Friday, September 30, 2011

What a summer it has been!

What started out as an odd weather rollercoaster June, turned into the disbelief at having to evacuate LosAlamos again due to the Las Conchas Wildfire. I had risen early that Sunday morning, June 26, to take a road ride around "the loop".  I hadn't been on my road bike in weeks, save for a little bit of commuting here and there, and I felt a desperate need to take a decent ride.  I left the house before 7am, and little nigglin' thoughts kept throwing me for a loop.  Should I do this ride, or another one?  Should I turn here, or wait to turn over there?  Should I go up to the Back Gate and down, or down to White Rock and up?  Should I cross at the light, or ride all the way through the gates?  I was surprised by these nagging thoughts, as usually I feel light and free while riding.  I kept thinking that something bad would happen if I made the wrong choice, like I'd get run over by a car, or something.

Remarkably, nothing happened on the ride.  I remember taking note of previous burn areas from the Cerro Grande and Dome Fires.  I admired a herd of deer as they ambled through the juniper-pinon woodlands near TA-54.  I noticed how dry it was, and how the wildflowers were suffering...barely an inflorescence could be seen.

Later, I was helping my girls clean their rooms, and I ran downstairs to get a drink of water, admired the skyline, went back upstairs, and then ran back down a few minutes later to get some cleaner.  When I looked out the window this time, I saw this:

"Oh Shit!" I said, which I had said exactly two weeks before at the start of the Borrego Fire.  "Not another fire!"  I hurried outside and told Jan and Jerry about the smoke.  Jerry quickly decided to drive for a better view, because from where we stood it looked like the ski hill was burning, and that's where Scott was.

Jerry came back and said that it looked like it was further back in the Jemez.  I texted Scott and he said they were already dropping water on it, and it looked like it was near Sierra los Pinos or Los Griegos.  I went to the store (thankfully for Scott, as he ended up not evacuating) and we could see how awful the fire looked.  When we got home, this is what it looked like:

 A flurry of activity began on Facebook, with newer Los Alamos residents asking if us older residents thought an evacuation was likely.  In absolute denial, I said, "No way, not gonna happen." And boy was I wrong. The girls madly dashed about the house on Sunday night, throwing stuffed animals, random items of clothing, books, hair ties, toys, and other objects into their bags.  I was still in denial.  The Lab announced it would be closed in the morning, so I figured I'd have time to get stuff together the next day, since I wouldn't be able to go to work. I woke early, drove up the Middle School and took some pictures, noted that it didn't look bad today, and hoped that it wouldn't get too smoky.  We'd already spent several weeks in June being smoked out by the Wallow Fire in Arizona.  I was smoked out. I casually gathered up those few things I considered important, ignored imminent claims of an evacuation being announced at 1pm, and tried to soothe the fears of my eldest daughter.  By noon, ash and debris was raining down, and the smoke levels were severe. I resigned myself to the evacuation, and Scott agreed to stay in town to water the deck, yard, and fencing...along with his parents.  The girls and I drove to Pojoaque to head to my folks' house in El Rancho. This was the view of Los Alamos from the El Rancho bridge...or non view, I should say.

The next morning, I found pieces of Ponderosa bark and needles all over the ground in the Barrancas.

 So we hung out.  And hung out.  And hung out some more.

And we hiked up the hill to see what was going on in Los Alamos several times a day. We went to Santa Fe every day to kill time, and to eat dinner, as I didn't have the motivation to cook while we were evacuated.  It was easier to eat out, and enjoy good food.

We visited the neighbor's and enjoyed their beautiful pool.

And walked back to Grandma and Grandpa's house via the old trails I know inside and out.

We endured the disconcerting orange hue that colored our moods and our days.

Seven days later we finally got to go home, but it was evident that the fire was closer to our home than it had been at its worst. The hot spots were viewed each night, and eventually they fizzled into dot spots.

We still tried to enjoy the 4th of July.

Eventually life started getting back to normal.  We went swimming A LOT.  Signe learned to jump off the low dive, and then surprised us all by walking up to the high dive during the 4th of July party and jumping off. The cool picture below makes it looks like she's balancing on the water.

Many parts of the forest are still closed, and the summer monsoons brought a lot of geological rearrangement to our local canyons.  Water Canyon looked like a lake for a while.

Eventually things will sort out, and he vegetation will grow again.  I truly hope that this is not another severe drought winter, though...I keep feeling a sad sort of dread that we'll have no snow, and frigid temps, and I think we had more than our fair share of that last year. Autumn has arrived.  Leaves are turning yellow.  The temperatures are falling a little each week.  I see the beauty in the fall colors, and I am hopeful that we'll have some winter whites to follow.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Droughts and the Solstice

I was supposed to lead an herb walk this Sunday.  My last two scouting sessions indicated that the participants would need to be able to hike more than a couple miles just to reach some goods, and that's not really conducive to a easy herb walk.  I ran down into Pajarito Canyon last Wednesday and the yarrow was a mere 2 to 3 inches in leaf length.  No flowers, except from a few rogue plants, and the nettles were all tucked down inside the very low creek bed, about 1.5 miles in.  Mullein are definitely flourishing, in fact, my garden is a hotbed nursery for baby mullein. But other than general yard weeds, which is not the topic of this particular class (although it does sound like a good one for a future class...), the native medicinal plants are small, sparse, and leaving me feeling like we should wait a few weeks.

This has certainly been an unusual June.  May was odd as well.  We've had cold temps, extreme winds, normal hot days, and then more cold temps and more extreme winds.  I want to say that I am looking forward to things being more normal and summer-like, but I'm not sure that will happen this year.

On this Summer Solstice day, I can hope for a decrease in the winds, a typical monsoon season, and some beautiful summer days...summer seems to arrive later each year, and ends too quickly. Here's to trying to make the best of it, no matter what.

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Herbal Medicine and Women's Cycles at Pajarito Environmental Education Center

I will be presenting a new Herb Class at the Pajarito Environmental Education Center on May 6, 2011 from 6 to 8 pm. 

From their website:

Herbal Medicine and Women's Cycles

May 6, 6 - 8 p.m.

This class will present herbs that are useful for nourishing and supporting a woman's body during her monthly female cycles. This class will involve more than a simple discussion of herbal remedies for specific complaints, and rather, will encourage the exploration of cultural ideas, personal histories, and womanly insights into how our monthly cycles affect our overall health and well-being. As the discussion evolves, herbals formulas and how they can be used to maintain balance within the body will be considered.

$16 members / $20 non-members. Advanced registration is required. There is a minimum and maximum number of participants, so please register early.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The Magic of Wellness

note:  This post was written while still very sick.  Please pardon the topic shifting and disjointed tone.

"If we ignore the magical level of our herbal tradition, we would be throwing away a great portion of our literature, whether we are speaking of European or Native American or some other kind of lore. In herbal tradition, medicine plants have long been associated with magic."  ~~ Matthew Wood, The Book of Herbal Wisdom

Many herbalists say that herbs work on the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual levels, but I also feel that herbs work on a magical level as well. My early years of learning about medicinal plants involved hours of time spent within and around the plants. Sometimes I would just sit amongst stands of chickweed, or nettles, or red clover, or trillium and listen.  Listen to my own internal chatter, listen to the sound of the forest, listen to sound of the plants. Magic can be found easily when one sits amongst the plants deep within the forest.

Magic is more difficult to see when experiencing the physical agony of illness.  When racked with fever, body aches, and chills, the only thing most people desire is for the symptoms to end quickly.  It is very difficult to endure sickness with grace and patience.  Add a nursing baby, or several young children, household chores, and work obligations to the mix, and one's tolerance slips quickly into the abyss.

I was raised by a God-fearing Mother, and she believes that sickness comes straight from Satan.  When experiencing a throat burning with the embers of unrelenting pain, it's easy to see why.

When contemplating the origins of our solar system, and thinking about how bacteria and viruses played an important role in the organization and evolution of life, I wish I could feel some philosophical comfort when I can't sleep because of fever, discomfort, or pain.

The fact is it's difficult to be sick, and it's hard to wait for the sickness to be over.

Herbs can be very effective at lessening the length of illness, and can help to alleviate symptoms of a variety of ailments. When necessary, herbs can often be combined with over the counter remedies, such as acetaminophen and  ibuprofen, and prescription meds like antibiotics. I have reliably used herbal medicine to soothe symptoms, decrease the duration of illness, and to prevent illness from taking root into deeper, nastier problems like sinus infections and bronchitis. One of the biggest dilemmas most people faced when taking herbs, however, is that they expect some sort of rapid, end-the-symptom result.

Herbs offer a biochemical synergistic response within the body that will not look like taking a prescription or over the counter medicine that was designed to produce a certain result.  If a person takes a certain herb or a set of herbs with the idea that the herb is going to remove certain symptoms promptly, or force the illness to leave the body, they are likely to be disappointed.  Although it's a sort of crap shoot with prescription and over-the-counter meds as well, which may cause undesired side effects that are as uncomfortable as the condition being treated. Sometimes herbal preparations will work rapidly and bring prompt relief, and other times they are working subtley and under the surface--bring no obvious response on the outside, but affecting processes on the inside and preventing further problems down the road.

With herbs, most often people do not take the right preparation, or take enough of the herb for the herb to have much of an effect on the body.  Drinking a cup of tea is not the same thing as drinking an infusion.  A cup of tea, while generally relaxing and enjoyable, is not a medicinal preparation.  An infusion is usually one to up to several ounces of a single herb or blended herbs, steeped in a qt of water.  Honey or maple syrup can be added for sweetness, but it often will taste nothing like your favorite cup of chamomile!

The problem with relying solely on over-the-counter or prescription meds is that they often work to suppress the symptoms the body is experiencing. Symptoms are a part of an illness, but often not the illness itself. A suppression of the symptoms does not help support the body in the healing process. Suppressing symptoms works to alleviate the discomfort associated with an illness, but the body is still working through the suppression to remove the pathogen from the body, and with the symptoms removed, the body may have to work harder to get better.

Herbs work in conjunction with the body, supporting internal and external systems, as well as working with the specific symptoms the body is presenting.  During a fever, some herbs, like lemon balm, catmint, or yarrow, work to open pores to facilitate sweating, thus working with a fever to remove the pathogen, and cool the body from the outside in. Mucilaginous herbs work to moisten and lubricate mucous membranes that may be irritated and inflamed from spasmodic coughing, or from an aching sore throat.

Sometimes...the results are not so obvious, and the herbs are working at an internal level to facilitate blood circulation, move bile within the liver, and move lymph fluids through the lymphatic systems.

For five days, I've been experiencing the absolute most severe sore throat I've ever experienced in my life. This pain has been so severe that the only real analogy I have for it is that it is nearly identical to the "ring of fire" a woman experiences moments before giving birth when the head is crowning. The fact that this pain is unrelenting, and can be lessened, but not eradicated, with ibuprofin and aspirin, led me to believe this was not a typical cold caused by a rhinovirus. After doing some research of medical journals, based on the symptoms each of my family members has experienced, I'm pretty certain that this particular virus is an Enterovirus, most likely a coxsackie strain, or possibly even an Echovirus based on the lesions I saw on the back of one tongue in the family. The most interesting aspect to these kinds of viruses are that a person can shed them fecally for up to 8 weeks after an infection has cleared. Alcohol does not break their outer envelope of echoviruses, so hand sanitizers do not kill them. They are generally spread via the fecal-oral route, but can be passed through respiratory droplets from sneezing or coughing. They can also be passed via fomites--things such as towels, toys, books, etc. 

This virus was certainly different in that it began with a severe sore throat immediately--although I did feel somewhat nauseous the day before, but I thought it that was attributed to 4 straight vegetable meals causing a bit of harsh-gut. No other symptoms for several days, with the exception of two--a fever on the second night and several clusters of itchy blisters on my right thigh.  Severe pain.  No runny nose, no congestion, no cough.  Full-on unbearable pain that made me want to crumple up and disappear.  The flu had nothing on this illness--for me, anyway.

My girls each had the exact same symptoms, and the peak discomfort for them lasted but a mere 48 hours.  They each began with a sore throat, not severe, and then they had conjunctivitis (that was obviously not bacterial in that it was green, only present in the morning, no itching, and disappeared quickly) in one eye that lasted for about 2 days.  Then they each developed a cough.  Neither of them experienced what I have been experiencing.

Day 4 I lost my voice, and during that night I developed a deep bronchial cough.

Today, is day 5.  I feel much better mentally, but I'm still relying on ibuprofen and aspirin to relieve the pain, which is still present, but in the background.  Scott developed a severe sore throat, followed by a cough almost immediately. On day 6 he developed large fluid-filled lesions on the back of his tongue.  That was my first clue that this wasn't just another cold virus...this was some specifically nasty virus!

Both my In-Laws contracted it as well, and each of them presented with symptoms in their own way as well. My father-in-Law had what he describes as mostly a bad cold.  My dear Mother-in-Law developed fluid-filled blisters around her mouth and inner cheeks.  Commonly brushed off as fever blisters, this was yet more confirmation that a possible coxsackie virus is what we are dealing with.

Virology is a fascinating science for me, and I sometimes fancy the idea of pursuing a career in that field, although that would be quite a feat! The fact that these microscopic beings can have such a profound impact on people is remarkable.   The fact that my usual herbal allies that often do bring prompt relief have had no impact was frustrating. But, as an herbalist, I know that the herbs I have been taking have been working to support my inner systems despite the lack of sore throat relief. I quickly felt the burdock and red root formulas removing the swelling from my glands.  The cough syrups have been keeping the sap-like green mucous from setting up shop in my sinuses and bronchials. The last couple days of sunshine without wind have helped to restore my state of mind to one that's positive, rather than feeling like this pain will never subside.

Cheers to good health!

Friday, January 7, 2011

New Herbal Class at the Pajarito Environmental Education Center

Join me on January 22 from 1pm to 4pm at the Pajarito Environmental Education Center, where I'll be leading a class for parents on the effective use of herbal remedies for treating common childhood illnesses.

I'm very excited about presenting this class and look forward to helping others gain the benefit of having a basic herbal knowledge from which to build upon.

While understanding herbal medicine can be a complex undertaking, pediatric herbal medicine is usually pretty straightforward and simple.

To register log on to the PEEC website and register electronically, or visit the center in person.