Tiny Stories, Tiny Tales

Tradescantia Ohiensis or the Last Year and a Half of My Life

 


spiderwort

Tradescantia ohiensis is more commonly known as bluejacket or Ohio spiderwort. It grows to 1-3 feet and produces bright blue, 3-petalled blossoms in early June to mid-October.

 

Back in January ’14, I tore a tendon in my thumb. It was a freak accident that occurred while I was easing into parking spot at CVS.  A driver backing out off the next spot over didn’t see me. I tried to sound my car horn to let her know I was there. The horn was broken, unknown to me at the time, and I tried sounding it over and over in a panic, desperate to alert another driver of my presence while her car backed towards mine. My hand was at a strange angle with my thumb on the horn and other fingers on the steering wheel. My adrenalin surged, I pressed the horn as hard as I could, and it never sounded.  The driver saw me but only after she missed me by an inch.

 

Ohio spiderwort can be found in to dry to mesic prairies and savannas. It grows along trail sides, fencerows, and railroads. It prefers wet, humid conditions.

 

I went to the emergency room that evening when the pain became unbearable. The doctor told me I had completely severed my right thumb tendon and recommended me to a hand surgeon. A nurse wrapped my hand, wrist, and arm in a splint and I went home.

The hand surgeon saw me a few days after and told me I had not completely severed the tendon. A thumb tendon was torn and new blue splint was fitted my hand, wrist and upper arm. I was sent on my way to function as best as I could with an immobile right hand.

As long as I wore the splint, I felt no pain. It would take months for the tendon to repair (tendons take longer than broken bones to heal) but in the meanwhile, I learned to function with my non-dominate left hand and my husband, Jeff, helped me with everything that involved two hands. He opened containers and chopped up food for cooking. Not having my right hand was frustrating and maddening but not impossible. It would all be over in a few months.

 

The plant’s range covers Massachusetts to Nebraska, up north to Minnesota and down south to Texas and Florida. It is resistant to herbicides and attracts butterflies and bumblebees.

 

This is not what happened. My hand came out of the splint and within a few weeks, the ache was unbearable. I went back to the doctor and she discovered I had developed ECU tendonitis. Since my thumb was so weak, the outside of my hand (pinky finger to wrist) had compensated for thumb and now there were tears in the tendon running along the outside of my wrist. It would take a few months for a year to heal.

That was the tipping point. After that, I developed lateral epicondylitis (tendonitis on the outside of the elbow. Also known as tennis elbow)  in my right elbow. And then medial epicondylitis (tendinitis on the inside of the elbow, known as golfer’s elbow) in that same elbow. That occurred because I had been guarding my right hand by holding it against my body.

Then my left elbow developed the same injuries as the right elbow. That happened was because my left arm had become overloaded from doing everything without the right hand for so long.

Then the right outside of my foot became painful and I had tendinitis there too. That happened because I had been injured for over a year. My body had been thrown off for so long that it was mirroring itself.

 

The stamen of spiderwort changes from blue to pink when radiation is present.

 

I was barely able to function over the fall and winter months and there wasn’t a medication that put a dent in the constant pain I was in. The splint no longer helped. I tried physical therapy, massage, acupuncture, supplements, anything that might do something.

While I tried everything within my means to heal, the physical therapy for my foot tendinitis took a terrible turn. I developed a severe allergic reaction to spray adhesive for tape (tape is often used to relieve pain in feet and leg injuries) and my leg broke out in a weeping rash and swelled to three times its size during Christmas. I ended up in the hospital after a blood test came back with the probability I might have a blood clot.

I did not have a clot.  Instead, I sat on the sofa with my leg firmly wrapped in ace bandages and kept my right leg elevated for two weeks till all the swelling was gone.

Needless to say, Christmas was the lowest point of this whole debacle and things crept along for the better after that.

 

The plant is edible, especially when young and tender. The greens can be eaten raw, parboiled or fried. The flowers can be eaten or candied.

 

This spring, the pain greatly diminished. My hand therapist believed my laptop keyboard could the culprit, inflaming my wrist injuries. I hunted down an ergonomically correct one that helps people with my type of tendinitis. I’m typing now because of this keyboard. It has been a savior.

My massage therapist was another savior. She listened to what my body was saying about the pain and her work and conversations helped me keep my sanity.

And then there’s the care of my acupuncturist. He was deeply troubled over my condition and he too listened to what my body was saying. His help gave me pain free moments during very dark times.

Dear friends and family members provided much consolation and compassion. I thank all of you.

And last but not least is my wonderful husband Jeff. His continual willingness to help was a bright spots during this ordeal. His cheerful smile and wicked sense of humor helped me find reasons to get up in the morning. He is one of the greatest people I know and I am so lucky to have found him.

 

In the past, the Cherokee Nations have used a compound infusion of spiderwort for female ailments or kidney trouble. The roots were made into a poultice to treat cancer. The plant was also mashed and ground to treat insect bites.

 

And so I have good weeks that are free from pain. But I have bad ones too where the pain won’t let go. My healers and friends rejoice with me during the good weeks and help me through the bad ones. I am incredibly privileged to know these people and receive their aid.

I was forced to give up a lot this last year and a half. A lot. But to my shock, life continued and all survived. Pain became a doorway for me. It forced me to make choices about how I saw the world around me and how I would chose to participate with it.

It’s a bitter thing to lose a year and half of your life. But, if I turn the lens of perception just so, I see I did not lose part of my life. I changed with my life. I made important internal decisions whenever I could. The time became holy; so much nonsense was removed because I couldn’t physically move or do anything about it. I was alone with my pain.

And now I’ve come back to talk about that and other issues. My pain is greatly lessened and I can do more but the pain is not all gone and I am still learning the delicate balancing act of pain. This blog entry is my re-entry into the conversation I left off when my injuries overcame me. Sparrow Post will continue to be a place where I muse on art, spirituality, and nature.

 

The 3-petalled blossoms of spiderwort point to balance. Three is about opening the mind, letting go of binary thinking. The blue flowers are cheerful and exquisite yet only last for a day once they bloom. They last than less than a day in fact—once noon hits, the blooming flowers close and die.

Pollination must happen in the morning hours and so bumblebee tumbles from flower to flower in the early light. A few other types of bees and flies join in the pollination.

 

For this summer, I’m inserting native plants into each entry. Plants are our allies and they are at their zenith in these sunshine laden months. Native plants are hidden stories begging to be told, medicines waiting to be used.

Beautiful Dana of Wild & Magic gave plant medicine to me during some of my worst moments and now I’m ready to learn on my own and share what I can in return. I will not pick these native plants with my hands but use my camera instead. Since my hand is not fully healed, I will not be concocting teas or salves but I will be reading and sharing.

 

The color of spiderwort’s flowers, ranging from blue to purple to white, is a small part of its charm. Its true powers are hidden in its physical properties. The pleasant blooms rapidly pass away but the plant gives more than its beauty: it feeds the hungry and aids the suffering.

 

spiderwort1

 

Summer is here. Let us enjoy it.

 

Comments (4):

  1. Carolyn

    July 1, 2015 at 2:41 pm

    Thanks so much for writing this. It’s beautifully written. I’m so sorry that you’re going through this. I have severe tendon problems in a few places in my body and it has radically affected my life. I wasn’t sure, though, at the end, whether you meant that you are no longer in pain, or if you continue to be affected by your pain, but had eventually decided to view your life in a different way.

  2. Catherine

    July 1, 2015 at 3:07 pm

    Thank you, Carolyn. My heart goes out to you, fellow sufferer! It is such a long journey and I often wonder if there will ever be an end. I am still suffering from the tendinitis (I tweaked a sentence or two to make that more clear in the entry. thanks) though the severity is gradually lessening. I’ve had to look at my life differently to keep my sanity and be the kind of person I wish to be for myself and for the world. I don’t always succeed in looking at life differently but I like to think I’m a more peaceful and patient person on the whole than I was before. Maybe? Hopefully! It’s an ongoing journey as I’m sure you well know. Patience and Peace are so good to have but they certainly don’t come for free. I wish you all the best and plenty of love on this arduous journey. If you ever want to swap tendinitis tips that help or just to talk about it, feel free to drop me an email. catherine@viapositiva.net

  3. Danielle P.

    July 1, 2015 at 6:57 pm

    Well, welcome back! What a beautifully written and illustrated post with which to mark your return!
    Oh dear, I’m so sorry you’ve gone through this veritable avalanche of physical ailments… I couldn’t help but cringe as I read of the horrible pain you suffered and still experience even now. I sincerely hope that your recovery will continue apace!

  4. Catherine

    July 2, 2015 at 11:40 am

    Thank you, Danielle. What I’ve seen from this and from others’ stories about chronic pain is that when something physical goes wrong, it can set off an avalanche of body issues. Our bodies are balanced so carefully. finely tuned.

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The Tale of Genji: A Timeless Novel of Messy Relationships

“Real things in the darkness seem no realer than dreams.”

Murasaki Shikibu, The Tale of Genji

I read through The Tale of Genji (源氏物語 Genji monogatari) by Murasaki Shikibu over the course of the summer and autumn, and I finally finished last week. I’d read it in the early morning with my first cup of tea and cat in my lap. The cat becomes upset and depressed if I don’t hold her for a little while in the morning so it was a good fit to settle in and read as much as I could from the 1200 page novel before moving into the rest of the day, accompanied by one happy cat. Now when I get up, blearily make myself a pot of tea and settle down, it’s a strange sensation not to reach out for the massive, multi-generational novel.

Set during the 11th century in Ancient Japan, The Tale of Genji spans three generations and is loaded with all sorts of characters, locations, and religious observances. It deals with the relationships between people, nature, the arts, and the gods. Emotions are celebrated in waka poetry, seasonal changes are closely noted and cherished, religious observations of Buddhism and Shintoism dominate daily life, and people’s lives change due to the current Emperor in power. At the center is the story of Hikaru Genji (Shining Genji) and later on in the novel, his descendants. Despite having a father as Emperor, his mother was a low-ranking consort and as such, he has commoner status– but for all that, lives a wealthy, fabulous life. Added on top of this is his intense, near-otherworldly beauty and grace, acknowledged by both men and women. Loaded with money and charm, he seduces and sleeps with many. Hundreds of pages are devoted to his thoughts and feelings on his lovers (to whom he sends piles of poetry and presents) and in turn, the thoughts and feelings of his lovers are revealed privately to the reader. Nearly every woman who comes in contact with him (and a few men) has deeply conflicted feelings about Genji and his behavior.

Noble women’s lives in the Heian Era are so delicately arranged that any mere whim of Genji’s can affect their futures deeply. The women live entirely at home, tucked into the deep recesses of their houses. They rarely even stand—though if a noblewoman does get up and walk, life is about to get spicy. To express their sadness and depression over Genji’s cavalier behavior, they watch the seasons change through a veil of tears, lie face down on the floor, refuse to talk to him, or can’t stop sending him messages. Whatever their behavior, they ultimately have accept his treatment of them. It is not an easy path to walk. They find consolation in the surrounding world: by reading, writing, playing music, observing the seasons, flowers, and birds, caring for their children, and talking to other women.

Seasons, religious observances, and rulers flow by and the main characters change too, from Genji and all the people surrounding him, to his grandsons and the women they love. There is a possibility that different author wrote the story of the grandsons, Kaoru and Niou. The style is different, somewhat smoother, and the characters’ thoughts and motives are revealed in more depth. I like to think that it was Shikibu’s work, a return to her great story after many decades of refining her craft.

“The world know it not; but you, Autumn, I confess it: your wind at night-fall stabs deep into my heart.”
Murasaki Shikibu, The Tale of Genji

The final third of the book centers on a succession of autumns, and a melancholy light flickers through the last few hundred pages. Genji is remembered but in passing—little of him is left except for his great house and his descendants. Kaoru, Niou, and three sisters that they love are on center stage. Genji’s grandchildren live in much the same way he did and though their personalities are different, their lives are just as fleeting and as frail. People make many of the same choices as the previous generation; the circle of life wheels around and around as the seasons flash by. The story has no neat conclusion: the book ends abruptly with protagonists still navigating their lives and affairs. I imagine Kaoru, Niou, and Ukifume out there in another dimension or time, wrestling with their lives, emotions, and circumstances, trying to make do with the choices available to them.

The Tale of Genji is an immersion into another life and era; it is an ancient gift that has survived for nearly a millennium. It is a book of shadows and barriers, a world that exists in lamplight.

“In the mansion called literature I would have the eaves deep and the walls dark, I would push back into the shadows the things that come forward too clearly, I would strip away the useless decoration. I do not ask that this be done everywhere, but perhaps we may be allowed at least one mansion where we can turn off the electric lights and see what it is like without them.”

Jun’ichirō Tanizaki, In Praise of Shadows

It is miracle that so massive a book, copied out by hand year after year, decade after decade, century after century, then at last into print, should survive into the modern era. Due to its venerable age and old language, many translations of The Tale of Genji have been written: Jun’ichirō Tanizaki’s in Japanese and Edward Seidensticker’s in English are among the most well-known. I read Royall Tyler’s translation, occasionally dipping into Arthur Waley’s and Seidensticker’s earlier ones. What comes through strongly, regardless of the translation, is how incredibly easy The Tale of Genji is to read despite being nearly 1000 years old. Part of this is Shikibu’s very modern skill of weaving plot points in and out of characters’ motivations and thoughts. Shifting narrative perspectives and stream of consciousness prose both play a part; but an even bigger contributor to the story’s strength is its centering of relationships. If readers love anything, it’s hot, messy love affairs, tangled family and friendships, and all the accompanying emotions that go with them. Genji, full of tumult, even ghosts and possessions, is ultimately about human nature and all the triumphs, frailties, and failures that come with it.

The Light Changes: Books for the Autumn Equinox

Summer is coming to a close, as usual marked by heavy rain and fitful sunshine. I woke up to a downpour a few mornings ago. It took me awhile to fully wake due to the gloom-heavy atmosphere in the bedroom. When I finally got up and opened the bedroom door, the cats were waiting in the hallway, small triangle faces tilted and full of questions; they were unsure if it was breakfast time or not due to the strange murky light. It was so dim that even the street lamps were still on.

I padded with the cats out to the living room. Water was pouring down the western windows, giving the room a half-submerged effect as if it was about to give up and dissolve with the rain. The kitchen was a little better: I opened the eastern-facing window and a heavy, damp breeze rushed into the room, lifting napkins and papers and then setting them down again.

I set the kettle going and brewed a cup of green tea, sitting down at the kitchen table with the cat. She had gathered herself into the windowsill and we drank in the oxygen heavy air together. As the wind struck my face, the sensation of being sealed up alive in the house relented and I was able to breathe easier and drink the tea slowly, savoring the light, toasted flavor. The cat looked at me a few times as I drank but she inevitably returned to staring out the window, sniffing at smells I couldn’t detected but were utterly engrossing.

The loss of morning light in autumn makes the shortening days more noticeable. I love the night but hate early evenings and as sunrises comes later and the sunsets earlier, my fingers curl a little in my pockets. The long endless nights are coming. I’m not ready for summer to end but I attempt to reconcile myself by pulling out a few books.

As the light eases towards the darkness, I pull out the books that were once the spoken word, told during the long dark evenings to family members, friends, and the community; they’re usually called fairy tales or folk tales but “wonder tales” work just as well. I make a small pile: Franz Xaver von Schönwerth’s The Turnip Princess and Other Newly Discovered Tales, Zitkála-Šá’s American Indian Stories, Legends, and Other Writings, and Zora Neale Hurston’s Mules and Men.

Schönwerth collected fairy tales in the 1850’s when he traveled around his beloved Bavarian homeland, listening to fairy tales and writing them down. The Grimm Brothers were recording fairy tales at this time too, racing to preserve stories that were disappearing as print culture was erasing the need for verbal storytelling. In the centuries that followed, much of Schönwerth’s recordings was preserved but many stories were lost. In 2009, Erika Eichenseer found 500 previously lost fairytales of Schönwerth’s in the municipal building of Regensburg, Bavaria. She found a fairy tale treasure. The stories were recently translated from English to German and stand alongside The Brothers Grimm and Charles Perrault’s fairy tales.

Next to my copy of Schönwerth’s The Turnip Princess is Zitkála-Šá’s American Indian Stories, Legends, and Other Writings. Zitkála-Šá was born during the Battle of Big Horn and was educated at a boarding school that enforced assimilation of First Nations’ peoples. Despite the school’s attempts to flatten her mind, body and spirit, Zitkala-Ša (Lakota for the cardinal bird) went on to be a political activist, writer, editor, translator, educator, and musician. She recorded Dakota Sioux legends, saving them for posterity. Many of them center on the trickster Iktomi, a spider fairy. I’ve included the beginning of a legend below.

Next to Zitkála-Šá’s folk tales is Zora Neal Hurston’s Mules and Men. Around the same time Zitkála-Šá was writing, Hurston was recording African-American folk stories that were fast disappearing. She recorded the stories she heard in her home of Eatonville, Florida and other nearby communities and logging camps. These stories often center on John Henry cleverly outwitting everyone, sometimes even the devil. Alongside the folk tales, Hurston recorded her experience learning hoodoo in New Orleans. It is not for the faint of heart.

These three books and the deep histories they invoke make the evenings richer, more bearable and in closing, I leave you with this opening of Zitkála-Šá’s retelling of “Iktomi and the Muskrat”:

Beside a white lake, beneath a large grown willow tree, sat Iktomi on the bare ground. The heap of smoldering ashes told of a recent open fire.  With ankles crossed together around a pot of soup, Iktomi bent over some delicious boiled fish.

Fast he dipped his black horn spoon into the soup,, for he was ravenous. Iktomi had no regular meal times.  Often when he was hungry he went without food.

Well hid between the lake and the wild rice, he looked nowhere save into the pot of fish.  Not knowing when the next meal would be, me meant to eat to enough now to last some time.

“How, how, my friend!” said a voice out of the wild rice. Iktomi started.  He almost choked with his soup.  He peered through the long reeds from where he sat with his long horn spoon in mid-air.

“How my friend!” said the voice again, this time close at his side. Iktomi turned and there stood a dripping muskrat who had just come out of the lake.

“Oh, it is my friend who startled me.  I wondered if among the wild rice some spirit voice was talking.  How, how, my friend!” said Iktomi.  The muskrat stood smiling.  On his lips hung a ready “Yes, my friend,” when Iktomi would ask, “My friend, will you sit down beside me and share my food?”

That was the custom of the plains people.  Yet Iktomi sat silent. He hummed an old dance-song and beat gently on the edge of the pot with his buffalo-horn spoon.  The muskrat began to feel awkward before such lack of hospitality and wished himself under the water.

The rest can be read in Zitkála-Šá’s American Indian Stories, Legends and Other Writings.

Please feel free to share your favorite fairy tale or folk tales in the comments section.