HIMALAYAN BALSAM, The fatal wedding dress (80)

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HIMALAYAN BALSAM
The fatal wedding dress

Take the time to enjoy the beautiful flowers of the tall Himalayan Balsam with this fairy tale in mind as you do. A story of determination and strife. A fairy tale about beauty which refuses to bow to evil influences. This touching story of Meying (extraordinarily beautiful flower) and Wei (great strength) was written by my respected editor Kees Goossens.

When Meiying was born in a mountain village in the Himalayas, she was a very ordinary baby. But once she started growing, there was no stopping her. At a very young age she was already a good head and shoulders taller than her peers. This was reason enough for the village youth to make many mocking comments which Meiying graciously ignored. But Meiying not only became taller, she also became prettier. As the years passed, the teasing made way for jealous looks from other girls and admiring looks from the boys. Who had ever seen such sensual lips? “Lips to be kissed,” said the boys who all tried to win her favour. However,from an early age Meiying had been in love with Wei, her playmate and neighbour. They both knew they were intended for each other and would marry. So when one day they told Meiying’s parents about their wedding plans, they were not surprised. At the same time they were not exactly thrilled. These hardworking but poor labourers were not in a position to afford a dowry. Not even a wedding dress. Not to be able to afford even this was felt as a deep disgrace by the family.
Meiying had learned from an early age to take the initiative in her life: nobody could spin, weave, sew and embroider like she did. Indeed there was hardly a woman in the village who had not at some time called on Meiying to help make or adjust their clothes. Meiying was glad to do this – and did it for love. The women had always expressed their gratitude to her with a deep bow of recognition. When they picked up on the news that Meiying had had to postpone her wedding because her parents could not afford her wedding dress, the women collected the coins they could spare.
In time Meiying had managed to save enough to buy a few pounds of cotton. With her industrious hands she spun the cotton into yarn and wove these into a beautiful piece of material which she turned into a dress. She spent every free moment she had working on her dress. She embroidered the most beautiful flowers onto it: some glittered like gold, others were green as jade or blue as the sky. Along the seam she attached a panel of lace onto which she embroidered a continuous chain of bunches of lilac, pink and light yellow flowers using a glittering silver thread. The flowers were alternated with tiny stones which had been smoothed to a shine by the waters of the river and which Wei now and then collected for her.

The women from the village saw how the dress gradually became the most beautiful wedding dress they had ever set eyes on. For months on end Meiying worked on her wedding dress. Finally the moment came for the last stitch: she could not take her eyes off her own creation.
Meiying had only just finished her dress when the mountain witch stormed into her home. “I’ve heard from the women in the village that you’ve made the most beautiful wedding dress they’ve ever seen. Could I possibly see it?”
Proudly, Meiying showed the witch her dress: “Well, you know my daughter’s getting married in a few weeks’ time. She would simply love to borrow your dress,” said the witch. “And” she added nastily, “I imagine you’ll be happy about that, won’t you?…”
“No, never!” replied Meiying, resolutely, “I’m not lending my dress to anyone ever. This dress is the most precious thing I’ve ever possessed in my entire life.”
“And that’s your very last word on the matter?” asked the mountain witch.
“Absolutely,” answered Meiying.
The witch glowered threateningly at Meiying, her eyes flashing: “Now, my dear, those are words you will live to regret.”

When the witch had stamped angrily away, Meiying hurried over to see Wei who was working on the land near the river. Because she was scared the witch might sneak back and still steal the dress while she was away, she wrapped it in a cloth and took it with her.
“Well,” said Wei when Meiying told him what had just happened, “You can never tell what may come of angering the mountain witch. Maybe she could just borrow it for that one day and….”
“Never,” cried Meiying, “Not on your life! I’ve spent months and months creating the most beautiful wedding dress you can imagine.” She knew it went against all the rules to show your fiancé the wedding dress prior to the happy day. But to convince him, she began to unwrap her dress. “Look!” she said. “This is what I’ve been working at for hours on end over the past few month.” And she held the dress up for him to see. Wei’s jaw dropped in surprise and wonder. But as if according to a previously agreed on sign, magpies suddenly flew down from every wind direction, pounced, took hold of the dress and tried to fly off. While Wei did not realize what was happening, Meiying just managed to catch hold of her dress by the silk seam. The magpies dragged her with them across the field. Then a second group (tidings) of magpies flew down screeching. With their sharp beaks they began to peck the dress to pieces. The brightly coloured dress was ripped to shreads, so that Meiying fell into the fast flowing river and drowned. Small colourful pieces of material blew away like butterflies on the wind.
Overwhelmed by his grief Wei shut himself away in his house. His land remained untouched and ran to weeds. Only in the autumn Wei found the courage to return to the place where his fiancée had been dragged away by the water. Already from a distance in among the weeds he could see very tall flowers on slender red stems with lilac, pink and pale yellow blossom like sensual lips. He recognized the colours of Meiying’s wedding dress and knew at once that his dearly beloved lived on in these beautiful flowers.
And when he touched the green seed pods growing at the end of some of the stems, they opened spontaneously, like lips wanting to kiss him and of its own accord a small stone sprang out, just like the ones Meiying was always so thrilled about.
Everyone came and admired this new sea of flowers. All were convinced it was the work of Meiying. To the fury of the mountain witch and her daughter who attempted to eradicate the flowers. But in vain, because however often they tried, Meiying’s flowers grew again and each year in even greater numbers than the previous. Because Meiying refused to let herself be overruled: using these flowers she wanted to comfort her dearly beloved – like a balm for his intense grief.

The Himalayan Balsam, as the common name suggests, is actually a native of the Himalayan region in Northern India and Tibet. It was brought to the West in the mid-19th century by garden enthusiasts. Only in the second half of the 20th century did the tall plant run wild. Initially mainly along rivers and waterways, later on in almost any humid, rich and slightly shaded ground with its large clusters of flowering blossom. The plant grows out above the tallest vegetation of, for instance, the common nettle and can reach a good two metres. If there is little competition for light, then it remains a modest half metre. Himalayan Balsam grows very fast in the early summer with its soft fleshy stem and flowers from July to September. Then in the autumn it dies back right back down to ground level and disappears. The magnificent flowers vary from pinkish white to deep red. How this big plant disperses its seed is special. Its genus name ‘impatiens’ (meaning ‘impatient’) gives a clue. Just tap on ripe seed pods and enjoy…