two atypical saturday outings

Normally my husband and I spend Saturday mornings at the coffeehouse writing and reading. The rest of the day, we typically work on house projects or hang out with friends. Today we did none of those things.

conifer daylight environment evergreen
Photo by Nejc Košir on

We started the day by driving more than an hour west of home to hike though rolling woodlands where we learned a little about medicinal plants. I have a longstanding interest in identifying and using plants for healing or as a food source.

I hate the idea of being stranded in the wilderness and dying of hunger because I’m clueless as to how to forage. Or dying because I didn’t know the plant next to me could have helped with anaphylactic shock.

Can you imagine starving to death on a field of unassuming plants whose roots were highly edible potato tubers? Or dying of a few bee stings, face planted on a patch of plantain? (Okay, the plantain thing isn’t entirely foolproof but has been known to help.) Talk about embarrassing.

20 or so people milled about the small parking lot of the nature preserve, eager to begin the walk. We were a collection of mostly harmless nerds swimming in bug spray and big hats. Except, perhaps, for the eight-year old in our midst. She has nothing but potential so she was the one among us most likely to become a mastermind criminal.

Some of us looked forward to expanding our botanical knowledge. Some of us, as it turned out, looked forward to interrupting our guide and regaling the group with their superior knowledge of all things botany, fungi, and trees. They were only occasionally wrong.

There’s always one in the bunch, isn’t there?

Regardless, being out in the country on a balmy day, breathing clean air, and surrounded by plant life is the surest, quickest path to happiness for me. It really is that simple. I felt grateful to be there.

After the two or so hours on the walk, we headed half an hour east to one of my favorite diners in the area. There’s nothing fancy about it. It’s run by a kind and gentle family from Korea. The menu is standard American fare except for one small section of Korean dishes. It’s the only part of the menu I ever order from. Plus, they make their own cucumber kimchee which I’m crazy about.

After the early dinner, we drove another 45 minutes to get home where we took a much longer nap than intended. We awoke with just enough time to get ready for the next outing: a presentation given by a holocaust survivor about her experiences.

Her talk covered a different set of circumstances than is commonly heard. Concentrations camps figure prominently in most tales. In her story, she and her family went from Poland into Russia, over to the Siberian work camps, and finally into Uzbekistan until after the war was over.

She talked about her family’s abject poverty, hunger, and sicknesses. The death of all 100 or so family members she knew in Poland. The inhumane treatment of suffering refugees in the no man’s land outside of Russia.

It was hard to hear about the atrocities people inflicted on each other. It’s terrifying that people continue to do horrible things to each other all over the world. And it feels too close to home these days.

As she described the circumstances leading up to the holocaust: the attack on the justice system, the attack on the free press, and the vilifying of an entire group of people, it was difficult not to draw parallels to what appears to be happening in the States.

So many people say that such a thing would never happen in this country. But that’s what the Germans thought too. And as far as I’m concerned, we have a history of treating people poorly. You only have to look to slavery and the slaughter of native peoples to see that.

person holding a green plant
Photo by Akil Mazumder on

I thought about the sicknesses and the hunger she and her family endured. How the best meal of her life was eating a potato during that period. How their malaria could have been curbed with access to holy basil, cinnamon, or citrus. Humble plants making a difference between life and death.

I’m signing up for another class as soon as possible.

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