Sunday, February 28, 2010

Emerging from Winter in the Appalachians

Spring in the southern Appalachians is still some distance away. As I write this I am in my office with my shawl wrapped around my shoulders, my feet propped on a hot pad, and a cup of hot tea by my side. It’s been the story of my life this winter, which has been the coldest and longest anyone around here remembers for many years. It’s difficult to write about spring when the ground is still frozen and snow lingers on the shady dark northern slopes.

In spite of the cold and dark I feel the stirrings of my body and mind to emerge from my comfortable cocoon and get myself ready for Spring. The longings for comfort foods and sleeping late and long naps on the couch are beginning to fade, and my body needs to be outside more. I bundle up and head out with the dogs more frequently now and walk our favorite trails. My eyes automatically seek the first violets, toothwort, and bloodroot even as my brain knows it is much too soon. These plants still sleep under their blanket of snow and last years leaves in the still cold ground.

I see the occasional Mint sprig or baby Motherwort sprouting from the half barrel on my southern deck, peeking out from the snow, and then freezing and dying back once again as they learn the hard way that hibernation is still a necessity. Even herbs seem to get spring fever. The Akitas are blowing their coats, shedding clumps of dense winter fur that I scatter outside so that the birds and squirrels can have warm linings for their nests. The local raccoons become bolder, and try to raid my bird feeders, to the delight of my dogs who enjoy the chase and occasional capture.

I begin to make more energizing teas on the wood stove daily. Instead of the warming and comforting oat straw with ginger root and elderberries, pine needle, or Goldenrod and honey I find myself using more nettles, Holy Basil, and other green and energizing herbs. I start wanting my smoothies made with berries and coconut milk instead of hot eggs and bacon daily.

The difficult part for me as an herbalist is feeling those cravings for spring greens and herbs when there are still none to be had. I don’t want to use dried herbs. I want to forage and pick new tender shoots instead, but the only thing available is Chickweed, and I gorge on her whenever I find a patch under the snow. I have to satisfy that craving with frozen turnip and collard greens, fresh asparagus from who knows where, and citrus fruits that are expensive now due to the freezes even Florida endured. I find myself eating less meat and root vegetables and leaning more towards lighter nourishing soups filled with chopped greens and broths instead. I want salads and Balsamic vinegar. I eat an orange or a grapefruit daily now, after having no desire thru the long winter months for anything more than apples and an occasional banana.

Spring cleaning begins, not so much in my home as in my body. I mix myself a tonic of tinctures, using those from whole dandelion plants, cleavers, yellow dock, and nettle seed, and take small doses daily. My liver wants to clear out the sludge of winter indulgences from too many carbohydrates, and my sinuses, dried and irritated from months of cold temperatures and low humidity, wood heat and smoke, benefit from frequent use of my Neti pot with a drop or three of plantain and red clover tinctures, to tonify and lubricate mucus membranes.

I feel the energy of those plants working, clearing accumulated toxins gently and slowly, far different from the harsh cleanses and purges recommended by so many. There’s no need to insult my body with such. Spring awakenings should be slow, like the body from a long sleep; a gentle stretching and yawning and foraging rather than a rude awakening.

I long for my gardens to awaken, along with this mountain and all the green and furred and feathered inhabitants, but like those tiny Mints and Motherworts, I have learned to be patient; to give myself time to awaken slowly, to adjust to this new time, and to enjoy the time that is between winter and spring, just as I cherish dusk and dawn.

Soon enough I will be walking more daily, gardening and harvesting the spring herbs. Soon enough I will be too busy doing my spring and summer work helping others with their gardens and teaching my classes. But for now, this in between time is for me, a time to nourish my body and mind and prepare myself for the work to come.