Monday, September 22, 2008

Blue Monday.

I just love loosing myself and the sense of time while gardening. I don't know about the rest of you gardeners but I have a tendency to work myself beyond any sense of pain and then pay for it dearly the next day. Last week I spent a significant time in the garden and the

weather was perfect...seriously, perfect. I don't think I broke a sweat, it was as cool as an Alaskan summer day and the air smelled sweet and fresh. So I just labored on without thinking twice about my hip or fingers that are now swollen and sore (and still I'm so happy to get out there as soon as it's light.)

Right now I am in the process of trying to finish up several hard scape projects in the yard, putting in a new raised bed, moving paths...a lot of rock work and trying to find a way to stop my little Boston Terrier from escaping out of the backyard...among other things. The most labor intensive thing has been transplanting some rather large shrubs. It took me nearly an hour just to remove them, then another to dig holes and get them settled in.

Autumn is my favorite season in Texas. Partly because it does remind me of Summers in cold climates but mostly because of the smells, the welcomed chill in the air and the renewed sense of energy and excitement that carries you through projects that during the heat seemed impossible to fathom.

Along with the ability to move faster comes a rift in creativity and I wish my body could withstand all my eyes and mind are determined to see transform...I'm not talking about mother natures wand or the miracle of growth but my own egos urge to tinker and play.

Last Wednesday night, I went to listen to the wonderful Patty Leander talk about winter vegetable gardening and have been thinking not so much about the topic but her story. She spoke about learning from her father and other gardeners then passing that (torch hardly seems spade onto her daughters and you could tell that she was seeing into the future of her family tree all the beautiful things that nurturing this desire should bring. It's a beautiful story rich in tradition and love, the kind that brings on misty eyes and that fleeting sense of eternity.

It's not my story, it's my imaginary one. In fact, I was raised in barracks with white walls, several floors above the ground with the sound of everyone else in the building going about their daily lives. I'd stare out the window at some park near by wishing that I lived in real home with a tree house out back and lots and lots of pets that were never going to be given away and neighbors that I knew for so long that when we spoke of "the good-ole days" it was the truth. I'm not sure where my 1950's family fantasy came from, the TV families that I loved and dreamed about were the traveling family musicians...maybe the movement seemed more real to me though the music was certainly not part of our lives, except my Mom singing old show tunes while she cleaned. I've filled my house with instruments and plants and pets, there is a tree house out back and I've known my neighbors now for 11 years. But, for some reason while I'm working in the garden, listening for critters, contemplating nature, I feel as though it's not really my life. I know it's what I'm doing now and that I love it and I feel a profound sense of accomplishment and pride when I sit back and take it all in, but it's my children that will grow up in a garden filled with chickens and flowers and fresh veggies and that archetypal tree house in the sky. So, it's not nostalgia as much as it is re-framing the past in a more picture perfect today that I loose myself in. And, as chance would prove, my children don't want to work with me in the garden...they view my "obsession" with being out in the yard as just another thing that makes me a weird artist person and they probably worry that the nude paintings and murals that don the walls inside will take form as embarrassing yard art outdoors. Creating a tradition is super hard to do when you don't have anything in your fiber that feels like your being true to yourself. It's not as easy as doing the same thing over and again. It's frustrating when I spend the day working in the front yard and I can see all that's changed and then they come home from school or work, waltz right by and don't take notice. I'm not doing it for them, I know that. I'm working through my old stuff, at the same time meditating on the moment, in the moment organizing colors and textures, toiling much in the same way as I did when I made art full time only with a healthier palate. It's the season, the change in the way the
sky looks, the slanted prolonged shadows and the browning of the leaves that make me sad and touch me someplace deeply tucked away in my childhood dreams.

The long hours of gardening are a perfect healing meditation for me. A spiritual exercise or ritual that has taken the place of a once a week lecture. It's not an obsession, it's a way. Maybe a path to more poetic sorts but I think of it like a coming to terms with understanding and allowing father-time the space that's necessary to calm your mind so you can hear a tradition that's deeper than family or a few decades of yearning. In the silence of what I'm doing in the garden there is an opening that allows what I believe are ancient messages percolating up into my brain-garble the weighty theme of being one with the earth, and that is what it's all about. It's that point that guides my daily decisions outside of the the store, in the voting booth, on the road that make me who I am.

I hope that I'm planting a seed though. That when my girls are grown and
telling a story of their own they are able to elaborate gracefully, tickling
all the adjectives that permeate the moments that I am so diligently
trying to create in our small cottage garden and conscious way of life.
At the very least, they will not ever have to say goodbye to a pet before
their time is up and they will have a higher expectation of nourishment than sitting
down to a plate of canned green beans. They will live on in my memory as the
little garden nymphs they were as toddlers and hopefully they will tap
back into that when they become Mommies.

Autumn in our garden, years ago. Photos by Dana Stringer

Monday, September 15, 2008

Bloom Day

Every month something has stopped me from participating in Bloom Day...thank goodness I shot these yesterday because this camera is acting up!

My lovely neighbor Regine gave me this plant that she said smelled "awful" but had an interesting flower...according to tradition I accepted it without a thank-you and said that I could put it out by the compost, and immediately began ignoring it. Who wants a stinky flower? Anyway, I rescued it mid-winter this past year, put it inside and still nothing happened. Two days ago I was doing the watering rounds and noticed that it had 14 buds, so I quickly got my camera. The next day I shot a few more as the buds were larger and turning pink. Yesterday they opened up. I did a search of "stinky flowers" and found "Wayne's World of Stinking Plants" and under carrion flowers was my girl...Stapelia gigantea, from Africa. It said that it attracted green bottle flies so I made a point to watch it throughout the day to see if the flies would show here in Austin and...they did! The flower is a member of the milkweed family and grows from 8-10 inches in diameter, mine was just under 8. Mid-afternoon I took a trip to Whole Foods to do my weekly shopping and right in the front door they were selling Aristolochia fimbriata, or Dutchman's Pipe...a native of Argentina, another carrion flower on the site...ohhhh I wanted one, until I checked the price!

This is a list of other things that are blooming in my garden today, but that I'm unable to capture:

Chocolate Plant
Rock Rose
Garlic Chive
Greg's Mistflower
Red Yucca
Purple and Yellow Lantana
Trumpet Vine
Crepe Myrtle
Fall Obedient Plant

What's blooming in your garden? Participating in Bloom Day is something that happens each month on the 15th. Garden Bloggers from all over the world leave a comment on Carol's May Dreams Gardens blog and that connects all of us soil lovin' flower fans. Check it out!!

Happy Gardening!

Monday, September 8, 2008

Double Purple Frill!!! Ohhh-la-la

Mon dieu, what a beautiful flower this morning! Datura, of the Nightshade family, was given to me by my Master Gardener friend Randy Case. Ohhh, she's happy here. For years I've heard stories about Datura, that it's poisonous, hallucinogenic, medicinal etc. so I went on line to see what I could find. BADS the Brugmansia and Datura Society has a huge site with photos of every stage of development and I was able to ascertain that I have a Datura Metel, which I later found out is used by the Chumash Indians of southern California as an anesthesia and is given to teenagers to help them find their animal totem . The site is strictly for collectors and research but didn't contain the juicy information I was after. I did learn some useful and interesting stuff like that botanists believe that the plant originated in the Caspian Sea and was spread by gypsies to Africa, Asia and the New World. It's believed that explorers brought it back to Europe.

Datura is actually a Sanskrit word, according to the vamana purana it grew out of Shiva's chest and is supposed to be presented as a ritual to Shiva on the 13th day of the waxing moon in January...sorry yogi's, it's not blooming in Austin then... and it's been used in other religious ceremonies world wide to induce sleep and guiding dreams, it's in the Belladonna Alkaloids that you find the tropane that cause this state.

According to Zuni legend, a brother and sister who lived deep in the earth would come to the surface to explore and marvel at the beauty of the earth. Twin boys who were the children of the sun asked them one day what they were doing? The two explained and upon further questioning shared that they loved to help the people who lived there find lost objects and discover the deeper meaning of life, so when the people were sleeping they would lay a flower on their head. The twins decided that the two knew to much and "made them disappear" back into the earth...the story goes that the Datura and Brugmansia flowers grew in their place. There are stories like this from all over the world...literally, I liked this one because it was closes to home...Mexico. I also found stories about similar experiences of thinking you had something in your hand, looking for it only to realize that you never had it to begin with. Zuni priests today still use the root to communicate with the rain Gods and locate lost objects.

I decided to call my friend Eugene, a native Moldovan who happens to be a local shaman and healer. I explained what I had found along with lots of warnings and after watching a few you tube videos of youth "tripping," which as I told him...couldn't be more boring, asked what he knew. He referred me to a website called and the research opened up. According to him (and the site) it's the scopolamine and DMT which is located in all parts of the plant that induce the "dark visions." The youth that die yearly from ingesting the seeds do so because they take a long time to take effect and the kids think that it's not working so they take more and more, never waking to know that it worked. According to his tradition, shaman collect leaves and flowers from a small Tree Datura that is grown in Peru and it's those parts that are boiled into a concoction that is given to help the lost. (Casteneda fans may remember this from his divination ventures along with the warning from Don Juan not to mess with the "devils weed" as she will dement men.) The tree has white flowers 3x's larger than our local "ditch" variety and a mysterious intoxicatingly beautiful smell. You know you've got the right tree after you've watched it for a year and it doesn't produce a seed-pod or fruit. This tree is sometimes called Toe, pronounced toe-ay.

One of the Datura's, which may be the Toe, is called the Toloache and is probably related to one of our local D.innoxia was used by the Aztec as a pain killer and was believed to be given to the recipient of the sacrificial ritual prior as a narcotic. The approach was to wrap a leaf around your finger and use it as a suppository. Other varieties were also used by the Aztec for divination of future events by the shamanic class only and for various ailments from cracked soles, ulcers, pain, pustules and was made into a poultice for arthritis.

In Europe and China seeds were pounded and added to beer as is still done in South America today, corn beer referred to as Zea mays. In the Andes it's brewed into a tea for visions and in Peru is mixed with Ayahuasca, a local vine administered by Shamans to lead the seeker to meet the "Angry Mother." In Chili it's the leaves of the D. ferox that are brewed into a tea to treat "unruly children" believing that the powerful plant-spirit will teach them respect. The most interesting thing I found though was that in the Sibundoy regions of South America some tribes add it to dog food before a hunt believing that the canine will share in the vision and lead them to prey. Just yesterday my daughter was marveling at the cats frolicking on cat-nip and wondered aloud "what makes dog's happy Mom?" Hmmm.

The black magic practitioners of the Caribbean were said to induce in criminals a zombie-state which has lead to one of it's familiar names "Zombie-cucumber." Apparently criminals who were unable to be reformed were given a strong concoction for several days then buried alive. After 3 days they were dug up and given the serum daily to control their behavior. They were said to live in a stupor, void of emotion...sounds like a frontal lobotomy to me which, is one of the ancestral uses of Datura...trepanation, probably used for migraines.

Sadhus and Yogi's smoked the leaves mixed with ganga, also sacred to Shiva which is supposed to lead you to understand the duality of God. Datura representing the male polarity while Ganga the female. According to ritual, you light the "chilum" with two sticks and this is supposed to awaken the Kundalini asleep deep in your spine's an aphrodisiac. The Chinese also used it with Ganga as an aphrodisiac and believed that the person hunting the flower would pass on their mood to it's users, if you smiled the happiness would become infectious...etc.

In pagan religion it is believed to be the drug that enabled witches to fly...or believe they were flying and dancing with the devil. In Europe, until recently Datura cigarettes were prescribed to Asthma sufferer's for their calming effect on the lungs as an anti-spasmodic which helps reduce the amount of mucus created, some believe this is the best treatment for asthma. It's the Catholic Church of Europe that eventually turned the name on Datura forcing Mexico to renounce it's patron saint of Datura, Santo Toloache who one would pray to induce unrequited love, the seeker would drink a tea of Datura as a sacrament and present the trumpet shaped flower for the alter.

Twice in my studies I came across the "Jamestown Weed" story of 1676 about a group of officers who ate the seeds and tripped for 11 days. Accounts of their doings were documented
by locals and apparently when they "woke up" they didn't remember a thing.

So, what exactly happens to your body? Well, the main ingredients are scopolamine, hyoscyamine and atropine and they all stimulate the nervous system temporarily shutting down your urinary tract and depressing the peripheral nerves. The onset is said to be pleasant followed by nervous or even violent outbreaks, hallucination and delirious illusions followed by deep sleep filled with vivid, often sexual dreams. Upon waking, often your are still amid the trip and most likely won't remember huge portions of what went on. It's particularly dangerous for people with weak hearts.

If you suspect someone is suffering an overdose the person should induce vomiting and bowl evacuation, Willow charcoal powder can be used as a detoxicant.

To enthusiastic youth...sacred plants are to be used with a Shaman, not for entertainment. Most
of the rituals I read about involve a journey to someplace natural, a period of cleansing and then the presence of several Shaman with fresh flower parts.

Be careful...let's just enjoy the bloom:) Today is time to garden and the flower has laid down to rest.

Happy Gardening!

For more Information:

American Botanical Society