Thursday, September 4, 2008

Becoming the pokeberry

One of the things I love about escaping the pavement is the loss of a sense of being separated from the world--you know, the "I'm in here, looking at everything out there" sensation that we live with most of the time. I don't mean the complete loss of self that I described in an earlier post. That's a rare event. I mean something much more subtle, so subtle I'm often barely aware of it except as a small, instinctive pleasure.

For instance, today I had been climbing a hill and the muscles in my legs were very tight, so I stopped at a big, dead cedar tree to stretch. I threw one leg onto a low branch that had been stripped and worn smooth by some combination of critters and the elements. I looked at the bare skin of my leg against the surface of the branch, and I felt an intuitive understanding that I was made of the same stuff as the wood--sort of a bonding moment with all carbon-based life.

A little later I came across a stand of mature pokeweed, and I couldn't resist pulling off some berries and crushing them in my hands, just to see the bright magenta stain. Sometimes I think the practice of painting the body was originally inspired by the desire to explore the source of the color, as much as to make a display of oneself for other people. Smearing that pokeberry juice over my hands was a real sensual pleasure--the feel of it, the sight of it, and the scent, too. Pokeberry juice has an alluring smell; a perfumer would say it's a bittersweet accord of hay, cucumber and orris. Sniffing it, I felt that moment of communion again. I didn't make it a literal communion by taking a taste, of course--I know better--but I admired my painted hands for the rest of my walk.

Photo of pokeberries by Rei at Wikimedia Commons.


leopoldo said...

I love me some Phytolacca americana too!

BitterGrace said...

Can it grow in your corner of the world, Leo? I wouldn't be surprised, it's certainly a hardy being.

leo said...

Oh yeah, it can. There's a frou frou garden a couple of hours away from here (in the Norfolk badlands) where it's become something of a weed:

Check out the wedding photo if it's still there. Ouch.

BitterGrace said...

Couldn't find the wedding photo, but wow, that's quite a garden. The pics make it look awfully manicured--perhaps it's a tad scruffier in real life? I prefer that.