I’d rather feel the earth beneath my feet. Yes I would. If I only could, I surely would.

April 25th 2018

The veil of winter has finally lifted after its power struggle with spring forced a long endurance of raw cold, strong winds, rain, snow, and ice. Although the cacao plants (Theobroma cacao) in the greenhouse didn’t make it, hope springs eternal as the winter shabby Rosemary has come back to life with new flowers blooming – albeit after losing over 60% of growth from last fall. Rosemary is a hard one to keep alive during our Maryland winters.

Jim is gone but seems to be everywhere in the garden. As I walk around, I hear his stories and teachings. He loved his rosemary. We spread Jim’s ashes a couple weeks ago in the garden just after what would have been his 89th birthday. We spread them under the rosemary, in the ayahuasca shamanic plot, by the ginseng, and wherever folks were moved to go.

here’s what I had to say:

I have far too many stories of jim… and I’ve told this story far too many times of realizing a well-known botanist lived not far from my home. I learned of Jim back in my early 30’s after receiving a copy of a letter that he wrote to Seeds of Change in Arizona. I hesitantly called the phone number printed on his Herbal Vineyard Stationery and immediately reached Jim. He gave me his address on Murphy Road and told me to look for the driveway by the pine trees.  For over two years, I shyly drove past this driveway before I had the nerve to turn in… which I finally did… only after I saw an open gallery sign as my chance not to feel too intrusive. Although the sign was for Peggy’s art gallery, she was not home, and I found Jim back working in his basement office. He kindly got up, left his desk, and with his genteel nature walked me around the square garden (which preceded the Green Farmacy Garden), offered me some mints and nettles, and then took me on a stroll into the woods. Afterward, in the basement where John’s office is now, he played a beautiful instrumental rendition of El Condor Pasa, “The Condor Happens” a Peruvian piece written for a musical in 1913. In the early 70’s, an English version El Condor Pasa (If I could) was made famous by Simon and Garfunkle. Jim encouraged me to go to Peru that day. As a young mother, I knew I would go, but I also knew it wouldn’t be for a long while. I finally went to Peru in 2003 with Jim and Holly, and while there, I heard many, many renditions of El Condor Pasa.

While walking through the garden this late winter February reflecting on Jim and how much he hated winter, I was looking at the stubble dishevelment of plants and listening to the red-shouldered hawks squabble. I always think of Jim and Peggy when I hear the hawks squabble… but I also started thinking of that day I met Jim just barely less than 30 years ago. Although he played me an instrumental version of El Condor Pasa, The Simon and Gardunkle version and lyrics came to mind. Jim didn’t remind me of a sparrow, or a hammer, but I could imagine how he’d rather be a forest than a street…

And I certainly knew the last line pertained to Jim… I’d rather feel the earth beneath my feet, Yes I would. If I only could, I surely would.

Yes, Jim would rather feel the earth beneath his feet, yes, he would. This barefoot doctor was firmly grounded – he was rooted, focused, and fixated on plants and music.

I spent a lot of time in this garden with Jim. He had his favorite topics and plants. The yin/yang valley and the yin yang huo or the horny goat weed; the faba bean l-dopa and priapism; the evening primrose and alpha linolenic acid; sweet annie, artemisinin and malaria; his stinking rose garlic necklace, the spirit of the wintergreen; St. Johnswort and the FDA; dying his hippy beard yellow, nettles and the five or was it six neurotransmitters…acetylcholine, choline, histamine, leukotriene, and serotonin, and formic acid and occasionally he would say secretin, and I would wonder, “is that a neurotransmitter?”; he sang about how ginseng makes an older woman younger a younger woman hunger, an older man cocksure and an younger man endure; he talked about alcoholic hamsters and kudzu, and he taught about mayapple lemonade and genital warts.

At the beginning of his tours, he also talked about a less known plant Angelica dahurica, “Bai Zhi” – this plant was in his garden to represent Don Quai or Angelica sinensis. He liked to tell students that the plant is in the Apiaceae or Carrot family along with edibles and spices – parsnip, dill, anise, parsley, fennel but also in the same family as poison and water hemlock.

He taught that Angelica dahurica is a biennial as he dug up young roots to show how thick and fleshy they were (show roots). During its first year, the roots are edible and gathered energy from the sun and nutrients from the earth. He taught that the next year it bolted up 4 – 5 feet, put out thickly sheathed large parsley-like leaves, bore numerous flower inflorescences that attracted pollinators and how the flowers’s ovaries ripened to become seeds. Once the plants bolted he would tug at it gently and show how it easily came out from the earth (show dried stalk)…because at this point when the seeds were ripe that the roots, which had once been anchors, were basically non-existent. The next generation had been cast to the wind, seeded, and the adult plant no longer was necessary.

I began to think of how Jim represented Angelica dahurica during the time I knew him -with the earth beneath his feet acting like roots gathering, compiling, working, teaching, so he could…yes he would… spread his wisdom, knowledge and spirit to so many and most importantly – to the next generation. At some point in the last decade, the neuropathy set in and he longer could feel the earth beneath his feet. It took some time for Jim’s anchor to let go, but he did so under his own will. He let go knowing that his seeds, his teachings, would be carried on, and so he sailed away like a swan that’s here and gone.

All of us at the garden and his family will continue to maintain and realize his wish to do whatever is necessary to keep the garden a sanctuary to come, visit and learn – especially in bare feet. Yes we can, and we surely will.

IMG_4276 angelica dahurica rootsIMG_0993IMG_4278IMG_4282 angelica dahurica seeds and plant


This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

6 Responses to I’d rather feel the earth beneath my feet. Yes I would. If I only could, I surely would.

  1. Kathy Schlosser says:


  2. Kathy Gaita says:

    Thank-you for sharing your beautiful appreciation of Dr. Duke’s precious love of the nourishing/healing plant world. He inspired my path. With sweet gratitude, kathy

  3. Geo Giordano says:

    Beautiful writing, Helen…. I love hearing your stories of Jim and Peggy. You were such a blessing to them, as I know they were for you.

    I would very much like to schedule a class field trip this summer for the JHU students of plant medicine. Would The first Wed in August be a good time for you? It could be in the am around 10:30 arrival, or at 2:30 arrival in the afternoon.

    Green Blessings, Geo

  4. Christina (Nina) Raymond says:

    Helen..thank you for keeping us in touch with Jim’s essence with your beautiful and creative memoirs.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s