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Clean Water for Health: Filtration & Herbs

Sunday, June 26th, 2016

Aysgarth Close Up Waterfall

Clean Water For Health:


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.


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.

Flint Water Protestors

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.

Sam Coffman Water Purifying Project

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.Water borne Bacteria magnified

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.

Sand Filter poste

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.

Slow_sand_filter diagram 1

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.

Slow-Sand-Filter diagram

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.

Juglans nigra Eastern Black Walnut

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: A Dialogue With Naturalist Terry Tempest Williams

Saturday, February 20th, 2016


Eros, Canyons, & Kokopelli

A Dialogue with Terry Tempest Williams (1987)

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Terry Tempest Williams young72dpi

“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 in canyonlands 72dpi

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.

Old Goddess statue 72dpi

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.

Terry Tempest Williams older 72dpi

“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.

Kokopelli Shadow 72dpi

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.

 Kokopelli River

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Open to Debate: Healthy Disagreement

Tuesday, January 26th, 2016

Debate & Oratory old poster 72dpi


–––––––OPEN TO DEBATE––––––

Vital Disputation & Healthy Disagreement

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Plant Healer Magazine & Events –

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.” 

Trump of Herbalism 72dpi

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.

Nullified 72dpi

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.

Calvin disagreement 72dpiThis 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. 

Gandhi Honest Disagreement 72dpiWe 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 blogs for disagreement 72dpithe “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.

Agreement handshake 72dpi“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.

Disagreement quote 72dpi





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. 

Debate illustration 72dpi

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

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Good Cops, Bad Cops –Exposing the Wyatt Earp Myth

Monday, August 3rd, 2015

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.

Lawmen of the Old West Unmasked banner-72dpi 

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.

Wyatt Earp as we like to think of him – and as he may have looked during his time in Tombstone

Wyatt Earp as we like to think of him – and as he may have looked during his time in Tombstone

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.  

No matter what the books say, Wyatt was no angel, and he never carried a long barreled "Buntline Special" revolver either.

No matter what the books say, Wyatt was no angel, and he never carried a long barreled “Buntline Special” revolver either.

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.

The Wyatt of comic book fame shot the guns out of bad guys hands... the real Wyatt was a bully and bushwhacker happy to put some lead in a nemesis' back.

The Wyatt of comic book fame shot the guns out of bad guys hands… the real Wyatt was a bully and bushwhacker happy to put some lead in a nemesis’ back.

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 Earp, 1923, not exactly a happy camper.

Wyatt Earp, 1923, not exactly a happy camper.

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!

Wyatt Earp old and pissed off 72dpi

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:

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Rooting: Where We Are, & Where We Most Belong

Monday, July 13th, 2015


Where We Are, & Where We Most Belong

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

The following piece by Wolf is excerpted from our book The Healing Terrain, about the healing and inspirational powers of nature, and the nature of healing… describing how to find the land that most calls to us, and providing tools needed to deeper connect with the land no matter where we live.  You can order a copy of The Healing Terrain on the Bookstore page at:

Buddha in roots in water

Some of us think that we have no roots, but it simply isn’t true.  We are at worst uprooted, our roots torn from the soil as we struggled to keep up with restless, roving parents, or jerked free by our own hands when we left home to break out on our own.  We are not rootless.  Our roots dangle out the bottoms of our skirts and trousers as we drag them behind us down streets and hallways, their probing tips grasping at the ground at our feet wherever we are, tendrils seeking the stability and nourishment that nothing but an intimate sense of place can provide, the rootedness that makes the fulfillment of purpose possible.

All that we do occurs in a place, and is colored and influenced by it.  We and our healing practice are most effective in relationship to a home, with a firm base to work from, in close relationship to a specific place, as expressions of its character, informed by its history and nature.  Whatever our healing practice, where we’re situate is to some degree either helping or hindering our work, our development, accomplishments and results.  This is true whether we have lived somewhere for only a short while or for all of our lives, and even if we work out of a handmade gypsy healer’s trailer that seems to be always on the road.  It is important, then, that we learn how to deepen relationship with wherever we happen to currently be… and just as importantly, that we someday find and develop an in-depth relationship with that one particular place where we can feel most ourselves, most needed or effective, and most fulfilled.

Wherever We’re Situated

“To be enlightened he did not have to leap to someplace else; he only had to come hard against the ground where he already stood.”    –Scott Russell Sanders

In the past, humans often lived for many generations in a single region.  Every child would by a certain age have become familiar with the land, and with both its dangers and its bounty.  Even historic peoples who migrated annually, generally did so in a seasonal loop that took them back to certain cherished locations season after season, and developed a relationship with inspirited place that was nothing less than intimate.  This was evident in their attachment to particular mountains, rivers, springs and groves, in their myths and tales, and in their adoption of signature animals and plants of the area as their allies or totems.  It was evident, as well, in each culture’s collected body of information, a veritable instruction manual about how to live a healthy and sustainable  existence in the mountains, deserts, canyons or shorelines that they called their homelands.  It was important that even long range migrants, scouts and explorers did not travel so far, so fast, making sure that their knowledge of the land balanced rather than was outstripped by new discoveries.  They were careful to introduce themselves to new areas at the frontiers of their travels, becoming students of the diverse ecosystems of each new valley or forest, of each regions’s spirit and needs as well as its fruits and advantages.  The extent of their explorations and health of the tribe were both dependent on its members knowing things like:

• Regional vagaries of weather, and the means for shelter.

• Where the nearest and best sources of potable water were.

• Which locally growing plants and resident wildlife were edible, and the names and medicinal uses of the native plants.

• The time of year to harvest such plants and animals, and the signs to watch out for that might indicate a decline in population and possibly dangerous over-harvesting. 

Recent recorded history, however, is more a chronicle of the invader and the exile, the ambitious and the dispossessed, the product of distracted or oblivious surface movers more than conscious travelers or determined settlers.  Modern society institutionalizes and glorifies a transitional lifestyle, one symbolized by the “necessity” of vehicles, defined by perpetual movement from one place, one situation, one occupation or employer to the next, house after house after house in the absence of a home.  And it’s not simply that we move on so quickly, but that our contact with each situation, each place, can be so insubstantial and superficial.  Sightseers fly or drive many hundreds of miles to the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, to spend a recorded average of five minutes at its edge before heading back to their car or hotel.  In these times, doctor’s evaluations are generally brief and template based. lovemaking is often abridged and rote, meals rushed and and only partially tasted, conversations facile as well as fast paced.  Our kind have become increasingly out of touch with our wild, instinctual, dreaming selves, with the actual elements of existence and the natural world we were born of.   


“Oh, what a catastrophe, what a maiming of love when it was made a merely personal feeling, taken away from the rising and setting of the sun, and cut off from the magical connection of the solstice and equinox.  That is what is wrong with us.  We are bleeding at the roots.”   -D.H. Lawrence

These days, there are well meaning people barely able to engage in a meaningful way at all – not with their sequential partners, adjustable belief systems, healing traditions, vocations or places where we live – before shifting to the inevitable next person or position, place or phase.   

The healthy alternative is to connect deeply with where we are and what we are doing, whether it is where we want to be, or imagine we “have” to be… to create a reciprocal energetic relationship wherever we are situated, by:

• Being ultra-present and aware.

• Noticing what actually is, both pleasant and unpleasant, rather than imposing our assumptions or impressions on the world around us.

• Continuing to fulfill our role, purpose and mission, even if the situation or location make it hard.

No matter how temporary our residency, the self-assignment is the same: active relation.  

It may be that you genuinely know you’re not living and working in a place you can truly love, or one that fails to nurture your authenticity, growth and becoming.  It may not be rural enough to feed your connection to nature, or be to rural to support your service or mission.  You may sense a need to get away from the area’s energy, or feel mysteriously and irresistibly drawn to somewhere else – somewhere you came from, once visited, or perhaps have only glimpsed in books or in a dream.  If so, you need to heed the call, pack your belongings and follow your heart and the signs to a different home, move your clinic to the neighborhood where something tells you there is the most possibility and need, relocate in the bioregion that calls to you so plaintively.  That said, up until that moment it would be best for you to do all that you can to notice, value, connect to and learn from the place where you currently work, practice, and reside.  You may only plan to be somewhere for a single Summer, but the healthy imperative is still to inhabit the place consciously and intensely, not passing through blindly or unaffected, but learning from it, drawing from it, and giving back to it in healthy dynamic relationship. 

Alder Roots and floating leaves

Some ways of connecting include:

• Noticing, identifying, studying and interfacing with the wild nature that exists even in the most urbanized of environments, from an unbridled rain torrent and the birds nesting in the hollow street signs, to those outlaw medicinal “weeds” growing up out of nearly every foot of cement-free earth.

• Studying the areas human as well as natural history, native mythologies and folklore.

• Sensing and engaging its residents spirits, or its overall ambient spirit, energy and character.

• Finding useful ways to contribute to the health and well being of the land and its lifeforms. 

Rebecca, a maker of herbal preparations and friend of ours, currently makes her abode in Los Angeles, a city bordered with lovely mountains on those days when the ocean winds have blown its poisonous smog onward to Phoenix.  Conceived in Korea, born in England and raised in Scotland, she has reason for being ambivalent when it comes to her place in the world.  She didn’t like the arid hills of L.A. when she arrived fresh from the green isle, and judging by her professed needs, aesthetics and dreams it could never be her true home.  That said, over the years she has opened her eyes to the beauty of the coastal range, and thanks to her study and gathering of medicinal plants she has come to notice and appreciate not only the species in the threatened wildlands outside the city limits, but also the heroic herbs occupying the edges of its urban parking lots like green protestors at a “grow-in”.  She may or may not find her way to the oak covered mountain and supportive community that might serve her best, but she has found the reasons and ways for loving and building healthy relationship with the land where she is.

The consequences of such relationship with place can include personal healing, an enriched and deepened identity, heightened presence and awareness, expanded holistic understandings, your protection or restoration of the land, a more powerful healing practice with more accurate assessments and tailored recommendations, and a greater savoring of life’s everyday meals and moments. 

House with Roots 72dpi

Where We Belong

“These are places of initiation, where the borders between ourselves and other creatures break down, where the earth gets under our nails and a sense of place gets under our skin.”  -Robert Michael Pyle

Every region and place in the world has its own distinctive details and topography, orientation and design, character and personality, flavor and feel, it’s own delineating mix of animal and plant species, advantages and drawbacks, as well as its own blend of human elements such as the makeup of the population, the appearance of a neighborhood, the viability of a business location.  While you can take healthy advantage of anywhere you  are, some places will feed your heart and spirit more than others, some need your attentions and loyalties more, a few will prove exceptionally opportune for your personal or business aims… and only one place can be said to be optimum for your mission and your fulfillment, one place where your efforts are most powerful and where you feel most wholly yourself, most alive, most empowered, most realized.

The word “situation” comes from the Latin “situs,” meaning “site.”  There is an optimal site, an ideal position from which to act upon the world at any given time, and where we can best realize the benefits.  A most compelling or emboldening landscape, providing us with inspiration that we then pass on to our clients, customers, readers or students.  A most effective place to do our most important and personal business.  A community and culture that we can most relate to.   Sometimes the situation and place is temporary and will need to change.  Most powerfully, is when the most optimum setting for our lives and work calls us to not only remain but to make a lifetime commitment, not just a site but a home.

A good example is our friend Julie, founder of Humboldt Herbals.  Her move to the coastal forests of northern California felt not only fortuitous, but a calling.  While she was new to the area, it somehow felt familiar – like a return, a reuniting, a homecoming.  The community there is full of folks interested in living close to the land, in natural health and stewardship, resulting in her store turning into a location for consciousness raising and life sharing, live music and social events, as well as somewhere to obtain plant medicines and advice on their use.  Even more significant, was the effect that the environs had on Julie, providing affirmation for her sensitivity and vision, inspiration to make her dreams come true, examples of right-living and wildness that she can heed and emulate, an ecosystem that she readily fit into like nowhere else.  Proof that she had found home, can be heard in her writing voice, as Humboldt County’s wondrous mountains and vulnerable rivers, precious forests and healing herbs speak through her.

There are a zillion “reasonable” excuses for not taking chances, making changes, moving from where we are, or in other ways following our hearts to such a home.  But unless we’re locked up in jail, we get to choose our situations and need not be victims or prisoners of them.  We have responsibility – the ability to respond – much more healthy than entrapping obligations.  We can each take responsibility for finding and then planting our roots in the town, bioregion, even continent where we can be most at home.

Banyan Tree Roots

It’s likely that we currently live and work in the wrong place if:

• Our place and purpose are at odds.

• We feel “out of place,” anxious, ill at ease.

• We feel like we can’t be our true selves.  

• We tend to cite a job, convenience or promises to family as the primary reasons for living where we do.

• We rationalize where we’re at by saying “it’s only 100 miles from my favorite plant-gathering spot” or “only a few hours from the beach… when the traffic isn’t backed up.”

• We like our house, but are uncomfortable with the surrounding area.  

• We put up posters or paintings of distant exotic places on your walls, while usually keeping the windows or curtains closed.  

• We are more familiar with the herbs we purchase than with the local weeds.

• Our customers or clients can sense our discomfort or dissatisfaction.

• We are regularly more excited to leave on a trip, than we are to get back.

To the contrary, we may have discovered our place if:

• We feel called most clearly, loudly, insistently.

• Place and possibility, intention and means, magic and design truly align.

• It serves rather than conflicts with our life’s purpose.

• We are most nourished, inspired, excited, connected.

• We feel most our true selves, and we don’t feel we have to look or act different in order to earn membership.

• There is not only the opportunity to do our most meaningful work, but where the situation and energies of the land itself serve to enable, deepen and increase the effectiveness of our efforts.   

• Whenever we’re daydreaming or dreaming, we picture yourself there, enjoying its urban character or rural nature, it’s southerness or mountain vibe.

• We already live there, and any direction we leave in feels like the wrong direction.

• The first time we visit it, it feels like we’ve been there before.  

• It has a particular landmark we’re attached to, a memorable mountain or certain species of flower that we’d hate to wake up without seeing.  

• We can’t talk about where we live without getting all excited or teary.   

• We’d find some way to stay in the area, even if our job folded or our house burned down to the ground.  

• We regularly feel like opening up the curtains and windows, or constantly feel drawn outside.

• Our clients, customers or students sense our groundedness, and benefit from our place-based knowledge, rootedness, and continual personal blossoming.

• We are generally more excited to get back home, than we are to leave on even a fun trip away.

Angkor Wat banyan tree roots temple

Seeding & Rooting

“The indestructibility of these associations conveys a sense of permanence that nurtures the heart…. and cripples one of the most insidious of human anxieties, the one that says you don’t belong here, you are unnecessary.”  -Barry Lopez

For the longest time, our ancestors tended to cast its seeds close to the trunk, so to speak, where group tradition and personal lifelong familiarity ensured a comforting sense of belonging on or near the lands of our forbears.  Whenever they departed on their great journeys of exploration, their hearts were torn by the separation, and they sang the praises of the homes they left behind.  The greatest of the tragic myths invoke the anguish and longing that follows lengthy separation from one’s cherished homeland, the place where they were known.  

These days, the seeds of our kind are more like winged, aspirations carried aloft by the prevailing winds, touching down time and again without stopping, finally caught up in the undergrowth of a distant grove.  Those few that sprout usually doing so far out of sight of the parent tree, the culture and place of their origins.  But like all airborne seeds, once we feel landed — delivered to the land — we adhere to the fabric of place, work our way down to the earth through the turnings of the weather.  When the nature of the soil is just right, the conditions perfect, we extend a taproot deep into the body of place, an anchor securing our very being from the forces of distraction and dissipation.  

One of the saddest things I have heard was from a dear woman who said she felt bad for staying where she is at.  The essential lesson is not only that we all need to assess and evaluate how well our homes fit us and serves us, but that we connect to the dirt where we stand, love the Earth that flourishes beneath our structures and thrives in our yards and parks, to feel at home in our natural bodies and the region where we live… to notice, cherish, and savor place anyplace.

If you are where your heart calls to you to be, or if you have made a compromise and choice to remain, the work is to connect, realize, root, and nourish.  If, however, you feel out of place where you are, then I must ask you to consider change. Heed your dreams, scour maps like an excitable hunter of treasure, consider every vacation an opportunity to uncover the holy grail of true home.  Pay attention to your desires, your needs, and the almost magnetic pull in certain directions that requires no rational explanation.  Use your imagination, and place yourself in the landscapes you imagine.  If it doesn’t feel right, move on from wherever you’re at, to the ideal site for your becoming all you can be. 

Even the wandering Healer, given to roam, benefits from a connection and commitments to home.  This is because we are most healed – and most able to help heal others – when we reach out and engage the world from a carefully chosen base.  And how much we and our healing practices are able to branch and bloom, stretch and reach, depends on how deeply and firmly we root.

Deeper Roots Tree framed

Tips For Cultivating Sense of Place

I: Directions For Rooting

• Make a detailed list of the compelling personal, practical, aesthetic, emotional or spiritual reasons that you live where you do, including:

1) Practical considerations.

2) The ways that you enjoy it, or feel related to it.

3) The ways that you don’t like it, aren’t served by it, or are alienated by it.

4) How your purpose and aims may benefit from it.

5) The ways that it may be obstructing, distracting or delaying your purpose and aims.

• Make another list, this time of those characteristics you think could make a place ideal for your fullest expression, satisfaction, service and purpose.  Beneath each item, please:

1) Describe the particular ways that each characteristic might benefit your growth and healing, contribute to your wholeness or growth, help define your purpose or propel you forward.  

2) Describe the degree to which the place where you live (whether the bioregion, the neighborhood or the specific house) does or does not afford you such characteristics and benefits.

• Weigh your responses to the above two questions and measure them against each other.  If your current location is possibly serving you and your purpose best, then there is nothing for you to do in this regard except:

1) Become ever more familiar and intimate with the spirit and processes of the land and its natural and human communities.

2) Create conscious relationship with place, finding ways to receive its benefits and to give back.

3) Help establish human community and lifestyle that increases consciousness of and caring for the natural world we are all a part of.

4) Sense, savor and celebrate!

• If you determine that it is more injurious than helpful and healthful, you will usually realize that there are no practical considerations sufficient to justify your staying where you are.  

• And if it does not optimally serve your true self, spirit and purpose, your health, mission and satisfaction require you begin taking substantial steps towards finding and then moving to and consciously inhabiting a place, region and situation that will… by:

1) Recalling and deeply considering past place-related feelings and experiences.

2) Researching bioregions and habitats based on you needs, feelings and purpose as you described them above.  Ask yourself questions like: How do different kinds of weather affect you?  What combination of weather patterns and seasons makes you feel most yourself, invigorated or affirmed, inspired or comforted nHow populated of a place would you feel best in, if a job wasn’t the number one criteria?  Do you feel best in sight of mountains, out in the wide open spaces, nestled in a canyon, within smell of an ocean, or?  What regions of the United States or the world do you at the moment feel most drawn to, if any?

3) Exploring any such bioregions, perhaps making weekend trips to feel out (more than “think about”) where you best belong, or commit all future vacations to taking long (expensive or not) trips to the places that may be calling to you most clearly.  

4) Researching the practical means to make a move in the direction of such a place.

5) Doing whatever it takes to find and reinhabit your place, no matter how unprofitable, inconvenient, stressful for your friends and loved ones, or alarming to your parents, and don’t let anything or anyone dissuade you from what you know you need to do or where you sense you need to be.

6) Strive to be – and practice being – more at home wherever you’re at.  And at the same time, be constantly mindful of where you can be most yourself, the place or places that call to you and stir your passion and resolve.  Be ever mindful of – and a student of – where you are now, while ever moving either towards or deeper into where you most belong.  


To read more about home, nature, and sense of place, order your own copy of The Healing Terrain on the Bookstore page at:

(RePost & Share Freely – Thank You)

The Healing Terrain front cover 72dpi

Never Act Your Age! by Rhiannon

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

Rhiannon's Happy 12th Birthday

Never Act Your Age!

by Rhiannon Hardin

I had a fantabulous 12th birthday this year!

One of my favorite recipes (in a cookbook Mama Loba let’s me borrow) is called Cloud cake.  It has no flour so I don’t have to worry about the gluten problem. I made a double batch, and layered the cake… very fun!  In a much loved Redwall book entitled Pearls of Lutra there are six rosy pearls, so I made six marzipan balls covered in rose petals and stuck them on the top. I put 12 cherries in each layer, adding 4 cherries as bonus around the cake. It was pretty fancy, and I was very proud of myself for pretty much making it all on my own. My friend Cassandra was here and was quite helpful with the cake. She had a very good time. ☺ We danced, played, sang, cooked, and altogether had a wonderful time!

Rhiannon & Cassandra in ageless playland

It seems very sad to me that so many people act only the way that they’re expected to at a certain age. An old man is expected to act like an old man, to be grouchy and do nothing but sit around complaining with his friends. A 14 year old is often expected to act snooty and slump around, a 6 year old girl expected to like pink and purple and play with dolls. We needn’t act according to people’s silly stereotypes, we should be us, be fully ourselves and like whatever we happen to like!

I still like to play with dolls and pretend friends.... so what?

For example, me: I’m 12 years old, and 12 year old girls are expected to be obsessing with boys, to have abandoned dolls and pretend friends, to “hang out” with their friends and such and such. However, the things I like often have little to do with how old I am. I still love playing with dolls and making up complex stories to go with playing with them. I like purple, cleaning my room, decorating, Russian history. I love horses like other girls my age, but I am truly myself, not liking things based on how old I am. I think that if anyone has an interest that doesn’t fit in with how old they are, they should still nourish that interest.

Cassandra has learned to have fun while she's helpful

I am very excited! I have a wonderful new room that our much appreciated WOOFer volunteers have help build  with Danny’s guidance. It is a beautiful room and I spend lots of time playing with dolls ☺ and playing pretend in there. I am very thankful to all the hard work that has gone into my room!  And for the donation I heard came in to help with it!  It is a beautiful room facing the sacred cliffs, a wonderful view! With how tall I’m getting I no longer fit into my beloved treehouse. So we’re working on converting the porch into this large and amazing room I’ll be able to fit in even when I’m a grownup.

Thank you all for listening!

Rhiannon's New Room

Medicine Bear Novel Announcement – With Excerpt

Wednesday, July 4th, 2012


It’s Here!  Fresh off the press, Wolf’s new novel


The first boxes of this exciting book have arrived, and Wolf is currently signing copies for mailing out to all who ordered one.  I highly recommend it!  As I wrote for its pages:

The Medicine Bear is a powerful novel of love, healing, devotion, coming of age, and sense of place, but more than any single element, it is a tapestry of the vital medicine that connects the people to the land, and all of us to each other. The skillful hands of the curandera heal even while the soldiers endure a bloody struggle. Through it all, the medicine of this tale is found in the power of personal transformation and bone-deep passion.  Readers of novels as diverse as Frazier’s Cold Mountain and Urrea’s The Hummingbird’s Daughter will be pulled into the mythic yet eerily relevant story of the Medicine Bear. The vibrant weaving of the many cultural elements that make of the American Southwest on the border are beautifully represented, transporting us to the lapiz skies, red clay, and lush canyons of New Mexico but the tale is applicable and relatable to the reader wherever they might be.

Jesse Wolf Hardin with Medicine Bear Novel

Never has a story of magic and healing, clarity and wildness been so needed as now.  Wolf’s masterful approach to magical realism and history grants us a seldom seen view into the events that have shaped the borderlands and its people… a master storyteller’s tale of a mestiza healer and her true love.

Part of the Announcement is pasted below, for you to please repost or forward, and an initial excerpt follows for those of you who may not have already gotten to read sections of it in the pages of Plant Healer Magazine.

Thank you for buying a copy, and for  helping getting the word out about this special book, recommending it to your students and friends.  It really means a lot to me personally.    –Kiva

Order your own personally signed copy now:

For a Medicine Bear Announcement to share with your friends and readers, download the following pdf:

Medicine Bear Announcement

Wolf and I with his new book... I hope you love it!


“The story of a healer, a love, and a time of transition”

in the Enchanted Southwestern U.S. during the closing days of the Old West
by Jesse Wolf Hardin

“An incredibly powerful novel of love, healing, devotion, and sense of place…
a tapestry of the vital medicine that connects the people to the land, and to each other.”

–Kiva Rose (N.M. Medicine Woman)

“If you have ever loved, healed or been healed, bemoaned a changing society,
and felt the animal spirit within you, this tale is for you.”

–Charles Garcia (Curandero; Director, Calif. School of Traditional Hispanic Herbalism)

Follow the wild-woman herbalist and Omen, the impassioned writer and adventurer Eland and archetypal Medicine Bear through a time of great cultural as well as personal transition, down plant-filled paths of discovery and healing and to the juncture of our own return to wholeness and health, rooted home and true love, meaningful mission and – ultimately – satisfaction and contentment.

Taking place primarily in the mountains and deserts of the American Southwest, we experience the confluence of Indian, Hispanic, and Anglo cultures that was and is New Mexico.  Spanning from the birth of Eland in 1892 to 1964 in its closing scene, its central event is a little known retaliatory raid in 1916 by Pancho Villa’s poorly equipped Indian revolutionaries, in what was the sole invasion of the U.S. by a foreign army since the War Of 1812.

Eland 1961

“The teachings of The Medicine Bear shine bright, like sunlight through a canopy of thickly branched trees. Here is found the deep wild wisdom of curanderas and curanderos of yesterday and today, disguised as story. One can almost smell the copal smoke and rain-dampened desert as we follow how Omen’s “don” unfolds, encouraged first by the spirits of plant and tree, stone and animal; the true teachers of those called by the guardians of the medicine ways. Later, honed by the old yerbera, Doña Rosa. Like we Mestizas, it walks between worlds: the world of matter, the world of spirit and the world of culture and language. Of brujas and curanderas. Of European healing and Indigenous medicine. It is also a love story… a tender unfolding of the Aztec spiritual principle of balance and harmony, of Ome Cihuatl and Ome Tekutli, Two Woman and Two Man, complementary opposites who embody soulful unity.”
–Grace Alvarez Sesma, Curandera

Omen 1911

At the very heart of this story is always Omen, gifted, abused as a child, resilient as a pre-teen studying with the curandera Doña Rosa, determined as an adult to move past her wounds and further her craft, forever experiencing the beauty and complexity of the world through her awakened senses and caring heart.

“To Omen, they were not just wondrous sunshine-eating entities, without whom humans and most of the life on Earth would die.  Plants were proof of miracles, and reason for hope.  The inspiration for a good and balanced life, and examples of how to live it.  They were her ever growing, ever reaching truth, the medicine she would need.” (from the text)

Over 70 full page, 6×9” illustrations compliment the text, a combination of original drawings by the author Hardin, and antique photographs from the period adapted for this role.  Character portraits and regional stills help tell a story Hardin first painted with his descriptive and evocative words, reflecting a vision that is Omen’s, Eland’s and ours to share.

“The Medicine Bear is an unabashedly magical, sensual, and yes, romantic tale of love and loss, of longing and renewal. It is a paean to wildness within and the southwestern wilderness that Eland and Omen are married to, along with each other, and whose exquisite beauty we are drawn into through the soulful eyes and language of Eland.
Plants intertwine with the lives of the main characters in The Medicine Bear. Eland knows his plants well, and as he watches his beloved Omen, an herbalist, at work and play, we are shown that plants are healers and beings in their own right. This matches my own sense of plants as beings of deep spirit and great generosity. There is so much plant lore and wisdom shared in the book, along with hints at how to gather and work with herbs, that the Medicine Bear will be a pleasure for herbalists to read, and a great education for those who long to become more intimate with healing plants.
The plants, the mountains, and the medicine bear sing to us, calling us each to full aliveness. While the old west is fading and the grizzlies are dying, love inspires, even beyond death itself.”
–Robin Rose Bennett

For Information or to Order:


Moonheart 1897

A Wild Seed:  Omen & Moonheart
(White Mountain Apache Reservation, S.E. Arizona, 1897)
Excerpted From
by Jesse Wolf Hardin

The day the one called Omen was born, Moon had determined to spend the morning walking.  This, even though the hours spent among river Cattails or ridge-top Aspen were hours when no dough was being mixed to rise, no Melons watered, no cistern cleaned.  Her ruddy-faced husband lay sleeping off a hangover on the sitting room couch, and there would be no one to strip the leaves of the Quelites off their stalks or to set the trays out in the blazing July sun.  Any number of tasks were predicated on the season and the weather, and she knew she approached the end of the drying season.  In another week the annual monsoons could start, the long series of afternoon thunderstorms that would make all the White Mountains quake.  But Moon needed time outside as much as she needed air to breathe. It was only the child swelling her belly, she was sure, that kept her from smoking and drinking.  And only the woods that kept her lifelong sadness in check.

Every chance she could, she’d visit the snares she set for Rabbit, gather and spread the seeds of those plants preferred by the Deer, and poke around for Mushrooms in the forest litter.  She fed on them, but made sure they in turn were fed.  She tried to keep an eye on every creature and plant, and how well they were doing, taking on the responsibility for guarding their well-being and seeing to their needs.  These walks had become a bit of a test over the last couple months, carrying the weight of her first child in front of her in a way that made balance difficult, a protrusion that got her tangled more often in the stands of brush and Willow.  The pregnancy never seemed anything less than right to her, even if it meant raising a baby alone.  The stretching uterus felt as good and natural as taking a man inside her, regardless of the causes or consequences of either.  Over the years, she exercised little more resistance to her instincts than a wild animal might to the cycles of rut and procreation, mostly in a series of monogamous relationships with generally abusive men.  The best that would usually be said of her in these situations was that she was nearly as hard on her oppressors as they were on her.

Moon put on her olive wool poncho and headed out.  What better way to prepare her nineteen-year-old body and spirit for what lay ahead, she thought, than a hike to the head of the valley, over the creek in front of her cabin, past the log outbuildings, through the fields of purple-crested Beeweed to the grove of Grandmother Ponderosas.  Normally her head felt heavy as rock, a terrible burden to her neck, with a mind clouded by floodwaters of illusion and regret.  But the further she walked, the lighter it inevitably felt… and clearer, until only a lens to see through, a conduit through which to reach out and connect.  Barely out of sight of her abode, the incessant self-analysis had already slowed to a halt, with even the words in her thoughts beginning to break apart into snippets of wind and bird songs.  Halfway through the Beeweed, she was as a Bee herself, giddy with pollen, tipping unsteadily but willingly on the very edge of the blossom of life.  Entering the Pines, there was neither comment nor qualification left, only hushed reverence for something she felt akin to, something huge and palpably thrumming.  The woman who so depended on her boundaries and defenses, felt her walls quaver in its presence, and then dissolve around her.

It was in this opened and vulnerable state that she first heard the baying of dogs ahead, followed by unintelligible conversation.  A few yards further, the trail spilled out into a glen circumscribed by a ghost-white choir of Quaking Aspens.  She stood before what she took to be a pair of middle-aged Mormon settlers with clean-shaven faces, with lever-action rifles of some make or other leaning up against the nearest tree.  One held back a pair of hounds struggling against the taut leather leashes, while a second knelt down in front of a huge blonde Bear with its skin half peeled back.  She watched as he deftly cut strips of meat off the back, slapping them into a pile on a canvas tarp next to him.  Eerily, the dogs paid Moon no more mind than if she were a resident bush, and the settlers looked up only ever so briefly with looks of neither surprise nor interest, scarily devoid of feeling.  Turning back towards home, she realized that it was this apparent absence of malice or love, passion or compassion, empathy or anger that scared her most about her human kind, and she sensed in their shadows an aura of detachment more perversely evil, even, than heated acts of hatred or conscious ill intent.  She was a hunter herself, a taker of life and consumer of flesh.  And while Grizzlies were always rare as Hen’s teeth, they were hell on livestock and could expect to get back a little of what they put out.  But there was nonetheless something about this particular Bruin’s death that gnawed at her guts.  Something in it that followed her home.

Moon was barely out of the pine grove when the tears started to flow, and only halfway through the Beeweed before her water broke.  The same oceanic fluids that floated all life gushed down her legs as she walked, soaked her Spanish dress, filled her sandals and drained out onto the welcoming ground.  Before she got back to the creek the dress was already off, wadded together with her poncho.  She stepped naked into the crystalline current and sat down, first watching the patterns it made as it swirled around her distended belly, then the water striders that skimmed about on its surface.  The water felt only slightly cooler than her own body, thanks to its day in the sun.  She’d just started to relax when the painful contractions started, and Omen’s life began.



Supergirl, Reverse Sexism and Glad Primitives

Sunday, June 10th, 2012

Supergirl, Reverse Sexism and Glad Primitives


Introduction: Every so often we get a blog comment or email from an irate reader, usually reacting to something Wolf wrote, since he likes to “stretch” us as he says, but also sometimes they are aimed at me.  The difference is that I can take it personally and have my feelings hurt, and Wolf only hurts when he’s been wrong.  The more reactive comments and emails are usually from either ultra-conservatives or ultra-politically correct, as Wolf mentions in our reply to one such letter, copied below.

As a woman who has been physically abused by men in the past, can credibly say that what we teach at Anima is not perpetuating a patriarchal paradigm, but challenging all paradigms, systems, and dogma – including that of herbalists, environmentalists and feminists… with what we hope most of you recognize as healthy humor.  –Kiva Rose

(The italicized lines are what was sent to us, what we sent to her appears in regular font.  The easily offended may wish to forego…)


Hi Anima:

Hello Amelia, from all of us here.

Really enjoy receiving all of your e-mails, whether regarding the fire or the school and teaching.  However, I’d really LOVE to see you grow up…

Not in our lifetimes, we have to say.  Why?  Because adults are often uptight and self righteous, whether pushy right wingers or pushy politically correct left wingers, and apparently can be devoid of humor… attached to being regularly mortified, disgusted, aghast.  Non-adults are more often playful and full of mischief, taking themselves less seriously, finding things to laugh about no matter how sober the subject, with little time for convincing or appeasing.



Instead of “Supergirls and Daniel” how about WOMEN embodying their natural selves?  You know, it seems odd to see an allegedly progressive place like yours still refer to women as girls.  None of those pictured in your pictures are “girls.”  Oh, yes, there ARE girls, those under around age 13 and/or before menses.  The rest of us, however, are adult women and I would appreciate you coming into alignment with those facts.  A bit nauseating.  Does Daniel OWN the girls like chattel or animals?  Are they his servants as in ye days of old patriarchy?  Is that what you promote?

Apologies for having stressed you out so.  We hope you have been able to calm and ground some since writing, assisted either by your karate chopping through two-by-fours at practice today, or else simply sipping a good nervine tea.

Dan is acting as foreman and teacher, giving the instruction that WOOF volunteers come for.  If it was a female foreman/forewoman/foreperson with young men working for her, they would still be her “crew.”



This daniel/supergirl stuff is all worn out.  Okay?  Cringe.

We are sorry, again, to make you cringe.  We prefer to only do that deliberately, not accidentally, though indeed usually only to people who need to loosen up, and not to reasonable correspondents.



In fact, in pre-history (which simply means BEFORE men wrote down their ideas of things), Women, through their spiritual higher evolvement and wisdom, directed the activities of males in constructing what was necessary for the higher evolvement and good of the whole.

Wow.  If we substitute “Aryans” for “Women” and “NonAryans” for “men” in your sentence above, this could be a quote right out of Nazi eugenic propaganda.  Women come in all types, from “highly evolved and wise” as you say, to greatly unwise and utterly unjust, always a mix of strengths and weaknesses.  Sounds kind of like men in this regard… or more accurately, humans, people, folks…

Hearing such an angry case for “higher evolvement” truthfully makes us all the gladder to be evolutionary throwbacks and earthy neo-primitives.


Your presentation lacks that knowledge.  Really disappointing to see you re-inforcing the idea that males make the plans and “supergirls” just obey the directives of males.

The term “Supergirls” comes from an old comic book that for some inscrutable reason didn’t name its heroic, butt kicking lead character “Superwoman” instead.  We used the term to acknowledge two gals (pardon the term) who are out away from the comfort of their parental home for the first time, breaking stereotypes and bravely seeking real life experience here in the wilderness, and whom Dan taught to use power tools and empowered to build a roof all by their selves, on a day he wasn’t here.

All ass backwards.  Please update yourselves.

We will never downplay the very serious issue of women being trivialized in this society, but nor will we start capitalizing “Women” and not “men” like you do, being a clear case of reverse sexism.

Not sure how I can recommend you if you do not.

Then we fear we shall have to do without your recommendation,

in light,

There can be no form, nor art, if there is only light without dark.  Thank you for providing some of both today.


My Handmade Book For Papa – by Rhiannon (age 11)

Wednesday, November 23rd, 2011

My Handmade Book For Papa

by Rhiannon (age 11)

Hello! I hope you’re all well, I’m back to tell you all more exiting and interesting things, on this sunny Thanksgiving Day!

Recently I made Papa a book of art, I love making him things. It is fun to make things for people you love, as it says on our kitchen trivet “it’s pleasant to labor for those we love.”

I made a 21 page book filled with my art and love.

I made a picture of Mama Loba and I cooking him a soup of hearts and above  I wrote “A soup of hearts for our king of hearts” and “He is a King of Hearts” as my Pa has such a big heart ☺

I made a picture of a wolf howling a rainbow of magic to the cliffs and a cossack warrior spurring his horse along. Mama Loba got as much enjoyment out of making it as I did, we both had a absolutely wonderful time.

I also did a picture of me as a 6 year old girl carrying an impossibly big load of wood and I wrote “Thank you for teaching me to attempt the impossible”. It is important to try to attempt the impossible, no matter how hard it seems you should still try your best, and be proud of yourself if you succeed, and if you can’t do it, don’t let it get you down just accept that there’s somethings you can’t do. But always always at least attempt the impossible. That’s what he taught me and I’m grateful for it.

I hope everyone enjoys this blog post.

–love, Rhiannon

(Share this if you want to!!)

Rhiannon’s Updates & Tales

Monday, May 31st, 2010

Hello everyone! It’s been a while since I posted anything here, because I’ve been really busy. There’s already a lot of things I need to take care of every day from my school studies to helping with the kitchen, gathering wood and watering our few planted herbs near the house. And then we’ve had wonderful guests and important projects too. Time sure flies! I’ll be turning 10 in just a little over a month!

You heard that a herbalist named John from came to visit and record a video course with Mama Kiva, and that he brought his son Rowan who I got to play with. One of our favorite things to do together was to make clay things. So I was trying to shape a pot (amazingly enough we got the clay from the river and it usually shaped stuff all right) but I was not succeeding, besides plain  river clay is hard to use. The clay from stores is easier to use, but I like creating things with materials from the canyon. The pot I was trying to make ended up where the bottom dropped out and all I was holding was the rim and it looked really funny. “It like some weird necklace.” I said. “Necklaces! let’s make clay beads Rowan said. I was a little doubtful we could make beads out of river clay but I agreed and it worked! We discovered that if you take handfuls of sand and knead it in the clay like dough, the clay works a lot better for beads. Then we would roll bits of clay into little balls. Then we would push them onto a thin stick, and wait till they dried. Many of them broke. For the most part our experiment was working. First we tried painting them with water colors they didn’t turn out very colorful. Then we tried painting them with acrylics they turned out really colorful! We strung them onto a thin but strong string, using a walnut shell with perfect holes on the sides as a center piece. We made two of them so that we could each have a necklace.    We painted them blue, green, striped, and black. It was so fun, we also found two worms in the clay. We even found a geode! It was inside a agate. We split it so he could take one half and I could have the other half. We saw many pretty crystals and stones. It was really fun digging in the rocks looking for a crystal. Like a treasure hunt.

Our dear friend and ally Marc came not too long ago. He has been moving his business I think and it’s very exciting when he still gets over here to see us. Together we rigged up this crate, in which you sit inside then you pulley yourself up. There’s a big pulley above you with rope coming out and you grab that rope and PULL! It’s very fun, and as I pull I think hey this my own weight I’m pulling up. Me and Rowan really enjoyed going up and down on that crate. It sure is harder then it looks though. When Rowan was watching me, he said gosh that looks easy I should be able to pull myself up on that with no trouble at all. He tried, and tried to lift himself as high as the rope’s limit. He just could not do it though. Well I guess I’m heavier then I thought, he said. I sure had fun this month. This shows some of the many ways you can have fun with nature.

And our friends and Anima Sponsors Steve and Valerie got to come to and visit! It was so nice, I really enjoy getting to see them. Steve brought a smoker, and we got to smoke and eat yummy wild Oryx meat (a wild antelope from Africa that lives in White Sands New Mexico now). We even got to have smoked corn on the cob. My friends Sabrina (13) and Cassandra (4? maybe) ate and played with us too. We had quite a barbeque, that evening we went target shooting away from the Sanctuary and I was given a new rifle from Steve and two new spinning metal targets, pretty unbelievable! Of course my Papa always helps make sure I remember the two most important rules to handling a firearm. Not putting your finger on the trigger until your ready to shoot,and not pointing it at anything or anyone that you don’t want a hole in. In the old days children were relied on to bring supper back. They would be handed a gun and sent off to see if they could stalk a rabbit. Gun handling and hunting and being able to defend yourself are all lessons in personal responsability you understand.  I was so excited about my new.22 rifle, ordered specially for me, it was sososo sweet of Steve, I am very thankful!

It’s already swimming river and I get in every day. What a lovely week I’ve had.  🙂

I will write another blog post soon.