Tuesday, April 4, 2017


When I was a kid, chamomile grew wild on our San Joaquin Valley farm, but I didn’t know it was chamomile, I only knew I liked the way it carpeted the ground, and how it smelled when I crushed the unopened blooms between my fingers and held them up to my nose. We were also the accidental holders of a vast wealth in purslane, a great edible ground cover that Armenians in the area called “parpar,” and that we kids called “easy weeds.” This natural crop was most abundant in the vineyard rows where the soil was heaviest. At a more mature stage, it bloomed and attracted clouds of narrow little flies. We could plow it up with the tractor, and, owing to its succulent nature, it would stay alive in the moist earth for days, weeks, even. Picture these growing in furrows with a new summer crop of tiny toads hopping among them and you have my childhood in miniature. Weeds, toads, buzzards drifting overhead, sparrows, mockingbirds, angry yellow jacket nests, dirt, dust, extreme heat, sweat, a high mountain range to the east with snow-capped peaks — complete enchantment. There was an old retired well in one spot, about an eighth of a mile behind our house. It had a heavy iron cover, and there was a little hole in the cover, just big enough for me to drop a clod in and wait for the sound of a splash somewhere below. I can hear it even now — just as I can feel myself falling through black space between daylight and the bottom of the well. And here beside me, growing cold in my cup? You guessed it. Chamomile.

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