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My Medicine Chest

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I’ll be traveling this week. It will be a bittersweet trip as we will be saying good-bye to my grandmother.

But this will be my first autumn in southern Illinois and Missouri in 10 years.

I’m looking forward to visiting some of my favorite trees in their fall costumes. I hope to collect some persimmons and pawpaws. I want to show my boys about sweetgum and hickory. White oaks and red buds. There are many more.

Plants have always seemed to be part of my well-being. In many situations, I have developed relationships with sycamores and poplars.

As of lately, I’ve developed a new relationship with plants. They help me maintain my wellness. I am not well without plants. They are the only medicine I can trust.

This spring I had some terrible unexplained allergic reactions. It turned out my allergy medicines had one of my allergies in it. Somewhere between that realization and this summer, I realized that I don’t need to rely on prescriptions to feel okay. I have the plant knowledge to guide me.

Last night I prepared my medicine chest for the trip ahead. Some herbs will be used in cooking- like rosemary, thyme, parsley, and sage. Others can be used to brew calming teas- like rosehips, lemon balm, raspberry leaf, yarrow, licorice, and elderberry. I have my root tea prepared which consists of burdock, dandelion, rhodiola, and eleuthero.

I have herbs prepared into a salve that can be used on dry and cracked skin. I have a plantain liniment that can cleanse and relieve scrapes and cuts on the skin. I have a tincture (or potion as my kids call it…) in which I soaked devils claw and willow bark for pain relief and another with tart cherry and ginger to help reduce inflammation. Finally are the oils, rosemary, tangerine, and bergamot which I dilute with almond oil and use for massage.

My medicine chest

So there it is! I’ve got my medicine chest ready to go- all natural and allergen free. Just what I need to take care of myself on a long trip!

If all goes well, I’ll be able to post more about my experience introducing my boys to my tree friends.

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Bittersweet Surrender

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Bittersweet Surrender

How bittersweet autumn can be. The leaves glow with brilliant color, before cascading to the ground.  The feeling in the air is nothing short of electric. We delight in the dynamic change, and let go of our hopes for warmer days.

On days like today when the light is brilliant, the wind is fierce, and the leaves are flying, I find myself caught in the dynamic space between awe and sadness.

I think perhaps in that space, is where surrender resides. As I raise up my arms to my sides and close my eyes, I let the sensation surround me. Feeling as though I could fly, but well aware I would land on my face if I tried.

I keep my feet on the ground, grateful for each step I take.

I breathe out, letting go of what I no longer need to carry.

I call my untruths into the light and call them as such.

Knowing that in doing so, I will no longer be under their spell.

I will no longer believe that I am a contributing problem in any given crisis.

I will no longer react to crisis as if I am responsible for their existence.

I will no longer turn anger in toward myself when I struggle with something I don’t know.

I will no longer think that there is something wrong with shedding tears.

I breathe in, gaining a truer sense of myself and reality.

I will feel the sadness that surrounds my losses.

I will feel the power I have to heal myself.

I will accept others as they are.

I will see what it is to love myself.

I will let go of what holds me down

and move forward with solace.

I will trust that the winds of life will take me onward.

Being Drawn In

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This past weekend, I stood in silence. Staring at a small selection of drawing supplies. I had wanted to buy some artist pens. Mine had dried out. Mine that I bought eight years ago, to illustrate an archaeological dog burial.

Clearly, it was time for some new drawing tools. But there were no pens to choose from there.

I almost walked away.

But I kept looking.  Maybe I missed something.

Maybe… I could buy some pencils.

My inner critic’s voice began, “We have boxes and boxes of pencils at home.”

“Yeah, but not pencils for drawing.”

“How can a pencil NOT be for drawing.”

-Hush-

I looked again.

I was almost in tears with the thought of buying them.

(Treating myself to art supplies can be a pretty intense experience.)

A small “artist pencil kit” caught my eye.

Three pencils, a kneaded eraser, two graphite sticks, and a woodless pencil.

$7.49

And cue the critic:

“You’re going to spend almost ten dollars on something you don’t even need? Something that the kids are going to break, the dog is going to eat, and you are going to lose!?”

“Yes, Yes I am. Because I want to draw. Because I need to draw. AND it comes with a tin case.”

So now, I have a brand new set of pencils to entice me when I get that little whisper of a sense that I might like to draw.

Brand new drawing pencils

Brand new drawing pencils

And how glad I am. For I got that sense tonight, when I couldn’t sleep.

I started thinking about leaves.

Again.

This all started late last week when I was walking down the road with my two boys. We took the back alley on the way to the bakery. I had spent most of the week feeling under the weather and was quite unaware of the autumnal changes taking place outside. Lesson one in complementary colors

“Wait! Wait! Kids! Come here!” I called out. They must have thought I found a frog or a grasshopper, because they sure came back quick.

“Do you see how the color of the leaves is so yellow? And it makes the back of that building seem more purple than it ever has before?”

My oldest, interested and sure it must be some kind of magic, replied “Yeah, I do! What’s that about, Mom?”

“What colors make purple?” I ask.

After a little thought and some guessing, he came up with “Blue and Red”

“Yes! Is there any yellow in purple?”

“No….” (He says it in a voice that shows that thinks he might be getting tricked.)

“And that is why the yellow and purple make each other stand out so well!”

And thus began our seasonally appropriate lesson on colors.

IMG_0334And several stops on the way to the bakery.

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IMG_0336 And a trip to the park. IMG_0349And some lessons on photography.

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And a photo session that became what my son called the “Color Catch”

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And left me thinking of leaves and trees.

And thinking of times when I was learning my leaves and trees.

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And so, here comes that whisper.

Draw.

It’s caught on something.

Draw leaves.

It’s drawn to a time.

A time when I took certain routes around the campus of Southern Illinois University, just to visit certain trees.

I may have been dating a forestry major.

But to tell the truth, I was in love with the trees.

So I started thinking about my beloved tulip poplar.

Just outside the Liberal Arts building.

I’d visit it everyday.

I miss the unique blossoms and the strange seed pods.

But I remember the leaf shape so well.

A few image searches left me longing.

Wondering how that tree is now.

Leaf Study Tulip PoplarAnd drawing the shape and uncovering the vein pattern.

I was suddenly grateful that I was treated myself to those pencils this weekend.

I needed them, for not just any pencil would do.

Memories of my wonder that exists in leaves continued to grow.

I thought of sweet gum.

This spectacular tree can have any range and combination of colors at any time in the fall.

It was a childhood favorite of mine. 750px-American_Sweetgum_Liquidambar_styraciflua_Fruit_Context_2500px

We had one at the house where my dad lived. Each fall, I would collect the funny round, poky, seed capsules and deposit them in hoards in the backyard. I loved them. 800px-Sweetgum_Seed_closeup

Come spring when my dad mowed the yard and found those caches of prickly seed capsules… well he didn’t like it so much then. But, I bet it would give him a big laugh now.

And so, I gave my try at playing with pencil shading the beautiful leaf shape and delicate intricacies of the seed capsules.

And was quite pleased with the process. Sweet Gum

And quite delighted to rediscover the joy of being drawn into to nature, one smooth graphite stroke at a time.

Coming to Fruition

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The world is full of coulds, woulds, and shoulds. Some of which exist in truly meaningful ways.

But many of them:

Oh, I really should…

If I just could…

I really would…

They only seem to perpetuate invisible barriers.

Who says I should?

Who says I can’t?

Then why don’t I?

Who says I can't climb a tree?

Who says I can’t climb a tree?

We all have dreams, and there is no good reason these dreams cannot be part of our reality. No matter how big or small. No matter how silly or strange.

You want to do something?

Then why don’t you?

I know it is not that easy. In fact, just a month ago I felt trapped by my own invisible barriers.

Terribly trapped in a silly conundrum.

I wanted to pick fruit, but yet everything seemed to stop me.

Chokecherries grow on small to medium sized trees, often found on the edges of wooded areas or standing alone in the open. Their tart fruits have a single small pit and make you pucker at the first taste.

Chokecherries (Prunus virginiana) grow on small to medium sized trees, often found on the edges of wooded areas or standing alone in the open.

The fruit beckons from a far.

It is wild.

Yet that is not what stops me.

I know it well. Its name: common, genus, and species.

Leaf patterns and ecology.

Even uses and recipes.

What stops me is fear.

Fear that regulations might state that I cannot pick there.

Fear that those trees might belong to someone else.

Fear that I might be confronted with threatening words and gestures.

Fear that someone might come with questions,

Whatcha gonna do with them?”

“Um, eat them kind sir….” (please don’t eat me!!)

“Howsya know them berries ain’t gonna kill ya?”

“Er, I study these plants, you see, ma’am. I’ve even taught about them.  Plus I always double check my identifications.”

“Why go to all that trouble, when you can just buy some fruit at the store?”

“Well you see, I can’t buy these in the store. And I really like them.  I think they might be better than anything you can buy in the store.”

“Why don’t you just give me MY berries, and we won’t have us any trouble…”

“Am I getting mugged? For wild fruits?”

“Why don’t you just get the hell out of here…”

“Is that a shotgun? Oh shit…”

These delusions seem to quickly escalate out of control. They became paralyzing. Keeping me from doing what I wanted.

But because it was something I wanted to do, somehow in my mind, it must be wrong.

I created a barrier, to keep me from doing what I really, truly wanted.

That barrier was fear.

The day I overcame that fear, I was with my husband, out alone for a North Dakota drive. We were stopping along little lakes, thinking about future places for family camping and seeking out a nice little fishing hole for the afternoon.

First, I saw a chokecherry tree, then about three more.

Beautiful and bountiful.

I discretely picked some and put them in an empty water bottle.

Then I saw some rosehips, and always having wanted to make rosehip jelly, I collected another pint or so of them.

I felt so sneaky and cautious. I was on high alert.

Certainly, I was doing something wrong.

All the while, Hubby was getting out his rod and tackle box and began searching the shoreline for a good place to test the waters.

“Rachel, you had better come see this!” He hollered.

I was convinced he had found a sign that stated the area was a protected nature preserve, and that anyone found disturbing any animals, plants, or rocks would be fined $10,000 and spend up to a year in jail.

My heart sank.

Walking toward him, holding my breath, I failed to see what he wanted me to see.

Black Currants.

All along the shoreline.

Bushes loaded with the earthy, rich sweetness of black currants.

I must have been dumbstruck, because he had to urge me on,

“We have some plastic bags in the car. You should go get some.”

Excuses ran through my head.

Someone must have planted these here.

No, someone’s grandpa planted them here 120 years ago.

I’m sure of it.

Heck, the lake is probably even named after him.

BUT WAIT- BLACK CURRANTS.

I looked again, thick along the shoreline, into the trees.

And on and on.

I looked for evidence to show they had been picked before (and by extension, it would be okay for me to pick some too.)

Indeed. Some branches and clusters showed signs of picking.

And since I didn’t think there were many bears around that had been gorging themselves on currants, I took a gamble that humans had indeed been picking these currants.

I would not be thrown in jail if I picked these fruits.

On I went down the shore. Bag in hand. Ready to work.

Picking currants is not easy work. The fruits are barely noticeable from overhead, as they cluster beneath the leaves.

Black Currants

Black Currants (Ribes americanum) thrive along
stream banks, in moist ravines, wet meadows, floodplains, and woodland edges.

Two hours of bending, sitting, kneeling, and gently pulling the leaves back yielded just over a quart of berries and a criticism came to mind,

“That’s an awful lot of work for just a couple berries.” 

I silenced the critic within by popping a few more fruits into my mouth.

I was overcoming that barrier.

Even the point that a truck came down the dirt road, I resisted the urge to jump into the bushes to hide.

I acted as though I paid no mind.

But I was focused on my breathing, so to not have a full blown anxiety attack.

I destroyed the barrier.

I no longer had to dance around with the shoulds, coulds, and woulds.

“I would love to collect wild fruit to make jelly, someday.”

“I know I could identify them, afterall, I taught ethnobotany for two years.”

“I should just get enough courage to go do it.”

“Or maybe I shouldn’t bother.”

No more.

I tapped into my strengths and knowledge.

I found a resource and harvested it.

I overcame the barrier. And opened a door.

I found a truer, happier version of myself.

I ventured into new possibilities.

Soon I saw opportunities all around.

In campgrounds, parks, fairgrounds, vacant properties, and along the roadside.

Suddenly the world offered a bounty of crabapples, chokecherries, Chokecherries

rosehips, currants, wild plums, buffalo berries, American cranberries,High Bush Cranberries and wild grapes.

Wild Grapes

Even cultivars of raspberries, apples, grapes, and plums came our way.

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The world is full of possibilities. What a valuable lesson and sweet reminder. A bounty that will last far into the future.

“When you want something, all the universe conspires in helping you to achieve it.”

– Paulo Coelho