Garden Dreams Do Come True, 2003

My gardens were featured in the June, 2003 Southern Living magazine. It was the second time we'd been featured in that magazine. Why have I been willing, even eager, to get such publicity over the years, you may wonder?

It all leads back to the first day of May, 1979, the day I moved to the farm that became Long Creek Herb Farm. That time, my two daughters, ages 4 and 5, were with me for their regular weekend visit. The three of us planted peas, late in the season for our area, but we planted with a lot of hope for my first garden in this location. My daughters were very close to me, and I to them. They were my life. That was one of the last times I saw my daughters.

They disappeared from my life, and from the Ozarks. My ex-wife took them out of state and kept them hidden from me by remarrying and changing her name and moving several times. Those events led to difficult years for me, years that I wasn’t sure I could survive without my children. The garden, though, was comforting and healing and I threw myself into my work.

Over the years I tried various unsuccessful methods for finding my children. Without money, the legal system was useless. Legal Aid wouldn't get involved in custody issues back in those days. I struggled, trying to find some way to locate my children and to have contact with them.

I tried everything I could think of and eventually I settled on the idea that publicity and writing might be the answer. I started writing books, magazine articles, newspaper columns. I sought publicity and found it, through a wide range of feature articles in national magazines and on syndicated television shows. Friends accused me of being a publicity hound. I was. I hoped that one day, one or both of my children might see an article about me in my garden, or see me on television and remember that day when they helped me plant peas, and want to contact me.

In June, twenty five years after losing my daughters, my dreams came true. My oldest daughter, now 29 and living in Chicago, saw the Southern Living article. In it she saw one of my books, Making Herbal Dream Pillows, featured, went to her local bookstore and bought the book. Upon opening it, she read the dedication, which said, "..and to Lori and Traci, who are always in my dreams." The book was written many years ago, so she saw that I had, indeed, wanted them in my life all of these years.

Lori contacted me and we began eagerly communicating by phone and email. In August I drove to Chicago to see her, a long awaited reunion, and to meet my grandson, now three years old. We spent many hours over several days catching up on each other’s lives. My younger daughter, also contacted me during that time by email.

There is no making up for the lost years, but out of those times some very good things have come about. That first garden we planted together did grow, and continues to do so today. The loss of my daughters prompted me to write and polish my gardens, always planting new hope. My grandmother's advice of, "Do what you love most and the rest will take care of itself," proved to be true. I love gardening and writing, both of which led me to establish my business, which in turn, led me back to my children.

My dream of finding my daughters some day, really has come true and I just wanted to share it with you, my readers. Thank you!


Dream Pillows Soothe Nightmares of War

The voice on the other end of the phone I’d just answered said, “Hello. I’m Mary. I’m a member of a motorcycle gang, and I want to order some dream pillow materials.”

The caller went on to tell me that her group consisted of several men who had served in Vietnam in the 1960s. Her husband, she said, suf-fered from persistent nightmares from that war and seldom slept through the night without waking in terror. Mary had bought my book, Making Herbal Dream Pillows, at a bookstore, found my website listed and had ordered a dream pillow from my company. “I wanted one from the source,” she said with a laugh.

I was imagining a motorcycle gang, dressed in their leathers, riding the roads on big Harleys, sleeping on the side of the road, roaring through dusty desert towns. How could a sweet little dream pillow fit into that scene?

Without hesitation, Mary began to describe the events that led up to her phone call. She’d ordered the Restful Sleep Pillow, willing to try anything that might help her hus-
band sleep, placed the tiny pillow in-side his pillowcase as they camped, and didn’t tell him. Since the pillows are intentionally made to have a very subtle fragrance, he wasn’t tipped off to its presence.

The first morning after the dream pillow was placed, she said he came to the campfire seeming very relaxed and mentioned that he’d slept through the night. Nothing more was said.
After the second night, she said her husband came to the morning campfire and, as he visited with fel-low road hogs, said, “I’ve slept two nights in a row without nightmares. This fresh air is really good for sleeping!” Mary kept quiet, happy to be seeing results, but not yet certain of the source.

More mornings followed without comment, then on the fifth day her husband said out loud that he’d been almost a week without a flashback nightmare and didn’t know why. Mary sheepishly said it was the dream pil-low she had placed in his pillowcase five nights before. He didn’t believe it, and Mary said, “I’ll prove it,” and dragged his pillow out of their tent. She directed him to fish around in the pillowcase and bring out whatev-er he found as their friends watched.

He was dumbfounded. “I have no idea what this is,” he said, “but it’s amazing and it works, so keep it in the pillowcase.”

The reason for Mary’s call was to say that the six other Vietnam veter-ans in the group all wanted their own dream pillow, and she needed to order materials to make dream pillows as they traveled across the country.

My Restful Sleep Pillow recipe is good for soothing nightmares of all types, and it’s fairly simple to make. But remember, never use any oil, fragrance or essential oil in a dream blend — they make for a very unpredictable dream blend. Always wash the cloth you make the pillow from, as the dye and sizing can cause headaches or nightmares. Finally, use the best, well-dried herbs and flowers (not ones that have been stored with other fragrances).

Restful Sleep Pillow (from my book, Making Herbal Dream Pillows, Storey Publishing, $14.95, available from http://www.Long CreekHerbs.com).

1 tablespoon rose petals (any color as long as they ‘re fragrant and not chemically treated)
1 teaspoon mugwort
1 teaspoon marjoram
1 teaspoon hops (broken up a bit with your fingers)

Mix herbs together. Sew previously washed cloth to make a 5-by-5-inch pillow, into which you’ll place some fiberfill, herb mixture and a bit more fiberfill, and sew the pillow closed. To use, simply place the pillow any-where inside your pillowcase — it doesn’t matter where since most people move their heads around during sleep anyway.

Jim Long is a contributing editor to The Herb Companion magazine.

On the Road Again

I visit a lot of gardens each year, finding something new, something interesting in each one. I see the garden as an expression of the soul of the gardener, just as if it were a painting or a musical composition.

Usually I drive when I visit a garden, allowing me to take in farmer’s markets and roadside stands along the way. I often begin these trips with Willy Nelson’s, “On the Road Again” on my iPod. Sometimes, if it’s going to be a long drive, I’ll stick in Jack Kerouac’s On the Road into the tape player.

Kerouac’s vision, fifty years after publication of his classic novel, still calls out to look around yourself, stay open to new experiences, question the ways that convention pushes us, and to look for a higher meaning in every experience.

It was on just such a trip recently, with Willy Nelson’s mellow voice singing background to my travels, that I encountered an enchanting garden. I’d driven north to Des Moines, an eight hour drive from my Ozarks home, to spend time with Cathy Wilkinson Barash, my edible flower writer friend. She had procured tickets to one of the political debate watch parties, and being a political person myself, could not miss the opportunity to listen to people who might one day be President.

Cathy lives in one of Des Moines many older but turning chic neighborhoods where young families and rising business owners all know each other and visit as they walk their dogs each day. Cathy has become well known, not just because she encourages herb growing in people’s side yards, or shares her recipes, but because she walks the blocks daily with either her neighbor’s dog on a leash, or a parrot on her shoulder, or sometimes both.

Cathy is a cat person, having three, and none of them enjoy being on a leash or going for walks. So Cathy joins her neighbors, two houses down, and takes their pets on her walks.

On the first morning of my visit, my friend suggested I accompany her, “to pick up the parrot.” Unsure what was about to transpire, but remembering Kerouac's advice, I eagerly went along to see what new adventure awaited.

From the sidewalk, looking in, I was astonished at the garden before us. There was a very large house, built on a very small city lot, which meant there had been almost no yard from the very beginning. But in that space, had it been lawn instead of garden, one could have mowed it all in three minutes, the owners had constructed a paradise of plants that towered over us.

The owners, Ton and David, of the famous fifth generation Dutch Stam Chocolaterie family, http://www.stamchocolate.com/ had built a labyrinth of raised beds, with tiny, narrow brick walkways between. There were little hidden pools with moving water, a scaled down table and chairs for two set amidst the tomato vines, just in the right spot for a bit of morning tea.

What was most remarkable, more than the tiny size of the garden, compared to the amount of plants, was how everything was trained upward. Twig trellises (said to have been inspired by my Bentwood Trellis books http://www.longcreekherbs.com/books.shtml gave support for tomatoes that rose upward for eight feet or more. Midlevel of the tomatoes, were cucumbers, sorting their way into sunlight. You could, and we did, reach into the twig arbors and pick tomatoes, and cucumbers, from the same square foot of space.

Around the edges of the beds were bountiful, prolific basils, beans, thymes, rosemaries, all scattered in whatever inches of space the sunlight allowed. This was a garden that rose upward, in many levels, ignoring the actual square footage beneath.

Encountering that delightful garden reminded me of Kerouac’s philosophy, and the coinage of the word “beat” that inspired a generation of my peers, of saturating yourself in an experience to the point of exhaustion, and still wanting more. The tiny garden I encountered was too big to take in, to complex to photograph, and yet the experience was all encompassing.

Kerouac still speaks to us, fifty years after the publication of On the Road, to look at your garden in a new way. If you can’t spread out, then spread up. If you don’t have enough trellises, use hoola hoops. And as he told his friends, “always, always, make it new.”


The River

from "The Ozarks Herbalist" column for The Ozarks Mountaineer magazine, 2005
Copyright©Jim Long, 2007

The River

Some of my most satisfying moments of childhood were those spent on the Osage River. I made a committment each spring to put out trot lines to catch fish, and that meant checking the lines before heading off to school, and later, before leaving for whatever summer job I had at the time.

Not being an early morning person by nature, once stirred from bed, I slowly awakened during the pre-dawn walk down the hill, past the old Methodist church and into the ancient woods beneath the bluffs. By the time dawn light was beginning, I would have tromped groggily through weeds wet with dew, across the sticky, muddy river’s bank and launched myself into the old wooden rowboat that my father kept tied there to an old willow tree. An old gunny sack, when I remembered it, would protect me from the dew-soaked boat seat, as I plunked myself down and began to row upstream.

Dawn on the river was having entered an enchanted landscape. There was no sound other than the water lapping against the side of the boat and the rivulets of water that drained from the oars when I held them still. Fog, always present in early morning in summer, acted as a baffle, not just muting but negating even the loudest of far away sounds.

Early morning there on the river could have been anywhere on earth. The density of the fog not only kept out sound, it blocked the view, as well. In the boat, at dawn, you could see the water, and fog, but not the far shore, not the line of trees that stretched along the banks from Kansas to the west, back east, halfway across Missouri. Neither bluff nor tree, not a cow nor horse, intruded on the dawn’s view.

But the river, some days, could be the Nile in Egypt, with herds of hippopotamus floating quietly along the banks. Banks of papyrus grew nearby, palm trees towered overhead. On other days, it was the mighty Amazon, with lions and giraffes nearby, waiting for a drink. Crocodiles floated just under the surface, pirahanas swam beneath the water and monkeys swung from vines, tree to tree.

But one didn’t need to imagine, one had to only look. The boat, on the perpetually moving water, was a magical place. Suspended in time, protected from noise and sound, the magic of the river could stand alone, otherworldly and serene, without having to become something it was not.

As the dawn’s light brightened, the rowing of the boat would startle an occasional shikepoke, those small, blue herons that gave a shriek as they launched themselves from an old snag sticking out of the bank. Occasionally a fish would leap out of the water, falling back with a loud plop as it broke the water’s surface. From time to time, a drum fish would bump the underside of the boat. Mornings, drum didn’t make it’s typical drumming sound on the bottom of the boat, but in the evening, one or two or more of those fish would be constant companions to boaters, sounding as if they were grinding their teeth beneath the boat. Known as “drumming” it’s what gives the fish its name. Over time, on the river, you start to look forward to the drumming noise, as if it were background music to your own activities.

Sometimes I went to the river with my friend, Frank, a retired old fellow in his 70s or beyond. To me, in my teens, Frank was ancient if not worldly. He’d worked all his life at odd jobs, carpentry, building fences, digging cellars, had traveled very little except for a frightening trip overseas in the war. Frank was a simple old fellow, needing little beyond a daily supply of hand-rolled cigarettes and a constant supply of beer - except when he was on the river; those times, he didn’t drink, or at least not as much. While the river looked placid and peaceful, over the years it had killed more than once when men had misjudged it.

Frank, like me, even though we decades apart in age, was so moved by the river some mornings, that he was completely silent. We both sat reverently quiet, letting the slow, steady current of the river move us to the center of the river, where we drifted in stillness. Sometimes Frank grew so quiet I thought he had gone to sleep. If I spoke, Frank would clear his throat and come back to the present in a way that let me realize he was simply absorbing the stillness. As a teenager, it wasn't easy to be quiet, but I learned from Frank that to be still, is to see the world around you.

For me being on the river was like being in church, better actually. You couldn’t help but sit in awe, in the presence of something so great, so big, so powerful that one’s only response had to be respect and submission. The river was like a sleeping god, peaceful and benevolent when pacified, but a terrible beast when aroused from its nap.

What could rouse the river was rain. You would know a day ahead, or even two, when the river was going to become enraged. News, spread by gossip, later by radio, when eastern Kansas received storms. When Kansas received rain, it’s primary drainage area was into the Marais de Cygne River, a name left by the French back when there were French forts in the area, built for trade with the Great and Little Osage Indian tribes.

During the influence of this region by France, they named rivers, left their names on fur trading forts like Fort Carondolet, near Schell City and Fort Manoa, which later became the town of Taberville, where I grew up. But later residents renamed the river, Osage, to commemorate the Osage Indians who had occupied the region. So then, as now, the Marais de Cygne River turns into the Osage once it crosses into Missouri. And with the name change, so does its personality. From merely a big creek in Kansas, as it comes into Missouri it gains a split personality, at times placid, and at others, raging and snorting like a bull that has broken free of its pasture.

When news of the river’s rising would come down the river ahead of flooding, fishermen would remove their trotlines they'd stretched from bank to bank. Limb lines, too, were taken down from tree limbs that hung out over the river. The thirty or forty feet long hoop nets, illegal for fishing but necessary for fishermen’s livelihood, were lifted out and folded away safely in the woods or taken home for repairs.

Boats were pulled up on the bank, or tied high up on a tree. But even then, when the river became angry, churning and boiling, it sometimes took boats hostage, breaking them free from their chains. After rains upriver, the water might raise a foot an hour for a day or more.

You could tell easily whether the river was rising or falling by the position of the debris floating down river. When the river became really angry and vengeful, enormous trees would be ripped from river banks and pulled into the current. Trees fifty, eighty or more feet tall, became gigantic missiles, ripping and tearing anything in sight as they were tossed and turned in the boiling current. Those times, when there was a constant highway of dead branches, gigantic trees, old logs, bottles, fence posts, railroad ties, parts of old buildings, the rising water would keep them in the middle of the river. Boats, caught in tree branches were tossed like toys in the center’s current. But when the river level had crested, and began to wane, the debris would be floating on the edges of the current, drifting to the side, eventually settling along the banks, being left hanging in tree tops on the river’s edges or left deposited in farmer’s bottom land fields. Roads that were impassible during the flood, would be left strewn with the detritus of the Kansas landscape, brought downriver by the river's fury.

Those times, when the river became a vengeful beast, our town was surrounded by water. First the road from the north would flood and school children would have to be rowed across by boat to catch the bus. The mail carrier would come to the north water’s edge and honk until the postmaster heard him, and would walk the block and a half to his boat, row across and bring the mail back.

Bread and milk, too, came by boat during those times. The bridge across the river, a block south of town, flooded soon after the north road, and that sealed off our little town completely from the outside world. Telephone lines would be underwater but the electric lines generally remained above the flood plane. We became an island, isolated, peaceful, cut off, but content. In those times, people would walk to the water’s edge, to the backwater on the north and marvel at the way the water could rise before our eyes. Or townsfolk would walk south, toward the bridge and admire the strength and power of the angry waters as it tossed trees and logs like toothpicks in a bowl.

But dawn on the river, when it was placid, was the place where I came to realize there was a world beyond. Floating, when the river was at peace, unable to see beyond the fog and yet drift on a stream that went across our entire state, made me realize that no matter how peaceful my life was, there was more. Those sleepy walks down the muddy river bank to the boat, with the dawn breaking over the river as I floated and rowed, made me see the world as bigger than my own rowboat. The river is what gave value and meaning to where I lived, and yet propelled me beyond to larger rivers and bigger boats. Those days of childhood on the river remain with me to this day and sometimes I close my eyes and go back and relive the timelessness of the river’s journey and how it formed who I am today.

The Violet Season

Ozarks Gardening, Syndicated Newspaper column
Copyright©Jim Long, Mar 12, 2007

The Violet Season

In the South, spring is the season for Confederate violets, those little gray, native violets that grow in the woods. The story is these little violets blanket the graves of lost Confederate soldiers who were never identified after the War. The fact is, this little violet, (Viola sororia ‘Confederate’), is actually light blue, but the color blue, even after a century and a half, still isn’t a favorite color down South, so they call it, “the gray” violet.
Violets are a weed to some gardeners and a joy to others. In the Ozarks, the showy birdsfoot violet (Viola pedata) grows in fields, along old highway embankments and on rocky outcroppings, in the sun.
But the other violets, the blue, white, yellow and purple ones, prefer semi-shade and will thrive in perennial flower beds and under trees. In fact, if you are a morel mushroom hunter, you will doubtlessly encounter violets on your walks in the woods.
The Missouri and Arkansas woods has a substantial variety of violets, from light blue to yellow, on to purple and deep blue. Given filtered sunlight, they bloom profusely, yet if you plant them in dense shade, they will likely not bloom at all.
The simple little violet is an excellent ground cover for those shady places in the lawn that won’t grow anything else. You can plant them around the bases of lawn trees, or along pathways that trail out of your yard into the woods.
An added advantage is that violets are edible. The leaves always go into my first pot of cooked spring greens and I’ve made quiches with the leaves, too. (A pot of cooked violet leaves by itself is a bit of a laxative). The flowers can be candied, or turned into violet jelly, either the canned or frozen jelly. You’ll find the jelly has a pleasant, subtle, floral flavor. The flowers can also be used to make vinegars and violet honey.
The scent of the violet is as fascinating as it is elusive. The violet, with its delightful smell, can only be smelled about one time in an hour. The flower has ionone in its essential oil, which temporarily dulls your sense of smell after you have first sniffed it. That first smell is delicious, the second sniff gives you no obvious scent at all!
I have a patch of violets in my Ozarks native medicinals garden that grows next to the blue cohosh and the goldenseal. That particular one is a variety called, “Freckles” and is a pale blue with darker blue dots. In another part of the yard I have a deep maroon one called, “Robes Pierre” and it blooms a little later. What is great about these little plants is how they thrive in poor soil, stay a robust, dark green even in the heat of summer, and require nothing of me beyond admiration. They are the perfect groundcover and make themselves at home around rocks near my tiny water pool.
They do, however, throw their seeds freely after blooming and I usually have a few to dig out and move to the roadside. Some violet varieties spread by underground runners, as well, and quickly make themselves at home. But violets aren’t tenacious and as bothersome as plants like Johnson grass or Bermuda. They remain one of the joys of roadside and woodland wildflowers in springtime.
Happy gardening! Comments and questions always welcome at www.Longcreekherbs.com.


Make a Cooking Wreath

Making a Cooking Wreath
Copyright© Jim Long, 2007

I started making these tiny wreaths many years ago as little thank you gifts to give during the Holidays. I’d package the little circle of herbs in nice tissue paper, with a ribbon and recipe card attached, and present them to friends.

I’ve used this method to teach kids about the uses of herbs in my garden, but soon learned that adults enjoy making them as much as children do.

The wreath is tiny, about 5 inches in diameter. Why make them so small? Primarily because they are meant to be seasoning for a pot of soup, added near the end of cooking for the best flavor. if you made the wreath larger, it would be too much seasoning for a regular stew pot.

Any of the seasoning herbs can be used. It’s best to use long-stemmed ones, to make it easier and more fun to do the weaving. I often construct the wreath for a specific kind of soup. For example, if I am going to attach a recipe for chicken soup, I would choose from the following list of herbs for the wreath:

Celeriac leaves
Garlic chives
Garlic leaves
Sweet marjoram
Small lovage leaves
Winter savory
Lemon basil

But if I am going to attach a recipe for a beef or pork based soup when I give the wreath as a gift, I might choose from this list:

Onion leaves
Garlic chives
Small hot peppers

A vegetarian-based recipe could draw from any of the herbs on either list.

To begin the wreath, gather together your ingredients. You will need about six sprigs of herbs in varying lengths. Longer pieces can be woven into the wreath easier than shorter ones. You will probably also want three or four shorter pieces to add into the wreath for bulk and variety.

Choose a sprig of rosemary or similar woody, long-stemmed herb, about 12-14 inches long. Simply bend it into a loop that is about four inches across, twisting the ends around each other. You don’t need to tie it in place, simply hold it together with your thumb and finger, then add another long-stemmed herb, twisting it over and around the first one and overlapping the ends of the first.

Continue adding additional sprigs, a piece of sage, some thyme, onion leaves, garlic chives and others, until your wreath looks full.

Keep in mind, when the wreath dries, it will shrink, so add enough herbs to look still look full after the wreath has dried.

I like to add a long leaf, such as an onion top from winter onions, or a leaf of lemongrass at the very last. I wrap it around, spiraling it like a ribbon all the way around to secure all of the herbs and give it a finished look. The two ends of the leaf can be tucked under some of the other herbs and any loose ends can be trimmed off with pruners.

You may also want to tuck in a nice, small red pepper or a sprig of golden marjoram for some color. Chive flowers dry well, as do garlic chive blossoms, oregano flowers and others. Tuck the stem into the wreath so it is secure.

Now you are ready to dry your wreath. You can simply put it in a dark, dry place, like a pantry or a cabinet. Even the oven, without heat, works well. It’s important to dry your wreath out of the light in order to keep the color and flavor of your herbs. I generally dry mine in a food dehydrator, which has a temperature control and remains dark inside. If I use basil or parsley in my wreath, I will dry it on a low setting to keep those herb’s good green color.

Don’t, however, dry the wreath in the microwave! That’s the worst way to dry any herb, simply because the microwaving process vaporizes the essential oils in the plant. Have you ever noticed how good the smell of the microwave is after microwaving an herb? That’s because the oils that give the herbs their flavor and fragrance, are now in the air, having been removed in the microwave.

Also, hanging the wreath in the kitchen isn’t a good way for drying, either. Light and cooking odors will diminish your wreath’s flavor and color. The best way is either in a dark space, or in a food dehydrator.

Once your herb cooking wreath is completely dry, you are ready to attach a ribbon or string (which should be removed before cooking), with a recipe card for using the wreath. You may want to wrap it in tissue paper to keep it nice, or store it in a plastic sandwich bag. Store it in an airtight container, out of light, until ready to use or give away.

Here’s an example of my recipe card that I attach when giving the wreath as a little gift:

This is a cooking wreath from my garden. It contains the right amount of herbs to season a pot of soup. Here’s a simple recipe, or use the wreath with your own favorite soup recipe.
Wintertime Chicken Soup

2 chicken breasts, cut in pieces
1 stalk of celery, diced
1/2 cup diced onion
2 carrots, peeled, diced
Optional: rice or pasta
The entire cooking wreath
Dash salt and pepper, to taste

Bring 2 1/2 quarts of water to a boil and add the chicken and vegetables. Cook until the chicken is tender, about 20 minutes. Add the optional rice or pasta and reduce heat to a simmer, cooking 10-15 minutes. When you add the rice/pasta, also remove the ribbon from the cooking wreath and add it to the pot of simmering soup. Simmer until done and serve.

A vegetarian friend would receive this recipe card attach to their cooking wreath:

Bring 2 1/2 quarts of water to a boil. Add an assortment of your favorite diced vegetables, such as celery, carrots, a turnip, some cabbage, onion and garlic. Simmer until tender, about 20 minutes. Add 1/2 cup pasta or rice and simmer until nearly tender. Add the cooking wreath (with the ribbon removed) and simmer for another 10 minutes. Remove the wreath and serve.

Effects of Dream Pillows on Teenagers

From "Down to Earth" column in The Herb Companion magazine, Dec., 2006
Copyright© Jim Long
The Effects of Herbs on Teenage Boys
Recently a friend of mine who’s a psychologist at a treatment facility for juveniles, asked me to speak about being a writer on career day. I didn’t think kids would be very interested in my own life choices, but I agreed to go.

The treatment facility, a kind of hospital, accepts kids from the ages of six to seventeen, who have been abused, most often sexually abused. They also do some treatment of kids with drug problems, but a high percentage of the kids are there for physical abuse.

I went, prepared with some examples of my books, thoughts on how one’s life choices matter, ideas on how when you are young, you can do or be anything you choose, if you only have the information to help you choose. I also took along a few herbs clippings from my garden, tucked away at the bottom of my box, just in case I fell flat with everything else I was going to talk about.

My first group was nine boys, ranging in age from thirteen to sixteen. They had heard all of the life choice stories before, having been in the facility, and in counseling, for many months. One boy folded himself up in his chair with his knees drawn up to his chin, pulled his t-shirt over his head and proceeded to doze off. Another put his head down on his desk, another was drawing. They were polite, a few asked questions, but I was not rapidly winning them over. Most were likely wondering why they’d come to “the writer guy’s class” instead of down the hall, where the uniformed Army fellow, just back from Iraq, was speaking about his life choices.

There were two boys, about fourteen, sitting with their chins on my desk where I was speaking. When I took a breath from a story I was telling, one of them reached into my little box and pointed at the rosemary sprig I’d brought and said, “So why did you bring rosemary?”

He really caught me off guard. I stalled. Why had I brought the rosemary? Did I expect kids who’d been beaten, or kicked around, to know or even care what rosemary was? Before I could answer the boy’s question, he said, “My grandma grows rosemary. We use it to cook with. Can I touch it? I like the smell.”

I handed him the rosemary and he inhaled the fragrance. “Taste it,” I said. “You probably will remember what it tastes like.”

The boy sitting near the end of the desk with his feet drawn up on his chair and his chin on his knees, with the t-shirt pulled up over his head, peeked an eye through the top of the shirt to see if the boy would actually taste the plant.

The boy tasted a leaf, and smiled. “I remember this taste,” he said, obviously remembering something pleasant from home.

From the back of the room, the kid drawing said, “You can actually EAT that? Gimmie. I want to taste it, too!” “ What else is in your box?” someone said across the room.

Within seconds, the tide had turned. The room was mine in a way I couldn’t have imagined minutes earlier. I laid out the herbs I’d brought: rosemary, mint, lavender, some thyme and basil. Immediately one of the boys focused on mint and said his mother grew it. Another said he knew lavender because his mother always put some in a little bag under his pillow so he could sleep at night.

I brought out the dream pillows I’d brought and one of the boys immediately understood how useful they were at helping ease restless sleep. The room was fully awake, each and every boy was asking questions.

I’d not seen the obvious connection between having been abused and being in that treatment center, and not being able to sleep. I thought back to when I was fourteen myself, and was molested by a teacher who I trusted, and how much difficulty I’d had sleeping. I remembered the nightmares, the fear, the inability to tell anyone, or the power to confront the teacher. Yes, back then, a dream pillow that quieted my nightmares would have been profoundly helpful. So I switched gears, and gave a shortened version of the dream pillow program I often give to adults.

The kids responded. They all had sleep problems, they all wanted a dream pillow. I promised I would find a way to get them a dream pillow. For my next session in the afternoon, I gave only a brief nod to the career subject and concentrated instead on herbs and dream pillows. The second group of boys all responded as enthusiastically as the first.

What was amazing to me was that a bunch of teenage boys, all of whom had huge issues in their lives to deal with, knew about, and were strongly interested in herbs. Not only were they interested, many of them could identify one herb from another. The counselors who sat in on the sessions seemed impressed and encouraged me to come back for sessions on just the sleep herbs subject. Some of them asked questions about their own stress-related sleep problems.
I initially had to convince the treatment supervisors of the kids’ interests. I had to show that the herbs I used couldn’t be used “for any other purposes” or had any harmful effects. They weren’t hallucinogens, couldn’t be smoked, weren’t worth trading or selling. And lastly, that they might have some beneficial effect on the kids’ sleeping. With that out of the way, we scheduled a day to come back and talk to the kids in a longer session.

Not only did I go back and give the dream pillow program, I took along the herbs and made dream pillows. The boys chose between a pillow that would ease their nightmares and give them a good night’s sleep, and one which would let them dream and they would remember the dream. The group was about equally divided between the two. One of the boys who’d been in my earlier short class, said he had used the pillow I had given him but he didn’t have any dreams and I reminded him that it was the mix that gives good sleep without any nightmares. He was satisfied that the nightmares had disappeared and asked if he could now have one that let him remember his dreams as he was sleeping much better.

The usefulness of herbs for people in crisis ever cease to amaze me. Sometimes I’m caught off guard, surprised by how far reaching these fascinating plants can be. Who would have imagined that a group of abused teenage boys would respond so excitedly and warmly to a box of assorted herbs? But then, when I was that age, I know I would have, so I guess it shouldn’t be such a surprise to me now.

Questions and comments always welcome through Jim’s website: http://www.Longcreekherbs.com.


Dogwoods in Danger

From "The Ozarks Herbalist" column,
in The Ozarks Mountaineer magazine http://www.ozarksmountaineer.com
Copyright© Jim Long 2007

Dogwoods in Danger

Over the past quarter century I’ve watched as people discover our Ozarks and move here to retire. Land has been cheap, taxes low, cost of living less than just about anywhere in the U.S. More often than not, the folks who move here from farther north buy a piece of land without paying much attention to it, possibly only viewing it from their car, or maybe walking a few feet on the land and seeing it as just “brush” to be disposed of.

Their first act generally is to hire a bulldozer and “clear” the land to make room for their retirement home. Seldom do these folks recognize that what they’ve bought is a piece of forest that has an ecosystem, a balance of plants and animals that depend upon each other for their survival.

Not just deer, rabbits and squirrels inhabit the property, but lizards, turtles, butterflies, moths, chipmunks, occasionally even bears and foxes may depend on that piece of real estate for their lives.

Why would it matter, you may wonder? Can’t those animals just move on down the road and find another place to live? In the past, they had to, and did. But eventually, as the Ozarks forests become cattle pasture and housing developments, wildlife will run out of somewhere to run to.

Many animals are territorial and must have space of their own, or they die, because their neighbors won’t tolerate too many of their kind in one area. Some, like the indigenous box turtle, return to the same spot where they were born, to lay their eggs each year.

A female box turtle has been returning to my garden each year for the past twenty years to lay her eggs in the same 3 x 5 foot raised bed in my garden. I see her every fall, laying eggs, and every spring, I watch the tiny quarter-sized baby turtles as they tumble out of the raised bed and try to find their way in the world. What happens to those turtles if you bulldoze their nursery? Since box turtles are said to mate for life, and are very territorial, they have to fight other turtles for a new place to exist.

But even more than the animals, it’s actually the dogwood, our Missouri state tree, that I am most concerned most about. They are on the decline all across the Ozarks region.

My parents and I used to drive from central Missouri down to the Ozarks nearly every spring, to see the dogwoods when they were in bloom. They were everywhere, making the understory of the forests come alive with the billions of blossoms. People would line the roads, taking photos, artists painting, people gawking at the billowing white petals of our State tree.

Churche congregations are often as guilty as developers at how they treat the land. They buy a piece of land for building a church to worship and what is the first thing they do? They bulldoze the land, clear it, so they can put up a building. Do they plant back native plants, the very plants the Creator put there? I’ve never, ever seen a congretation that did that. Instead, they plant a few Japanese yews, or some Chinese junipers and call it landscaping. These nonnative plants require maintenance, watering, mulching. You would think that church congregations, of all people on earth, would honor the environment that God created and want native plants, the ones that don’t require artificial fertilizers and maintenance to survive. Sadly, though, natural beauty, the very thing that brings people to our land, isn’t in fashion any longer.

I publish an estimate in my newspaper column each year of the number of dogwoods across the Ozarks that I believe have been destroyed by development. Not that anyone actually sets out to destroy dogwoods intentionally. Instead, developers want to clear the land of trees so they can build as many houses on the land as possible and the easiest way to do that is just bulldoze everything that’s there. My estimates are just a guess, nothing scientific, but so far no one has proven me wrong. This past year, my estimate is that 250,000 dogwood trees have been destroyed by development across the Ozarks. This includes smaller and larger dogwood trees, those that would have bloomed this spring, and those that aren’t big enough to bloom until next year. (Many friends tell me my estimates are way too low).

How many dogwood trees are planted back? Not many. Some go into yards here and there. The Conservation Department furnishes bundles of dogwood trees at very little cost for wildlife conservation, but by and large, dogwood trees are disappearing faster than they can be planted back. In a decade, the only dogwoods you will see blooming in the spring will be the ones scattered about lawns in cities and whatever is left in the deepest parts of the National Forests after logging has been completed.

Dogwoods are easy to grow. They do best in partial shade, although they will survive in full sun but will suffer occasional sun scalding of the leaves in full sunlight. By their nature they are understory trees, found beneath taller forest trees, so they do well at the edges of timber and beneath taller trees.

Dogwoods set their buds the year before and ice and cold do not harm the dogwood buds. Even covered with ice crystals, the charming white blossom sleeps inside. When the weather begins to warm in March, the buds grow and begin to open and by April, the tree will be in full bloom.
Dogwood trees are hardy, easy to grow, require virtually no care and will bloom in about three to four years after planting. (To speed up blooming, you can dig in two cups of high nitrogen fertilizer or good organic compost around the roots in mid summer).

When you do plant dogwoods, the one thing you should absolutely do is protect the trunk of the tree. The fastest way to kill a dogwood is to ding it with the lawnmower, or gouge it’s trunk with the weed eater. That small act of damaging the bark of the trunk, allows a tree borer to enter. Once that happens, the borer sets to work drilling holes and within a year or two, the tree is dead. The simple act of mulching or putting a protective border around your tree to keep the lawnmower and weed eater away, will keep away damage from the trunk and your tree will live for decades.

And in return for you simple efforts, you will be gifted with a mass of blooming year after year that few other trees in the forest can match.

As our Ozarks dogwoods decline year in and year out, it’s important to replace them at every opportunity. Please, won’t you plant some dogwood trees this spring?

Jim Long http://www.Longcreekherbs.com

Amazing Crows

From "The Ozarks Herbalist" coulumn
in The Ozarks Mountaineer (http://www.ozarksmountaineer.com)
Copyright© 2007, Jim Long

Amazing Crows

Sometimes I take my laptop computer with me, and drive to the lake to write. The lapping of the waves, the quiet spaces, are inspiring to me.

One day as I was staring out at the whitecaps on the water as a strong wind was blowing, I noticed four crows assembled on a dead tree that was laying out from the shore, in the water.
The old tree had only two or three limbs sticking out a couple of feet above the water. The crows appeared to be having a discussion, turning this way and that, making short caws toward each other. Finally one of the crows hopped past the others, along the old tree trunk. He kept hopping until he was on the very tip of the limb. The others watched in silence.

Suddenly the crow leaped off the end of the limb with his wings spread. The wind, was brisk, and as I watched, the most amazing thing happened.

The airborne crow simply hung suspended in the air, about three feet above the water, about two feet from the end of the limb. He didn’t move, nor flap his wings. The strong wind made the perfect lift, just like speed causes upward lift on an airplane and he hung there, motionless, for about two minutes.

The other crows were having a fit, cawing and jumping around and so he flapped his wings a couple of times and returned to the tree trunk.

Then another crow took his place, jumping from the end branch and he hanging there, suspended, motionless for about three minutes this time. Then the next crow took that one’s place.

Over the next fifteen minutes, the crows took turns, one at a time, leaping off the end of the limb and hanging suspended in the airlift of the wind, motionless. It was a game and the crows were obviously having a great time. Over and over again, each one took a turn and the others seemed to cheer their companion on, and received the same cheering when it was their turn. Finally a car drove past and they flew on to another adventure.

I love crows. They are so amazingly intelligent and can learn to use tools, such as a straw to stick into an ant hill to draw out the ants. Or standing on one end of a beverage can to tip it their way in order to drink what’s inside. A National Geographic photographer recorded on film some years ago, a group of crows that took turns laying on their backs and sliding down a slick, snow covered hillside. Crows, it seems, have the ability and intelligence, to have fun.
Nearly every morning I begin my day by soaking in my outdoor hot tub outside my bedroom door. Nearly submerged there, like a hunter in a duck blind, I can watch as the crows disperse over their territory before sunrise.

Crows gather at night in large colonies for protection. They’re a very communal bird and are said to mate for life.

Just as the sun begins to lighten the eastern sky, the emissary crows (that’s what I call them) leave the flock and disperse, one about every half mile. As soon as one is on its post, you’ll hear it call. It’s kind of an, “I’m here, on duty, looking for food, guarding the territory.”

Another will call, then another. From my submerged spot in the hot tub, I can hear crows, one by one, respond in all directions, from across the lake, from the other side of the hill. One flock covers several miles.

Once posted, they begin to look for food, and to look for predators, as well. If an owl is anywhere to be seen, one of the emissaries lets out the alarm and other crows come and surround it, tormenting it until it moves on elsewhere. Hawks, too, are unwelcome in the crow’s territory and get bothered until they move on.

But crows also seem to have a respect for hawks. Sometimes you will see them torment the hawk to drive it away. But I’ve also watched crows and hawks having what appears to be a game. The hawk can easily get away from the crows, simply because it can fly higher and dive quicker than a crow. But they will glide and parry like two planes, rolling over and over, diving, flying on updrafts until one or the other gets tired and moves on to the work of finding a meal.

Crows have a vast language of communication. I’ve learned to recognize the difference from a crow that’s found food, from one that has forgotten to report in from his station. When one gets busy or forgets, the nearest emissaries repeat their calls several times. If the forgetful one doesn’t respond, several come to check out the problem. If they find the crow was ignoring them, an argument ensues. Or sometimes the one who has been silent suddenly realizes he’s neglecting his duty and responds with a call that resembles, “Yes, yes, I’m here, quit yelling at me.”

My father once told me that he had a pet crow when he was a child. He said that crows could be taught to speak human words and I’ve heard from others that this bird can learn to mimic other sounds. My father’s pet crow was a constant companion anytime he was outside on the farm. Then one day, when my grandfather was plowing the garden and the crow was following along behind the horse and plow, eating bugs, he ate a millipede. My father said the crow made odd noises, then died a few minutes later. Evidently crows in the wild know better than to eat millipedes.

Many people don’t like crows and believe they are harmful or bothersome. I enjoy having them around and every time I watch them, I feel I learn something new. And, if you watch them long enough, you will get to see them playing games, drinking from beverage cans (they like beer) and generally acting like a bunch of clowns.



Sarah, the 3-Year Old Gardener

Jim Long

Sarah’s Garden
A year ago I was just out of the hospital after receiving a new kidney. It was February, the time when I traditionally plant potatoes, peas, onions, poppies and cilantro. Out of the hospital but not yet able to travel, I was staying with my cousins, Bill and Laveta, in Kansas City.
My room looked out upon their back yard and over into their neighbors’ yard. The winter was mild and I was feeling the need to garden again.
One day I noticed a bit of earth that had been dug up in the neighbors’ back yard. This was not the red clay, rocky soil of my Ozarks, but the black, rich soil of the area where the Santa Fe and Oregon Trails once commenced.
I mentioned the digging to my cousins, saying the neighbor must be anxious for the garden season to begin.
“Oh, no,” Bill said. “That’s Sarah, our neighbor’s granddaughter. She goes outside and digs every time they let her out to play.”
When I inquired about Sarah age, I was completely unprepared for Bill’s answer.
“She’s just three,” he said.
I learned Sarah loves to dig in the earth. Not just a little dab here and a jab there, like you would expect a three year old to do. This was a systematic turning over of the soil, from one corner, extending out across the bed. She had borrowed her grandfather’s hand trowel, and every day, her favorite pastime was to dig and pretend she was planting flowers.
As I healed, Bill drove me back and forth, so I could go home for brief periods, between doctor’s appointments. I began to look forward to seeing Sarah’s progress. The first thing I would do after settling in, was to look out the window to check on Sarah’s project.
Eventually, Sarah had shallowly tilled an area about three feet wide and eight feet long. The spot looked, from my vantage point at least, like it was ready to plant.
Bill and Laveta told me the grandparents weren’t always pleased Sarah got so dirty each day. They wished she didn’t dig in the ground so much. But they also said she pretended to scatter imaginary seed, then she would carry water in her little play bucket and water them. Sarah knew already, what it took to make a garden grow.
I expressed my hope the grandparents would buy her real seed and give her the opportunity to garden. I thought back to my own first garden, at age five, and how grateful I remain, to my parents for letting me make all the mistakes a five year old can make in a garden.
I remembered how I got to choose the seed, and to plant them in my own little space. I thought back to how I planted everything too closely, in order to plant everything I’d wanted to grow. I recalled how the weeds grew and how hot and miserable it was using my toy hoe in July. But I also relived in my memory how my mother had prominently displayed every radish, every sprig of dill, every little pea or mint leaf I had grown that first year.
After my last appointment at the hospital in early May, I looked out my cousins’ window to check on Sarah’s garden. It was completely tilled, and fenced with four feet high chicken wire. I asked Bill if Sarah had gotten to plant her garden. He said he didn’t think so. The grandfather had fenced the garden to plant tomatoes so Sarah’s play garden had been replaced.
I felt bad for Sarah. I wanted to take her seed packets and tell her to dig up another patch. I wanted to encourage her to not give up gardening, but instead, to find another place to plant. I hoped Sarah’s grandparents let her help plant the tomatoes and would encourage her budding love for gardening.
Watching Sarah’s determination, week after week in cold weather, seeing her determined progress, was inspirational for me. If a three year old could garden, given her limitations, surely I could do no less. And as spring came and I healed, I thought of Sarah many times as I began to garden again.