A Sidewalk Encounter Part I: I am Jack’s Violet Heart

This essay journals a chance encounter with violets on a February afternoon in 2016 which became the inspiration for several years of inquiry and the development of my Violet Heart Collection and Sidewalk Project flower essences. With the release of the first two formulas in the Violet Heart Collection this month, I wanted to share with you the story of how these blends came to be. Also, this is the second formula containing flower essences from my Sidewalk Project, focused on the power of place, the insight for which began with these same violets. The Sidewalk Project philosophy is: urban essences to heal urban dwellers. All Terracina Sidewalk Project flower essences are crafted using established urban flora, and infused with the perspective that urban plants create and carry the medicine to heal their urban human counterparts. I hope you enjoy part one of this story.

Photo by seven75/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by seven75/iStock / Getty Images

Last Wednesday, on a rare sunny February afternoon in Portland, I had a flora encounter which impelled me forward in the many roles I play in life: herbalist, teacher, partner, woman, mother, scholar.

In the last few months, I have been reading and hugely enjoying biographical works by female writers my own age discussing their raw and sometimes fearfully tragic life experiences. Their honest words bravely written and published renewed me as if I had found the conquistador’s long sought after fountain of youth. A few stand out to me. Emily van Duyne’s first NONEOFTHATBLOG installments of the book she is writing about loving, being married to, and having a child with a drug addicted psychopath. Johanna Hedva’s Sick Woman Theory essay describing her life as a woman with chronic disease and pain, and society’s perception and treatment of women with incurable lifelong physical and emotional dis-ease. Even some of my close friends who are writers shared with me essays they were preparing for publication about past abusive relationships, or childhood traumas they were just now beginning to face.

I could relate to all of their stories. I drank in their freedom of expression, and admired their writing craft. I sorely missed the days when my life participated in an art form where expression was the ultimate currency. Where a willingness to bare one’s soul into a medium through which the human experience could be shared with others was seen as an invaluable contribution. I realized as a healing arts practitioner, as a continuing education provider for medical doctors, as a collegiate instructor in an evidence based aromatherapy degree program, I felt less and less room to publically and professionally discuss my own progress and dilemmas as a woman, healer, instructor, mother, herbalist. Rather, my voice had to carry the message of success, science based evidence, effective clinical protocols, safety, ethics, and passionate personal use of the modalities I teach and practice.

Each of these authors were practicing, in written form, a key aspect to any healing: acceptance. You have to know where you are starting from before you can move. And, sometimes where you are starting from is a pensive heart feeling the purple-blue reticence of late winter.

I parked by Noah’s school a few minutes early. My day had been full of students’ papers, client sessions, and recapitulations about my partner’s and my life. The night before had not been restful and I had bought myself an afternoon coffee with the intention of taking a 15-minute walk to re-center myself. I had planned my walk around looking at a rental house in the neighborhood. Our mixed family was ready to move into a home that accommodated all of us. But, I know before I begin, I am going to be looking at a home I cannot afford. I am pressed between my desire to care for my family, a lifetime of passionate work, and an ever increasing cost of living. Being in the vanguard of a disappearing middle class, the picture of the human world is heavy. While walking in this opaque mental life, I am suddenly in a sweetness. At first it is so sweet I think it must be coming from someone’s laundry, or overdone perfume, or perhaps an outrageously strong air freshener.

I begin to see color in the gray of winter concrete and hibernating soil.  Further down the block, I notice yellow spring crocus and a very early pair of lilies of the valley, looking like two white hearts visiting one another.

I finish walking to the rental house. It is perfect for our family, but, prices have gone up so much in Portland, the rent is almost three times what I currently pay. What a potentially crushing reality to contemplate via a real estate flyer.

I begin thinking about Valentine’s Day and late winter. The herbs one could recommend for support in this cold and sometimes impatient seeming season.

But, then, I am drawn out of my head again by that sweet aroma. I look around at my feet. There is that pop of yellow again from the crocus. But, what is the source of the candy scent in the air? My eye wanders to the other side of the sidewalk. Low to the ground, in a large three-foot-wide mound, are violets. I am drawn in to the miniature beauties. I notice there are four or five other mounds of them in close vicinity.

Could they really be that fragrant? Could violets scent the air of an entire block?

I am down on all fours to meet them. I take their picture as if they are a Hollywood beauty I have admired for years but never dreamed of meeting. I am entranced. I still can hardly believe the cloud I am in is perfumed only by these purple pillows. I pick one to sample, even though I honestly feel shy about it, as if I am being to forward with a crush I have just met. Confirmation. They are the magical source of the sweet air.

I want to lie down with them. I am suddenly Dorothy in the field of poppies. I am every version of the medieval maiden in the wooded glen. I am the repressed Victorian seeing ankles under a hemline; reading a message of love in a bouquet, which I could never say aloud. So enthralled am I with this unexpected treasure find, I have forgotten I am on my knees on an urban sidewalk across the street from my son’s middle school, purse and cup of coffee on the ground, so as to have both hands free.

As I once again notice the butter yellow of crocus blooms, my herbalist’s mind has begun making connections. This sensory experience is entering and intertwining with another internal dialogue about plant companions, place, and synergy.

In the midst of this olfactory and mental flow, two feet in boots appear next to me on the sidewalk. A woman’s voice is speaking to me, “I have been watching you as I walked the last three blocks and kept thinking to myself, ‘That woman is so beautiful.’ Then as I got closer, I realized, ‘Oh, that’s Amanda!’”.

I am trying desperately to try to draw my focus to her. “Oh my goodness, what a sweet compliment!” But, I am so pulled by the violets, I can’t muster anymore. “Do you smell them? Do you see them? Can you believe how sunny it is today?”, I say looking down and trying to resist getting back on my knees to be near them again.

“Yes, my husband calls this sunny weather the February Fake-Out.”

Oh, a fake-out. Not really spring, but a tease. Not really love, just a taste. Is that what this is? She moves down the sidewalk with her dog, and I am alone again with my crush. Then I see the third addition to the pavement companionship: witch hazel blossoming in all its leafless glory. The protective mystic of the late winter North American herbal apothecary standing guard.