Wernigerode Castle is here for a reason—not to show the size and beauty of this massive structure in the Harz Mountains, but to emphasize that clear patch of blue sky. Those balmy days in the high twenties, or mid-seventies, depending on your scale of choice, are fading into memory this week as the weather in Wolfenbüttel slips into autumn. This is good, I tell myself. It’s just the down-to-business back-to-school feeling I need to focus on the research, which, after all, is why we’re here.
Research is a solitary and slippery thing and without some serious goal setting you can lose your bearings. I started building a database this week with tables for the sources, medicinal plants, and, most of all, the sixteenth-century people I’ve come across in my reading. What was their place in the world of medicine and how were their lives connected? Did they know about each other, exchange information, even cuttings for their herb gardens? Who made the rules, decided what was permissible, what was on the cutting edge and what beyond the outer limits of medicine? I want to start thinking quantity. How many plant medicines are listed in the pharmacopoeias and of those how many came from the Americas? Every day I read books written almost five hundred years ago and find I am more intrigued by them than I am by the evening news.
Which is probably just as well for an historian. This morning I was out the door before 8:30 hoping to be first in line for a hair touch-up. The town was still misty and the stores were closed, but things were just beginning to get busy. The bakeries were lit up and serving coffee indoors, for the moment, shopkeepers were moving displays onto the pavement and the Wednesday market stalls were being set up in the Rathaus square. The verdict was still out on whether it would rain, but market day will go on rain or shine. There was a gusty breeze, not cold, but definitely noticeable. Leaves were falling into the waterway that borders the castle on the street side and a tree in front of the Lessinghaus was showering the lawn with red leaves. It’s been a long time since this California girl has seen autumn up close and personal.