood calls you to the river. These trees like to have their roots in water, as is true for many members of the willow family. By the water, I think of the Acheron, the Underworld river that means Misery. This river that holds the waters of sorrow. Heracles has been so strong. His final task is on the shores of these very waters. There are so many places that hurt. The pain inflames. The ache hardens. The anguish becomes enclosed. The strength tightens. When I rub the golden cottonwood oil on all the places that hurt, I open. The gates of the body open to these waters. Cottonwood opens you to the river. We return. We give ourselves over and over again.
To opening, to returning,
x Liz
p.s.  For bringing more plant stories alive, come join us for Sap Rising this spring. Folk traditions, myth & practical magic. Registration ends on Friday of this week. We start on Sunday, with another watery scene. It's almost Spring, after all. Or, follow along at your own pace. Recordings are available to those who cannot make the live sessions. This is the last time this class will be offered. :) 
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Buy a raffle ticket & enter to win a 30 minute flower essence consultation with an excellent practitioner!

This fundraiser is for a trusted mutual aid network for families in Gaza who are surviving genocide and displacement: “These funds will support basic survical including relocation fees for those seeking to leave, natal and postnatal care, the cost of tents and basic living supplies under excruciating circumstances and limitations imposed by genocidal violence.” Our friend, teacher & colleague, Layla K. Feghali, is an organizer of this mutual aid fund.

How it works:
Buy a raffle ticket at sisterspinster.net/raffle before March 15th. Tickets are $20.
You are welcome to buy as many tickets as you'd like. 
Each ticket counts as an entry to the raffle. Winners will be randomly selected and contacted on March 18th. With thirteen participating herbalists there are thirteen chances to win!
Winners will be paired with a herbalist at random. The 30 minute consultations will be held virtually or over the phone, depending on the preference of the practitioner. Afterwards, your custom flower essence formula will be shipped to you!
If you don't hear anything after March 18th, we thank you for participating in the raffle!
The practitioners include:
Lauren Giambrone of Good Fight Herb Co -- Fino Burgos of Snakeroot Apothecary -- Chanelle Alessandre of Moon by Moon Apothecary -- Brittany Ducham of Earthbody Studio -- Paul Sodolak of Nine of Cups Herbs -- Lisa of LM Botanicals -- Clare Kritter of Hedge Meadow -- Kelly LeCoy -- Laurel Birch of Ms. Tea -- Danielle Vogel of With/In Herbals -- Ashley Dudas of Beata Botanicals -- Kayle of Other Dust -- Liz Migliorelli of Sister Spinster
Thank you so much for supporting this effort. May Palestine be free.