08 October 2007

The Chokecherry Rhythm

Here at 6,000 feet in the Northern Rockies, we are perhaps more sensitive to the ebb and flow of seasons. You can thrive on the cyclic rhythm of change. When spring sweeps up the flanks of the Great Divide, it can take your breath away as snow drifted ridges green up, seemingly overnight. And each change of season is a chance to reflect on our tilting journey around the sun.

Woke up this morning to a half-foot of fresh snow, heavy and wet like concrete, a welcome respite after a hot dry summer:

Slippin and sliding my way down the hill and past a patch of chokecherry shrubs (Prunus virginiana), I looked closely but could find not a single fruit left by hungry birds:

My year rolls along buoyed up in part by the rhythm of the chokecherry, from the buds and tender leaves of late April:

To the lovely, thick-scented flowers of late May and the heavy, ripe fruit of late-August:

Chokecherry was an important plant to native peoples, and well known to white culture as well. While we today look at chokecherry primarily as a source of fruit for jelly, Lewis & Clark -- like the aboriginal American peoples -- knew it as medicine. When Meriwether Lewis fell ill with intestinal cramps and fever, his men gathered chokecherry twigs from which he made a "strong black decoction of an astringent bitter tast." This brew had Lewis feeling better and able to travel the following day. Sacagawea may have had her own thoughts about this shrub, having been captured while gathering the fruits.

Thanks to the good hands of Brent and Karina Patch, I can enjoy my medicine each morning: chokecherry syurp on waffles. Despite the early snowstorm, I feel better already!

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