Alpine Lady

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


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A Sod House Renovation in AKP

Anaktuvuk Pass, Alaska, lies along the continental divide in a valley of the Endicott Mountains of the Brooks Range, half-way between Fairbanks and Utqiaġvik (Barrow). It is where the last of the semi-nomadic Nunamiut, People of the Land, the inland Iñupiat, chose to settle along the major north-south caribou migration route and establish a community in the late 1940’s, soon with their own school, church and airstrip.

Fall time on the tundra nibbling “Raven’s Eyes” a small, mealy black berry.

Michael and I came to the community to be teachers in the early 70’s for Alaska State-Operated Schools.  He was to be the administrator and teach the upper fifth through eighth grades and I, the elementary wing, first through fourth. After the first year, we found ourselves house-hunting when he accepted an assignment to help plan the North Slope Borough School District in 1972 as its acting superintendent, traveling out of Barrow to the villages in the Borough. I took over the role as Principal-Teacher, still with the elementary grades, and awaited his replacement to share teaching responsibilities. That teacher would live in the teacher’s quarters.

August, 1971. John River to the north, the school on a windy plateau above the village. High winds took the roof off the school the school year before we moved there.

In the spring, we purchased a sod house but not the land from Zacharias Hugo. He had built a larger plywood house nearby and no longer used our sod house. With youthful enthusiasm and the help of our Nunamiut friend, Jack, we removed the old, worn sod and replaced the roof boards where it leaked, recovered it with plywood, then plastic and contracted out for a new layer of sod for the roof. Most of the old pieces of sod were incorporated into the existing side sod.

With Jack’s help we repaired the leaking sections, and put on new sod.

Old linoleum covered over the sod walls and floor. A willow stove made from a fuel barrel sits on the floor. It would be used in fishing or hunting camp.

Indoors , we removed ceiling and worn flooring, but left some of the old linoleum wall coverings. Everything got washed which was no small feat in that every drop of water had to be hauled from either the John River which flowed by the village in the spring but then went underground in dry weather and resurfaced a few miles south.

Our two, paned windows were of old glass and one was recovered with thick, milled plastic film. The other Mike removed and inserted a clear, thick plastic one to allow for more light, a view of the mountains to the south and the village laid out along the main travel route from airport to school which also passed by our bedroom corner.

A small entrance shed or wanigan on the west protected us from a direct blast of wind through the main door and provided a place to store kerosene, snowshoes, snow machine cover, tools, etc. and in winter, we stored frozen food out of the elements. Entrance to the sod house was through an, old thick, handmade door hung on leather hinges. It was held tightly closed by friction.

The sod house in the very early spring. Junior, our sled dog stands to the left of the tin wanigan which along with the snowdrift on the front added protection from the winds.

Mike was called away for important meetings and couldn’t help finish up. After scrubbing the walls, adding cardboard to fill in the gaps, I stapled wide burlap material to the ceiling and north wall. On the other walls I used adhesive-backed wall paper. The flooring was squares of stick-on outdoor carpeting. The house only measured 12 x 20 with ridge pole and support posts were hauled by dog team from thirty miles south of the pass. Michael is tall and could walk only comfortably for the six feet along the ridge pole as that was the tallest space in the house! Everywhere else he had to bend down, and I being shorter, had to bend my head only near the end walls.

Tallest space was aside this ridgepole for Mike to walk.

A studio-style propane range provided a means to cook and an small old oil stove, heat. Two kerosene lamps gave us light. Ventilation was all important from all the fuels and cooking fumes––stove oil, propane, kerosene. Sod houses were built with a “nose,” consisting of a boxed-in hole, open to the fresh air above. A small flap door on the inside, attached by parachute webbing for hinges and a parachute cord with knots holding it shut against a bent nail, made it quick and easy to use.  We also  could open the main door a crack.

We weren’t the only occupants of our household. We had two dogs, one was Junior, a large sled dog who spent his time outdoors and the other was Buffy, a Heinz variety and definitely an indoor dog. Oh, we also had mice but more about them later.

Using basic carpentry skills I learned in 4-H and from my mother, I built Junior a house and then used it in place of saw horses and work bench to cut 2×4’s and plywood to construct kitchen shelving. Our bed was a piece of plywood, with foam mattress, mattress pad and extra-warm sleeping bags. Furniture came from the extras up at school, from friends who shipped in chairs, and the ubiquitous furniture of bush Alaska, the Blazo box which at one time, contained two five-gallon cans of kerosene.

The kitchen and wash-up corner behind the small oil stove. The kettle was kept full of water for adding moisture to the air, for cooking and washing up. You’ll notice I used Blazo boxes liberally  for shelving.

Inherent with living in this particular geographic position in the Brooks Range, and with its quirky winds capable of shifting between north or south within minutes, it could perplexing and challenging at the same time. In other words, winter could be cold, cold, cold if its bluster came off the arctic ice 250 miles away. This wind bringing in the fine snows would drift tightly on the south side and cover over a good share of that wall, adding its bulk for protection. The house would be warmer inside with a south wind so we had to be careful to check our lanterns to make sure they didn’t soot up. If those interesting globs of carbon were attached to the white filmy mantle of the Aladdin lamp, we’d quickly open the nose for ventilation and let the orange tones of glowing carbon burn off. Another challenge: the oil stove might blow out from a sudden wind gust leaving a sooty oily residue and stink throughout the house. Again, open the nose and ventilate.

We dealt with a similar but more complex event the winter before in the old school and house when all stoves blew out from record-setting gusts of wind and coupled with the fifty below zero cold forced us to close school. Michael climbed on the roofs and braced himself against the wind to take off the chimney caps. Our few house plants got stuffed in the oven, the only safe and warm spot in the buildings until everything was cleaned and aired out.

School, teacher’s quarters, generator shed, and Presbyterian Log Church. Aug. 1971

Because we had no electricity and no refrigeration in the sod house, in the fall and winter I relied on cold spots in the kitchen corner to store the perishables and only in winter, did we put freezables out in the wanigan. I got quite good at ordering through the mail to a bush-friendly grocery store in Fairbanks, “Lindy’s.”  I seldom ordered fresh salad greens in winter due to the possibility of a weather-delayed flight. We ate lots of canned and dried items supplemented by local fish and meat.

During the summer, we stored extra meat (a skinned caribou leg and a few packages of bacon)  in underground rooms or cellars dug in the permafrost adjacent to the graveyard, a few miles from AKP . We descended a pole ladder to the coolness and fortunately that kept the mosquitoes and black flies at bay but which continuously spiraled above the entrance opening waiting for us to come out!

Entrance to underground storage cellars dug into the permafrost to keep frozen items cold. Notice mosquito net on my head!

Village noises surrounded us but were somewhat muted by the sod: dogs barking and howling, hunters leaving the village by snow machine, laughter, voices as people walked or rode by on their bicycles, the all-important airplane bringing in mail, supplies and passengers. Inside except when we turned to the battery-operated cassette player or a transistor radio for music, to get the Armed Forces bandwidth for news and sports or KJNP at North Pole tuned into “Trapline Chatter” with important messages to trappers, villagers, travelers, etc. in the outlying areas or Bush, it was just household chatter and banter with few sounds but the wind blowing around the house and over the nose or the sounds of lit lantern and stove flames. This was the rhythm we grew used to hearing and knew something was off, if it didn’t sound right.

Our dog Buffy standing behind her favorite seat, a sheepskin-covered chair.

Oh, those mice? If we left the village for a few days, the mice came out of hiding since Buffy wasn’t around to keep them at bay, and invade the kitchen carting off rice which they stuffed into shoes, boots and over the course of a one week when I was off to a conference, filled up a hairdryer blower stuck under the bed. Our fault for not securing the rice in mouse-proof containers. Lesson learned. And during the winter, they’d take to running above the bed in the cardboard and roofing buffer zone, keeping us awake before descending into the crawl space between the linoleum on the walls and sod covering. Argh!

In the spring, the sod mosses soaked up the snow and rains and began a slow process to cover over with grasses, sedges and wild flowers like the tundra from which it was cut. In the not-too-distant past, when this happened and the house thawed and it got wet inside, many people went to spring and summer camps until everything dried out. When we lived there, only a handful of sod houses were occupied but still any chance for the villagers to get out once the sun returned to the bottom of the Pass in late February, we went to the willows for tea and picnic and to let the kids run off their energy. A delightful time.

Picnic and tea in the willows with Judy and Rhoda. A good getaway time for everyone!

The summer’s heat and breezy conditions were not kind to the sod roof which dried it out so we placed weights on top to keep the pieces from blowing off. It would take awhile before the sod pieces grew together and formed thick turf. The grasses in the front of the house grew tall and fireweed proliferated, its beautiful pink spires in full blossom right outside the window taking advantage of the protection of the house and wanigan.

It wasn’t fancy but was a good arctic home for over a year before we moved to a homestead at Salcha, in the interior of Alaska, east of Fairbanks. There we began building outbuildings, garden, sled dogs, sauna and lots of trails, wild animals and challenging journeys.

Forty years after we left, a friend sent this photo of our sod house. This is what is left. Now along with memories so graced by the majestic mountains, skies and the tundra’s beauty it lies vacant…except for some critters, I imagine!

Until, our next journey stay safe, seek peace and offer beauty. ~ P

 


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Earth Speak and River Song

For many years, I have been exploring the concept that everyone is indigenous to this earth and capable of speaking her language. Fortunately I have had the opportunity to spend a great deal of time in the natural world and working with indigenous peoples. Recently I began putting my experience and sensual impressions in poetic form which I call “Earth Speak and River Song.”

Two Haiku poems that reflect earth speak:

Verdure, springtime green
bursting forth upon the scene,
ending winter’s keen.

Bracken fern newly emerging.

Bracken fern newly emerging.

Feral apple tree
blossoms for red-winged blackbirds
heralding with song.

Feral apple tree.

Feral apple tree.

Three poems reflecting the wisdom of indigenous values:

Gaia is alive
and suffers humanity
blind to her beauty.

The Thorn of the Black Hawthorn Tree.

The Thorn of the Black Hawthorn Tree.

“We’re all indigenous to this earth”

Let’s all try to be more compassionate
toward those we perceive as different
recognizing that every creature
is indigenous to our planet
regardless of place of origin
identified by our DNA,
and when this day is done,
may we bring it forward again,
and again, and again
until it becomes a cherished value
where upon the seventh generation
looks back and remembers us
as the compassionate ones.

Elders at Howard Luke's Tanana River Camp. Pat is the tallest one in back row.

Elders at Howard Luke’s Tanana River Fish Camp, 1979. “Elders and youth on the River-passing on old knowledge-keeping the connection with the land alive.” Patricia stands in the back row wearing a bandana.

“Born to Speak the Language”

I am of this earth,
born to speak the language of her waters,
skies and soils, and all who dwell upon and within;
she teaches me on her own terms,
in her own time what the meaning is
of the duck feather floating at the edge of the pond,
the patterns of clouds drifting across the skies,
the changes in bird song before a rain storm,
and how spiders sip rain drops from their webs.

Silken Threads

Silken Threads

What follows is a lesson on observing, listening  and reflecting on earth speak and river song:

“Grandmother Cedar at Raven’s Bend”

Raven’s Bend,
so named for our raucous cousins,
birds of mystery and myth,
who raise families in the tall cottonwoods
along a wide bend in the river
close to where Grandmother Cedar
now lies at rest.

Her gray, weathered top branches, though long since dead
and noticeably higher than surrounding trees,
remained a visual reminder of her position;
once they roosted eagles and ravens
fleshing life off still bones,
held jousting birds in territorial claims,
fledglings practicing take-offs, landings
and vocalizing their first clamorous croaks;
but now the spires lie splintered
where the ancient cedar fell.

Spires of Grandmother Cedar.

Spires of Grandmother Cedar.

Offerings sometimes hung
from her green, feathery lower branches––
a handful of wildflowers, twisted-grass hearts,
bead-embellished talismans of human design,
handkerchief prayer flags whose weathered blessings
were carried aloft by mists and winds.

Grandmother Cedar’s bark lies infused
with words spoken aloud or in silence,
some quite poetically, others anguished
and some as youthful jibberishness,
words ushered from the lips of us drawn
to the river over the centuries
to caress her rough bark, rest our backs,
soak up the surroundings, share her wisdom.

The elder’s trunk leaned more with each passing season,
until the shallow root structure and rotting heartwood,
with the aid of heavy rains and strong winds,
gave way to the mysterious force of gravity
pulling her down to rest in the wetlands adjacent to the river
among the prickery salmon and blackberry canes,
wild roses, and stinging nettle clumps.

Grandmother Cedar at Rest.

Grandmother Cedar at Rest.

It seemed as if the towering ancient knew
to grow where one should not tarry long
in the entanglements we navigated to get close,
but rather to withdraw and
put her sharing insights into practice.

Grandmother Cedar’s trunk already anchors
leathery lichens and bright green mosses,
and now stretched out on the sandy soils,
she’ll host a richer variety of
ferns, herbs and tree seedlings
taking root and blanketing her rotting body ––
unless one day the wild flood waters
wear away the gravels now separating
Grandmother Cedar from the river’s bed,
and ferry the ancient’s body down stream
to lodge and help form log jams,
where fish and playful humans might swim
in the protection of her bulk.

Other cedar giants climb skyward along the river
although not as old or wide of girth;
perhaps one of these ancients
will draw us close to ask questions,
cast prayers and share wisdom.

In the meantime, rest well, Grandmother Cedar!

Within a short distance of her, another cedar towers over the wetlands.

Within a short distance of her, another cedar towers over the wetlands.

Onward to the next journey. Blessings to one and all. ~ P

Fragrant Bigleaf maple blossom clusters good eaten raw, in pancakes, muffins, etc.

FYI: My header page at the top is of fragrant Bigleaf maple blossom clusters  which are tasty eaten raw in pancakes, muffins, etc.


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Center Stage ~ Papaver, the Poppy

The crowd grows impatient but according to an innate schedule, the stage lights dim, the crowd hushes and the spotlight comes on as the deep maroon-purple velvet curtain pulls back revealing its main performer center stage. So begins the late spring season of “Papaver, the Poppy.”

Center Stage ~ Papaver, the Poppy

Center Stage ~ Papaver, the Poppy

It wasn’t until I moved to the drier climate of Sequim, WA, on the Olympic Peninsula that I began to truly appreciate the Papaver, the poppy. This area’s long, warm, late spring and early summer days encourage a rich bounty of poppy varieties to display their colorful blossoms. The sprightly flowers set atop grey-green lobed or dissected foliage and others with bristly, divided foliage help enhance formal floral settings and enliven many neighborhood flower gardens. Popping up in the most unexpected places, they provide a bright addition to the edges of sidewalks, along river dikes, and even the more impoverished soils along the curbsides sprout miniature versions in white, pink, red, orange, orange-yellows and purple. Some folk give over to not mowing their lawns and just let the poppies take over until they have run their course.

Poppies growing alongside the Old Olympic Hwy.

Poppies growing alongside the Old Olympic Hwy.

Given all the variety of colors, textures, and tones of poppies in our area, I am most captivated by the lavender and the maroon-purple ones. Perhaps it’s because I am going through a purple phase of my life but they bring up mystery, the intrigue of royalty, and the exotic lands far to the east. The darker maroon ones especially remind me of childhood visits to our local Panida Theater in Sandpoint, ID,, with its unique Spanish mission style architecture, subdued wrought-iron lighting fixtures with parchment shades hanging from the tall ceilings, its stuccoed walls with golden highlights; but most of all, the poppies remind me of the the purplish-maroon velvety curtains from behind which the much-anticipated cinemas and performers appeared. I never tired of watching the lights dim and the heavy curtains swoosh open and take a few moments to settle into place and again, to swoosh close at the end, their golden trim sparkling in the houselights.

Unfurling in the warming sun.

Unfurling in the warming sun.

Another one of my childhood memories in the 1950’s involving poppies is of the Veteran’s sale of Remembrance Day poppies in our grade school when patriotic music was played extra loud on the record player and our primary classes would line up at the bottom of our steep staircase, kept immaculately clean and smelling of sawdust and floor wax by our janitor who mysteriously appeared from the boiler room between classes to sweep the playground debris off the treads. We’d ascend the steps and drop our silver dime in the donation box at the top, receive our paper, red Flanders Field Remembrance Day poppy with green floral tape wrapped on its stem from the American Legion volunteer and then descend the opposite side of the staircase and march back to our classrooms.

Remembering the fallen soldiers of WW I

Remembering the fallen soldiers of the Battle of Verdun, WW I

My mother and grandmother had a few  pinkish-lavender pom pon poppies growing in their gardens that self-seeded and which we found ourselves thinning heavily each year. Some of our friends had the bright red or orange Oriental poppies whose bristly stems and leaves seemed unfriendly to me when I bumped up against them while weeding out the grasses that favored growing around their bases. Our clay soils often times coupled with rainy springs seasons just didn’t favor the more exotic and colorful varieties.

According to my research, the wild poppy spread from the Western Mediterranean area, perhaps having been domesticated over 8000 years ago. Its medicinal properties found in the seeds were utilized by early peoples to relieve pain. Mothers added red poppy juice from the petals to babies’ food to put their tikes to sleep or made it into a child’s simple cough syrup.

The whole plant of the California Poppy Eschscholzia californica has medicinal properties and herbalists either dry the herb for later processing or while fresh, chopping it fine and mixing it in an alcohol menstruum or solvent to extract its healing properties. When I see the California poppies which grow profusely on the Dungeness River dike in the warming days of early summer, I am reminded of our stay in New Mexico during the late 90’s when both Michael and I trained as herbal apprentices. We’d travel to a Mexican border town, cross over to get 95 proof ethanol alcohol and dump it out into a five-gallon water jug clearly disguised as water, securely tape the jug shut and drive back across the border in order to have a medium to tincture our herbs, one them being California poppy which we gathered at the edge of the Apache Reservation. At the time, this seemed right out of a western smuggler’s history. I can also remember the foot hills being covered for miles with bright drifts of their yellow-orange blossoms.

California Poppy (Eschscholzia californica)

California Poppy Eschscholzia californica

Poppy seeds harvested mainly from Papaver somniferum remain a favorite culinary ingredient. Who hasn’t enjoyed their unique flavor and crunchiness in cakes and muffins, cookies and bagels, jelly roll fillings, cheeses, noodles, sauces, curries, and breads, etc. Besides enjoying their flavor, the seeds are a strong source of minerals and heart-healthy essential fatty acids. They are an active ingredient in some skin conditioners and scalp treatments, having the reputation for helping to regrow hair.  An extracted oil from the seeds softens the skin by properties which improve hydration and elasticity finding value in hair care products, skin creams, lip balms, and body butters. For the culinary industry, poppy seed oil adds a smooth and subtle-tasting flavor as a salad oil and for dipping crusty breads. The oil is also popular with oil paint enthusiasts because it takes longer to dry and can be blended with other paints for wet-on-wet paintings. Within the medical profession, it is utilized for its carrier capacity to help diagnose and contrast specific procedures.

Papaver somniferum for culinary seeds and seed oils.

Papaver somniferum for culinary seeds and seed oils.

Most papaver are grown for their natural beauty of adding accent to yard and garden. I recently discovered a blue Himalayan poppy growing in a neighborhood plant nursery. I had seen postcards and paintings of them in Victoria, BC, at the Butchart Gardens when a friend and I visited a few summers ago, but by then it was past flowering. Nevertheless, I came back with an urge to have the plant, picking up several postcards adorned with this beautiful blossom at the gift shop to remind me of it until then. The blue poppy Meconopsis grandis is a unique flower in Butchart’s floral history, having been grown there since the 1920’s soon after its discovery by Captain Marshman Baily in the Himalayas. It’s fussy and takes finesse to get it to sprout and grow successfully. So you can imagine how pleased I was when one day two summers ago as I was walking past the bordering shrubs of the nursery to spy it growing in a garden bed. I scampered right in for a closer view and and came back the next day for a camera shot.

Himalayan blue poppy

Himalayan Blue poppy  Meconopsis grandis

Of course, its greatest reputation revolves around it being the source of opium for anaesthesic and ritual purposes dating to ancient sources where it was extracted and utilized by early surgeons to perform prolonged surgical operations. Historically, its more notorious use as the source of addictive smoke and the illicit drug heroin is unfortunate but predictive given human nature.

To the Innocent Gaze

To the Innocent Gaze

“To the Innocent Gaze”
To the innocent gaze,
one might see only beauty
and miss entirely the lovely,
richly-hued maroon petals
resembling exquisite fabrics
surrounding silvery,
pollen-covered chokers
adorning drug-laden seed pods
filled with the allure of
mysterious, darkly-induced
journeys to far off places.

 So many uses for such a tiny seed wrapped up in its own shaker head. Perhaps tonight, I’ll add some seeds to the lavender and mugwort in my dream bundle as Morpheus, the Greek dream messenger of the gods, who is responsible for communicating divine messages to us via dreams, slept in a cave of poppy seeds. Sweet dreams everyone!
Shaker Heads ~ Poppy seed pods soon to dry and little flaps will open around the brim and spill seeds willy nilly.

Shaker Heads ~ Poppy seed pods soon to dry and little flaps will open around the brim and breezes will help spill seeds willy nilly upon the ground.

~~~

Papaver with husk still attached

Papaver with kirtle (husk) still attached

“Purple Poppy Haiku”

The purple poppy
shed her kirtle in the breeze
and danced happily.

A chorus line of poppies

A chorus line of poppies

“A Chorus Line of Poppies”

On my morning walk, I am drawn to a chorus line of poppies flowering along the fence, their necks curved like swans which straighten upward holding aloft gray-green buds beneath husks that split apart revealing crinkled petals stretching and smoothing out in the warming sun, attracting my eye to their gloriously rich bosoms and ear to the buzzing of bumblebees. Another day, their distinctive seed pods now devoid of petals, wear flat-topped skimmers.

Blessings on your journeys fellow travelers. Until next time, peace to one and all.


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A Winter’s Spider

A Winter’s Spider

A a few days ago,

a black, jumping spider

hanging quietly

from its drag line

over my desk

in front of me

in the middle

of a sunny day,

alerted me to note

naturally occurring signs,

only because jumping

spiders aren’t likely

to simply hang

by a dragline;

The red dawn

of this past night’s moon,

alerted me

and the landscape

to the likelihood of

a probable

major storm event

on the horizon

approaching within

a day or two.

The night winds

created lots of

titters and tappets,

whirrings and clangs,

whooshes and whines

as moving branches

played hide and seek

with the neighbor’s

motion lights

keeping me

from deep sleep

and in that trance state

of almost remembering,

but forgotten

until the appearance

of a real event today

hitched it back to

that elusive memory.

I witnessed the

gray northern skies

unbroken save for

a white gull,

wings steady,

soaring through

the arches

of a double rainbow

gracing this morning’s

pre-walk dawn.

All of which culminated in

the night’s pouring rains,

splattering and splashing

onto the branches of

the shrub out front,

festooned with

small intimate lights

contrasting

darkness and light,

akin to the universal impulse

that begat the

Grand Wheel’s seasonal

turnings now in

celebration of Winter.

Winter Solstice Fun '14

Winter Solstice Celebration of Fun ’14

Merry Solstice everyone!


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Poetical Gifts for the Fall Season

Frosted Fall Roses

Frosted Fall Roses

“November”

November,

a gateway into winter,

poised to swing open

as temperatures,

wind and daylight

declare its time for

the brilliant hues

and cornucopias

of fall’s bounty

to cease;

and the unruliness

of the seasons

capricious winds

to weave a way

deep into the raw,

bone-chilling days

of winter’s wrath.

*

Cloud Dragon

Cloud Dragon

“Cloud Dragons”

I’m watching cloud dragons

descend off the mountains today,

ferociously roaring as they pass by.

I’m witnessing gun-powder gray trailers

shredding in disrepair

as stronger dragons take to the air.

Their presence measured in leaves

tumbling and cartwheeling across the yard,

grasses yielding to breaths blown hard.

Flocks of smaller birds careen and break apart,

others hide in the boughs of the evergreen

safely riding it out in a natural windscreen.

But now the dragon riders have taken to the air,

gulls and crows, masters of flight, soaring with the wind,

as if caressing and playing with an ancestral kin.

*

Silken Threads

Silken Threads

“The Great Tapestry”

Let’s look at threads,
you and I,
fibers plucked from
experience and grace,
each weaver creating
a personal strand,
and spun together
forming a unique yarn
to dress our life’s loom.

Let’s now take those threads,
you and I,
those strands
of twisted fibers
forming our yarn
and instead of making
a personal tapestry
filled with our life’s events,
let’s collectively spin spools
of co-creative energy
and dress a loom together.

Let’s spin those fibers,
you and I,
into distinctive yarns
some as light as mohair.
some as sheer as spider silk,
others as sturdy as flax,
some dull, others bright,
some rough, others slick,
some thin, others thick
in all colors of humanity,
with all colors of soul,
to dress a greater loom.

Let’s together,
you and I,
weave a tapestry
adorned with
healthy trees and forests,
nurturing cities and towns,
clean lakes and rivers;
bound by oceans
rich in diversity and motion;
with air to breathe filled with
brilliant sunrises and sunsets,
mists, rains and rainbows;
in cooperation with the rhythms
of sun and moon,
and glittering with brilliant stars.

Let’s stand back,
you and I,
to admire
the assistance of the unseen,
the invisible dynamics that
helped us weave this
rich tapestry of life and livelihood,
that has us bound naturally
to one another,
which allows our hearts
to beat and fall in love,
to nurture and create family,
sustain our lives with
abundance and health,
grace and peace,
and let’s give thanks.

*

Campfire Incense

Campfire Incense in the Making

“Campfire Incense”

Alluring tendrils of smokey haze

dance their way

past the fire circle and

curtsey to the

newly-arrived brugmansias.

From their balcony seats

on the fence line,

the angelic trumpets

lift their skirts

and step forth

to join in with an expression

of divine fragrance.

Under the silvery glow of

a waxing crescent moon,

the wood smoke and

trumpet flowers swirl

until the luster of the last ember

is exhausted and extinguished.

And for those privileged to be

in circle with the celebrants,

their memories and hair will

carry this embrace of lovers,

as a campfire incense,

sweetly exotic and smokey.

*

Graceful Sky Feather

Graceful Sky Feather

“A Simple Ceremony”

our singing bowl sang

a song for you today;

the simple grail

filled to overflowing

with eagles’ calls–

high-pitched,

carried aloft

by soaring wings,

rising on

warming thermals;

the hawks’

raspy cries

danced and spun

even higher,

their songs

disappearing

from sight and

re-emerging in

a silent,

downward spiral

of speed and grace;

the raven’s

swift wingbeat

kept time

to the slap

of salmon’s tail

forming a

redd to cradle

future lives

in the river’s bed;

and throughout,

the graceful gesturing

of a flight

of seaward gulls

drew forth

the bowl’s song,

conducting

it’s rhythm and flow.

*

Thank  you for taking the time to read my poetical gifts.


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Diving into the Mystery: A Mystical Journey

A Mystical Journey

A light rain was misting the tips of the yew, showering its green needles with a silvery hue, when I was stopped in my tracks in the woods near my home, where often it is that I’ve taken to roam and sort through the events of my day, letting its problems and stresses fall away. I find the woods comforting, quiet and cool, magically transforming my fears by the rule of entering into stillness, which allows me to hear, sense, see and feel into other realms which in their content seem just as real as where I now stood, close by a yew tree, deep in the wood.

The air was expectant, full, awaiting discovery when I chanced to look down amid all the rain-soaked shrubbery and saw fibers of light covering the vicinity like a million spider webs trailing off into infinity. I breathed a full breath and let it out slow, and another, for I wanted to know, what is this phenomena that I’d chanced on today, that seems in this forest to magically underlay all the living greenery that is part of the scenery.

In the blink of an eye, the fibers faded from view and I was left wondering why they all withdrew. But as I questioned what it was that I’d seen, the answers welled up from that place in-between and I knew I’d encountered yet another gateway, to the wondrous realm of the dragons and fae. “Water, roots and fungi,” the words popped into my head, looping round and round, that’s just what they said. I stood very quietly, making not a stir, trying to understand what the words did infer. “Water, roots and fungi,” I was left with little doubt, that’s what I heard this forest world silently shout.

Over the years I’d discovered magic in forest, rivers and sea…a journey spiraling through time and space giving me, opportunity to encounter realms all manner of size in places I never expected to see them materialize. Now today, in this rain-graced space, I heard the words of the forest folk but saw not their trace. I leaned against the trunk of an old medicine tree…a hemlock, taller than most, much thicker than me. The yew was close by, mist welling up and dripping, drop upon drop quietly slipping onto the ferns and mosses, lichens and grass lining the trail on which I was to pass if it were not for the pull of the gateway and another opportunity to enter the land of the fae.

Feathery branches hung down in front of my face, absorbing the drops that fell upon this place, helping create an image destined for me, deep in the forest close by to the sea. A bold, woodsy fragrance ushered from the wetted wood, a crisp odor of evergreens, wild gingers and one I should be able to name for it reminded me of something familiar but not, something on the edge of almost forgot.

Dungeness River

Dungeness River

I instinctively looked to the forest surrounding me and felt at my back the support of the wise old tree. To my left which was east were two moss-shrouded humps with the trail meandering between what was left of their stumps; directly in front or south across the trail, a clump of green yew, their trunks papered with red-brown scale; west, to the right, here the snow-swelled river crowded its mossy shore, filling the glade with a rich, thunderous roar; that left the north or what was behind where it was I was to find, the purpose of this visit today of having been called forward by the fae.

When I looked above and into the tree, thick branches, criss-crossing as far as my eye could see created angular panes of dim light, amid a blur of green extending the full height into the soft-crowned canopy of the hemlock tree. Fungal beards draped pendulously on the limbs’ roughened bark, their sodden filaments weeping moisture off the matriarch, splashing upon a pile of rodent bones bereft of meat, lying partially buried in the mosses at my feet, stained a dark algal green containing a story now seen as a fractured skull, curved teeth and a line of bead-shaped vertebrae lying underneath, slowly being reclaimed by the elements of earth, dismantling crystalline bone salts in a rebirth.

I leaned back, stilled my thinking, identified my space and let my body sink into the hemlock tree’s grace. I could feel the fibers of my being push out and slip into the forest floor, and like dogs sniffing out who had passed this way before, I found the hemlock’s root hair and slid myself along side, relaxing even more and got ready for an extended ride into images fueled by magic. Immediately a familiar dynamic journey began and . . . I found myself intertwining with the roots of trees and shrubs pulsing along with earthworms and slippery, slimy slugs amidst the clutter and debris carpeting the forest’s floor underneath the trees, helping to enrich and enliven the subterranean soil by passing gases, ferrying water, and minerals as my toil while sucking in the sugars that fueled my form until I encountered the extra moisture of an autumn rainstorm. My Being filled with water and I pushed up through the duff, under a fir tree standing along a golf course’s rough.

The Prince ~ Agaricus augustus

The Prince ~ Agaricus augustus

Now I’m the titled “Agaricus augustus: The Prince,” growing on the border of forest and grass, a most civilized mushroom that once identified is hard to pass without picking and enjoying its essence, a fine aromatic almond, the quintessence of the spring and autumn “shrooming” season which my now standing with a knife in hand the very reason I am at the cutting board letting sacromagical words roll off my tongue trying to relate their meaning and practices in a manner that rung a bell of clarity inside my head rather than just words that my mentors once said.

Although analogies abound, my sphere is my kitchen space where I practice daily with crucible and flame, the alchemy of transformation or cooking by its other name; bringing together the earth, air, fire and water elements, treating them as holy sacraments. And as I watched the Prince saute under the lid of glass, it began to express its reason for being popular: a distinctive, spicy, almondy juiciness. A moment of aha-ness, a signature action I could recognize is that cooking a mushroom is a very wise alchemical analogy, part of the Mystery, happening right in front of me.

Our one common ancestor, an algal cell, gave birth to plants and animals as well; but then nature took a break, sparked a compromise and voila: an alchemical surprise giving humans and fungi a genetic sterol not know in the plant realm at all. So as I stood watching the slices shrink into pools of liquid gold, I got further into thinking how the birth of each mushroom naturally enfolds; by their processing alchemical Mercury, Sulfur and Salt, then passing along to me through the gestalt of their water, essential oils and body, what the myriad of mycelial networks connecting to the fir and the other kingdoms of nature surrounding me were, in co-evolution with the faerie realm helping to transform, the perfection of my Being, a spirit in human form.

And how if I had not been magically chosen to eat these particular allies in the fungal world today, the process the ‘shrooms would undergo in nature as they started to decay, which a few had already begun once exposed to the elements and the over-world sun. They would pass along their Princely spores in the guts of worms and bears encased in feces, ready to produce more if the fermentation conditions are right once they tap back into the under-world’s light adding my working thoughts, magical feelings and carings into the collective of the fungal networks’ healings and sharings. But I’ve chosen to cook mine instead and as a reproductive body they are probably dead, yet inside my gut, by the digestive process they transmute their signature use into blood, muscles, bones and nerves capable of fueling all senses, emotions and curiosity which serves me to explore the depths of magic, myth and space, perceiving the realms beyond which brings me back to this place, of standing up against the hemlock tree, deep in the forest near to the sea.

And where perhaps one day, my ashes will lie, sprinkled upon the damp mosses near to where the trail I often traversed crosses, returning my body’s ashened minerals spagyrically-honed into the same soil as the rodent’s algal-stained bones, which lie at my feet, where the faerie worlds of over and under meet.


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Musings with Hawthorn Berry, from Blossom to Brew

Black Hawthorn (Crataegus douglassi) Flowers

Black Hawthorn (Crataegus douglassi) blossom clusters

The Black Hawthorn (Crataegus douglasii) or western thorn apple is a Pacific northwest native tree that as a child growing up in northern Idaho I stayed away from because of its thorny branches and it being host in late summer to the small, but prolific and slimy larval stage of the sawfly. Known as the pear slug, the sawfly larvae felt and moved over the foliage much like miniature slugs, all the while skeletonizing the leaves of hawthorn and pear trees. Since I spent a great deal of time in the lowland fields and orchards on my childhood turf, I was well-acquainted with the sharp thorns and “slimy slugs” as I crawled and scrambled about. However, I loved the hawthorn blossoming time coming in mid-May and the abundant bee populations that buzzed about pollinating its flower clusters. Little did I know at the time the sawfly is a small, stingless wasp that helps to pollinate its musky-smelling blossoms. 

Hawthorn with its flowers, leaves and haws is one of the most important medicinal plants in our herbal apothecary. Beginning with its verdant, tender leaves unfurling in the spring when I like to gather them for a lemony-like green tea or as a salad green, and then into the blossoming stage when the flower clusters are collected for teas and tinctures and on to harvesting of the hawthorn haws or berries for tinctures, and infused honeys, shrubs and tonic syrups, the hawthorn provides a cornucopia of health. Some herbalists and aficionados also collect twigs, thorns and bark, adding them to their preparations. Hawthorn has a myriad of healing capabilities but perhaps is best known in the western herbal tradition for its use as a slow and gentle-acting heart tonic. Quoting herbalist Michael Moore, from his book “Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West” (1993), …”In recent years, the berries have been used increasingly in syrup or tea for strengthening connective tissue that has been weakened by excessive inflammation (because hawthorn contains a ) high level of flavonoids particularly in the darker-colored species…”

Haws or Black Hawthorn Berries

Haws or black hawthorn berries

On the Olympic Peninsula of Washington State, there are two species of hawthorn which we use medicinally: the common hawthorn aka red hawthorn or one-seeded hawthorn (C. monogyna), a species native to Europe which often naturalizes. The other is the black hawthorn, (C. douglasii) a native North American species with which we are more acquainted and thus favor its haws for their familiar flavor even though they contain more seeds than the red, one-seeded common hawthorn. Fortunately on the Peninsula, neither host the pear slug although both have wicked thorns which sometimes make harvesting a mindful challenge. 

Our closest wild hawthorn tree grows in a hedgerow that borders a nearby field. Hedgerows are dynamic communities providing food and homes to an abundance of wildlife including birds, small rodents, feral cats, snakes, insects of all manner and those drawn to feast on the animals, insects, and plants that live there such as hawks who sit in the upper branches of the hawthorn and coyotes that scout the holes and tunnels along the borders. One day I did a count of plant species in the quarter mile of hedgerow and came up with over sixty! Many of these species have medicinal qualities and can be considered forage foods as well, among them chickweed and stinging nettles, blackberry and blue elderberry.

Common or One-seeded Hawthorn Tree

Common or one-seeded hawthorn tree

Within that hedgerow grows a red or one-seeded common hawthorn, about twenty-five feet tall. One mid-May day when it was in full blossom, I stopped and stuck my head into the tree’s interior and was transfixed by the sound of buzzing insects, such aliveness and vitality I had never felt so viscerally before, truly taking me into a space I struggled to return from. Throughout the summer, this tree holds its branches wide for robins and spotted towhee families who dash in and out from hidden nests; it provides roosting spots for flickers, chickadees, American gold finches and even hummingbirds who warm themselves out of their stupors in the early morning sun. Later this fall or early next spring, it will play host to flocks of cedar wax-wings who along with the robins, eat the ripened red haws scattering abundant waste on the ground for mice, quail and chipmunks.

Already this year it’s provided us with tender green leaves and abundant flower clusters for medicinal teas. In a few more weeks as we stroll the adjacent lane, we’ll eat its red berries out of hand; however we’ll travel to another lowland spot where several C. douglassi already bearing richly-colored ripe pomes grow, as we prefer the black hawthorn berries for preserving as food and medicine. Spring leaves and flower clusters from either red or black species are used medicinally.

I treasure hawthorn as a lovely connection to the spring season, a tonic for the heart, an aid to strengthening connective tissues, and as an herb steeped in magic. We’ll consider the magical aspects in the next musing of Alpine Lady.

Join me now in making:

 Hawthorn Berry Tonic Syrup

Making the syrup requires patience and attention much like the picking of its fruit. Mindful harvesting and mindful medicine-making are inherent in honoring the weaving of its magical qualities, its medicinal virtues.

This recipe has been inspired by Dr. John Christopher’s original “Hawthorn Berry Heart Syrup” and Gail Faith Edwards’ s “Hawthorn Berry Syrup.” I, being a recipe tweaker and intuitional cook, have added a few variables for personal taste which will not reduce the effectiveness of their recipes.

Black hawthorn berries or haws

Black hawthorn berries or haws

For this recipe, I gathered two quarts of fresh black hawthorn (Crataegus douglassi) haws or berries, the apple-like pomes that mature in late summer. The common or red hawthorn fruit also makes excellent syrup although as stated previously, we’re more familiar with the flavor of the black. After harvesting, I like to leave the berries outside overnight in shallow boxes to let the spiders and other critters find new homes. Rolling the haws over a towel or blanket removes loose debris. Since these berries had recently been thoroughly drenched with rain water, I didn’t wash but if dusty it’s a prudent step.

Ingredients:

Fresh, frozen or dried hawthorn berries

Filtered water

Organic honey

Everclear grain alcohol or similar spirit

Celtic salt

Berries slowly simmering

Berries slowly simmering

Use a pot large enough to hold your berries with additional head space of two or more inches. Cover your harvested berries with at least an inch of filtered water, place a cover on the pot and slowly bring to a low simmer. (DO NOT BOIL!) Simmer continuously for 20 minutes. Remove and set hot mixture aside for at least 20 minutes if not longer.

Mashing the berries

Mashing the berries

Strain off the liquid infusion and return berries to pot. Mash them thoroughly and cover over with another inch of fresh, filtered water. Repeat the simmering process making sure you don’t boil the berries for the boiling process removes some medicinal qualities. Strain thoroughly, pressing with the back of a big spoon to maximize the amount of infusion recovered.

Add the two strained liquids together and carefully measure and record before putting infusion into a stainless steel pot. I’m sure this process could all be done in a crock pot and hopefully will do so with the next batch.

Beginning the final simmering or rendering process

Beginning the final simmering or rendering process

Now the real time-consuming part: “A watched pot never boils!” and “Patience is a virtue” are sayings that will become quite evident as you finish up which only adds to the quality and flavor of your healthy, tonic syrup.

Slowly simmer the hawthorn infusion down to approximately 1/3 (one-third) of its original volume. I started out with close to 10 cups of infusion and after about four hours, it had reduced to 3 1/4 cups. By then it was a nice rich, deep purple decoction. To this I added 1/3 of the remaining liquid as an equal amount of mild-tasting honey which amounted to approximately 1 cup of honey. I also added a pinch of Celtic salt, a lesson from my mother in how to bring out additional flavors in such recipes.

Decoction, grain alcohol, honey and Celtic salt

Decoction, grain alcohol, honey and Celtic salt

When the infusion, salt and honey have been thoroughly mixed together, I added 1/6 of the original rendered decoction as Everclear grain alcohol or approximately 4 oz or (1/2 cup). I ended up with 36 ounces of finished product which we poured into amber round medicine bottles. We keep a four-ounce bottle handy and the rest is tucked away in a deep corner of the refrigerator among the refrigerator pickles and infused oils. Usually Michael steers away from sweet syrups but this one spoke to him on first taste and has become part of his morning routine. Dosage is 1-2 teaspoons per day.

Black hawthorn berry tonic syrup

Black hawthorn berry tonic syrup

Until next journey, stay healthy! Thank you, Michael, for your patience.