Feast and Famine

As I drove home from kindergarten drop off this morning, it was slow going on the flooded backroads. In the little valley where I pick rose hips, the fields were largely underwater. Something blowing across the road caught my eye, and only as it narrowly avoided being crushed by a truck's tires did I realize what it was. A little person of the meadow, a mighty earth mover and soil aerator. A gopher, soaked to the skin, fleeing her flooded home and risking life and ruin crossing from one newly created lake to another. I stopped and watched until she was safely across, dissapearing into the freshly lush grass. I thought of all my dear medicinal herbs I lost last Autumn to gophers...my mugwort, poppies, motherwort...and tried to muster up an attitude of "better off with one less". Instead, what stayed with me was the sight of wet grey fur parting to show cold pale skin, and compassion for what must have been a frightening and narrow escape amidst the rising waters. With a tender heart, I wished her well and reminded myself to use more gopher wire when planting this spring.

The rains of El Nino have officially arrived and with the greening hills and soggy pastures comes a remembering. This used to be normal. On the daily I have memories surface of childhood tromps through mud, or early years in the city listening to the ping ping ping of the flagpole chain announcing the wind and wet. On our excursions into the wild and wooly forests and oak savannas, we discover another kind of remembering. That of the fungal mycelium and also its BFFs...the algae and bacteria that combine with the mycelium hyphae to create lichen in an I'll scratch your back you scratch mine kind of relationship. (Lichens are so awesome). We wear our muck boots, forge streams and tramp on soil that our feet remember as being brown hardpan just a few months ago. After years of drought, the land is softening, receiving and expanding, sponge like and fertile. Everywhere we go, there are So Many Mushrooms, so many expressions of exuberant, joyful life.

I don't know what you are, but I love you.

I don't know what you are, but I love you.

Elfin Saddle

Elfin Saddle

Lace Lichen

Lace Lichen

We drive into Guerneville over the historic truss bridge, the Russian River gushing bellow in swollen glory, the river's voice bloated like a cartoon wino guzzling a bottle. In the redwood forests, the Usnea lichen drapes luxuriously, glowing grey green in the dim. I collect ridiculous tangled wind strewn bunches and take them home. When I take them out of my collecting bag, their scent fills the kitchen as a forest spirit, all electrified rain and glory. Some I immediately tincture, and feel suddenly sorry to put all that zippy life into vodka. The rest I save and add to my stash of delicious medicinal things to put in soup, nestling in with the jars of seaweed and chickweed vinegar. Outside, the wildflower seeds I planted have also swollen, and are bursting through the soil with hopeful plans. It is early spring, and the earth is happy and every time there is another shower we all sing praises to the clouds, while quiet and deep in the pit of my belly there is a small alarm that chimes.

My little Calendula suns that shine despite the weather.

My little Calendula suns that shine despite the weather.

Last week, we returned late one evening to strange balmy winds, clear skies and chorusing spring peepers. The undeniable turning of the seasons was in the air, part of the night sky tapestry, along with the distant twinkling lights of Santa Rosa and the sickle moon overhead. Smelling the warmth, I was reminded of other recent Springs, and how the smell of awakening soil brought dread. Too Little Rain is an ominous whisper that is always there, a ghostly tickertape in the back of my mind. This past summer was insufferable, with heat and dryness so insistent that it began to seem like it had never been any other way. Groundwater reserves dwindled, the Central Valley sank even further...along with everyone's spirits...and folks in my home town stood on the shore of what used to be Shasta Lake and posted photos on Facebook of a dry and dusty bowl.

Shasta Lake on January 5th. Still at a "historic low" for the date, despite the recent rain.

Shasta Lake on January 5th. Still at a "historic low" for the date, despite the recent rain.

On a recent walk with a new friend, she spoke of how her soul began to mourn last summer for rain, for wet, for winter. And for respite, for a season of turning inward and going fallow, resting. For me, signs of the season are like light switches for my spirit. I need my touchstones of the ritualistic succession of spring peepers to wildflowers to babies fledging to peaches and I grieve when we reach November and the days are still hot. With the steady rains of the last few months, every cell in my body wants to open and receive it like the spongy earth.

Crane Creek, burbling and happy

Crane Creek, burbling and happy

Yet I find myself holding the reigns tightly, only allowing the waters to flow through me in measures of austerity. The drought will return the ghost of Climate Change whispers. Don't be fooled into complacency. And I realize the folly of this. It's imperative I allow myself to be tricked, to let myself settle into familiar rhythms, to soak up the rejoicing earth like the spring greens shooting towards the sun. There's no way I'll become complacent. I care too much and my finger is forever on the pulse of our changing world. But just like the seeds that stay dormant until the rain comes, I need to soak up the sustenance of normality and abundance whenever and wherever I can. It's how we can adapt and change. Take it when we can get it, and store it up in our souls, a reserve to quench our thirst through the dry days to come.