Yesterday saw the end of our first batch of syrup making. Leah slaved away at the cooker and stove for what seemed like days on end. With the weather in the mid 50’s and lower 60’s for most of the week, the sap had stopped flowing but there was the risk of it spoiling on us if we didn’t get it cooked down. This meant that we had to get it cooked, soonest. Because of that, we dragged the propane cooker out of the basement and brought the sap to a boil on it before putting it into the big cook pot on the rocket cooker. Not what I would have preferred to do as propane costs money that winter keeps in short supply. But we make do. When the temperature drops back below freezing at night and the sap freezes, only the water freezes, not the sugar. This allows us to pull water out without expending any energy. It also speeds the process along. That didn’t happen this time. Which has to be one of the oddest things I’ve witnessed in the years I’ve cooked sap. Remember, we are in the Northeastern corner of Ohio, and this is JANUARY!!! Why the temperatures are that high is beyond me. But no matter. We got a little over 2 gallons of syrup and the season hasn’t officially started yet. Here’s hoping for a long one.
What I get to feeling when I think about all these things coming up out of the ground is that they are all expressions of the underground here abouts. These Boletes come in such profusion around North America that some of them are only identified with certainty under a microscope. (over 400 species) It’s the shape of their spores and the tubes they fall from. Beats me. These things are what they are. They aren’t the spore shape ones. They are certainly delightful to eat.
I’ve had a couple of experiences of eating mushrooms from the woods that have ended poorly. Once by my own hand, once by the hand of another person. the mistake I made was concerned with bitterness levels and a total inexperience identifying Boletes. Upset stomachs were the extent of things. The event by another’s hand was a misidentification of a mushroom that GLOWS IN THE DARK!!! General rule. Don’t eat things that glow in the dark. We were actually out again today gathering Chanterelles behind the barn. It’s been a good year for fungus.
I am growing to think that the world is a far more subtle place than any of us realize.
Leah came and got me yesterday with a note of panic in her voice. “I think the bees are getting ready to swarm!” she cried. Okay, so she wasn’t panicked or crying out. She just sort of said it with some concern. The image is what we found. We sent some messages around and got word back to just chill out, just like they were doing. And to open some doors and windows in order to help ameliorate the situation.
So this morning we did just that. Granted, the first image was taken at the heat of the day (mid to upper 80s ) with almost 90% humidity. This put the day somewhere between what other people define as “Miserable” and “Why do I live here?” The day was a cooker, don’t get me wrong, but for days like that, winter’s -13 degree kiss becomes all the more unbearable. So if you were a bee, wouldn’t you want the doors and windows open too?
Come to find out, the hive was all out of order in the first place. Apparently the “top” is the thin sheet with the oval cut into it. This goes under the “lid,” which is exposed to the weather. This oval holed sheet does not separate the inner boxes. My mistake. Also, we hadn’t removed the “door reducer” from across the bottom lip of the box. That hive had to be screaming hot, with only the one way in and out. Also, I drilled a 7/8″ hole in the upper frame. This will provide a lot more cross ventilation and it will create new travel patterns inside the box. I hope it helps.
Here’s the trick. Part of me thinks I’m a complete idiot for doing this, but the entire time I was drilling and opening and prying and examining the box and it’s parts, both Leah and I were totally unprotected. No mask/safari hat. No hazmat suit. Just open it up and go about the business at hand. We were out there first thing in the morning so everything was cool and calm at the box when we got there. My memory of my Dzeda working the his hives will be forever with me. He didn’t not care if he got stung. He just knew how to not get stung. Don’t upset things any more than necessary. Do what needs doing and be decisive though gentle about it. Much like doing a head to toe, full body assessment on a trauma patient in an ambulance. Thorough, complete, no mucking about. As apposed to getting all weird about it. Be it hesitance and fear, or ill intent and mischief. These critters would know the score. They smell me more than I smell me. If they smelled even a hint of malice or fear, they would have nailed me. I never gave them that. I was just something that was repeatedly getting a little too far into their flight path. This, however, changed once I started manipulating the hive itself. I knew that I was upsetting things when I was working at getting the door spacer out of the way. They had already glued it into place pretty good and I needed more than a little effort to break it free. All the while, the buzzing around my head got louder and louder. I don’t know if everyone came home and were blocked from getting through or as a response to an alarm call. But they were there. Leah, wisely a step or 3 back away from the hive, said that the bees were a cloud around me. From my perspective, just a little less than arms length from the bottom of the box, I saw some extra bees, but traffic didn’t seem to slow down or speed up all that much at the door. As soon as the spacer had been removed, I stood up, and the cloud was gone. PooF! The angry buzz was gone. Everything was just as suddenly “Okay.”
Then we took the boxes apart and moved the ‘top’ to the actual top of the uppermost frame. The “new” frames are all clean up and seem to be getting used, if only a little, so far. Having moved the massive restriction from the box, I’m hoping things will progress at a better rate. Totally for their sake. The honey they are making is all for them. At least at this point. If they make WAY more than they can use, even on a harsh -20 winter, then we might take a frame off once everything is settled. Only time and the season will tell that one though.
very small particles found in mining, milling, etc.
in a satisfactory or pleasing manner; very well.
““And how’s the job-hunting going?” “Oh, fine.””
clarify (beer or wine) by causing the precipitation of sediment during production.
make or become thinner.
“it can be fined right down to the finished shape”
So apparently the formatting for wordpress hates me today.
I can’t seem to get it to knock off this numbering thing.
I’m stuck in what feels like history class from when I was a kid.
I can even put things in closer
though I’m pretty sure I’m stuck here
Oh, uh, I have no idea what I did, but now the entire thing is correct and it looks like i’ve just made all that up. really I didn’t.
So Leah and I were talking about something in the car the other day and she asked me if a thing was fine. It’s getting blurry now that I’m trying to re-hear the conversation. “Was it fine?” or something like that. I sort of mumbled, “ya gesso.” and a drip of sweat fell from my nose onto my shirt. Which launched us into the meaning, and usage, of the word FINE. While I recognize the many applicable meanings, what I think of most often in reference to the word FINE is just sort of ho hum. No complaints really. No problems. Functional adequacy. (I just made that up) Nothing special to write home about. She threw back at me that there is a Class distinction in usage that isn’t fully conscious on my part. My dad used the GI bill after his time in the USMC and learned how to lasso numbers and get them to do what he wanted. My sister got that from him. I did not. Not that anyway. I got other things from him. But she got the numbers. My father is part of that great AMERICAN DREAM that the Greatest Generation believed in. His father, my grandfather that gave me my last name, got a gob with no significant education (maybe finished high school but I’m not entirely sure) in a Tool and Die factory in Youngstown OH. The factory moved to Conneaut is 1948. Because of his skills, he, like my steel worker other grandfather, was ineligible for the draft to serve in WWII. Essential services. They were made to feel good about their not fighting in the War to End All Wars 2.0. They weren’t cowards. They made a living and provided all the things they were supposed to, per that AMERICAN DREAM. I would imagine that household was fairly loud (Italian) and undoubtedly got pretty physical at times (3 boys). Grandpa watched his boys go off to the Marines (2 of them) and then a different 2 get college educated. The dreamers in the family weren’t my father. He got a numbers job with the State and turned that into one with the Federal Govt. Private Contractors were Civilian Employee back in the early 80’s. So he made enough of a living that we never wanted for the basics, not ever in my memory. So according to the terms of the American Dream, he/they did it right. And I can’t argue that. They did what they “knew.” Especially my grandfather and his Greatest Generation. Regardless of the ultimate cost. Our lives weren’t hot new cloths and the latest sound system and dirt bike and a zipper jacket for everyone. Not that kind of money. But enough to get it done. My childhood was not brutal or a struggle by most any standard. I grew up a pink skinned boy in the 70s and 80s. Back the, being such a person gave me an advantage that I didn’t really know about for many years. Things were turning towards the toilet and they had absolutely no clue how weird it would all get. But the thing I remember asking my mother about that rings loud and clear after at least 35 (closer to 40) years ago was, “What class are we?” “Oh,” she replied, “there are no classes in America.”
Well, no. We were all taught this. Boot strapping your way to the top. Rags to riches blah blah blah. And here the big circle closes, we were shown that we as NOT Elites simply could not understand what made something FINE. So we blew it off as serviceable. We were shown movies and told stories about how the elite live. Of kings and queens, Tzars and Brahmin. I caught on at some point that this was not and never would be my world. Fine things were only ever glimpsed in museums or in images in TV shows or magazines. Never tangible or accessible. Fine of that sort was fairy tale. It’s that elite FINE that is unobtainable for the great unwashed.
“How’s that shirt fit?” Fine. “How does it feel?” Fine. “What do you think of the style?” Fine. Now set that conversation against a different background. Make it a costume made silk and linen designer shirt that retails for $900. One of those ones that go under Armani Suits. Brooks Brothers and all that. That is a very different FINE.
Drinking a cup of home brewed tea out of one of my cups is undoubtedly a different
from drinking it out of a 16th century Bowl used in an actual Tea Ceremony. For one thing, I like the way I make my tea. The 1 tea ceremony I went to back in 1981 was interesting but I was 11 at the time and pretty overwhelmed at just being alive and drawing breath to really pay attention to just how amazing it was to live as an 11 year old in a little island in the Pacific that had been invaded by my people and was in the process of still occupying the land that was already in the midst of several hundred years of occupation. (Okinawa is a distinct people and culture from either Japan or China) So yeah. How well do you remember one more cool thing from when you were 11? I’m amazed that I even remember it. Flying sideways off a trampoline in gym class? Seared into my memory forever, up to the part where I lost consciousness. Tea ceremony? Yeah. I guess.
So all of that, right? True class warfare sort of stuff. Well. No, not that far reaching. But it is a usage distinction that is bred not taught. I was never taught to appreciate the feel of great/fine clothing or how it feels to interact with fine foods or furniture. The stuff we had was fine and we went on with things. And most likely is comes down to that lack of breeding, but from my perspective, that tea bowl, pictured above, that’s priceless and more that 500 years old, works exactly with the same utility and function as a Styrofoam cup pulled from a sleeve. Both vessels are fine. And it really depends upon who you are asking. I know things about pottery so I have an understanding (very course and base) of how pottery can ascent from the realm of craft into the place of ART which is so amazingly rare as to be nearly nonexistent. (think 1 in 1000 thrown cups might be clear of form and line and glaze true and hold form and just be effortless to hold and interact with in terms of balance or the way it stimulates my finger tips where I’m touching it and my lips and tongue where I press my face to it to consume fluid that flows across an area of that vessel to meet my mouth. Proportion texture form volume all contribute to experience. Why else are there 900 styles of beer wine booze glass? What exactly is a high-ball? And does allowing the pilsner to speed up flowing down the long glass introduce it to the back of my tongue first and does that really allow for a fuller appreciation of the more subtle flavors?
Or is it all exactly bullshit?
It’s a cup. It’s a shirt. A car has 4 wheels (usually) and gets me from point A to point B. I got to drive a 1968 Chevy Corvette Stingray. All original and the head liner was hanging down just a tiny bit and touching my head. While I did not get to OPEN ER UP!!!! I could indeed tell that this car was about the most ridiculous, ill conceived means of moving about that I had ever been in. There is no back seat. And it did have a trunk because it was not a convertible. Driving it wasn’t a stupid thing to do. Not at all. It wasn’t the easiest thing to do either. I was taking it to get brake work done. But I could just tell that new, spanky squeaky new, this thing was a rocket. A rocket with nothing but open roads ahead. Must have been an awesome illusion. Same illusion someone gets in a Bently or Rolls. It is a car. It’s fine. I have never been a Rolls or Bentley, so I’m guessing. Sure looks like a car. Still gotta change the oil. They break when the hit things. Whoop dee doo.
I guess I was just never introduced to the world of fine things. My world was full of things that were fine.
As an aside, I did learn a thing or 2 about boots. White’s Boots has been making their product if Washington state for a century. They know what they are doing. Custom built boots are the shit. These suckers cost me all my discretionary funds to keep in shape and in soles. If there is an issue, send them back and for a cost, they re-build them from the ground up. New boots. Boots that are fine. Fine for fighting forest fires or digging holes or walking around the block. But I prefer heavy boots. My idea of fine in this case is particular. imagine working an 8 hour shift washing dishes are Applebees wearing an Armani suit. Not fine. These boots. Totally fine. Please, don’t get me wrong, these ARE NOT $8000 boots. No No No. Nothing that stupid. They are just the exact same boot that people, men for the most part, have been stuffing their feet into for a long time. They figured it out. If there is a Chippendale version of boots, I don’t really care. I’m fine with them how they are. Did I neglect my step-daughter because I did not encourage her to look higher above the horizon and appreciate the fine things in life? Is that something that is even do-able? Does any of this matter? I’m willing to bet that no one in an Armani suit, sitting in a Bentley, is wearing White’s boots. They just aren’t. And I imagine that my thinking a car is a car and a shirt is a shirt is the entire point. I’m too stupid to even care that there is a difference. I guess being this stupid has it’s own benefits. I don’t have to pay the up keep on one of those monsters. Can you imagine what the insurance costs? And you know they have most than just liability. They have the kind of insurance that spells out how they can take whatever body parts needed to rebuild the Bently owner from other party. Regardless of who’s fault it is. I mean, I guess that’s fine.
This article was originally published in Plant Healer Magazine last year.
I am frequently asked why I still go to protests. This question surfaces in conversations about successful political actions – the assumption being that mass mobilizations in the U.S. are rarely the tools of change they once were. For me it doesn’t matter. I measure the success of an event by the community connections made, the skills developed, the wisdom shared by the too few elders.
Most importantly, I have found that my work as a street medic and herbalist at mass mobilizations gave me a few skills that made it possible for me to do disaster relief. Mass mobilizations, after all, are often considered political emergencies by the State. And sometimes, these events turn disastrous when police deploy “less-lethal” weapons to disperse crowds. Street medic history starts with the Civil Rights Movement and the American Indian Movement. People trained as doctors, nurses, first responders, and others with more traditional skills such as acupuncture and herbalism began marching side by side with protestors to promote health and safety by preventing dehydration, blisters, and other co
ailments while being prepared for the emergency situations that arose when counter protestors or police injured marchers I encourage herbalists to consider working at a free clinic during a mass mobilization. It’s an opportunity to learn about the logistics of providing medical support, develop conflict resolution and negotiation skills, practice cultural and situational awareness, build community – all under duress. These clinics are open to the public. Clinic staff ranges from doctors to acupuncturists and from herbalists to EMTs. For some patients, this might be a rare opportunity to receive health care. In an emergency situation, it’s important to be able to set up a clinic, provide medical support for large numbers of people, and think on your feet.
When we got the call, we’d been spending most of our time shoveling snow in NE Ohio. A friend in Montana called to ask Charles and me if we would be willing to go to Haiti. The team was self-assembled and unaffiliated: all we would have was each other. We knew other street medics who were in Haiti and through them learned about a Haitian living in New Jersey who was looking for medical teams to go to his hometown, St. Marc, in northern Haiti. Odson would be our guide and primary interpreter while we were in Haiti. We raised money in our communities and within a week of deciding to go found ourselves flying to the Dominican Republic.
When we arrived at the hospital in St. Marc, we discovered that the American team of surgeons and nurses that were there were leaving the next day and the next team was not arriving for five days. We were the only care providers for their patients during that time. We provided care for patients who had received or needed serious operations, amputations, complicated breaks requiring external fixators, and skin grafts. After that five days passed and the next team arrived, we took a day off.
After resting for a day, we went to the village where Odson’s grandmother lives to see the countryside and set up a clinic for the day. We set up a three-part clinic: wounds/musculoskeletal injuries, blood pressure, and minor medical treatments (pharmaceuticals and OTCs given by a nurse and herbal remedies from me). That day was amazing and incredibly discouraging. The countryside is beautiful, but the people are undernourished – some of them suffering from easily prevented conditions, like night blindness from Vitamin A deficiency.
Before we left Haiti, Odson told us that the hospital staff agreed that we were one of the best American teams to come to St. Marc. There were two reasons for this. The first was our willingness to ask how we were doing. After two days of working in the hospital we asked to have a meeting with Odson and his sister, a nurse at the hospital. This gave us an opportunity to learn from our successes and mistakes. We learned that Haitian providers use full sterile protocol on all patients. We were ushered in by a team of doctors who walked us through their protocol – they weren’t using sterile protocol either. They felt that nothing about the environment was sterile, so why bother wasting the costly sterile gloves on every wound dressing change. Just outside of the operating room, we were told to take care not to stand directly in front of the doors, because the water dripping down was a sewage leak. However, the Haitian doctors and nurses employ full sterile protocol precisely for the absence of sterility throughout the hospital. Despite this blunder, none of our patients developed new infections in their wounds while under our care.
Our second success rode on our willingness to integrate as much as possible into the community of St. Marc. We stayed with Odson and his family, creating our own tent city in their enclosed courtyard. When we needed to go somewhere, we walked or rode on the back of motorcycle taxis. We bought our food in Haitian grocery stores and restaurants. (One American doctor expressed mild shock that we went out for a drink with “them.”) We flew kites made from beach trash and skipped rocks with the children at the beach while chickens, pigs, and goats nosed through the garbage in the sand. None of us were fluent in Haitian Kreyol, but we learned basic phrases and important words. One of the slang phrases I learned (to everyone’s amusement), was m lage cha a (I gotta bounce).
Everyone’s an herbalist in Haiti
That may sound like an exaggeration, but this is in contrast to the U.S. where many of our best medicines are torched, yanked, or sprayed in an effort to annihilate their existence. Odson frequently pointed out things that his mother or sisters use for teas. His father spoke of the medicinal qualities of calbasa while demonstrating how to carve the hard shell into a bowl or water carrier.
I learned more about Haitians and their plant knowledge while we were visiting the village where Odson’s grandmother lives. After lunch (rice with chicken and greens), a few of us wandered into the yard behind the houses. I was feeling that it would be better to recommend treatments based on plants that were growing in the area rather than giving herbs from the states. I came upon a vaguely familiar plant with big leaves – I grew up in southern California and was surprised how many plants were similar. I bent down to look closer and asked Odson what it was. This one I didn’t recognize because I’d only seen them in orchards: almond trees. They grow like weeds in Haiti.
Excited I stood up and said to him, “The leaves as a tea are good for high blood pressure!” At that moment, I realized that a small crowd had gathered around us and blushed because suddenly they were all talking at once. I asked, “What are they saying?” Odson smiled, “They are saying it is good for high blood pressure.” We were then able to recommend the tea to those with high blood pressure. It wasn’t important that I knew about the benefits of almond leaf tea, but the connection helped those who didn’t previously know they had high blood pressure.
The earthquake in Haiti caused an acute disaster that was all the more devastating because Haitians have been living in a state of political and economic oppression and chronic disaster. Haiti is the poorest country in the western hemisphere. Many struggle to get enough food. Few have access to clean water and the means to clothe and shelter themselves. The rates of malaria, HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and other infectious diseases were high before the earthquake; and after, many suffered in an outbreak of cholera.
I began to wonder how to measure the success of recovery under those conditions; especially when those conditions are a result of decades of political and economic oppression. Coming home from Haiti was not easy. There is so much work to do there.
But the work is here, too. Throughout the world, corporations exploit poverty-stricken regions for labor and the extraction of raw materials. Chocolate, coffee, diamonds, trees, oil and coal are exchanged for blood, sweat, and tears all over the world.
In the U.S., Appalachia is the poorest region if you look at the human statistics, but one of the wealthiest if you look at coal production. The greatest profit exchanged for the greatest suffering. The coal industry has been destroying people and entire communities in those mountains for more than a hundred years. My great grandfather was one of them. Mechanization led to layoffs and my grandparents moved to California to work at the Kaiser steel mill and hospital. If they had stayed, it’s likely that my grandfather and father (who also worked at Kaiser) would have also died young from black lung disease (officially known as coalworker’s pneumoconiosis).
Over the last two years I’ve been to West Virginia twice: to see family and the landscape my ancestors lived in and to work on health-related projects. The first time I went, I spent a week with Roland Micklem and attended a rally to protest mountain top removal. I provided medical and moral support to Roland; an 81-year-old man who was fasting to demonstrate his grief for the mountains that are being cut down for coal.
The second time I went, I trained two groups of people to conduct a health survey. The data will be used to further understand the health impacts contributing to health disparities in Appalachia. People in that region die more often from lung, kidney, and cardiovascular illnesses compared to the rest of the U.S., so the National Institutes of Health has designated the region as a priority area for eliminating health disparities. These illnesses are likely a result of a combination of things including poverty, hunger, unemployment (and underemployment), limited access to health care services, air and water pollution, and the health behaviors influenced by all of the above. I’ve seen jars of blackish water from formerly clean wells. I’ve seen air filters blackened in just a few short days. If that doesn’t describe a disaster situation, I don’t know what does.
My experiences in West Virginia and Haiti and my earlier experiences as a street medic inspired me to become more prepared for a disaster and to teach others to do the same. I teach an introductory workshop on preparing for a disaster that can be followed up with conflict resolution, negotiation skills, non-violent communication, basic first aid/herbal first aid, disaster herbalism, emotional first aid/disaster psychology, setting up/running a temporary clinic and turning that clinic into an enduring project. The knowledge and wisdom shared in the workshop comes from a number of people and in the tradition of recognizing those who help us, I will say their names here: Mo, Charles, Noah, Aislyn, Grace, and Roger.
While I was in West Virginia this year, I visited some relatives and saw the house my father was born in. I touched the Spruce trees in a tiny isolated old growth forest. I found the new leaves of an orchid called Rattlesnake Plantain. I sang in the shadow of the New River Gorge. And for the first time, I saw the name of relatives in a graveyard in Norton, WV. I saw life and death and everything in between. The cycle of life is the here and now. The only thing I know. And I will work to keep that cycle balanced in everything I do.
Leah Wolfe, MPH, is a community herbalist and health educator with a background in health research and community organizing. She teaches as a way to contribute to decentralized sources of health care, which are integral to a sustainable, ethical, and affordable system of health that emphasizes public health and autonomy. She is an apprentice of the forest and field and is certified as a Wilderness First Responder. She offers consultations and herbal medicines on a sliding-scale or gift exchange basis to make treatments accessible. She founded the Serpentine Project in 2009 to restore habitat for at-risk medicinal plants and cultivate other important medicinal plants at BLD farm in Ohio.
Currently, we are especially concerned with the chronic disaster that is caused by mountain top removal coal mining practices in the Appalachian area. These practices are causing air and water pollution, fear, and dislocation of communities in an area that has a history of poverty. I have seen black water, I have felt houses shake from nearby blasts, I have seen flyrock, rocks that are thrown in the blasts, the size of small cars, I have seen people with cancer, and I have seen people who are afraid to protest mountain top removal practices for fear of losing their jobs. Some of the plant medicines growing in the region are on the United Plant Savers at-risk list. Entire biospheres where these plants live are lost when the mountains are torn down for coal.
Coal is not a clean fuel and underground mining presents health risks to miners, but I feel that a return to more traditional mining practices would reduce the negative health impact in the region. Yes, I would like to see coal abolished as a form of energy just as much as I’d like to see nuclear power plants abolished. But the reality is that energy is needed, jobs are needed, and for now the government and the corporations are unwilling to promote sustainable approaches to energy needs. After talking with miners in West Virginia, I learned that there needs to be a focus on realistic solutions that create jobs and don’t poison entire communities, hence my belief that in the short-term a return to underground mining would save the lives of countless plants and animals (including humans).
I participated in a study on the health effects of large-scale surface mining (also known as mountain top mining and mountain top removal). Large-scale surface mining spreads the health risks to adjacent communities and beyond as streams, water wells, and air are polluted with sludge and coal dust. The health study that I assisted with in 2011 demonstrated that Appalachian communities in mountain top mining areas are twice as likely to have cancer than Appalachian communities without mountain top mining sites.
My role in the study was to train interviewers who planned to go door-to-door asking residents if they’d be willing to participate in a survey and provide a hair sample. Interviewers were college students from surrounding areas. They were trained in consent protocol, Appalachian cultural history, history of coal mining, interviewing procedures, and safety/emergency plans. I also helped write the first article published later that year – the abstract is available here: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21786205