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The Absolving Botany of the Orphanberry

The orphanberry bush will not grow in the sun-dappled patch where huckleberry brambles bob in the breeze. It will not grow in the moss-lined gulleys where the gooseberry and currant take root. The orphanberry will only sprout in spots that have known trouble and hardship. You will not find it alongside the clean-rushing brook, or the shaded glen that echoes with birdsong.

The orphanberry will only grow in the weedy dooryard of the butcher, or the rutted mud where the carnival has moved on; it will bud in the dust along the tannery wall, or the scalded soil of the alms house. Where tears are shed for the stillborn, and blood spilled in battle; where blight has claimed the wheat, and where fire has swallowed the church - anywhere widows are made, anywhere the fugitive dies trapped, the elbowed stems and the mean leaves of the orphanberry will shiver and unfurl.

The fruit of the orpanberry bush is harsh, and is shunned by ruminants and grazers - the deer will avoid it, as will the the sheep. Only the hardy, well-muscled gut of the ominvore can withstand it. Black bear have been seen to nibble at it, only reluctantly, and raccoon only in leanest times. 

The berry itself is no bigger than a sparrow's eye, and black as an undertaker's hatpin. It is said to taste of sugared tears and of a longing unnamed. The rare person that dares eat of the orphanberry bush will grow afflicted and offish. In the North, they once called this this plant the hermitmaker bush.

Many, when they find it, will rip it from the ground, attempting in vain to banish its sad magic. Where it has taken root, though, it will always reappear. Until its mournful work is done. 

The orphanberry leaches the grief from a patch of ground, lixiviates the unease and dismay from the earth. It goes where it is needed, the orphanberry, to probe the earth with its lanky-fingered roots to draw up the poisons we leave in our wake, to dissolve and abridge the suffering so that the sweeter fruit might one day grow there. 

Where you see its crotched stems and jagged leaves, affirm that you will know a bitter harvest for a season or so. But we soak the ground in our poisons, and so must wait for its slow and reproachful reclamation. And strive for some lull in the heedless sloshing of our toxins.

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