Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Into the Weeds

I threw my Cape Cod weeder into the weeds on the other side of this stone wall today. I didn't mean to. For those of you in the know, a Cape Cod weeder is the absolutely best weeding tool in the world. Only a fool would throw theirs over a stone wall into the weeds because the small company who made them no longer does. So, you are probably wondering right now, is Whitewave trying to tell us she is a fool? Perhaps I am, but I also think this impulsive, unconscious act may be a sign of the innate wisdom of my body rising up through the soles of my bare feet into my arm which flung that weeder over those ancient stones into that very tangled thicket.

As a permaculturist, I am opposed to weeding. As a forager, I know that weeds are only plants that are not socially acceptable. Weeds are food and medicine, teachers and healers. However, I occasionally violate my code of ethics and pull them up, usually when my physical sustenance is at stake. I don't say survival, because that was not the case at all, but I do like having a roof over my head, and right now that roof is a very comfortable one. After a  few years of boats, buses and basements I was happy to pull up a few weeds in exchange for a bathtub and a kitchen and a stunning view of the ocean with a private path to the beach.

So there I was weeding around the edge of the house today, tossing the unwanted plants over the wall to be swallowed by the thicket. Felco pruners in one hand, I guess the Cape Cod weeder was in the other--the one which also held the weeds. With one toss all was gone. At first I couldn't believe what I had done. I loved that Cape Cod weeder. It has been through years of hard work with me. It even spent two winters outdoors since there were two winter I left it outside on the grass at my last gardening jobs of the season. I went back in the spring and sheepishly asked the homeowners if they'd seen it. It always came back to me, good as ever.

For a moment I was dismayed at what I'd lost. I climbed up on the stone wall and gazed down into the thicket. No poison ivy, but the bittersweet, Virginia Creeper, multiflora roses, and blackberries were an intimidating sight. I wasn't going in there. Who knows where the ground was beneath that tangle. For all I knew I would step into it and end up down the rabbit hole or be dragged under the hill by some gnomes. For those of you who know me, you might think I would find these prospects appealing, but since I have recently committed myself to making a go at being a fully grounded human, I stepped down from the wall, gave the weeds a salute, and laughed inside at how they were teaching me in ways I'd never expected when I began my adventures as a forager.

No more weeding allowed. That's the message I heard. I promise I will do my best, my friends. In exchange, will you give me the strength of your roots?

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Feverish Spice Plants By the Sea

Ah, sea rocket, succulent and spicy, perhaps my favorite of all the plants I forage. Sea rocket is truly mysterious. It roots right in the sand where there is no water unless you dig down almost all the way to China, but its leaves are thick and juicy. Sea rocket is related to arugula, and tastes like its domesticated relative, but is even spicier. I love to wander the edge of the dunes and pick it, eating some raw, taking some home with me to saute with olive oil, garlic, and sundried tomatoes. I wondered today, as I was picking it, if it was Lorca's "feverish spice bush of the sea," he summons in his poem "Malaguena."

is entering and leaving
the tavern.

   Black horses and sinister
people are riding
over the deep roads
of the guitar.

   There is an odor of salt
and the blood of women
in the feverish spice-plants
by the sea.

is entering and leaving
the tavern,
leaving and entering.

A feverish plant! A plant that gives one fevers that burn so hot one must run into the sea. I bet Lorca knew this plant well, or one like it. I will be at the Farmers' Market with a bushel-ful if you dare to try it yourselves.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Heart Tracks

I forgot to mention what I discovered right after I saw the poison ivy last evening: deer tracks, heart-shaped, leading toward the east where the sun rises, even though it was just about to set as I began this journey. Deer tracks in the sand heading toward the beach. I've never seen a deer on the beach, but I find their tracks sometimes. When I do, I always know that I am headed in the right direction. Notice how there are two tracks here, two hearts, notice how if you are open, even solitude is filled with many heartbeats. Notice what I forgot to write about last night: two hearts guiding me. That's all right. I needed to feel lonely. All emotions are our teachers. I am grateful to the surf that roared all night that helped me shift that loneliness so I could remember this photo: what I left out. What was already there and always will be.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

The Great Mother

I returned a few day's ago from the gathering of my tribe--Robert Bly's Great Mother Conference. Robert missed it last year because of a broken hip, and I did, too, as I was in the hospital for the second time trying to figure out if I wanted to stick around on earth. I am glad my soul chose to stay. It was overwhelming and so humbling to be back at the Conference last year, surrounded by love and every other wonderful human feeling, light and dark, I adore them all. Right now, back on Block Island, I am feeling gratitude, sadness, grief, joy, willingness, and most of all, longing, and behind that in a secret chamber that as I write this is secret no more--shame at my longing. The shame comes from feeling vulnerable. Surrounded by so much love, I could barely stand it and ran away to my tent, the farthest away of all. I'm serious, every year my tent is the farthest from the camp. I thought it was because I liked solitude, but I can see now that it's really because I am scared of love. I know this feeling could change, just as I know it's wisest not to hold onto the feelings I experienced at the conference when I was able to connect to people because that takes me out of the moment and makes me unable to be present with whatever is happening in the now, but the temptation is strong. My life on Block Island is very solitary. This may seem odd to those who know the island, as it is a very social place. It can take an hour to get across the 200 yards of town, but I am talking about my authentic life--when I am most myself, and that doesn't happen for me with people on Block Island, which makes me very sad as I long for a village to come home to where I can be accepted for my true self. What I do have here, is a blissful connection with other creature beings who share this island: plants and stones and waves, deer and striped bass, seaweeds of all colors and shapes, periwinkles in tide pools. I got back to foraging today and I forgot my sadness for awhile, and my longing, though I can feel it again right now. Must be the sound of the surf coming in the windows. I don't have to explain it or excuse it. You know the feeling, I'm sure.

One of the first things I'd like to share is a photo of Japanese Knotweed. If you live in the northeast you probably know this plant, labelled "invasive," as it takes over other plants. While at the GMC I learned from visionary activist astrologer Caroline Casey ( is that Japanese knotweed is moving into places that have a high incidence of lyme disease. Well, Block Island has the highest incidence of lyme in the country, and Knotweed is everywhere on the island. Here's what it looks like:

So for all of you worried about contracting lyme disease, or for those who have already been exposed, I recommend picking some knotweed in early May. You want to pick it early, before the stalks get over two feet tall. I usually stew it with some apples and cinnamon. It is tart, rather like rhubarb and makes a nice, old-fashioned dessert or breakfast. I don't eat grains, but I imagine it would be a fine accompaniment to oatmeal. I also know that knotweed is good for the heart. I fed some to my friend Joya when she was suffering from tachichardia. I believe she's doing much better now. So pay attention to what plants are growing around your house--the volunteers, not the ones you chose, although there is no "coincidence" about those either. The plants that choose to be near you could have a message for you about the state of your body, mind, or soul, as plants operate on all these levels.

I sort of drifted through the day today. I was supposed to work on a stone wall with Paul down Snake Hole Road, but ended up helping Brigid at Three Sisters instead. (Brigid--goddess of fire, healing, and POETRY!) After work I was restless-big waves make me so, as well as the medication I am still taking. I decided to walk toward the water and see what I could forage. The first stop was right in the garden in front of my house: wild carrots. I pulled up about a half dozen and tossed them on the front porch. A few steps later I discovered that the day lilies had started to bloom. Day lilies, pictured below, are named because they bloom for a day only. Their shoots are edible and quite savory. I feel bad sometimes when I pick them because that means they won't get to be a flower, but maybe they flower inside me. Have you ever thought about what the world would be like if we never ate meat and only ate flowers? Even wild meat like the fish I used to spear--just flowers--what kind of creatures would be? I imagine we would be more sensitive to our feelings and more tuned into those of others, also, that we would be intoxicated with light, dizzy with our beauty, that we would weep when the rain kissed our petals. Would we be sad when the time came for us to wilt? Would we compete to survive or ask the wind to blow our seeds somewhere in need of our own particular beauty?

Look at that pollen!

There was lots of sheep sorrel mixed in with some yarrow and mint I foraged from other people's gardens and transplanted in this little patch when I lived in this house years ago. It was lovely to seem them thriving. No one had weeded since I'd moved out! After a quick run back up the stairs to stash away my greens in the fridge, I finally made it to the path to the beach, hoping to find sea rocket. What I first discovered was this:

Poison Ivy!! Watch out! Poison ivy likes to weave its way around the most tempting plants like blackberries, and in this case, bayberry. For your information, you can pick the bay leaves and use them just like the ones you buy in a glass jar at the store, and the tiny berries, clustering now on the stalks, are what the famed bayberry candles are made of. I admire the fortitude of anyone who has picked enough berries to make even one candle as they are very small. Some day I will, but not today, even if they were ripe. I had sea rocket on my mind, and much to my delight it was flourishing in the dunes. I filled my sack and continued onto the beach, very rocky for this time of year. Big waves, flotsam and jetsam, one moonsnail, a big strand of kelp I tossed up onto the rocks to retrieve on my way back. I didn't toss it high enough, when I returned it was gone, but my hands were full with driftwood.

I drifted down to Jerry' Point and found a rock to sit on to watch the surf. There was a mother with a tiny infant asleep, strapped to her chest, and a little wild boy who ran around me shrieking. We smiled, but didn't say hello. I stretched out on the rock and disappeared for awhile. The boy kept shrieking, then became quiet. When I looked up he was drawing in the sand with a stick.

Slowly, slowly, I made my way home, over the rocks, dropping my driftwood to say hello to a wild rose, looking directly at the sun which I could see behind the clouds. It didn't hurt. For a moment, there was almost a rainbow. The pebbles were glistening with raindrops and salt spray, every flower was in love with me and ready to be seduced.

I cleaned my carrots on the porch, popped them in the oven with some olive oil. Since they're so tiny, they only take about fifteen minutes to roast. I sauteed some sea rocket in coconut oil and added some yellow lentil dal. When these were hot I decorated my plate with sorrel, some raw rocket, and six or so peppery day lily shoots. I ate a bowl-ful of sunshine for dinner, and the whole time I was not sad I was eating it by myself.