How to Learn a Place
Most mornings I drink coffee, a habit I picked up in my mid-twenties while driving down California to visit bakeries. Bakers who work through the night drink a lot of coffee. But sometimes I pass by the grinder and walk out the back door instead, cup in hand, to pick my morning's drink. I've been mixing up potions since I was a kid—the witch's brews exploding in the kitchen or fermenting under the back steps of my parents' house; the summer I got a pocket sized dessert book and baked my way through it from jelly roll cake to profiterole; the leaves and petals and bits of seaweed I crushed together, trying to make the perfect colors to paint the garden fairies—taking mundane ingredients and combining them into something magic.
I know nothing about herbalism so there's no logic to my teas. I add a bit of whatever catches my eye: calendula petals, the drying flowers of hyssop or lavendar, echinacea, German chamomile or pineapple weed, a pinch of the lovely chocolate mint we dug from a long overgrown garden, a raspberry leaf. There's much outside the fenced kitchen garden that I have yet to taste—the bright blue flowers of the roadside chicory, the goldenrod like a green yellow flame in the back field, the sour docks and sorrels, the tender spring leaves of plantain and self heal—and more yet I don't know and so pass without notice.
It's good to learn my place by sight. Better to learn it by eyes, hands, nose, and tongue. So I ask the names of plants, watch where the water pools in winter, feel the hard bite of the shovel into dry, summer clay, breath the warm, resinous air under the pine and the soft, cool air under the old apple tree, and sometimes, like a child, I wander through the garden picking flowers and leaves to mix a morning potion.
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