Photography by NORTHWEST FOCUS
It all started with yarrow, an inauspicious herb with feathery leaves that I had spotted during our first outing together. We bent down to look at it together, keeping our distance as I told her of yarrow’s many healing properties, how it could staunch bleeding, calm a histamine reaction of bee stings, stimulate digestion, calm the mind, and more. She stared in rapt attention over the top of her mask, soaking it all in.
We met online in the midst of the pandemic, ironically on her birthday. The conversation was immediately so engaging, so effortless. I admired her bravery in sharing some of the beautiful poems she’d written, and I loved her never-ending curiosity. We were kindred spirits. We began meeting up at outdoor trails, masked and distanced, slowly exploring the winter landscape together. It was on the day that I introduced her to yarrow that I realized that there would be no half measures with her: If I were to allow myself to love her, it would be the all-consuming kind of love, the kind that soaks into your bones and stays there. That winter I wasn’t ready to open myself up to that yet; I had just barely come out as gay after a lifetime of denial, and I was afraid to feel so deeply. She had so quickly become the most important person in my life—my best friend, my adventure partner, my confidant. I couldn’t risk losing that, losing her …
So we started dating other people, conveying our stories of weird dates to each other as we foraged the first spring blossoms. While up in a magnolia tree gathering blossoms during a snowstorm, I confessed to her that I just hadn’t felt any butterflies with anyone I’d seen. Her dates seemed equally lackluster. I wanted the best for her. I wanted her to be happy, to find the love that she deserved. I wanted her to be with someone that saw the light in her the way I did.
After several months of spark-less dates, I realized that all I wanted to do was spend time with my best friend, and I took a break from dating so that I’d have more time to spend with her. When I confessed this, she told me she had come to the same conclusion. Out of sheer luck, we got vaccinated on the same day and after two very long weeks, we hugged for the first time. I remember tearing up at the warmth and comfort of her embrace.
She started coming over, spending time with me on the rougher days of my chronic illness, just keeping me company as we laughed and cried over shows or books. She watched the rituals of my care with the same intense curiosity as she did when learning about the wild plants on our walks. On May Day, we celebrated by planting a garden in my backyard, full of the wild plants I loved… including plenty of yarrow. Long after all the other guests had gone home, we stayed curled up under a blanket on the porch, talking under that spring moon. She shared some of the shadows in her heart, and I held her. It was that night that I realized I loved her, that I would do literally anything to keep her safe and happy. Never have I experienced such intense tenderness. To me, she was the closest friend I had ever had.
More time passed. More walks along the river, noticing how the yarrow had grown. The mounds were fuller now, lacy leaves growing greener in the spring sunshine. Then I had a bad day. I texted her for comfort, and she asked if I wanted company, already in her car by the time I answered, “Yes, please.” As she scooped me up into her arms I felt so safe, so cared for, so tender. She listened. Almost off-handedly, she told me she loved me, not in a way that had any expectations or attachments, just that I was so easy to love. I told her I loved her too. She wiped away my tears and told me stories that brought a smile back to my eyes. I looked up at her and I felt them—all the butterflies that had been hiding during all the other dates suddenly came out of hibernation. Her green eyes drew me in, like deep rainforests and soft moss. I became intensely aware of the curve of her lips. Finally, I confessed my desire to kiss her and she broke into a huge grin. “No pressure or anything, but if you did, I think I would really like that!” I let myself fall into her, all softness and fireworks and magic.
Two weeks into dating her, I knew she was the one I wanted to spend my life with. (If I’m really being honest with myself, I knew that I wanted to end up with her on our very first walk together, back when the ground was covered in frost.) I felt like I had lost my mind, but my heart had taken over the narrative and ordered some special clay made of silver. I wanted to be ready.
I needed her ring size but didn’t want to ask and clue her in, so I ordered a ring sizer and for three nights in a row, I woke myself up in the middle of the night and gently held her slumbering hand. With methodical patience, I gently stroked her hand, then her finger, then continued stroking as I slid on the sizer and slid it off again so that she wouldn’t notice the feeling (funnily enough, a process remarkably similar to the practice of “tickling fish” using gentle, subtle movements while reaching under stream banks). When I felt certain I had the right size, I began my secret project. I pressed yarrow leaves into clay to use as a press mold for my special metal clay. I set stones in more metal clay and assembled them into matching rings. Pink sapphires in hers and olivine in mine, because it reminds me of her eyes. Months went by as I crafted our rings in secret. I fired them in the kiln at the local arts center, burning out the binder and sintering the metal together. I polished them until they sparkled. I used a patina to enhance the yarrow leaf pattern on both.
The yarrow was important. This humble herb can be found all over the world, from arid high deserts to coastal rainforests to cracks in the sidewalk where it tenaciously thrives. It represents consistency, constancy, dependability, the kind of qualities that build the foundation for the kind of commitment I was dreaming of. More personally, to us it represented the first time we met in person, the day I first realized my love for her, and our first official date, a picnic in the park in a patch of—you guessed it—blooming yarrow.
With the rings safely tucked away in a pair of socks, I called up my favorite photographer to see if she could do a surprise engagement photo shoot with us. I told my love that we would be modeling for a photo shoot for this very magazine, intending it to just be a ruse … but then I called Enchanted Living’s editor, Carolyn Turgeon, and joyfully shared my plan. She was delighted at my joy and at the whole idea! We packed our outfits and piled into my car for a trip to the coast. Everywhere we stopped, we noticed yarrow—at the campground on the way there, growing through the cracks of the wooden patio we had dinner on, even gracing the edges of the rocky beaches we beachcombed on in the evening.
Unbeknownst to anyone else, I had also crafted a set of dishes portraying the dreamy colors of yarrow blossoms and an engraving of delicate yarrow leaves and flowers sprouting in the center. On top, I wrote our love story in real gold luster, translated into my own Wonder Language. I prepared a simple but delicious meal to share.
We started our photo shoot by foraging ingredients for our little fairy feast—juicy blackberries, wild fennel, and a little bit of yarrow. I served her course by course, reading the mystery inscriptions on the plates as we went. As my love enjoyed her dinner, I slipped away and hid the rings inside a shell we had gathered beachcombing the day before, then surreptitiously slid it to the photographer and winked. She knew the plan.
After dinner, we went out to dance on the beach, the wind tugging at my dress as we switched off leading and following. I played our favorite songs, the ones we danced to in the kitchen at home. Then the music paused as I grabbed her hands and told her just what she meant to me, how I had been falling for her for as long as I had known her and that being with her felt right in a way nothing ever had before. I knelt, picked up a “random” shell on the beach, opened it to reveal the rings, and I asked.
After a fair bit of sudden crying and jumping around, leaving me in a state of panic, she exclaimed, “Yes, yes, of course, yes!” Even just writing down these words as I remember that magical day is bringing tears to my eyes now. When I had been in long-term relationships before, I had always believed that love and marriage were much more practical things, that nobody would be perfect, and I could probably be happy with a number of people—it was just chance and timing that would determine which would be my husband. I didn’t realize that there was someone out there who would make me believe in soul mates and that one day she would be my wife.
It’s a foreign feeling to look into her emerald eyes and feel this deep sense that I have known her far beyond the time and space of this single lifetime. Every day I wake up in my own version of a fairy tale. We are true partners—collaborating on creative projects, going on little adventures, showing each other the sparkles of light in this beautiful world, even on the darker days. Whenever we go somewhere new, we make a point to look for our dear friend yarrow… and we always spot it. No matter where we are, every night she goes through the ritual of getting my medical needs met and says that she loves how grounding it is to care for me. What used to feel like a burden now feels like a point of connection and if I ever feel insecure about my illnesses, she reminds me: “Loving you is the easiest thing in the world. It is so easy to love you.”
As I write this, it’s been six months since that incredible day on a Washington beach, waiting in the breeze for her answer. We are happily planning our wedding for May Day, 2023— two years after that fateful day that I realized my love for her. And yes, there will be plenty of yarrow. I am delighted to report that fairy tales are real, and I’m living in one. A handsome prince was never going to be the match to my soul, no matter how dashing. An Elven Empress, on the other hand…