Just a whiff, and I am transported…back in time, to another place, to poignant memories. English Leather aftershave takes me to the halls of my high school and a girlish crush. The fragrance of Palmolive soap was first to greet me in my father’s home over 30 years ago. Cookies in the oven…I can see myself cracking walnuts for my mother’s Christmas baking.
The acrid scent of Black Walnut trees tell me I am in my heart’s home of the Ozarks, and grandpa must be near. Gladioli spike the sorrow of funeral bouquets. Sweet Violets breathe the skill of folded paper baskets and May Day baskets stealthily delivered to neighbors’ doors. Easter Lilies escort sorrow, for their scent brings April deaths of loved ones into clear vision. Apple trees—their fruit ripening in waning summer light—promise applesauce and pies. Long-needled Pines poke with vision of the Colorado foothills.
Making sense of it all, memories scent a garden—laughter under nodding giant Sunflower heads and squeals at the antics of Bumblebees.
Wonder of the Swallowtail Butterfly on spicy-scented Calendula, and sighs where the Geranium leaves offer quiet.
In winter months, the snows come, and I bundle against the winds. Long socks, boots, and a knitted hat protect me. I wind a scarf around my neck, don a coat, and encase my fingers in wool mittens. I scoop snow from the sidewalk with raspy scrapes.
I like shoveling snow. I wave to neighbors and shake my fist at city snowplows that bury my hard work under mounds of ice.
When snows melt in spring, I grab a different shovel. I pull on long socks (stripey ones for fun), sandals, and a long-sleeved shirt.
Well-worn gloves and battered hat complete my ensemble.
All of this is needed to thwart the relentless mosquitoes whose bite itches, and itches, and itches.
Snow or mud, sweltering or freezing, outside is a good place.
Quite fitting with the title of this blog and the theme of discovering the ordinary…an Evening Alley Walk led by a local botanist. A cracked cellphone captured some of the highlights, and all the plants have medicinal or culinary uses.
Fascinating that food and medicine can be found growing around the corner–even in the middle of the city. Wait, you thought them weeds? Me too. And I really didn’t need to leave my yard to find most of them.
Cautions if you possess the desire to duplicate such a walk:
- It could be a little disconcerting to find someone harvesting weeds on the edges of private property–make arrangements with property owners beforehand.
- Make sure the plants grow in areas unexposed to pesticides and herbicides. Forage only where property owners maintain organic practices. In our area, alleys are not sprayed by city foresters, but the streets, parks, and rural roads are routinely maintained with chemicals.
- Most importantly, make certain of the correct plant identification. As Socrates would know, a cup of Hemlock tea could prove fatal.
Tucked in a corner of my yard, under the shadow of soon-giant sunflowers, I planted weeds. Yes, planted not pulled. Milkweed to be exact. The milkweed plant provides all the nourishment needed to transform the Monarch caterpillar into the adult butterfly.
The Monarch Butterfly is also known as the “milkweed butterfly,” because Monarch caterpillars eat ONLY milkweed. But these plants are rapidly disappearing due to the loss of habitat stemming from land development and the widespread spraying of weed killer on the fields where they live.
The Monarch population has declined dramatically over the last 20 years with last year’s population down 94% from 1995. But we should not give up hope. I am on the far edge of migration paths, but any stray Monarch that flutters my way will find a resting place.
Oh, give me a home
Dressed with Buffalo loam,
Where the bees and butterflies play.
Where often is heard,
The sweet chirp of a bird,
And the raucous call of the jay.