blown away

October 29, 2012

It is fall already.  The foggy winds are blowing hard.  The stone fruits are about finished.  The California hillsides are dried up golden, and leaves are starting to wither and hit the dirt.

And I must say I don’t feel quite ready!  I personally love fall, but this year I find myself fighting the seasonal change–maybe because late summer was so sweet.  Consequently I am just not living up to my own (high) expectations that I will gracefully transition into WHATEVER: a new season, a new job, a body transition or a mini-life crisis.

I admit I’ve been hiding out in the bathroom a little.  I know it’s reclusive of me, but that is part of the fall transition too.   Let me try and explain.

A friend pointed out to me that I always feel a bit deciduous this time of year.  Certainly I grow tired of gardening (though there is always one last push through the cutting back of the perennials and moving things around before winter and the holidays set in).  Heaving my hoe is slowly giving way to resting on my shovel…it’s almost that time.  Maybe another month and a half to get through before the big rest?  It depends on the rains.

So anyhow, in the evenings, (as I try to escape the sounds of another baseball game) I occasionally take a bath.  It’s the remedy for my autumn malady:   a pretend rain, filled with the sounds of actual rushing water, spruced up by beeswax candles and fragrant herbs to bathe in.  A little herbal ocean…

Just a few of my favorites are:  redwood needles or passionflower vine, fresh calendula, rose petals, sage.   It is amazing how alive one can feel after slipping into a bath with actual plants floating all around you.  I am so grateful that Kami McBride, my first herbal teacher, encouraged myself and fellow students to experiment with the healing powers of the herbal bath.  I remember her describing this incredible outdoor tub that she had taken in the woods beneath the stars.  As she told her story, the bath became a metaphor for the cosmos, with the immersed human body as galaxy and plant bits as individual floating stars.  It sounded literally out of this world.

While most of us don’t have access to a star-infused setting, the benefits of herbal bathing still run very deep.

I for one feel closer to nature and more aware of my amazing skin suit and the job it has to do.  More importantly, a bath helps me slow down and feel that relaxation can be a state of being, something I am trying to cultivate more of these days.  It helps me remember that within the human body, we contain all the elements of the cosmos.  Even as the winds and rain of autumn whip us around on the outside, we can take comfort in the quiet expanse within.

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So I’ve been ruminating on roots…inspired by their undergroundedness.

Roots are the below to what is above.  It’s deep.

In a healthy plant, the root structure reflects the foliage.  As the leaves and stems reach wide, so do the root hairs branch below.  It’s the literal, physical foundation for the beauty we witness and appreciate on the surface of things and a wonderful metaphor for these winter times.  A mirror image in the darkness.  A good, quiet secret.

Now that all the rushing of the holidays is finished, we need to rest and restore.  Most likely our nervous systems were overstimulated with travel,  parties, and tons of social time.  When all that goes away, there is a tendency to wonder “Is that all?  It happened so fast.”  Enter the root as metaphor…

A root moves micronutrients and water up into the aerial plant parts.  It’s also a storehouse that feeds the plant in lean times.

Similar to a dormant plant,  it’s important to get back to what roots us–to go back to listening to our our inner dialogue.     Really take the time to ask yourself “Did I have a good holiday?”  “Did I really enjoy that (literal or symbolic) wild airplane ride?”

The New Year is a great opportunity for coming back to the “underground” energy  that feeds us.  The pulse of what gives us our vision,  strength, and stability.

This late fall and early winter season I’ve had the very good fortune of making some amazing roots into medicine.  Both are adaptogenic in nature– a plant that works on moderating the human stress response, helping to develop stamina for life’s bumps and thrills.   Introducing the dynamic duo:

Rhodiola~Rhodiola rosea,  a northern beauty!!  Literally smells like a (rootish)   rose.  Native to Canada, Scandinavia, Siberia.  Used to nourish the lungs, and often taken to prevent sickness in said cold climates.  “Shown to enhance alertness, reduce fatigue, and improve memory and depressed mental states” (Adaptogens, Winston and Maimes.)  Beneficial for the heart, helpful for regulating blood sugar levels and compromised immune systems.  Life feels a little brighter with this plant on your side.

And then there is…

Ashwagandha~Withania somnifera:  the Hindi name for this plant, asgandh, refers to its horse sweat odor.  This fellow may stink up your kitchen (if you are processing it into medicine) but it will also strengthen your chi like no body’s business.  It is calming plant, yet perfect for perking up a sluggish thyroid gland (suitable for hypo folks, not hyperthyroid.)    Works on anxiety and nervousness.  Good for stress-induced insomnia.  I love this plant for how strong it makes me feel…just a small dose once or twice a day makes a noticeable difference when I’ve got projects and no one to complete them but me.

Both handsome roots do so much more than I’ve just given them credit for.  They are the tonics of the winter, the quiet yin heart dirt energy.  Root medicine.   I love that we can both be rooted, and take roots into our bodies.

It’s time to get deep…

Words can be fertile ground…(a garden fairy tale come true.)

Some of you will remember a post about my friend Marion.   Marion and I were planting a medicinal herb garden at her home in Piedmont, CA this spring when she passed away suddenly.  This was a very sad happening, and her family wondered what to do with the herbs that she had planted.  There was much consternation, and then her husband Zafiris said the magical words “Take them away.  I don’t know what to do with such things.”  Really?!?  (Tears watered the soil beneath Marion’s oak tree.)

And so I bravely dug those happy plants out of their home dirt, and ferried them across the Bay Bridge to land in their new location–an under-utilized garden in the Inner Richmond.   A vast landscape of quick-draining soil, amended with homemade compost.   Hip hop music blasting in the background.  Old relics of the past garden lying around.  Woodchips from the trees that used to stand on site.  In other words, a blank canvas, a new beginning.

Forgive for a moment a narrator’s interruption:  I want to be clear.  I’m not the hero of this story.  I’m just the dopey sidekick.  The plants are the brains.  And despite all the unpredictable variables of their new destiny, and in spite of the gardener within that keeps saying “we’ll see…” they are looking really good!  Like sticks of a plant, with brand new basal growth where dirt meets aerial parts!  New growth!

And this gardener is so happy I could spit.  Honestly.  I’ve been waiting for this moment for such a long time:  sunny San Francisco location meets herbal medicinals.  An herb garden of my own!  To share with others, eventually.  First we’ve got some growing to do.

Sticks and stones get moved around to host Solidago, and Chamomile, Blue Vervain, and a ton of Grindelia…

Take a peek.  It may not look like much, but come next Spring and Summer, these baby plants will be usefully engaged in soothing your sore throats, calming your fried nerves, and pepping up your tired bones.

For now they look like sticks among the stones.  We are moving toward the winter solstice.  It’s cold and dark, it’s raining.  But eventually the rains will stop.  And then the plants will be lush.  And I’ll pick some of their leaves, and make you a tea.   See?

A deep thank you to Mary and Ted