Monday, June 27, 2011

Jiao gu lan?

I recently was rooting through my bag of weird shit I bought in China 2 winters ago. I have not really unpacked this bag for some reason. Perhaps it is because I don't quite know what to do with the bizarre cartooned face masks and blank journals that have blatent undercurrents of pro-Mao imagery. Or the vinyl holographic wall hangings of waterfalls and tigers. There is a red piece of "real silk" with dragons on it and several cheap reference books regarding Chinese medicine. The other day I pulled out the book I bought for a buck at the Carrefour (Walmart like store that was between our apartment and th hospital) about Chinese medicinal herbs. Loaded with groovy illustrations of plants and plant parts and weird animals and animal parts, it describes to the reader what to use each item for and how to use it. The only little thing is you have to read Chinese to get it. Otherwise, you are like me and you gaze longingly at the groovy illustrations and wonder what in god's name the stuff says. This book became a very popular item in Jenna's room at the hospital in Tianjin. Her 24 hour Chinese nurse/ helper "Lulu" would enthusiastically read the book every day, and then we would try to talk about it. The only thing was she spoke Chinese and I spoke American. I kept coming back to the page with the groovy illustration of a plant I am growing, which I know as "jiao gu lan." Lulu communicated to me that it grows like a weed all over the ground at the place she lives in the countryside, but I could not really gather the local herbal usages of the plant from our daily conversations. So I suckered one of the hospital translators into taking the book home with her and translating the page for me. A few days later she brought me back 2 pages of notes. After I thanked her, I apparently didn't thoroughly read the notes because a couple of days ago I was reviewing them and my mind was blown by something on the 2nd sheet of notes. Click on the picture to enlarge it, and see if you can guess what really got me... Enjoy.

ps. Upon reviewing the notes, I am now not so sure that either of the plants shown is jiao gu lan. I was thinking that the one on the left was, but who knows?

Thursday, June 23, 2011


Midsummer Dawn to Duskin' it. Long are the days. Each long day holds endless possibilites of enjoyment of the bounty of the season. Wild berries to make pies from. Heavenly flowers to inhale. Cold mountain streams to dive into. Turtles to pick up and talk pretty to. Wild turkey chicks to watch taking their first flight. Poison ivy to avoid. Thunderstorms that are the very wrath of Thor Himself to ride out, talking to sweet Jesus until they pass. Work to do. Heat to surrender to. Ice cream to eat. You get the gist of it. Solstice time is bittersweet. The height of summer with all its glory reminds us of the turning of the seasons, the passing of time, the inevitability of winter, and the impermanence of life. It becomes urgently important to me to celebrate the moments of the season as they pass by.

A solstice bonfire with indulgence of cake and mead ensued after a long, hot, steamy day at work. The cake was chocolate, with a chocolate basswood blossom frosting (basswood flower infused cream based- whoa, good!), and the mead was that honeysuckle brew that Jenna and I concocted about a month ago. Our small gathering danced to Prince for baby Angelo and laughed and imbibed and discussed our thoughts on the season. Fireflies provided ornamentation. The moment was celebrated.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Greasy Beans and Greene County Okra

Most neighbors around these parts are kind and generous with what they have. It is the natural way of living in rural mountain communities, where towns and cities are far and self reliance is more of a daily situation than it is in most of modern America. Of course modern conveniences are prevalent way out in the mountains these days too, but most people still feed themselves at least partly off their land, solve most of their own problems, kill their own varmin, take care of their own sick, and call their own neighbors when they need a hand. I have been amazed with the generosity with which I have been received as a new community member. I don't know if it has to do with being a lady gal who is stepping into rural mountain living solo or what, but the kindness has been off the chain. Just this weekend a neighbor friend from up Cedar Cliff gave me enough seeds to get my own patch of greasy beans and okra going. A cup of each should give a good start to eat some and save the rest for next year. The seeds were the great great grandchilden of seeds that had originally been given to him by older gardeners who had grown theirs out and saved seeds over the years. These seeds are prodigies of plants who have fed generous neighbors over the years and have been selected to thrive in our pretty little mountain region here. I planted mine out yesterday. Godspeed little seeds of good eating and human kindness...

Sunday, June 5, 2011

My Hero

My sister:

My little sister shows me what it is to be a truly stellar human being. Her grace, beauty, humility, strength, endurance, gratitude and humor are real. She is my greatest teacher.