Thursday, November 19, 2009

Herbs and Gardens

This week my marks the end of my first “What’s Your Tree?” group, which is a circle that I’m co-facilitating that meets weekly to help us clarify our purpose and find ways to act in the world that align with our deepest callings.  (It is not, however, based on some sort of Celtic Tree Oracle thing, as my friend Esse had thought when I first mentioned it to her.  It’s based off of the work of Julia Butterfly Hill, who became famous for sitting in Luna, an oldgrowth redwood tree, for over two years and thusly saved the tree from being cut down by Pacific Lumber).  Last week, we created collages for the future that we want to create, and rather than sit around and think yet again about the state of the world, I found myself drawn to images and words about the coming winter that I want to create for myself.

I’m the type that’s prone to the wintertime blues.  For the longest time, I had no idea what was going on – it simply seemed a fact that every so often, inexplicably, I would fall into heavy bouts of sleepiness, loneliness, sorrow, and an inability to concentrate.  It was my ex-boyfriend Jack, who I dated for seven years, who pointed out the connection with the seasons, which was a truly illuminating insight, however irritated and exasperated he seemed about it at the time.  But even after getting a sense of this, and learning that there was even a diagnosable name for what was happening to me (SAD, or Seasonal Affective Disorder), I still couldn’t figure out how to change it.

In the last couple of years, however, I finally realized that what I need to do to stay balanced and sane is to simply slow down and let myself breathe and be in the sun as much as possible.  Forget the weird “Happy Lights.”  What a SAD girl needs, at this time of year, is less commitments and more slow-cooked meals, naps, reading novels in bed, and movie-watching snuggled up with her lover.  That’s probably what we all need, really, but for the seasonally-affected it’s the only way to keep from spiraling down into what can feel like having PMS for three months instead of three days.

My collage was all about the desire, even the anticipation, of this slowing down: it began with “doing less creates more,” a clipping that came from a magazine article about a modern-day reworking of the ancient idea of the Sabbath; moving into an image of a chicly bohemian woman leaning against the doorjam of a farmhouse kitchen with copper pots hanging from the ceiling, to express my deep yearning for afternoons full of from-scratch chicken soup; but it was the illustrations of garden plans from Sunset magazine was the centerpiece of the whole thing, the crux of the issue.

And so plan we did.  This weekend, on a Saturday morning so early that even the farmer’s market was not open yet (can you believe how much I’ve changed?), Jason and I went down to Nomad Café in Berkeley and, over lattes, visioned and planned and dreamed and wrestled with the small square footage of the yard of the house we’re moving into at the end of this month, somehow managing to find room for vegetable beds, an outdoor dining area, a graywater from-the-washer irrigation system, a clothes line, and fruit trees.  Then, and only then, we hit up the Farmer’s Market and got ourselves our leeks and greens and pears for the week, even splurging for some grass-fed pork sausage and free-change chicken legs (just the legs, though – the breasts are too expensive).

That night at home, I was going through my favorite gardening book, Golden Gate Gardening, when I noticed Mallow, a plant we’ve been studying my herbal medicines class, in the chapter, “Growing Like Weeds.”  I kept flipping.  Chickweed, another one.  Dandelion.  Burdock. Curly Dock.  Plantain.  Wild Onion.  They were all there, every last one.

I’ve known for quite some time that some “weeds” are actually medicines.  It wasn’t until looking through this book, however, that I realized that almost all our weeds are actually medicines imported from Europe.

Suddenly, in a single breath’s time, a vision came to me: I saw an ancestors woman in a bonnet, on a ship moving across the cold waters of the Atlantic with her “pot herb” seeds carefully packed away, not knowing what her future held but hoping desperately that the medicines she was bringing with her would take root and grow in this new, unknown land.  She must have treasured those seeds, guarded them carefully against the salt sprays and the sun in the long months of the journey.  These seeds might be the only hope for her and her family in this untamed place, as essential as the food stores and seeds they brought with them.

Then another vision: a portly, middle-aged man is spraying Roundup on his lawn, cursing the dandelions that are growing there.  Inside, his young son (though no one will know this for a few years yet) has cancer.  The medicine that would have helped him strengthen his liver to be able to filter out the deadly toxins is just outside – also being killed beneath the spray.  Next door, another green, homogenous lawn.  And another.  All of the dreadful “weeds” eradicated by poisonous substances that can supposedly can somehow tell the difference between broad-leaf plants and narrow-leafed grass, between humans and animals cells and those of the “undesirables.”

Sometimes, I can’t even handle it…any of it, this whole messed up world.

Instead of ending with that thought, however, here’s another: in some indigenous tribes, an apprentice herbalist was only allowed to work with an herb once he had dreamed of it.  If that were the case for me, up until last night, I’d be two months into my program without learning about a single one.

But last night I finally dreamed of an herb.  In my dream, I was walking up a road in the hills where I lived, and came across a little white dog that was very wounded.  At first I thought it had been hit by a car, but then I saw what looked like massive puncture wounds or bullet holes in his third eye, his heart, and somewhere else (I can’t remember the third).  I took the dog up to the house, where my friend Ginnette – who has been appearing in a couple of these “animals in distress” dreams – was, and who incidentally is also in my herb class.  She was not nearly as worried as I was about the little dog, who seemed to be in good spirits in spite of its wounds, licking us and carrying on as little dogs do, saturated, concentrated little brainless bundles of love.  Then she, or someone or something else, said something about the herb Yerba Santa, which happens to be my herb of the week for class this week.

So, there ya go!  I wonder what the native herbalists would have said about such a thing?

1 comment:

  1. Riyana i love how you write, i could read your blogs all day long. I love the imagery you just gave me, of the ancestor-woman and the roundup-man, so vivid in my minds' eye now. can't wait to hear more.

    -love Esse