I am working diligently on studying and learning more about herbalism, using a correspondence course binder full of lessons, that A. has allowed me to peruse. Each day I look at two or three more writing each down in my journal and drawing pictures to go with it. It is cooler today and windy, so there are no bugs on the porch, and I sit in quiet contemplation for a couple of hours, reading, meditating, watching the wind blowing the birch and pine. I am at first annoyed by a loud buzzing sound which I take to be ATV’s in the woods, but soon discover instead a ruby throated hummingbird, and later a grey throated female, which he promptly chases off, he visits the lavender Hosta flowers several times as I sit in the cloud filtered sunlight. On a quest for golden seal, I have to ask her daughter to show me the fairy garden, where Lady’s Slipper and the herb I am looking for grow, though not with a great deal of lushness. The last several dry days perhaps have not been good to these shade loving wooded plants. I tell her, since we are out here, take me up to the glamping sight. Glamping being glamorous camping, as if there is such a thing.
On the way up I spot this toadstool.
And then the tent in the woods, looks ordinary on its raised platform, but it is not until I open the tent that I am visibly impressed. Heavenly.
As her daughter is using the battery operated air pump to make the bed harder, for a future stay, which I am now keen for, I explore the patchy sunlight around the sight, where I discover this plant.
I remember a walk up the mountain behind my grandparents’ house, my grandfather leading the hunt, my brother and I behind him, and my father behind us. He bent down and handed us a stick which was mildly flavored of what to me was Lifesavers candy, but to him, was this wild plant. I pluck a leaf and crush it in my fingers, yes, the fine mild scent of wintergreen.
My friend is excited at this find, another medicinal plant right at her finger tips.
I watch the rain forecast and the flood warnings carefully and in the end decide it is safe to drive my usual route past the dam and along the creek. The water is high below the damn, and the reservoir does not in any way resemble its December dry creek bed. It is a lake now, and close the the road where once there was sand. The creek is high and fast, but not unlike I have ever seen it. It is good to be in the quiet place, where I help my friend who is recovering from surgery. I want to be useful. I do not want to be the irresponsible and lazy 22 year old that once lived with her. We eat whole grain pasta with garlic scape pesto and beet greens and chard sauteed with garlic scapes with salt, pepper and a squeeze of lemon. I give her daughter a drop spindle and bag of roving she sets to work learning. I drink less than I usually do when I am here, she on pain medication, me determined to not spend the next 45 days of my life hungover.
In the morning the skies are grey, and I grab a rain coat and the dog and we begin the trek up the long hill. The song of the stream serenaded me in my sleep and I am well rested, windows wide and cool oxygen rich air deepened my slumber. As I walk fast up the steep hill, I immediately regret not bringing my hat, the black flies and mosquitoes are nearly nothing, it is the deer flies that pester us both, up and back. Soon I pick a piece of cedar and swing it over my head and along the back of the dog, keeping the flies at bay. He is slow on the way there and often looks back towards home, but I keep on until we get to the barn. I think, erroneously that the way down is easy and burns nothing, but my legs and lower back tell me otherwise, I can feel it in my muscles. This is good. I stop to take pictures of bladder campion and find a wild strawberry that I promptly eat. Delicious.
There is literally no deep and meaningful thought in this, only hope, potential, and wanting this summer to be special, and productive.
“And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” ~ Hamlet via Shakespeare
I wake early and blissfully watch a new episode of the BBC version of modern Sherlock Holmes. After an hour I got up and went to him, are you hunting?
No he says, annoyed, I guess not, I didn’t set my alarm right.
I know some women complain when their men hunt, and others join them. I was looking forward to the time to myself. The treasure of several days running of guiding the course of my day without encumberance
The day is cold and full of November, the grey swept away to blue and swept back to grey again as I lounge about all morning. He comes in cold and cheerful, but before long he begins to find things for me to do, though the activity of not being busy has occupied my morning.
Are you going to rake the leaves?
No, it’s too wet.
It’s perfect for raking leaves.
I will do it tomorrow, it is supposed to be nicer.
What are you making for dinner?
Do we have hamburger?
What meat are you putting in it?
I am making vegetarian chili for dinner.
I want meat.
Why are the lights on in this room.
Sorry I forgot.
Why is there paper towel on the floor?
Because the dog stole your napkin.
Listen. I am going for a walk now.
Because you are bothering me.
It is damp, the leaves are wet, the rocks slippery, the path slick with mud. My thoughts are on the life of another as I gaze at my black boots taking one after another step. Concerned I looked for her in the list of the dead. Instead I found her mugshot. My mind has not left her since. Though someone suggested it four years ago, I did not let her into my home on that snowstorm cold night out of some misguided attempt to win anyone’s favor. As she stood on my step, stricken, shivering, I saw her as a person first. All else came after. My sister said she would have told her to get the fuck off her property. I told her come in, it is freezing. It was what was to be done and nothing more. But here my mind is caught as I look around me at the bare trees; her personality and character are cold and stark, like an arctic desert. Her company is like uncombed sheep’s wool against a baby’s skin, awkward, uncomfortable. Her judgment of me, always left me feeling angry, hateful. But nonetheless, you do not throw out the known self, no matter how distasteful, in a snowstorm. For she was at the very least safe with me, and trustworthy to her own degree. I never expected to get anything back from her. I am caught though snagged as though on a branch, I wrote that story exactly two years ago. For a class. I called it The Squatter. I am like a hand with an eye drawn in it’s palm. That story came out of me nearly whole. I am filled with the shameful disgust of it. And you see, it is like a record skipping in my mind. How can we know these things? Just as I knew other things, things that no one told me.
I think on this notion that though I would have told you my heart was broken, I see now that it was just the egg shell that broke. Inside was this tiny soft yellow thing, how can you crush such a thing with it’s tiny egg tooth, softly peeping for sustenance? It is a gift of some strange knowledge, the magic, I think, as I clamber up a slippery slope, of all that unknown magic of the physical world. The proof that it exists only anecdotal.
I decide to leave her here on this wooded path. And as I walk out into the field the rain which is falling with a crisp snow sound, chickadees singing, a hawk piercing the sky with its hunting call, I stop to touch the dried grey head of a Queen Anne’s Lace, so beautiful at least to me. I notice the wind moving the leafless trees, they sway gently, I have this comfortable warm inside heart beat feeling of homeness. I listen to my breath and feel the cold on my bare flesh, though parts of me are sweating in my loosened sweater, hat now in the pocket, scarf open and softly moving in the wind. I am dressed as a romantic, as I make my way up the steep embankment, like a character from an Austen novel. Soon my romance will be replaced by a practical thing, ensconced in down and soft wool, layers bulky against the cold. The practicality is a survival technique but best of all to me flying birds soul is the romance of it all. I can bear the Novembers, only practicality makes the colder months bearable.
On the long path he steams ahead forgetting that I exist, I call him back, he reluctantly returns after much persuading. On state land again, I releash him. He pulls wanting his freedom, though he also stops to rest his head on my knee and smile up at me. Hey buddy. I say.
I relish this time, this place. There is something so sacred to me. Zen Buddhism ignores the sacred, says all of this is ordinary, that one should not yearn for the extraordinary. I feel sacred though, on the inside, as though this is all a gift.
Sacred. I whisper to the grey trees. Sacred. I whisper to the wet leaves. Sacred I whisper to the goblin rock. Sacred. I whisper to the egg tooth chick inside my heart. Sacred. I whisper to the homeless, mentally ill woman, whose tragic face I cannot forget. Sacred. I say to the birds that fly from the tops of the branches, into the windy, drizzly, cold, damp November day.
One of my close friends is a researcher in the field of plant biology and biofuels. She has been attending conferences this year on the subject of global climate change. The content of this kind of seminar that is probably not ever shown on the news because it doesn’t encourage the kind of fascination and returning viewers of people being murdered on the border of Mexico and the US or an internet romance gone bad when the step mother kills the step child. This is something that effects not just one family, it affects us all, it is not oh look what happened to them, it is look what is happening to us. I know, those naysayers who think this is something made up by the liberal media or by scientists who have nothing better to do than scare the crap out of us. But like the railroad bridge ahead that is too low, the signs are pointing out what is ahead, the flashing lights are blinding our eyes, and the rumble strips are slowing down the vehicle of human destruction but the tractor trailer motors on full speed ahead.
My sister sometimes says that this has happened in the past, that the CO2 levels and temperatures have fluctuated over time and that this is just one such fluctuation. The researchers are saying that the ice cores are showing twice the levels of CO2 in the ice than in any previous year in history. Previously the highest was 150 parts per million, now it is 300 parts per million. As for temperature fluctuations, I forget what my friend said was the proof but that scientists are surmising that the overall average temperatures of the planet have not been this high since its earliest times, while it was still forming.
I know that this woman I work with thought I was crazy when I said that the cities are warmer than the countryside and that I thought that it would make sense that the warmer areas could affect the cooler areas. A few weeks later I heard someone speaking about the heat island effect, that the rising temperatures of asphalt and concrete and city areas with increased traffic and human bodies actually effects the temperatures of surrounding areas.
(Oh and please forgive my misuses of affect and effect despite a high IQ and mad skills in English I have NEVER been able to sort out the usage of these words. And I use whom all the time at the right place too, so it is not a global problem in my brain.)
Also I know people like to think of the Earth as a giant system in which people who are so small cannot have a negative impact on. The say oh the emissions from the cars go into the atmosphere and they dissipate. The question is to where exactly? They are added to the overall gases of the air we breathe but they do not disappear. The ice pack is proof that emissions are not disappearing but instead as the oxygen is used for combustion the empty space where the oxygen was is replaced with CO2. It does NOT just fly away never to be seen or heard from again.
She told me also that the average snow fall for this area has gone down 1 inch a year for the last 20 years. I laughed as she said it because we were driving through the Fulton Phoenix snowbelt area and headed to Oswego on the shores of Lake Ontario. The wind whipped over the lake, and it was powerful and freezing. Why we have a nuclear plant there and not windmills is beyond my comprehension, but that is a story for another day. I gestured what about this I said, playing the devil’s advocate. You know they get more snow now than ever before. Ah yes said my friend knowing full well what I know. The lake no longer freezes so the wind whipping over it is picking up moisture and dropping it as snow, but as the temperatures continue to rise the snow will begin to fall as rain. In fact she said they are saying that our weather will be more like North Carolina’s by the year 2070. I am thinking to myself: how exactly is that bad? But as I am thinking it she is telling me that part of the reason this subject is being discussed in the area of plant biology research is because our area will begin to lose all of it’s maple trees, the apples that grow so readily will probably die unless we develop new varieties, and the grapes that grow in the regions will fare well because we will be able to grow more of the European varieties, I guess our Rieslings will go away to be replaced by Chardonnays. She said we will be buying Canadian maple syrup and eating the Empire apple from a region north of the border of New York. Perhaps in Quebec. (empire is a French word after all).
As we sat at dinner with a group of women who work in a veterinarians office we were discussing global climate change. They spoke of the extension of the heartworm season. It already is longer I say, I have to protect my dog from lyme disease carrying ticks all year now, not just in the summer. That’s true said one of the women. And I said, my vet has already started to recommend giving heartworm all year because of the freezes and thaws that are happening in every month, not just in January as they once did, which we actually called the January thaw. It doesn’t exist anymore. Of course up here in the snow belt they are not yet dealing with that, too much snow the freeze lasts and even when it does thaw the six feet of snow on the ground make hiking about in the woods a little difficult and there is no open water. I do know my plants geared towards zone 5 which might or might not survive are now living year after year. I don’t have to dig up my gladiolas every winter. And here in town, the snow melts to non existent off and on all winter, when once it snowed and never stopped til mid January and then returned until March.
I don’t have solutions, I am an art teacher not a scientist, and sure as heck too honest and too mouthy to be a politician. Can we at least attempt to mitigate the damage? I am not sure. Is change of this nature bad? Again I am not sure. It is what it is right? We will adjust, won’t we? Or will these changes cause the kind of changes we don’t want, like war, refugees, unwanted infestations of fungus, flooding, tornados, hurricanes, drought? Yeas we can pretty much count on all of this. We head onward, hurtling towards our future full blast. I feel sorry for our children and grandchildren.
The morning was brisk and cool but I was sleepy and didn’t feel like heading out so early. As I drive my daughter to school I notice that the leaves are starting to change. I decide to read another chapter of Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance out back with her as she does her homework. Wow it is really hot out here. I go to the high school where my friend Joe has been hired to teach Photography and 3-D art. I can see his tension. He is quiet actually for once, reserved. I look at his wife bug eyed, he is really stressed I say, I have never seen him this way. We all go out for pizza. It is mid afternoon but I really want to hike so I get the dog. On my way to the park I see a dump truck. It is rusty as all get out, and moving slowly up the steep hill. I take out my camera and snap a picture. If that represents the power of God we are in some seriously deep trouble. At the park I look back and see the sunlight at the top of a small rocky rise. I think this is more like God how I see it anyway.
There is a small chipmunk on the path and he slowly lopes off as we come around the corner. I walk on but notice the dog is not with me. I am calling him thinking he is pestering the chipmunk. Come NOW! I command but he isn’t coming. SANCH! Come Now! Nope. Huh that’s weird. I back track and find him stuck with his hind legs down inside one of the cracks. With two hands I take his neck by the scruff and give him a very slight tug and he pulls himself out. If he had to he would have done it on his own the big baby. I pat him and give him the dog version of the hug. Pull him against my knees and pat him. He won’t look at me.
On the path headed back to the parking lot, there is a patch of puffballs. They are pretty small the biggest maybe tennis ball sized. I remember the one I saw when my daughter was little. It was about the size of a basketball. I went home and told my neighbor. He made cajun puffball. It was the texture of soft tofu. I didn’t really like it, but I would eat it if I was hungry enough.
I am hot and sweaty. But I feel great. I feel really great.
It is the first night of camping. We have just set up our tent and it begins to rain. Our fledgling fire surely about to go out. Shortly we are drenched. Master Rinzai says to not be swayed by the events of nature. But here we are soaked with nothing much to do but be soaked, and even the dog is miserable. His tail between his legs and his butt just barely off the ground. He looks up at me utterly dejected. What the F___ says Ben. We are already soaked lets just walk down to the beach in the rain. Ah Zen Master Ben, how correct you are. Let us delight in our soaked and sodden selves.
Next day I read him this, and he says with a goofy grin, yep I am a Zen Master. Let’s go buy fireworks.
I am bitching like crazy. Morgan has changed her mind a thousand times. Let’s just climb Black Bear. It is a tough hill and I don’t want to just go for a walk, I want to go for a hike. At the top we have to push and pull the dog over the slippery granite. At one point I cannot go on. I am whining like a baby. But Ben reaches out with two hands and pulls me up. We pass an old man, in his seventies at least, he is all worried about the dog, yes sir I say he has water, his own bottle with a dish attached, yes sir he has had some. And another man who comments to Ben about the dirty muddy paws, as I pass I say, when you hike with dogs you are prepared for these things, we have towels. On the way down Ben runs with the dog. Playing. I say to Morgan he will sleep like the dead tonight. Who? she asks, Ben or the Dog. Yep. Both.