Monday, May 23, 2016

On Not Having Read 'Wild'

Four years ago, in the summer of 2012, my wife and I took our mothers along with us on vacation to the Outer Banks in North Carolina.  Caty, my wife, is a planner.  While I spend long, cold winter evenings plotting out the garden for spring, she pours over travel guides to best maximize our vacation experience.  By the time it's time for us to pack up and leave, our route has been carefully mapped, the cooler packed with enough food so that we won't have to go to the grocery store right away, bird watching gear stowed away, clothes chosen for any sort of weather, and books on CD to make the 13 hour drive less hellish and more diversionary.  She'd chosen a Carol Burnett memoir, "This Time Together: Laughter and Reflection" and "Wild" by Cheryl Strayed.  One for the ride down and one for the ride back.  She let me choose which one to start with, and I'd been looking forward to "Wild" for some time, so that went in the CD player in the Subaru when we drove out of range WESA, the NPR station in Pittsburgh.
Everything seemed to be fine, which is that foolproof harbinger of impending doom on any road trip.  Not far into the book Strayed relates the devastating effect her mother's death had on her.  She recounts the cancer diagnosis, and how not long after her mother died.  My own mother's mother died of cancer when I was 4 years old, and I can tell you right now that she never recovered from that loss.  Never.  Listening to Strayed recount her own torturous pain brought all of that emotional rawness and anguish to the surface for my mother.  The backseat gave rise to a low gutteral howl that slowly gained force and became a shattering tearful scream.
"For the love of God, turn that off!  I can't take it anymore!"  She choked out.
Immediately Caty ejected the CD.  I was driving, and my mother was seated directly behind me, the scream and outburst had unnerved me at 75mph on the Pennsylvania Turnpike.  Old people, because of hearing loss, tend to speak loudly as it is, so, couple that with how someone talks/shouts when they're distressed, and you have some idea what it was like being enclosed in a small space with someone who's nearly hysterical, and who feels the need to unburden themselves as to why they are hysterical.  To my credit, I kept the car on the road without incident, despite the stress of having my mother unable to control the grief she was reliving afresh, as if 46 years hadn't passed since her mother passed.
When mom finally calmed down, Caty slid in the Carol Burnett memoir.  Thank God for Carol Burnett!!!  Shortly we were all laughing, and the mood lightened.  Of course we had no book on CD to listen to then on the way home, and driving through parts of Virginia you can only find religious radio stations spouting hellfire and hate, but I learned a valuable lesson: On road trips with mom, ONLY bring puff pieces, otherwise...
Even though I've seen the movie 'Wild', I never was able to go back to the book.

Thursday, May 19, 2016

Drying Herbs

Ajuga reptans, Bugleweed, Pittsburgh, 2016

Like so many medicinal herbs that I gather in the yard, I didn't plant this, it just grows.  Bugleweed resembles the herb, heal-all (Prunella vulgaris) on steriods, a much larger version, but with many of the same medicinal qualities.  It's so damp because of all the rain we've had lately that when I cut bugleweed and bring it in the house, I lay it out on newspaper to wick up some of the moisture before hanging it to dry. 

Saturday, May 14, 2016

The Mighty Dandelion

Gone To Seed, Dandelion, Taraxacum officinale, Pittsburgh, 2016

As a nature lover, I don't have my yard sprayed with toxic chemicals so that all I have is grass.  The consequence of that is a vast proliferation of dandelions, clover, ground ivy, flea bane, etc, which to me is preferable to polluting the air, water, and soil for generations to come just so that the yard appears uniform.  Many of my neighbors do spray, and while I don't harp at them for this practice, sometimes they do needle me about my yard.  I sometimes defend my stance, but other times I don't care enough about the person commenting on the 'weeds' to even respond to them.  I smile and wave, and try to not think less of them.
Over the years I have tried to make use of dandelions, whether in salads, wine, or medicinally, and I find them most useful in the latter of those things.  Dried dandelion root is an excellent liver restorer, perhaps the best in all of herbology.  Meanwhile, as a salad green you have to be careful to pick only the newest of the early leaves or they're too bitter.  You can pick older leaves and blanch them in a couple of changes of water, saute them in olive oil and serve them the same way you would spinach or garlic mustard, but I don't find them to be as pleasing as either spinach or garlic mustard.  As for dandelion wine; it too can be bitter, leaving an unpleasant after taste on the palate, despite how many oranges you add to the vat (most dandelion wine recipes call for oranges to go in the brew to add flavor). 

Thursday, May 12, 2016

Clean All The Things!

Courtesy Hyperbole and a Half

Though I could've started a couple of months ago, this week I am finally spring cleaning.  It's such an exhaustive, all encompassing, undertaking that I do usually stall on it for as long as humanly possible.  Well, no more!  I am cleaning ALL of the things!  The window screens were particularly filthy, infused with the airborne fine particulates common around coal burning power plants.  The rag was as black as Donald Trump's soul. 

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Bilateral Vomitation Center

Of all the mysteries that remain of the human brain, the seat that controls vomiting is not one of them.  Buried deep within the reticular formation of the medulla, that archaic reptilian complex , the bilateral vomitation center reacts to stimuli sent from the digestive tract signalling nausea.  Depending on how great the nausea is, a tipping point may be reached where retching, or heaving, begins, usually followed by vomiting.  Anyone who has ever vomited knows how singularly unpleasant an experience this is, and typically most people who aren't bulimic try to avoid this action at all costs.  I remember one episode as a child, crouching before the toilet, my mother holding my head, and me begging, "No more, no more,"  but there is no bargaining with something that's an involuntary function.  It's going to do what it's going to do, completely oblivious to your suffering, while you languish in the hell of your awareness.
*As a footnote, while writing this my mother called me to tell me that she's got the stomach flu that's going around and was up half the night vomiting.  When I tried to explain to her how this all functions, she said that she had to go.  Knowledge is power! 

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Memorial Bicycle

Memorial Bicycle, Pittsburgh, 2015

For all of its hills and river valleys, Pittsburgh has a vibrant biking community.  This bike memorial was placed here on Forbes Avenue, across from the Carnegie Music Hall, for a woman who was killed last October in a chain reaction crash.  Given how the artificial flowers haven't faded yet, I'd venture to say that this memorial is rather new.  I hope the city leaves it there for a bit before removing it (as they do with all of the other bike memorials).  I think that it's good for the collective unconscious to be needled with the brevity of all things.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

2 Violets

Two Violets, Pittsburgh, 2016

While on a walk, I came upon a clutch of downy yellow violet (Viola pubescens) with a more common purple cousin nearby (V. reichenbachiana).  You have to love spring!