Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Dances With Weeds

One Mom's enemy is another Mom's friend. I massage homemade dandelion oil into my infant's belly when he is distressed.

Dandelion seedhead and oak catkin.

Mayapples and dandelions at the foot of the side porch.

I could have sworn I already wrote about this...but maybe not. So, here we go:

Jared and I have moved around many times. We met in 2000.
1. New Brunswick, NJ
2. Attempted to move to Philadelphia but credit not good enough to rent a crappy, tiny apartment.
3. Went to Europe for 3 months instead, settling in Hungary for 1 1/2 months.
4. Philadelphia, PA. 3 months of hoboing always improves the credit.
5. Queens, NY
6. Parental interlude in NJ
7. Clarkston, Michigan
8. Parental interlude in NJ
9. Sourland Mountain, NJ

Today I'll write about...

In Clarkston we rented a modest split level house. A scraggly treeline, a ditch, a short chainlink fence, and heaps of grass clippings separated us from Route 75, a major interstate that coursed with large American made trucks and SUVs (when we returned to visit family several months later, we passed a auto dealer on Route 22 in Phillipsburg. As I surveyed the lot, my mind felt muddied. "Something is different here. Why does this lot look so odd?" Pause. "Foreign cars. All the vehicles are foreign cars." Small and insectlike foreign cars vs. the immense robot-lionhead American trucks. We had not seen small, foreign cars in several months.

The summer was hot and droughty. We tooled around in our Ford Ranger with the cheapest and smallest tires the previous owner could purchase. The Ranger has a 5 speed transmission and engine similar to my Ford Escort. Compared to the locals' vehicles, we were driving a clown car.

Also like my Escort, the truck had no air conditioning, so the hour commute to Detroit meant windows down (crazy hair and aggravation of Jared's chronic ear infection of that summer, which manifested after visiting a public swimming hole. In polite company, we refer to what I came down with post-swimmin' hole as 'Montezuma's Revenge Big Time'.) or windows up (sweaty armpits and an aroma that still lingers in the truck 5 years later).

We did our best to abandon the lawn, but it continued to grow, as did our neighbors' lawns. We cut the lawn sporadically, and our neighbors noticed "Want me to stop by with the mower?" asked the middle aged devout Christian. "Tried to mow part of your lawn, but kept clogging the machine," said the single mom. "Oh, that's ok, thank you," we answered.

"We better mow the lawn," I said. Jared pulled the mower out of the garage and mowed long enough to mow an anarchy symbol in the backyard. He then ran out of gas. The landlord's son was dispatched weeks later to mow weekly, but in the meantime we made a grim discovery.

The yard was outfitted with an automatic sprinkler system.

The odd sound that awakened us each morning from poor sleep (our bed was a porous air mattress) was the sound of the sprinkler water hitting the front door. It was so hot that the water evaporated long before we went outside. We finally were able to shut off the sprinkler, and the lawn died as it should have weeks prior.

One morning, my New York City-born husband peered through the blinds and whispered, "Oh my god, what is she doing?" I went to the window. "Don't let her see you. I'm afraid." he continued witha mixture of concern and humor.

"What is she doing?"

She, a respectable single mom of a teenaged son in a well to do suburban neighborhood, was dressed in shorts and shirt set, Keds sneakers, and a backpack canister herbicide sprayer. We watched her dance around her lawn in small circles.

Spritz, spritz. A gentle tap dance upon the now damp spot. Spritz, spritz. Tap, tap.

We named her Dances With Weeds.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

The 2010 Cabinet of Remedies

I now have more confidence in our homemade remedies than in what I can purchase. Best yet if I can harvest the plant myself. We have made

Tincture of:
Agrimony
Aralia nudicaulis
Boneset
Black cohosh
Blackhaw
Burdock
Chamomile
Dandelion
Echinacea
Elecampane
Lavender
Monarda
Nettle
Solomon's seal
Yarrow
Yellow dock

Oil or salve of:
Dandelion
Lavender
Plantain
Plantain, calendula, & yarrow
Violet
White pine & red cedar
Yarrow

Flower essence of:
Chicory
Rattlesnakemaster



We were busy during the shopping season, so we made holiday gifts this year - infused oils, vinegars, salves, and cordials.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Smile Mope

The first two words in yesterday's game of Scrabble. The game was abandoned due to diaper rash and gooey eye.

Yesterday I woke up early and enjoyed about an hour of an absolutely silent house. I fed the birds. I made decaf coffee. I started making two loaves of bread.

The rest of the day...

Breadmaking project abandoned due to hunger.

Breadmaking project abandoned a second time for a diaper change.

A diaper-free baby's laundry.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Noise

During our son's first days we were adventurous with volume and light. We now creep around the house with lights dimmed when he sleeps. Sun Ra and a Smithsonian collection of children's songs have been replaced by the "Sleep Sheep" generating soothing ocean sounds. Acceptable light levels for reading have been dimmed to accelerate vision loss.

However, yesterday morning the little boy slept through the rousing chorus of the Eureka Pet Lover that we purchased just before his birth (we have to vacuum sometime, we agreed, and neither one of us wanted to repair our trash-picked vacuum that smelled like the NJ Transit train as it passes Ikea in Elizabeth). He slept through several vacuum related episodes that sent me looking for the troubleshooting page in the manual:

PROBLEM: Spewing dust. SOLUTION: empty the canister regularly, especially if you vacuum semi-annually, live partly outside, have incredibly long hair and a woodstove.

PROBLEM: No Suction. SOLUTION: Remove piece of braided wire from roller.

PROBLEM: Still No Suction. SOLUTION: remove clump of debris from hose that looks like a pellet heaved from the guts of an owl that ate the contents (dust, hair, fuzz, splinters, sticks) of the vacuum canister.

PROBLEM: Burning Smell and No Power. SOLUTION: the vacuum thermostat overheated and caused automatic shutdown to prevent user from further damaging the unit. Wait half hour before resuming use of the unit. Take shower. Resume vacuuming if baby is still sleeping.

Time


It's 2:14 PM. My son is asleep during what I assume is a growth spurt. What will I do first:

1. Eat.
2. Nap.
3. Remove the thorn from my foot.
4. Search U.S. Fish and Wildlife's Forensic Laboratory Feather Atlas for the feathers I found at a kills site this afternoon. (Our first kill site discovered as a family. Does this go into the baby book?)
5. Floss.
6. Tend to the woodstove.
7. Go to the bathroom.
8. Dishes.

The results:
1. I ate a piece of chocolate and had a sip of water.
2. I'll sleep sometime. Collapse is inevitable.
3. The thorn couldn't wait because I couldn't walk.
4. Feather Atlas postponed to write this, though the point was to figure out what the feathers were and write about them, but I hear my son beginning to awaken.
5. Had to floss to remove that piece of clementine from lunch.
6. I tossed junk mail into the woodstove and caused smoke.
7. Reaching the level of discomfort that the thorn and the clementine attained.
8. Didn't I already do them?

Follow-up: The feathers look like a red morph screech owl. The feather size seems right, too. Bye, Screechy.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Down the Road Goes Daddy-o


You were napping when I leaned out the front door and waved to your Dad as I might on any other warmish December day. I raced around the house doing chores as I might. Dishes to the sink, start the washer, fill the bird feeder, put things in their place as I might on any other morning. I work more quickly, lose track of my intentions more quickly, and mind the woodstove more closely than on past winter days.

There's a baby in the other room. I hear him. I could hear him over a low flying jumbo jet. I take my husband's advice of yesterday and shove a few heaping tablespoons of tepid instant oatmeal into my mouth - "You have to make sure you eat."

We made it through our first solo parenting day, thanks to a visit from my Mom who brought lunch, conversation, and an extra set of hands.

Monday, December 20, 2010

Down the Road



Together, we walk down the road. Me, swaying and stomping in the tawny fallen leaves of oaks and beeches.

Beren, quieted by his first breath of cold winter air, breathing in the cool notes of leaf and mist, birdsong and wind.

We rock back and forth as much as go forward. He's lulled by the motion and soon sleeping, his senses tuned to the wild world's air.

Something about transportation seems to quiet a baby down. I imagine myself as a horse in a nomadic caravan, or a family on foot moving through the ancient savannah, even as a refugee fleeing in the night. In all cases, babies that became quiet when parents were on the move probably fared best.

But on this walk, I imagine the rocking as a kind of circulation, moving Beren through the sensations of his world -- feeling the sun as it streams through intertwined branches, smelling the odor of wet stones and clay when we cross the stream.

----

I make introductions as we walk - Black Birch, clad in silver-purple: makes tea that will soothe you when you ache. Shagbark: we'll plant some of your children when Beren is a little older. White Oak: thanks for being here, I hope you watch over my child as you've watched over us.

Familiar friends, but fresh, too; new in the crisp winter air, winter which hadn't yet arrived when we went to the hospital to give birth, but was here when we returned several days later.

I look into the forest on both sides of the lane. I think how all these plants, birds, stones, streams and soils have changed and shaped each other across deep time. How once Birch was sent along the path of being Birch by some unknowable event in prehistory, it became committed in some ways - wind pollination, catkins of small seeds, healer of disturbed ground. Birch will never again have a chance to become Oak, though Birch may change as radically as that through the deep time ahead.

We pass the small stream with the cardinal flowers, grown freely from tiny seeds peppered into the silt of the banks, germinating when waters are low. I consider Cardinal Flower, and Hummingbird, its ally -- now flown to the south for the flowerless season. There are no hummingbirds outside the New World. Would our Cardinal Flower exist without them? Would its deep-tubed flowers, strewn scarlet, reflect in the stream's summer waters if not for its pollinator? What is a word for this bond between flower and bird, for the relationship that makes those that comprise it take their shape in the world?

What is the word for the thousand relationships that make a White Oak bear gently lobed leaves and small, glossy acorns?

I believe that the word for these relationships is the sacred.

----

This world of change, of evolution across unfathomable time, can challenge our sense of meaning.

Why is White Oak? Because of Blue Jay and Squirrel and Caterpillars and Acid Soils and Rainfall.

Why is Blue Jay? Because of White Oak and Squirrel and Caterpillar and Acid Soils and Rainfall.

Where is God in this picture? To me, this relationship, always altering, communicating, observing, sensing -- this is the sacred. To have a God who fixed it all in the beginning -- that is a cop-out, fear of chaos, an attempt to render unfathomable changes across unknowable time somehow fixed and static.

I'd rather call White Oak my god, but -- even better to say that the sacred moves in White Oak. Moves even in the dried crackling oak leaves beneath my feet as my newborn son and I walk, sleep, breathe in the flavors of the particular which are the permeable walls of our temple.

----

I remember a class in High School where we were asked to describe our vision of our own future. I remember a quiet, unremarkable boy who said he hoped to be "perfect". I was shocked, not by the presumptuousness -- it was a moment where we all bared our hearts in some way -- but by his idea of "perfect". How could someone be perfect? Aren't all of our lives and decisions relational? Wouldn't a good action in one situation be a bad or imperfect one in a slightly different situation? Could you really distill through all of the causes and outcomes of one's actions and decide that they were perfect?

I figured you'd have to deny the relational aspect of reality altogether and replace it with a fixed code. Cut off the senses, cut off feelings, disengage from future and past. Deny failure, abstain from urges, abdicate life.

----

We walk further down the road. I step off the gravel, rustle some brown hornbeam leaves hanging on a twig. Beren is awake now and watches the leaves, hanging like forgotten laundry from the dormant winter branches.

Besides the hornbeams and sapling beeches, all the other trees have shed their leaves. I can see deep into the forest on either side of me. I see tall, ancient trunks, lichen-clad boulders, deep leaf litter.

I also see a wrack and ruin of fallen branches, split trees, upheaved rootballs, all of the evidence of storms and fungus and death laying bare and undisguised before me. I see shit and failure and old tattered nests that had been hidden in the dense thorny stems of wild roses.

Nature doesn't hide the dark and rotting sides of the cycle from us. Change can be a horror, it can seem like the disappearance of the old. But the old is always woven into the new, and it is the new that brings us wonder and sustenance.

If we abjure the negative, we deny new life as well.

Any idea of "God" that is based in moral perfection or immalleable, immaculate creation is a power conceit. It's authoritarianism of the spirit.

----

I can't help but think ahead in Beren's life. I have many hopes, many illusions. Will he befriend the birds, defend the plant people, find love and peace?

I don't know Beren's future nor would I desire to face such an enormous thing, all at once, ahead of time. My hopes and illusions can hover gently, sometimes shielding reality, sometimes revealing some small secret.

I look again into the forest. I see the deep impression of tracks molded in last year's leaves. I see the proud trunks of my friends - black birch, shagbark hickory, white oak. I watch dark-eyed juncos scatter from the road ahead of me. And I see once again the bracket fungus, the broken limb, the kill site, the narrow escape, the scat and the urine. I see the old and the new and the in-between, in constant circulation.

My main hope for my son is that he partake in this circulation, drinking deeply from the stream when coolness is needed, burning brightly when heat is wanting, and feeling the sacred in the world.

Together we walk down the road, rocking, swishing, swaying, and listening to the crackle of the tawny fallen leaves of oaks and beeches.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Roses

I picked this red rose because its stem was broken. This particular plant has three admirable traits: pollen for insects, a pleasant scent, and prolific blooms. Many cultivated roses lack the former two, in favor of a cultivar dripping with flowers and multiple petals.

The cultivated rose lacks rosehips, which our native swamp rose (above) has. Having cut hundreds of multiflora rose bushes down and suffered many, many ugly cuts and thorn-splinters, I'm ok with that.

Swamp rose in bloom at a local nature preserve. Five petals, a wonderful treat of pollen, nectar and scent, rich rosehips in autumn - a perfect thicket only nature can create.

Two cultivated roses, one red and one yellow, were the only plants (except grass) that grew by our house when we arrived exactly five years ago. Since then, we've planted Carolina allspice, swamp rose, cardinal flower, closed gentian, burdock (oops, but it's ok, we used it once for a good tasting meal a few years ago and I now have a burdock tincture brewing), blue flag iris, wild ginger, and hearts a burstin'. We replaced the volunteer Joe Pye that a vole chewed up. Other volunteers are spotted jewelweed, bristly aster, mayapple, goldenrod, Virginia jumpseed, ironweed, shrubby dogwood, Asiatic dayflower. Less desirable are the Japanese stiltgrass and gill over the ground.

The yellow rose puts on about zero to three blooms per year. The red rose is more prolific with dozens of blooms. The red rose has much more personality as well. When it reaches window height waves in the wind. On moonlight nights, it regularly scares me - waking from deep sleep, the blooms appear to be peeking in the window. I picked Japanese beetles off the buds the first year, happy to have a beautiful plant near the house.

As our knowledge of native plants grew, we enjoyed the sympathetic recruitment of meadow plants around the house, bringing swallowtail butterflies and a succession of flowers. Gardening by neglect allowed the meadow plants to challenge the roses for sun and air circulation.

We had heard a nice story about it from our landlord - his father had insisted on nursing the roses back from death years ago. It didn't seem right to be ambivalent about this cultivated, non-native in this case. Nevertheless, with a rambling yard and ever-increasing vegetable garden the roses were ignored through several summers.

A year or so ago, Jared tried pruning the roses based upon a book's instructions, but the stems died back by 6" or more at each cut. Typically, he's an ace pruner, despite my initial shock at most of his pruning efforts - "Where's the plant?!" "Don't worry."

The natural world has its way, its strange way. We recently purchased an essential oil - we were seeking a relaxing scent and chose rose otto for its ability to "balance." I began reading Rosita Arvigo's Rainforest Home Remedies and read again and again about the physical and especially spiritual healing properties of roses.

Jared was right. This year, the red rose came back despite the pruning and the drought. And now, nearly December, the red rose blooms just when we are seeking its power.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Kitchen Chemistry

No one likes to be the one who accidently buys diet version of a food product. This afternoon, we narrowly avoided purchasing "Kosher Chicken Broth. no fat." Luckily we caught the small print. No fat? How do you make no fat chicken broth? Horrible.

The above diet cream soda was a stow away. I am certain that the individual who has my regular cream soda enjoyed the taste of real sugar. It's uncanny how stevia tastes exactly like aspartame or whatever fakery is in diet Pepsi and Coke sodas. Again, horrible.

Sometimes things go well in the kitchen and other times... I confuse baking powder and baking soda while making breakfast. Into the compost bin goes the last of the maple syrup, drizzled onto somewhat burnt pancakes that taste like an automobile battery. All that's left on our plates is a slice and a half of bacon each.

Tonight's dinner featured a couple of those elements. I abandoned Jared who was working on a Vietnamese recipe, kind of. Does anyone of eastern European descent have over 50% of ingredients required to make any Asian recipe, unless it is in Betty Crocker's cookbook? Regardless, the chopped cilantro from our garden smelled great, and we had dried Asian mushrooms. It was a start.

We've already established that I have a tough time reading labels and distinguishing one white powder from another, so I'm not a great cook. Jared is. I often help by chopping vegetables and filling pots with water, or doing the dishes. Tonight, I did the last two and meandered off to write about Indiana Dunes and Cheesequake State Park.

"Could you put on a cup of water for the mushrooms?" Jared asked. "We'll make a tea and then use the mushrooms for dinner also. Is that ok?" Jared's been reading Mycelium Running, a book about using fungi for ecological restoration and cultivating them for food and medicine.

I'm not a big mushroom person, but I'm trying. Last night when Jared asked, "What would you give someone who spent a couple hours leading a nature hike in the cold and had to shout to be heard by 18 hikers?" "Chamomile and honey," I replied and put water in the kettle. I added some reishi (medicinal mushroom - very popular in Chinese medicine, I believe) that my mother in law had given us awhile ago. I thought it might add a soothing and mucilaginous angle to the tea. It worked - no sore throat.

When I returned to the kitchen after my writing was done, and said "Mmm, smells really good." Jared stated, "I've made a meal that you probably will not like, and I may not like either." I had detected a mild burning aroma while typing, but was too selfish to see if he needed help.

"The noodles are not rice noodles, but tapioca, so they're somewhat stiff. The label just said 'vermicelli.' "

"Did we get them at the Asian market?" I asked unnecessarily as Jared pressed the noodles down into the skillet with the spatula.

"Yes, so I put them in the skillet to try to make one of those fried dishes." I saw an image of a golden deep fried noodle dish--Bird's Nest--that my family once ordered at our favorite Chinese restaurant in Phillipsburg. I glanced at Jared's spatula mashing the greyish noodles. He continued,"The dried mushrooms are rubbery, too."

"Well, the pieces are small," I said cheerfully. "I tried to chop them up."

"Well, it smells really good. How about a cream soda?" I replied with even more cheer.

"OK! How about you add some milk?"

"Of course!" The soda idea worked, I thought, for both of us.

I picked out a couple special glasses and poured half the soda in each and added a bit of milk. I put them on the table while Jared dished out the food.

I took a sip. "Mmm. Oh yuck, this is diet!"

"What! How could they sell that? It doesn't say that on the box!"

Some dirty dog had slipped one Virgil's diet cream soda into the four pack. Like Russian roulette, I chose the one clunker soda in the box.

Who did this to us?! Who ruined this meal?! Who hates us?! we shouted.

The meal actually tasted good, and I dumped the stevia soda and refreshed our glasses with real sugar soda. [Our neighbor made cookies with granulated stevia and reported that they were unacceptable for even the compost].

Happily, we chewed on the noodles and meatballs and Brussel's sprouts (my addition to the meal).

I asked, "What happened to the mushroom tea?"

"It's smell didn't recommend it."

"What did it smell like, Jar?"

"Wet pets."

Cheesequake State Park and Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore

Looking across from one dune across the channelized wetland to the next. We had a long view of an egret and closer views of yellow rumped warblers. Deer browse was not so bad on these sandy peninsulas.


The inner and outer coastal plains are good places for good hikes on easy terrain. On Halloween we went to Cheesequake State Park. Just as Round valley reminded me of Maine with an invasive plant problem and without the pitcher plants, Cheesequake reminded me of the Indiana Dunes with a deer problem and without regular controlled burns. Both have rolling dunes covered in acidic oak forest.

Phlox, hoary puccoon, and spiderwort were blooming in mid-June at Indiana Dunes, and the understory of sassafras and ericaceous shrubs were kept in check by prescribed fire. The dunes rolled up and down and eventually to Lake Michigan, which looked like a lazy, shore lapping ocean.

At Cheesequake in October, maple leaf viburnum was burgundy, sweet pepperbush yellow, and tupelo pink. The dunes poked their fingers into the marshes. Peeking into the windows of the just closed nature center, I saw a framed photo of a solitary pink ladies' slipper orchid. I imagined this place as beautiful and as rich as Indiana Dunes... if only there were far fewer deer.

This park was loaded with Eagle Scout projects: osprey platforms, elevated trail decking, post and lintel trail entrance markers, osprey platforms, etc.

Indiana Dunes, a living sculpture of different shaped leaves.

Indiana gas station parking lot provides an easy walk.

Observing the wildflowers on the way to Lake Michigan.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Say When

Making remedies in the kitchen on a rainy day.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

October 10, 2010

I'm sure numerologists found 10/10/10 a remarkable day. Thinking of 'tens' reminds me of a couple different times in my life -

1. Units and tens in grammar school math classes. I recall workbooks with die cut single blocks (units) and stacks of ten blocks (tens) and a ten by ten grid of blocks (hundreds). The private school I worked at a few years ago had blond wooden blocks for the same use. That's the difference between a public school in Rahway and a private school in Princeton area.

2. A short-lived basement-only band named Tens Unit that I sang for circa mid 1990s. Unfairly or maybe fairly, the band was named for the Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation unit that a bandmate's unpopular boss used to control pain.

3. An odd, very odd co-worker at a Phillipsburg bookstore asking my birthday, and replying, "You were born ten days and ten years after me. We must be connected in some way." My brows furrowed, and I excused myself. A 29 year old guy saying this to a young woman 10 years his junior - well, I interpreted that as "I'm going to stalk you." I never spoke to him again, and he was fired for throwing hardcover books at another female co-worker just a week later.

4. Here's a photographic tour of 10/10/10:

Outside

Laundry. Lots of similar-looking socks.

Inside

A long shot of "the other side of the house." Most of the clutter is cropped out of this image.

Photographs to be framed for an upcoming exhibit Jared and I are in.

Horrendous graphic design.

Framing hardware and one of our to do lists.

The framing process takes up yet another room.

Mullein seeds collected before I knew they were fish poison and had no medicinal value.

More herbal homework - primrose seeds, still not processed as of today.

Lavendar wands and amaranth seedheads - partially processed as of today.

Clutter.

Jared's seed collection.

Beets form the garden. Top left, okra seeds, still awaiting processing for seed or craft.

Hot pepper harvest - finally processed into paste and pickles after tasting a friend's homemade hot sauce.

Burdock root tea. Supposed to be good for you. Started as tan, but turned green while we were in the garden. "Not bad tasting. Good for you. Yeeeach."

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A flat, easy walk

At the shallow end of the reservoir lies East Area at Round Valley Recreation Area. A developed picnic area just a short distance from the beach. Mid-morning on a Monday in October.

We arrive in the first parking lot that looks like an accessible picnic spot with a view of the water. Crows reel around a solitary red tailed hawk. Canada geese paddle far off. We open our tubs of cheese and crackers and pasta; we switch after a few forkfuls. A Cooper's hawk perches in a tree just off the reservoir.

An osprey whirls by, low and lands in another tree facing the reservoir. We bite into an Asian pear and apple each. We alternate between eating and watching with our binoculars.

From a nearby tree, the Cooper's hawk leaves her perch and scatters a murder of crows from the parking lot. She lands in a maple, perches, and flies on. I scan the sky for ducks and hawks.

"Osprey! Osprey! Osprey!" Jared exclaims. I drop my binoculars into my lap.

I see the osprey about 20 feet above the water's surface, and then splash into the reservoir. Only the birds talons and legs break the surface. Away the osprey flies with a fish glinting in his grip. The crows ignore the osprey, we wonder why and we wonder why the osprey flies away to eat.

Water Trail--the reservoir becomes deeper and we observed no water birds, but fishermen and kayakers paddled by as the clouds gathered.

We take the flat and easy Water Trail which follows the water's edge. In a cheerful mood, the mixed coniferous plantation reminds us of Maine, with many invasive plants and without the bog plants and the long drive. Some of the Chinese bushclover has been parasitized -- dozens of stems show grotesque swelling. Could be great news.


Black locusts, sycamores, and red cedars grow along the shore.

A robust patch of mountain mint. Virgina mountain mint also grows at Round Valley. We noticed the aroma of Virginia mountain mint is not minty.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Signs of our selves


On my fourth trip into the basement today, I stopped at the base of the steps and asked myself, "Now, why am I down here?"

Pause. "May be I'll go back upst... oh, now I remember."

I looked around for the fire tending set - broom, shovel, coal rake, poker, and stand. I grabbed the hand bellows, but left the heavy, red kettle. I thought about how Jared rarely hangs up the tools on the stand after using them. And, last winter how I asked him to "try to remember to" hang up the tools when he was finished.

"Try to remember to" is the way we, married people, succinctly say, "This, this little gesture means something to me, not sure why, though it doesn't mean that much to you, and I am fairly certain that you will forget this request and I will ask again..." or kindly say, "Just once could you...?"

As I bumble up the steps, fireplace tools clattering, I also remember how we instated the household policy "Follow Through" in 2009. "Follow Through" is an extension of the desperate "Stewardship of the Home" initiative.

One weekend day, as we ate in the dining room which is entry to the house, I glanced around at piles of shoes and work-related backpacks, tools and papers. "You know, I really don't like seeing all this work stuff on the weekend. Maybe we should put away our work items as soon as we come home." We agreed. Away went the clippers, GPS, reminders to email so-and-so, nitrile gloves.

We also agreed to eliminate or minimize work talk between ourselves and with friends. (My brother has a no work talk policy with his friends. He claims to not know what some of his friends do for a living. Jared's sister says that work talk is considered rude and/or unimportant among friends in Germany.) Avoiding work talk is sometimes difficult and sometimes essential because our work is so similar, often involving the same ecosystems, if not the same nature preserves, the same colleagues, and the same problems. We also give each other sometimes helpful, sometimes unsolicited (read: unhelpful) advice.

Out of our efforts to limit work-related stimulation on time off, we established Follow Through - routine household maintenance. For example, shoes are kicked off next to the shoe rack, and follow through is needed as that shoes are put away. Unless the situation is escalating, one of us can gently and humorously remind the other by simply saying, "Follow through, kid, follow through." I will honestly say that it is mostly me that says this. Jared is not at all a messy person, but I am overly neat and overly willing to apply my standards to others.

Stewardship of the Home is reserved for serious cases of household disarray, as in "The carpet needs a controlled burn." or "Prescribed fire required to limit the thatch of papers on the desk." or "The toilet needs to be basal barked." Typically, the house has become so disorganized that we both agree to "steward the home."

***

In July, I made a chicory flower essence for my herbal apprenticeship. It is powerful. It gave me strength, flexibility and perseverance akin to the plant itself. I used it on days I knew I would need those characteristics. I also found it gave me physical strength to do a particular martial exercise that I formerly had only been able to partially complete.

Chicory is one of the 38 Bach Flower Remedies, and so its uses and personality are defined. Without researching its defined uses, I established what I thought chicory essence was to be used for, as was required for our homework.

I described my experience to my teacher and classmates. "Did you ever read what chicory essence is used for?" "No," I replied. She read about chicory from one of her books. As I best I can remember chicory is for those who mother from a judgmental and corrective angle, and could learn to let those around them be as they are, and love them regardless.

Flower essences are generally used regularly to be most effective. Since preparing the mixture, I have added chicory essence to my water, once to a few times a week.

***

While he prepared to leave for an evening meeting an hour ago, Jared asked me to fill a water bottle and to add chicory essence. I added a couple drops to my glass of water and sipped. Before he left he said, "Oh, the fire caught nicely. You can damp down the vent."

As he drove away, I waved from the front door, considered making a phone call, but instead shuffled to the computer, intending to research alteratives and tonics. I sat down at the computer and noticed the poker laying on the hearth, next to the stand. I thought of my husband and smiled.


Monday, September 27, 2010

Greenhouse just before watering, Monday, September 27, 2010
clockwise from left: mustard greens, cilantro, carrots, (sad) onions, beets, kale, dwarf pomegranate, parsley, arugula, beets, parsley, [leeks, rosemary, and thyme cut off]; violets and plantain interspersed

The greenhouse is moving along slowly in the shade of the white and pin oaks. We started our seeds about a month early, directly into the beds, rather than into seedling trays and then transplanted into the beds. I'm not sure which worked better, but the summer's heat made every thing difficult.

The carrots in the left foreground had been seeded months ago - they are tasteless and bug eaten. We pulled them all. I washed them but have not sampled another carrot...just in case they might be edible.

Overall our garden harvest was just ok. We made only a couple batches of fresh salsa and gazpacho each. By the time we remembered to make cucumbers in sour cream, we were on our last batch. We were able to freeze about 1 and a half gallons tomatoes and dry a pint of hot peppers (Hot, I think. the pepper plant always get mixed up - "Maybe the seed has crossed with a hot pepper?" Every year? Doubt it. Must be our error.)

I also dried a few herbs - rosemary, marjoram and mints (cat, pepper, and balsam - need to do lemon yet).

We made several pints of dilly beans and several quarts of brandied peaches (seconds) and received gifts of one pint each - figs and pears.

The wild, medicinal herb harvest was much better than the garden vegetable harvest. I made oils of dandelion flower, red cedar and white pine, violet flower, plantain, and yarrow. Syrup of elderberries. Tincture of dandelion roots, boneset and black cohosh. Dried couch grass and corn silk. This includes only what I can recall and excludes Jared's solo efforts.



Echinacea tennesseensis was one of this year's surprises. Started from seed and transplanted this year - several individuals bloomed with minimal watering. Other surprises: Our arnica transplants made several noble comebacks - we lost only one. And, boneset did very well this year with successive and long lasting blooms.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Today's Walk Along the Pipeline

Two Common Buckeye - Habitat: open, sunny, & with some bar ground. Hostplants: plantains, figworts, Schrophulariacaea (gerardia), vervains, etc.

We have all of the above just a mile away, but I have never seen a buckeye. Perhaps the meadow isn't big enough.


Frog in the only water left in the Sourlands.


Persimmon seeds


Caterpillar - I can't figure this one out. I didn't take a good look at the plant it was on.