Sunday, November 30, 2014

Dried-out Bee Balm, Brown and tan woods of late fall, Garlic mustard

**Photo of bee balm dried seed pods, by John Lodder, Flickr Creative Commons. 

          Having just returned from the woods, I’m being still, letting the natural remain about my shoulders. I'm in a dim, November-dusk room--sitting near a clear bag of bright-green garlic mustard, an invasive plant that raises havoc nationwide, but tastes succulent. It has round, rippled leaves, a bit like those of an English violet. 

          Not having seen it before, I held onto the bag until I reached home, wondering if I had simply harvested violet leaves past flowering time. Even so, I was pretty sure it was the right thing, and I felt proud of my weighty zip-lock. 

**Photo of Garlic Mustard, by Jacob Enos, Flickr Creative Commons. 

          Now -- having checked several photos and descriptions online -- I'm sure it is garlic mustard, which is good news. It’s energy-full stuff, despite being bad for soil here in North America. But harvesting it (and not adding it to any compost or yard waste) is a good way to clear the woods, while gaining vitamins. Hurrah. That’ll help, because my energy is low. I'm congested, and have been for days. Dust and indoor allergens that flare once the heat is turned on each fall have caused the problem. Mold causes it, in particular. There are other indoor factors: In other apartments, I've noticed the effect of chemical fragrances in winter – laundry detergents, harsh cleansers. Pre-chemical use, we all cleaned with Bon Ami and maybe lye, or rosemary and other essential oils.

          That said, perhaps mold wouldn't trouble me if I lived in a yurt and moved it from place to place, or if I knew all the herbs to boost my immunity each winter. Meanwhile, I’m planning how to cook the garlic mustard--and having nettle tea, which contains Vitamin C. It seems to be helping.

   **Photo of a log in fall woods, by Yo La Tengo, Flickr Creative Commons. 

          The forest has leaf molds too, but I love walking its paths—and they don’t bother me because of the open air. Other than the green garlic mustard scattered in small patches, the woods were all shades of brown and tan. There were beds of brown leaves, bare branches, and many walnut-colored seed pods on long, bent stems.

          After seven years in the Northwest, seeing deciduous woods in winter -- not the damp, moss- and fern-thick woods of the Cascades -- is striking but invigorating. In the garden outside of my house are dark brown pods, a bit like I imagine dried husks of bees would look. These, the gardener told me, are what is left of our spring/summer bee balm—a pink and sprightly flower and herb that is used in teas and other concoctions. It’s exciting to see this cycle, to know that the bee balm isn’t gone, just different.

**Photo of seed pods by Lindy, Flickr Creative Commons.

          Walking along the rock wall that lifts the sidewalk on my street, one passes under trees, past rows of sere and brown varieties of seed pods. All of those are changed now from the bright young plants they were in late spring--but they're still beautiful, if a bit melancholy. It’s only melancholy, though, because I want them to last forever, in my human way. Eventually, hopefully, I’ll know how each pod appeared in its past, and be able to contrast that with its current look.

          Walking the brown paths was calming. I thought about my need for nature, and reflected that maybe we aren’t meant to see crowds of people, humans all the time, our faces rarely interrupted by tree branches, sedge seed pods, tall grasses, clear streams.  

          I thought about how to be in nature more often—it's an age-old question. How can we do that while still being among like-minded, like-aged people and well-employed? There’s a graduate program that focuses on nature and creativity. I wondered if that would be a good idea.

For now, I’ll give myself an assignment: Cover nature weekly.

Peace, happy late-November--it’s time to cook garlic mustard!

**Photo of garlic mustard and orange cup fungus, by Mightyjoepye, Flickr Creative Commons.