Our plans to bury the recently deceased Nocty were thwarted by the deep freeze we are in. The ground is rock hard. The bird too.

I put Nocty in an empty feed bag and rolled it up. I’m keeping her on the porch so no big animals can get at her. As for the little ones, the undertakers, they won’t start their work until the body defrosts. Amie asked why, and I explained we humans are about 60% water and I suspect it’s somewhat similar for a chicken. She got it right away with regard to the chicken. It blew her mind that the same goes for the soil. I couldn’t say how much water is in the soil, but all the tiny spaces between the mineral molecules were flooded when it rained or when the snow on top of it melted, and then that water too froze. So the soil per se isn’t frozen, but the water that saturates it is. That’s why my shovel can’t make a dent in it.

Thinking of it now the similarities between the state of the bird and the state of the soil go further. Both seem brittle, parched, dry, because the water in them can’t do its thing, that is, moisten and move.  The soil should be awash with life and so should Nocty – Amie believes that firmly now, that Nocty should rot and give her body back to the circle. But the bird, the creatures who will do the rotting (the washing), and the medium in which this can be done (the soil/the water) – all are waiting.

Looking down into the brown paper bag at the golden brown feathers, it doesn’t feel right that she’s neither alive in the chicken-sense, nor in the rot-sense. I hope we’ll have a thaw soon.

After reading Lauren Scheuer’s book, Once Upon a Flockin one swoop, Amie now has a favorite blog: Scratch and Peck, which is adorable and very funny and, well, about chickens! She has decided that this Spring we should get one Barred Plymouth Rock, one Black Australorp, and one Buff Orpington, just like Ms. Scheuer has!

In the last few days I’ve come across no less than three children (all 8) who think babies are born by being cut out of their mothers’  bellies. That adds to the child who, a couple of months ago, said this to Amie, who immediately set the record straight. What with all her exposure, from a young age, to David Attenborough’s documentaries, my kid knows about mating and birth in detail. It was a bit of a shock to the other girl’s mom (a GP) when she heard the life lesson her daughter had just received. And then it was a bit of a shock to me what that mom’s reaction was!

Anyway, that’s all water under the bridge. But it worries me that children now think that C-sections are the way children are born, “naturally.” It means that the girls are scared witless, for one, and “never, ever want to have babies!” But what really scares me is that here is yet another essential function of a culture down the drain. The other two are initiation into adulthood, and death rites. There’s a slew of others, of course, like where food comes from, respect  for elders, the preservation of the earth for future generations, etc. But these come out of and after the three basics: birth, initiation, death. Our children are born in hospitals, with only the parents present. Our youth lacks any kind of clear transition into adulthood. Death is hidden away.

If it does not give guidance in the landmarks of our lives, a culture is truly an empty shell and the men who live by it are hollow. All it gives guidance in is the latest style in fashion, what new technological gadget will make you happy, how much money this or that celebrity makes. When  it does reach us deep in our foundations, it disempowers us with fear, submission to the political/economic powers that be, and the suspicion, truthful, finally, that our lives are meaningless.

In this culture, our children are not prepared. We do not prepare them. What do we do about it?

For this reason I’ve become interested in cultures that still give the precious gifts of initiation rites, death rites and birth rituals to their community (let’s not use the language of the dominant culture, that they are “public events,” for that  immediately befouls the goodness). Not to adopt these other cultures – I would be extremely uncomfortable with that – but to learn from them. What do their rites look like, what do they do? Perhaps they will help me recognize the remnants in my own culture(s) and then I can perhaps revive them. And, if my culture turns out not to be redeemable, they will help me make a new one.

That is the task, simple as that. All you have to do is say yes to it, and start the work.

I’m sitting at my desk, drinking hot tea of

.         chamomile,

.     peppermint,

.   licorice,

and honey. There’s a book openin the pool of lamp light. It’s William Carlos Williams’s Collected Poems, at “Asphodel.” Reading it is like descending, step by step, into a deep sorrow, from

.   root,

.     to leaf,

.       to flower,

The one you hope will never open and unfold. The one you hope you will never see blossoming, billowing. Williams writes:

 

The poem

.                  if it reflects the sea

.                                      reflects only

its dance

.                 upon that profound depth

.                                     where

it seems to triumph.

.                  The bomb puts an end

.                                    to all that.

I am reminded

.                  that the bomb

.                                    also

is a flower

DSCF0050

This is (four days shy of)  two month’s worth of trash: one 30 gallon bag (our town uses PAYT – Pay As You Throw – and these bags cost $2 each, which is still way too little if you ask me) and an assortment of recyclables.  I didn’t weigh all this before taking it to the Transfer Station, but I doubt it came to 6 lbs. per person per month (the value I usually put into our Riot).

On the way back from the Transfer Station Amie and I stopped  by our town’s Winters Farmer Market to see the lamb and buy some carrots. We learned that there were also Angora rabbits, which we immediately sought out.  While admiring the rabbits in their cages we asked questions of the farmer. Another mom with her two-year-old joined, right on time for my next question:

“How long do they live?”

Woah, the look on the other mom’s face! The farmer saw it too and merely gave me a sheet of paper, saying there was a lot of info there. None of it, I see now, about how long a rabbit lives. She told me that after the other mom had left (5 to 6 years, some 9 years).

The death-phobia in this culture is something fierce! We no longer tell our kids Grimm’s fairy tales, because people die in them (the gall!). Taylor Swift scored big giving Romeo and Juliet a happy ending, and the only characters that die in kids’ movies are animals.  Human characters may die only in  animated movies. One is no longer allowed to ask about lifespan of animals  in public because, dear lord, the concept of span implies a beginning and an end.

Well, more about that soon. Did you know that rabbits can die of wool block?

 

A Fugue.

I’m reading the newly arrived Life in the Soil. Actually, I’m devouring it. And it’s not even that particularly well or passionately written.

I started wondering about this as I marveled over acellular slime molds and trichomycetes and realized that I often take refuge in books about soil and geology when I am down about the state of the world. In the first days of my “awakening” to climate change, peak oil and what have you, I fed on McPhee’s Annals of the Former World, like Henry, swallowing all 712 pages whole in the matter of a week.

Why?

Glaciers, archaebacteria: they are the kind of Earth without us. The kind of Earth that, given enough geological time, will be there after we are gone. Maybe what I am looking for in these books is perspective. I mourn so deeply what we might lose, and it seems such a shame. But these books tell me that, in another scheme of things, it doesn’t matter so much. From the perspective of the glacier, of the lichen, we don’t matter that much…

Does it work? I lose myself in the text, in the imagining of these things so utterly un-human. That’s something at least. When I read about art, about philosophy, it’s all so thoroughly human. Even a medieval religious icon or a 17th century piece of music are tainted with my sense of loss, of futility. So, losing myself in this Earth-without-us helps take my mind off things.

But then there is always the moment when I come out of the text to be reminded that it was written by a human. The science was done by humans. That knowledge and imagination, once we’re gone, will be gone as well – all that work, all that passion – for nothing! True, the real thing will still be there, the lichen, the glacier, geological time. But here I am, just holding a book, and sighing too much.

Aren’t you glad this wasn’t another “tutorial” (remember “Calcium in the Soil,” in 8 parts)?

Last week I splurged on Wildcraft, a cooperative board game for kids (and adults) developed by HerbMentor, one of my favorite places for herbal instruction. The idea of the game is to make it up the mountain to the huckleberry patch, gather huckleberries, and make it back down again to grandma’s house before nightfall. And not to perish.

In the official game there’s not much chance of perishing. When you land on a cross you get a trouble card – a hornet sting, sore muscles, hunger, or stomach ache. But you start out with four remedy cards and gather lots along the way. It’s usually an easy walk. Usually.

Amie loved the game from the very first. She has played it several times, with us or by herself. She’ll skip around the house telling her doll they should find some Plantain for that bee sting, Echinacea for the sniffles. It’s sweet.

Then yesterday she came up with a variation. She set up the board and invited me to play, but wisely kept the rules to herself until I had committed (you spin that wheel, you’re committed). The variation was this: only trouble cards, no remedy cards.

Painful, to say the least! Our conversation ran thus:

- You’re killing me!

- Don’t blame it on me.

- Well, you’re the one who invented this game.

- Blaming isn’t nice. Oops, now you’ve got diarrhea. Too bad!

She weighed  ailments (diarrhea would be the worst one) and inflicted pain (gleefully handing out the cards) all in the playful and safe setting of a game. She also explored endurance and the extent to which the human body can handle pain and discomfort. At the end of the game, when we finally made it back to grandma’s house, Amie gathered she must be near death. Like so:

Notice the tongue sticking out, a sure sign of near death.

The cards near her head, by the way, were her trouble cards. The long line near her feet, those were mine! She invited me to come lie next to her and be really dead.

I declined, stating someone had to take the picture.

While participating in the Training for Transition I came to a profound realization. One of the most powerful exercises in Transition is the positive visioning. People sit in two circles, one inside the other, facing each other so everyone is paired up. The people on the outside are the elders of the future, who have  lived through Transition (the time of change). The people on the inside are young people, who did not live through it, and they ask three questions of their Elder, and listen. At the end, the pairs exchange seats and the circles rotate.

One of the questions is: what is your role in this (Transitioned) world?

Many people see themselves working with food. That’s only to be expected: besides air, water and shelter, what is more important than healthy, nutritious food? So people talk about how they tend the fields, teach others how to grow, scout out places to grow more crops, etc. People talk lovingly about being post-carbon farmers (farmers without oil), about farming together, and the more leisurely pace of life, with many conversations with neighbors, and kids roaming free, and nothing but the blue sky above and the dirt in their hands.

Wonderful visions.

This exercise invites only positive visioning, and some have trouble with this. That’s why we do the exercise. We need to practice hoping. Especially for those who seek Transition, those who have studied up and faced the truth, it’s hard. And thus, powerful.

So here it was my turn as the Elder to answer that question.

“I grow medicine. In the post-carbon world there are no pharmaceuticals, or if there are, there is no easy, quick and affordable way to get the medicine to where it is needed. There are no stockpiles of antibiotics or analgesics. Medicine is homemade.  I am someone who grows this medicine. I found the best spots in the town for growing marshmallow, or motherwort, or even ginger. I grow it, and teach and supervise the growing of it by others. I keep the inventory of the living plants. I harvest them at their appropriate times and with appropriate thanks for their abundance. I then bring them home and dry them and make them into medicine. I keep the apothecary. I don’t diagnose, I don’t heal. I don’t feel ready for that yet. I hope someone else can do that. If not, I’ll help, but humbly.”

I was silent for a second, surprised by my vision. Usually I am a farmer of unspecified crops. Usually I feed people. And beyond my surprise there was more to be said. So I said it:

“It’s hard in this world because we Elders remember the old medicine and health care. It wasn’t all good – the side effects, the addiction, the arrogance and entitlement. But diseases were cured, or held at bay, and lives were lengthened. Now we don’t have it so easy anymore. An infection that would have been treated with a shot can now kill.  We need to be vigilant all the time, grow whole, resilient bodies. Life is no longer prolonged – or rather, death is no longer postponed. We die at our appointed times. It is sad, sometimes, to think that an old drug could have postponed it. But, on the other hand, people now die at home, surrounded by their loved ones and communities. That’s better. That’s better.”

So there we are, that is what I want to do in the future, when I grow up, when the world grows up.

This is the marc of the echinacea root I tinctured and pressed yesterday.

It is what is left of the plant when it has given all it has to give.

Thank you.

~

I’ve added  two Apothecary pages: the Inventory of Medicines and an Inventory of Live Medicinal Plants in the garden.

(Oh no, it’s another series!)

Amie and Mama and their first honey harvest

~

I’m so sore from my workout yesterday. I was shredding leaves for two hours and also moved the contents of one (full) outside  Earth machine to the Earth Machine inside the hoop house. Going by last year’s experience, this compost won’t freeze  and will keep going if I turn it once in a while. It’ll absorb, retain  and even create heat inside the hoop house, and make compost, of course. The moving had to happen with buckets, because the wheelbarrow doesn’t fit through the hoop house door, and so I’m sore, and so today is a day of book learning.

~

I’ve been benefiting tremendously from honey – nipped two colds in the bud with it so far – and am on the lookout for a good book that tells me all about honey, pollen, propolis and other so called “products” of the hive. Everything, that is, about how the bees use and make it, what it consists of, how to harvest it, how to cure it if it needs curing, extract it if it can be extracted, and how those foods and medicinals work. I haven’t found that book yet, but I did find some pieces of the puzzle in this little book by C. Leigh Broadhurst (Basic Health Publications, 2005). Each of  its 85 small pages is packed with nutritional and medicinal information. (Warning: If you are upset by animal testing, expect this text to refer to some horrendous scientific tests on animals.)

I’ve gathered and digested some interesting data from this  book and Wikipedia for you. Let’s begin with honey.

~

  • Honey and phytochemicals

Honey, when capped by the bees, is ready for consumption by the bees and by us, containing only 15-21% water (by weight). Uncapped honey as yet contains more water – the bees haven’t cured it enough – and will ferment if extracted. Besides water it consists almost entirely of carbohydrates: mostly simple sugars like glucose and fructose, and some sucrose, maltose and other sugars.

A small percentage of honey consists of phytochemicals. These comes from the  nectar source plants. These phytochemicals give (raw, unprocessed) honeys their distinct taste and aroma. They also confer medicinal benefits, because the plants made them to protect themselves from the bad effects of excess free radicals. These phytochemicals survive in raw honey and are passed on to us when we eat it. And what works for plants, works for us, because we too can suffer from excess ROM.

  • Reactive Oxygen Metabolites or Free Radicals

Reactive Oxygen Metabolites (ROM) – a type of “free radical” – are  naturally created as byproducts of metabolism. The cells in plant and animal bodies are composed of many different types of molecules, which in turn consist of one or more atoms of one or more elements joined by chemical bonds. When cells metabolize (convert of food into energy), there occurs a chemical reaction that transfers electrons from a substance to an oxidizing agent. This reshuffling of electrons often results in ROM, oxygen molecules with an unpaired electron.

ROM are unstable and highly chemically reactive, attacking the nearest stable molecules and stealing an electron from them to gain stability. The attacked molecule then becomes a free radical itself.

  • Out-of-Control Immune Response

Sometimes this process is  a desired one, actively created by the immune system, for ROM will also attack harmful bacteria and viruses and other pathogens. They also prompt enzymes that sterilize wounds by inflaming, heating the damaged tissue (making it swell) and thus flushing tissues of toxic substances.

However, the chain reaction of radicals creating radicals can get out of control, cascading into excess ROM. This inflames when inflammation is no longer necessary, causing chronic inflammatory conditions, like asthma, arthritis, tendonitis and ulcers.

An out-of-control ROM chain-reaction destroys cell membranes, reprograms DNA, forms mutant cells, causing  cancer, Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, stroke, diabetes, even schizophrenia.  And the older we get, the more our cells suffer from such “oxidative stress”.

  • Anti-oxidants

Now plant and human bodies can generally prevent this with chemical compounds called anti-oxidants. These terminate the chain of oxidation reactions by being oxidized themselves without in turn becoming free radicals. So, Broadhurst writes, they “act like chemical sacrificial lambs,” neutralizing ROM before they can irritate our cells. (p.9)

Human bodies make their own  antioxidant compounds, like bilirubin, uric acid, superoxide dismutases, catalase, glutathione peroxidase, etc.  But luckily, many of the antioxidant compounds in plants, especially fruits, vegetables and herbs also work for us. We can ingest their carotenoids, tocopherols, ascorbate, bioflavonoids, etc. directly, or indirectly by eating honey.

It is no wonder, then, that certain substances are the opposite of these beneficial foods. Polluted air and water, radiation, cigarette smoke and herbicides come with free radicals. So do refined foods, like hydrogenated and partially hydrogenated oils, most other heated oils, table sugar (sucrose, dextrose, corn syrup, high fructose corn syrup) and white flours. None of these contain antioxidants, so the disastrous chain reaction is unchecked in them. When we ingest these, we  basically flood our bodies with ROM.

  • Antioxidants in Honey: Phenolics

Water tupelo, Hawaiian Christmas Berry, and sunflower honey have a high antioxidant content, but they are well outmatched by buckwheat honey.  Buckwheat honey has a dark brown color  and a distinctive taste and aroma, imparted to it by a type of antioxidant called phenolics. All flavenoids, for instance, are phenolics. So, the darker a honey, the more phenolics it contains.

Other antioxidant compounds in honey are vitamin C (ascorbic acid), malic, gluconic and cinnamic.

All these antioxidants also give honey its incredibly long shelf life and make it an excellent preservative for other foods.

Broadhurst warns that honey should not be thought of as a substitute for fruits and vegetables. It is a “processed product,” processed by the bees, and thus contains fewer antioxidants than fruits and vegetables (as well as much more sugar).

Heating and processing honey will destroy the vitamin C and the other antioxidant contents of honey. So eat honey raw and unheated.

~

That’s not all that honey does for us, but you’ve guessed it… TBC!

Today I pressed the dandelion (Taraxacum officinale) tincture that I started on 14 October (roots and leaves). It has been sitting in my herbal medicine closet (dark, cool and accessible) for over three weeks (14 days is the minimum). I shook it twice daily. It has become a saying in our household: “Mama’s shaking her tincture!”

This was the first time I pressed a tincture and good practice. I now have an idea of how much comes out of a quart jar (15 1 ounce bottles) and I know I need to get hold of a high glass pitcher with a good spout – one that won’t have the sieve sit in the liquid and won’t spill the tincture all over during pouring. I didn’t have muslin for sieving, but the cotton handkerchief did the job quite well.

The tincture is a murky, swamp-green-light-brown. There’s a lot of residue in it, which stresses the need to shake that tincture each time you use it. It has a particular sweet smell underneath the whiff of alcohol (80 proof), a smell mostly in the tip of the nose (how’s that for observation!). It tastes only a tiny bit bitter, but mostly that sweet smell translates to the tongue. It actually doesn’t taste that bad – not like lobelia tincture, for instance, thank goodness.

The following is what I’ve gleaned from several herbalist sources:

Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)

Cold, bitter and sweet.  Affects the liver, bladder, stomach, spleen, and skin. As a bitter, both leaves and roots stimulate appetite and digestion. They are diuretic, so they are used to treat urinary tract problems, and unlike other diuretics, replenish potassium. Dandelion stimulates bile production (in the gall bladder), so it fights gall stones  as well as the liver’s lipid (fat) metabolism, fighting jaundice and cirrhosis. The choline in the roots stimulate the mucous membranes of the large intestine to a mild laxative effect. Roots are also good against rheumatism and arthritis. As a blood-purifier and blood vessel cleanser and strengthener, it is good for eczema. It is rich in calcium (especially the root) and will recalcify bones. Externally it can be used to treat fungal and yeast infections. When applied to warts, the latex (the bitter “milk”) will – they say – cure them.

{DISCLAIMER} This information is intended for educational purposes only and has  not been evaluated by the FDA. It is not intended to prevent, diagnose, treat, or cure any disease.

And after that disclaimer I must add that it feels good – empowering – to make my own remedies, in my kitchen, from the dandelions I grew and harvested. Still, hopefully I won’t get so many and so much of the above ailments so as to need all 15 ounces of tincture!