While on ango last summer, I got a visit from the Dysentery Fairy. I still haven't determined precisely what sort it was; we have a lot of Giardia around here, but it would be a true hail-mary for that to get into a rain barrel. On the other hand, the symptoms were pretty giardesque, for a bacterial infection. I'm not even certain it came from the drinking water; hygiene is a constant battle in the outback, and you live surrounded by faeces and wild water.
Anyway, I suffered an anxious week or two, dodging into the dark forest at 0300 and fearing the thing would drive me off the mountain. In the end I kicked its butt, thanks to the support of friends and family and, I believe, this tea. So I'm passing it on.
It's truly terrifying to find yourself alone and sick; once it's happened (and this wasn't a first for me, by any means), you'll never trivialise someone else's misfortune again. In this case, I spent about a day fretting and trying to hide from it. Then I got mad. The fact is, I've got a lifetime of relevant experience. Hell, I wrote a freakin' book on wild herbs, for Christ sake! I decided if I was going to be forced off the mountain, I was really going to be forced. Surrender would only become an option if every last gun had been fired.
And I had several. To begin with, the Hundred Acre Wood, where I lived, was busting with herbs, and in their best season. And I had other possibles in my cache. So I got up and raked together a tea calculated to firm things up and rain displeasure on unwanted guests. I put myself on a regimen of 3 rice bowls of this per day, minimum; most days I had more. I drank down each bowl, then sucked, chewed, and spit out the leaves. (The tea itself was actually delicious, but the cud-chewing part was abominable.) And I got better. Very quickly, in fact.
Here's how I brewed it up:
Put a double measure of strong green tea leaves in the bottom of your rice bowl.
Oxalis and/or sheep sorrel
New Douglas fir tips (see note below)
Chop all ingredients well; I used a pair of scissors.
Fill the bowl with boiling water, cover, and steep for fifteen minutes, minimum. Then drink and enjoy.
The tart components (oxalis and sorrel; lemon or cider vinegar if you've got it) provide acid, which gut-bugs hate, and coincidentally taste good, which gets you to drink more of it. Young Douglas fir needles taste pleasant too (though the old ones are disgusting), and are the most effective at halting diarrhœa. Other conifers are also good if you don't have it. I've used spruce and hemlock to good effect. Finally, I also just plain ate oxalis and Douglas fir, often, during these days.
Later, a friend and fellow hermit who came out to check on me said to add Prunella to my dose. Did it help? It didn't hurt. It's dreadful stuff, but the oxalis and Douglas fir got it past my tongue. Similarly, I held willow in reserve, should tougher measures be necessary. Willow bark is an excellent medicinal, the original source of aspirin, and highly acidic in its own right. It's also the most God-awful revolting bile on the planet, like chewing an aspirin tablet, so I didn't jump right into it. And fortunately, I never needed to, this time.
What's clear is that this concoction put an immediate end to pyrotechnic dumps and secured the all-important restful night. Of course, it wasn't the only measure I took; I also went in for draconian hygiene, fastidious handling of water, mindful hydration habits, and careful monitoring of the quality and quantity of everything that came back out of me. I also ordered up some dietary adjustments, chiefly, a well-curried bowl, boiled up with bullion (for the salt), and served with a sadistic squirt of sriracha. Intestinal microbes trend to fairly Caucasian tastes; I made sure things got nice and "ethnic" on Mr. Leave It To Beaver Fever.
Whatever the reason, and whatever it was, it eventually pulled up stakes and left. (You might say, it just didn't have the guts.) Whether I beat it, or it just wasn't that scary to begin with, I'll never know. But the tea worked. One day I had dramatic digestion, then I drank the tea and it went away. Then I stopped drinking it (thinking I was "cured") and it came right back. So I drank the tea again, and it went away again.
Therefore I offer the recipe here, in loving support for anyone who may fall into that place and need it. Brother, sister: drop this on your trouble. And smile while you sit.
For if you listen very closely, you can hear the little bastards scream.
One day, the hermit Hyung was seated in three-fifths lotus, eating lunch, when the great General Khan kicked in his door. The General was at that moment throwing a countryside ravishing on behalf of the Great Popular Rebellion, but as Hyung was a mountain monk, he knew nothing of him or it.
The crash startled Hyung, but spying only a large pirate with a bloody cutlass in his doorway, he returned to shovelling rice and beans into his mouth.
"Why!" exclaimed Khan. "Do you not realise that you are looking at a man who would run you through without a second thought?"
Hyung swallowed, and was about to answer, when the General cut him off.
"Dude!" he said, looking about. "You got, like, nuthin'!" His mouth hung open in astonishment. "Down in the valley they said you were this big Zen guy. I thought you'd have, like, art, and old scrolls, and book royalties and stuff!"
Hyung glanced over the rim of his bowl and pointed his spoon at Khan's boots. The General looked at Hyung's brass door plate.
" 'Hyung,' " he read, slowly. " 'Hermit.' "
Khan sheathed his sword.
"I'm gonna kill the guy we tortured for that information." He turned for the doorway. "Sorry to bother you, man."
He and his gang saddled up. "I'll send some guys up to fix that door," he called back. "Good thing we came by; that thing was about to fall in by itself."
The hermit Hyung dropped a pickle into his empty bowl.
Afternoon had ripened sunny and hot, and I had just dished up the evening bowl. Too nice to sit in the barn, on a day given to wash and chores. I decided to take it to-go.
I was walking toward the machine shed with my bowl and spoon when from the long grass exploded a hen grouse, just like in the hunting magazines: wings spread, purple and white bands on her fan, beak open in distress. But this one was accompanied by a dozen tiny fledglings, who took to the air around her like frightened houseflies. They were inexperienced fliers, though, and grouse aren't the slickest bearings in the wheel of life to begin with. At that exact moment, a strong gust piped in from the west, slewing all of the chicks well left of their mother's trajectory. Before I could even put my raised foot down, two of them slammed into the shed's metal side, bam-bam!, in a tasteless parody of shotgun fire. I saw one bounce off the dirt and dive into the weeds, its little wings spread for distance, but its clutchmate remained on its side, kicking convulsively in the sun grown suddenly cruel. I stood over it, providing shadow, and searched anxiously for signs of hope; the birds that crash into my windows at the beach usually come around after a few minutes. But they never lie on their sides and kick, and so I knew it would soon be over. "Quickly," was the only prayer I had left.
The mother had since pancaked her brood in deeper cover and swung around back, but when she cornered the shed and saw me still there, she folded her wings, a good eight feet off the ground, and dropped into the orchard grass like a soft stone.
"I think one of them's OK, " I told her, "but this one's dy..."
I glanced back at the tiny life in front of my sandals.
What a goddam pointless way for a beautiful creature to die. I bent down, stroked its barely-used feathers. It was still warm, a bundle of down in its duckling tabby of egg yolk and brown, the kind of thing you'd instinctively carry to your cheek, if the little heart were still beating.
I drew a long breath, and let it out again.
"I'm sorry," I told the waving grass. "If I'd known you were there, I'd never have come this way." It was true, and moot. A man walks. A bird flies. And both die. Often for no goddam reason whatsoever. And that's the pointless point, the hingeless hinge on the gateless gate.
I returned to the barn, bowl grown cold in my hand. Heartbroken again.