It’s spring, in the year 2008. I am in Portland, going to herb school, looking for a job. Try and imagine it.
SATURDAY I learned about the energetics of the heart, in herb school, from Scott, the wooest of all our teachers. He talked about our hearts’ electromagnetic fields, which can, in a scientific manner, be detected up to twelve feet from the body.
“But I think they go farther than that,” said Scott, after we had read our little handouts. “I think the electromagnetic field of the heart is infinite.”
The electromagnetic field of the heart is infinite.
On the top of our handout was a quote by Keats, who apparently is a fanciful English poet who died in Rome at the age of twenty-five, after succumbing to tuberculosis. He was the last of his family to die of the disease, after losing his mother and brother to it. The quote on our handout was-
“I am certain of nothing but the heart’s affections and the truth of the imagination.”
As Scott talked about using his electromagnetic field to communicate with plants in the woods, I thought about that quote. Although I had lost no one to tuberculosis, I felt that I, too, was certain of nothing but the heart’s affections and the truth of imagination. What else do we have, really, after the dust settles, but a strong feeling and a fantastical dream? This young man, who asked that the words “here lies one who’s name was writ in water” be inscribed on his tombstone, was reaching through space and time to me, over the water and a hundred years into the future, and squeezing at my heart’s electromagnetic field.
I wrote the quote in my notebook, thinking about getting it tattooed on my body. Where would I put it? We were sitting on the floor, and my ass was getting sore. Saturday herb class is eight hours long. Eight hours, most of it lectures. Usually by the end I can’t even focus anymore, my spirit is bouncing around inside of me like a dog that hasn’t been walked in days. I start to vent in my notebook, writing “Bullshit! Bullshit!” and then I get even angrier, because why am I even here if I can’t even concentrate? I think the teachers would do better to shorten the Saturday class. One can only absorb so much botany lingo in a day. My cup runneth over. And this isn’t real college. This is DIY herb school, and I have to keep reminding myself that. My teachers aren’t even teachers- just well-meaning wingnuts with heads full of knowledge, and they try to dump it on us any way they can. The problem is, they’re not very good at it yet.
After class I felt tired in the very depths of my soul, but at the same time backed up energetically like I’d just driven across the country with the heater blasting and only cheddar popcorn for food. My friend Sebastian was having a birthday party that night and I had really wanted to go, but instead I sunk into the couch like a pocket of loose change and spent the evening talking to my housemate Shannon, and then went to bed. It’s a rough life.
SUNDAY found me in a busy restaurant, staring at the back of a job application, the sound of shouting families having easter brunch all around me. I was wearing my nicest sweater-vest, and I stared at the sheet of paper, baffled. The application wanted to know-
“What do you want to be when you grow up?” and “What is the most important thing in life to you?”
What the fuck, I thought. Who the fuck did these people think they were? It’s a fucking restaurant job. What did they want me to say- that the most important thing in life is Sunday brunch? Being able to work for five hours without going to the bathroom? Not breaking too many wine glasses? Instead I wrote something about honesty, and how when I “grew up” I wanted to write biographies and heal all my friends. I left the restaurant with a bad taste in my mouth, the sun breaking through the clouds for five minutes. Later I went to the park with Paula. We took Pearl the dog. The sky was having low blood sugar. The ball was obscenely yellow in the grey light. I had a moment of feeling down, bored, useless. I went home.
MONDAY we were at the IPRC, and the copier was working, and the sun was coming in through the blinds, and everything smelled like toner. And then we found ten dollars, and you broke my magic basket, and then we ate amazing thai food. And then Wishbone exploded, and you bandaged her, with a piece of gauze and a little tape. And then we sewed and listened to Phillip read to us about Mary, who drank the milk of wheeled triangle animals with oily seed-pods for axles. And then you made a sock monkey with a feather in his hat, and I made his clothes, and we named him Phillip Sockman, and he was only lacking a rucksack, and some dried Herbs. And then we went to bed and I slept for 75 years. And then I sucked on your neck for six hours, and you forgot to go to therapy. And then you fed me a smoothie laced with Herbs and I stayed in your bed for forty days and nights, after which time I climbed shakily onto my bicycle and biked away, having no idea what the season was, spring or summer or fall or winter, and I went to Cherry Sprout produce (formerly Big City) and bought six tiny avocadoes from JJ for twenty-five cents each, and told him all about finding ten dollars and the sock monkey. And then I went home and ate the biggest salad this side of Two Days Ago, and I tell you, it was probably Vegan. The light was fading and I tried to leave the house but only made it to the backyard, where I planted beet seeds in the rain. The Best Date Ever.
When I was crossing through the portal from the Best Date Ever back into Reality, I tripped a little and the portal stayed open a moment too long, eating most of TUESDAY. (see above)
On WEDNESDAY I went to the Herb Shoppe on Burnside, to get some Comfrey to make salve. Comfrey, apparently, grows like bunnies in everyone’s yards, but I didn’t have any, so I got it from the Herb Shoppe. If you want to make this salve, I bet you can find some for free.
My friend JJ has a real bad knee, and Comfrey, according to some, is nothing sort of miraculous at making bones and ligaments heal, so I was making some salve for him. I made the salve in a base of Lard, because Lard is very good at pulling the constituents out of comfrey (better than olive oil) and it’s also very cheap. But I must say, it’s pretty gnarly. And not necessarily because it’s rendered pig fat, but because the only Lard I could find was made by a chemical weapons manufacturer, and it was partially hydrogenated, and also had preservatives in it. But at $1.40 a pound and no refrigeration required, it was hard to beat. If you want to use something a little more pure, use ghee, which is clarified butter, and works just as well. And I imagine coconut oil might work also, since it’s saturated like butter and Lard, and it would smell the nicest of the three.
So here’s how you make comfrey salve-
1 pound lard/ghee/coconut oil
1 cup or so dried comfrey, more if it’s fresh
Boil some water in a pot, and rest a metal bowl on top of the pot. This is called a Double Boiler. In the bowl, melt the Lard. Add the comfrey, and cover the bowl with a lid to keep the heat in. Keep that water down below simmering, now, and stir that shit every once in a while. Do your laundry, write some poems, but DO NOT LEAVE AND ACCIDENTLY BURN THE HOUSE DOWN. After three hours the salve is done. Strain the oily mess through some sort of strainer (cheese cloth, wire mesh thingy, whatever) into a jar, pressing on the herb to squeeze out as much oil as possible. Put the jar aside to firm up. Now you have salve! It should be a nice green color, and smell like comfrey. You can even melt some more Lard and throw the same herbs in for another round. I did, and it came out just as green. I combined the two batches when I was done. Now, put a cute label on that shit and give it to all your friends who have bad knees/joints/broken bones. Tell them to smear it on as often as possible.
On THURSDAY my friend Heron came to town, and we sat in the backyard in the sun, talking shit and high-fiving each other for being such badasses, each on our own weird trip to some fantastical place that we just knew had to exist, up there like a dim star you couldn’t hardly see unless you unfocused your eyes and looked a little to the right. I took Heron to herb class with me, which was hilarious and awkward, she drew pictures of the Heath family’s urn-shaped flowers in my notebook for me, and later we all stood in the parking lot in the rain while Scott set fire to a wooden box of soil that had been planted with White Sage seeds, to demonstrate a method of germinating seeds that are fire-dependent, which means that in the wild, they would only sprout after a fire. One of the best parts of the evening was that Heron brought me a Raweo from Eugene, which is my very favorite thing. They are made by some genius in Berkley who soaks cashews and almonds and blends them with dates and honey and carob, squeezing the mess out in swirly sandwich cookie shapes and dehydrating it to a wonderful, chewy consistency. When I was living in the yurt this winter I would buy them with my food stamps from the co-op in Port Townsend and eat them greedily on the long drive home from work, my soul crying in joy at their perfect chewy sweetness, my weak headlights sweeping the dark road, fog clinging to the trees. After class Heron and I got tacos, and I made fun of her for eating something cooked, because she was raw for a year, and just stopped, not too long ago.
“Man, that shit is cooked!” I said, as she bit into her giant, pale burrito. We decided that “cooked” would be our new adjective. Its use would be similar to the way you might use the terms “cashed”, “used up”, or “no longer new and interesting”. For example, if your friend said,
“I just made a cheesecake out of silken tofu!” you might say,
“That shit is cooked.”
Heron slept in my bed with me, which is maybe big enough for one ten-year-old boy, if you don’t roll around too much. I had gas from the beans and kept farting under the covers even though I said I wouldn’t, and couldn’t help but laugh hysterically and push Heron toward the crack where the bed meets the wall. Finally there was a long enough break between farts for us to fall asleep, and Heron went back to Olympia the next morning.
On FRIDAY I ran errands on my bike and the sky broke open and drowned me like a rat. Then the clouds raced away and sweet yellow sun covered all of the green earth, and five minutes later it was hailing frogs, and the frogs bounced off my helmet like stones, collecting in the folds of my rainpants. After errands I ate some miso soup and met up with a friend. My brain felt like radio static and I couldn’t think of anything exciting to say, so we just made out instead. Then we decided that we were going to make truffles, so we went to the co-op for ingredients, piling up tiny bags of carob and coconut and figs, a dollop of honey and some cashews to soak, hastily, stuffing everything into my friend’s blender and flicking it on, carob dust filling the air like you’ve stepped on a puffball mushroom. The blender, or course, would not blend such a mess, teaspoon of rice milk be damned. It screamed and sent out a little thin smoke, so we took out the half-blended mess and mixed it in a bowl. I licked my fingers. The stuff tasted, incredibly, like a Raweo. Here is the recipe-
One cup dried figs
One cup carob powder
One cup shredded coconut
One quarter cup coconut oil
One cup cashews, soaked six hours
Some honey, but not necessarily
Some raw cocoa, if you like panic attacks
Blend everything in a food processor, adding a little water if you need to. (You will probably need to.) Use your hands to form little balls with the stuff, toss them around in a bowl with some carob in it, put them in the freezer to firm up. Tada! Raw, Vegan and Gluten Free. Who knew? Tastes like magic.
We took our truffles and went to game night at a friend’s house, where there was a homemade Apples to Apples game. It was incredible! A big pile of adjectives, a bigger pile of nouns. All of them scraps of paper, most of them quite hilarious. So simple! Here is how you make your own, ultra-local, inside-joke filled Apples to Apples game-
You will need-
-hundreds of scraps of paper
Divide the papers. Say, one hundred for adjectives, several hundred for nouns. On the back of the “adjective cards”, stamp of write “A”. On the back of the “noun cards”, stamp or write “N”. Now hand them out amongst your friends, along with some pens, and say- “Go!” Let them pick the nouns and adjectives from thin air, like yeast for making sourdough! The cards are done. Now you’ve created a game!
After game night I went home, and for once in my life, got to bed at a reasonable hour.
SATURDAY was all-day herb class again, only this time we went to a secret oak forest, where licorice fern grows on the rock ground, and the oak trees all wear coats of Usnea, which is a stretchy yellow shrub lichen good for respiratory infections. You can identify it by gently pulling on a strand of the lichen. If the strand separates to reveal a white inner thread, it is Usnea. You must grind it, if you are going to make a decoction, or you will never get the constituents out. The secret oak forest is out near West Linn, next to the freeway. It’s called Camassia, after the Camas that grows there, which was a staple food of the native people. They tended the Camas beds of this strange forest, filled with madrones and poison oak. The forest is 27 acres and at the very edge of it stands a cell phone tower, which hosts a massive osprey nest. The ospreys sit in the tower and watch you, their cells vibrating with electromagnetic radiation.
The day was every sort of weather, all of them cold. I learned about wild mustards (brassicacea!) and hedge nettles (not really a nettle, actually in the mint family), and to never ever eat anything from the Lily family, even if the leaves would make good plates, and you are a primitivist, and that is your thing, using leaves for plates. I walked around in the sun/rain/hail, stooped over to look at yellow violets poking from the mud, thought of you. Came home to find a
Kale present on the doorknob.
SUNDAY I applied for a job at a smoky dive bar filled with hipsters. On the way home, thought, do I really want to work in a smoky bar? Wasn’t sure. I ran some other errands, one of which included making out in an elevator (although I didn’t know that in advance), came home, and the woman from the bar called me to set up an interview on Monday. I got dressed to go running, jogged downstairs and the sky erupted, dumping rain on all of the springtime world. The air got heavy and sad, and I stared out the window, the fire inside me backing up like when I eat too much cheese and can’t shit anymore. There was a Turkey on the counter that my housemate had made, a whole goddam turkey, complete with crispy skin and squishy joint fat. I didn’t want to run in the hail, so I ate some turkey instead. It was salty. “Why is it salty?” I asked Joanna. She said turkeys were just like that. Salty. They have salt in them. You buy a big frozen bird, you put it in the oven, it tastes salty. Just like that. The black death clouds blew over and the sun shot down, warm yellow fire. Pink blossoms fell gently to the ground. I ran out the door, even though I don‘t usually run with food in my stomach, thinking to catch it before it started raining again. I ran along the sidewalk, and oh it felt good to be moving. I hadn’t run in like a week. The turkey swelled and grew inside me, the taste of salt filled my mouth. I thought I was going to vomit. I didn’t vomit. I ran, my stomach in pain, my head flying with the clouds. The sun kept on. People poured from their houses, blinking like wet towels. Dogs finally got walked.
Later I went to writing group, which was fun. Jess gave us little prompts they had cut from a magazine, and mine was “The Bedroom”, so I wrote about my bedroom. Here is what I wrote-
My bed is four inches wide and sunken in the middle like a gluten free cupcake. It’s got a wooden post at each corner and a headboard. When the bed’s last owner was a teenager, they painted a nice mural on the headboard in nail polish, an big sun and some blue and purple spirals. I have about half a foot of blankets on the bed, I don’t have a heating vent in my room which is for the best, because I like it when it gets cold at night and I need a lot of blankets. I have a big window that faces the backyard- south. Sweet sunshine and the sound of the freeway comes in most days, white noise like rushing water or a river hidden in the trees.
My walls slant up to the ceiling, making it so that if I wanted to paint my room, I could just move the roller in an arc over my head, getting the walls and ceiling in one smooth motion.
I have a little desk, too, and by little I mean really small, it makes me feel like a ten year old boy and it was made by the father of the woman who owns the house, it’s solid heavy wood and my legs just barely fit under it. Three drawers on the left, a metal leg on the right. It has a twin, Shannon’s desk, three drawers on the right, leg on the left. I have a bookshelf, filled with books I haven’t read yet, which makes me feel decadent and rich and also like there isn’t enough time in all the world. I also have a beige carpet that I’ve tracked mud on, and there’s a light fixture in the ceiling with a long string hanging from it, knotted yarn in different colors. On my door I’ve stuck a page I tore from GQ magazine, a model wearing wool pants and Gucci hiking boots, a $1200 sweater over his shoulders, designer rucksack crumpled just so on his back. He’s pausing in the forest with his back against a tree, heavy wool socks pulled up over the legs of his pants. I like what the picture says to me- that people are nostalgic for a time before hiking gear was techy, that Gucci is making hiking boots, and that somewhere there’s a fashion designer that wants to be me.
On MONDAY I spent my fortune at the post office. Rates have gone up. Madeline came to town! Blowing through on her way north, to collect her belongings and then go run around Europe for the summer with Paula. She was wearing layers and her hair was in braids, she told us about the farm she’s been working on and then she flitted away like a moth, to meet me later at a dinner party. I decided to make truffles AGAIN, for the dinner party, so I biked to the co-op for more Ingredients. While at the co-op (maybe I looked too long at the cover of The Ecologist magazine) I thought, I don’t want to work at a smoky bar! So I flaked on my interview.
I went to the dinner party and it was loud, excessive and overwhelming. I ate too much mashed potatoes and had a stomach ache.