|C. F. "Catfish" Gray, Man of the Woods. by Will Endres. Courtesy Smithsonian American Art Museum.|
West Virginia has always been, to my mind, a place of mystery, folklore & strange knowledge tucked away in unfamiliar, dark hills. I had a friend in college who was raised somewhere in that mysterious place -- wandering in its deep woods, knowing its secrets. She used to tell me about hunting for ginseng (American ginseng, Panax quinquefolius), only she called it jin-SANG. It was the motherlode & her eyes would light up all crazy-like as she talked about it. They harvested it in the fall, during a narrow window of time, as I recall. I think she also said maybe only her brother was allowed to go, or maybe it was boys-only, but she went anyway because she was a wild thing. It was not just the ginseng hunt though, every time she spoke of her childhood in West Virginia, she started turn feral right before your eyes. I was so jealous.
In my search for a focal image for West Virginia, I found an article on a man named "Catfish" Gray (Clarence Frederick). He was an herbalist and folk doctor in West Virginia whose prodigious knowledge of plant lore, herbal medicine & his native flora made him known around the world. People sought him not only for herbal cures, but also for advice on healthy living, spiritual matters & even astrology. He lived to be 85, working out of a one-room building near his home, gathering wild herbs, drying, sorting & creating his medicinal blends that would treat people near & far. His warm, kind demeanor earned him great respect & something of a public following. Given the way in which I understand West Virginia, I could find no better face for this singular place than the face of Catfish Gray.
I awakened yesterday from dreams of magick, but this time I was accompanied not by fungi, but by my beloved slime molds -- curiously, only pink & yellow slimes. The verdict is still out on what the colours might mean. I am not sure how they work into this process, how they can help clean & transmute the rainstorm of negativity, but they made their presence quite clear.
Strange... but wise. Strange but wise, just like West Virginia & the inhabitants of its shadowy forests. I may not understand, but I will trust in them to know.