Earlier this week I went hiking with my kids. We went to the Watershed park in town. Olympia is chock full of parks and I’m enjoying exploring them. The forest reminded me of SE Alaska, only slightly more tame, open and safe. Many of the plant species were familiar, though the underbrush wasn’t as dense and more light was able to enter in. I was able to show my son two of my favorite plants, skunk cabbage and devil’s club.
Skunk cabbage is a bright cheery plant that grows in bogs. It loves the wet and murky, and thrives in wet lands. Its name comes from its scent: it smells mildly of skunk. On hot days in areas with a lot of skunk cabbage the smell can be overwhelming. I don’t know if it’s the smell that I like so much, its cheery burst of color in a generally green and brown landscape, or that I can identify it that makes me so fond of it!
Devil’s club is a tall and spiky plant. I associate this so strongly with my up bringing in South East Alaska. It’s everywhere there! The thick stalks have large spikes on them, but the wide (many hand spans across) leaves have fine, little barbs underneath as well. It grows red berries.
I have read that this plant is useful for traditional medicine, though I’ve never tried it. This is a plant to avoid at all costs. The author of page that I took this picture from says how afraid s/he was of this plant. I have grown up around this plant and while you don’t want to fall into a devil’s club patch (the spikes hurt and cause itching, redness, swelling, and I’ve heard, infection) or get whacked with it, I’ve never had any problems with it. It’s been kind to me. Perhaps it’s the mutual respect.
Contrast this park with my back garden (here is where a picture would be helpful, sigh). I love my back garden: it’s beautiful, peaceful, friendly, colorful, and full of good vibes. But it’s not wild. In fact, it’s dominated by non-native species. I know for sure that the ivy covering the fence and the bamboo alongside the house are not native. I’m guessing the pear trees, lilacs, and other plants aren’t either. The land lord loves to garden and he takes special care of our grounds. But I notice this creates a distinct difference between the wild wood and our garden. I notice that not too many birds visit us either. They seem to keep to the neighbors’ yards.
I hadn’t realized that last point, about the birds until only recently. I’ve been doing my sitting practice outside in the mornings (we’ve had 10 days of sun, but the sky is turning). I’ve been trying to spend as much time outside just being and listening as I can. I want to observe, feel, listen. Yesterday morning I noticed about 5 or 6 different types of bird calls while sitting. But only one came from my yard.
At snack time, the kids were outside with a plate of leftover sausage. I was just inside the back door and they came in to see me. The back door was open and the plate in a direct line of sight. A raven flew down and snatched a piece of sausage, dancing around to get it firmly in its beak. It looked at us with its sideways glance and then flew off. A few minutes later it landed again, this time on the back of the lawn chair. It checked us out, then hopped – one, two, three hops – to the plate, poked around, and took another piece of sausage. It looked at us again, I bowed, and then it flew off.
At first I thought it might be a large crow, but its sharp, curved beak gave it away.
I love these ‘intrusions’ of the wild. I love seeing the spiders weave their webs in the trees. I enjoy the sugar ants attempting their parade to my daughter’s chair (where all the good stuff falls!). I love the early mornings and all the bird sounds – before the hum of traffic from the street just one building away drowns out the quieter, smaller birds, and rustling of leaves.
It’s hard to connect in a deep way with this place and land, with the cacophony of man-made noises, the bright lights of the neighbor’s porch light eternally on, with tame (and not so tame) cats stalking the wee creatures, and with my children demanding that I watch and attend. But each effort to connect makes the next effort easier.
Here is my morning prayer: that my eyes would be open to see, that my ears would be open to hear, that my heart would be open to understanding, that my garden would be a blessing for all living beings.