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RAINBOW'S END Part 3 of 4 Parts

By beanerywriters(11,675)

This is the third of a four-part serial weaving the story of a Lenape Indian with Mountain Laurel, a plant that blankets Southwestern Pennsylvania with pale pink blossoms in the early summer. Click here to view a photo of Mountain Laurel blossoms: http://www.flickr.com/photos/beaneryonlineliterarymagazine

NOTE: Mountain-Laurel is hyphenated to indicate it’s biologic classification as a member of the heath rather than the laurel family.

After his family succumbed during the 1742 epidemic, grief and anger made Rushing Waters’ life unbearable. In 1743, seeing no reason to remain at upper Susquehanna, he joined a group journeying west. What did it matter that their trek began during bitter late-winter cold? What did he have to live for? His grief cut so deep he’d become an ineffective medicine man, and spiritual wholeness seemed beyond his grasp.

     On the mid-June day the survivors climbed Laurel Mountain they were greeted by waves of soft pink blooms rolling across the terrain. This spectacular welcome, the long walk, fresh spring breezes and warming sun’s rays reached a corner deep within Rushing Waters spirit. Perhaps he could begin anew here.

     He separated from the others, who continued their journey without him. He could follow the rough path later. Lowering himself onto soft pine needles, he saw a stunning stand of Mountain-Laurel under a nearby canopy of maple leaves. He sipped a small cup of weak tea to sooth his body, sore from the trek. Refreshed, he lit his pipe before symbolically depositing his pain in the thick, un-passable Mountain-Laurel branches and inhaling hope from the slight scent of a myriad of blossoms. Watching the smoke swirl upwards, he saw visions of a future for the first time since the loss of his family.

     As Rushing Waters reached into a bag for a pipe he’d carved out of Mountain Laurel wood, he turned his eyes to the campfire he’d built from the shrub’s kindling. No

embers posed danger of starting a forest fire. Fortunately, recent rains were a further protection.

     As Rushing Waters relaxed, his thoughts began to wander. He recalled the balmy days and cool nights that welcomed him as he descended Laurel Mountain and hiked enthusiastically toward Loyalhanning in the spring of 1743. At the bottom of the mountain he’d joined a small group in temporary shelters.

     Settling in, he explored the region, seeking healing herbs, including Mountain-Laurel leaves. The Lenape herb-gathering ritual obligated him to leave the first plant he found untouched, a difficult task since the plant was so plentiful. After designating one as first, he buried a small amount of tobacco in the earth on its east side. Then he took his favorite pipe, filled it with tobacco and lit it. The ascending smoke carried his intercessory prayers to both the Creator and the spiritual forces governing vegetation. The ritual completed, he gathered the Mountain-Laurel leaves necessary to provide remedies for his people.
     While crushing the leaves into powder, Rushing Waters raised a two-fold prayer to the Creator, seeking blessings for and effectiveness of the herbs. Then he cooked a mixture of the leaf-powder and bear fat in a small crock over an open fire, making a salve that would soothe the sore, inflamed joints of the elderly, whose fingers were often as gnarled as the Mountain-Laurel branches. The salve was also useful for many skin diseases.

     Rushing Waters also used the leaves to prepare an internal remedy that acted as both an astringent in active hemorrhages, diarrhea and flux and a sedative. Remembering his grandmother’s dire warnings about its poison, he used it cautiously. He wanted the medicine to heal, not kill.

     Rushing Waters tipped his cup, lightly sipping its contents. As his pain abated, he laid back, thinking about several European men whose spirit, like his, was moved by Mountain-Laurel. In 1749 he’d met Peter Kalm, from a country named Sweden across the big waters. Peter favored the plant above all others he collected to send back to his homeland. Rushing Waters wouldn’t know that Peter’s teacher, famed botanist Carolus Linnaeus, would name the plant Kalmia latifolia in Peter’s honor.

     Rushing Waters chuckled softly as he recalled why Peter nicknamed Mountain-Laurel “lambkill.” Some of his sheep came close to death after foraging on the shrub. If only Peter had consulted with the Native Americans he’d have known not to allow his animals to graze on this plant’s leaves! 

     Kalm told Rushing Waters about another European, Mark Catesby, who wrote about Mountain-Laurel in a General History of Virginia in 1624.

     During the 1750 blooming of Mountain-Laurel, Rushing Waters met Christopher Gist, the first white man to arrive in the Latrobe area. He was passing through Loyalhanning while surveying land for George Washington. Sadly, they were preparing for a European move westward to settle lands beyond the Alleghenies, a plan which Rushing Waters suspected meant yet another uprooting for his people. Despite their differences, he and Christopher and could unite in their awe over the spectacular Mountain-Laurel blooms.

Part 4 of RAINBOW’S END will be posted on Monday evening. Meanwhile, to read about kudzu A KUDZU COVERED VEHICLE GRAVEYARD , the unicorn THE UNICORN: MYTH OR REALITY?  and a blue butterfly, STAR GAZER LILIES and a BLUE BUTTERFLY. Just click on the titles.

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Posted to ProBlogs.com on Monday, January 01, 2007
View other posts by beanerywriters

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