Doc Nancy

When you travel into the mountains
alone, the roots hold you.
They want to heal you
in secret.

Doc Nancy tried to explain it once.
But words tore at her throat the way
a flower tears when forced open.

Willow bark, they whisper,
will soothe Ruby's leg.
Wild cucumber seeds will cure
unmentionable sores. In secret,
she dosed Billie Rose and Bridget.
Squawroot seed for Anne's eyes
and lemongrass tea when squawroot failed.
Mugwort leaves crushed into wine
eased Rachel Cole's sciatica.

Rosehip pastes would sooth babies,
but they never did anything for
Bridget's baby's screaming colic.
Shepherd's purse to stop the bleeding
when babies kicked and tore from inside
and to give strength for a good birth.

Foxglove and ergot would lose babies,
the leaves giggled in her ear.
She gave ergot twice to Zandra Miller
before the girl turned fifteen,
and it had been painful both times.

But it was better than dying, the roots told her.
Better than living with shame.
She believed them and told Zandra that
it happened to every girl,
sooner or later.
Then she would pull out
her chokecherry wine--
for comfort.

Ladies Aid | White Owl | Hair

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Doc Nancy:
Nancy Ellimar

Born in Philadelphia, she left her family to attend medical school at the University of Colorado. Midwife in Crystal River Valley from 1877-1929, when she retired to Denver to live with her niece. Unmarried.

Chokecherry wine:
The chokecherries should be quite ripe. Stem, mash, and strain them, adding a half pint of water and less than a pound of sugar, to a quart of mashed fruit. Stir well up together and pour in a clean cask, leaving the bung-hole open, or covered with a piece of lace. It should stand for a month to ferment, when it will be ready for bottling.

--Everyday Cook Book

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