from the woods near Natchez, Mississippi, USA
June 23, 2002
On Friday I celebrated this year's Summer Solstice. Walking in the fields I reflected on the fact that half of the current solar cycle, the "natural year," is now completed.
Part of my celebration consisted of summoning up memories of this spring's most pleasant moments -- of spotting the year's first flowering trilliums and violets in the bayou, and of watching the first leaves come into the trees. I recollected the fun I had chronicling bird migration, and I tried to remember what the mulberry tree looked like that day I saw so many Cedar Waxwings in it. I tried to recall the exact warble the Painted Bunting made that morning I found him in the orchard. I remembered the morning I walked into the garden and saw the first beans coming up, and in my mind I replayed the view of the blackberry field white with blossoms. I even tried to reconstitute on my tongue the taste of the year's first ripe tomato, and that wasn't so long ago.
Now our days will begin growing shorter and before the month is out probably I'll be feeling "fallish" again.
In fact, it seems that I have come to recognize only two real seasons, spring and fall, plus I admit that there are brief periods in between these seasons when "Nature holds her breath." Nature "exhales" spring with all its blossomings, hatchings, openings-up, avalanchings-forth and lightings- and warmings-up, then "inhales" fall with its fruitings, fallings, crystallizations, wrappings-up, buryings, darkenings and coolings-off.
Another part of this week's Solstice celebration was a kind of prayer formulated as I walked across a sunny field. The prayer consisted of consciously recognizing that I was glad for being able to walk as I was, and to think the thoughts I am reporting here. I never ask anything in prayers, just give thanks, but if I had been the kind to ask for something I think I should have appealed to the Creator for things to keep on happening as they may, and I would have asked to remain alert beneath the sky, and to be able to see and feel as much of everything as I can.
After the walk I passed by the garden. I carried a big piece of cornbread in my pocket so I sliced that open, picked some ripe cherry tomatoes, sliced them and spread them atop the cornbread, plucked a handful of basil leaves, shred them and strewed them atop the tomatoes, then I dug up a garlic bulb, sliced it, and spread the slices atop the basil, and that garlic was so juicy that it sparkled in the sunlight. Then I ate it all, and it was good, and looking up into the blue sky as I chewed I felt something like a deep sob coming on, but then somehow it ended with a chuckle, and I still can't say exactly what that was all about.
Maybe it meant that I'd had a good celebration.
Between Nature's exhaled spring and the inhaled fall, there's a brief moment of "just holding," which is neither spring nor fall. That's the time we're experiencing right now. Besides being graced with the Solstice, the "just holding" time has its own character worth noticing and thinking about.
Mainly, this is exactly the time to feel nature humming along at top efficiency. When we're not distracted by the rush of either spring or fall, with our internal ear we can sometimes hear the majestic humming, the "ommmmmmmmmmmmmm...." Nature makes when she is just busy being herself. You hear this best in mid-afternoon when the field is quiet and the sunlight and heat stun you with their power. "Ommmmmmmmmmmmmm..." maybe with a solitary meadow grasshopper stridulating its bzzzzzz-zip-zip-zip-zip-bzzzzzzz in attendance.
One way to sense the efficiency of nature's work at this in-between season is to step from the forest into a sunlit field in the afternoon. The forest is cool but the sunlight in the field beats down with unexpected harshness. The temperature difference you feel as you pass from the forest into the field represents the energy the forest is using, but which is being lost to the ecosystem when it hits your skin. This is energy that could have fueled photosynthesis, and thus could have been stored among the atomic bonds of the trees' carbohydrate molecules, and, later, when the trees die and decay, might have been shared with the rest of the ecosystem, thus fueling untold corners and levels of life.
When I got to the garden I wanted to sit in the remains of an old, metal lawn chair I'd retrieved from a junk heap. The chair was painted the same green hue as the leaves of the bean vine twining on the giant-bamboo trellis next to me. When I sat on the chair, because it had been in the sunlight, it was so hot that I had to jump back up. Then standing there I reached over and touched the bean leaves. They were cool and pleasant to the touch, despite being in the same sunlight as the chair.
I stood there a long time thinking about this difference between a forest and a manmade open area, and a green plant and a green chair, and in my Solstice mood you can imagine the conclusions I drew.
Just in from my dawn jog Thursday I was sponging myself down when I felt a burning sensation on the calf of my left leg. A horse fly was there drilling for blood, needing my blood's nutrients to help her eggs form. I thumped the fly with my middle finger. Usually such thumps just send the fly bouncing off the ground and if I'm lucky then they fly away and leave me alone. This must have been a perfectly executed thump, however, for this poor horse fly lay on her back in front of me all during breakfast, wiggling her legs in the air, making me feel sorry for her.
Of course, a dazed horsefly is worth scanning. I was astonished to see what a fine image I got of her head, which I placed on my "Insect mouth parts" page on the Internet. You can see the picture at www.backyardnature.net/insmouth.htm#hf
In that picture you observe the brownish, scissors-like appendages used to cut through animal skin, and below them the black, tongue-like thing the insect uses to suck up the blood once it's flowing. The books say that a horse fly's mouth parts are composed of nine distinct items all working together to cut and suck, so they are considerably more complex than, say, a butterfly's sucking coil or an ant's chewing apparatus.
The poor horse fly crawled around atop my scanner for 24 hours. In the end I carried her to a spot in my outside kitchen where a funnel-web spider lives and dropped her onto the web. Before long the spider very efficiently began transferring the energy stored in that horse fly's body into her own.
GOLDENSEAL POWDER AND GARLIC JUICE
About every six months I manage to fall during my dawn jogs when a shoe catches on a rock sticking from the ground. This Wednesday was my most recent fall day. It wasn't a bad fall, as falls go, but it did create a substantial gash in my right elbow.
My standard treatment for such wounds is to spread the dry powder of goldenseal root across the scraped area. Typically a black scab forms the first day, then in about a week the scab falls off and I'm always amazed at how well it is healed. However, this time, at the end of the second day the gash was still suppurating and it was beginning to smell. Clearly it was getting infected.
From the drying garlic plants hung below the ceiling of my outside kitchen I retrieved a juicy bulb (this season's bulbs haven't separated into cloves yet), mashed it in a cup, added a little water, mixed, and then strained out the pulp. With the remaining water I washed out the wound, then repacked it with goldenseal powder. The garlic water burned a good bit, but I suppose any good antiseptic would have done so.
The next morning there was no sign of infection. Admittedly my elbow smelled like garlic, but the wound was healing fast.
So now I know that if I just have a scrape, then goldenseal powder will do by itself. But if there is a cut, say, a quarter of an inch deep (6 mm), then it should be washed first with garlic water.
There's plenty about using goldenseal at www.rxlist.com/cgi/alt/goldenseal_faq.htm. An illustration of the Goldenseal wildflower, HYDRASTIS CANADENSIS, producing the root from which goldenseal powder is derived, is at www.mobot.org/MOBOT/research/library/kohler/1761_087.jpg. The Goldenseal wildflower does not grow naturally in this area, but it does in my Kentucky home area. Throughout much of its distribution it has been exterminated by plant collectors.
You can read about using garlic as an antiseptic at www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/g/garlic06.html#med.
SENSITIVE BRIAR AS MEDICINE
Last week I mentioned the current flowering of the Sensitive Briar, or Bashful Briar, SCHRANKIA MICROPHYLLA. Newsletter subscriber Rengyu in Bangladesh replied:
"What you call Bashful Briar is called Laja-pata or Shy-leaf here... A few bunches of the leaves made into tea is a great cure for the runs. The crushed leaves can also stop bleeding from minor cuts."
I'm sure that Rengyu's plant is a different species from ours, but it may be closely related. Several look-alike species which droop their leaves when touched occur around the world.
Rengyu's letter caused me to wonder if our Sensitive Briar might not have a medicinal use, too, so I "Googled" it. I went to the Google search engine at www.google.com and typed "schrankia medicinal" (Schrankia being the genus name) into the query box. About 30 responses resulted. One page dealt with the uses of medicinal herbs at Confederate field hospitals during the Civil War, at www.civilwarinteractive.com/anesthetics_in_field_and_general.htm, and here I learned that Sensitive Briar was used as a local anesthetic.
What a powerful tool this Google is. Every school should provide a class just on the effective use of Google. This experience also shows the usefulness of Latin names. Our Sensitive Briar goes by many common names, but there's only one Schrankia microphylla.
The deer passing by my trailer nowadays often carry a handsome rack of growing antlers covered with "velvet." The velvet makes the antler points rounded, and looks like reddish-brown fuzz, just like the deer's hide. That's not surprising since antler velvet is indeed skin. The antlers themselves are bone covered with "cornified skin," a hard substance not unlike a hard corn on a sore foot. As the antlers emerge they push up the skin on the deer's head. You can imagine that such pressure being put on skin from below must cause itching, and this is surely why deer with velvet on their antlers tend to scrape their antlers on trees. This not only tears the velvet from their antlers but also frequently injures the trees.
On the Web I discovered many pages selling velvet as a natural remedy. As they say, antler velvet "is a natural source of anti-inflammatory prostaglandins, as well as glucosamine and chondroitin sulphate." A page extolling velvet's medicinal value can be reviewed at www.gold-mountain.co.nz/.
SHOWERING AT THE COMPUTER
Being a hermit in a tiny, hangdog trailer in the woods has its compensations. I benefited from one as I typed the above entry.
I've told you about the perpetual pool of water atop my trailer where the roof sags. In the center of this roof there's a small, square, screened window that can be screwed open from below. During the summer the window stays open most of the time, to let out the heat. In the hottest part of each afternoon birds come to bathe in the pool. As they flutter they send an occasional cool, refreshing spray through the window onto my sweating shoulders below.
It's a system no one could have dreamed up intentionally, yet it works pretty well.