Friday, June 10, 2016

Vibrant Elders

Seed, Bud, Flower 

"Are you a gardener?"


The cute girl loading freshly-made ruby kraut onto the cart eyed my flowered sun hat, bibs and linen shirt, all rosy-peach and gold.

"Do you love flowers?"


"You're going to become a flower!"

"Um!... When I'm buried, you betcha."

I gave her a soft smile, remembering myself at eighteen. So near my beginning, that its ending seemed way too far-fetched to ruminate.

But I had known a few grand-hearted elders, some more full of life than my own strutting vitality! It gave me youthful pause.

What an adventure that could be! And how does it happen---chortles and kindness into great old age?

Inveterate snoop, I looked for commonalities among vibrant elders. A big one would be lithe legs, and lymph kept moving by adventures in the out-of-doors.

Not much TV, plastic or polyester figured in that demographic. Broad brush strokes as a group, they seemed to honor craftsmanship, farms with old walls and orchards, and to celebrate the wild fecund world.

John Muir, iconoclast and earth-steward, still alive in their old, penetrating eyes.

Yosemite's Half-Dome 
Saved by John Muir &
Teddy Roosevelt, 
President of the US

If I were to happen on such an extraordinary Mensch in present time, I made a decision to try to make contact.

I have been plumbed and mentored in stunning conversations... often of small time frame but life-long impact.

The bud of a girl with the ruby kraut watched me meander on. I grinned over my shoulder and sent her a bright all's-well-Lovie-you'll do-fine thought-ball. Which burst into piñata sparkles above her head.

I laughed; she sent me a goofy, puzzled smile.

I went on about my errands, wondering: What finally matters? And is it even worth asking?

...With such a  precarious feeling to status quo, pensions and EBT/SNAP card funding in doubt. All the 10,000 things that define us seeming to teeter seismically of a sudden.

I'd just read about a people apart from modernity's consensual madness. Interesting book indeed: Shepherd's, New Self, New World:

" the language of the Penan tribe of Borneo---one of the last nomadic rain-forest societies on earth---there are no words to distinguish between he, she or it, but there are six words for we, the pronoun that discloses relationship.

"(The anthropologist) also noted that 'they measure wealth not by the extent of their possessions, but by the strength of their relationships.' "

Now, mentors come in all shapes and sizes. cozy, sleek or lumpy. The smiling charisma of sociopaths, life in the raw, also can represent a life teaching.

(Politics might be a broad hint!)

I once "learned" about astonishing life-choices from a fellow who had invested in a classic gold Lamborghini. Hm!

Amazing design, including his plan: to use it as a hot-chick-lure! On the back, he'd pasted a bumper sticker,

 Adventures, as if story matters:

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Planting Time


I lean against the cool side of the adobe gateway; cross my ankles and arms. 

"Think I'll go back to holding up this wall."

"Well, it pays good," opines the old rancher.

"If you work for the gubmint."

The rancher in cowboy boots and I in bib overalls are waiting for a nursery truck to finish dis-gorging its plants. And move the heck out of the way.

The truck driver offers to guide me through a three-point turn (that being, what?!... in a tight space.)

"Nuh unh. Thanks for the offer, but I'm a female not stoopid about my backing-up skills." 

So we wait and watch the show. Long line of people stand with their treasures, pay and leave.

Interesting: Folks with still lots of "discretionary" moolah are buying numerous hanging baskets of petunias at $35 a pop.... 

When a 6-pack of petunia plants would have done a comparable display pretty soon, set in last year's pot, for five bucks.

Do the math; have we lost our minds?

I've been reading and thinking about Venezuela, the empty store shelves, dumpster-diving for edible garbage, and monster inflation. If you can find anything.

Doesn't take long for hungry to morph to ugly. We don't seem to "get it" yet, but I guess we will.

Am remembering my Southern grandmama answering knocks at the back door of men out of work/looking for work, lean and hungry.

A fellow would ask if there were a chore he might do?  Splitting firewood, maybe?

Meaning: I'm near starving, ma'am, but no freeloader. Will you feed me from your good cooking and garden?

And she did, bringing a plate heaped with food to the back stoop, unlatching the screen door, and wishing him better days, and home with his family.

Of course, that was the Great Depression, long time ago.

Meanwhile, standing in the high noon sun, the rancher and I load up our "plunder" and head out. Free at last!

By the time I get home, I'll be pulling on a sweater for the sudden temperature drop of an afternoon storm in the Rockies. We get big dark cumulus, showers and down-shrieks of lightning. Wild iris are in bloom.

But for now I've found some Brandwines and am happy. 

"Heirloom" tomatoes... Not something you'd include in your Will, but yummy-flavored; seed saved from the best plants each year, and for generations.

No en-venomed "love-apple" from the artifice of biotech... Just hearty, nourishing taste and seed to save for generations to come.

Eat your heart out, Monsanto.

Monday, May 23, 2016

Elderberry in Permaculture, Remedies

Home Remedies
European Elderberry in bloom, 
by a lake in Ulm

Elderberry growing in the wild is lost to most of us. An ancient medicinal and a tree revered in olden times, it's easy to grow at home. Plant it in moist good soil, and jump back! 

Does it seem a bit precious, a cottage garden of Grandmother lore, when we've grown accustomed to 6-packs of petunias?

Why bother planting a shrubby tree, a rambling blossomer with edible fruit, a more usual target for suburban bulldozing?

"Permaculture" would be one answer, landscaping for fruit, berries and nuts, instead of topiary! We can save the fruitful wildings as asphalt encroaches.

An edible landscape can also be a beautiful one, generally more curvaceous and nook-ish than monocrop straight lines, or lawn and clipped hedge.

Think: Secret Garden. Fragrance and fruitfulness are possible small-scale, in tiny urban yards, on rooftops, or hidden country gardens

Some communities actually protect wild fruitful land. I used to love a camping adventure--to pick wild blackberries on the Mendocino Village Commons, with the Pacific crashing on the cliffs below and sea fog at dawn. 

Through all of human history, plants which produce food grow family/community wealth and well-being. Children can grow up amidst the wonder of seasons, flower to fruit. 

Bees love the fragrant flower heads of elderberry, and humans love the delicious berries as juice or country wine. 

The healing syrup is pricey in pharmacies and health food stores; we could make our own.
Commercial elderberry syrups often are named with a derivation of the botanical genus, Sambucus.

Syrups are selling very well in flu season, efficacy rewarded by business niche! Elderberry syrup is medically documented as anti-inflammatory and anti-viral. 

The more usually prescribed antibiotics are not anti-viral, though expected/demanded by patients.
North American elderberry grows from Canada to northern Mexico. If gathering in the wild, learn from an outdoorsperson, Native American, or botany field trip leader. 

Enticing dark purple berries do not suggest: "Eat-me"... Alice.

In the photo below, a poisonous American medicinal, pokeweed, on the left also has purple fruit, a stalk of them. Elderberry on the right has sprawling berries from a flat blossom head, and opposite leaves, a further clue

Pokeweed is just one confuser. Walk with a foraging pro, plant your own elderberry or use dried berries. Live long and well.

Have you ever sipped elderberry fruit juice? Or the country wine? Delectable, though a mess to make, with harvest-purple fingers and mouth, but deeply rewarding!
The flowers of elderberry are an old remedy included in formulae to reduce fevers, to bring on sweating and healing sleep.

A classic formula would be 1 Tbs each of the following herbs steeped five minutes in a liter of water:

Elderflowers  (Sambucus canadensis or S. nigra)
Yarrow  (Achillea millefolium)
Peppermint  (Mentha piperita)

In the case of high fever, a liter is drunk hot, perhaps sweetened with honey, and the covers piled on. Profuse sweating is likely to follow.

Yarrow in the febrifuge is stunningly bitter and made more palatable by the mint which helps calm a likely upset tummy.

This protocol can be effective though bold. A cup could also be sipped at hourly intervals for less dramatic intervention.

I first experienced elderflowers as a confection in Sweden. In high summer in the profusion of wild  blossoming, elderflowers are gathered, tea made and a syrup conserved. 

Ice cream made with the syrup is ambrosial, a sensory astonishment, as though able to taste an olfaction.

Elderflower water from the tea is a skin tonic, yellow and fragrant after a period of aging: Gathering and Using Elderflowers to Make Lotions for Beautiful Skin ...

So, what if we just are not able to wander wild creek bottoms, or stroll a European lake path, or plant the small tree to gather fresh berrries in autumn? 

Good news: The dried berries do very well.

And for those of us struggling with the imposed uniformity of towns-against-gardens or nutsi Homeowners Associations, you can abide by outer regimentation, and still be kitchen-creative with the dried berries.

Here's a lovely and easy recipe from Wellness Mama:

Serves: 1 quart
  1. Pour water into medium saucepan and add elderberries, ginger, cinnamon and cloves (do not add honey!)
  2. Bring to a boil and then cover and reduce to a simmer for about 45 minutes to an hour until the liquid has reduced by almost half. At that point, remove from heat and let cool enough to be handled. Mash the berries carefully using a spoon or other flat utensil. Pour through a strainer into a glass jar or bowl.
  3. Discard the elderberries (or compost them!) and let the liquid cool to lukewarm. When it is no longer hot, add 1 cup of honey and stir well.
  4. When honey is well mixed into the elderberry mixture, pour the syrup into a pint sized mason jar or 16 ounce glass bottle of some kind.
  5. Ta Da! You just made homemade elderberry syrup! Store in the fridge and take daily for its immune boosting properties. Some sources recommend taking only during the week and not on the weekends to boost immunity.
  6. Standard dose is ½ tsp to 1 tsp for kids and ½ Tbsp to 1 Tbsp for adults. If the flu does strike, take the normal dose every 2-3 hours instead of once a day until symptoms disappear.

 See also
Organic Farm Stories
& Recipes

Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Honeybee Hum, Update: 17 May 2016

Sitting under the huge old apricot trees, fragrant as bridal wreath, and full of the sound of bees among the blossoms...

Snow melted at last, the sky shone cerulean blue and the soft pollination hum felt like gossamer, an om thrumming.

I remembered visiting the beehives of my grandfather in my childhood, their buzzing and the scent of wildflowers and honeycomb. I've loved the honey-scent of beeswax candles ever after.

Fruit trees are blooming in the Rocky Mountains, which lie far from the GMO'd US heartland. One crop to rule them all, one crop to find them... that heartland of glyphosate-spray-monsters and death.

Government agencies behave as though beholden to the chemical-corporate giants. Companies which peddle sprays known to kill bees are still enriched and go unpunished.

I say the mountains are "far" removed, but the world we steward is small. Winds blow; ocean currents bring distant distress below the jet stream.

Will the grandchildren of my kin know wild bee hum and diverse wild honey?

They just may!

There's a feeling of celebration, of Independence Day, just on the edge of knowing, as towns, states, countries refuse to be made corporation wasteland.

More and more refuse in the midst of threats: Abusive  government witholds aid for non-compliance!

Such a deal for independence, and it may come hard.

We began as settlements of farmers, not so long ago and now blighted city lots are coming to life as community gardens. With beehives on roof tops and street-wise kids enchanted!

We may yet turn this around. And if not...?

While meeting a local beekeeper friend, I learned that our mountain forests and pastures are unusually bee-blest.

There are many organic farmers here; they do not poison their small family farms. Abundant life can prosper.

An Asian behemoth, the beekeeper warns, which exports faux-honey, is not so blest. Choking pollution has killed off their pollinators, that and clear-cutting bee-habitat for commercial mono-crop.

Fruit trees, somehow still blooming in the midst of industrial clanging and belching, now have to be pollinated by hand. Workers climb trees and ladders with small brushes to distribute the pollen.

Would workers do that elsewhere, if we utterly destroy our pollinators? Low pay certainly, or no-pay if prisoners are used.

Monday, April 4, 2016


I took a friend home today and heard their early warning system, shrill yip-yip's, before opening the door to their pit bull wannabe.

An invasive bugger, it peeled back its lips and snarled within an inch of my ankle, fortunately shod in a hiking boot. Friend and I tried to speak while their minute ferocity stalked and snarled, a guard-chihuahua!

The dog soon attained PIA status (pain in the arse.) I let it smell the back of my hand... to more baring of teeth.  Leaning down, I offered a commitment in friendly tones:

"I like dogs, but here's the deal. You bite me, I'll drop-kick you."

My friend laughed, but knew I just might do it. I continued futzing with little chores to help my elderly friend get settled while the dog feinted and lunged.

I admit it, I do enjoy God's creatures great and small, but have a preference for working breed dogs, bred for intelligence. Decorative yip-yips are a struggle for me. 

The chihuahua eyed my departure, with an air of self-satisfaction, as though successful at last. 

I gave it the beady eye, with the message: I'll be back. And my bargain stands, Toots.

I have waded treacle trying to find a chihuahua photo. They're small; they're cute; they have little outfits: santas, angels, Easter bonnets... I found chihuahua counselors, chihuahua insurance. I leave you with this: 
The dog's a "rescue" and goodness knows its life events before the wife scooped it up out of traffic and brought it home. A lot of rescue dogs are skittish and belligerent from their abandonment/abuse and feral training.

Pretty much the same can be said of abused kids, who grow up to become abusers, first shellshocked and frightened, then rage-filled and hurtful. 

Bless the folks who mentor damaged kids and try to break the abuse cycle curse. I have cousins, grandparents with a good life on a ranch. They decided to become foster parents and share that good life, which has turned out to be a joyful and a PIA experience. Stars in their crowns.

My next exposure to a small-fry canine came at the library. I turned off the car, and sat there grinning. With the spring thaw, though snow's not done, a grassy area and line of trees in the parking lot have erupted into a prairie dog colony!
Two poked their goofy-looking heads out of big and numerous burrows, then stood up with litle paws dangling. I sat and watched the show for a bit.

Poof, they suddenly scuttled underground. 

A Jack Russell terrier, harnassed and leashed to its human, was in the process of dragging the owner into the trees. Jack Russells were trained to tunnel work in the long ago. 

Its spikey hair bristling, the fiesty critter pounced into a prairie dog tunnel, and nearly spread-eagled its human across the dirt mound!

I had the car window open and choked back a guffaw. Looked away as the owner re-asserted dignity and verticality. Brushed dirt off its front.

Woof, woof, just be still for a minute and no telling the entertainment in the offing!

Thanks for reading 
Storyteller Books

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Dandelions, Harvest & Recipes

Brrr... It's Cold

"It's snowing like crazy in Angel Fire!"

Yes, there really is such a place, high and wild, redolent of Ponderosa pine and sage. A broad, cattle ranch valley with snow peaks and big sky and views to forever.  

And right now, a lot of goofy-grin skiers doing March snowstorm jigs!

My firewood guy had reported in with the weather report and will bring a cord of piñon tomorrow. I've been rationing the diminishing woodpile. Dear friends sent me home with a goodly amount, stuffed in the old car to tide me over. 

Counting blessings, a warm fire and warm feet, and good-hearted folks can change a day, even a life. We never know.

Second eclipse today in two weeks; the vibes in town were a little off-key. But a big guy bundled up with muffler and wool cap, a guy I don't know delighted me with gallantry.

My face lit up with the joy of surprise. I grinned and said, "Thank you, Honey!" while he made room for me and my awkward bundles.

Business done, I turned to go, nodded and thanked him again.

"No. Thank YOU, for calling me Honey."

"Well, I guess we all deserve to be called Honey every now and then!" 

A big old fire is crackling in the woodstove. Am sipping dandelion root tea. During the astonishment of faux-spring, I started preparing a new flower bed, which meant a density of tap-rooted dandelions.

Once upon a quieter time, country folk gathered early dandelions for a spring tonic when most of the world still looked gray and brown, and will winter never end?!

Here's what you do:

The roots are a premier liver/gallbladder tonic. After you've grunted many roots to the surface, topped with the dandelion leaf rosette of back-pointing "lion teeth" (dent de léon), save yourself some kitchen mess.

Hold a root in one hand, and strip away any dead leaves; toss it in a basket. Once in the kitchen with a basketful, slice off the leaf rosettes and set aside the roots. Wash the leaves and salad-spin dry.

I was at the end of a long day so did fast prep:

Cover leaves with water.
Add a splash of cider vinegar, salt pepper.
Simmer till tender; add butter or olive oil.
Puree in a blender with garlicky roasted potato.
A vividly-nutritious cream soup and YUM.

In Pennsylvania-Dutch country, a sort of wilted sald is made, with the first tender dandelion leaves, before they get stunningly bitter.

Leaves gathered, washed and separated from the rosettes, bacon is fried till crisp and crumbled. Bacon and hot grease are poured over the greens, drizzled with cider vinegar. Chopped hard-boiled eggs can be added and garlicky croutons.

And those roots you set aside? You can chop a handful and simmer till the tea tastes rich and earthy. The roots are often gently roasted with their cousin, chicory, for a hearty tea, sometimes construed as a coffee substitute, though by few coffee lovers!

Nonetheless, Spring's gift to health.

This morning, I walked westward to watch a chilly, early-riser show. The full moon, Jersey-butter-gold, was settling through bare tree branches, and mauve and azure sky.

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