Autumnal Tears & The Glad Dance
by Jesse Wolf Hardin
Fall is without doubt my favorite season in this wild river canyon, with its heady intoxicating mix of brilliant colors, the smells of carnally craving late season bloomings, the sparkling liquid tumult that sounds somehow crisper than it did just a few months ago in the long days of Summer. And the light – oh the light! – with yellow shifting to deep and darker golds, the greens dense and forthright or transitioning into browns and bloody reds at the precipice of first freeze, the purples of the river cliffs glowing at dusk like 3D black-light posters. And the blues unbearably blue, as blue as the music of the sweatiest jukes of the South, as blue as the tears in your most bittersweet of dreams.
Fall is when they talk about an opening between the worlds, a passageway between past and future,between life and death and then life again. It is most obviously the mystical season, in a world that offers abundant examples of mystery and awesomeness in every month of the year. It is when thing are most determinedly enlivened, the senses hungering and then inundated, creation and procreation in high gear out of an ancient response to the inevitability of balancing limits and inactivity, deterioration and deconstruction.
The wildest flowering directly precedes the dagger cold of fatal Winter. Autumn is the bucket list season, the season when annual grasses froth with an abundance of seed to help ensure their kind’s survival, when horned and horny animals bugle and trumpet and roar in the urge to deposit seed themselves. In sight of impending struggle or demise, some species will rush to prepare to survive the months ahead, while others dance and fiddle in a final glad party.
Anyone who is truly awake and present cannot look into the face of nature, without confronting a reflection of their self. I thus see my own hurried attempts to accomplish my goals in the high speed gathering of nuts by squirrels sensing the immanence of bare branches and frigid winds, and in the bears’ stuffing of themselves before hibernation I recognize myself reaching out for and pulling into myself all the knowledge and beauty and meaning and patterning of life into me before whatever spate of rest ever awaits me.
It is the season when I feel the absence of those I have cared about and the loss of children I loved, with a sensation like I imagine an Alder might experience when an unavoidable wind tugs at their leaves and then one by one rips them from its limbs. And it is the season of sensing my Alder-laced roots, toes spread beneath the ground I have long pledged to, served, loved, guarded, and celebrated, the season of fervent readying for what can always be counted on to be an unstoppable Spring.
Unable to look at things from a single perspective, in polar terms of abundance or longing, I find it is my season to cry, but also to laugh. To accept there are limits to everything including giving, helping, and healing… while reveling in every caring effort, and celebrating every act of good. That nature is being killed by the instruments and fact of the very civilization we are a part of, but that nature will outlive and re-form after even the worst of what a scared and distracted human kind might do to it. That love is forever, but that things change, kids age, those we care about move on or succumb. I do not pretend there are no hard times coming, no unpaid bills or frost covered outhouse seats, and I do not pretend enlightenment always prevails over an ignorant darkness or that life in its uncountable forms does not each reach a conclusion that is death. Therefore I gather and store food ahead of Winter’s relative scarcity, store solar power for illumination in what will soon be shorter days and longer nights. And in keeping my balance, I find I also must notice all that is precious or caring or mysterious or lovely or true, must look to that which lasts, and must celebrate that which is temporal and passing or transforming and perhaps in time becoming unrecognizable. After all, I can see the dawn through the thickest blackness before first light makes its announcement. I won’t be sparing the earth my love’s Autumnal tears. Nor should we wait until some final party, to saw a happy fiddle, or to dance our thankful dance.
So get to dancin’!
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How to Make Pear Sauce & Pear Crêpes!
An Autumn Kitchen Play, with Elka
In which the stage for ultimate enjoyment is set…
A Reverie of Rain, Flowers and Fruits
This day is just so beautiful!
It seemed that the monsoons had just about quit. The summer flowers were starting to fade and disappear, although the snakeweed is still at its peak, glowing golden orbs lining every trail. From up at the Roost each morning, big splashes of white still decorate the edges of the riverbanks– the daturas that open to perfume every evening’s dusk — and then wither under the noontime sun. I’m treasuring every last sunrise that I get to admire them, from afar, and up close as well. Soon the four o’clock flowers won’t be gracing the outdoor kitchen with their showy outbursts of purple. Every evening that a few less of them burst open is a little closer to Autumn’s official hold on the canyon.
But today, this rain helped everything hang on just a little bit longer. All last night, and all day, we’re soothed by the music of water, water, and more water! Rain magic! The brown mosses on the rocks turn bright green overnight, every one of our empty buckets and barrels becomes full, the wilty looking dock and borage suddenly becomes perky, the air smells like heaven.
Rain patters on the roof top of the outdoor kitchen as I check on the pears in the oven and the progress of the tamales on top of the stove. Oh the joy of the smells of corn and acorn mingling with the blast of pure pear as I open the oven to poke at them, holding the hot pan happily, bare-handed, with fingers cold from transferring water. Not quite wrinkly enough yet. But the water on top of the stove is hot enough for another pot of tea, after another round of washing dishes, and then, one or two of these delightful pear crêpes! I hope you’ll enjoy reading about them, and try making them, too, and celebrating your own harvesttime!
In which the ultimate pears are procured, and the merits of crêpes discussed.
Hello, Lovely Pears! Hello, Crêpes!
I was doing laundry last week just over the border in Arizona when I spotted a crate of obviously tree-ripened pears at a corner store. I inquired about them, and ended up buying several crates. The last pears I was able to get from anywhere remotely close to us were from all the way up in Taos, and it was a much smaller amount, so this was a very wonderful surprise!
These beautifully imperfect pears have been sweetening our days with so much joy! Rhiannon and I have been making huge potfuls of pear sauce and canning it, baking pears in the woodstove until they’re wrinkly with no embellishment at all, drying pears on the kitchen’s hot tin roof, and making pear dumplings, which is probably my favorite form of pear pie. But every bit as delicious are the pear crêpes we’ve been making almost every day this week!
I love to make and eat crêpes in just about any form. Crêpes are, in my mind, one of the un-sung heroes of the food world. They’ve saved me from eating badly when I was nearly broke in Paris, they’ve provided the perfect impromptu dessert for guests countless times when I was too busy to bake something. They are elegant and simple, an easy way to pamper family members or entertain guests that enjoy watching the production of a meal, and don’t mind everyone eating in stages. Or, perhaps even better, the ultimate way to treat yourself, whether you’re alone in the kitchen on a sunny afternoon or a rainy night. The way I like to make them is delicate yet slightly chewy in texture, buttery, thin and only crispy in lovely brown spots.
Chocolate crêpes, berry crêpes, and savory crêpes stuffed with sauerkraut, cheese, apples and sausage are all popular treats in our kitchen any time of the year, though we do tend to eat the berry ones more in summer. I also love plain crêpes doused with fresh lemon juice and sprinkled with sugar, or spread with butter, brown sugar, and cinnamon. And if you’ve never tried any of these I suggest you do!
But now that it’s Autumn, Pear Crêpes are most often on our minds and plates. They are also wonderful made with homemade applesauce or apple butter, but if you have the chance, and you are a pear lover, do try them with my Vanilla Pear Sauce! If you have a food mill it’s especially easy to make a pot, little or big. If you don’t, it just takes a bit more time to peel and core the pears. These kinds of jobs tend to make any small people you might have around (or small people at heart!) feel very happy. And what a great way to celebrate the gifts of the season, to fill the kitchen with the sweet scent of pears!
In which recipes are given, and delicious things are finally made!
These just might be the best crêpes you’ll ever eat! I used to whip just one egg into this batter, but I recently discovered that I like the result even better with two. Plus the batter runs all over the pan when you tilt it more easily, which is nice! If I’m serving more than a few people, I’ll double or triple the recipe and cook them in two pans at once.
For amazing results, the batter needs to be thin enough to spread across the pan easily. Also, the level of heat in the pan is very important. In my experience, if the crepe takes longer than 12 seconds to cook each side, the pan is too low, if it takes less than 6-7 seconds, it’s too high. The consistency of the batter, the heat of the pan and enough butter are the three details that can really make a big difference in the achievement of crêpe perfection. But don’t worry, everything you make whilst learning the particulars will still be delicious! A cast iron pan is really helpful, too.
The crêpes can be served to your awaiting eaters as soon as each one is done, or piled up and kept warm, as you prefer. I try to eat any I make for myself immediately, but other family members aren’t as fussy as me about this.
Makes about 5 crêpes, 9” in diameter
1/2 cup flour
1/3 cup half and half or whole milk
enough water to make the batter quite runny- usually about 1-2 tablespoons
scant 1/4 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon brown sugar
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Butter for frying the crêpes
Cream cheese or chêvre (optional)
Pear sauce (or applesauce, or apple butter, preferably homemade)
Pure maple syrup
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk all the ingredients for the batter together.
Heat a 10-11” skillet or tortilla pan to medium heat. Melt a heaping teaspoon of butter in the pan, spread it over the entire pan with a spatula, and then pour in a scant 1/4 cup of batter. Pick up the pan (with something to protect your hand) and tilt it so the batter covers the surface of the pan. As soon as the crêpe looks firm enough, flip it. After flipping, spread a tablespoon or two of pear sauce over the center of the crêpe, along with three dabs of cream cheese or chêvre. As soon as the second side has cooked, fold the crêpe in half and place it on a warm plate with a warmed metal lid over it. Repeat until all the batter is used up, spreading another teaspoon of butter in the pan each time before you add more batter.
After they’re all cooked and piping hot, I like to serve them with butter, a spoonful of pear sauce and pure maple syrup swirled together right on top of each crepe.
Gluten Free Pear Crêpes/ Bliny
We make these often for Rhiannon and Kiva, who try to keep a blind eye to the constant supply of wheaty things in the kitchen. Kiva prefers calling them bliny. During Russian Butter Week, Maslenitsa, in the Spring, instead of the pears and maple syrup we eat them with caviar and sour cream and toast tiny glasses of icy Russian vodka.
Be sure to read the details about batter consistency and pan heat in the paragraph above the previous recipe.
Makes about 8 or 9 crêpes/ bliny, 9” in diameter
1/3 cup oat bran
1/3 cup oat flour
1/2 cup almond milk
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons vanilla extract
2 teaspoons brown sugar
2 tablespoons water if needed
In a medium mixing bowl, whisk the oat bran into the almond milk. Let it sit for ten minutes, as the oat bran will swell and absorb more of the liquid in this time. Then add the rest of the ingredients for the batter and whisk them together, adding only enough water, if needed, to make a runny batter.
Then, proceed exactly as in the above recipe, with one exception. The gluten free bliny take at least twice as long to cook as the wheat ones. Don’t flip them until they’re ready or they will be hard to keep intact.
How to Make Pear Sauce
Here’s two Pear Sauce methods for you to try, one with a food mill and one without.
Vanilla Pear Sauce or Jam #1 (Without a food mill)
About 2 pounds pears (about 5 cups after peeling, coring, and chopping)
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2-3 teaspoons vanilla extract, and/or one vanilla bean, scraped
sugar to taste (optional)
dash of salt
2-3 tablespoons pectin (optional)
Peel and core the pears. Cut into chunks and put into a pot. Mash with a potato masher, and bring to a simmer. Mash again. Simmer the sauce until most of the thin liquid in the pot is gone.
Add the lemon juice, vanilla bean scrapings if using, and salt. I like to break up the scraped vanilla bean and put that in as well, but that’s up to you. Taste the sauce, and see if you want a little sugar, or not. If the pears are really ripe, the sauce will be pretty sweet, so it depends on if you want it to be pear jam, keep it like the consistency of applesauce, or something in between. If you’re going for the jam effect, add the pectin and up to 2 cups of sugar and let it simmer another 15-20 minutes after adding. The more sugar you use, the more jam-like it will be, but the pear flavor will not be as strong. It’s fun to make different batches and experiment to find your favorite!
Then, take off the heat and stir in the vanilla extract. Can the sauce or eat it all in the next week or so!
Vanilla Pear Sauce #2 (With a food mill)
About 2 pounds pears
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
2-3 teaspoons vanilla extract, and/or one vanilla bean, scraped
sugar to taste (optional)
dash of salt
2-3 tablespoons pectin (optional)
Remove the stems of the pears, and wash them. Cut them into large chunks (no peeling or coring necessary) and put them into a pot. Mash with a potato masher, and bring to a simmer. Mash again. Simmer until most of the thin liquid in the pot is gone.
Transfer the contents of your pot into a bowl, and set a food mill over your pot. Use a small bowl to fill the food mill with the mashed, cooked pears. Use the handle to grind the sauce through the mill, and continue grinding until all that’s left in the mill is the skins, the cores, and the seeds. Do a backwards turn of the handle to loosen the skins, cores, and seeds out from the bottom of the mill. Empty the mill and fill it again, and grind up the pears until they’re all pureed.
Put the pot back on the stove and bring to a simmer again if you’re planning to can it, and/or make it into pear jam with pectin and sugar. Then, follow the same directions as above after the pears are pureed, starting with “Add the lemon juice..”
Using Baked Pears for Crêpes
Another option, if you’d rather, is to simply bake a bunch of peeled, cored pears drizzled or dotted with a little butter. Or bake them whole until a bit wrinkled and then peel and core them. From here, mash or chop them and use this baked pear deliciousness instead of the Vanilla Pear Sauce.
The Value of Cognitive Diversity, NeuroDiversity, & a Diversity of Approaches
by Jesse Wolf Hardin
Violent attacks by anti-gay and political extremists are indicative of the fear of social diversity, just as fear of neurodiversity and differences in perspective/response manifests as intolerance for anything but the accepted “normal.”
The following defense and celebration of diversity is an advance excerpt from a new Plant Healer Magazine article, by Wolf Hardin… feel free to share it with others and thereby advance this important discussion in these troubling times.
Diverse |diˈvərs, dī-| adjective
1. very different; demonstrating a great deal of variety
Origin: From the Latin ‘divursus’: meaning to ‘turn in individual ways’
We might find differences interesting and the exceptional may excite us, but it is sameness and normalcy that are most often sought. When entering a crowded party, we may gravitate to those most like us. Parents are known to brag about how their child is “just your average, typical kid,” apparently relieved if they grow up neither smarter nor less intelligent than those around them, fitting in by looking at and acting within this ol’ world in the same ways that the majority do. In fact, when most parents are handed their newborn child in the hospital, the first thing they do is to count the number of her fingers and toes, giddily announcing that everything’s alright: “She’s normal!” Never mind that a sixth digit could prove immensely useful, or that it is the child’s unique personality, particular differences and peculiarities that will make her most precious and memorable.
Diversity – a multiplicity of differences – is typically shunned in the larger society. It is not just perceived racial and gender diversity that’s often found threatening, nor the diversity of political beliefs and contending religions, but also the biodiversity that impedes or contends with the monocultures of agribusiness, the old or innovative architectural diversity that detracts from a city’s chosen modern theme, the diversity of thought that can make the job of controlling human behavior more difficult for the managerial systems of the elite minority. Variety – generally superficial variations of the same accepted things – is both acceptable and profitable. Diversity, on the other hand, is by its very nature complex, unpredictable, and to some degree resurgent and unmanageable.
My teaching, publishing and organizing work happens not in society writ large, but within a special herbal community that is characteristically nontypical, and that with few exceptions vocally supports ethnic, biological, and some other forms of diversity. And yet, even here, there is often a reluctance to value differences in opinions and perspectives… and there’s a percentage of herbalists who hold that divergence – including neurological diversity – is a malady needing to be addressed or cured. If none of us shared a common neurology, and the ways of seeing and interpreting the world which follows, it would be hard to imagine us coalescing and functioning smoothly as families, clans, neighborhoods or nations… and yet it is differences in perception as well as form and function that open new doors for personal, cultural and biological evolution. And the health of earth and life, as well as of our own personal life experience, is contingent on the interrelationships between wildly diverse things, beings, and ways.
Let’s take a diverse look, if you will, at how these themes influence, impact, impede or propel.
Tradition & Diversity
Tradition – the best as well as worst of traditions – depend on our doing some things in a closely similar way to our peers, elders and ancestors. A diversity of ways can feel threatening as well as confusing. Throughout history, we have understandably valued sameness for its familiarity and the relative security it provides. Change has often been tragic, and differences often proven dangerous. People who looked, dressed, and acted like us, were more likely to be related and less likely to be invaders from another place. Eating the same culturally prescribed meals prepared in the same ways, might logically reduce the chances of being poisoned by unfamiliar toxic species or improperly handled foods. H
Traditions require a degree of uniformity and continuity to retain their usefulness, meaning, distinctive character and flavor. At the same time, they cannot further develop, deepen, improve, or repurpose without a separate or even counter current within them that challenges and tests their assumptions, advances new perspectives and possibilities, and suggests divergent ways and forms of manifesting. Diversity is the milieu for cross pollination and exponential variation, increasing ideas and options, mixing new colors from out of the enlarged palette, and enriching and informing any participants.
The ideas and principles that we treasure most, often sounded bizarre, absurd, or heretical when first uttered by impassioned outliers and oddballs. They were often dismissed at first, if not outright condemned. People who look and sound nothing like the norm have often inspired or instigated revolutions in thinking, in science, in culture and our social relations.
Certain societies and traditions have found healthy ways of incorporating and utilizing the “medicine” of divergence, valuing those individuals that are different, the holy fools who act as a counterforce to the pretentiousness of religious leaders and arrogance of rulers. Those beset with visions might in some cases be assigned the role of shaman or soothsayer. They who seem to exist in their own separate reality, could be tapped for ways of seeing outside the self-limiting box of “knowns.” While homosexuality was punishable among some Native American nations, there were also examples of incorporation such as the accepted transgendered “Contraries” of the Plains tribes, riding into camp backwards, speaking in virtual koans that disrupted normal perception. In historic Europe, being just a little different could get you ostracized, whereas being extremely, flamboyantly different could result in appointment as a jester, an emissary, or an advisor. These days, it’s not uncommon for teams of product designers and software developers to include one “free thinker,” tasked to add novel perspectives and make wildly unexpected suggestions to a working group otherwise made up of the practically conventional and cautious. A health community is marked by a diversity of characters, philosophies, approaches, traditions, constitutional models, skills, treatments, and plant medicines… and the overall field benefits by any political, lifestyle, ethnic and gender diversity that we’re able to encourage and facilitate.
NeuroDiversity & Autism
What is called “Autism,” like any other condition, exists as a spectrum of characteristics with a wide range of degrees. At one end of this spectrum, these characteristics can be so extreme as to make functioning in “normal” society nearly impossible without assistance, with every sight and sound seeming to assault the person’s senses, and all human expressions and gestures menacingly indecipherable. At the other end, someone with Asperger’s may not only have learned to adapt and function, but also to conceal their condition from casual observers.
The way that an autistic person might perceive and communicate is not objectively wrong, it is simply different… and one question, as always, should be “what is the message, lesson or benefit to evident differences?” Having a partner on the spectrum, I have witnessed the ways she is handicapped, but have also been witness and beneficiary of ways in which she is blessed and equipped. Because she thinks visually, my art and writing is perpetually fed new and improbable imagery, her proclivity for patterns brings new factors to light, her absence of filters means she expresses herself literally, and her inability to strategize means I can trust the in-the-moment sincerity of any purrings or outbursts. Not automatically knowing what “normal” people would do or say in a given situation, means she provides fresh if not always gentle input and response. She is a constant compulsive creator, and her obsessions have resulted in the development of helpful new herbal uses, the Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference and Plant Healer Magazine. Her built-in intolerance for the clamorous and the pressing, the hurtful and the illogical, for great mistakes and common untruths, is – regardless of its neurological or psychological causes – both helpful, and commendable.
Looking to that percentage of autistic people who struggle to interact in society without anxiety and panic, it is natural for an herbalist or other health care specialist to want to address the distress and ease the unease. It becomes even harder not to label autism a disease, when the internet is full of organizations devoted to “stamping it out,” and scary stories attributing its cause to vaccinations, or a government conspiracy against the lower classes. In balance, we might look to contemporary literature and research linking Autism Spectrum “disorder” in some cases to creative genius, discovery and innovation.
Evolution is adaptation under stress, a process of bold experimentation with many forgettable dead ends and some truly significant new avenues of being and becoming. Social and cultural evolution has almost always been seeded, fomented and furthered by an odd and impassioned few, not by the norm nor the masses. Intellectual and societal breakthroughs have been spearheaded by rather abnormal thinkers and doers, crazed generals and mad scientists, mystics and marvels… and some of these exhibited what have been identified as autistic traits: Issac Newton challenged the religious and scientific establishment. America’s revolt against the English monarchy and the principles of its Bill of Rights owe much to the very Aspergy Thomas Jefferson. Alternating current (AC electricity) resulted from the unusual mind of the inventor Nicola Tesla, the very untypical Herman Hesse gave us ground breaking spiritual/philosophic books like Steppenwolf and Magister Ludi. George Orwell proved with his book 1984 that, contrary to popular citation, he could see that “the emperor wore no clothes.” Albert Einstein postulated theories of space and time that radically changed how we look at the physics of the universe. It took someone like Joy Adamson to personalize lions for the public in her book and then movie Born Free, and more normal people seem less likely to raise the priorities of animal conservation up to the level of those regarding human welfare. Pop music benefitted from the introspection of Nico, John Hartford, Ladyhawke and Mozart. Bisexual novelist Patricia Highsmith allegedly felt more comfortable with animals than most humans, and took lesbian lit to places it had never gone before. Alfred Kinsey wrote about human sexuality in radical new ways. There would one less Wonderland in our collective consciousness without the bizarre imagination of socially-handicapped Lewis Carroll, and Pink Floyd would have been a much more ordinary rock band without the psychedelic ministrations of Syd Barrett’s Autistic brain.*
To the degree that we accept the value of ethnic and other forms of diversity, we must reasonably also accept the value of NeuroDiversity, the diversity of alternate mental, emotional, and perceptual states. Clearly, when herbalists and others work with clients with autistic spectrum or other supposed psychological or neurological “disorders” attention should be given not to cause movement towards some baseline or version of normality, but towards maximizing their positive experience, and assisting their healthful manifestations of their particular differences and individual gifts.
Cognitive Diversity & a Weirder Norm
However science eventually categorizes, describes or measures autism, and whether it is mapped chemically or electrically, it will likely always be helpful to explain it through the use of visual models and metaphors, such as referring to a persons cognitive “wiring.” An autistic person is thus said to be wired differently than average, resulting in different patterns of recognition, interpretation, and response. And this atypical wiring can result in atypical ways of experiencing, understanding, and altering or solving otherwise imperceptible, inexplicable, or intractable situations.
We live in a society rife with injustices, inequities and evils, in a time when keeping things the same would amount to perpetuating harm. Against a vast backdrop of normal and even institutionalized wrongs, from corporate hegemony to hateful dogma, exploitation, the destruction of nature and endless wars, any difference or change has at least a decent statistical chance of being an improvement, and it is only diversity of thinking that prevents the complete solidification and codification of the unhealthful condition of sameness.
It is perhaps sameness that we need to create a movement against, instead of against autism or deviance, divergence or diversity. Something like Societies For The Eradication of Sameness, for the sake of the world we hope to leave in one piece for our descendants. Websites raising funds to prevent the spread of unquestioning obedience and dangerous assumption. NGOs chartered to find a cure for the plague of clueless acquiescent normalcy. And I would add, with less tongue-and-cheek: a growing cadre of enthusiastic volunteers dedicated to the diversification of thought and approach, the diversification of monocultures and the monotheistic, of the monotoned, the monopolistic and monocratic.
At no point do I mean to say that autistics or other neurodivergents have an exclusive lock on originality and innovation, or even strangeness, nor that they are born to be the sole translators, arbiters or interlocutors between the worlds of the magical and the muggles, the normal and the wondrous, the mundane and the surprising. That mission belongs to all of us, the well-adjusted as well as the maladjusted. The relatively normal as well as we classifiable freaks. Cognitive diversity is no less important to our personal and societal health than biological diversity is to ecological balance and well-being of ecosystems. It is for us to develop and pass on to others an understanding of health and living that is conscious of differences and encouraging of diversity and divergence.
Face it, what we know of as the norm is going to get weirder as we learn more. If we look closely enough, we might see that “healthy” looks different depending on the person. And if scientists ever can locate, describe and map out cognitive variances including autism, I expect that we will find all people are “wired” at least a little bit differently from each other, that none of us are fully normal, that we all harbor and can express traits that are unusual, differences that distinguish as well as personalize us, and a diverse cognitive ecosystem by which grace we shine.
*For lists of more famous folks with apparent autistic traits, see:
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Indulgence in Beauty
I was walking down in the wash again a few days ago, and spotted some blooming flax, one of my favorite late summer flowers. I was so overjoyed to see them, I decided to pick a wild bouquet– grape leaves and nettles — so lovely gone to seed!, orange butterfly weed, purple geraniums, asters, vervain, and a few more lovely unknowns.
It’s funny, how such a simple bouquet of flowers can bring me so much joy. It’s surely an indulgence in beauty, or at least it might seem that way, when there are so many other needed things to do each day. But I can’t wait to get “caught up” to take time to do something purely frivolous, or these little magical indulgences just won’t happen.
I feel a sense of responsibility in picking flowers to keep them, whether it’s for an album of pressed flowers, a gift for an occasion, or just to admire while they’re fresh and lovely. I try to make sure that I actually honor them with attention. And I try very hard to remember which species of flowers will not keep their bloom long enough to survive the journey to the water jar! It’s amazing, though, how some such as globe mallow will stay fresh looking for weeks after picking!
I love how a wild bouquet can accentuate the contrasts of flowers and leaves as their forms intertwine. I love to look at the fragile flax flower, for instance, as if it’s sprouting from the prickly stalk of nettle behind it.
Not to mention the contrasts of colors! The butterfly weed, against a patterned backdrop of purples, blues, and greens… Oh my! Fabric lover that I am, I can’t help myself from imagining it all translated into tapestry form.
Yesterday evening, just before dusk, I celebrated my bouquet. I made myself a pot of tea and brought it outside. I draped an ivory painter’s cloth over the table to set off all the colors. I put the bouquet in the center of the table, and simply gazed at it from many different angles, entering into the different faery wonder-scapes, while drinking tea and listening to the buzz of sphinx moths in the four o’clock flowers… which gave me the idea to decorate the table with a handful of their blooms.
It was all so inspiring I had to go get my little paint set, and made this attempt at a flax flower, with a suggestion of the asters behind it.
Even if the photos, or the painting don’t do the beauty of the moment enough justice in my eyes, still the effort of it was food for my soul. My bouquet doesn’t need to look like something someone would buy at a flower shop, and my photos or paintings need not be something marketable, either. The act of receiving the beauty and engaging it — in an attempt to express the power of the gift– to me, is such a gift in itself.
What “indulgences in beauty” give you joy?
Which flowers move you in some inexplicable way?
Happy August, from Elka and all!
I enjoyed a fun experiment, having my very own “Enchanted Kitchen” food blog, especially interacting with folks there and getting to know some sweet people from all over the world! But sadly, I was thinking about it way too much, and I have a hard enough time not burning loaves of bread, leaving my jewelry at the river, and remembering all the things I want to do every day without getting too wrapped up in Internet Land!
I hope to continue to appear here on the Anima blog “fairly regularly, sharing stories of our life on this isolated wilderness sanctuary, and stories of my tending, feeding, and celebrating our lives while Kiva and Wolf serve and stir the world! We’ll see how it goes…consistency is not my strong point, unless we’re talking about food and the things that I will love to eat forever! Or beautiful things, that I will love to gaze at forever! Or love itself!
Tales From The “Dry Wash”
Our homestead area lies a few hundred feet above the river bottom, upon a “bench” where we have an incredible view of the cliffs that inspire us every day. It’s so beautiful up here every morning, that unless I go to the river, it’s easy to forget to visit some of the other gorgeous spots that I love. The monsoon rains, however, are a good reminder for me to go “down to the wash”– a place with a fey magic all its own that I have spent many, many hours exploring over the years. There, I’ve had run-ins with bears, elk and deer, coati, raptors, snakes, and owls big and small.
The wash itself is a little river bed of stones, many huge boulders, and a huge variety of flora, some of which doesn’t live anywhere else in the canyon. Way up the wash, we’ve found valerian, aspen trees, horse mint, saskatoons, gooseberries, and chokecherries. It’s also where we go to harvest our bee balm, which used to be prolific every year but this has changed since the years of drought began. And acorns! We love to gather acorns from the wash, but some years are way better for that than others.
We call it “The Dry Wash”, but occasionally the rain or snow builds up so much on the mountains above the wash that it floods with water, which is always an exciting event! Sometimes it’s so loud we can hear it from our cabin, enticing us to go running down to witness the brown or sometimes black water that fills the wash and sometimes spills over the sides. Occasionally it will get so high that it’s impossible to cross to get to the Gifting Lodge on the other side, and this past year its waters almost came up to the bottom of the porch of the Gaia Lodge!
After a few hours of this it usually calms down, the water clears, and there are golden pools of rushing water sparkling everywhere. I think that it’s the saponins in the roots of the pine trees that cause all the beautiful bubbles that fill some pools more than others, but whatever it is that causes it, it’s quite the sight!
One time many years ago, my little brother was visiting, we walked way up the wash just to explore, and there were so many wild lima plants in flower (it was August) that we gathered a huge amount together into my apron. (they’re quite delicious!) When we got up near a particular cave (that was once a hide out for a real-life outlaw) my brother stopped in his tracks, wide eyed. “What is it?” I asked him quietly, and he whispered that there was an owl in the cave. It took me a bit to be able to see it. I was impressed that he’d spotted it first, as it was in the shadows. We walked up closer to the cave, and then very carefully climbed above it, until we could look down into it. Then we saw that there was not just one, but two beautiful Great Horned Owls in the cave, both looking right at us!
Another time, I think it was May, there was a perfect breeze blowing on a lovely warm day. I went down to the wash and saw the most incredible sight, one that at least a few of my readers have heard in person. There were butterflies of just about every color in the rainbow, tiny to huge, riding the winds down the wash! It looked like there were literally millions of them, fluttering all at once! The diversity was astonishing…many kinds of butterflies I’d never even seen before, along with many hundreds of familiar old friends. Knowing me, I probably wished for a video camera, but at the same time was glad to simply have the experience without feeling encumbered by the “capturing” of it.
I went walking up and back down the wash for hours and the entire time the butterfly parade never once dwindled. It was so dreamy, it was one of those experiences you wish would never end, because you know you’ll probably never get to have it again. I’d never heard of a migration of many different kinds of butterflies at once, it was so very strange! I wonder what was going on!
When I went down to the wash in the morning a few days ago, there was no water in the wash, no parade of butterflies riding the winds, no owls that I could see. The chokecherries were not ripe, and didn’t look too promising. I couldn’t find any edible mushrooms yet. But the wash was still lit with the magic of the morning, and full of so many tiny gifts that by the end of my walk, my cup was full of Beauty!
What do you do, or where do you go, to inspire you for the day to come?
Any unforgettable wilderness, home or nature stories you care to share?
What are some of your favorite “tiny gifts” of Nature?
Clean Water For Health:
FILTRATION & HERBS
by Sam Coffman
As healers, herbalists have a responsibility to address all causes of illness including diet, lifestyle, and environment… and to recommend treatments and remedies besides herbs when appropriate. Access to clean water is one such problem that Plant Healer’s can’t ignore, as brought to light by recent events such as the contamination in Flint, Michigan pipes and the pollution of sources by the annually increasing number of floods worldwide. The following article is an excerpt from the Summer issue of Plant Healer Magazine, offering important information and materia medica for those of you not yet subscribed to our quarterly. Its author, Sam Coffman of the Human Path School, brings a wealth of practical info and beaucoup experience to this and other vital topics. –Editors
Water is vital to life, as we all know. Often, for those of us living primarily in a first-world environment, we take water completely for granted. Turn on a faucet and water appears as though it were magic. Flush the toilet and it just disappears. Where it comes from, where it goes to and what happens to it in the meantime are all processes that are – most of the time and for most of us – completely disconnected from our daily lives. Between our disposal of wastewater and what we pull from the tap, water in our first world, urban environment goes through filtering processes, destruction of all biological, living material, accumulation of numerous pharmacological and chemical toxins that aren’t filtered out, deposition into ground water and eventually back into our kitchen sink. This is a far cry from the wild water coming out of a spring in the ground (which may have its own set of organisms that could overwhelm our body), and there are many humans –particularly in our country – who have never consumed any kind of water except the kind that comes out of a tap somewhere after being on the aforementioned journey through a public water system.
Whether wild water or tap water however, there are several important points to ponder on the topic of water and health: What is the state of our water (i.e. quality and quantity) both in this country (USA) and around the world? What can we do on a personal level to enable better water quality and quantity? How can we deal with water-borne illness? The World Health Organization estimates over 800,000 deaths per year due to water-borne diarrhea alone.
When I first started doing medical work in developing nations it struck me as odd that a medical mission would involve treating diseases that were obviously related to the quality of the water (e.g. parasites, kidney and urinary tract diseases, liver issues) without even so much as considering the need to address ways to change the source of the problem. I saw so much of this that I realized any realistic health care effort in any community (anywhere on the planet) has to include water quality. To take it to the next level, if you want to set up any kind of clinic and provide any kind of meaningful health care as an herbalist, you absolutely must have clean water at your disposal.
As herbalists in the USA this may not seem that this is an issue for you. You can buy distilled or filtered water and have exactly what it is you need (whether to drink or use for medicine making) right at your fingertips. However, herbalists have the extra responsibility of understanding health from the most organic and basic fundamentals. This starts literally with at least knowing something about the source of healthy food and water. Water quality (and quantity) plays a central role to any clinic you set up – whether in the middle of an urban area or in remote wilderness.
This article will focus on water purification methods and herbal strategies for water-borne diseases. The means to purify water are numerous, and depending on what kind of technology is available to you, can vary from primitive to advanced. Purification methods can be chemical (manufactured or even phytochemical), heat-based, radiation (UV) based and particulate filtration. One of the most reliable methods is heat. Roughly speaking, if you can heat water to over 160 degrees F for at least 30 minutes, or above 185 degrees F for 5 minutes, or bring water to a rolling boil at all, you have created enough heat to purify water. However there is at least one caveat to this. You still should clean the particulate matter (turbidity) out of the water as much as possible before heating. The clean the water looks, the better the results will be that you achieve by heating. Another note about heating is that this will probably not remove chemical contamination. The purpose of heat is to kill pathogens.
Aside from heat there are many other methods of water purification: These include reverse osmosis, ultraviolet, ozone, ceramic, ion exchange, copper-zinc systems, distillation and more. Many of these systems rely upon technology in order to be effective to any scale and are outside the scope of this article.
However, I would like to briefly cover one of the simplest and most effective water purification methods I know of that can be implemented even in a completely off-grid environment. This method is called slow sand filtration and is a way to filter water very sustainably for a home, a clinic or a small community.
Slow sand water filtration is the type of system that the non-profit organization we work with and support (Herbal Medics) has built in villages and urban and rural clinics in Central America. These systems are bulky and take a bit of labor, but they can be easily constructed using local materials just about anywhere in the world. Building one together with a community is an excellent way to teach others how to set up their own sustainable water filtration system, because anyone helping will know how to do it for themselves by the time you are finished setting up the first system. The most difficult part of building slow sand filters is finding clean (food grade) water barrels and some kind of piping such as PVC. We have set up prototype systems using tubing that consisted of bamboo connected by bicycle inner tubes, but PVC makes a much longer lasting and robust system of course.
There are a few critical concepts involved in the construction of a slow sand filtration system. First, the most active part of this filter (within about 3 weeks after running water through it) is the biolayer of the filter. Once this layer has formed, you do not want to starve it or dry it out. Second, the vertical column length of sand is important. Skimping on this distance will greatly diminish the quality of your filtration. Finally, the flow rate (drip rate) of water through your filtration system is critical. If water percolates too quickly through the filter, the amount of filtration that occurs will be greatly diminished.
So what are the details of these critical concepts and how can we make a slow sand filtration system?
At its most basic level, the slow sand filter consists of a single container (a 55 gallon, food-grade barrel is perfect) that has enough height to allow for at least 30” of sand. From top to bottom, the filter has sand for at least 30” and then gravel (pea gravel size) for the bottom several inches. The gravel at the bottom is primarily to keep the plumbing from becoming clogged with sand.
At the bottom, we have to have some type of outlet for the water to come out. The best way to do this is by using PVC pipe and drilling holes in it. Making a “U” shaped PVC collector at the bottom using ½” or ¾” PVC works well. This then merges to a single pipe that exits the barrel (along the side) an inch or two above the bottom. From here, the drain pipe needs to make a 90 degree turn back up to the top of the barrel on the outside. This allows for a pipe (1” – 2” diameter) that we can fill with small chunks of charcoal. A screen on either end of the pipe fittings keeps the charcoal from coming out into the water.
The important idea here is that the drain pipe final level (back near the top of the filter) is between the top of the water and the top of the sand. In this manner, the top layer of sand should always be under water. This allows our biolayer to form. The term “Schmutzdecke” (also called “filter cake” in English) is a living layer of organisms that form within about 21 days after running dirty water through the filter. This living layer of bacteria, viruses, fungi and other microorganisms, eat the pathogens that are in the dirty water coming into the filter. I would note however, that even without waiting 21 days for the filter cake to form, I (and my teammates) have drunk absolutely noxious water (prior to filtration) that has been filtered through the sand filter, and have never suffered any ill effects whatsoever. This has been necessary from a liaison perspective. When we set up a slow sand filtration system for a community somewhere, it’s not very effective (socially) to tell them that in 21 days everything will be fine, while waving goodbye. I have to demonstrate the effectiveness of the filter before we leave if we are to have any credibility as an organization. Once we have run about 100 gallons through the filter and the water is clear coming out, it’s time for me (and whoever is in charge of the primitive engineering team, at a minimum) to do a “bottom’s up” raising of the glasses and drink away! This is usually followed by a lot of laughing and joking and everyone else drinking water from the new filters. I am never worried about the locals, as they’re getting far better filtration even without any biolayer formation, than they were getting prior to us setting up the filter in the first place.
In order for the filter to work correctly, the flow rate needs to be kept between 3 and 5 gallons per hour. This limits the amount of water that a community can draw from a filter. The maximum that a filter like this is good for, is about 120 gallons per 24 hour period, and in order for there to be 120 gallons per day, it is necessary to add a couple of pieces to this filter setup.
First, a raw-water (pre-filter) container is necessary. This is where the dirty water is pumped or scooped into, and can be any size. The larger the better, and in a typical gravity fed system of course its outflow will have to be positioned slightly higher than the filter’s in flow. The manner in which the water flows into the top of the filter needs to be controlled so as not to disturb the top of the sand too much. This is normally done using baffles (PVC pipes with holes drilled in them something like drip irrigation systems). We usually take a few $8.00 float valves with us when we’re setting these up, as it is the easiest way to control the flow between the raw water container and the filter. There are certainly other ways, but the float valve makes everyone’s life easier and is so simple to install as a valve that opens and closes based on the level of water in the filter tank itself.
Next, a final collection tank is necessary if you want a 24/7 water filter functionality. The collection tank is fed directly from the filter. This means that the full filter setup is a 3-container system: A container for the raw water, the filter itself and a collection container for the water that has been filtered. To use the system, a person first takes the water they need from the third container in the system – the collection container with clean water in it. If there’s not an automatic system that fills the raw-water container, that same person can get the same amount of water they just used and put it into the raw-water container. For instance, pulling it from a well and refilling the raw water container after taking the clean water from the filtered water container. This ensures a 120-gallon per day maximum capacity of the water filter. Calculating 1 gallon per person per day drinking water only, this system can serve over 100 people in a community. However, we usually set up one filter for every 20-30 people, which allows for a minimum of 4 gallons of filtered water per person per day.
This approach gives me, as an herbalist, an entirely new approach to working with a community where a hugely disproportionate percentage of the population has the same health issues that are obviously related to poor water quality. Between fracking, coal mining, corporate agriculture and political corruption (i.e. Flynt, MI), water quality is not something that is limited as a problem to only developing nations. So if you are researching the health issues of a given community and are facing some type of water-borne epidemiological syndrome, then following along the same logic that a clinical herbalist should be using (work with the core problem whenever possible rather than just palliating the symptoms), this may give you another tool in your toolbox to consider using.
Let us address water-borne disease now, and some of the herbal approaches to resolving these disease states.
First, what are the common water-borne pathogens? We can become ill from water that contains viruses (for example: hepatitis A and E), bacteria (for example: cholera, shigellosis), protozoans (for example: giardiasis, cryptosporidium) and helminths (for example: roundworm, tapeworm).
While it is possible to run down a list of specific pathogens and cite studies (whether valid studies is a whole different question) as to the effectiveness of a particular herb used for a specific pathogen, I think it is more effective to start the discussion with some of the general approaches we can take in the case of exposure to water-borne illness.
First, the ubiquitous, acute onset of gastroenteritis that probably comes to everyone’s mind when discussing water-borne illness. Narrowing down a set of options is a lot easier to do once we have gathered some information using even as simple of a mnemonic as SAMPLE: Signs and symptoms, Allergies, Medications, Last known intake (food and water) and last known menstrual period if appropriate, Events leading up to the illness. In addition to SAMPLE we can also use OPQRST to narrow down specifics on pain or discomfort: Onset, Palliate/Provoke (“what makes it better or worse?”), Quality (“throbbing,” “sharp,” “burning”), Radiate (“does the pain radiate to other parts of the body?”), Severity (“on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the worst pain you’ve ever felt in your life…”), Time (“how has the pain changed with any of the previous questions, since it started?”).
Bear in mind that beyond just working with one individual, you may be watching for patterns in a clinical environment. After the third or fourth person comes in with the exact same symptoms, you have to start addressing community health questions. How you go about doing that can range from quarantining (in the case of something like cholera) and helping set up water-treatment & hygiene plans in a remote or post-disaster community, to contacting local (e.g. county) health officials in a more first world setting.
In acute presentation of gastroenteritis, the herbal protocols are often going to be symptom-based. Is there nausea and vomiting? If so, can they keep anything down at all? Dry heaves? Blood? Diarrhea? Color and consistency of the diarrhea if so (e.g. “rice water,” bloody, mucous, etc.), cramping?
Our primary concerns in the case of an acute onset of severe gastroenteritis (assuming that the herbal approach is the only option for whatever reason) are to prevent the patient from dehydration and support the recovery of the gut mucosa. The latter is simple in theory but not always in practice. Some of the most effective approaches involve helping clear the gut of what is causing the problem and reducing the inflammatory responses.
Activated charcoal is a very useful substance in the initial clearing of the gut. Whether toxins (e.g. food poisoning), bacteria or even protozoan infections, charcoal adsorbs and also helps to slow diarrhea. As an initial protocol before giving any herbs, charcoal can often be very helpful. The dosage can range as between one and two grams of charcoal per kilogram of body weight, every 4 – 8 hours. Be aware that the person’s feces will likely come out black, and it should slow diarrhea somewhat. Normally (in the absence of diarrhea), it is important to note that charcoal can cause constipation. Note that we would not want to ingest charcoal at the same time as any herbs we were taking. Much of the herb would bind with the charcoal, rendering both the charcoal and the herb ineffective.
Moving into herbs, what are some of the primary considerations? We want to reduce gut inflammation. We want to help restore normal gut mucosa function. We want to overwhelm or kill off causative pathogens. We want to support liver and kidney function (detoxification and elimination). We want to palliate symptoms like cramping and nausea. We also want to prevent dehydration, which involves both a rehydration solution as well as helping the gut absorb the fluids.
“Gut inflammation” is a sort of generic term given to the physiological set of responses by the gut to a disruption in healthy function. Pathogens have many various methods of fulfilling their own life cycles in their own quest to survive, colonize, feed, reproduce and find more hosts. During that process that may be happening in our own gut, there is inevitably going to be an inflammatory response by damaged tissue of the gut. Anything that reduces the pathogenic potency, increases our own tissue healing curve or both is going to reduce gut inflammation.
Most berberine-containing herbs kill handle many of these aspects of dealing with gut inflammation. They provide an astringency that helps reduce water loss. They tend to have a directly anti-inflammatory effect on the gut. They are usually anti-microbial. They are also usually stimulate and support liver function. Herbs that fit into this category are the Berberis and Mahonia species. Other herbs include Goldenseal (Hydrastis canadensis) and Chinese Goldthread (Coptis chinensis). My favorite herb to use for acute gastroenteritis is Algerita (Berberis trifoliolata). The root of this plant is intensely bitter and yellow with berberine, while the leaf is somewhat sweet, a little sour, and an excellent anti-nauseal.
Another herb that is highly anti-microbial, astringent and wound-healing on the gut is Walnut (Juglans spp.). I use the Juglans microcarpa here in central TX but the most commonly used medicinal species is the Juglans nigra. I like to mix the unripe (but just starting to soften) hull with the leaf of this tree, about 50/50.
Andrographis (Andrographis paniculata) is not a North American plant, but can be grown here in the most southern climates, or grown in pots and wintered indoors. It has been referred to as the “king of bitters,” and for good reason. Aside from its overwhelming bitter qualities, it is another herb that is highly antimicrobial and has an astringing, anti-inflammatory effect on the gut.
I like to use Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium) as well as its milder cousin, Western Mugwort (Artemisia ludoviciana) for acute gastroenteritis as well. Both are antimicrobial, anti-inflammatory to the gut tissue, bitters and cholegogues. Both are also decent anti-nauseals, even when a person is already vomiting.
Another antimicrobial that is also a superlative smooth muscle relaxant for cramping is Silktassel (Garrya spp.). I know of herbalists who have used the leaves of this plant to mix with water as a form of water purification. While I have not used it this way, I do use it quite often as an anti-spasmotic for smooth muscle throughout the body, to include the gut. I use the leaf and bark of this plant, tinctured fresh. I usually harvest it by pruning a bush and taking all the leaves and bark off of what I prune. This usually comes out to being about 70% leaf and 30% bark.
Any mucosal vulnerary is going to have a soothing, anti-inflammatory effect on the gut. This can include Marshmallow (Althaea officinalis) root and leaf, Prickly Pear (Opuntia spp.) cactus flower, Comfrey (Symphytum officinalis) leaf (if you don’t have a problem with the pyrrolizidine alkaloids, which another topic), Plantain (Plantago spp.), Licorice (Glycyrrhiza spp.) root and many others. These are best prepared as a cold infusion, which also helps with hydration. If you are preparing a rehydration solution anyway (1 teaspoon salt, 6 teaspoons sugar per quart of water is one of the most basic formulas), you can put it all together in a mucosal vulnerary rehydration drink.
As a side note, Prickly Pear cactus can be used to filter water as well. Fillet the pad and chop it into small pieces so that lots of surface area is exposed of the demulcent, gooey inside of the pad. Put those pieces into a container with the water you wish to clean (pre-strain to clear as much turbidity as possible). Shake, let it sit about 30 minutes, shake again and strain. It is not anywhere near the filtration of a slow-sand filter, but the Prickly Pear pad is a flocculant and will stimulate aggregation of small particulates (fomites – homes for pathogens to live on) into larger particulates while adsorbing the same.
In a pinch, the Prickly Pear cactus pad can even be used to boil water! Take a large pad, cut off the pointier end, fillet down the center very carefully to within about an inch of the edge (from the inside). You can prop the sides open at the top using a small stick and pour water into the pad. Water can be heated to easily 160 degrees for about 30 minutes in coals, without burning through the pad
All of the antimicrobial herbs mentioned above are going to give relief and help the body cope with a protozoal infection such as giardiasis or cryptosporidium. Another strong antiprotozoan for those two infections particularly, is Chaparro Amargosa (Castela spp.).
Black Pepper (Piper nigrum) is another anti-protozoal and one of the primary ingredients in formulas I have used to work successfully with cutaneous leishmaniasis infections, which are protozoal.
With any case of infectious gastroenteritis, it is imperative that the liver and kidneys be supported as well. Support of the liver should be gentle to help it detoxify waste products that make it into the hepatic portal system. Milk Thistle (Silybum marianum) seed is of great use here. Also helping to support liver function gently are Chicory (Cichoreum intybus) root and Artichoke (Cynara scolymus) leaf. I like to use Burdock (Arctium lappa) root and Dandelion (Taraxacum officinalis) root a lot as both gentle liver support as well as gentle diuretics whenever helping the body deal with toxins, pathogens, infection, lymph stagnation or other disease processes that increase the body’s need to deal with and excrete waste products.
Parasites (helminths) are another topic that is a discussion on its own. There is generally not going to be a singular herb or even a set of herbs that are anti-parasitic for all parasites across the board. However as a rule, some of the general anti-parasitic herbs that work in formulas either directly, or supportively, are: Any of the aforementioned berberine-containing herbs, Elecampane (Inula helenium), Horse Radish (Armoracia rusticana), Black Pepper (Piper nigrum), Wormwood (Artemisia absinthium), Ginger (Zingiber officinale), Valerian (Valeriana officinalis), Prickly Ash (Zanthoxylum spp.), Andrographis (Andrographis paniculata) Garlic (Allium sativum) and Cayenne (Capsicum annuum).
The importance of clean water cannot be overstated in the full spectrum of holistic understanding of our health. In the case of infectious disease, it is paramount that we have a clear understanding of both the epidemiology of the area as well as the tools we can implement to create better preventative health for a community. Once we have helped create sustainable, clean water, we can continue even better than before as herbalists and health care providers.
(Share freely so others can benefit)
THE INSPIRITED LAND:
Eros, Canyons, & Kokopelli
A Dialogue with Terry Tempest Williams (1987)
by Jesse Wolf Hardin
“Spirit howls and wildness endures” –Terry Tempest Williams
Terry Tempest Williams is an impassioned naturalist and influential writer, a somewhat rare species of critter known as the sensuous environmental activist Mormon. While less widely known than she was a few decades ago, her gift to the literature of the living land is unending. She’s the author of numerous books including my favorite, Coyote’s Canyon.
I spoke with Terry way back in the early 1980s while we were both in Eugene to present at the Land, Air Water Conference, a gathering of environmental activists hosted every year by the University of Oregon Law School. She moved us to tears with her keynote address, detailing the many deaths from breast cancer in her family – a direct result of above ground nuclear testing in the 1950’s. Now suffering the same malady, her grief spans from the personal to the global, with a deep sharing and heightened sensitivity. She has drank from the consciousness of canyons, learned to dance beneath the weight of a great burden. When we talked, she had just come down from being “lost” on a mountain, and her insights and sensibilities are as inspiring and as vital as ever before.
Jesse Wolf Hardin: Tell me the highest purpose of our art and our writing.
Terry Tempest Williams: Our art, whether verbal or nonverbal, is how we share. It is what connects us to the past, present, and future. We become accountable for the sacred knowledge that has been shared. The story becomes the conscience of the group.
Jesse Wolf Hardin: So-called primitives used story-telling, ritual, totemic possession, ecstatic experience and psychedelic plants as checks of rationality, that linear process that threatens to separate them from the planet they are a part of.
Terry Tempest Williams: To me it’s about getting up at seven in the morning and going to see this lush rainforest with snow coming down– absolutely magical! At one point we were standing on top of the ridge and the snow just kept falling from the trees, just this gentle snow and the pileated woodpecker hammering away. It was glorious. We became completely lost. Literally lost. We were slipping down these slopes and realized we had no idea where we were. It was fine; it was exactly where we needed to be. I actually asked the question, “Do we have to go back down the trail?” Just the asking of the question initiated the release.
Jesse Wolf Hardin: You know you’re “lost” when you’ve got to go back to town.
Terry Tempest Williams: That’s right! (laughing) Lost in this wonderful botanical diversion. And I thought, who wants to be on a trail when you can be nose to nose with the mushrooms!
Jesse Wolf Hardin: Botanical immersion.
Terry Tempest Williams: Right! To me, it was my guardian place. Last night in your show we had the bonding of human beings with the trees, and I needed that. I have not had a personal encounter with nature before such as Lou Gold presents in his story of bald mountain.
Jesse Wolf Hardin: My first time in Oregon’s proposed North Kalmiopsis Wilderness area, I witnessed one logging truck after another carrying out Douglas firs that were so large they could only take one at a time. This had the most traumatic effect on me. I ended up being arrested at a protest I helped organize there. There was this shift, and it was no longer enough to sing songs about the plight of old-growth forests.
Terry Tempest Williams: Responding! Responding to life. I wonder so often, what is it that we’re really so afraid of?
Jesse Wolf Hardin: Intensity. Futility. Mortality.
Terry Tempest Williams: I honestly think people are afraid of feeling. If we begin to feel, we realize how deep our despair is, and then, what do we do about it? I urge you to keep moving with the struggle. You were saying that the dance and the struggle. You were saying that the dance and the struggle are the same. And then afterwards, we danced! It was palm to palm; it wasn’t the soliliquistic dance, you know, each person in their own little universe. It was actually hands like this– it was just hands, hands and constant touch and it was so beautiful. And there it is, the dance and the struggle. In that sense, what is there to seek? It’s about joy, it’s about life, it’s about breath!
Jesse Wolf Hardin: The dance of resistance. The joy of resistance. Being in step with the Earth, experiencing the joy that comes from responsive action. What conflicts do you find between your recognition of earthen, feminine principles, and the religion you grew up with?
Terry Tempest Williams: I’ve just written a book called Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place. It’s about the rise of the Great Salt Lake and the death of my mother, the correspondence between the two, and how one finds refuge in change. Much of the story is about the Bear River Bird Refuge, where I was raised by my grandmother who gave me a field guide to birds. In the Spring of 1983 Great Salt Lake began to rise. It flooded the bird refuge and at the same time my mother was diagnosed as having cancer. It was like the landscape of my childhood and the landscape of my family both turned to quicksand. In this book I’ve had to confirm my relationship to the Mormon Church. As a woman in a largely patriarchal church, how does one find a place? When you talk in my religion and in many Christian religions about the godhead, where is the Mother Goddess? Wouldn’t it make sense in this so-called sacred triangle that the Holy Ghost actually is the Holy Mother who has been deprived of her body, made invisible? In the church language she is referred to as the comforter, the still small voice, the nurturer, the one you rely on in time of need. That is a question I pose in the book. If the women in the Mormon tradition recognize the heavenly mother, she’s not spoken of. You are raised to believe she is too sacred, the don’t want her name taken in vain. I say we don’t want her name silenced. We have to bring her back. This is something all women know in their hearts.
And men too. It’s the Mother, the feminine, the balance. I talk about “Pan-Sexuality”, in the search to find new terms that don’t support the duality of masculine and feminine but really talk about it in the sense of Pan. I don’t even know what the language is, but you have to keep exploring it. It has something to do with just being alive in the land, and feeling the surge. I grew up always outside, our family constantly taking time outdoors. My father had a very physical relationship with the land. My mother had a very spiritual relationship with the land. My grandmother had a very intellectual relationship with the land, a curiosity. We all built on one another’s passion for the natural world. In my mind, that’s what being woman was about.
Jesse Wolf Hardin: What new rituals for people lacking in cultural traditions, but feeling the connection, and wanting to maintain an authenticity in the expression of their expanding awareness?
Terry Tempest Williams: When my mother was sick, I witnessed a tradition of the Mormon culture, the placing of olive oil on the forehead, and praying. Rituals help. In any culture you have ritual that you can count on, the power of prayer in whatever energy form it takes.
You have certainly shown me in your “Deep Ecology Medicine Shows” and “Dance For All Beings” just what personal new ritual is. A new definition. For those of us who spend time on the land, it comes naturally. It rises out of that sense of reciprocity, of wanting to return something. It is without thought. I remember going to the ocean and always throwing a shell back into the ocean. It was my ritual. It was about being safe. I think it is what we naturally do as human beings. It is the whole idea of restoration, whether of the spirit, or the Earth herself. It brings us back to the story, which is again our personal connection.
Jesse Wolf Hardin: The connection between manifest and spirit. There are those who endeavor to transcend their earthly origins, rather than protecting that source. There are others who are very active politically, but have lost the spirit and heart.
Terry Tempest Williams: Without the spirit there is no meaningful action.
Jesse Wolf Hardin: The Earth, even when acknowledged to have feminine qualities, is usually portrayed as a crone. More often, as a lifeless exoskeleton. I have come to intimately know the planet body not just as the ancient grandmother, but also as a still-developing child, and as a craven lover. The sense of all life consuming itself, making love to itself through its constituent parts.
Terry Tempest Williams: We are a species afraid of our own bodies, and that is why we fear our global body. We really aren’t a people in our body.
Jesse Wolf Hardin: Too often we are ashamed of them. We cover them up, tidy up our dreams, and mow our lawns for the same reasons.
Terry Tempest Williams: Our love affair with the puritanical is found not only in our sexual relations, but in how we eat. You have your meat, potatoes, vegetable, everything kept pure. There is no blending, no subtleties. Whereas in French or South American cooking you have this wonderful layering and blending of nuance and spice. I love Doug Peacock when he said saving the world and cooking dinner for friends is the same thing. So maybe what we really need to be doing in spiritual activism is to conduct dinner parties weekly, hold dances rather than conferences.
Jesse Wolf Hardin: The basis for the dance is movement. It is the flux. You cannot call it the environmental movement if it is sitting, thinking, talking. You can’t just talk the mountain, you have to walk it. Every aboriginal child knows this. Here we have a whole culture of adults who have forgotten it. We have to remember what we already know, intuitively, instinctively, deep down inside. To put the members back into place, to re-member the parts of the solution – if there is to be a human solution.
Terry Tempest Williams: Somehow it comes back to our own family, however we define that, and to our own sense of place, our own sense of home. It is love. It comes back to your question of our art. in fact, a poets of place does give rise to a politics of place, which is about change, and has everything to do with spirit.
Jesse Wolf Hardin: Tell us about canyons, Terry.
Terry Tempest Williams: You know about canyons! The secret places, the insides of animals, canyon walls that rise like bare bones…
Jesse Wolf Hardin: The descriptions in Coyote’s Canyon are alive. The way it is.
Terry Tempest Williams: The desert is not a forgiving place. It is very difficult to lie in the desert, both to verbally lie, and to lie down in the desert with the heat, no water, exposed, raw! Today it is winter in Oregon. In the temperate rainforest, it is so forgiving, so gentle and so soft. Even the scars are moss covered. It is a playground. The southwest canyons are tough places, full of character. They allow us to enter into an altered state.
“If you know wilderness the way that you know love, you would never let it go.” –Terry Tempest Williams
Jesse Wolf Hardin: My basic role model is the southwestern equivalent of Pan. Kokopelli.
Terry Tempest Williams: It all comes back to “Pan-Sexuality”.
Jesse Wolf Hardin: This guy is dancing, playing the flute, with this tremendous burden basket pressing him forward. No matter how heavy the load gets, he still maintains the pace of the dance, spreading the seed of song.
Terry Tempest Williams: Every time I see Kokopelli it is about joy, it is about music, it’s about dance and the struggle being the same. You can’t penetrate the wound, the heart, the idea, the Earth without knowledge of that burden. It is the burden and the song together that enable us to move within the light.
Thank you Jesse Wolf.
Jesse Wolf Hardin: My pleasure, Terry.
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–––––––OPEN TO DEBATE––––––
Vital Disputation & Healthy Disagreement
by Jesse Wolf Hardin
A recent article in Plant Healer Magazine opened up discussion on the topics of political correctness and cultural appropriation as relates to the practice of herbalism. There was at least one person we will not name, who admitted never having read the magazine, and yet used social media to call the opinionated, adept and earth-loving author Sam Coffman a “Donald Trump.”
This same otherwise caring person also accused the publishers of the magazine of being bigoted for printing the piece. This of course hurt the feelings of my co-editor, who grew up a runaway in a black ghetto, and who supports the emphasis we put on herbal access, justice and empowerment in spite of the heat that puts on us. You might think this would result in our deciding to avoid running any controversial material or addressing any sensitive issues… but instead it increases our desire to raise important but difficult topics that impact our work and relationships, and to encourage healthy and respectful dialogue among the wonderful folks who often try to avoid debate.
Our herbal community places a high value on kindness and cooperation, with most being highly sensitive to the feelings and sufferings of others. As healers, most of us would prefer to mend and confer than confront, even when dealing with a harmful untruth or unjust situation. And there is also a tendency among some of us to treat conflicting ideas as both are simultaneously and equally true and applicable. This well meaning effort to make all things compatible has the unfortunate effect of damping dialogue and debate, limiting the natural systems of testing and reassessing, and reducing the value of what is most real and effective.
This doesn’t mean we would be better off arguing all the time over some principal or “fact,” and we certainly suffer as a community anytime there is a personal attack, acidic gossip, online bullying, guilt-tripping sermonizing or self righteous shaming. Internecine conflict among subgroups is divisive, and is one of the ways in which the dominant paradigm maintains its insidious control. and yet it would be stifling if everyone thought alike, and debate – even heated debate – has the potential to lead to a clarification of our own understandings, as well as to the discovery of areas of agreement, shared values, and common aims. Besides, our tribe is made stronger through a diversity of dissimilar opinions, opinions that change and adapt with each new bit of input and information, with each intellectual and moral challenge.
Do we require an apology from the facebook attacker? Not at all, I for one am pleased people care enough to raise hell.
That said, there is for almost everyone reason and opportunity to make amends.
It would be great if our movement were free of moralizing, bickering, and infighting, granted… but at the same time, we could also use just a mite more productive disagreement.
1. lack of consensus or approval
Lack of approval and consensus can be a good thing. Let me explain.
Consensus – getting every relevant person to agree – is in some ways optimal for groups involved in things that greatly matter, including activists making decisions that could jeopardize their cause or their lives, and healers of any kind on whom the health and well being of a person even partly depends. On the other hand, expecting or holding out for consensus has again and again derailed what could have been meaningful action on the part of environmental and social activists from Earth First! to the Occupy movement, and the tendency of herbalists to adhere to “common wisdom” and “accepted truths” has at times reduced critical analysis and experimentation, hampered new discoveries and slowed the development of new perspectives. Consensus can also lead to inflexible and potentially inaccurate dogma, with a diversity of thinking being replaced by unquestioning conformity and group-think assumptions. Without variance, discussion and debate, herbalism is in danger of becoming increasingly dogmatic and inflexible. We surely do not want to become like a posse of church ladies, tsk-tsk’ing the unenlightened, nodding in unison at each other’s righteous umbrage.
What I recommend is something between: seeking agreement and an alliance of values and approaches without constraining analysis and creativity, or dissing variance.
We don’t need to approve of something for it to have at least subjective credence and value. We likewise do not need any other herbalist’s, herbal organization’s, or government agency’s agreement and approval to be correct in our opinions or methods, or valid when it comes to the roles we fill. Not the conservative medical establishment’s approval, nor the approval of the meanly ridiculed politically-correct “PC Police.”
And no matter how rationally or objectively “right” we are about anything, we undermine its truth and power when we try to insulate it from either the appraisal that tests it or the disagreement that contrasts, challenges, and thus enlightens and vitalizes it.
1. a disagreement or debate
It is the nature of a majority of caregivers to shy away from impassioned opinion, disagreement and controversy. Many of us tend to avoid contention and the “negative” even when it involves important issues of government regulation and certification, the intersection of social justice and herbal practice, of access and affordability, the healing of both the social body and our physical bodies – while those who are most predisposed to debate tend to be focused almost exclusively on social issues, and are often moral absolutists certain of the righteousness of their stance. They may come across as loud and indignant, or alternately claim they are above the fray and only concerned with staying positive… in either case communicating possession of an elevated understanding and moral superiority even when addressing topics like elitism, racism, and hierarchy.
This is not, however, a good argument against airing our differences and disputes. Social issues cannot be separated from healthcare issues, and I think it would be great to see more disputation over the specifics of an effective herbal practice, an airing of strong differences of opinion about herb actions and uses, dosages and combinations. Disputes over terminology and definitions, over invasive species and the impacts of human sprawl on plant and animal habitat, over how we present and represent ourselves to the rest of our contemporary society. Disputes about the best soil to grow a certain herb in, which parts of the plant to use, and whether it is plentiful enough for us to ethically harvest.
The effects on the community of a “shaming culture” that pillories individuals for their opinions are more caustic than any wrong-headedness. And reasoned, compassionate disputes are so much less harmful to our community than social media attacks, backroom nastiness, hidden agendas, ignored injustices, or undisputed untruths. Disputes are downright healthy whenever they inspire applied critical thinking, leading to an open-minded and reasoning analysis of our own cherished ideas as well as those of others.
“Dispute” is a Middle English word with origins in the Latin disputare meaning ‘to estimate.’ Its origins can be found in dis – meaning separate or apart – and putare meaning to “reckon.” To dispute is t0 risk the consequences of disagreement in making and announcing your thoughtful estimation. This estimation requires separating out factors and features in order to better reckon their truths, relevance, and effects. And we’d best apply it to every aspect of every thing. Nothing is, as the saying goes, “beyond dispute.” There is nothing that shouldn’t be explored and estimated, and then re-explored and estimated again! No topic is too sensitive to be considered off-limits, and no examination should ever be dissed as heretical. Look at things from one direction, then another, and then another, seeking not only the most comprehensive understanding but also the most healthful application or response.
1. a discussion on a particular topic in a public forum, in which opposing arguments are put forward
For the past five years we have found it nearly impossible for us editors to get reader reactions to specific content, receiving instead simply general compliments on the overall mix of skills, information and ideas, perspectives and approaches in each nearly 300 pages-long issue of Plant Healer Magazine. We have run anarchist urban wildcrafters next to conservative herbal gardeners, articles by Christian home-schoolers along with with pieces about traditional indigenous healers and by Goddess worshipping Wise-Women, the work of evocative folklorists beside that of exacting academics and scientists, and this diversity of experience and thinking has seemed to feed the consistent growth of the magazine as well as what Paul Bergner coined “a new herbal resurgence.”
It is, however, extra satisfying to me whenever any of our content has stirred passions to the point of online discussion, discourse and debate. Heated conversations have at least the potential to add some light! The expression “open to debate” makes sense, given that you have to have an open mind to be a fair and effective debater.
I greatly value those of our writers and teachers willing to voice strong opinions, while being open to the possibility of being mistaken… including Sean Donahue, Renee Davis, Charles Garcia, as well as Dave Meesters and Sam Coffman who continue the dialogue in the upcoming Spring issue of Plant Healer Magazine. It is the mission of this periodical and journalism itself not to push any agenda, promote any single tradition or approach, foster dogma or enforce any “party line,” but rather, to instigate estimation and critical thinking, to challenge every entrenched “status quo,” to encourage creativity, to showcase diversity of thinking as well as further those ways of living that contribute to human dignity and planetary well being. It is our work – the good work – not only to spread empowering herbal information but also to seed and feed deep investigation of our themes and feelings, of our analysis, public discourse and debate… affecting and aiding others as we are able while making clear for ourselves what is real or not, from the stories we tell ourselves to the medicines we ingest and recommend.
This doesn’t mean I want to sidestep issues of right and wrong. It is wrong to call a writer a bigot because they dare address issues like cultural appropriation which have been troubling and sometimes capturing most of the attention of herbalists of late. And I dare say it is right to speak out about how ideas of race, gender, class and privilege impact individuals, herbalism, and our usually shared aims of making this a healthier and lovelier world. If you have to pin me down, I would say it is wrong to stuff our feelings, wrong to vent without listening, wrong to be personally hurtful. And it is right – if anything at all is right – to notice, to feel, to care, to freely express and share… and to act on the urge to help that so often follows among all you deep feelers, culture shifters, and plant healers.
On the subject of healing and caring I reckon you agree with me. But I thank you, anytime you don’t.
–Jesse Wolf Hardin
(Please Share Freely)
GETTING BACK IN TOUCH
Reawakening the Senses
by Jesse Wolf Hardin
“The aim of life is to live, and to live means to be aware, joyously, drunkenly, serenely, divinely aware.”
The first step in expanding and deepening our awareness is not developing the power to see far but to feel close, the necessary reinhabitation of our resensitized bodily selves in the present lived moment. Whatever our individual variations on torpor, escape or turning away, our healing, growth and satisfaction hinge on our re-embodiment.
To be fully alive on this planet we must first “come to our senses.” We experience the world and our place within it through not just our minds or even our emotional “hearts,” but through a unity of our entire being including our sensate creature bodies. Oneness with the world begins as neither concept nor sentiment… but at the exact physical point where our bodies make contact with the living world we’re an integral part of, where our sensitive fingertips graze the velvety surface of lover’s skin or a particularly attractive leaf, where tasty meals and attentive tongues meet, where our bodies press into the giving ground that is both our mortal destination and terrestrial origin.
Bodies evolved not simply as containers and vehicles for spirit and will but as receptors for the receiving of sensory information, as well as transducers (from the Latin transducere: “to lead across”) passing this information on to our immediate others, our community and culture. In addition, it’s important to realize the planet as a living whole feels and experiences through its sentient constituent parts, responding and making adjustments according to the sensations and signals bodily, emotionally and energetically transmitted. As the potentially most sensitized species on earth to date, our inherent purpose would seem to be to honestly and unreservedly experience, to awaken every sense and be maximally conscious and aware, to empathize with other beings to the utmost degree and then act to help further, heal and make better.
Some texts speak of how the senses “report” to the decision making mind where all input is processed, prioritized and stored. But while they posit the brain as the exclusive housing of whatever constitutes human consciousness, in truth our awareness courses throughout the entire body in a shifting, informed chain of cell and hormone, communicative enzyme and electrical impulse. We feel through the complex symbiosis of emotion and instinct that we sometimes call the heart, through the five physical senses of touch, taste, smell, hearing and sight, and those unmeasured faculties like intuition and precognition that scientists have lumped together as the “sixth sense.” Those capacities labeled “extrasensory” are in actuality intrasensory and ultrasensory. And when we are fully enlivened – fully residing within our awakened bodies – the result is nothing less than revelatory: a great revealing of hidden pattern and process.
Even the most extraordinary of sensory perception begins with and is predicated on our being – quite literally – in touch. Touch is a primary aid to reconnection, a tool for the mending of the tether, a reminder of what is most palpably real. It’s a fundamental way that we read the details of the world we’re immersed in, reinforcing our connection to all that is and thereby reinforcing our sense of place and belonging. It’s also a way in which we express to those things we touch that we acknowledge each as a distinct and valuable part, and that we appreciate them as well. Flesh to rock and fur, being to being. Its importance is indicated by our very language. When something affects us at a deep level, we call the occurrence a “touching” one. When we start to feel detached from someone, we might say that we’re “losing touch” with them. Someone suffering from a disorienting mental breakdown is said to have “lost touch with reality.” Touching is the way we verify the sometimes contradictory messages we pick up through the eyes, testing any potential mirage with our inquisitive probing hands.
Our skin is the flexible, permeable membrane that sheaths our organs. It defines us as a form discernible from the interlocking forms that surround us, at the same time that it connects us to the world through the receptors in every inch of its sensitive surface. This tactile sensitivity includes specific receptors for pain, temperature, and tactile stimulation from firm pressure to the stroke of a feather on a normally clothed stretch of skin. Chemoreceptors, thermoreceptors and mechanoreceptors transmit information through sensory nerves leading up through the spinal cord and into the brain, where they are primary processed in the parietal lobe of the cerebral cortex. Together they help the mind create a touch map, an image telling us where our immediate bodies end and the larger earthen body of which we are a part begins, sensing gravity and ground and thereby determining posture. These amazing modalities make it possible for us to experience the air against our face as gentle pressure, temperature, wind in motion, or even pain if it blows hard enough.
The word “touch” originally meant contacting by “striking,” but in the evolved sense it implies an entirely different kind of contact, gentler, slower so as to pick up and transmit a greater depth of information and meaning. We are linked to that which we touch, held by that which surrounds us. We come to know the world through this touching, and the world comes to know us in the same way. Touching is the act of contact and acknowledgment. We touch with our eyes and are touched in return. We touch the rest of the world we’re a contiguous part of with our ears and tongues and nasal passages as well as the surface of our skin. “Contiguous” means touching… continuously! Our inquiring minds might conclude that all things are interconnected, but it is only through our heightened senses that we can experience all things touching at once. We can open to this by paying attention to the feel of air molecules as we stand in a subtle breeze, envisioning the great body of air simultaneously touching us and the birds above, touching at once everything that exists on and within the planet, touching the soil that in turn touches its ground dwellers, eventually coming to touch the earth’s molten heart.
In the case of our eager and delicate mouths, they easily sense the touch of the spoon and swish of the tongue, distinguish the pleasant crispness of an apple or waffle from the luxurious smoothness of whipped potatoes or gentle waves of soup, the lovely Winter chill of ice cream and fresh pepper’s Summer heat, the curious coolness of mint and the pleasant burn of chili. In addition, they can taste! It’s generally accepted in the West that chemoreceptors – in the soft palate, pharynx and epiglottis as well as the tongue’s myriad tiny buds – are able to discern at least four distinct taste categories: sweet, sour, bitter, salty. To this, Asian healers have traditionally added a fifth, umami or savory (think msg), and herbalists including Kiva Rose sometimes cite fattiness and pungency as others. Neuroscientists and psychophysicists have additionally suggested metallic and water, combining with the rest of the core categories to create every known and possible flavor.
It’s been found that South Americans, Asians and Africans are among those races with a generally heightened sense of taste, while 75% of Europeans and EuroAmericans have decreased sensitivity, and that women often have greater inherent capacity than do men. This is in part due to a higher number of fungiform papillae, raised mushroom shaped bumps whose top surfaces are packed with taste buds. It may also be due to a culturally reinforced degree of attention and focus that is more intense in the case of certain cultures… and a somewhat more sensitized gender. These so-called “super-tasters” are an inspiration for all of us to greater tune into, stimulate, develop and test the capacity we’re born with.
Perhaps the most intimate of all ways of connecting, we taste by taking into ourselves the flesh of plant and creature, fruit and seed. We are rewarded for the degree that we attend and focus, by the melt of soluble dairy fat and the tang of citric acid, the earthy depths of gravy and sweetness of the garden yam. And yet, taste is an ability animals and humans alike developed not just to provide pleasure but to help us discern what is or isn’t wise for us to eat, to select what tastes like it will provide us with the nutritional elements our bodies request and require, and at times to instinctively recognize those flavors indicating ingredients which could either kill us or make us ill. No wonder then, that someone is considered “tasteless” who doesn’t know clever from offensive, and we say they have “no taste” if they fail to notice when their clothes’ colors clash. And we are likely to exclaim “it stinks” when either a movie or a dish of food is too objectionable to take in.
The nose makes contact with the larger world in ways only slightly more removed. The scents it pulls in and takes the measure of are not abstract symbols, representations or stand-ins like the written word or computer code, but rather, actual elements of the bodies of loved ones and strangers alike, the unpleasant flotsam bubbled forth by fermenting compost, the miniscule airborne appetizers reeled out by whatever steaming cuisine trolls for our attention and enthusiasm. Through the damp nasal passages and across our over 12 million olfactory receptors pass telltale molecules shed by the bodies of friends and flowers, or more accurately launched like agents of each thing’s being and expression, announcing its presence, and often if not always offering to communicate something to us. We each draw in hormone laden perspiration containing useful information like sexual excitement or receptivity, anger or fear, whether or not we are awake and embodied enough to discern a message and its implications. At the very least, the ability to smell has evolved in order to help us discern, meaning not only what to move towards but also what to move away from.
It’s said that for an animal like a dog, the world is a complex web of smells more vivid than the information gathered by the eyes, and that we can only distinguish a small fraction of as many scents as they do. Even so, researchers have found that the average human can recognize up to 10,000 different scents, and even a mother with her senses permanently dulled by tobacco smoke can often distinguish her newborn from others by its smell alone. Except in rare cases of hyposmia (inability to smell, usually caused by physical trauma), our inability to process these messages are a result of suppression and neglect more than physiological shortcomings. Anyone who has ever suffered the congestion of a common cold, however, can attest to how bland meals can taste without the additional sensory input of the nose. For a reason to credit the human nose, we can consider the example of a perfume maker whose focus and passion has led to better smelling, which in turn has deepened and broadened their perception. And people born blind have often developed their other senses including smell to a degree the sighted folks may never know. Researchers, seekers and shamans who have ingested psychedelic mushrooms or peyote have on occasions reported a stunning increase in discernible odors, an attention-wresting vividness described as almost overwhelming in the moment and sad to leave behind. Each of these cases would indicate a natural human capacity for intense sensing that we can potentially arouse, exercise and thus maximize.
And there are more reasons for this deliberate development as well. Think about how a particular floral scent can summon the visage of a past lover whether welcomed or not, or the way the smell of leather can so readily trigger reminisces of childhood rides on oiled saddles. More so than any other sense, smell is closely interlinked with the limbic system, those parts of the brain like the amygdala and hippocampus that process emotion and associative learning. The olfactory bulb that sorts sensation into perception is an essential organ of memory, mood and behavior, and any awakening and growing of this sensory capacity could deepen associative recall, tightening the weave of information and reflection, intensifying feelings to the point that they become hard to ignore and not tend, overall increasing our vital experiencing of life and this world.
So it is with the sense of hearing, so often taken for granted. How often do even the most aware of us begin to ignore the music in the background, until the wondrous vocals and quaking strings seem to fade out into unnoticed and unremembered background noise? Learn to block out the roar of jets over our heads, and in that way miss out on the conversations between wind and trees? Or ignore the telling tones of the highway rushing past until the sound of screeching brakes causes us to stop in our tracks?
Admittedly, not all sounds are even available to us, depending on how quiet they are or what pitch. Higher ultrasonic and extremely infrasonic frequencies are out of our reach, making us naturally oblivious to the echolocation calls of bats as well as the deeper rumblings of signaling elephants. There is, however, a wide range of audio frequencies that we can hear, from 15Hz and 20,000Hz, through which means anyone without hearing damage can powerfully discern, learn from, respond to, and thoroughly enjoy the world. Sounds not only warn us of dangers before they get too close for us to react, and allow for complex communication between us that would be impossible without words, but they also describe the ever changing environment we live in and pass through, and afford us the pleasure of a planet’s native music, the rhythm of a drumming rain on a tin porch roof, the singing insects, the “shush, shush” that tall wild grasses make as they brush against each other to get our attention. The laughter of children and the sweet sobbing of a woman who has loved and lost. All sound is but a vibration in air or water that in turns vibrates the tiny bones in our ears and sends signals – like our other senses – to our lapping brains.… and then vibrates our feeling beings and spirits. We can tune-in with our ears to the aural magic of all that surrounds us, practice hearing all the layers at once even when someone is talking to us, and quiet our own talking minds at times to fully give way to the tides of a favorite melody coming through the stereo speakers.
It is sight that I mention last, exactly because it is the sense we tend to use most when “looking” at the world, to the neglect of the rest. And because it’s the way of perceiving that we can do from the greatest distance, while what we need is to literally come closer. We say “I see” when we understand something, as if “seeing were believing.” Visual perception, like all perception, is subjective. What we perceive depends on not only the strength of our eyes and ability to notice, but also the subjectively developed perceptual patterns that we fit information into, and the belief systems or preconceptions that we harbor. It’s not just culturally impressed standards but also subjective temporal attitude that determines whether we find a boyfriend or girlfriend beautiful or not. A person in love may see only beauty in their partner, but once there are hard feelings between them, the same face may seem to hold no attractive features. We’re not just talking about interpretation here, but the facts of what we consider we’ve perceived, just as ten witnesses to a crime may tell ten different versions of what happened even if they didn’t know the victims and had no preexisting bias. Any stage magician can tell you that what the audience sees is what the entertainer suggests they see, directing focus, utilizing distraction, making hay of their existing assumptions and raising expectations.
Our visual system responds not to vibrations but to photons of light, the graduations of light and dark that created forms are perceived by photoreceptive cells on the retinal membrane. The resulting neural impulses are processed hierarchically in the cerebral cortex, assigning prominence as well as meaning, deciding what is to be further assessed and what can be safely ignored. It is that aspect of visual perception that we can best and most beneficially develop, making more and more of those decisions conscious, consciously choosing in the moment what should be focused on, remembered or acted on… with less and less visual information being discounted. And increasing what we actually see is fundamental to the development of related visualization, realistic projection and foresight. One’s personal revelatory “vision” of the world, of their true self and their calling, is for whatever reasons only as vivid and accurate as the signals they perceive from the existing communicative world. For that, we must remove the blinders of denial and dogma, illusion and denial, wholly seeing and feeling and living again!
Before we try to reconfigure reality, we must first learn to wholly notice, clearly perceive and discern what is, undistracted by any delusion or projection. It is up to us to come back to our senses, and in that way come back to the interactive world we are meant to be response-able, proactive, and joyous participants in.
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Good Cops, Bad Cops
Exposing the Real Wyatt Earp: “The Fighting Pimp”
(OK – we’ll ask him to keep on his britches!)
by Jesse Wolf Hardin
As a naturalist, ecophilosopher, and booster of folk herbalism, I have many readers who are perplexed about my simultaneous interest in history with all its militarism and violence, treachery and injustice… and I say, not only because it is a fascinating collection of dramatic and consequential tales, but because of what we can learn in the process about ourselves, our culture, government, and popular icons.
Part I: Police Shootings, Unworthy Heroes, & Honorable Peacekeepers
In these days when the news is filled with reports of police shooting unarmed citizens, it seems important to remember that not all cops are bad. Nor, as we are becoming more and more aware, are they all good like we may have been told when we are kids. I have been beaten by police for no reason at environmental demonstrations, and had them bear false witness against me, and yet the rural county where we live has had a number of honorable sheriffs that we could trust to respect the people as well as do all in their power to protect us. It was the same back in the days of the “Old West,” with there being many seldom remembered lawmen who bravely and honestly stoop up for the common folks, alongside a number of badge wearers who used their power to literally “get away with murder.” It seems crucial that we measure every lawman as an individual, regardless of the fairness of our established laws… and that we take great care as to who we claim as our cultural heroes!
It is kind of crazy to imagine things ever are or were as simple as “good” and “bad,” white hat and black. Western lawmen were human beings like the rest of us, making hard choices in difficult situations and fast changing times. Whether we respect their choices or not, we have to sympathize considering all they faced and dealt with. Whether known as sheriff, marshall, deputy, ranger, policeman or peace officer, those who wore a badge found themselves caught between the demands of a city council or state government and the practical realities of hard-bitten frontier towns where freedom and opportunism were both worshipped and defended. Many received no pay other than a percentage of any money that those they arrested might be fined, contributing to the most honest officers having to moonlight at a second job, and others to turn to protection rackets or other crimes. Those who received salaries, usually made less than the not only the saloon-keepers but even the saloon sweepers, a monthly wage no better than that of the cowpunchers they rode herd on come Friday and Saturday nights. Their work could best be described as weeks of boring tasks, punctuated by moments of high drama and sometimes deadly confrontation. For these reasons and more, very few of even the most famous lawmen actually spent that many years wearing the star. While some like famed Jeff (Jefferson Davis) Milton could boast of lifelong lawman careers, they were the exceptions. Wild Bill Hickok, for example, served only a few stints between less officious gunslinging, while our subject, Wyatt Earp, worked only as a policeman in a couple of Kansas towns and for less than 3 years, other than being temporarily deputized by his brother Virgil in time for the O.K. Corral gunfight.
It is the image of Wyatt Earp and the O.K. Corral gunfight – or more accurately, the fight in a back alley near the O.K. Corral – that defines the western lawman for most people today, as popularized by early sensationalist dime novel biographer Stuart Lake, featured in dozens of books in the years since, and burned into our memory thanks in part to the highly inaccurate movie Wyatt Earp and more so due to the powerfully acted but also fictionalized film Tombstone. We are comforted in this case, by the notion of a brace of officers standing up for law and order and protecting the innocents with an air knight-like nobility and fitting panache, unintentionally setting off a firefight with their well meaning enforcement of sensible gun control laws. Less comforting is the reality of two contending politicized factions of part time criminals and full time hustlers vying for control of the town of Tombstone, using an unpopular and seldom enforced ordinance against carrying guns as the excuse to confront a handful of cowboys who were already saddling up their horses and on their way out of town. There is something creepy about the Marshall pinning badges not only on Wyatt but on the colorful lawbreaker and killer Doc Holliday in order to carry out what many testified to be more of an execution than fair fight.
In the “days of yesteryear”, and to some degree in these modern times as well, things like right, wrong, justice and law enforcement in the American West were anything but clear-cut. Instead of the proverbial black-hatted bad guys and white-hatted heroes, upon close inspection what we find are more like the gray hats of complex people acting on agendas that sometimes appeared – to certain vested interests, in specific situations – as being either dangerous threats to the community needing to be removed or else its brave defenders upon whom civilization itself seemed to depend. Not only were they judged differently depending upon the circumstances, but many at one time or other worked both sides of the fence.
The job of lawman may have been underpaid but it provided potentially valuable inside information and special advantages sometimes contributing to officers branching out into extortion, or hanging up their badges altogether in exchange for a potentially more lucrative career of crime. Whether they were praised or reviled for their forays outside the law depended on the situation and context, and just who was doing the appraising. The bounty hunter Tom Horn was treasured by the well financed and often European cattle barons that hired him to both punish assumed rustlers and enforce their monopoly on grazing, but was hated by the small struggling homesteaders whom he primarily targeted. The respected lawman Sheriff Henry Brown of Caldwell, Kansas, was awarded a gold plated, presentation model Winchester rifle by a grateful citizenry for his services, but then took this same rifle with him on a botched robbery attempt on the bank in nearby Medicine Lodge. At the same time, experience as a gunslinger and lawbreaker were excellent qualifications for the post of sheriff, and it often required bending or ignoring the fine points of law and order to get the job done. In the cases of Hickok and the Earps, town managers were more than happy to overlook their zealous use of their Colt’s revolvers to bludgeon or shoot the miscreants undeniably making life difficult for law abiding folk.
Wyatt Earp is a perfect case in point, our collective memory of him being one of a brooding anachronism with a flat brimmed hat and drooping mustache, a reluctant hero and near magician with a gun. More often and more accurately he was a gambler and provider of womanly flesh, a man whom many contemporaries referred to as the “fighting pimp”. He can neither be wholly lionized, nor vilified, being more than anything typical of any of the “sporting men” who joined with the countless other opportunists who came west in search of riches and adventures. What distinguished him and others of his ilk, was a degree of hard-headed determination and a willingness to kill. But even given his various shooting scrapes, the primary reason we remember him is for the exaggerations and outright fabrications about his experiences that started with the release of those dime novels while he was still alive.
Part II: Wyatt Earp Myth & Reality
“This is the West, sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.” (from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, 1962)
Like many of you, I grew up watching a fictionalized Wyatt Earp played Hugh O’Brien on TV, a morally spotless good guy always looking out for everybody but himself. To the contrary, the real Wyatt was in many ways a self serving and self aggrandizing scoundrel.
Wyatt was born March 19, 1848 to a family that locals came to call the “fighting Earps,” since anytime the father and brothers weren’t fighting other folks they could likely be found brawling amongst themselves. When he got his first law enforcement job as constable of Lamar County, Missouri in 1870, he was heard to brag about how the badge made it possible to do as he liked without any more worry about being thrown in jail. A year later he had quit and moved on into the territory of the Cherokee, where he and a friend named Edward Kennedy were pursued, arrested and fined for rustling horses. By 1874 he could be found with his brothers Jim and Morgan and their mistresses in the then rowdy cow-town of Wichita, Kansas, where he made money gambling in the saloons and managing a stable of prostitutes… several of whom registered for business using the Earp last name. It was for kicks, it’s said, that he joined local officers in tracking down a wanted miscreant, when the act of emptying their prisoner’s pockets of $148 for “expenses incurred” reminded him of the extracurricular opportunities law enforcement work could provide. Wyatt then got hired as a Wichita policeman himself in 1875, his performance described by the Wichita Weekly Beacon newspaper as “unexceptionable,” the most exciting incident he was involved in being his dropping of his revolver on the saloon far and being barely missed by his own bullet. Later that year he was arrested and fined for pummeling his boss’s main rival during the election campaign for city Marshall. The Earps moved out of town two weeks after his dismissal, prompted by the city council issuing a warrant for their arrest as vagrants.
Not exactly the best start for what would be a future righteous legend.
Soon after being run out of Wichita, Wyatt Earp worked two short stints as deputy of of Dodge City, possibly shooting one fugitive in the back during a chase, clubbing dozens of rowdy party-goers with the butt of his sixgun, and putting a bullet in the leg of a Texas cowpoke in the course of enforcing the ordnance against carrying guns in town. Resigning his post, he fatefully chose the silver mining town of Tombstone for his next attempts to strike it rich with as little effort as possible. It was there that he and his brothers came into conflict with an equally roguish band of part time rustlers who called themselves simply “the cowboys,” with the Earps being both romanticized and provoked by the self proclaimed champion of “law and order”, Tombstone Epitaph editor John Clum.
In March of 1881, the Benson stage was robbed by someone with insider information, and Wyatt came under suspicion. Years later his brother Virgil’s wife wrote that she had hidden the masks and disguises they used, but regardless of the facts, things were heating up for what would be the shootout upon which much of Wyatt Earp’s future fame will be predicated. In June, the then Mayor Clum appointed Virgil the town Marshall, who in turn temporarily deputized Wyatt and Morgan Earp as well as the always “game” Doc Holliday. By October 15th things had heated up between the contending parties and their respective political bases, beyond the point of hope for a peaceful resolution. It was ironic, many would agree, that the gun toting, often lawbreaking Earps would again use the enforcement of early, widely resented gun laws to spark the confrontation that everyone had been so long expecting.
On that infamous afternoon of October 26th, word had gone out that “cowboy” faction members Ike and Billy Clanton, Billy Clairborne and Tom and Frank McLaury were armed and gathered in the aforementioned alley, saddled and ready to ride out, though clearly making a point of taking their time. As was indicated by later trial evidence, of the five cowboys only Billy Clanton and Frank McLowry were “packing iron”, while all three of the Earps and Holliday were carrying. The fight apparently went down much as dramatized in the movie “Tombstone,” other than the ridiculous fanning of a dozen rounds into the nearby Fly Photography Studio: Virgil yells at the cowboys that “I want your guns,” as Wyatt draws his Colt and Doc jabs his shotgun menacingly at Tom McLaury. The spunk Billy Clanton pulls his revolver in response, as an unarmed Tom McLaury struggles to get his Winchester 1873 rifle out of the scabbard on his horse. Somewheres up to 30 shots are fired in a space of around 25 seconds or so, a wild melee in which Sheriff Behan pulls Billy Claiborne to safety, the troublemaking Ike Clanton runs, Billy Clanton shoots at Wyatt, Wyatt shoots at the more formidable Frank McLaury, and Earp exchange shots with F, and Doc putting two loads of buckshot into Tom as his horse spins out of his grasp. The fight ends with the thrice-shot and quickly bleeding-out teenager Billy Clanton hollering for more bullets as he clicked his emptied revolvers, and a dazed Morgan Earp and puckish Holliday now armed with a Colt handgun, facing down a wounded Frank McLaury who bravely asserts “I’ve got you now.” “You’re a daisy if you do,” Holliday is reported to have replied, as he and Morgan simultaneously drop him dead. Scorecard: The McLaury brothers and Billy Clanton, deceased. Doc Holliday, a flesh wound to the hip. Morgan, a round in the shoulder. Sheriff Virgil Earl, a .45 caliber hole through is right calf. Wyatt, unscathed and movie-poster proud. Later, Wyatt and Doc are both arrested, and then freed in November. Judge Spicer felt obliged to drop charges in part because they hadn’t gunned down the despised but unarmed and retreating Ike Clanton.
Dissatisfied with the ruling, cowboy compatriots ambushed and shotgunned Virgil Earp first, crippling him, and then blew away Morgan Earp as he bent over a billiard table. One of the suspected shooters was Frank Stillwell, who contrary to the movie version was at work at the stock yards in Tucson and not stalking the Earps when he first had his legs shot out from under him, and then suffered two loads of buckshot and four rifle rounds to the torso. Earp and friends put five holes in a second suspect, Indian Charley, before he could get away from the area, and the third suspect Pete Spence promptly asked Sheriff Behan to place him in protective custody. Satisfied at having taken the law into their own hands and extracted revenge, Wyatt and Doc left Arizona… but not as triumphant lawmen, as fugitives with warrants out for their arrest and a reward on their heads. For Earp, the O.K. Corral shootout was the historical high point from which he slowly spiraled down into a life of increasing irrelevance and personal desperation.
Hugh O’Brien aside, Wyatt never ever wore a star on his chest again. Instead, in the ensuing years he travelled around the West with his brother Jim running confidence schemes and real estate scams that bankrupted unsuspecting rubes, and Wyatt was actually arrested a number of times including in Alaska and in Idaho on two counts of claim jumping. His notoriety won him honored work as referee of the world champion boxing match in 1896, a bout which he ended due to a foul he called against contender Fizsimmons, a judgment it was commonly believed was made because of bets Wyatt had placed on opponent Sharkey. As late as 1911, at age 63, Earp was arrested again for vagrancy and for bilking tourists in a bunco game.
Wyatt spent much of his later period trying to get film star William S. Hart to publish his autobiography and make it into a movie, but Hart found problems with the manuscript’s veracity. Stuart Lake held no such reservations, and printed his pack of colorful lies under the title “Wyatt Earp: Frontier Marshall.” 70 years later there have been several imaginative programs and movies made about his life, with little understanding of or attention to the complexities and twists of this most famous lawman/outlaw.
In the end, it was no shootout that did him in. The year of the stock market crash, on January 3, 1929, Wyatt Earp died as he had lived: a “pain-in-the-arse”… not from bullet wounds, but from prostate cancer!
Part III: Mixed Bags & The Highest Standards
“Don’t shoot! I can’t breathe!” -Recent protest chants against police injustices
After 2015s incidences of citizens being killed for sassing the cops or trying to run, we are left wondering what is different now and in the days of the Wild West… if anything at all. The famous/infamous Wyatt Earp never suffocated any black men for selling loose cigarettes or drivers for reaching for their keys like officers were accused of this year, but he damn sure shot unarmed men in the back who dared to be so disrespectful as to try to run away.
Then, as now, we are largely left with what we as a collective people seem to desire more than truth: the hope that can only come from an excitingly portrayed legend. The truth, to the degree that we are willing to listen, is that we humans are all a mixed bag of qualities and faults, and that America’s chosen heroes are often not the best examples of laudable character.
And the truth is that of all the people on this planet, the ones we should be holding to the highest standards of all are those that we have as a society permitted to carry a badge and a gun.
Books on Western history and culture by Jesse Wolf Hardin are available for sale at: www.OldWestScribe.com
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