Groton, September 1666
The day after John left for Watertown, Suzanne was working in her apothecary, and looked up to find Dancing Light standing silently in her open doorway. She had the impression she’d been standing there for some time.
“Dancing Light,” she exclaimed. “You startled me.”
Dancing Light was not dressed in her ceremonial clothes. The deerskin dress was simple and draped her tall frame attractively, the quill work adding the interest of art. She was clad in moccasins and chaps to protect her legs. A heavy black braid draped over one shoulder hung nearly to her waist; two feathers tied to it signaled her leadership.
“I come,” she said.
Suzanne hurried to the door and gestured to the powwaw to enter. “A wonderful surprise. Please, come in.” Remembering her hospitality, she offered, “Are you thirsty? Can I get you something to eat?”
Dancing Light stepped through the doorway of the front room, which faced a central hearth, and shook her head. “No need.” She pointed to the two girls playing by the settee. “They are very young.”
“Yes. Suzie is my first; she’s three, and Hester is almost two. They are being so good today.” Little Suzie smiled up at her mother. Hester stared at the Indian woman.
“Hello Suzie and Hester.” Dancing Light nodded to them, then turned and gestured toward the flats of dirt.
“Medicines,” Suzanne explained. “I am growing medicines.” She saw Dancing Light’s eyes narrow keenly as she walked to the corner, scanning the chaotic collection. “You grow medicine? You don’t gather?”
“Where would I find them? I bring many plants from England. They don’t grow here.”
“White man’s medicine. I like to know these.”
“These are only seedlings. I have mature plants . . . grown plants . . .” She gave up on the words and signaled tall plants with her hands. “Would you like to see the garden?”
Dancing Light nodded, but she’d not seen enough of her apothecary yet and reluctantly followed Suzanne outside. She could never learn enough.
In the garden, Suzanne pointed to the yarrow, which was in bloom. “Yarrow. I brought it from England.”
Dancing Light nodded. “I know this plant. It grows in field. Flowers we drink; leaves for wounds. Stops bleeding.”
“We too,” Suzanne said, surprised. “We use it for women’s cramping, too.” She gripped at her stomach to sign a menstrual cramp.
Dancing Light nodded. Oddly, Dancing Light identified so many of the plants in her garden, Suzanne began to wonder if she needed to explore the nearby fields. Apparently, Joanna was wrong. Many of the plants they brought from England grew here as well. She began to feel grateful for this new friend. Gathering medicines would cut down on her work; common herbs growing in the wild would also be well established and hearty. “Could you show me where this grows?”
Dancing Light nodded. “I will. You not have many.” She rattled off a list in Algonquin, that made no sense to Suzanne at all.
Suzanne had never imagined that an Indian might teach her, a trained midwife, anything. She had thoughtlessly begun to show Dancing Light “white medicine” from a position of authority. When Dancing Light gently corrected her, Suzanne realized that her new-found acquaintance might be her mentor as well. The woods in Massachusetts had much in store if what she’d said was right.
“I would like that,” Suzanne said. “We can trade, then. Come. I’ll show you white medicine.” Suzanne led Dancing Light back into the house and stood before her library on the mantel.
“These are notes from my teacher. I studied with her for ten years. Did you have a teacher?” Suzanne asked.
“I learn my whole life,” Dancing Light said. “My father is powwaw, dead now. He teach me from when I am small. Long time.” Her voice trailed off at the memory of her father. “Powwaws learn many years before they are healers. Learn here.” She touched her head.
Suzanne was impressed. Apparently, the Indians took medicine as seriously as the English did. She was now sure that this woman had knowledge. She brought out her notebook and opened it to show the Indian woman her notes. “I remember here.” She tapped the open page.
Dancing Light was impressed by the drawings of an herb, leaves and roots. “It’s good,” she said. “But I can’t read.” She handed the notebook to Suzanne. “Remember here is better.” She again pointed to her head. She returned to the mixing bench to examine more closely a utensil she’d noticed. She lifted the large stone mortar and pestle, testing its heft, then sat it down and moved the pestle in its track. “This is good.”
Suzanne picked up a small box filled with a waxy substance. “Yarrow salve,” she said, “for wounds, to stop bleeding.”
Dancing Light passed her finger across the surface and rubbed it on her skin. “It’s good,” she said. “Aamoo anbigiw-an?”
“I don’t know your language. I’m sorry,” Suzanne said.
Dancing Light began to make a buzzing noise, passing her fist through the air. “Aamoog-an.”
“Yes,” Suzanne laughed. “Bees. AaMoog-an. It’s bee’s wax. We use it to make a salve.”
“Anbigiw-an. Salve,” Dancing Light repeated. She pointed to the flowers and leaves in the drawing. “I fold on wound.” She gestured a wrapping motion on her wrist.
“Ah,” Suzanne said. “We call that ‘poultice.’”
“Pol-tis,” Dancing Light repeated.
“You want to see white medicine for spotted fever.” Suzanne pointed to a drawing. “Marsh mallow. I make cold-water syrup from it. Added to tea, it soothes the throat and makes sweat; I fan to cool the fever.”
“You not use this for my sister,” Dancing Light said. “Why not?”
“Your sister was vomiting when her stomach was empty. Even in a hot room, she had no sweat left in her body. I had to make sweat with water. Then I fanned her.”
Dancing Light’s eyes lit up. “I see. You treat fever.”
“Yes. First the fever. When she can drink, I give her water. Then, I can give her cold water tea.”
“I know this plant. Grow in marsh.”
“Yes. My teacher told me that many people will have spotted fever this winter. I can give you more if you need it. In a week, the red rash will peel and itch.”
“We have medicine for itch on skin,” Dancing Light said. “I make water from miizhishk-oon of the bush.”
“I’d like to see it.”
“We go, but soon. My people leave for winter home before first snow.”
“When will you return, then?”
“We come back when tree sap run.”
Suzanne stared at the floor. February, she thought. That’s too long! I will have to give up a day or two from harvest. “Then, we must meet soon.”
The two women ended their exchange on a note of mutual delight. It was clear to Suzanne that she was to have a new friend, the strangest friend she could imagine, this native who danced around fires wearing a wolf’s head. Suzanne had only ever seen a wolf’s head nailed to the church wall, a symbol of the Devil. After Dancing Light left, Suzanne carefully noted the Algonquin words for bee’s wax, salve, and yarrow. Then she drew a plant with roots, leaves, flowers, berries, and stems, making room for labels for each of the parts. I must ask her how to say these, she thought. If I am to learn from her, I need to know her words. I don’t want to make mistakes about medicines!
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