Today I am out on the edge of a rocky slope that overlooks a huge blue lake below and is covered in silvery
sagebrush, aspen trees whose heart-shaped leaves quake to expose their silver-sunned undersides, and various wildflowers (Arrowleaf Balsamroot, Yarrow, Lupine, and Rocky Mountain Phlox). I am on a quest to find juniper berries to make juniper berry tea after reading about its use by natives and pioneers. The surface of the lake shimmers with texture from the wind and reflective shapes of sunlight. I love watching texture on water – weather and animals leave prints on the surface of the water. I watch the lines in a boat’s wake widen and move slowly toward the opposite shores, spreading further and further apart, like the pages of a book opening. Turkey vultures navigate the wind, their huge wings circling above. It’s quite disarming to have such large birds gliding so intently over me. I feel as if they are peering directly into me, better than any palm reader, and I want to ask, “How long will I live, then?” But I keep to my berries and they keep their piercing eyes searching, waiting, aloft.
It is in such a wild and idyllic place that I find a common juniper shrub growing between colorful lichen-covered boulders. In late July, the berries have soaked in quite a lot of sun and they easily fall off the needles into my cupped palms. It’s amazing how nature tells us when it’s ready to let go. Earlier in the year, these berries were greenish, hanging on tightly, resisting touch, let alone detachment. But now, naturally aged and drying, my fingers barely alight on their surface and they gently let go – their needles, too, drying. Once one’s eyes spot something small – be it a colorful maple leaf in fall, a tiny aspen leaf, or a juniper berry – one sees it everywhere for a while. Yet after I’d picked a pocketful of berries, the sunlight and wind seemed to slip away and hide their existence – suddenly it was just a small dark-green cypress tree with patches of brown dried needles. This made the whole experience all the more magical.
Upon returning home, I put a handful of berries in a tea ball and steep them for 3-5 minutes. The actual tea, the cloudy liquid, might have tasted rather bland, were it not for all the sunshine, wildflowers, lake prints, wind, and stories within it all that I also taste.
Once I asked a poet if poetry needed to be read aloud. He answered that the poetry lover, like the wine lover, wants to experience it through all senses – so, yes. Whenever I partake in something directly from the place I’m experiencing, it feels akin to reading aloud. I felt this way eating grapes from an old man’s vineyard on a hike in the hills of Italy, and I feel this way about juniper tea from this wild windy slope.