Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Plants, Prickly Pear and Poop

Botany Basics Class at Earthroots Field School

"I have never enjoyed sitting in scat so much in my entire life" I hear myself say. I am in a Botany Basics class with Evan Brown and Caroline from Earthroots Field School as our leaders, gazing around at the Open Space in Ranch Santa Margarita. It is a quickly warming Sunday afternoon and the cool shade, albeit where the ground is covered in dry, old rabbit and deer poop (official name "scat"), I am grateful for the cool shade. I am here to learn about plants. Just because. As I learn, I realize that as the Outdoor Activity Chair for the Cub Scouts and when we go on hikes it would be wise for me to know about the various plants and teach the boys about nature. My interests and my actions in what I am committed to are aligning and I feel in sync with the world.

I didn't feel in sync when I first arrived to the dusty trail at the open space. I was late and my guide was barefoot. Although my name is Zen, I felt like a conservative busy body. The other three participants, two ladies and one 7 yr old daughter, were devoted Earthroots groupees. Both brought their children regularly to the outdoor classes and one Asian lady, Jeannie, knew every plant and scrubby brush we stopped at. At first I was a bit disoriented by our pace. We were standing and starring at poop for several minutes to start. The guide and Jeannie even picked some up, to discern the contents and therefore the animal who presented this gift of wonder to the earth.
My head was barking "What the heck? Who cares about poop? It's a mountain lion or deer or fox...so what? Aren't we here for plants?" My brain was still on "get er done" mode, irritated with the slow pace and lack of focus. My body literally buzzed with agitation to "get going" to hurry up and accomplish,doing, doing, doing. I was uncomfortable in my own skin.

Then somewhere between the dissection of the poop and the prickly pear cactus, I began to settle. My guide offered me a balled up bunch of grasses to use as a brush and scrape off the tiny prickly hairs of the soft magenta cactus fruit. As I did this, my brain hushed. I copied his methods, bit the end off the fruit and sucked out the juice and seeds. The seeds were like pebbles covered in sweet slime. I spat them out after sucking them as dry as possible and truly enjoyed the experience. We talked of varieties of prickly pear and falcon overhead....we gazed at live oak and our guide explained that the barbs at the end of the leaves captured the dew. I learned about wild barley, mustard seed, sages and thistles. I marveled at how much my guides and companions knew about nature, the intricacies and shapes of stems, the uses and specific scents.I began to breathe with ease and wonder with abandon.

Soon we were tapping a frond of Yucca between rocks and scraping the green juices from it, which we used as a natural soap to cleanse our fuscia stained fingertips. Then we twisted the threads of the yucca plant into thin rope. Nina, the 7 yr old girl, proudly showed us the red and blue grubs from the yucca plant as Caroline described how the grub played an important role in fertilizing the plant and yet destroying it as well. One had to harvest the seeds after the seeds were just dry and before the grub grew so fat from eating them all. The timing, knowing natures cycles, is so important. I had a glimpse at the knowledge the radiated from Caroline. She and Evan are champions for nature, absorbing and relishing details that we rush past in our cars and bikes.

It occurred to me that before we "had" to make money, the native people's had much to do all day, all that coincided with connecting with nature. We got everything from our natural surrounding before "civilization" and convenience. We squatted in dust and made rope for our baskets and snares, we chatted and collected cactus and berries for food, we sang and shelled yucca for beads for endorning each other in gatherings. We connected. Slowly, easily, and simply. I wanted to weep for what we have lost.

Later, as I caught a smooth wet Pacific tree frog, our guide Evan climbed a tree and crawled like a panther from one oak tree to the next. I laughed at the freedom and joy of our "classroom". We sat in the shade of the oak and discussed the hummingbird sage, growing like a mint relation, and smelling like lemon and lettuce. I realized how seldom I take my boys in nature, not for a badge or a belt loop with scouts or to walk a certain number of miles, but just to be. Just to look.
We get so wrapped up in doing, in accomplishing, that we hardly ever be and wonder.

After gathering at the end of the walk to share our favorite moments, I thanked our guides and cohorts for their company and left the peaceful trail. Like a boat coming to a stop on the water and floating...and then leaking out condensation from all the whirring and spinning..I cried as I walked away from the Open Space...not from sadness, but from the residue of all that I had been doing before the walk, the whirring and rushing, was finally let go. I had found a place of peace, not outside of me, but within.
It's a moment I will refer to forever, being at peace, even sitting in scat.

Zen Honeycutt

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