Thursday, June 14, 2012
Buckhorn and Bullets
Early this morning, walking the dogs before it got too hot--temps climbing into the 90s here--I had a Douglas Spaulding moment. Truly.
Let me explain this convoluted, rambling three-part story. It won't be brief--there's no point in telling a story without all the details.
The photo above is Buckhorn--at least that's what it's called out West where I live. It's considered an invasive weed to be poisoned, wrenched from the ground, stomped out of existence if found anywhere in your garden, yard or lawn. Though it's universally killed with wild abandon, it has remarkable properties, that used in herbal medicine, can significantly help ease the worst of lung and bronchial problems.
Weeds are a perfect example of man's inability to live within the environment. Who decides something is not worthy and must be eradicated? Dandelions, for example, have been a medicinal herb for centuries, then someone calls it a weed, and the plants must be destroyed.
When I was a kid, the Buckhorn plant was a weapon. Our name for it was, in fact, Bullet Weed. You plucked a nice, long stem, then like the first wrap of tying a shoelace, you covered the top half of the stem with the bottom half, pinching it together with two fingers on one hand. Quickly sliding the wrapped piece toward the flower head with the other hand, you could take aim and fire the "bullet." It took practice, and each kid had his/her own technique for shooting, knowing exactly how thick or thin that stem had to be for maximum velocity. We would set up targets, have contests, then when that got boring, we'd shoot each other.
Back to walking the boys this morning. Being out early, it was still cool with a nice breeze, so we did the longer walk: around the golf course, along the river, and around the baseball complex.
There's a minor league team here, so the main diamond (there are two others) is true ball park size, and it takes a bit of time to circle the fence. Getting to this point is about halfway in the whole walk, and as we're coming around the front, I see this little family laying in the grass opposite the entrance. There's a large green area, trees; it's a very nice place to spread out a blanket and chill. A woman with a young child, toys and a book is lounging on the blanket next to the napping toddler, while a boy about 7 or 8 is wandering around the trees, switching a stick, looking bored.
I register the scene, though my mind is elsewhere, the boys sniffing every leaf, twig and rock as dogs are wont to do. When they both stop at one point to bury their heads in a clump of greenery, I notice this plant growing against the fence. I bend down to look, and yes, it's Bullet Weed! Smiling, I pick the perfect stalk, fold the bottom end over the top, and using my tried and true technique, perfected during long, lazy Summer days, I snap that flower head clear over the fence. Then I laugh. Out loud. It was a brilliant shot.
As I reach for another stem, I realize the boy has edged near me. He's hesitant, and turns to look at his mother, but he's so curious about what I've just done, that he's willing to risk coming close to a stranger. Pulling a stem, I casually murmur, "Have you ever done this?" And I fire off another bullet.
His eyes widen, he shakes his head.
I glance at his mother. She's watching, but not concerned. "Only really special people can do this," I say. "It takes lots of skill." I hand him a stem and carefully show him how to wrap and fire. Mine sails over the fence, his stem breaks.
It took us a few tries, but when his first bullet flew through the air, the look on his face was priceless. His eyes were sparkling with delight, his smile joyous. Grabbing a long stalk, he ran to his mother, shouting for her to watch him shoot Bullet Weed.
I could see where he got his smile; when his bullet arced over her head into the trees, she clapped at his achievement, their smiles identical. As I began to walk away, my own smile beaming, I heard her ask the boy if he had thanked me. Breathless, he ran towards me. "Thank you!" he said, grinning.
"You're most welcome," I answered. "Keep practising, and you'll be a pro in no time."
As the dogs and I rounded the corner of the ball park, I looked back. The boy was bent over the plant, carefully selecting the right stem, already learning not just any stem will do.
I smiled all the way back to the car. It was a Douglas Spaulding moment, for sure. Something I learned as a kid, passed along to another, both of us alive in the happy simplicity of the moment.
In today's world, I would be willing to bet there aren't many eight-year-old kids who know how to shoot Bullet Weed. Or even care to know. I feel very fortunate that I met one of the few this morning.