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afraid of mirrors

230. 180. 150.

Not an IP address but numbers that have shaped, comprised, manifested, haunted, clawed their way into my life.  I am especially aware of my shape now.  My body has become a source of shame yet indifference as I navigate an especially acute dark journey of the soul. I have given up most objects or possessions and am finally without roommates so now it’s just me, my thoughts, intrusive memories, and a whole pile of books consumed both aurally and through print.  I’ve finished one book regarding last weeks obsession of healing, starting new, spiritual health.  Now this weeks obsession has gone to physical health and I find myself at the doctors office for a wellness check and before I even arrive I stare in the bathroom mirror knowing I will have to be weighed.

230.  A nice time in the afternoon when there’s still the happy mellow from lunch and the light lingers to paint the grass bright green before the yellow haze of autumn late afternoon.  230.  A nice highway that runs though southeast Wyoming through the Medicine Bow Forest past the Boy Scout Camp and old railroad system that is now the Rail Trail.  8 miles from highway 130 full of dirt roads to take to the western slope of the Snowy Range.  A road I took as I packed my stuff once again to go from Vail, Colorado to Laramie, Wyoming in early September.  Highway 230 is now closed due to the Mullen fire starting in the Med Bow forest and lapping up trees, bushes, grass all the way to the state line where the road is now closed.  230.  My current weight.  The most ever in my life.  Maybe I wanted to feel big again.

I find myself curious and disgusted in yoga realizing my belly, my thighs, my arms—are no longer the 160 pound girl who taught yoga for 7 years with heavy weights, kombucha, coconut water, tanned limbs, regular facials, Lulu Lemon clothes, Manduka mat, private pilates sessions.  I can barely balance and the weight of my body is hard to support.  My equilibrium has changed and its like learning to do yoga all over again in this heavy frame.  Running has sluffed off to steep hiking but after Vail I can’t seem to find a mountain with a 800 ft gain 3 blocks from my house.  The high plains of Laramie now filled with smoke so the distant mountains cannot be seen through the thick tendrils of dead pine souls reaching to the sky.  I see half faces in yoga that I know, teachers that might know me.  I recognize folks at the store.  Bless this pandemic, bless this mask for my face.  Now how can I mask my body that plagues me so.

180.  A complete turnaround.  A complete reversal in attitude or opinion.  I made the decision to move to Colorado in 2016 after some sustained wellness (sobriety, running, yoga, Crossfit, etc.) when I wanted more mountain adventure and to be somewhere I had never been and to feel little in the fish bowl of the San Luis Valley.  I had fallen in love with trailrunning and hiking and thought I ought get to the big ones—the fourteeners that came with stories of lightening, starting out hikes in the middle of the night, holding a dumb cardboard sign with the elevation sharpied next to the name of the peak.  Peakbagging without the bagging part.  I didn’t really climb that high or that technical.  I got to Alamosa, Colorado stayed a few months and shoved off to Pagosa Springs where I completely changed my career trajectory and started child therapy.  I weighed 180 and felt fat.  Was told that I was packing a little extra weight.

After arriving in Pagosa Springs I watched a whole new self emerging from my new surroundings, new relationship, new job, new house.  I felt a bit out of control and very confused in a small town of 1,200 but so perfectly surrounded by trails, rivers, mountains, hot springs that sometimes now that I am gone I lust for the town like an old college lover who is somewhere working in a bank in an unhappy marriage raising who knows how many kids.  I sought control through my diet and exercise and find myself running further and further.  Maybe in the snow, maybe with friends, maybe up hill.  I took my lunch hour to run up Reservoir Hill pounding switchbacks and sprinting down the hill trying to break my own record.  I watched myself take up less and less space not knowing who I was.  Always heading to my spiritual place—outside.

150.  There are 150 psalms in most versions of the Bible, though the Eastern Orthodox Septuagint bible has 151 and other versions have up to 155.  Before I started my most recent blog I had 150 pages of writing.  The psalms and my blogs much the same, expressing individual emotion to God or about God.  The psalmists may have had a different concept than I.  My god is not sky daddy nor mother earth but the breath and stillness in between.  Different types of psalms and writing all written to communicate different feelings and thoughts.  Words of praise, admiration, thanksgiving, gratitude, and wisdom.  Those might be the psalms but my words also invoke sadness, distress, longing, anger, shame, darkness, anxiety, and pain.  The lowest weight of my adult (and teenage) life, I am at the rec center in Pagosa and am inquiring about scholarships and the answer is always no if it comes to an HOA such a common occurrence in Colorado I am confused in Wyoming that all is one city project.  I step on the scale and am secretly beaming.

I am thin but am still crying all the time staying in hotel rooms because I’m in an 8 week training module for my new position as home based (child) therapist.  The man I move to Pagosa for has haggled me about my appearance so many times I figure if I eat less, run more, learn to ski, get the gear, learn all the mountains, make all the friends, teach all the yoga classes, find the right place to live with the best mountain view, clean the best, talk the least, I might measure up.  I become smaller and smaller and the other women at work tell me I am too thin or make fun of me for avoiding the cake, muffins, chocolates, chips, and other delights that find themselves on the counter.  I can only control this one thing.  I cannot control how my partner is treating me and can’t seem to psychoanalyze my way through it.  My weight getting lower and lower with my self esteem and ideas I could mean anything.  Still, I lift up my shirt to see my ribs and emerging six pack and am so secretly happy I’ve finally gotten this thin.

“…this beast dwells within whom many confuse with vanity.”

― The Raveness, Night Tide Musings

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walking through fire

It’s a little past 7, my dim flame of a soul awake compelled to compare that light to years ago waking up at 4 to write, running at 5:30, smoothies at 7:30, meetings and clients all day.  Yet, somehow, sleeping 8 hours mostly through the night and waking up before 11 has become my biggest accomplishment of summer.  It reveals how I’ve mistaken my schedule as me, my work as me, my good deeds as me.  Yesterday, the Mullen fire west of town turned the sky orange by noon and time became like resin holding everything captive and intact in town while beetle kill and brush woosh in flames out of town.  Some have become sentimental about the fires claiming environmentalists created the perfect kindling by not logging etc.  I am of the mind that it had to burn sometime.  The forest must burn to create. Perhaps the soul does, too. 

Forest fires release seeds and encourage growth creating fertile soil.  The flames clear dead trees, leaves, and other vegetation from the forest floor so new plants can grow.  Nutrients are broken down and return to the soil while disease-stricken trees leave space for stronger trees.  The thinning of trees increases sunlight which increases growth both of trees and wildlife habitat.  Soul fire releases new ideas of how to cope with life when old ways aren’t working.  The destruction of self and old patterns creates space for new wiring of the brain, synapses finding new paths with no former brain crispy leaves in the path.  Relationships are broken down to create room for new relationships and meaning.  While the smoke of the soul may be dark and ominous during the fire, the sunlight comes back in through new venues, new ways of seeing, new hope.

I find myself 6 hours into a 10 hour audio book wondering if I would have read it quicker through seeing instead of listening.  Then I remember, my sight isn’t getting better.  I’m getting older.  My body is changing and I find it sometimes hard to get out of the bathtub with shame thinking back on 6 hours of exercise a day.  Its hard to compare the two, both extremes of activity and while I feel like a crust of myself I have learned the lesson of moderation and realistic expectations.  This does not preclude goals of yoga, running, lifting weights, healthy diet.  This fire, however, is only 11% contained and the main objective is to save the structures of my life that are important.  A job, housing, working on the relationships I do have.  I’m setting the control line and holding boundaries and sometimes the fire may jump these lines.  Start over.  Dig, water, clear the brush again.

I wonder if this latest existential crisis has less to do with simple mental ailments and more to do with the shifting of my soul to accommodate who I am.  Am I a gypsy wandering every mountain town I encounter only to find while I’m compatible with the mountains I’m not compatible with its friends?  Or am I professional who realizes no one wants a former gypsy in shiny cubicles in surface talks about politics of service that are held up only in theory?  I seem to be emerging as both and I cherish my experiences in a boat, on a mountain, in a cubicle, speaking in front of a classroom.  In talks with my Uncle I realize that its not the achievements or the acquisition of a new position—its finding peace in the slow burning of the fire knowing that the terrain is too tough for me to fight and does not make sense for containment.  I wait then, and watch, and prepare the boundaries that I can knowing the fire may shift in any direction on the dovetails of the changing wind.

I am told by some mentors to keep certain information off of my resume and others tell me to hold true to myself.  As I drive by Fox park and some areas in the San Juans its obvious the forest has burned.  I wonder if my own fire leaves the scars just as visible and suppose it may be foolish to think I can hide the fires that molded the projection of myself.  I am told to keep a plant for a year, a dog for a year, then try a relationship.  The rebel in me says I’ll do things in anyway I want, I’ll start a fire in a stage 3 ban and watch my resources wasted on another preventable course.  I’ve been hiding very well this summer only letting a few folks know my whereabouts as I flit around from the San Isabel forest, to Holy Cross, and Medicine Bow, to end up at Roosevelt and Arapaho.  If I name where I am going maybe I can tame the outcome.  I dream of yoga in the morning, running in the afternoon, weights at night then swaddled in the tiny belly of my studio apartment to read, write, and reflect. 

Fall has always been my favorite time and is now the time of fires.  I anticipate the neon red sun in fall and the soft blanketing of snow that puts the fires out.  Snow is an insulator and when sound hit the small pockets of air on the outer surface the sound is absorbed reducing volume and reverberation.  All becomes a bit more quiet, the tongue of the flames finally put to rest with steam rising from the forest floor as the cycle begins again.  Cycle meaning circle—perhaps I circle in and out of the “good” and “bad” times in my life to learn something new each time I’m on fire.  This cycle I learned that I am a flake.  I set my lines and I hop them.  I create a strategy and the fire changes.  I’m not sure if I set goals around this tendency or I take the process as the goal itself—saying no one day at a time.  Apologizing or forgiving one situation in its own way despite the time it may take.  The fires are still burning and I’m still using all I’ve got to put them out, until they come again.

“What matters most is how well you walk through the fire.”    

-Charles Bukowski

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fire flowers

I’m back! I set my site to private back in October after realizing I may have a few folks watching my every move not hoping for the best outcome. Screw those folks. I always undulate back and forth between being discrete, quiet, and professional or loud, boisterous, and flashy. Perhaps I can be all these things but also be myself. I read a review on Couchsurfing describing me as a firecracker. Bang, bang—I’m here to make you feel all the feels!

Life has been tough and tender lately. I’m sitting in my home wondering if we will get another foot of snow and hoping that I can maybe not eat pizza—just for today. Belly full, mind starved of the interactions that I thrive off of—interactions having to do with politics, stars, recipes. I made my site private because while my thoughts are my own, they became ammunition against me. The fireworks started becoming roman candles shooting directly for my heart. And in matters of the heart, I’m still learning and growing.

I went home last week to Wyoming and met up with a old (new?) flame. I wish I could stand all of my flames in a line in the same place and write a poem about each of these former lovers. All these flames, sparking into a huge fire of words and thoughts about how I experienced them all. Ahh yes, that is J, he really loved metal music just like me. Oh there is T, he was so handsome that I would mistake him for a James Dean lookalike in the corner store. And then B. He was his own worst enemy too far in his own head to climb into my brain. And the infamous S. If he could string together just a few days without calling me names or shaming my body, perhaps I would try to be what he wanted.

But the snow, the pizza, the boys—they seem like such distractions compared to my life’s work. To be outside. To learn about the snow. To learn how to eat food that I grow and food that grows me. To learn to be less reactive. I’m always so affected by my time with my family. We are from the same tree. Nervously sweeping the floor and picking up empty water bottles from last night’s conversations. Becoming sullen and sleepy on the couch thinking of life. Shutting the doors to our dreams to take another nap because damn this life is a lot to take on.

So, here I am. In words, in fluffy flesh, in transition. I know I will shed the pizza belly as soon as I resolve to do something—it is in stone. I’ve written some words in sand and now they are gone and I can begin to carve out who I really am. I don’t need to spend time with stinky boys who are lost in the trees, lost in the snow, lost in their own ego. I need to spend time with the freshman girl who walked into her first writing class not knowing she would be the best freshman writer that professor had instructed. And now, its not about being the best. Its about being me. Being real. Being here. Now.

“Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life, but define yourself.”

― Harvey Fierstein

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dark soul forest

I won’t save you, and I’ve lost myself.  I draw attention to my own ticks over the weekend swirling my bottom teeth with the tip of my tongue and slamming back beer incessantly posting shitty pictures along with poetry.  Trying to capture what it feels like to have folks say they missed me so much—and to ask me to stay.

My sick motivation to write is to be noticed when I can’t go out into the world.  Even tonight, at writing group, I felt my eyebrows furrow parking close to a bush in the parking lot–too many cars. I want so bad to hide away but to still be seen.

Let my writing be greater than I am in real life.  Crying, brooding, salty.  I have no sword or staff, no moral superiority.  Right now, I’m a bit of a neurotic.  The feel of my bra against my skin is awful. I’ve hero’d my way through my own life so many times that I’ve run out of characters to play.

My niece scoots up to sit behind me on the couch and grips my arms to press my middle back into her tiny frame.  In the pressing she finds comfort, waddles off to return with a plaid wool blanket so I can wrap her up like a tiny burrito.  More and more blankets appear and she winds up a pile in my lap crushing against my knees and thighs.

I become a rocking chair always back and forth rocking myself into my own mother’s sweetness and breath in an extended hug.  My own blood strong with genes bearing pronounced cheeks. Teeth floating in a pink case tasting of mint and nostalgia as I plop them in my mouth to skip to the living room and grin at niece and sister.

I walk into mom’s bedroom to smell her perfume and take so much comfort in the body shape of both her and my sister.  Loving gaze.  The bodies of our tribe.  Family my own complexity of the hero and anti-hero, thesis and antithesis of a human tree.  Family the underbelly of why I write.   All their fault and not their fault at all.

My stomach screams at me in anxiety to go vomit.  My fists demand that I slam them into a ripe pillow case crumpled by last nights sweat-sleep.  I write because I cannot connect.  I write because I am selfish.  I write to trick myself into thinking I am good at something, and to find sick pleasure in my own voice-in-writing.  The anti-hero of okay.  The death of an anti-warrior with no corpse.

“Your soul is a dark forest. But the trees are of a particular species, they are genealogical trees.”

-Marcel Proust

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go off on them

I sat washing dishes wondering how to make the start of this blog different. The 4:00 am wake up time, the smell of coffee, sweeping my house, dragging in the dumpster.  But, maybe that’s the thing.  Life isn’t meant to be so gosh darn dramatic and I wonder why I create it that way so often.  I woke up prepared to peruse social media profiles and realized that trap—I’ve shown my insecurity in this area and it will always be attacked by the random human predators that exist all around us.  So, instead, I looked at pictures of the kiddos I work with.  Throwing rocks and sticks in the river, cutting trees, dragging said trees up a hill—this is what I live for.

Just ended a sentence with the word “for” forever feeling I’ve mastered grammar enough to start to be creative.  I find others using words in text “mebbe, afosho, fer, yer” and others that I use to enhance my communication hiding behind an accent that doesn’t exist—at least not here in the Rocky Mountain west.  I am told of a woman who has some crusty toward me because her partner took a “in a relationship” designation off of Facebook and started to like my posts.  Took me awhile to even figure out who this person was—all profile pictures cartoon characters and abstract drawings.  I didn’t even know.  I feel empathy at this point—I have plenty of men in my menagerie unknowingly causing strife.  I wonder if I would invite a man to my home even if I was in a relationship.  This is not what I live for.

I’m feeling especially at peace during my most recent break up cycle.  None of it matters anymore.  Screen shot my shit, hateful man club.  Try to get me fired.  I can save time by speaking of my poor behavior here on the electronic page.  Slamming my fist on the door like a cop threatening “if you don’t want a shit show on your front step you better answer your phone.”  The shit show starts with a fist and then escalates to me screaming the first and last name of the aggressor along with a date of birth.  Screaming like  mad woman, acting incredibly immature.  Back in April when I was in Laramie I woke up to my best friend screaming “fuuuuuuuuuuck you”  and I remember feeling such pain in his words.  No excuse for me but in my life sometimes it ends up I feel I need to scream to be noticed.  Go off on them.

Will I lose weight this time?  Will I become a better runner?  Will I start to see a local more or head to Flagstaff or Fort Collins to see others?  I’m so excited this time because the insecurities have melted away.  Can’t fire me.  Can’t intimidate me.  So some have a negative experience in my yoga class.  That’s not about me.  I can adventure now with the best of teachers who don’t have to describe their accomplishments—they live them.   And now I know the mountains and trails won’t change anyone.  The quiet soft heartbeat of the earth chugs along no matter where one may be.

“Those who travel to the mountain tops are half in love with themselves, half in love with oblivion. 

-Robert Macfarlane

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so many different things

“Eat, drink, and be merry for tomorrow you may die.”

What does merry taste like?  The bitter defeat of watching an ex-lover drink and be merry with a new mistress—what else ought I call her?  I want this bitter taste out of my mouth and I ought stop festering, creating hardened plaque of the heart.  To be merry tastes like parsley and dill I just pulled from my garden.  It tastes like sweet and spicy tea I put in with coffee compressed in the French press in the darkness of pre-dawn.  It tastes like saliva I suck through gaps in the teeth of that same ex-lover I kiss in the upcycle of the lines of a heartbeat on a monitor.

It looks like the smile on the face of a child when surprised and delighted by a hello or maybe a tube of chapstick.  It’s seen in the moment another human feels safe and heard and here comes the teeth of ecstasy again so bright and genuine—someone finally got them.  It looks like fog, like snow, like clouds that move like the breath to help me know I’m alive.  Let’s me see that even though I haven’t gotten it right yet, I see in my minds eye that I will.  It looks like that same lover’s profile from the side with one eye mischievous and the other wandering.

It feels like yoga in the morning, popping my back while sitting up or lying down flopping one leg this way or that and the release of tension like dropping a heavy pack on a hike.  It feels like my quadriceps in dancers pose, my back in camel pose, my hips in cobblers pose.  It feels like that sweet spot of muscle, tendon, and relief.  Happiness feels like the present moment finally letting go of the sadness of the past, the tenseness of the future.  It feels like a warm bear hug from the heart where I can soften and come to love, come to understand love hurts like a splinter underneath a fingernail.

To be merry sounds like laughter, humming, singing that vibrates from the lungs and lips of friends.  I always secretly hope those in my intimate circle like to whistle.  It sounds like the phrase “little buddy” and “I love  you, Jen.”  It’s a southern drawl of comfort, a biscuit of the heartspace smothered in the gravy of tiny moments heard in the beginning of gut laughter, and a good story.  It sounds like the breath inhaled right before the next in the ups and downs of contentment.

It smells like the very moment when a child hobbles in from recess smelling of metal, sand, asphalt, ketchup. It smells like dryer sheets and a simmered soup.  It smells like Jovan musk and coal, coffee and cinnamon, like compost in the middle of decay.  It smells like the gasoline of an old Ford truck.  Like hair and my grandpa’s pillow.  It smells like fish cleaned by my father, like garlic and antifreeze, like hot springs.

“I don’t know what you mean by ‘glory,’ ” Alice said.

Humpty Dumpty smiled contemptuously. “Of course you don’t—till I tell you. I meant ‘there’s a nice knock-down argument for you!’ ”

“But ‘glory’ doesn’t mean ‘a nice knock-down argument’,” Alice objected.

“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, “it means just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

“The question is,” said Alice, “whether you can make words mean so many different things.”

“The question is,” said Humpty Dumpty, “which is to be master—that’s all.”

― Lewis Carroll 

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beyond a distant star

I woke up this morning at 3:00 am because I went to bed incredibly early last night.  And the night before.  I’ve had some interesting dreams recently and perhaps there is something I’m searching for in my subconscious.  I wake up anxious most Sunday mornings and then become irritable (irritability a symptom of anxiety as well).  I heard the expression the “worried well” the other day and this seems to be my fate.  I’ve been meaning to go work on my classroom every weekend and just don’t get around to it.  Tried to hike yesterday so proud of my new tires and promptly got stuck.  I started laughing and playing fetch with the dogs while my friend sat in the truck.  I feel I create getting stuck over and over to see the folly in it all.

I’m anxious for today as I’ve taken myself off the teaching schedule at the community center and will be teaching yoga at the school.  Teaching yoga used to give me the biggest shot of anxiety and I forever worry about teaching from the mat, using the same cues over and over, messing up my inhales and exhales, lefts and rights. I worry about who I will bother using essential oil at the end of class.  I was able to take a few yoga classes in Denver and felt a little better about teaching.  I teach from the heart, as authentic as I can be and I think I should give a little more space to myself and others to be perfectly flawed.  I feel I teach the same lessons over and over:  self-love, the impermanence of life, breathing as spirituality, non-violence.  I’m the last person you would think would teach yoga, trembling with anxiety and questions—this is probably why I teach.

I’ve reached all my goals again in too short of a time and feel my life has somehow gotten ahead of me.  I was able to get a space for an elementary school garden—bigger than I could have dreamed!  I check out the brown grass and wonder who can help me in this creation.  I’ll need all kinds of folks:  permaculture people, production garden people, landscapers, laborers, dreamers—I can see this garden in my mind’s eye as maybe a labyrinth surrounding a grow dome.  I’ve already got permission to use a grow dome space uptown and gently plop an apple core into the worm factory I inherited.  I’m trying to understand what I ought do with the community space and my own garden and find myself drilling holes into a plastic garbage bin for my own homemade compost bin.  That’s the best part about gardening—it’s all about slow, simple solutions.

Now what?  I find myself nostalgic for hot yoga and good food in the big city and watch pictures of aspens breeze by my Facebook feed and I realize I miss Wyoming.  But—when I was there I wanted more.  I felt restless.  And now I feel restless again because my only job is to be.  To do my tasks with mindful actions and thoughts.  I want to continue my play therapy practice and learn so much from all the kiddos around me.  I want to follow through on my garden project and see how much more I can learn from horticulture therapy.  I’ve got my eyes on all kinds of masters level classes because my pay grade goes up with every 10 credits.  But, secretly, I don’t think it has anything to do with pay but everything to do with feeling proficient at something.  I’m good at school and it always helps to feel good at something to start to integrate the things that are slightly beyond me.

My new goals?  Dig up my utility and figure out a way to ski mostly free.  Get the plans and folks for the garden project written down.  Manifest it. Learn to communicate better with parents and teachers, teach some parenting groups, help my school to become trauma informed.  Get a handle on this anxiety.  Let go of the past, forgive those who have hurt me.  Try a running race that challenges me.  Quit drinking Michelob Ultra and start to see the world through sober shimmering eyes once again.  Get out in the woods.  Camp, hike, learn to read maps.  Take more classes, but only if they are free.  Save my money to spend it on my legacy.  Learn the ways of the river.  Dig deep for even more resourcefulness to this mostly free, as well.  And as always, love myself, practice non-violence.  And breathe.  Always breathe.

“If you want to conquer the anxiety of life, live in the moment, live in the breath.”

― Amit Ray, Om Chanting and Meditation

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the law of the jungle

I am an intense person.  This has been pointed out to me.  In order to keep my whole person from shattering at the thought of all my faults I reframe these comments to think I’m passionate.  The other day I was on the phone and was trying so hard to explain why I felt a local organic farm was injected with privilege.  I couldn’t get my words out and sounded as if I was starting a war against young white farmers.  The friend helped me tease out my words and she said what was in my heart—“oh you want to make organic farming more accessible!”  YES!  All of my work in the social justice arena comes down to money.  Classism.  Poverty.  Social currency.

When I first came to Colorado, I was living in the San Luis Valley.  These were some great farmers markets.  Garlic, onions, potatoes, even some osha sprinkled into the mix.  When I was younger, I was involved with an apprenticeship in Laramie, WY at Elk Mountain Herbs.  I learned about herbs of the mountain west.  Herbs that grow in between 7,000 and 9,000 feet.  Yarrow, nettle, redroot, Oregon grape root, bedstraw, curlycup gumweed, plantain, black cohosh root, wormwood, elderberry.  I had a kitchen drawer full of dried herbs that I would combine into a daily tea or tonic as its called in the herb world.  Tonics are preventative medicine with tinctures serving for more acute illness.  I stopped at the farmers market in Alamosa, CO to talk a bit to a farmer about osha.  He realized its value and I felt as if I found someone who understood the distinct healing properties of whole plants.

The ranch in Elk Mountain had received a grant from the USDA to grow osha commercially and when I took my apprenticeship I was also in a magazine writing class.  I decided to write about the curative properties of osha, although the story was never published because osha has an endangered distinction due to being over-picked around herbs schools of the southwest.  In simple terms, osha helps regenerate the cilia within lungs.  Its best taken when you feel a cold or respiratory illness coming on.  A tincture can be made, or the roots can be chewed on.   Usually, the herb causes coughing right away and tastes of strong celery.  I interviewed Michael Moore, a very talented herbalist who has since passed, outside Reeds bar one night on the phone.  He talked about how osha was so special in the southwest it could be traded for money, gas, etc.  Since I’ve moved to Pagosa Springs, not quite as many folks know about the value of osha or more likely I’ve not met these folks yet.

During my apprenticeship learning about the medicinal aspects of herbs, we also learned about the magical properties.  Yarrow and dandelion were deemed “desert island” herbs that could be used for many purposes.  We learned catchphrases like “eat them, don’t weed them” or “research causes cancer in rats.”  I think what I liked best about this course is that I felt I was becoming more in charge of my own health.  I was noticing what herbs grew on my hikes around southeast Wyoming and collected nettles taller than my 6 foot frame at Elk Mountain Ranch in Wyoming. This stuff felt accessible and much of what we knew about these herbs was collected from indigenous cultures—American Indians, Latino/a’s.   During the course, a medicine bundle was found in Arizona assumed to be 500 years old containing osha.  Ligusticum porteri.  Strong enough medicine to be worn around the neck in a bundle for healing and good fortune.

What does all this mean for gardening, organic farming, foraging? For me, it meant I could learn to produce or find my own medicine and food.  It meant that I could take a hike and have even more purpose taking and giving from the forest diving into permaculture before I had even heard of the word.  I’ve only recently started growing plants and herbs and wonder why I haven’t tried this before.  But then I stop and remember that I’ve got to meet myself where I am.  The cost of organic gardening is more than just the $100 of seedlings in my garden.  Its learning how to grow, harvest, cook, having the mental energy to prepare a meal.  I’m a straddler of social classes, forever aware of my debt yet forever aware of my privilege.  I know about herbs.  I have space for a garden.  I can buy osha, or I can trade my goods and services.

To me, food justice means empowering folks through knowledge.  And the best part about this knowledge is that it can feed the mind, the body, the spirit.  I’ve sprinkled elderberries around my home for protection, picked yarrow in big open fields, hung bundles of nettle in sheds to dry.  I have cut up my cucumbers and ate them with yellow pungent sprigs of dill.  Growing my garden has rekindled my interest in herbalism.  And now I’m on a project to leverage folks in Pagosa Springs to start talking about how to reclaim our food, reclaim our plants, get out of the isles of the grocery store and into the isles of nature.  I’m just not sure yet how to do this—I’m weary of talking with folks who already have power.  I feel that some of these organic farms run by young privileged kids is another example of cultural appropriation.  But how do I explain this?  How do I both celebrate and challenge what we are doing?  I do what I know and I write a blog that goes in all directions and begin to name what I think helps—knowledge of herbs.  Knowledge of plants.  I can “Robin Hood” this information and start to share what I know, redistribute my social currency.  Food justice can start right here in my heart.

“From the depth of need and despair, people can work together, can organize themselves to solve their own problems and fill their own needs with dignity and strength.”

Cesar Chavez

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the remaking of life

“How were you able to get over the fire?” She tells me that she took sage and ceremonial tobacco and cleansed the place of the fire and that it all just melted away–sugar in a hummingbird feeder. Twirls of smoke intertwined with the intention of hope after cleansing by fire mix with the hot, humid air of July while I think about these words in August. I speak of sweet grass which is not indigenous to this area but I know how to find the shiny long leaves in between 7,000 and 9,000 feet in Wyoming near a special ranch in Elk Mountain. The Latin word for sage, salvia, means “to heal” and the intent is for spiritual healing, wisdom, clarity. Sweetgrass represents positivity, strength, and connection to that which binds us together–God, Creator, the stars. And so I invoke sage and sweetgrass of the mind.

I wake up to another email citing my decision to create some really clear, healthy boundaries as a step in a feeling, non-logical, direction. Lots of feelings to be sure–pain, hurt, confusion, anger, nostalgia. I pick up a braided rope of sweetgrass in my mind and say the words “positive, persistence, patience” and feel the wisps of smoke surround my synapses. I’ve been practicing setting boundaries with the ACT method–acknowledge the feeling, communicate the limit, target alternatives. Before I speak to some folks, I write down exactly what I want to say. And then I prepare to communicate the limit over and over until its no longer a line in the sand. There is tons of anxiety in holding the limit–I want to be liked. Even better to be loved. But this can no longer come at the cost of my basic sense of self. I unraveled more fully this year than any other time I can remember.

When I was younger, I was in 4-H and learned all the trades that seemed manageable in my city slicker existence. I went to a crochet class and learned how to make tiny loops with fuzzy blue thread. I couldn’t figure out how to hook into the second row and so I just kept looping over and over and showed up the next week to class with one long chain as evidence of my efforts–I tried. I tried this year to loop into the second row of my heart creating a long chain of repetitive actions–the same fights, the same hurtful words. I don’t know if my anger is from anxiety or from pain. I rule out borderline because I miss the second diagnosis criteria in every section: stable identity and goals, plenty of empathy most of the time but lots of hostility towards one person. The teacher of the crochet workshop laughed at my long chain but I wasn’t upset–I did the best I could. I spent the remainder of the class pulling the thread, undoing each sweep of the hook and was left with a pile of blue yarn in a brain on the floor.

I used to be a projectionist–I thought I was a movie theater worker but realize years later there are only a few old school theaters left in the country. Spools of film would arrive in orange boxes inside the duct taped door of the Wyo Theater and I would pick up the boxes one by one to carry into the projection room. Spool one sits on a nail by the projection platters and I turn on the machine waiting until the tail of the first spool starts to spin and flap. The platter is turned off and I turn to the splicer grabbing the head of the second reel and press the splicing machine firmly into tail and head. Repeat until the platter contains the entirety of the film. The hardest part was turning on the machine–one wrong move and the film might spray everywhere. “Braining” happens when the projectionist isn’t quick enough to pick up on an error and the film piles up on the floor resembling a brain. These mistakes are always fixable but with one film in particular we had to splice out about 18 inches. It’s usually just a small blip in the film with bubbles on the screen where two sections are melted together. This blip was a big one.

A long chain of soft thread, a long line of film with each picture containing just a milisecond, lines of smoke lingering in the air. There may be a time when I regret my decision to set a boundary–but I don’t regret never learning how to crochet or entering a blanket into county fair. I don’t regret quitting my job at the theater and skipping the anxiety of the projector bulb burning out over and over and having to refund the $3 entry fee at the “cheap seats.” Sweetgrass smells so lovely and lingers in the air for days after its burned. Every once in a while I get a whiff of the smell here in Colorado where I havne’t met anyone that burns sweetgrass. Sage grows here but not like in Wyoming when after a rainstorm and entire field smells of the earthy, pungent plant that I pick and rub between my palms to smell as I run. I plan on heading back home sooner than later where I can reflect on my move to Colorado and the events of the past year. I don’t know why I was never that good at meticulous tasks and perhaps those are the tasks I missed in trying to create a relationship that was full of still pictures of lies and deceit. And so instead I act. Acknowledge the feelings of anger and pain, quit hurting myself, and choose to grow instead.

“Grief is in two parts. The first is loss. The second is the remaking of life.”
-Anne Roiphe

 

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no mistakes, just experiments

This morning my friend is running another marathon. LIke his 300th or something like that with about 70 wins. He calls himself a weekend runner and works 40+ hours a week and eats almost exclusively pizza, fries, and bacon. He tries to get about 100 miles a week and I watch his Strava as he endulates between 8 slow miles to work and then sprinkles the pattern with sub 5 minute/mile sprints that defy my logic. He’s stacked and doesn’t do much cross training. He’s one of those–the 1% that just has an affinity for running. I worry about his obsession but am also highly impressed and probably a little jealous. We all have our gifts and talents and how neat he found out about his.

I’ve started gardening this year and its changed the way I look at my goals. Everything has become cyclical. I’m already working on amending the soil for next year’s plot trying to figure out how to build a deer fence and researching “off season” gardening. I’ve got a worm farm saved in my ever growing shopping cart on Amazon but try and temper those impulses–I haven’t bought a thing yet for this garden. Someone described my approach as a slinky, I’m going round and round in circles but going up. That’s how a garden works–whatever isn’t consumed is still used. I start thinking differently about food and get excited about watermelon rinds, banana peels, coffee grounds. I start to say things like “healthy soil, healthy food, healthy people” and “slow, simple, solutions.” The garden has become a metaphor for my life.

There is no winning the gardening. I’m very inspired by the huge bushy bunches of tomatos and kale at the community garden but am not too worried–I will get there! Any flower or growth is a victory to me and I start to realize more and more I’m a process oriented person. Even if something won’t grow–its food for other plants. Even if I have no yield–the soil has been worked by worms and roots and is only becoming a better home for next years plants. I start to relate the whole thing to adventure running. There is no destination, no need to go fast, and the best part is the journey. Of course I’m super pumped to eat a home grown tomato raw with salt but I also love smelling the pungent spiky leaves and stalks of each plant. They don’t like their leaves wet and I can relate hoping my feet don’t get too wet today on a hike I’ve got planned.

Plants are like people. They don’t want a shower in cold water and so I have a black bucket that I fill each time I water and let it rise to temperature. Plants like their space and grow nice and tall when they’ve got room. They want to stay warm so I stack a thick layer of straw around each plant and notice someone has done the same with the potato plants in the community garden. Plants won’t be rushed–they grow just how they know how each day and yet it does happen rapidly–the kale and arugula have taken off and grow back with fury each time I pinch off the thick green leaves. I feed them stinky compost but bread and meat are no good for the compost tea and I start to wonder how good either of those are for me.

What will my friend do when he wins all the races? When he nabs his 2 hour 30 minute win in Washington? Stop and go, stop and go, medals, t-shirts, pint glasses. I keep hounding him to start ultras with me hoping that he will start to garden with me too. I think I’ve reached all my goals. I can’t think of anything else I want to win, to achieve, I’m so ready to just be. I’ve got my dream job, my dream house, my dream town. It’s all simple and little and perhaps narrow but each time I pour water at the base of my little plants I feel connected to the larger world. Each time I pray I feel the energy of other human beings. My yoga practice is now running, gardening, play therapy. I’m healing through planting, growing right along with my garden. I don’t know if its fair to try to bring my friend with me but simply become aware of how we are approaching it differently. But, I still hope he wins if thats what he wants. And what I want is to enjoy it all and bask in the sun of all those small little things that create this big, big, life.

“There are no gardening mistakes, only experiments.”

— Janet Kilburn Phillips