I turn from the highway and am headed up hill into the sky, and there right above me, reclining on his elbow is Orion. I watch it, and the temperature as it falls steadily 17, 12, 10, 7 degrees F. in only a few minutes of driving. The sky is crystal clear, and the trees are black and heavy with snow, long arms reaching for the car as I carefully make my way north. Orion is with me, watching my progress, always the lazy observer. I reach my finger up and hook my finger in his elbow, and spin him. Head, shoulders, knees and toes, slowly in flickering circles. Magic.
It is not late when I get there, the house is warm, the greetings warmer. It is good to be home, to be with family.
I have missed them so.
I do little more than nap lazily in front of the fire.
I worry that I will one day, not be welcome here, anymore. It is an ugly fear. Undeserved.
Later, I use a bowl, purchased from my friend who is a ceramicist, and mix together herbs to elevate the mood, hibiscus, lemon balm, ginger for inflammation, borage picked by my own hand this summer, and St. John’s Wort, at my therapist’s suggestion.
I use a bowl given as a gift from my sister in law, caught with her dog on my bed in the giving, this one for high blood pressure, hawthorn berries, dandelion root, yarrow, harvested this summer, and linden flowers.
I mix it with a lovely magical spoon, a gift from my mom.
The gift from the north of my dear friend’s wisdom, and my daily walks, my own healing touch.
I sample them in small amounts for flavor and scent.
I use the stag mug that once long ago, I gave as a gift to my father, and the handle-less cup (good for wrapping cold fingers around) from the matching green set.
Later as Marley snores, and Orion peeks in my window, and Sancho groans below, my room smells of thyme soap and I write my words of magic.
Keep watching over me Orion, I always know you are there in the cold winter night.
Soon it will be spring, and you will have better things to observe, and I will still be here, waiting for your return.
I am truly an introvert, these windy, sunshiney scattered shower days are so deeply quiet, so deeply fulfilling. The neighbor, who is only here for two weeks, checks in periodically, to charge something electric, to shower with his wife and children, to ask if there is anything I need, or stops along the road to ask me if I have picked any wild blueberries yet. Other than that my only human interaction is a phone call from my mom, to my daughter, the pirate in his way only answers his phone, he is incapable of calling. The counselor told me, before I left to plan outings into public, but I hardly need it, I am feeling astonishingly strong and deeply moved, and touched by mother earth. Herons abound.
But each time I venture into one of the towns nearby, I am rewarded with just the right things. Today I am absolutely dizzy with congestion in my sinus, I found eucalyptus rub, and a book by Rosemary Gladstar, outlining several of her herbal remedies that are in the correspondence course on loan from my friend. Oh yes and wasabi, ginger chocolate truffles.
I have loved the quiet, and the long walks with the dogs, and the breeze keeping the bugs at bay. Especially the breeze keeping the bugs at bay.
Today I raided my friend’s cupboards, pulling out skullcap and lobelia, and vodka to make tinctures with fresh herbs from her garden, some to dry on her screen, though she has plenty of all jarred in the basement. Tomorrow I have to go and get more vodka, I used up the last drops, not much more than four shots worth, but I hate to leave her empty. These tinctures designed to help me sleep. Plus I stole a little of her mullein oil and put some fresh mullein flowers in it, to make ear drops for my daughter, who suffered terribly with ear infections as a baby, and still has to have the wax removed from her ears, and has frequent ear aches.
Off to deliver some cucumbers and squash to the neighbor, they will go bad before the family returns, and are more than I can possibly eat.
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.
“We’re so engaged in doing things to achieve purposes of outer value that we forget the inner value, the rapture that is associated with being alive, is what it is all about.” ~JOSEPH CAMPBELL
My inner world, this place inside me that is sometimes filled with self loathing and angst, finds peace, finds a serene place to rest in which the warm winds blow and the sun is warm, and the moon rises over quiet small lakes, and streams flow over broken rock, dragon flies dive float at eye level, inspecting me and finding me worthy. These moments of quiet, these days of learning, this life of self discovery, I am held aloft by the arms of angels, how lovely I am here, in this place where no one else’s love, or absence seems to matter.
We walk each morning up the climbing hill, and down again. He panting old and reluctant behind me, but never really leaving my side, loyal friend, best friend, I could never leave you, you with your salt flavored fur, you with your joyful smile upon my return, you with your charming hugs upon my knee, I could never leave you, just as you would never leave me for long, not for long. The other dogs thunder up to me, the scouting dog cutting in front of me and him repeatedly, you dogs whose DNA is so similar to his. The other, shyly approaches, shy affection, and I can see, a degree of loyalty, which I will have to work hard to continue to earn, when I rise you are the most excited as you leap in the air and spin in circles. And she, the scout, chasing turkeys cutting back around to me, but on the way home, my own stands by me, she goes ahead, and he peeks around curves to make sure I am there, before journeying forward.
And this is all a salve, an ointment, made of air, and abiding friendship, of laughter, of years of loyalty, of going away, but coming back because we must, because the love is too strong to leave behind. It smells of rosemary, for truth, of rose geranium for mental clarity, of citrus lemon, or grapefruit for refreshing quality, and juniper berry for some unnamed spiritual purpose, something akin to being deeply ones self in this increasingly homogeneous culture, a salve to sooth all the broken places, to replace all the empty places or perhaps to make the emptiness bearable.
A moment of quiet here, with its rustic gardens, its mountainous vista, its island of cool, its balm of loving loyalty, friendship, acceptance, its quietude of spirit and centrality of purpose.
I am not an artist in residence so much as a spirit in flight.
I look down at my foot just a few hours after I put the first coating of the Calendula Salve, first it looks like an oozy mess (sorry for those who did not grow up with a nurse as a Mom, nothing turns my stomach) then the ick turns to what appears to be a new growth of skin. This after several days of raw red flesh. The next day there is literally a few millimeters of new fresh skin I continue to add the salve, foregoing the antibiotic cream and band aids that I had been wearing on the sore on my ankle. And I continue to show steady, HOURLY improvement. Okay, I am hooked, the herbal medicine did more for me than the commercial ointment.
If you spend more than a few minutes in the Adirondacks you will know the most voracious predator here is not a mammal, or a reptile, but is insects. As if mosquitoes were not bad enough, you have the deer fly which seems to like flat wetlands, the horse fly, larger and with a painful vicious bite, both of which circle your head endlessly, annoyingly like the tweety birds in old cartoons when you hit your noggin. I have been known to swing my hat, my water bottle, or pick a pine bough and swing that over my head, and over the dogs, to the point where they come to me and ask for it, when the flies are stuck fat with blood on their snouts. But also the bane of Adirondack living is the hated black fly which leaves large intensely itchy bites, usually on your ears, eyebrows and neck, spawned in fast moving water, unlike mosquitoes which breed in any standing pool of water. The environment is perfect for bugs, rife with lakes, mossy bogs, swamps, wetlands, rivulets, streams, creeks, rivers, and lots of rain, there you have it, biting bugs mosquito, black fly, deer fly and horse fly (and don’t even get me started on deer ticks). When I was in South America I was astonished by the many open windows sans screens, and open bus terminals and open markets, how can you have such a thing, open windows, NO SCREENS? The screened in porch, the screened outdoor tent, designed just for sitting out of doors on a warm summer evening, absolutely ubiquitous in the Adirondacks. Air conditioners are not so much needed, because the temperature at night drops considerably, so as long as you open your windows at night (with screens) you cool what little heat there is in the house and there is little worry of night time visitors of the criminal variety, although there are bears, raccoon and fox which avoid houses with barking dogs, but love camper trash. Plus with the distance from large cities, you avoid the heat island effect, a trip to town may show a full 10 degrees or more temperature difference, the woods and lakes and streams keep it cool. Unfortunately in the Adirondacks, the insects have a blood thirsty predator which manages to slip through the small holed screens, they are called No-see-ums, and you don’t need to see them to know they are there. OUCH.
Later comes the itch.
Which is where my next salve comes in.
I have to put on a long sleeved linen shirt and the ever attractive net hat (literally the burka of the ADK’s – worn by men and women alike) and amidst picking the herbs for the salve, there is a steady sound of slapping bugs off bare legs. Fresh rosemary – grown in pots on the porch, lemon thyme, comfrey flowers and leaves, I raid her basement of a jar of dried plantain leaves, and ginger and tea tree essential oil. The smell of the herbs in oil reminds her husband of stuffing though to me it lacks sage which is the essential herb of stuffing; it has a heavenly fresh smell, a unique perfume that we both ooh and ahh over rubbing the oil on our arms. My friend watches me, while giving instructions, the first salve was more hands on from her, but not too much as she sits in a chair with her crutches propped up against the counter. But this is perfect, because I learn best by doing, ‘watching memory’ fades quickly for me, ‘doing memory’ fixes quickly. But she says to me, as I sniff the hot oil and beeswax, with the strong smell of tea tree and then hold the ginger up and sniff both, that I have a gift for this. I feel warmth from this compliment a deep warmth, that isn’t just from the ice cold chocolate vodka we are drinking, and laughing and chatting in her kitchen, while the children sleep with fans on upstairs. This is something I have always thought of doing, and spent hours as a young woman pouring over pocket herbals, and planting the right herbs in my garden, though I never did anything with them. The cauldron in my brain is bubbling. . .
I do not know, yet, how it works on itching, but it is made, and it has a lovely scent, and marvelous pale green color, but I already have plenty of bites on the backs of my knees, presumably after yesterdays 2 mile walk, and hour and a half quiet, solitary paddle.
I fall asleep to the sound of water, napping on the sunporch in the afternoon, in the dark cool bedroom at night, waking to the sound as the sun shines in the window by my head at dawn. There is something soothing about this constant sound, something quite unlike the constant hum of traffic, and electricity and sirens and the exclamation of the occasional gunshot that is city living. Creek water lullaby, better than the hum of my own mind, the noise it makes inside my head.
And there is something else here, in this vacation designed as a way to make art, but instead I see the light of other things entering into my consciousness. Things I am afraid to speak of, for fear of the corruption of corporate education latching on to my intellectual rebellion, and finding salvo in my words. I am quietly absorbing words like Waldorf School, Coyote Education, Unschooling, Homeschooling, Earth Arts, Creative Pursuits, and a distinct absence of dependence on the trappings of modern culture, things like commercials, television, DEET, Twinkies, Common Core and Facebook sound foreign coming from my mouth, and my mind is tonguing the taste of something of my youthful idealism; how exactly did I move away from food cooperatives, medicinal herbs, naturalism, and environmentalism? Where did I turn wrong, and now that I see it like an anti billboard how can I look away from it. This hellacious year did its number on my psyche, and I am rebelling in the only way I know how, trying to find a five year plan that gets me out of it, because I suspect it will otherwise eject me from it, vomiting me out or tossing me in the trash with my archaic notion of learning for the joy rather than the pedagogy, of making art for the pleasure instead of some measurable objective tethered mercilessly to the common core. Teaching children to think for themselves is an expense that cannot be afforded in the era of consumer capitalism, people who think for themselves will not buy into eat this and you will be thin, buy this and you will be rich, wear this and you will be beautiful, play this and you will be popular, the sponsors of our cultural solicitude cannot bear the outsider.
My friend grows herbs and makes medicinal salves and ointments, and today, I gathered blue starred borage flowers, lemon yellow mullein flowers and fragrant lavender flowers for her, and laid them on a screen in the upstairs bedroom to dry. We took the mullein flowers and put them in a double boiler with olive oil to make an ear ache medicine. Then we put pre-prepared calendula oil, sitting on the shelf for 2 months and shaved beeswax stirring frequently until the beeswax melted and then added a few drops of lavender essential oil and poured it into small jars. I took notes and enjoyed the exploration of the garden and learning about various uses of these specific herbs.
We apply the finished salve, A. to her post surgical foot, me to bug bites and an odd abrasion on my ankle that is not healing particularly well, specifically because it seems to be a magnet for the toe of my other shoe to kick, regularly, and quite unexpectedly, for no apparent reason. I have removed band aids which only seem to keep the wound open further, salve on. Tomorrow morning I shall report the results!