Hermitage Exercise


Dia daoibh a chairde.  September  is over.  That means there is only one more month of the season Fómhar before we get to settle in for winter.   In the very sensible Irish calendar based on the agricultural cycle, we have moved into Deireadh Fómhair or the “end of Fómhar.”  

Harvest is always a busy season around here, but we also added a big construction/reorg project on top of all the other things I am not used to doing.   Add a corrupt webhosting database  and the last couple months  have been a little bit of a blur.  (But doesn’t my new website look nice?)

Not so much though, that I haven’t noticed that people are struggling.  Due to the current public health crisis, we are all kind of cooped up in our own secluded hermitages.  It seems to be getting to people.

This is an exercise I usually ask students to do, but you might also find it diverting if  you are feeling especially cooped up.  I was thinking that now would be a good time for me to start a new exploration, just because things are so different with the ash trees gone.

It’s really simple. Just find a spot you can sit every day and start to observe this spot as it changes through the seasons.  You might journal about it, photograph it, or even sketch it.   Try to notice as many details as you can.

This poem has always seemed to me to be the work of someone who was keenly aware of their ecosystem and I like to read it to as a reminder to appreciate the very simple things in my surroundings that make me happy.  It’s an Irish poem (shocking I know) written sometime in the 10th century and this is Kuno Meyer’s translation:

I have a hut in the wood,
None knows it save my God:
An ash tree on the hither side, a hazel bush beyond,
A huge old tree encompasses it.

Two heath-clad doorposts for support,
And a lintel of honeysuckle:
The forest around its narrowness sheds
Its mast upon fat swine.

The size of my pasture is tiny, not too tiny,
Many are its familiar paths:
From its gable a sweet strain sings
My lady in her cloak of the thrush’s hue.

The stags of Oakridge leap
Into the river of clear banks:
Thence red Roigne can be seen,
Glorious Mucraime and Maenmag.

Hidden, lowly little abode,
Which has possession of … ,
To behold it will not be granted me,
Yet I shall be able to find its …

A hiding mane of a green-barked yew-tree
Which supports the sky:
Beautiful spot! the large green of an oak
Fronting the storm.

A tree of apples – great its bounty!
Like a hostel, vast:
A pretty bush, thick as a fist, of tiny hazelnuts,
Branching, green.

A choice pure spring and princely water
To drink:
There spring watercress, yew-berries,
Ivy-bushes of a man’s thickness.

Around it tame swine lie down,
Goats, pigs,
Wild swine, grazing deer,
A badger’s brood.

A peaceful troop, a heavy host of denizens of the soil,
Atrysting at my house:
To meet them foxes come,
How delightful!

Fairest princes come to my house,
A ready gathering!
Pure water, perennial bushes,
Salmon, trout.

A bush of rowan, black sloes,
Dusky blackthorns,
Plenty of food, acorns, pure berries,
Bare flags.

A clutch of eggs, honey, delicious mast,
God has sent it:
Sweet apples, red whortleberries,
Berries of the heath.

Ale with herbs, a dish of strawberries,
Of good taste and color,
Haws, berries of the yew,
Sloes, nuts.

A cup with mead of hazelnut, bluebells,
Quick-growing rushes,
Dun oaklets, manes of briar,
Goodly sweet tangle.

When pleasant summertime spreads its colored mantle,
Sweet-tasting fragrance!
pignuts, wild marjoram, green leeks,
Verdant pureness!

The music of the bright redbreasted men,
A lovely movement!
The strain of the thrush, familiar cuckoos
Above my house.

Swarms of bees and chafers, the little musicians of the world,
A gentle chorus:
Wild geese and ducks, shortly before summer’s end,
The music of the dark torrent.

An active songster, a lively wren
From the hazel bough,
Beautiful hooded birds, woodpeckers,
A vast multitude!

Fair white birds come, herons, seagulls,
The cuckoo sings in between, —
No mournful music! — dun heath poults
Out of the russet heath.

The lowing of heifers in summer,
Brightest of seasons!
Not bitter, toilsome over the fertile plain,
Beautiful, smooth!

The voice of the wind against the branchy wood
Upon the deep-blue sky:
Cascades of the river, the note of the swan,
Delightful music!

The bravest band makes music to me,
Who have not been hired:
In the eyes of Christ the ever-young I am no worse off
Than thou art.

Though thou rejoicest in thy own pleasures,
Greater than any wealth,
I am grateful for what is given me
From my good Christ.

Without an hour of fighting, without the din of strife
In my house,
Grateful to the Prince who giveth every good
To me in my bower.

I would give my glorious kingship
With my share of Colman’s heritage,
To the hour of my death let me forfeit it
So that I may be in thy company, O Marban!

Hermit and King: A Colloquy between King Guaire of Aidne and His Brother Marban; Being an Irish Poem of the Tenth Century, edited and translated by Kuno Meyer. London: David Nutt, 1901.

Pandemics and Preparedness

This is not my sciencey viral intervention post.  That one is going to take me a few days to fact check and I am honestly dreadfully dreary of reading scientific journals and sitting through WHO modules. We have the first three confirmed cases of this blasted virus in our town and not surprisingly all contracted it on a cruise ship.  I am reminded of a story I heard once about the cnotan na gall – the “strangers’ cold” that came in on a vessel from a far away land. Continue reading “Pandemics and Preparedness”

Targets of Viral Interventions

But first I want to address the many emails I got about the history thing.  My other (much neglected) blog focuses completely on historical herbalism.  I teach history classes at conferences and I have a lot of history articles on this blog.

That’s kind of my area of expertise.  I only dabble in the science stuff enough to be able to support my use of traditional remedies.  Sending emails  calling me out for being a “young  person who doesn’t know anything about tradition” are a little foolish.  It made my eight-year-old granddaughter laugh when I read that to her. Continue reading “Targets of Viral Interventions”

ICHWB’s Affordable Apothecary Project

When I was in college they asked me to teach a workshop on working in low-income populations, because of my experience witht hat.  I work in those populations because I have lived in that population for most of my life and learned from a very early age how to be poor.  Although I will be the first to admit that country poor is different than city poor and it took me awhile to adjust my thinking to that. Continue reading “ICHWB’s Affordable Apothecary Project”

When Not to Use Elderberry: An Example of Using Discernment in Your Formulation

I’ve been struggling with how to start this next installment on viral illness and then I found the following statement on a website. 

“Elderberry also upregulates IL-6, IL-8 and TNF, suggesting an indirect effect on viral immune response in the body. Interestingly, elderberry was shown to have this effect but not its major bioactive compound, cyanidin 3-glucoside.”

To begin with, I don’t consider that anthocyanin to be the major bioactive compound of this plant.  I only use elderflower for influenza, and I consider its major bioactive constituent to be pectic polysaccharides, but that’s absolutely not important to this conversation.

Also, none of this is meant to say you should never use elderberry. I am just using it as an example to illustrate some of the questions you should be asking yourself about every herbal adjunct you use.  How does it work, when shouldn’t a person use it, and are there safer alternatives?

Basically what I have decided concerning the use of elderberry is that while I can’t  prove that any of these things will be a problem, I can’t prove that they won’t  be.   That should be a deciding factor of any  risk-benefit analysis.

Continue reading “When Not to Use Elderberry: An Example of Using Discernment in Your Formulation”