Thursday, May 29, 2008

Brainy Maneuvers

I've had a link to my very brainy neuroscientist cousin's blog for quite some time. Sandra Aamodt and another neuroscientist, Sam Wang, recently published an informative and witty book called "Welcome to Your Brain, Why you Lose Your Car Keys, but Never Forget How to Drive and Other Puzzles of Everyday Life" that is tailored for everyone, not just the neurophiles. Sandra and Sam were recently highlighted on NPRs All Things Considered, and given that I'm very excited for their success, I thought I'd share the links!

Friday, May 23, 2008

Herb of the Day--Yarrow

Wind, Rain, Cold, Snow, Sun, Heat, and do it all again! We've had a mixed bag of weather around here lately. Mostly, we've had months of cooler temps and lots of wind, but the last 2 weeks have been a roller-coaster of changes, that seem a little off for this time of May--something more commonly seen in April.
It started with some seriously cold wind the weekend of May 10th, that evolved to some much needed rain showers during the next week, which turned to snow, and then back to some lovely calm, sunny days for the weekend, to a seriously rapid rise to the mid-80s mid week, back to rain, and snow!
The heat felt more worse than pleasant as the HVAC unit in the building I work in was out, so while it was a lovely 78 degrees outside, it was nearly 90, stagnant, and sweltering in my office. To go home to a little hot-burning ember of a 2 year old with fever for two of those days, made the heat seem practically unbearable! Then the winds came back with a vengeance, and the snow, sleet, and hail came down with a roar all day yesterday. Currently--a gentle rain. Timing is a remarkable thing...

During the arduous, yet fun Jemez Mountain Trail Run, an acquaintance of mine had a mishap on the trail and thought she was through. Fortunately, due to a lack of pain, and a first aid kit at the Mitchell Aid Station, she was bandaged up and back on the trail passing me after no time! Due to the fact that I was suffering in my own way, my herbal repertoire was shoved way to the back of my brain when I came upon her, bleeding leg and all, on the trail. About 50 minutes and 1,540 feet of elevation gain later, I realized that I could have easily helped her stop the bleeding leg with a few simple steps. She hadn't passed me yet, and I assumed she was at ER awaiting stitches. Little did I know she'd come romping up behind me a mere matter of minutes later. Perhaps my subconscious intuition of her presence spurned my thoughts towards healing, rather than the 7.2 miles of running I had left before me. That and the fact that all around me, I kept seeing fresh, green signs of one of my favorite plant allies:
Yarrow, Achillea millefolium, the Warrior's herb.
(drawing copyright Mimi Kamp, courtesty of Michael Moore)

In days of old, you know, like Brave Heart and the Knights of the Roundtable, men used to spend their days in battle. Since men were often a long ways from the comforts of their stone hearths, they often had to rely on emergency methods to take care of gaping wounds caused by the blades of their foes. Yarrow was one such tool these warriors could rely on.
A handful of the fresh leaves, chewed up into a green, sticky mess, and applied to a wound is a highly effective first aid to stop bleeding. If one chooses not to chew up the bitter tasting leaves, they can be reasonably mashed up by squeezing the leaves with your fingers. Oak can also be used this way, and oaks are even more easy to identify and be familiar with. The leaves from an oak scrub, or oak tree can similarly be chewed up into a pasty mush and applied to a wound to stop the bleeding and to decrease swelling and pain. The astringent nature of tannin is what makes both these common plants so useful.
So, note to myself, next time you are laboring through an arduous race by choice, don't let your herbal knowledge sink to the bottom of your brain, lost in the sludge of personal suffering and blatant muscle aching! Think about those who may be hurting more than you, and help them to see the little allies that might be growing around their feet--accessible and helpful.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

Tired Feet and New Spring Growth

After countless weeks of wind: strong wind, cold wind, windy wind, slow wind, and downright nasty wind, I have begun to notice signs of Spring. Real Spring! Not that smokey-hazy-pollen-ridden-wind-swept reality that it has been of late. But Spring...the kind where seventeen different shades of green can be seen as the new leaf buds emerge from their hunkered down curls.

Box Elder beginning to leaf out.

The season where the new spring shoots dive straight up into the air like green swords before unfurling their languid leaves and blossoms into all their beauty. The Spring of nursery rhymes and rhythms where the sight of shoots, buds and blooms invokes a ramble of repeating verses tumbling through my head.
This past Saturday I completed my longest run to date. (I find it amusing that if it had been a mountain bike ride, I would have considered it a "short one.") As I willed myself to continue for the last 1.2 miles, my feet were graciously looking forward to the effort being over. An amazing, and highly recommended 12.8 miles in Bandelier, however, was worth every minute! We ascended the South rim of Frijoles canyon and followed the rim west to the Upper Crossing of Frijoles canyon. Then we descended all the way down the canyon back to the Visitor Center.
Looking West along the Frijoles Rim Trail.
The scenery was stunning! Having never been above the Alcove House (Ceremonial Cave) I had to sometimes simply stop and gawk at the amazing cliff lines that rise straight from the streambed high into the air.
The "Narrows" within the Frijoles Canyon.
The long, gradual climb along the Frijoles Rim trail allows for unmatched views of the ruins within the canyon at the start, and the variety of plants and trees that weather the open and exposed regions on the mesa top. The climb starts in Pinon-Juniper woodland, extends through the recovering portion of burned area from the La Mesa Fire of 1977, and then enters Ponderosa forest before the descent into the canyon. All the way down the canyon I was continually sighing my Ooohss and Ahhhss at the first sightings of my favorite plants--stinging nettles, columbine, chickweed, valerian, clematis, horsetail, and yarrow.
Columbine blooming in the canyon bottom.
The multiple river crossings were lessons in balance and I was continually shocked to discover that I had none each time I had to slow down and work my way across the specifically-placed boulders to ease the progress. As my dear friend and future acupuncturist said, "Running makes you blood deficient, and blood deficiency makes you dizzy," which was the best reason I could find for my lack of any sort of balance at each crossing. Considering she joined in on the run, I figured she knew what she was talking about!
Clematis Vines in the Canyon.
After miles of elegant cliff lines, rock-hopping river crossings, a few surprise hill climbs, and amazing views, I finally reached the Alcove House and was suddenly bombarded with the throngs of mid-morning Saturday visitors. Where I had been previously listening only to the sounds of the river, song birds, the rhythmic pounding of my feet on the dirt, as well as my own gasping, I began hearing the happy chatter of kids walking the trail for possibly the first time, and all the other people making their way up the trail and the ladders. This last 1.2 miles was the most arduous for me, as I knew that the end was near, but I still had to finish that last bit of trail that I knew so well.
The tired-foot treatment began the next day, to allow for all potential muscle swelling to subside. I lit some moxa for moxibustion therapy for my feet and ankles. Holding the moxa rolls close to skin (but not too close!!) helps to increase blood circulation. Remarkably, all soreness in my feet disappeared after about 20 minutes of using the moxa. I was very impressed! This is something I will continue to do between now and shortly after the BIG race I've signed up for--the culimnating event for all this running training I've been doing. Then it's back on the bike for me!
Moxibustion, Traumeel ointment, nervines for the tired muscles, Eleuthero and Rhodiola for stamina, and lots of hot-tubbing and rest!
A solid start to the spring and summer!