Friday, May 30, 2014

An Atlas of the Rambled Songline

At Abbott's Lagoon, on the edge of the Point Reyes Peninsula, the brush rabbits are growing up. In a single walk west to the ocean, four showed themselves along the path, decreasing in size as if moving backward through time. The fourth rabbit was positively tiny; the span of her tracks would have fit in my cupped palm. Each had a quick and perfect getaway in the salmonberry or lupine or coyotebrush thickets; they used well-kept tunnels as beloved as human footpaths, carefully maintained by tooth and claw.

The California bumblebees were out with heavy pollen baskets at their legs, tipping and delightedly dancing through the poppies, the pollen at their legs precisely the color of the heart of a poppy. I love that we call this little polished cavity ringed with fur on the back legs of bees a basket. In technical terms it is a corbicula, but that word means nothing to me, whereas pollen-basket, metaphoric, animate, immediately turns the worker-bees into beings whose devoted gathering I can comprehend with my heart. Pollen-basket is an embodied term; it places our own bodies in sisterhood with the bodies of bees, for we all know the delight of gathering food into a basket—and oh, can you imagine, if you were so small it could be pollen?

In the past week, I've read the second half of Robert MacFarlane's The Old Ways, and the entirety of Jay Griffiths' Wild. Both were utterly, beautifully brilliant—in ways that bled right into each other, so that as I read Wild, and felt inspirations and ideas stirring, I sometimes wasn't sure from which book they had come, and also in their own very unique, very different fashions. The Old Ways stirred me up into a foot-loose fever of walking-joy, my imagination spinning with songlines and pathways and the stories we pass through as we walk, the way a landscape stories us. Wild broke my heart into a dozen pieces and re-stitched it into a patchwork of nettle leaves and bee-pollen baskets, fertile brush rabbit-love and salmonberry petals and also rage; rage that our way of life has set the great wildness of the world, our salvation, our mother, our holy fool, under the direst of attacks. This is an old rage, smoldering somewhere deep but Wild set it to flaming again. 

From The Old Ways, after reading about Miguel Angel Blanco's wild library, I set out to fuse Earth Constellations with Songlines, so that the taking of a walk could also be a gathering of moments and lives on the land, which made that particular amble, on that particular day, storied, sung.

"The library of Miguel Angel Blanco is no ordinary library. It is not arranged according to topic and subject, nor is it navigated by means of the Dewey Decimal system. Its full name is the Library of the Forest, La Biblioteca del Bosque. It has so far been a quarter of a century in the making, and at last count it consisted of more than 1,100 books—though its books are not only books, but also reliquaries. Each book contains a journey made by walking, and each contains the natural objects and substances gathered along that particular path: seaweed, snakeskin, mica flakes, crystals of quartz, sea beans, lightning-scorched pine timber, the wing of a grey partridge, pillows of moss, worked flint, cubes of pyrite, pollen, resin, acorn cups, the leaves of holm oak, beech, elm. Over the many years of its making, the library has increased in volume and spread in space. It now occupies the entire ground floor and basement of an apartment building in the north of Madrid. Entering the rooms in which it exists feels like stepping into the pages of a Jorge Luis Borges story: 'The Library of Babel' crossed with 'The Garden of Forking Paths,' perhaps" (239).

What's more, Miguel makes his visitors, including MacFarlane, draw books from the shelves as one might draw tarot cards—for the past, for the present, for the future, the walks and the constellation of earthen beings along the way taking on a sort of divinatory power. Naturally, I love this.

My ramble to Abbott's Lagoon (with my wonderful twelve-year-old poetry student!) has gathered in the lines of its pages & paths: the poppy-pollen baskets of bumble bees; salmonberries from flower to fruit; four baby brush rabbits; a hunting northern harrier hawk swooping like cut pieces of moon; the sheep sorrel red against the yarrow white; the cattails at the edge of the lagoon full of marsh wrens singing their raucous love songs; the damselflies mating, their color the only word capable of describing that blue lagoon.

Imagine, what it would mean to weekly mark and map rambles through land not in path and topographical features, but the way your body, heart and mind hitch to the plants and animals around you as you walk—for a whole year! Imagine, atlases of place made thus by each of us, and the Strange Library they would together create! Maybe not navigationally useful for others, but for all the inner mapping, and the place where self and wild land meet--oh yes, oh yes indeed. 

These maps become circular, like baskets (have become obsessed with twining whatever I can get my hands on--oatgrass below), that lead us out and in at once, making our own songlines of place until it has seeped, singing, right up our soles. 

The second Songline Map I have to share comes from another beach, just north of Abbott's, called Kehoe, where my love and I ambled some four days later.

The path was yellow with lupine and wild radish and afternoon sun. 

Sand holds the tracks of humans and animals alike. It is a great book of trails and wild tales, where Simon and I have rambled together so many times, where the coyotes hunt the brush rabbits and the ravens criss cross along the sand for carrion and who knows what other mysterious purposes.

As you all know by now, I have a particular love of, and delight in, animal tracking, in the sense of story-trailing and shape-shifting it imparts, as well as the true and particular wonder that comes of devoting all of your senses for a time to the animals who are living their lives within a place. Not just any coyote, but a Coyote and her fledgling pups nosing the dunes for baby rabbits. Not just any raven but a family of Ravens who scout the beach in a particular order every day for food, and know these sands and winds better than you or I could ever dream.

Tracking is a form of storytelling and the deepest kind of reading. Each line of coyote tracks the songline of moment in a life. As Robert MacFarlane writes, "The relationship between thinking and walking is also grained deep into language history, illuminated by perhaps the most wonderful etymology I know. The trail begins with our verb to learn, meaning 'to acquire knowledge.' Moving backwards in language time, we reach the Old English leornain, 'to get knowledge, to be cultivated.' From leornian the path leads further back, into the fricative thickets of Proto-Germanic, and to the word liznojan, which has a base sense of 'to follow or to find a track' (from the Proto-Indo-European prefix leis-, meaning 'track'). 'To learn' therefore means at root—at route—'to follow a track' " (The Old Ways, 31).

Now what could be better news than that?

"Wildness is the universal songline, sung in green gold, which we recognize the moment we hear it. What is wild is what drives the honeysuckle, what wills the dragonfly, shoves the wind and compels the poem" (Wild, 85). 

For this ramble's Wild Songline, my map became the constellation of the speckled harbor seal pelt, at its center a woven vortex of eelgrass and dunegrass, whiskered like the crescent moon whiskers still attached to a dead seal's nose where we found it in the tide. Each set of whiskers is a pathway pointing to a different star in the constellation of the walk. For after all, an amble on the beach hardly ever follows a path, but rather is a back and forth up to dune and down to tideline, over to strange-shaped buoy and up to a new dune for a new cup of tea.

At the top of the Map (North) is a single blue whisker. The whisker of a harbor seal is as good at tracking fish as the echolocation of dolphins; it is a holy tracking-wand, capable of sensing the most minute changes in water pressure, current and movement. Each whisker "learning" the stories of the water as the seal swins.

It is harbor seal pupping season (March 1st through June 30th), and this beautiful seal, her pelt so lovely and intact I couldn't help but shiver and think of selkies, seemed small, perhaps a young one who didn't make it through her first spring, or maybe a small mother-seal.

Bulrush tules clacked in the wind on the walk past the marsh to the beach (West). A marbled godwit lay in the tideline, legs and neck and beak so delicate, her soul gone to the land of all shorebirds (East).

Tiny trails of brush rabbits hopped everywhere through the dunes, and were often bisected with coyote trails—the wheel of life wheeling on (South).

And speaking of weaving, of strings and strands coming together to create something, I've at last finished the knitting and sewing together of a coat I've been making for quite a long while. It is lanolin-rich Jacob sheep's wool, and a simple hardy pattern; a coat I've been longing for on walks and scrambles, beach-roams (for it is often brisk and windy on the coast here!), nights by campfires and under stars. For, at their best, the things we wear against our bodies can be magic, can be talismans, can be precious protection and invigoration on all the roads we walk, themselves stranded with the moons we pass under, the marsh wrens we stop to listen to, the harbor seal-skins we meet. 

I've been known to have special "Adventuring-Skirts" worn to rags (and stained with mud, berry, avocado), particular airplane-outfits for good luck worn until they are so patchworked the security folk almost invariably pull me aside. Cloth holds story, same as good walking shoes; we only have to let the stories live there, in the weave. I am so happy to have a Wandering Coat now. It already smells of the smoke from one fire, the ocean wind and sand from one day, the marsh breeze and red-winged blackbird cries of another. Each fiber a pathway.

As Jay Griffiths writes, "The lure of wild and nomadic freedom has never left us, any of us. It is in our lungs, breathing in freedom, in our eyes, hungry for horizons, and in our feet, itching for the open road. Put your boots on. Old boots are thought to bring good luck, but old boots are good luck of themselves, as all walkers know. Boots that have folded and softened and bent to your foot: boot and foot in a cosy, comfortable marriage. (Old boots were traditionally tied to the wedding car of newlyweds, to suggest that on the long walk of life, it's good to have that easy familiar necessity.) Boots keep their history, but even more so do the feet of nomads, skin cracked like claypans in the deserts, journeys ground into the soles, feet cross-hatched with the tracks they have followed on the ground; the land has written itself into people's feet as the feet in turn have written pathways and tracks on the land" (Wild, 257). 

With good coat, good boots, good hat, we trod laughing on, following Foolish maps made of marsh wren-song, harbor-seal whisker, salmonberry juice. 

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

A Summer Warp, A Weft of Horse and Firelight

Summer is coming in on the wings of the furred Umber Skipper butterflies...

It is coming in the flowering of the olive trees, which burst into bloom during last week's heat wave, and which also plunged our hills over the edge of green and headlong into their usual gold, and sent me running to the alder-lined Lagunitas creek to plunge my own feet into the water. I am a child of fog and breeze and our Bay's gentle cooling breath. When the air reaches 90 degrees, dry as a bone and as still, I feel like our chaparral plants, wanting to send all my energy down to my roots and go dormant, right then and there.

Though our summers are not wet and green and fecund like the summers we model our cultural conception of seasons upon—the East Coast or Northern European four-season round of orange leafed autumn : snowy winter : gentle spring bloom : green humid wet summer— our dry, gold-grassed summer season (in which rain occurs only in the dreams of the drought tolerant buckeyes as they drop all their leaves in August) was once the time of the great seed harvest. Native women up and down the state would wade out into the mature grassy hills with seed beaters and baskets. A lot of the wildflowers that feed our eyes and hearts with their colorful summer beauty provided literal sustenance for the First People of this land—the clarkias, the blue-eyed grasses, the buttercups, the poppies, the tarweed. And the very act of seed-beating was a dispersal mechanism, as was the burning of grasslands to promote healthier, thicker growth. When European settlers first arrived here, the grasslands were veritable carpets of beauty and food.

In 1850, California argonaut William Perkins wrote—“The plains at this season (the middle of April) are literally  covered with flowers. No garden can compare in beauty to the banks of the Estanislao [Stanislaus]. I think I never witnessed such a profusion of colors, and such brilliancy of hues; and this, not confined to small and isolated spots, but the whole country is one immense flower bed. The hills look like gigantic bouquets, and the llanos like a huge Persian carpet” (quote found in this fantastic document on The Edible Seeds and Grains of California).

In the spirit of the seed-gathering summer season, I have been drawn recently to the round form of the woven basket, both in the weaving of little wild-mandalas and, this past weekend, when I learned the traditional twining technique of soft basket-weaving, used by the Bedouin people for flat saddle rugs and tents, and by the Pomo people of northern California for ceremonial items such as hats.

So below are a few baskets for you, real and metaphoric, and the seeds they have gathered into their folds.

This creek-rock, worn-glass, alder-leaf, mugwort, cow-parsnip flower circle around a dead cabbage white butterfly, was made in the heart of last week's heat wave, by the Lagunitas creek, with my wonderful 12-year-old poetry student. It feels now like a basket holding the first flush of summer, the holiness of our perennial creeks (which are few compared to the now-dry annual streams!) and all that they provide us in the midst of the dry and the heat.

Fibers used are leftover clippings from Pendelton wool blankets. I love that this style of soft-basket twining allows for such a diversity of materials, from jute and dogbane cordage to strips of old cloth, bailing twine, and  even plastic bags otherwise sent to the landfill.
I spent this past long weekend with the beautiful group of women with whom I am taking part in a nine-month Wilderness Skills Immersion, under the big coast live oaks of Sonoma County, weaving soft-fiber baskets in the Bedouin style (taught by the lovely Shira Netanya). It is amazing how, after hours of staring at warp and weft, hours of twining over under over, round and round, the eyes find the woven round everywhere, the basket's locked center, its endless spin.

The fir-branch tripod over our fire, for boiling tea water and roasting vegetables, looks like the inverted beginning of a basket, and the fire herself, of course—a finished one! An embered basket.

Inside the basket of my weekend are the many stars, scattered like so many silver seeds through the night; the big waning face of the moon shining on my own face through the live oak branches where I slept; the herd of feral horses who came to visit the little area of forest where I and a few other women slept, snuffing and whinnying, stomping and munching and otherwise making sleep impossible for a little while. In the deep dark, a gathering of six horses tromping their hooves near your bed is a wee bit unnerving, as much as I love horses, and at one point I had to leave my bed because one of them came right up to it and proceeded to nose about at my pillow. Then he lowered his head in the way of horses and took a nap with his nose inches above my sleeping bag. Now, in the daylight, I wish I'd stayed and felt the sweet warmth of his breath upon me, but in the middle of a dark and starry night, in the middle of an oak wood, a horse is a dark and shadowed shape, the mind is dream-strung—and it is easier said than done to remain flat on the ground while horses prance around...

Needless to say, it was a night whose warp was woven with sacred horse-hair. When they left, I dreamt of them. In the morning, you could see the weft of their tracks through the tall grass.

Over the basket-round fire, I brewed up a pot of very special tea to be shared through the morning, as the robins sang, the kestrel hunted, the quail called out to one another, the black phoebes hawked for insects in the gentle shade. I like to call it the Rose & Smoke Caravan Tea, perfect for a weekend of beds under the stars with horses circling round, of nomadic basket-weaving and firesmoke. It's recipe was created by the beautiful Nao Sims of Honey Grove. It is full of garden rose petals and cardamom pods, chaga mushroom, Earl Grey tea, a smattering of the smoky Russian Caravan. What better way to greet the morning?

The basket of the weekend was full of the sweet strength of circled women, wandering together with weaving in hand. It was full too of the new wildflowers of early summer.

The Mariposa Lily...

... her sister in the Lily family, the Golden Fairy Lantern, whose three petals never fully open, but rather hang down toward the earth, closed like hands. (Both of these wild lilies were prized for their edible bulbs, as opposed to seeds).

The creekside western azalea, who was blooming last month, continued to open, queenly and intoxicating, toward the sky. The western azalea has a special affinity for magnesium high serpentine soils, often presenting a stunning contrast between heady blooms and a barren, rocky substrate.

Yet another little butterfly came to visit, resting on my back for a time, while we gathered for lunch down at the waterfall, swam, learned to finger-weave. Women weaving together by the water. What could be sweeter?

One of my tiny creations from the weekend (and a first attempt, hence the bumps!)... It is a gathering basket for the red alder shade, the dry flush of early summer, the scent of azalea, the whuffing breath of nighttime, moonlit-nomad horses, the embered heart of the campfire, singing to the wanderer and the weaver in all of our souls.

And as a nod to the true artists of the Basket, the First People of the land in Sonoma where most of these photos came from, the Kashaya Pomo...

Pomo Cooking basket, from the Phoebe Hearst Museum

Such baskets need no words, for they are already the story of the whole wild land in one circular metaphor. 

Sunday, May 11, 2014

The Apothecary's Cabinet

Since I was a little girl, I've loved collecting and gathering small and magical things—rose petals with strange red droplets on them in the garden, from the wings of metamorphosing butterflies (at the time I thought it was blood and was at once terrified and enthralled); owl pellets full of little gopher bones (to my parents' mild disgust, I believe); nasturtiums and velvety purple sage flowers and pebbles for garden potions; glass animals; rabbit fur-covered toy mice dressed in little dresses and coats, called "Mistress Mice"; and, upon entering my teenage years, rocks and stones from every imaginable beach and hill and special place; hundreds of shells and sand-dollars, bird's nests and mosses and sticks with labyrinths and pathways made by bark-eating beetles... Each thing gathered seemed at the time to have an almost palpable magic to it, as if gathering it was an act of consecration, a way to hold a piece of the immense mystery of a place or a period of time that was fleeting—the vast red solitude of Death Valley, a visit to Denmark, a hike on the Mountain with the young man I was busy falling very much in love with. 

Somewhere between childhood and young womanhood, somewhere in that strange middle-country in which the old cupboard my father had turned into an Abbey for all of my Mice (and the oven-baked clay companions I had made for them, moles and rabbits and such, along with a veritable cellar full of feastable clay foods) no longer held its deep enchantment, this Apothecary's Cabinet made its way into our home, and my life. 

It filled the space between childhood fantasy—those endless games in the garden, using baskets on strings in the rosebushes as elevators for said Mice, or adding just the right shiny rocks and odd little amulets to the sorceror's tower in the Abbey's "attic" (presided over by a Mouse with a very tall blue-velvet hat)—and adult competence. I wasn't ready then to actually use the Cabinet in a practical way—carefully storing separate medicinal herbs and roots and tinctures and elixirs. Instead, it was the bridge that carried the wild scampering magic of my childhood, in which I ached to be alternately a cheetah, a wolf, or a budding young medicine woman who could talk to said cheetahs and wolves— into the uncertain terrain of being a teenage girl, that time in which it is so easy to lose sight of the savage little nasturtium-potion brewer in each of us. It always felt to me, as I busily filled the drawers with shark egg pouches and wine-red manzanita sticks, masses of feathers, serpentine stones from the Mountain, necklaces, old notebooks, that each thing that went in was somehow changed by its place in the Cabinet. I think, in a way I didn't quite know how to articulate then, that I had this sense that all of those things held their own medicine, and that medicine needed to be treasured, and so in they went! 

Now, some thirteen years since the Cabinet first came into my life (from England, from the 19th century, and beyond that, oh, I ache to know its tale!), it has finally made its way into my adult home, as you see above, and it is finally being used to hold tinctures, and dried herbs, and elixirs of all varieties. My "woodrat" (read packrat) tendencies finally seem to have found some practical application; and perhaps that's where they came from all along, this age-old knowing inside our bones that Gathering things is a useful and good past-time, because Gathering once meant (and still does mean) food and medicine and objects of magical power, such as rare stones and bones and feathers. This is not to say that the items within these drawers, placed there from ages 12 to 19 or 20, were not valuable—only that they had become a great and tangled wilderness, with no sense of which rock came from where, which leaf-gone-to-dust had come from which place, or summer, or tree. And that it was time for a rebirth, a renewal, a letting-go. Because in the end we hold memories and places and times within us, our hearts the greatest of apothecary cabinets, and so there is no need to obsessively gather a rock or a feather from every single special moment!

I am still that gathering-girl in my heart, though, coming home often with random seeds and rocks and mugwort leaves in my pockets—which I daresay still often find their way onto all previously neat surfaces... Just not quite as often as before. And now the gathered items most often have some immediate use— lemon balm from the garden or, most recently, Hawthorn's beautiful wool (which was not, shall we say, a pleasure to gather—indeed it was more like a nightmare for both of us—but is a pleasure to have, and a great gift, of magical properties, in my opinion). It is such a satisfying thing to gather a garden bouquet...

...or the roots of the California (orange) and red poppies, which I dug up incidentally when thinning a garden patch, and found I couldn't part with, for they felt like strangely shaped, arcane beings, smelling as I imagine bear-musk and the inside of the earth to smell.

The lemon balm and the roots will find their places in the Cabinet when they are ready and dry. But below, I thought I'd share some recently made medicines now tucked safely away in the dark comfort of those drawers. For I believe that the gathering and making of medicines, the relationship forged during the picking and the crafting, the bottling and the storing-away, stirs something deep and old in the blood, and is just as useful a sort of "research" as reading about the lore of ancient physicians or the properties of strange and stubby roots in books.

In the spirit of what's alive and bursting in the garden right now, in the spirit of the Earth Constellation not of the wild hills and coastal valleys, but this very plot of fecund earth in this corner of the Temescal neighborhood, where the silt-rich Temescal creek once flowed, lined with the bark-houses of the Huichuin Ohlone people (and who knows  what bones and graves and bits of shell and antler exist in the storied strata beneath the nasturtium and lemon verbena roots, the plum and apple and lemon and rose), I've made lemon blossom and rose elixirs. These two smells and sights describe the heady beauty of late spring-early summer in the garden, beside this mediterranean-climate Bay, with its fogs as well as its gentle warm weathers, to perfection. I suppose they are also plants of classic and famed beauty—the lemon and the rose—unlike the feral nettles, the scrubby native coyote brush and lupine, coffeeberry and alder, who more regularly make an appearance here.  But each plant has stories hitched to it, a string thrown between my heart and the rose-bud, and the lemon-blossom; it is not their elegance or their almost painful beauty that matters so much as the relationships we form, the way the smell of a rose comes to conjure a whole caravan of memories that are thorned and untamed and full.

Abraham Darby
And so first, the rose. These misty roses—how the water seems turn them to the lushest of jewels!— are from my mother's garden, taken on a day last week when a sudden mist descended upon the world, especially in the North Bay. I felt it was only right to gather petals for my rose elixir from my mother's garden, because my mother seems to somehow encompass or embody a rambling rose garden in my mind, and always will.
The mystery rose! We can't figure out his name
In the house where I grew up, just around the corner from the one where these roses now grow, there were great white Madame Alfred Carriére roses making a completely wild cavern-tunnel over one whole side of the yard, between fence and rain-gutter-pipes. There was a Cecile Bruner (my favorite) so big it created a cave beneath itself, for hiding and clambering with the spiders and the fallen thorny leaves. There were Abraham Darby roses luscious and squat, created, it seemed to me, primarily for the purpose of burying your face entirely in their petals and getting lost for a moment in that sweet old calm.
The Prince
For the rose in all of her more wild and old-world iterations is a supreme nervine medicine; it's obvious just from the effect her smell has upon us. And of course since smell is so suggestive of memory, in some ways when I tuck my nose into a rose, I feel my childhood is contained there, the whole universe of it, that it is never far away, always existing inside of each fierce bloom.
Cecile Bruner beyond the apple tree
For as much as she is gorgeous, the rose is also strong. Like her cousins the blackberry and the hawthorn, she is toothed, and I love her all the more for it. She protects herself, or she creates thorny caverns of protection for those who would seek it—children, gray foxes, rabbits, hermits, and who knows what and whom else.

And so from seven different fragrant, old-world roses in my mother's garden, I made a rose elixir, modeled after the recipe from the brilliant Kiva Rose. I have named it The Eighth Rose Elixir, because at its heart, packed in amidst hundreds of lush garden petals, is a single wild rose, Rosa gymnocarpa, red thorns, pink blossom, fragrantly resinous leaves and all.

In the Douglas fir and redwood forests where I roam, our native wild wood rose is too small, too rare in terms of how many blossoms one is actually likely to find in a season, for me to ever feel comfortable making a wild rose elixir. That flower is hardly bigger than a penny, but oh my stars, it packs a punch. It may be the sweetest of all the roses I've ever smelled, as big a scent as the stately Abraham Darby or the even statelier Prince, and all emanating from a single, pollen-gold center. Beyond that intoxicating smell, what makes our wood rose exceptionally fascinating, in my mind, is that she blooms almost exclusively, so far as I've seen, in the shade of firs and redwoods, often at the edge of a steep slope near a creek. The base of her stem is often very willowy and covered in a fur of red-tinged thorns, and her leaves are slightly sticky, with their own incredibly herbaceous smell, sharper than the flower, but no less powerful.

In the past two weeks, in all the woods I've visited, our own Rosa gymnocarpa is in full and glorious bloom! What a special and deeply sylvan window it is, this time of the wild rose bloom, from now until sometime in July. Who knows what sorts of beneficent magics stir in the firwood at night around the rose blossoms and red thorns, but surely they do. For some reason, during my most recent wild rose encounter, I had this sudden vision of the grizzly bears of yore, and the black bears who no longer live here (though they do one county up), delicately snacking on the rosehips, come autumn. This seems slightly preposterous, given how tiny the hips are—about the size of my pinky-nail—and how big a grizzly's mouth! But in any event, there is a bear-like ferocity to this little plant: a rooty musk to her leaves, a toothed thorniness to her stems.

I have no doubt she will bring out the bear-fierce hearts of all the roses in that jar of rose elixir, and imbue some of the old medicine she once gave to the native peoples of this land, and in all the lands north of here where she grows, straight through British Columbia. Among the wonderful ethnobotanical notes I read (and perhaps too small for you to make out above) are these: wood rose stems were used to weave baby carriers; a wash of leaves and stems was used to soak nets and fishing lines for good luck; a tea was made as a protection from bad spirits; a poultice of the leaves was used on bee stings. Yes indeed: the rose, our protector. And however we have managed to deserve her good graces, may we stay in them, for the rose in all of her forms has given us so many gifts through the millennia, too many to number, first and foremost among them the medicine of herself for our bodies and spirits.

And now, from rose-caverns to lemon-caves. I must have a penchant for bushy plants that get overgrown to the point of creating little houses out of themselves, branches reaching straight to the ground. For I am in love with this lemon tree, growing from the rich ground of our Temescal garden. It is so heavy with fruit it resembles some kind of arcane citrus planetarium, numbering the strangest outer-stars of the balmiest universe. I know that the bewick's wrens love it too, because I often see them hopping about, chitting and chatting in their wood-on-wood voices, picking at spiders and smaller insects.

The origins of the wild lemon are mysterious—of course!— though it is believed to have been first domesticated in the Assam region of India some two thousand years ago. I can hardly imagine a wild lemon, or a wild citrus of any variety—what wonders the world holds, that once, long ago, some man or woman stumbled upon a smaller, lumpier and more sour version of the citrus tree growing wild, haloed with bees drunk on the blossom-nectar, and inhaled the scent of that leathery rind, those blooms.

There is something about the smell of lemon and orange blossoms that makes me feel almost sad. The smell is so sweet and strong at once, so heady, it almost immediately makes me feel a sense of yearning to hold all the things which can never be held. It is not a bad feeling, only a big one, sharp and unbearably sweet at once.

Four years ago now, I visited a dear friend of mine who was studying at an art school in Rome. I had been working on cold and wet Welsh sheep farms for the past two months, and so the sudden sweet warmth of Rome in spring was delicious. I remember one afternoon walking with her across the river, to the studio of a textile designer with whom she was apprenticing. While she attended to some matters inside, I sat out in the little side garden with my notebook, writing but mostly becoming infatuated with the blossoms of a certain sort of Sicilian lemon or orange tree. I still am not sure what, precisely, it was, only that this smell was so sweet and so sharp, so beautiful in that painful way, that I was nearly beside myself, desiring desperately to capture that scent, to be able to share it with my love across an ocean and a continent, to never have to stop smelling it. Typical human response.

Luckily I had enough peace of mind to also, after a few frantic moments, just be there, smelling those blossoms, hoping they would somehow seep right into my heart and never leave. In fact I think I spent most of that hour as I waited for Elsinore in smelling the citrus flowers. I was beguiled. It is the most distinct memory I have of falling completely under the power of a plant in that way, of realizing, nose-on, the full wisdom and meaning in the smell of a flower, how very ancient that beauty is, and made not for us alone but for all the insects and animals who in some way partake of the plant. In a dreamy way, I remember an older, hunched Italian man coming down from his nearby porch—for I think it was his citrus bush I was burying my face in—and in broken English he said something to the effect of: "this is the smell of the lovers," grinning and relishing that sweet smell just as much as I.

When I think about those words now—and I wonder if in fact he spoke in Italian, so all I can say for certain is it had something to do with Love— I imagine Rumi's Beloved, the Sufic sense of Lovers, the lemon blossom as the divine fragrance embodying the self in union with the deep beauty of the world, which resides somewhere in each thing, in the lemon blossom and rose as much as in the mangy stray cat with a single blind eye; in lemon fruit and rose hip and the sad longing found in people's eyes on subway cars.

In the end, all that inhaling of the Sicilian citrus flowers did, I think, mark my heart forever, because whenever I smell a lemon flower or an orange blossom (which are done with their bloom, by the way, as the bushtits are done with their nesting-- and now I wonder, did the bushtits time their nesting with the bloom of the orange flowers, for no other reason than their sweetness? Although of course songbirds hardly have any sense of smell, so perhaps I am taking this romantic notion a whit too far) I think of those blooms, and the old man's words, and I feel a mixture of yearning and melancholy and sweet joy, which is in some measure the feeling of what it means to be alive.

I gathered a jar-full of blossoms, though not too many, because each flower is a lemon! But it probably helped the tree out a bit, poor girl, as she's about ready to break under the weight of all those fruits. To be honest, I don't know what the medicine of lemon blossoms is in a Materia Medica sort of way. I'm not sure if their medicine presents in that fashion. I imagine it works more on the heart and spirit and nerves simply through its intense aromatic strength. We shall see. In the meanwhile, I am shaking the jar with some amount of impatience!

And so there it is, a drawer from the Apothecary's Cabinet, opened for your perusal, which in this span has become not just a drawer with jars of plant-matter within, but a drawer full of stories, and memories, and the magic that resides in all things. I suppose in a sense, little has changed—smooth Danish rocks and gull feathers for medicines with just as much storied importance, Gathered with wonder.