a weed is a plant out of place

Jewelweed, ally against poison ivy.

I love city life. I can step out of my apartment building door and arrive at just about any place I please in as little as 5 minutes, without getting in a car and even without mass transit. For example, there’s a good bodega on my corner with some decent organic products. There’s a delicious ice cream shop about 5o paces away that sells ice cream made from dairy that comes from pasture-raised cows. Up the hill is a museum, and the botanic gardens. And just 2 blocks away is my urban refuge – Prospect Park. I spend much of my time there foraging, wildcrafting tenacious “exotic invasives” (aka, weeds), or just staring at the open sky. But despite all of these spoils, I still long for more. More green, more wilds, more open space.

There’s nothing as restorative as a visit to the country. Just a few miles north of the city there’s this place most city folk call “Upstate” (there’s also the westward land, like rural New Jersey where I’m from). Though real upstate probably doesn’t start technically until you reach the Catskills. And that’s where I found myself last week, and just south of there the weekend before.

wild weed plant ID field trip with Peeka Trenkle

At the end of winter I completed an herbal medicine course with Peeka Trenkle. At that time, very little was growing to ID, so we had to wait for the plants to emerge to have a worthwhile field trip. So Saturday before last, we went traipsing through the woods and fields of Stone Mountain Farm in New Paltz. I’ve been on several plant ID walks, all inspiring and fruitful, and this was no exception. Of the plants I could readily identify there was: plantain (Plantago major & Plantago lanceolata), sassafras, wild geranium/cranesbill (Geranium maculatum), Jack-in-the-pulpit, cleavers (Gallium aparine), jewelweed (Impatiens), burdock (Arctium lappa), violet, Japanese knotweed, mugwort (Artemisia vulgaris – one of my favorites), curly/yellow dock, wild cherry, wild raspberry (Rubus idaeus), viburnum, goldenrod (Solidago sp), red clover (Trifolium pratense), juniper, oak, white pine, wild rose, buttercup, boneset (Eupatorium perfoliatum), and willow. I was grateful to meet some other plant allies which I hadn’t seen growing in person: wild angelica (Angelica atropurpurea), potentilla, greater celandine (Chelidonium majus), coltsfoot (Tussilago farfara), monarda, chicory, yellow sweet clover, milkweed, motherwort (Leonurus cardiaca) elder (Sambucus nigra), horsetail (Equisetum arvense), and lesser stitchwort (Stellaria graminea).

Some of the allies we encountered, plus some of their benefits…

Lesser stitchwort, so named for its ability to relieve a “stitch” or cramp in one’s side.

Elder, before blossoming. Elder protects us from viruses like cold and flu. I’ve heard her berries also make a good wine.

Motherwort, ally during times of anxiety.

Horsetail, the great re-mineralizer, ally for strengthening bones and teeth.

 

farm stay at Newton Farm Cooperative

In the tiny hamlet of West Kill lies a beautifully diverse place called Newton Farm Cooperative. I’m lucky enough to have a friend who’s part of this cooperative, farming the land part time. During the short time we spent there, we created long days full of small adventures. Weeding, sowing, watering, weeding. (What is a weed but a plant out of place?) I arose earlier than usual with the sun shining in the large window next to my bed, the dewy meadow calling me to explore. Barefoot, I wandered, inspecting weeds that I’d later craft into medicines, transfixed by tiny insects, distracted by red wing blackbird calls and the whooshing wing beats of barn swallows. The two resident roosters and mess of hens completed the symphony of bucolic sounds.

My morning view.

Weedin’ and hoein’.

Barn swallow nest.

Dewy daisy.

Yarrow.

We ate well, harvesting a little bit of radish and lettuce from the farm beds, adding in some weeds – wild thyme and wood sorrel – as seasoning. Dinner was al fresco, by fireside (Meg is a skilled firestarter). Once it truly got dark – something that doesn’t happen in the city, unless there’s a blackout – we could see the stars. I saw a meteor fall (a shooting star) and we watched satellites blink across the sky. And then the fireflies came out, fervently flashing to find their mates.

We harvested gallons of spring water from a roadside spot in Hunter (Justin did the heavy lifting), and went strawberry picking at Greig Farm in Red Hook (Meg picked the reddest berries, and not surprisingly harvested the quickest). On the way back to the farm we dropped into the Mountain Brook Inn for a drink and chat with Lyndon, resident of the area for 28 years. He was full of useful tips for enjoying the area.

Just a few strawberries and a couple of drops of mountain fresh spring water.

Red clover. I harvested some and left much for the bees.

Lovely lettuce.

Flower of Plantago lanceolata.

Something for the bees to build on.

Before we reluctantly left for home, Ron stopped by with his delicious dark chocolate-covered frozen fruit Trop Pops for us to sample. Then Sarah and I walked down to the creek to dip our feet in. Next time, we declared, we’ll come here to sun on the rocks, maybe bring some inner tubes and float around.

In contrast to the plentiful spaciousness around us, the four of us crowded into my jam-packed Prius (which I affectionately call “Turtleboat rollerskate”) full with our bounty of fresh eggs, buckets of strawberries, gallons of Catskill mountain spring water, plus all we brought with us. It was as if we were trying to take back to the city all we could of this country retreat. Taking our time, we savored as much of the countryside as possible before returning to urban life. First, a stop at Grandmere Yvonne’s for her homemade paté, rillette, jams, mustards, and vinegars to take home. I especially enjoyed hearing how the venison paté I was buying was made with a deer that was struck by a car right in front of Yvonne’s home. The cop on the scene butchered the fallen creature, taking half for himself and giving half to Yvonne. Next we scored $1 clothing items at the Tibetan thrift shop in Kingston (the checkout lady says, “this is a dollar, is that alright?”). The last detour was to New Paltz for a picnic lunch of tasty leftovers, afterwards picking up chocolates from The Cheese Plate (where I’d been doing the same thing just the week before after the plant ID trip).

Though our stay was only two and a half days, I returned feeling restored in some deep way. Resting my eyes on the open, living & verdant world versus the cluttered, hard & constructed one in which I live cleared my mind and gave my heart a space to open into. Having just read Stephen Harrod Buhner’s The Secret Teachings of Plants gave me a newfound perspective and helped keep me present to the pulse of life around me. I plan on returning to Newton Farm soon.

 

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