Alpine Lady

Honoring the natural world through prose, poetry, music, sounds, photographs and musings.


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Hawaiian Moonflower Ballet

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Hawaiian Moonflower

Moonflowers adorned the shrubbery in our back yard at Kehena on the Big Island of Hawaii.  Just as the sun set and the coqui frog chorus warmed up, a subtle ballet of movement among vines and opening flowers began. The buds posed atop long pale green stalks, laying clustered at towering heights in the tops of coconut trees, draping them with slowly-opening,  pearly-white galaxies of fragrant blossoms. Elsewhere, the vines wound their way up power poles, streamed along electrical lines,  their flowers glowing in the light of the full moon. The vines danced across the thorn-laden bougainvillea, flowed alongside the pathos vines, touched down, sank shallow roots and sprinted off again carrying their chalices of translucent white. The plant’s splendid carriage held each pale green, spiraled bud above dark green, heart-shaped leaves waiting for the evening’s gentle breezes to caress and tease them open. With a visible twitch, a crack in its whirling form began exposing the flower’s interior and slowly they unfurled flowered veils, releasing the exotic, intoxicating contents of its chalice to waft into the night, inviting moths to caress their pistils with their pollen-covered bellies.

In the morning the wilted moonflowers resembled  Salvador Dali watches, limp and lifeless among the vines and by evening, had fallen to the ground just in time for the curtains of nightfall to open and the ballet to begin anew.

Wilting Moonflower

Wilting Moonflower

In March, 2008, I made a flower essence of the Moonflower in the dark phase of the moon. I collected the blossoms, placed them in rainwater and left them overnight in a crystal bowl. The essence has proved powerfully caring, energizing and sincere. It empowers me to come out of hiding and express my intrinsic creativity.

One of my childhood dreams has always been to be a ballerina. Perhaps that is what the moonflower essence is performing within me, empowering my wordsmithing to reveal my inner creativity. We shall see…

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Changing Moon ~ A Woman’s Journey, Part I:

 

Lunar Bound

Moon wears no makeup.

Her craters show the impact

of intimate liaisons

with heavenly bodies.

And her face shines bright to us

while the force she gently casts

sways the seas and tugs our hearts,

binding us together as one.

                 Michael DeMarco

Full Moon Hawaiian Skies

Full Moon Hawaiian Skies

The inspiration for the poem Lunar Bound came one evening after I commented to my husband on how beautiful the crater scars are that spread across the moon’s surface. When I look upon her bold face, I am struck by the fact that our closest companion in space is devoid of spreading seas, lush forests or cloudy skies that would soften the effect of meteoric collisions. In the glare of the sun’s intense rays, the moon shines back to us revealing furrows and ridges of impact, blemishes and fracture lines. Nothing is hidden.

Because I have chosen not to wear makeup to cover the effects of aging, my face is also showing the impact of life.  Laugh lines and brow wrinkles, squinty-eye creases, skin tags and minor discolorations are showing up. Perhaps if I subject myself to hormone-replacement therapy, I could soften the effects for a time, but I’m choosing to go a more natural route in support and celebration of the transition through menopause and the aging process. Therefore my interest in the moon is personal and I acknowledge her as “changing moon.”  Once a symbol of ripeness and fertility, she is now a symbol for my creative endeavors and impulses.

Humanity is intimately linked to our heavenly sister moon who some say because of her size, could be considered a sister planet; however, earth might be considered moon’s mother. With modern technology to accurately analyze and date rocks, it appears that billions of years ago while our planet was forming, a protoplanet the size of mars collided with earth and the spin-off of this collision was ejected  into space. This spewing of plume material then spiraled into current lunar orbit , coalescing into our moon with one side appearing to forever face us due to her unique length of planetoid rotation.

Before birth, even before conception, as we waited in the ovaries and testes of our ancestors, we experienced the waxing and waning of the moon’s daily rhythms just as we experienced the spiraling of our planet, our sun, and the solar system. Part of me quests to know the logistics of these ancient rhythms, yet a greater part accepts the rhythms and is content to acknowledge there are greater forces at play in the wondrous formation of space, time and being. (To be continued in Part II)


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Wild Hedgerows

Wild Hedgerows

In our temperate Olympic Peninsula climate in the northwest corner of Washington state, a wild hedgerow is home to a rich diversity of flora and fauna. While many of you may conjure up images of the more managed hedges in the English countryside, those in our area form more naturally at the edges of fields perhaps where the stones and brush from the original field clearing was dumped. If undisturbed, the hedgerows develop into a conglomeration of life including many medicinal and food plants along with the fauna that pollinate, eat or find shelter within the structure of the hedge especially birds, insects, spiders, rodents, reptiles and toads. The bordering fields are visited by coyotes, raccoons, deer and the tall trees within and on the perimeter are spotting posts for ravens, eagles, owls and hawks.

Just a short walking distance from our home, there exists a fine example of a hedgerow. It borders a quarter mile of hayfield across the lane from a suburban housing development so there is a slight overlap of cultivars and wild plants which adds to its medicinal/food and beauty value.

Wild rose, an important food source in hedgerow

Wild rose, an important food source in hedgerow

The rampant growth of the hedge is its most striking feature. We recently did a plant inventory and although the Himalayan blackberry vines, common snowberry, oceanspray and Nootka rose are the dominant plants, the hedge is home to at least sixty other species, the majority of which have been introduced from abroad.

Each season has its all stars beginning in the late winter when the nettles, miner’s lettuce and chickweed start popping up, teasing our palates and reminding us to check our medicinal larder for what is yet to come. Shortly other plants make an appearance: equisetum, bur chervil, oxeye daisy, wild mustard, speedwell, yarrow, Herb Robert, dandelions, curly dock, salsify, lambs quarters, wild lettuce, tansy, cleavers, wild carrot, pineapple weed, burdock, california  poppy, three species of peppermint, two species of mallow, two of plantain plus others we’re not well acquainted with yet.

Tree species tucked into the hedge include western red cedar, black cottonwood, hawthorn, mountain ash, bitter cherry, hazelnut and willow.

Himalayan blackberry

Himalayan blackberry

Berry vines, shrubs and bushes provide important food sources for the abundant bird and rodent life attracted to the field and hedge. The fruits of thimbleberry, saskatoons or serviceberry, snowberry, trailing blackberry, Himalayan blackberry, black gooseberry, red and blue elderberry, Indian plum or Oso, and two species of wild rose hips are eaten by local and migrating birds.

Winter fodder for birds: wild rose hips and snowberries

Winter fodder for birds: wild rose hips and snowberries

There’s nothing quite so striking as watching cedar waxwings descend on the saskatoon shrubs, their melodious feeding calls alerting others that the berries are ripe and ready for the picking. The snowberry and rose hips will provide food later in the winter when other food sources are scarce for chickadees, towhees, quail and robins.

Several species of mosses, lichen, mushroom and fern also grace the hedge. The lichen we are most familiar with is usnea; the mushroom being turkey tail.

And as fall rains begin and winter approaches, the nettle and chickweed make a final appearance before the frosts call a halt to their growth. Then it’s a waiting game until their new shoots again make an appearance in late winter.

Knowing that these food resources are important to the fauna of the area, we keep the harvest of our neighborhood hedgerow medicines and foods light, rather munching on a handful of berries and wild greens in season. Seeing an herb or food reminds us to check out our other sources for more serious collection.The wildlife that utilizes the environs of the hedgerow does much to enliven our curiosity and appreciation for the diversity needed to maintain healthy populations.

Picking haws of the sp. Crataegus monogyna


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Gaia’s Dance

Gaia’s Dance

If you were to ask me about a favorite flower, I’d first have to describe a location, one which has become a visual sanctuary.  The spot is swampy and is part of the matrix of waters feeding a small lake in the interior of the Panhandle of Idaho. A trail passes along the western edge of the lake beneath ancient cedars, rotting birches; over beaver-felled trees and on through the swamp. In the summer, huge skunk cabbages border a section of the trail, their waist-high leaves a brilliant and lush jungle green. In winter, no evidence of that luxuriant growth remains but buried in the refrigerated mud, their roots await a beckoning to begin the renewal process. I come often to this spot, absorbing its moods, soaking up the silence, examining changes.

My precious spring lovelies

My precious spring lovelies

As I face east across the pond, a steep talus slope rises up directly behind me forcing animals to pass close to the edge of the swamp and record their tracks on the broad, boggy trail. It is here I witness the mosaic of prints laid down through the year. Each season bids my return to read its impressions. Black bear, cougar, bobcat, moose and our neighbors’ dogs join the abundant whitetail deer who leave their sign in these wet-woods.

I have always been drawn to the enormous skunk cabbage plants that grow trailside and value them for diverse reasons. In spring, their skunky odor fills the air with its spicy fragrance and in the summer, their green leaves add a cooling freshness to a hot journey.

Researching my botanical library,  I found that the skunk cabbage is related to the taro plant, for thousands of years a staple in Oriental and Polynesian cooking. Heating the taro removes the taste of the bitter calcium oxalate crystals also found in all parts of the skunk cabbage. The fresh roots and leaves of the skunk cabbage are also boiled to eliminate the acrid taste of their crystals. If ingested raw, an intense irritation and burning of the mucous membranes might occur. However, the peppery sap is a folk remedy for the treatment of ringworm and assists in relieving  painful sores.

North American Indians ground up dried and roasted skunk cabbage root and made it into a flour. They used this flour as a treatment for  asthmatic and bronchial spasms. Inhaling its crushed leaves helped stop a headache. Skunk cabbage leaves were used as a disposable dish, as a covering for food in their earthen ovens or and as a covering wrap to carry food similar to our using wax paper. Modern herbalists use tinctures of Lysichiton americanus as an antispasmodic and to promote normal function of the nervous system.  It’s very doubtful I will ever voluntarily prepare the skunk cabbage for food; however, I may dig a root for it’s medicinal value.

Skunk Cabbage (Lysichiton americanus) emerging through ice.

Skunk Cabbage (Lysichiton americanus) emerging through ice.

By some chemical wizardry, probably related to the calcium oxalate, the skunk cabbage can melt its way through ice to become the earliest of sprouts on which bear and beaver feed. A thick, fleshy flower spike surrounded by a pale yellow spathe rises through last year’s dead growth and pond muck, adding a candle-like spot of brightness to the landscape of gray alders and dead cedars. Inside this partly rolled flower covering are hundreds of minute flowers. Their exotic, skunky odor draws pollinating flies.

Mature skunk cabbage leaves

Mature skunk cabbage leaves

The large leaves (over three  feet long and a foot wide) emerge later and along with ferns, miner’s lettuce and nettles, will fill this swamp with their lush foliage. Although the smell and name of the plant may strike some as offensive, it describes a truly unique plant of our wet-woods habitat. Its flesh provides food for the hungry, its leaves provide shade and nutrients for the ecosystem and its exotic nature attracts poets, photographers and painters.

Swamp lantern aka swamp candle

Swamp lantern aka swamp candle

At some inner level of knowing, I feel our living earth actuates her seasonal dance dressed as the skunk cabbage. Stimulated by the energies of winter solstice, she spirals upward through the snow and ice-covered pond muck to begin her dance of creation and color, setting the scene for spring. As the days lengthen and the temperatures warm, her verdant robes unfurl to shade the bog and keep her root zone moist from the summer’s heat. She’ll dance until the autumn urges rest and the fall rains rot her gown, then; safely asleep in the muck of the pond, the swamp candle will slumber until the renewal energies of late winter stir her to wake and rise, beckoning the Earth Mother to dance once again.


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Conjuring Herbal Memories

Today, I spent some time in our herb room formulating, sifting, mixing, pouring, tasting and realized that for the majority of our inventory, I can easily conjure up a sense of place and time connected to each plant species used in our herbals.

While fingering the wild carrot tops for tea or the nettle seeds for tincture, I can see, sense and feel the wild salmon migrating up the river just a yards feet away from where I am harvesting or hear the eagles and ravens defending territory in the cottonwood trees above my head. The taste of the wild rose petals infused with honey takes me back to this summer and a hedgerow alive with bees busily pollinating rose blossoms. The hawthorn berry elixer reminds me of the rows upon rows of purple berries adorning the hawthorn shrubs along the banks of a northern Idaho lake where the loon spills its song and deer come to browse in the late afternoon.

The Lomatium dissectum oil smells of the yellow pine forests on the hillside above the lake where the the resinous herb sends its roots deep into the rocky soil requiring hammer claws and digging bars to free it from its anchor hold.  The arnica oil reminds me of our old pickup grinding up a steep mountain road looking for that damp spot festooned with arnica flowers in the bright morning sun and being on the lookout for black bear.

The jars of bitter silk tassel leaves and sticky Larrea tridenta take me back into that cavernous, aromatic herb shop in Silver City, NM, where I apprenticed so many years ago. And while fingering the now-empty, grain alcohol bottle, she tells me her secret of being smuggled across the Mexican border disguised as a water bottle!

So for me it’s not zipping open a baggie of herbs from a bulk supplier, it’s my senses opening to a world of memories all mixed, blended and added to my brew.

Michael digging up Lomatium dissectum roots above Lake Pend d’ Oreille, N Idaho.

Patricia apprenticing in Desert Blooms Herbs, Silver City, NM. 1997


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Raven’s Journey

Bigleaf maple along the Dungeness River.

From an upcoming project ~ Raven’s Journey:

Chapter One: Quiet in the Forest

“The forest lay quiet after the rain stopped, but not silent. Ambient sounds, many barely audible and easily dismissed, filled the air. Moisture dripped from mist-shrouded maple trees pattering drop after drop into the green jungle of ferns, lichens and liverworts living on their matted branches and mossy trunks.  A sodden branch on a towering spruce tree tipped under the weight of its wet load, sending earthward a shower of silvery droplets that pelted the broad leaves of the spine-covered Devil’s Club near its base, setting up a staccato rhythm of splashes upon its verdant foliage.

The drops also splashed onto the bright ruby face of a ripe salmonberry. The swollen fruit shivered and slipped from its berth onto the mat of yellow-green moss carpeting the forest’s floor.  It jarred loose mosquitoes that were using the detritus and mosses as cover. Soon the droning sound of hungry females filtered through the protective foliage as they once again took to wing seeking blood from living animals to nourish their developing eggs.

Close by, a stream flowed, its murmuring waters tumbling over riffles, slipping under moss-covered logs and caressing gravel-lined banks on its journey to join the more distant cacophony of ocean wave and wind songs.

For too long, heavy mists and unrelenting rains shrouded both the forest and seashore. Even the distinctive hissing sound of Raven’s rhythmical wing beat and his guttural croaks were subdued by the sounds of the heavy rains assaulting the environment. The grayness of the storm lay depressingly heavy on Raven’s psyche. Its ever-present wetness, beading up on his beak, chaffed his nostrils which irritated him. It dripped into his eyes and onto his shaggy throat feathers. He instinctively ruffled his glossy black plumage every few minutes in a fruitless effort to dispel the maddening dampness.”…to be continued.