Monday, April 14, 2008
Medicine Walk 4/10/08
Spring has come to the mountain, and she is waking up. Another warm sunny day finds me eager to walk my trail, hoping to see more plants peeking up. The dogs and I head out, me armed with camera and walking stick, they with their noses. The recent rains have encouraged new growth, making me hunger for sightings of old and dear green friends, and I am not to be disappointed.
We come to the place of the Fairy Wands, and I stop, straining my eyes to see the first shoots. I am rewarded to see many new young rosettes poking up through the thick mulch of last year’s fallen leaves. The Fairy Wands are back, and I stop to gently caress one on the bank beside the road. My camera captures the new growth and I move on, heading up now toward the old logging road.
More ferns unfurl their stalks, reaching up toward the sunlight that shines through the trees unhindered by new growth. Partridge Berry vines cascade down a cut in the bank, glossy round leaves looking like green rosary beads against a background of red clay, mosses gently cushioning the graceful foliage. I like to imagine miniature people living in caves here, their homes lined with moss made beds.
Sassafras is beginning to send out her first blossoms, and I stop to smell the green citrusy scent, and I gather a few for tomorrow’s tea. The Rhododendrons are adding fat buds to dark green leathery leaves and soon the forest will be decorated with the amazing white flowers with pink accents.
I stop near the crest and wait while the dogs hunt, Bella’s eager yipping indicating a rabbit nearby, and she is joined by Rusty and my younger Akita Mintaka, who goes along as backup. I love to watch them. I see their wildness, something that can never be bred out of even the most domestic of dogs. They rejoice in the freedom of this mountain retreat we have found, and their happiness fills my own heart.
We continue and come to a place where construction has begun on a new homesite, the raw earth red and crumbling, trees crying spring sap from bare stumps that will never again sport green leaves and branches or provide homes for the multitude of wild things that inhabit this place. I am sad that development continues, but also hopeful that these new people will have the same appreciation of this place that I have.
We hurry by that place and as I walk I spot a tiny patch of white against the still brown background, low to the ground. I step from the trail and am elated to see the first spring blossom of Bloodroot. I take a picture and come back to the trail, knowing that when one blooms, they all do, and that I will soon see many as I approach the watershed. Sure enough I see more and more, hundreds of them now, some single, some in clumps, flowing down the mountain following the path of the recent rains. They look like little snow balls among the browns and greens. I take a few more shots, trying to capture the magic of this little endangered herb that has such a history of use. The leaves are still small, wrapping the single stalk, waiting another few days to unfurl their bear paw shape.
The dogs gather around me, curious to know what I have found, and then wander away when they see Mom is overly excited about nothing but a plant. Their goals differ, wanting warm furry scents in contrast to my need for green. They again busy themselves checking out holes in the bank or those small hollows that seem to be in every other tree. More homes for the Little People I smile to myself.
I spot a small dot of lavender and I move to take a picture of a violet, but it’s not violet. Toothwort! I’d forgotten how this lovely graceful plant blooms along with the Bloodroot, thin straight stem supporting a cluster of bell shaped flowers. I see several of them, growing among the leaf litter and one sticking right out of the otherwise bare and muddy bank.
I reach the crest where the road splits and I stop for my morning prayers. As I look around gratitude flows in my veins, my spirits lifting in response to the awakening mountain. The trees are beginning to sprout tender green leaves now, and I see the red blossoms of maples contrasting with the pale green yellow Sassafras flowers. The honeysuckle vines are climbing already, green split leaves that will soon turn to the more rounded and familiar ones. I remember the heady scent and know that soon enough they will bloom.
I look upward, across to Linville Mountain and I see that she too has green growth, the far away foliage lending color to the formerly drab winter coat. Soon that mountain and my own will be a solid mass of green when viewed from the highway, punctuated by the rock cliffs and outcropping and the dots of homes at the ends of roads that look like veins amongst the green.
Then I see the violets. They are everywhere now, decorating the forest floor with blooms ranging from pure dark purple to a pale lavender to various stripes and dots. So many! The green heart shaped leaves grow in small clumps now, looking like little bouquets of happiness. I bend low and try to catch the fleeting scent, and am rewarded with a hint of fragrance. I take many pictures here.
We reach the road again and I stop to munch on Chickweed, happy and green and lush growth loving the cool wet spring we are having. I see the tiny star shaped white flowers. I munch a few of them too. Dandelions are now out in full force and I know I will be digging up a few to add to my supper, and I’ll be gathering flowers before they can turn into the fluffy seed heads to make massage oil. I toy with the idea of making wine or mead this year as well. A large
rosette of Mullein sports drops from the morning dew like jewelry, and I see the first Robin’s Plantain with its many petaled lavender colored flower.
I pause before we reach the yard, taking in the beauty of the dogwoods, now in almost full bloom, the white cross shaped blossoms on branches just now beginning to sprout green leaves. Sparrows and finches dart out of my boxwoods as I stop to admire yet another variety of purple striped violet. I grab a few young Plantain leaves and enjoy their flavor too. Soon everything will be green and summer will be here.
My new garden bed still sleeps under a thick cover of straw and leaf litter. I will plant the first week of May, having learned hard lessons my first few years here about late freezes and spring snows. This year I will have squashes, winter and summer, sweet potatoes, peppers, beans and tomatoes here.
Heading to the back yard I check my herb gardens. In my small culinary garden I see garden sage, oregano, thyme, and chives, which winter over, providing me with fresh tastes through the cold months. Comfrey leaves peek through the straw here and I sigh at my foolishness of the year before when I transplanted it to the other medicinal garden closer to the house. Each root left in the earth is now a new plant, and I figure I’ll have Comfrey for the whole neighborhood.
I see tiny new leaves of Yarrow as I approach my medicinal garden. I love this plant, as she is one of my allies and teaches me. Here Comfrey grows in earnest, a long row of leaves already large enough to harvest and eat or make medicine or soap. Motherwort that stayed green all winter is growing tall now along the back next to my climbing rose bush and my clematis vines that share the trellis attached to the house below my bedroom window. Rosemary treats me to her fragrance as I brush by. Echinacea leaves poke up in rosettes beside the Feverfew, and the silvery green foliage of Wormwood stands beside the Tansy. In the front row I see the first leaves of Skullcap coming back, and I stop to caress the Mugwort. I taste a fresh new leaf from Lemon Balm and smile at the lemony flavor. I will have good tea this year.
I turn then and head to the back of the property to my circle, hoping to see the Lady Slippers coming up. Too soon. I long for the sight of the delicate pink moccasin shaped blooms of this rare orchid. My feet sink into the deep carpet of moss here under the Hemlocks that surround my Green Man and I stop to admire him and
thank him for his presence. I rake a few of last year’s leaves from around the collection of crystals and stones that I have slowly added each year around the Man standing guard at the east side of my circle.
Wandering down to the pasture I check the apple trees I planted a few years ago. They were tiny twigs when they arrived, dwarfs with five varieties grafted to each tree. They are taller than I now, but have no blooms. I sigh. Green leaves already coming out. Maybe next year they’ll bear. My Cherry bushes are fully leafed, the multitude of blossoms from a couple of weeks ago now gone. I hope there were enough bees out to pollinate so I can have my first crop of cherries this year. My Wisteria is up, sending out new tendrils to climb my fence and the suckers from the old Chestnut stump.
I peer over the split rail fence between the pasture and the lower part of my land that borders the creek, trying to spot the first shoots of the Black Cohosh that grows profusely there. Nothing yet, but I smile at the Bloodroot that happily blooms.
I return to the house through new growth of Blackberry canes and wonder if I should eliminate some of them. The ground is dotted with more and more new green growth, much that I cannot identify.
I pause to hug dogs who are now all muddy from a quick trip to the pond to hunt frogs and head into the house. My walk has recharged me and readied me for another day’s work at computer and kitchen.
Tomorrow we will go again, and we will see new things.