I come home crowing with my basket full of honey mushrooms yesterday, and there’s a guy out there on the little strip of prairie in front of my house. He’s wearing a Zombie T-shirt and what look like bracelets made of human molars, and he’s gathering my weeds.
The forager smiles and introduces himself. Mickey is Ojibwe, and he’s found some northern sage for rituals. It’s a multipurpose cleaner, sage is: With cedar and tobacco, it gets the bad spirits out of the house, purifies a person before a ceremony.
Which brings me to a certain lesson. The hip thing around here is Rain Gardens. Everyone has them, and they look—sorry—like hell. Someone finally explained to me that they take up stormwater. I had been assuming it meant you don’t water the patch and see what comes up. The prairie thing is going to take a while to grow on me.
Finding this stuff beautiful, or any mess, requires an ability to discriminate its parts, to name them, to find uses for them. To order the chaos of weeds. That’s why I stand in the buffer strip between the railroad tracks and my neighborhood, looking for berries. Edible/inedible is how I’ve always ordered my landscape (from Chapstick and plastic toys on).
But I had thrown up my hands at the front yard, none of whose gangly plants seemed either pretty or edible. I was amazed when my landladies told me that’s what they wanted there. Novella cut a chink in my ignorance last week, when she informed me that young milkweed pods are delicious steamed (she took back an adult pod, full of fluffy-tailed seeds, to guerrilla-garden in California). And now Mickey with the sage.
It does look different out there now.
Postscript. Today’s plan—I have to get dressed and make a plan every day, or unemployment will kill me—involves a lot of puttering. Set up the Marantz so I can start doing radio, pay some bills, investigate my new Wisconsin-provided socialist health care. And burn some sage, I think, in case any bad spirits were planning to prevent me from finding freelance stories. Can’t hurt, right?