Wednesday, May 25, 2005

Slippery Elm

There is often a big disconnect between the feelings in my soul and what I actually do in real life - along the lines of T.S. Eliot in this poem: The Hollow Men

I hope I do not come off as some kind of pompous new age pseudo-guru, or faux-shaman in this blog. I have lots of little mystical anecdotes about nature and I plan to write them here. However, lest you think that I think I'm any better than you, I will also tell you all the stupid shit I do as well. I hope this serves as a counter-balance.

One of the stupidest things I've done in my relationship with nature is to carelessly kill a slippery elm tree.

My relationship with the slippery elm tree goes way back to when I first met my husband, Dave. He suffered for many years with an illness that Western medicine doesn't seem to understand or know how to treat: ulcerative colitis. He was painfully thin when I met him. His ribs jutted out and his skinny little toothpick legs were almost comical. He had a lot of pain, had to spend lots of time in the bathroom, missed days from work, had to fast one day a week, was tired and stressed, could only eat certain foods, etc. It interfered with his life quite a bit.

Being the bossy and intrusive character I am I told him we had to find a way to fix his problem. He became annoyed and patiently explained that he had been to many doctors, they had done many tests, they had given him sulfa drugs (which didn't help) and that was all that could be done. He just had to live with it and accept it. Of course, I didn't accept it.

I went to the health food co-op and looked up colitis and found that slippery elm powder can be used to treat it. I bought some and brought it home. I explained that he should stop taking his medication, make a paste out of a tablespoon of the slippery elm powder and hot water and swallow it first thing in the morning each day. He was skeptical and argued, but I persisted and he did it. In a few weeks he was feeling much better. In a few months he was almost totally better. We've been together for 15 years and in that time he has had a few flare ups of the colitis, but he takes the slippery elm powder and is better again in a few days. Other than that, he is basically symptom free, and healthy.

This was really my first foray into herbal medicine, and it worked so well, I guess it encouraged me to find out more about it.

Fast forward to about 6 years ago when we bought our house on the creek. I had some grand landscaping plans, and being the bossy and intrusive character I am, I wanted to impose them on our little 1/2 acre landscape. One part of that landscape was a tree.

I didn't know what kind of tree it was at that time. I'm sure you can guess -- yes, I know now it was an elm, and very likely a slippery elm. And if you consider Dutch Elm Disease, it makes this story I'm about to tell even worse.

I wasn't as in tune with nature then, having lived in a city for many years. I just saw the tree as part of the landscape. I wanted to plant a flowerbed underneath it.

I had lots of work to do to make the yard into what I imagined it should be. I dug and planted and weeded and mutched. It was the end of a long afternoon of physical labor, I was sweaty and hot and dirty and tired and a little crabby. I decided to transplant some foxgloves to the area under the tree. The tree roots made it hard to dig. I noticed that there wasn't much topsoil there. My vision of a nice flowerbed was being thwarted. As I dug, some of the tree's smaller roots were cut by my spade. Also, I left some of them exposed in my desire to finish my task, go in the house and take a shower.

That night, I woke up suddenly. Everyone else was asleep. I feel a number of small entities around my bed, many of them very angry. I would describe them as fairies, or elves, but that sounds really corny. It wasn't like a Disney movie at all. I didn't see or hear them, I felt them. I felt kind of scared of them actually, their anger was very real. I also felt that there were some entities who were arguing on my behalf - mini defense lawyers in a trial of sorts. I was kind of in a dream like state... you know how sometimes you wake up from a dream and for a few minutes, you think it's real? It was like that. But it went on for a little while.

I felt as though I should get up and go outside to the yard with my flashlight and try to make peace with that tree somehow. I should apologize to it. Maybe make an offering of some kind.

But then the rational part of me was fully awake. I told myself that was silly, it was just a dream, and I had to work the next day, and it was crazy to apologize to a tree in order to mollify imaginary elves in an imaginary trial. I went back to sleep.

This is how stupid I was back then: I persisted in wanting my own way, so I paid some landscapers to dig around the roots of that tree with a rototiller and put a whole lot of compost around it. The landscapers asked me if I cared about the tree at all and I said "Not really. In fact, without it, there would be more sun there for growing flowers."

And of course, the tree died. And of course, I suffered a very bad year in which everything seemed to go wrong. And of course, nothing I tried to grow there grew very well at all.

But the tree provided food for insects as it decayed. I observed some woodpeckers hanging around more often. Also some interesting fungus grew up at the trunk of the dead tree. Also some wild strawberry plants. And after a while, I think I was forgiven. It was still a shitty thing to do though.

I'm still bossy and careless and selfish and wasteful and lazy at times. But I have learned one lesson. Things that are alive have rights too, and they can make their point of view felt, and known. They aren't just objects to be treated any way we like. I wish I could remember this in everyday life more often.

I have other things to say on the subject, but for right now, I will just provide some links that I want to think about more deeply. Maybe you will too.

Ecological footprint

Radical Simplicity


Blogger Jonniker said...

How right you are, Kate. And what a great post. Thank you!

4:53 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

a lovely post...

i worked in the area of herbal medicine (chinese) and we treated many folk with ulcerative colitis to great effect when conventional medicine had failed to help at all

5:21 AM  
Blogger katiedid said...

That's beautiful. Nothing else to say, really. Beautiful.

3:56 PM  
Blogger Kate said...

Thanks guys. :-)

4:46 PM  
Blogger ParisLondres said...

What a great post!


3:54 AM  

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