“Every woman is a portal.” – June O’Brien, On the Mountain
“Humus, human. The dictionaries say there is a connection between the words, but they don’t elaborate. What does the root hum- mean?” — William Bryant Logan, Dirt, 14
“This is how it always happens,” said my friend Ruby. “You go through a gateway, or cross a bridge, and on the other side, you find yourself in a totally different world. It’s how the story begins.”
We were approaching a covered bridge on a spur road from I-5. It was a regional landmark, a white clapboard archway with a roof overhead, a single lane running through. As we drove through, I saw a sign overhead: Grave Creek.
“On the other side,” I said, “the world looks just exactly the same. But it’s different. We’ve arrived.”
Yesterday, with a long drive and Ruby’s help, I arrived at my new home, a rustic cabin a short hike through the woods from the Self & Soul Center in Talent, Oregon. It’s a new land, a new place, a new time.
There’s an old superstition about place, about this crossing of worlds: you aren’t a part of a world, and you can’t long survive in it, without eating the food of that time and that place.
This morning I went for a walk in the woods surrounding my new home. I hiked up a trail and saw several old friends: yarrow’s feathery leaf, the blue blossoms of borage, and the purple spikes of shooting star. I saw sorrel, coltsfoot, and wild ginger. And in the damp regions at the roots of trees, the ground was flush with the gentle green of miner’s lettuce. Without thinking, I bent down to try the leaves. They were soft, supple, chewy, with a delicate flavor. I bent down time and again, tasting the flavor of this place.
Each and every day we pass through the portals of sunrise and sunset, an eternal archway that rises overhead. Each day we eat, and we renew our connection to the earth.
In the words of another Ruby, the protagonist of June O’Brien’s On the Mountain, “every woman is a portal.” Each of us, woman or man, male or female, is a gateway to the inner world of our imagination. Each of us hold the power and the potential to cross that great divide, to travel through the narrow passage that separates the “real” from the “imagined,” our hopes from our fears. This passage is the bridge, an auspicious journey that brings you to a new land and a new footing within yourself. But the passage itself is not arrival. There are no roots there, and without settling into that place, one is apt simply to fade away.
The lesson of miner’s lettuce is the lesson of connection. It teaches us–quite literally–to know our place. By eating the growth of this place, I bring this world inside of me. I make myself a part of it by letting it become a part of me.
Each and every day we pass through the portals of sunrise and sunset, an eternal archway that rises overhead. Each day we eat, and we renew our connection to the earth. Here, in this creekside land in the steep valleys of southern Oregon, I have arrived.