Tuesday, April 1, 2008
Plant Spirit Journeys; Poke
Sonny was sick with cancer, and Sonny was going to die, soon. All the Vets said so. The form of cancer he had was aggressive, and no chemotherapy was even offered. No hope, just surgical removal of the offending kidney and a death sentence, a precious few months at best.
I was devastated and paralyzed with fear. Cancer had touched my life before, as it has so many others, and I’d watched as my grandfather, friends, and even my husband suffered and died under that curse.
As an herbalist and a hard headed woman I couldn’t simply accept that. I thought of all the possible things I could try, and suddenly Poke came to mind. I had harvested a root last fall and tinctured it, long before I had any idea that I would be using it against such a powerful entity as cancer. I needed to know more; could this plant help? What dose should I give? Was it dangerous? Could it make him sicker or even kill him? To gain the answers I knew I needed to journey into that realm where everything is the same, yet everything is different. Colors brighter, sounds clearer and more easily understood, and the plants and animals, well, they’re different too, and they use this special and sacred place to speak to us, if we dare to ask.
And so I sat with a poke seed in my hand and the bottle of tincture in the other, and waited for the door to the otherworld to open and take me down among the spirits of animals, stones, flowing waters, and plants. My body remained still and in trance on the futon while my own spirit, freed of my earthly body and limiting beliefs soon found the way.
I walked, along the banks of a rushing creek tangled with huge boulders, greeting familiar spirits I’d conversed with before, eyes ever watchful for whatever form the one I was seeking might take. Most of my visions involve women, old women, old wise women, and this time was to be no different. Very soon I came upon a grove of Poke weed, tall and stately, huge green leaves shading magenta stalks, dark ripe berries hanging in clusters almost breaking the stalks with their juicy weight. Among the wrist thick stalks I found a smallish tree stump and sat to wait for her to appear in the green faery light that filtered through her leaves.
Quite suddenly she was beside me, and I studied her as the silence between us remained. She was old, that ageless kind of old, skin like paper, hands cracked and lined with deep veins much like a dried and fallen leaf. She sat stooped as if by years of arthritic changes, joints enlarged, fingers claw like. Her clothes were hard to distinguish from the green and magenta and purple and red clay. She seemed to materialize from these things with no beginning to her form, no end to that of her camouflage. Her face was deeply lined, hair long and tangled and gray with none of the silver highlights mine possessed, and she looked at me with ancient eyes, in which I saw a multitude of things; wisdom, knowledge, patience, compassion, and yet underneath I felt a sense of her power, deep, moving, undeniable, even dangerous. I hesitated. She waited.
When I finally spoke I greeted her as respectfully as I knew how, telling her who I was, sensing she already knew both my name and my reason for the visit, yet feeling I should go ahead with the formal statement anyway, out of courtesy. She nodded and waited, letting me sit in my confusion and shyness, while I sensed she got a tiny bit of enjoyment out of my feeling intimidated. Finally I blurted it out; my Sonny has cancer, and they sent him home, and I don’t know what to do.
She looked at me, still waiting.
Can you help us? I asked finally. She looked confused for a minute, and I pointed to where I could see Sonny with his sister Shine nearby. She turned back to me then and spoke, nodding. Her voice as dry as her skin, but with that same power I’d sensed earlier she simply said; “We love Sonny. We love to watch him play.” I knew then we’d connected. One thing Sonny was known for was his playful puppy like attitude, his joy of life, and the games he played continually with Shine in their fenced in area, heavily populated by Poke herself.
I sat for awhile with Granny Poke, telling her his story, and the frustration and helplessness I felt. She never said another word out loud, all our communication was internal and unspoken, but when I finally rose to leave I knew what dose to use, and for how long, and I knew that it would have a powerful effect on his health. I got no promises of a cure, nor did I ask for one. I would be content to simply have my dog as healthy and free of pain and suffering as possible, and I knew she’d give us that for as long as she could.
I knew I’d earned myself an ally, a very powerful teacher and mentor, and that my journey with her was beginning here with this one dog, this one question answered.
I gave Sonny that poke tincture. He got strong again. He thrived. His blood and lab results returned to normal values. He lived for another two years and nine months, well past the time given him by the experts, and a long full life of almost twelve years for an Akita. He played among the Poke stalks with his beloved sister in summer, sleeping with her in their shade. He sported stains from the berries on his thick coat. I like to think that Poke marked him with her own tattoo.
As for me. I felt no loss when Sonny did die. I felt victorious instead. I had become empowered by a plant spirit. I got answers when there were none. I got miracles when there were none to be had. I had an ally, a very powerful one who is always there for me whenever I ask. I walk my herb walk trail with children and tourists and I tattoo my own face with her juice in celebration of her warrior spirit. The children laugh, the adults no doubt resolve to get away from this strange lady, and Poke smiles at us all.