I’ve Been Smoking Potting Soil

I’ll admit it.  I’ve been smoking potting soil.  I didn’t mean to do it.  It just sort of happened.

Okay, here’s how it all went down:  About two weeks ago I was leaving for a trip.  I’ve forgotten now where I was headed but before I left for the airport, I ceremoniously dumped what was left of my package of American Spirit tobacco in the huge pot that holds my “spirit tree,” I did this so that I wouldn’t smoke any more of it and to thereby invoke the help of all things holy to finally, once and for all be done with this nasty habit.  (Recently, after a reasonable period of abstinence, I had a little nicotine relapse and have been dancing with the beast since then.) The spirit tree is a seven-foot ficus in a large stone planter.  During the Winter it sits in our bedroom next to my mediation altar but this summer, She’s moved out to the patio to be pruned and enjoy some of the Summer sun.  From her branches hang a tiny set of chimes, a black dream catcher and miniature Buddhist prayer flags.  Over time I have placed important things at her “feet,” things of spiritual significance.  The base of the tree has been the site of the triceratops fossil that Marcus Ericksen gave me, the tomahawk from my grandfather, a block of quartz crystal from Joan Baez and a feathered “magic wand” from my brother-my-another-mother Scotch Ellis Loring.  Placing the tobacco there (hopefully) transformed it from being a tool for active addiction “sacred medicine” for a ceremonial rite.

Cut to:  Three days ago, overcome with a tidal wave of anxiety about when and in which theatre my play will ever make it to New York, the stress of a new job where I feel like I have the responsibility for the entire next generation, a still-missing cat,  heading a non-profit with very high aspirations on absolutely no money, putting my husband through medical school, tending the house and taking care of the dogs, still-after thirteen years of doing so- going one day at a time without drinking vodka and fielding calls from India placed by people hired by J.P. Morgan Chase to soak money that I don’t have from me and sitting on the board of Iraq Veterans Against the War, I decided I MUST have a cigarette.

I went to the spirit tree with a saucer and began to try to scoop the dried out and scattered tobacco from the soil.  I say “soil” but actually the top layer is mostly my freshly laid “compost” I’d shortly before placed there.  I put “compost” in quotation marks because actually the mixture I’ve been working on for three years isn’t exactly the nutrient-rich plant nourishment I’d hoped for.  All our botanical clippings, kitchen waste and eggshells I’ve been dumping into a large blue plastic garbage can looks more like something one might scoop from the La Brea tar pits.  (My father-in-law calls it “Jeff’s sludge.)

So I took my little dish of freshly harvested mixture, about half dried-up tobacco and half other stuff, up to the balcony, my favorite place to smoke.  With the large pair of surgical tweezers I’d salvaged from when the doctor removed a single errant stitch from Nana Betty’s newly implanted pacemaker, I began to try to separate the “wheat from the shaft.”   For the next twenty minutes I separated what I hoped was the tobacco from the bits of eggshell, left over Miracle Grow, morsels of bird poop, tree bark, Spanish moss and dog hair. Finally I had a small pile of what I allowed myself to believe was the tobacco. At least it was all the same color.  I rolled it into a crumpled up king-size EZ Wider paper I found in the drawer.  My guess is that it’d been there for at least thirteen years.

When with shaking hand I held the mini-Bic lighter to the end of my desperate creation, it produced an effect something like a magician’s flash paper.  But when the flames died down, I found myself… smoking.  Pitifully, but nonetheless smoking.  Already awash with self-loathing and feelings of defeat, I caught sight of myself in the sliding glass door.  And least I ever congratulate myself too much for going a few years not partaking in some of the meaner addictions that nearly took my life, I looked every bit the picture of the junkie.

Careful to “enjoy” every bit of the fruits of my drug-crazed labor, I held the tiny last bit of the rancid thing in the enormous tweezers.  I prayed that the neighbors weren’t watching out the window.  If they were, I hoped they knew it was potting soil I was smoking.  God forbid they should think it was something else.

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