Last night Andrew and I went to a gathering at Paradise Herbs. There were drums and fire and wine and laughter. The winds were blowing, the sky, a crystalline navy, the horizon, luminous with half-moon light. I forget how much I love the night.
Paradise Herbs begs a description. Yet it is indescribable! Old man Joe is a botanical wizard, one rattle shy of shaman, I’d say, and he’s cultivated a garden on this south-facing mountain slope that is a place of wonderment. Trails wind through acres of perennial herbs, many of Chinese origin, many more indigenous and rare. Stones stack for steps or terraces, a tiny pond hosts a wise bullfrog. Every Spring, interns come to this place to lend a hand in the gardens, soak up botanical knowledge, and experience a wild forest life. There’s a magic that happens here, and you know it the minute you step onto the rocky driveway that leads up through the gardens, past the greenhouses, up to the medicine house. That’s where all the tinctures are, many Chinese formulas, others more straight-foward, all lined up in dark bottles on shelf after shelf. There’s books, too, a whole library of them, and sofas to read on. But the gatherings are always on the deck that’s just out the door. The deck is embraced by four wide poplar trees, their trunks straight and wide, and they stand sentinel over the fire bowl, which is the end of a propane tank stood on its end, thick and broad enough to host fire after fire. Tonight many chairs are clustered around the fire, and there are many new faces here–visitors from a Permaculture program. They are all young college kids, here to have a good time tonight, and in the daylight hours, lend their hands to the many assorted projects that are underway at Paradise Herbs.
One of these projects is an earthbag dome nearing completion. It is being built by Steve, who has been here since early Spring. Steve is full tilt boogie tonight, beer in hand, his thick wavy hair bundled back, his green eyes twinkling with stumbling merriness. He’s fifty-four, by God, and he’s claiming his measure of good times tonight. He rambles on a bit about his “Clayboy Mansion” (it’s probably no more than 200 square feet, if that), and you know he’s proud of it even though he speaks humbly of it, so when he offers to give a tour, I and a few others accept the invitation.
In the pale blue light of our headlamps we follow Steve along a trail that leads into the woods. Over a narrow stone bridge, past the still and ready eyes of the bullfrog, propped up on lily pads, past the edge of the gardens and into the forest, we come upon the rounded structure that is Steve’s making. It’s bermed into the hillside, and bears great resemblance to a turtle’s shell. It is draped in 6 ml plastic, and then old carpet, and soon, Steve tells us, he”ll throw some dirt on top of that and grow periwinkles. There’s one window facing north, set high on the wall and just above grade, and Steve emphasizes again and again how much care he took with the drainage. The south side is all glass–salvaged windows and a salvaged French door. Inside he’s cobbed a floor, and constructed a rocket stove. The stove’s flue passes through a cobbed bench, thereby warming it considerably. A little smoke fingers its way out of the top of the stove, drifting up and out of the peak of the dome, where Steve has created a little rustic cupola. He readily points out his mistakes, but the building speaks past these, it has a clay pot charm and rounded simplicity that enchants and invigorates the imagination. We stand huddled around the door–the cob floor is new and still curing–and envision life in this place, in this little earthen nest. The imagination savors the thought of such simple living, intertwined gracefully with forest and Sun. For a moment I see all the books and beautiful clutter of my home slipping away from me, and it feels frightening and freeing at the same time. I know there will be a place in my life for this sort of living, and I will relish it when it comes.
There are other gifts of the night. Werebrock’s generous heart, the woman undressing in the shadows, her bare back lit with moonlight, Andrew’s palm-frenzied drumming. Talking with Katie, so sweet and cheerful I can’t help but kiss her cheek in greeting, I tell her a little Renee story about the jumping spider that was a cricket, how Renee’s original impression of it as a spider stuck in her imagination. How she ran screaming in delicious fright across the floor, even when she knew it was a cricket. How funny she is! And yet, doesn’t that say something about our imaginations? How powerful they are when we are young, how we fetter away that power with a jaded adult eye. And a flame of desire leaps in my heart, to reclaim the imagination, to walk in the shadows of the night and sense the magic that still walks this Earth, lingers in clay and half-moon light, magic that waits, seeded in our palms, for us to cultivate a paradise garden, or sculpt clay into vessel, or drum human wildness into being.