Sometimes adventures carry us far away from the familiar, contemplative places that we call home, but, in every faraway place, a Thoughtful Spot is waiting. On an delightfully unexpected journey, I traveled to my birthplace, a little town on a big island in southeast Alaska, and, among a vast array of magnificently beautiful places, I stumbled upon a quiet rocky beach that became, for the last two weeks of the first month of this new year, my Faraway Thoughtful Spot.
It’s the great, big, broad land ’way up yonder,
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The ground is hard,
And yet the world,
And November goes,
With the last red berries
And the first white snows.
With night coming early
And dawn coming late,
And ice in the bucket
And frost by the gate.
The fires burn
And the kettles sing,
And earth sinks to rest
Until next spring.
- Clyde Watson
O hushed October morning mild,/Thy leaves have ripened to the fall;
Tomorrow’s wind, if it be wild,/Should waste them all.
- Robert Frost, October
From where I'm sitting I can see a bramble bush covered in tiny red rose hips (Rosa canina). These bright little herbs are one of the highest plant sources of vitamin C, and they are ready to be harvested on these cold October days and dried for use in teas and syrups throughout the winter. The wild persimmons (Diospyros virginiana) too, are ripe, and even sweeter now after a frost. While walking this morning I came across a bewildered bunch of blooming violets (Viola papilionacea), who must have mistaken these chilly, sunny days for the beginning of spring. A few of their little purple blossoms are pressing in my dictionary at the moment, waiting to be sent off in letters in the middle of winter as a cheery promise of warmer days.
Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness,
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eves run;
- John Keats, To Autumn
O hushed October morning mild, / Begin the hours of this day slow.
Make the day seem to us less brief. / Hearts not averse to being beguiled,
Beguile us in the way you know... / Retard the sun with gentle mist;
Enchant the land with amethyst. / Slow! Slow!
- Robert Frost, October
Medicinally speaking, elderberries are very high in vitamin C, and also contain high amounts of antioxidants and minerals. The berries are perhaps most famous as a cold and flu remedy, due to their high vitamin C content and support of healthy immune function. They are known to work especially well in preventing or shortening the duration of upper respiratory infections. Modern medical studies continue to support this traditional use and elderberries have definitely earned their fame as an excellent immune boosting herb. Historical uses and some recent research suggests that elderberries can strengthen eyesight, and the berries are also known to have strong anti-inflammatory properties, which is reflected in their common historical use as a remedy to relive arthritic pain and inflammation.
An old English rhyme says that summer begins with elder flowers, and ends with elder berries. The season of elderberries is upon us, so it’s the perfect time of year to preserve the healthful benefits of this herb for the winter season. And when summer begins again with elderflower, remember that legend claims if one waits patiently under an elder bush on midsummer’s eve, one might see fairies dancing at their midsummer’s feast.
Basic Elderberry Syrup Recipe
- 1 cup dried elderberries
- 4 cups water
- 1/2 cup raw honey
Here at my thoughtful spot, the waterfall drowns out most sounds, certainly the gentle sound of rustling leaves, but not all. A woodpecker is keeping up a happy knocking on a tree across the creek from me, too far away and high up for me to tell what kind, but he's small and I see a little splash of read, so I'm guessing he's a downy. He's hopping in circles back and forth and up and down the trunk, high above me in the yellow leaves where the sunlight hits, he must be quite a happy little fellow.
the earth seeking successive autumns."
Between the moss and fallen leaves on the forest floor around me, dozens of miniature wonders have sprung up. Patches of delicate, pale pink Lady's Thumb are every where, its new shoots in the spring are edible, and songbirds love the seeds in the autumn. The tiniest toadstools grow in little clusters, they seem very fitting in this setting that is full of the scent of decomposing leaves and rich, damp earth warmed by a companionable and gentle sunshine. Though perhaps they would look more at home in the mists of these early autumn mornings, rather than the warmth of late afternoon. I remember learning once that Beatrix Potter, though best known for her beloved watercolors of rabbits in jackets, was a mycologist, and loved to paint fungi. She would have been very happy in this little thoughtful spot, I think, with such a plethora of interesting subjects to paint. One day I hope to distinguish with confidence between the poisonous and nutritious varieties of of these odd little plants, but for now I believe I shall content myself with attempting to sketch them in their native habitat, rather than bringing them home for dinner!
But, in this quiet hamlet of rural pastureland, late August is purple.
But if you don't it's a beautiful sight. / Asters are purple, and there's purple ink.
Purple's more popular than you think, / It's a sort of great-grandmother to pink...
- Mary O'Neill, What is Purple?
Perhaps I've been delighting in this magic color for a bit too long today... for as I read over this page in my notebook I begin to fear my prose themselves are turning rather purple!
Sage is also beneficial externally, it has strong anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties, and is a gentle astringent, making it a wonderful herb to infuse in salves or oils and use topically for skin irritations such as acne, sunburn, and insect bites. The traditional use of sage leaves as a natural bandage is also beneficial, and a simple sage poultice can help prevent infection, reduce swelling, and promote healing of cuts and scrapes.
Sometimes my thoughtful spot isn’t very conducive to thinking.
Or Froggie's arm has come to harm, this herb will never fail.
The fairy's skill can cure each ill and soothe the sorest pain;
She'll bathe and bind, and soon they'll find
That they are well again.
- The Song of the Self-Heal Fairy
Cicely Mary Barker
While aloe is considered a tropical plant, and is not winter hardy in zones 7 and colder, it does survive very happily indoors through the winter months, and thrives in partial sun outside in the summer. Try to find an aloe plant that is a shoot from a plant already acclimated to your climate, these shoots will be much hardier and grow more quickly than plants that have been transplanted from a different zone. Aloe likes to be planted in pots of slightly sandy soil and needs moderate watering. When temperatures begin to regularly drop below 50oF in the Autumn, bring your plan indoors and place it by a sunny window through the winter. It is best to set the plant outside in the sun for only a few hours at a time on early spring days to gradually re-acclimate it to the sun, otherwise the leaves have a tendency to sunburn. An aloe plant can be safely returned to its outdoor home when temperatures are consistently above 50oF in the Spring.
So next time you run into poison ivy in the woods, or end up with a few cuts and scrapes after hunting for blackberries, or sunburn on a warm summer day, reach for the aloe plant that is growing on your window sill, and enjoy its healing properties.
Do You Have a
Many current trends in natural health focus on ecotherapy and shinrin-yoku, or forest bathing, reiterating with scientific studies and medical terminology something that Winnie the Pooh taught us many years ago: we all need
a Thotful Spot.
We need a little corner surrounded by nature where we can sit and be still, ponder and pray, and observe closely the beauty around us.
These posts are musings and meanderings from my Thoughtful Spot, recorded once every month, and interspersed with occasional ramblings about my favorite medicinal herbs.
I hope you'll join me in finding a Thoughtful Spot, visit it often, record the things that make you marvel, and remember,
"the world will never starve for want of wonders..."
- G.K. Chesterton