Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Things to Smile About (the Alabama version)

1. Bar-B-Q ribs. Hallelujah, Lordamighty, thank You for creating pigs and hickory smoke, and may I always appreciate the deliciousness of your bounty (and strive to eat piggies who were raised and killed with respect). Amen.

2. Nice waitstaff. Like, genuinely friendly waitstaff.
Last night, as my friend Adam and I waxed ecstatic over the I-found-Jesus-in-the-bottom-of-a-bottle-of-barbecue-sauce dinner, our waiter explained the whole smoking process to us, then came back to offer sweet tea and extra corn muffins for the road, and lingered to chat for a good twenty minutes after that.
This is in stark contrast to the stoned counter-boys and resentful, pasty-skinned waitresses we have up North. Down here, they look you in the eyes, smile, and ask you to come back soon. Back home, if your server hasn't already spat in your food through her unbrushed smoker's teeth by the time she sullenly drops your change on the counter, you can bet dollars to Dunkin' Donuts she was thinking about about it.

3. Space to make art, dear and talented friends to teach us, and master artists to inspire us...all of which can be found at Adam's pottery haven, aka Cahaba Clay Works.
I remember Adam's mugs from the year we worked together in Human Services Land (conveniently located smack dab in the middle of the Bog of Eternal Paperwork, just inland from the shores of Bureaucrae Sea). It was a magical place, but when he left, things felt pretty barren without his "c'mon guys, this life business is a really cool thing, but you gotta get your shit together if you wanna do it right" method of social work. Luckily for everyone who stayed behind, as a parting gift he made us a set of beautifully rounded, lovingly decorated mugs with the school's name written on their sides in glaze.
I used those mugs every single day with my students, and usually had at least one or two waiting on my bookshelf next to the tea and honey as vessels for our special, beginning-of-class ritual. For at least a year of my life, Tension Tamer tea and those mugs went together like IEPs and community-based education, so it's really exciting to see the new pieces he's working on, and to drink from an Adam Mug again. His motifs have changed, the craftsmanship's grown finer, and he's got a new signature at the bottom of his pieces, but the style's still all Adam.

4. Wooded trails, the kind with crinkly leaves and giant acorns and Popsicle stick bridges over streams. Today we took the dogs for a hike in Oak Mountain State Park. It was a perfect fall day, the kind with paper bag leaves and sunlight that shines with the consistency of 1% milk, as artless and lovely as a shoebox diorama.

5. Human-animal interactions. Adam and Sue are Dog People, and their pups are as well-loved and cherished as any child I've ever met. And while I must admit it's a new-to-me way of understanding pet ownership, it's a beautiful one. Like today, how instead of leaving the older dog who can't walk well at home, her dad looped a terrycloth sash under her belly for support and took her on a mini-walk, before bringing her back to the car so the other, younger dog could have a chance to gallop off and find dead things to roll in.
And boy, did he. I'll tell you, that's one thing Padme the Wonderbunny never put me through. Though there was that whole cecotropes thing...still, stinky stuff in small doses is easy to handle -no pun intended from this cleaning lady- and it did give me fodder for another "someday I'll make this" t-shirt: a picture of a rabbit with the caption "Cecotropes: everybunny's doin' it."
Insert awkward pause here. At least Dave laughs at my jokes, right, Dave? Dave...?
Regardless, whether it's the four-legged babies in this house, or Dave's Rhode Island Reds (sorry Americanas, that whole 'favorites' thing just sorta happened), the sweet and daily ways we coexist with 'all our relations' are such earthly, intimate blessings.
That alone is worth its own listing.

6. 'To all my relations'. In Lakota, 'all my relations' translates to 'Mitayuke oyasin.' More than just an encompassing phrase, it is a prayer and recognition of unity; an acknowledgment of the collective and each of our roles within the whole.
Mitayuke oyasin. Namaste. Shalom.
To all my relations, the spirit within me bows to the spirit within you. Peace and Welcome.
Truth like this runs deeper and farther than any language or nation can ever hold.

7. Herbal wisdom. Susannah from the Rosemary House taught me to make Four Thieves Vinegar, and I gave it to friends in Pennsylvania. I told some Georgia folks about it and have promised to make some for Adam and Sue, too. Not five minutes ago, I met a couple in the tea isle of Whole Foods as they looked around for something to help get rid of the husband's flu. I told them about Four Thieves, the wife whipped out a notebook, wrote it down, and they stopped by later on to double check the recipe and go over some more suggestions before heading home. (If you're reading this, I hope you're getting lots of rest and feeling better - and email me at with any questions; I'll do my novice best to try and answer).
Why was I in the tea isle in the first place? Because the cashier and I got to talking, and she wanted to know what I was doing down in Burmingham, so I told her I'm traveling around learning about herbalism.
"Are you a botonist?" she asked.
"No, I'm a beginning herbalist," I replied, to which she asked, "Is that like a real thing?"
Honey, it's exactly like a real thing, but better.
I love it when people are curious about what I do, almost as much as I love it when people let me learn about their passions and trades. And I really love the inevitable questions that follow, namely "What can I take for ____?" Tonight, I got to explain what herbalism is to a young and crampy woman, and help her reclaim her natural birthright and connection to the healing herbs that help our moontime cycles. And that, my friends, was why I was in the tea isle to begin with.
Folks, I know so very little, but the more I travel, the more I realize that the few and tiny grains of wisdom I carry in my cupped and barely-weathered hands are different from the handfuls all you fellow travelers hold. And right now, I've scooped up all that I can pick up up on my own; the only ways to get more are to hold out my hands to the rest of the world, giving and receiving as the adventure unfolds, until the next time I bend down, let the bits I've gathered flow through my fingers, and dig, waiting to see what new joys get unearthed.
Mitayuke Oyasin.

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