Temperatures having dropped dramatically in the past few days, I was relieved this morning to see the truck coming down the driveway to deliver oil for heat. Henry, a secret climate activist, barked ferociously, but at 16 pounds, he’s also the first to shiver in the early morning when the house is cold.
This afternoon I went out and gathered what remained of basil and parsley to store in the freezer. A few summer flowers are still left, dwarfed by the number of yellow, orange, and red leaves that carpet the grass in back. Before the next rain I must check the culvert under the driveway that transports water from the rains down to the Sawmill River below. When the culvert gets covered with autumn leaves, a big rainstorm can destroy the driveway. It happened once already and cost $2,000. Now I sweep the leaves.
Just when everything is dying, the blue flowers above have begun to emerge right outside the garage door, behind the kitchen. As the days get colder—and we’ve had at least two frosts—more of them come out. What are they? Aconite, a Chinese medical herb. I don’t know who planted it, it preceded Bernie and me. It’s very dangerous if you ingest it raw, you want to boil or cook it in some fashion for at least an hour, and even then, you have to be careful how much you take.
But once cooked, it has amazing healing properties. Among various ailments, it’s used to treat very cold limbs and faint pulse, cold pain in the heart, stomach and abdomen, cold vomiting and diarrhea, cold edema, cold and damp pain, and all chronic severe cold diseases.
I found it fascinating that this herb does so well in the cold. It doesn’t bloom in spring or summer, it waits till mid-fall in New England and is almost the only flower left in the yard. It survives stormy winds and the crashing rainfall we had two nights ago, and temperatures well under freezing, showing tremendous resilience to cold.
It reminds me of how we use a very small dosage of a disease as an antibiotic to fight the very same disease. The secret isn’t to stay completely away from germs and illness, but to get just enough to train and energize our immune system to work against them.
My friend Magnolia, who has connected me with the local immigrant community, asked me to help a brother and sister, Mateo and Alma (not their real names), who just arrived from Colombia. They were traveling close to home when they were stopped by about 15 rebels called La FARC, shoulders draped with a Colombian flag and armed with rifles. They interrogated the brother and sister and took photos of them.
FARC (Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia) in theory disbanded following a peace accord with the government a few years ago, but many continue to terrorize certain parts of the country. They took their belongings and their phones, looked at their postings on social media, and discovered that Mateo was going to a military college. They gave them a deadline of 24 hours to leave their hometown—and their mother— and never return.
They stayed with family members far away, but when even that wasn’t safe, their mother sold her home to raise money to fly her two children to Mexico. From there they crossed the border to this country. Detained by immigration, they were released after 20 days and made their way here to stay with family friends.
They live in a small apartment and began to work right away at low wages. They need help paying rent. They’ll also need to get a different apartment because where they live now is tiny for the number of people there. That means putting up first and last month’s rent, and security deposit. Our county, the poorest in the state, is one of many that suffers from a dearth of rental housing (forget affordable housing!); rentals are sky high. My housemate hasn’t had her own apartment in many years though she works devotedly full-time for a social work agency.
I thought of Mateo and Alma when I looked at the purple aconite blooming behind the house. You see, I think we need people like Mateo and Alma, who’ve faced death threats and whose mother sends them up north to save their lives, not knowing if and when she’ll see them again. They’ve sampled fear and terror, have looked straight into gun barrels, and have risked much to come up here and build a life. We take so much for granted; they take nothing for granted.
They know the value of family and community, they know the value of freedom that isn’t just about the freedom to own guns. They bring new blood, new herbs, new medicines to this country that often forgets what is still possible. We need their young, idealistic energy, the hope that rises out of despair, the ability to sacrifice shown by their mother.
So yes, I said we’d help Mateo and Alma with the money they need to start a new life. I believe they will pay it back many times over. You can join in this endeavor by making a donation to Immigrant Families below. They, and I, appreciate your help very much.