Once Upon a Time

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Stories are learning forwards. A lot of what we learn today starts with a concept and works backwards. Stories take you on a journey that ends with a different kind of knowledge. Writing your own stories works like this:

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Once upon a time there was a gardener. She was also lots of other things; a mother, a wife, a daughter, a friend and so many other labels, but ‘gardener’ was how she thought of herself in that quiet place at the centre of her heart.

She lived on the side of a hill with deep topsoil and temperate weather where she had transformed an old horse paddock and a weed infested remnant of bushland into a place where fairies came to live. There were tall trees that she had held as tiny sticks, tucking them into the rich soil with a bucket of water and a kiss. There were places for food and places for flowers. The weeds were cleared away from the bushland and the wild animals lived there now. Sometimes they visited the garden and ate the flowers, but the gardener didn’t mind at all.

The gardener had never been anywhere to learn her craft. She had let the garden teach her. She had been brave enough to fail, over and over again, so that she could learn the rhythms and patterns of this particular piece of earth and how to work in harmony with it. She knew that a weed was just a plant that worked against the garden. In another garden it might have been a treasure, but left alone it would overwhelm her other plants and reduce her diverse and complex pattern to a single, voracious species. She knew that weeds needed to be dug out, covered over or, when nothing else worked, poisoned.

One day the gardener discovered she had a kind of weed growing inside her body. The seeds for the weed had come from her own cells. Something had damaged them and instead of growing as part of her delicate, complex, internal garden they were threatening to kill her. Because the weeds were buried deep inside her body she couldn’t dig them out. She went in search of a wizard.

The wizard told her that even if the weeds were cut out there was a very strong chance that they would grow back. The gardener knew about this kind of weed. In her garden was something called ‘trigger weed’ that threw tiny seeds in all directions the second you touched it or tried to pull it out. The wizard told her that the only way to treat the weeds in her body was with a slow acting poison. There was no guarantee that the poison would work, or that if it did work that the weeds would stay gone forever, but it was the gardner’s best chance.

Knowing the way of wizards she asked what the poison would cost her. The wizard told her she would have to pay with her energy, her appetite, and her peace of mind. The wizard warned her that, in time, there was a chance she may have to pay with her health. Then the wizard asked for her hair.

The gardener had never been a particularly vain woman but she was shocked. What would the wizard want with her hair? Still, she knew she had very little choice. Everything she could find about out about the weeds inside her body told her that the wizard’s poison was her best hope at life. Without the poison she would surely die. She handed the wizard her hair.

The gardner took the wizard’s poison over many weeks. From time to time the wizard would return and ask for more hair. Her leg hair, her toe hair, and any other hair on her body. Finally the wizard asked for her eyebrows and her eyelashes. Sadly, she handed them over. Then she said to the wizard, “All these weeks you’ve come here and taken my hair. What do you want it for? Why do you need it?” The wizard replied, “I’m a gardener, like you. I need the hair to grow the Yew trees that make the poison to kill your weeds.  I need it to fertilise my roses, which I grow to bring beauty into the world.”

The gardener continued to take the poison and slowly, slowly, the weeds inside her body started to die. As the wizard had predicted, she had days when she felt very ill and all she could do was to sit by the window and look at her garden. She had days when she felt slightly better and she could sit outside in her garden and look at the flowers and the weeds. Some days her energy returned enough for her to pull a few weeds or trim back some dead flowers and on really good days she even managed to plant food for next summer and to start a mushroom patch under the mulberry tree. No matter how sick she felt, her garden would lift her heart and restore her spirit.

When she looked in the mirror she didn’t recognise herself. With all her hair gone she looked so strange, like a lizard woman with cold, blue eyes. Sometimes she would be sad about the weeds in her body and the need for the poison and the odd, bald creature that she had become. Then she would think about the wizard’s beautiful roses and she wouldn’t mind at all about her hair.

She promised herself that when her hair grew back she would plant a Yew tree and that every time she cut her hair she would feed it to the tree.

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It’s difficult for me to explain how stories work for me. I suppose you either relate to this approach or you don’t. For me, it’s a gentle way to shift my thinking and my mood. There’s a bit of whimsy in it. It makes me smile.

For those that don’t already know, the chemotherapy drug, Paclitaxel, was originally synthesised from the bark of the Yew tree.

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