A story about getting to the roots.
I spent the second weekend of July at a yoga retreat. In addition to practicing vinyasas and meditations, we learned some chanting, which is a fancy term for singing Sanskrit phrases whose spellings are unfathomable and meanings incomprehensible. There’s one particular tune that got stuck fluttering between my skull and rib cage, so I Googled the words. Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu: May all beings everywhere be happy and free. After the retreat, I took a train up to Vermont, where I spent two weeks volunteering at an art and wellness center with a vast organic garden. I wrenched weeds from the soil and greeted glimmering earth worms and bumblebees and gem-winged beetles. I picked blueberries and currants, harvested garlic and oregano, and hauled woodchips up the hill to expand the paths between the different patches where green vines outstretched like giddy limbs. At the end of each day, I was splotched with dirt, soggy, frizzy-haired, sun-spent — and smiling. Every evening shower was the best shower of my life, even though I was never able to remove the brown grit from underneath my nails. My forearms remain etched with thorn scratches, and there’s a blue bruise on my bicep where I got punctured by a wild rose. My knees got stung by nettles twice over. Still, while I worked, scattering droplets of sweat like glitter, I couldn’t seem to stop humming that Sanskrit blessing under my breath instinctively. Lokah Samastah Sukhino Bhavantu. … The owner of the place, who I’ll call L, told me that the earth is an ally to any human healing process. She taught me to recognize all of the plants with medicinal qualities. I plucked tiny yellow flowers of St. John’s Wort and submerged them in olive oil in a mason jar, which is now sitting in her window sill. In three weeks, the mixture will make a potent massage oil. I’ve never liked anise flavor, but I ate fresh anise leaves straight from the stem and puckered with delight at the surprising sour sweetness from the unassuming green frond. I love anise now. L walked me around the garden like it was a treasure hunt, plucking a leaf here, a flower there, popping the things onto her tongue to confirm their identification. Ah, yes, wild carrot. She ruffled fingers through the stalks and shoots like she was lovingly tussling a child’s hair, reminding me to thank…
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