by Mary Sojourner
Medicine: Part One
You might know how it is - you feel unwell though you know you aren’t sick. You’re tired too much of the time. Too much of your body aches. Too much of your time is spent forcing yourself to say the next word, do the next thing. You remember when you were burning for your life. You wonder where the fire has gone.
Nothing works. Making lists. Taping so many cheerful affirmations to your mirror that you cannot see your dull eyes in your reflection. Upping your exercise. Eating chocolate. Not eating chocolate. Quitting school. Going back to school. Falling in love. Getting married. Leaving your marriage. Having a baby. Deciding not to have a baby. No matter what you do, the eyes that look back at you from the mirror between This is the first second of the rest of your life and It’s all good, seem even sadder.
So you decide to not decide. You grab a carton of soup from Soupcon, the genius soup vendor at the corner of Greenwood and Harriman; and a tall iced coffee from Thump. You jump in your car and you head west. You’re mildly grateful that there is still some West left to head. A friend has given you a brochure from the Deschutes Land Trust. There is a protected place called Camp Polk Meadows a half hour drive from town. You have no idea what you will find there - except the certainty of a meadow.
You turn onto Camp Polk Road. There are bright orange warnings and then a flagman who holds a stop sign. You stop. He comes up to your car and says, “We’re working on the road up ahead. You’ll have to wait for the pilot car. Maybe ten minutes.” Your tired heart jolts. Wait? Ten minutes? With nothing to do? You reach for your cell phone. There is no reception. The man has walked a few steps away. You lean out the window and say, “Hey. Thanks. I’ll just eat my lunch.” He laughs. You can’t remember the last time you laughed.
You open all the car doors. A soft breeze moves through. You uncover the soup. It is chilled, a velvety blend of sweet potato, apple, lime and fresh basil. You lift the paper cup to your lips and drink. You understand that it has been months since you have really tasted any of the fabulous Bend food that you have eaten.
You finish the soup and open the half feta chicken/tabouli wrap. You smell spices and summer tomatoes. Scent too has been absent from your life. By the time you’ve finished the wrap and half the wickedly dark iced coffee, the man has begun to walk back toward you. He turns his sign to Slow and beckons you forward. You want to leap to a fabulous insight about Slow and Stop, and you don’t. Camp Polk Meadow lies ahead and it is the first thing you’ve looked forward to in far too long.
Medicine: Part 2
You turn right onto the dirt road that leads down to the information kiosk at the meadows. The word “meadow” drifts through your mind. You - since you, of course in this case, is I - remember fighting to protect two other meadows in a life now so far gone it seems a dream. Canyon Under Siege and the Havasupai people fought four years to protect the meadow they know as the Belly of the Mother, from a breccia pipe uranium mine 13 miles south of the Grand Canyon.. Friends of Dry Lake fought three years to protect a caldera-enclosed meadow/ephemeral wetland from a gated golf course development.. We protected the Belly of the Mama temporarily - the 1872 Mining Law and the price of uranium may have the final say. The Dry Lake meadow is safe. It will never be transformed into a water feature near the Fifth Hole.
There is a map on the kiosk, and a time-line that indicates that ten thousand years ago people lived in this place. I start to go for my notebook and pen - and stop. I know how to take notes. I know how to store written information. I am chock-full of facts and hypotheses and conjectures. What I’ve forgotten that I know, is how to be in a place the way the early people were - relying on my senses.
I walk slowly past the skeleton of an old barn. The sun burns on my head. I turn and go toward shade. The trail curves along the far edge of a meadow that slopes down to patches of cat-tails and the glint of water. Orange, Wood Nymph and delicate white butterflies drift over purple thistles. I suspect the thistles are invaders, but for the moment I make myself simply watch. I walk carefully through them to the water and cat-tails. A near-perfect silence contains me. I’m out of breath. I walk three to four miles every day so my tight chest has nothing to do with being in lousy shape. I wait till my breath eases and return to the trail.
A giant Ponderosa pine rises to the west of the little pool. There is a downed branch for a seat and deep green shade. I sit on the branch. My mind is a racetrack. I can’t find a comfortable position. I give up on the branch and sit at the base of the tree and lean back. The healers of the Woodland peoples in my home-country believe that sitting at the base of a pine and letting it hold you is medicine for depression. Modern researchers have found that the scent of pine soothes brain chemistry. I start to make-up an essay about nature as medicine and realize I can’t see what I’m looking at or hear what I’m not hearing.
I let thoughts of Woodland healers and scientists fade from my mind, and look. There are pines across from me and above them a fierce blue sky. I immediately think of writing pines and fierce blue sky. I’ve rested against the old tree for ten seconds and I’m already collecting useful material to write about. I stop the thoughts. Ten more seconds. This is good. This is how to make the space where magic can enter. Maybe some magic will enter. Come on magic, where are you? I close my eyes. My need to collect, my need to be useful, my need to have something magic happen are relentless. They have exhausted my mind and heart.
Finally, I am still. (Now, a week later, I cannot write about the still time. I don’t remember whether there was a breeze or dragonflies. I was not collecting or longing for anything.)
Time has passed. I don’t know how long. I push myself up from the pine needles and rest my cheek against the tree. Thank you. There is no answer. I step out onto the trail and walk east. There are dark teal dragonflies. I watch seed-down rise from the invading thistles. I stand on a little bridge and watch nothing happen on the surface of a small pond. I understand an entire world happens on that bluegreengold shimmering.
I return to where I started, turn and go back the opposite direction. The shade has deepened. My breath moves easily in my body. I understand that, Now by Now, I’ve felt peaceful. I’ve felt connected to this huge world not by words, but by feelings that are un-nameable. I understand that my heart and mind are at ease for the first time in six months.
I understand that the deepest work of a land trust is to protect sanctuary.