Saturday, May 24, 2014


This week, an apparition.
Story starts in Year 2000. I was fresh out of college, renting a house in Swannanoa with friends and working as an assistant at the Chinese Acupuncture Clinic in Asheville. Deeply interested in the medicine, and particularly the herbal parts, I endured what clearly was not a good employment fit for as long as possible just to be around the medicine and soak up as much information as possible. My favorite place was the herb room, which contained over 300 large jars of various dried roots, barks, leaves, resins, minerals, and animal parts, categorized by their effect on the human system. Clears heat. Tonifies qi. Moves blood. Yang tonic. And so forth. I tried to memorize the names, smells, tastes and functions of as many as I could. I also enjoyed providing direct care and body work to the patients- massage, cupping, moxabustion, electrical stimulation to needles, etc. I was fascinated by the dramatic effectiveness of the the treatments. However, my sense of humor got me in trouble. I just couldn't resist the frequent opportunity to crack a joke or play a prank. My antics were harmless, and (I believed) provided some balance to the overall mood of the workplace, but I was causing too much laughter and disruption in the clinic and after a few months was moved outside to the garden and lawn. As much as I love gardening, I was disappointed. I didn't get a job there to garden or mow the grass. But that was my first exposure to the cultivation of Chinese herbs. They had a small display garden with some of the medicines growing. I don't think they had Bupleurum chinense (chai hu) growing (I could be wrong), but that was one of the herbs that had captivated me in the herb room, and I decided that year that someday I wanted to grow that herb. I didn't last long in that job because a special opportunity to travel came forth, but the seed had been planted.

Flash forward to Year 2014. It is late May, and this week the time came for me to plant out my first lot of Bupleurum chinense (chai hu), which, as it turns out, is a main ingredient of the formula Xiao Yao San (Free and Easy Wanderer) that I am producing here. I planted the seeds a year ago, and waited patiently for their delayed and very spotty germination all season long. As they germinated, I carefully transplanted the seedlings into small pots, then stepped them up as they grew in the greenhouse nursery. I allowed the plants to overwinter in the nursery, and waited until blackberry winter seemed to be over before I planted them out.

It was Monday. I had a wheelbarrow full of chai hu plants and was about to wheel them up the hill to the south facing terrace I had prepared for them, as they like well-drained, sunny to part shade, drier conditions. Hopey was resting in the grass near me. From the corner of my eye I detected something white and moving to my right. I looked down to witness a miniature white poodle, shaved and groomed, trotting right by me with cool  and utter confidence. It had emerged from the woods behind me and trotted right on through, between Hopey and me, without looking at us, acknowledging our existence or stopping. Hopey did not growl or bark, which those of you who know her can attest is unheard of. The poodle trotted right on out the driveway and was gone as quickly as it had appeared. It was clearly the strangest animal sighting since I have lived here, and appeared at a most auspicious moment. I live in a very tucked away place, surround by lots of woods, and nowhere near a poodle.

Word travels in a rural community. Dave called Todd who called Greg who called the Mechos and me. I don't know who called Dave. There was an elder woman down on 212 close to Delmus's old store who was pining for her 14 yr old missing poodle and distressed for its safety. Luckily, by the end of the night, the poodle has returned home safely, and the lady was very relieved. I am quick certain that poodle was wore slap out after its lengthy romp around. And somehow, I am quite certain that the apparition bestowed a blessing of some strange sort upon my first crop of Bupleurum.

Saturday, May 17, 2014

Blackberry Winter

The brambling wild blackberries behind the house that I tried unsuccessfully over the winter to knock back to a reasonable distance of encroachment are in full, humbly majestic bloom. This morning's temperatures are just this side of frosty, and we all are finding ourselves re-lighting our wood stoves to temper the chilly blow of blackberry winter. I am kicking myself for prematurely setting out my peppers and squash. Yawn, yawn. Who cares?
Despite this cold snap, spring is well underway here at the big spring. The 2014 maypole was wrapped two weeks ago on a perfect spring evening, nestled in a lovely cove amidst banks of sunny Senecio blooms and elusive and blatant wild turkey courtship activity.

Jeff Ashton, modern Wild Man extraordinaire, helped us summon the Blue Man this year. He emerged from the woods, and from the depths of our collective psyches, and danced around the maypole dancers, offering us a reminder of our wild selves. Adorned with furs, feathers, moss and one surprising horn, he wielded garden tools made of wood, bone and leather, summoning visions of the special period of time of human ancestry when people first discovered cultivation. What a trip! Once the ribbons were wrapped and tied off, and it was time to feast, a certain young maypole regular pushed the Blue Man back into the woods, where he retreated into the shadows until we summon him again next year.

The Blue Man is pushed back into the woods
Some children cried, because the Blue Man is a little scary. But he's not too scary. He's the kind of awe-inspiring character who can be intimidating, but alluring all the same. Thanks Jeff, for helping us summon him this year!
Beautiful strawberry cake by Rachel Brownlee, decorated with ribbons by my sweet sister in law Angie for the occasion

Other spring news- The first 2014 reishi mushroom (Ganoderma tsugae) has been harvested here by me. There are more getting ready. Double extractions with alcohol and spring water will be made.

The indigo buntings and phoebes are noisily trying to raise families just near my house. This means early morning wake up calls daily, like it or not. Other close-by summer residents who I assume are nesting here too include hooded warblers, black throated green warblers, and blue grey gnatcatchers. The parulas must have just passed through this year. Pileated woodpeckers' population is healthy.

This place has been enjoying a gentle increase in human activity since winter melted. The maypole welcomed a large group of celebrators, and just this week Julie brought the twins and baby Daisy for a 3 day visit. We played with toads, bug hunted, went for a walk and found a black snake, cut some bamboo and made a trellis in the garden, and played with some other kids in Spring Creek in Hot Springs. It was a blast!

Forest and Lily getting silly at the bamboo trellis project
Chinese herbs are growing. Dang gui angelica  and bo he mint are thriving, peonies are looking good, even the licorice is chugging along in it's third year. I have a nursery of good looking bupleurum (chai hu) that is about to go in the ground. Wish me luck! I'm trying to germinate some Atractylodes (bai zhu). Red rooted sage, ballonflower and Chinese skullcap are doing good. I'm also doing ashwagandha again. 

This concludes the blackberry winter update. Thank you for your time.