Archive for the ‘The Search For Home’ Category

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

The Care-Taking Mission & The Search For Home

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015

The Care-Taking Mission & The Search For Home

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

It has been a busy Spring here in the wilds, connected as we are to the larger world through the magic of internet and at the behest of a calling – in the past month putting together another free Herbaria Newsletter plus the next 280 pages-long Plant Healer Magazine, producing a new color book on the history of herbalism and medicine called The Traveling Medicine Show, working on the upcoming Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference, and writing posts for several blogs.  The advantage of affecting culture and human kind from the “comforts” of a remote wilderness sanctuary, is tempered by the awareness that the walls of these crudely built cabins are in need of caulk and waterproofing or paint, that Elka could use help keeping the firewood split that heats our homes and food,  and that I have not been able to break away long enough to run the water pump to move precious water from our rain barrels to our storage tanks before this coming weekend’s expected storm.  I have missed the raw experience of daily close contact with the elements and fundamentals of real existence, the ritual chores of connection, the scent and heft of wood and water.  This led me to pondering again in the middle of the night, as to what kinds of folks might work best to share our incredible land and necessary responsibilities with.  It’s intensely wonderful here in such a wildly natural place, but most would say it has too many drawbacks being remote, in a county with a few hundred libertarian country folk, hard to make money, and anything but hipster. Anima Sanctuary Cliffs in Mist by Jesse Wolf Hardin 72dpi The result of such midnight thoughts was my writing my latest post for the Mother Earth News blog.  While most often we post about herbs and healing, this time I cover the subject of “Caretaking in Paradise” – not an appeal for assistance and involvement at Anima Sanctuary so much as encouragement and a primer for folks who cannot afford to buy remote property but wish for a way to live out in nature somewhere nonetheless.  I include in the post a list of practical tips for finding and arranging for caretaker positions in the rural and wilderness parts of this country. It brought to mind the times before I arrived in our river canyon, when this impoverished young dreamer was searching out places where I might be useful, healthful, and welcome: “For nearly 15 years, I learned to reinhabit the mountains of the rural West by caretaking a number of places:  A wild turkey refuge on a creek 23 miles of dirt road into the forest from the small village of Pecos, New Mexico, planting oats for the birds and keeping the pipes thawed between the spring box and the log cabin provided.  A ramshackle cattle ranch west the ghost town of Chloride.  An A-frame near the art colony of Taos, that I repaired and painted instead of paying rent.”

The search of course, led me here, and probably could have led me nowhere else.  This enchanted land, its shining examples and difficult challenges, have in combination informed my thinking and teaching, and largely shaped the person that I am.  It inspired my lifelong commitments to its care and restoration, though that ended up meaning being along here for over a decade.  The folks who at one time or another were pledged to live here or who helped pay for the sanctuary all drifted away, except for one who fortunately helps ensure its legal protection from afar, and my family who tend its needs are few indeed, but it nonetheless remains true that a primitive homestead lifestyle and our important duties are meant to be the work of a clan if not village, community, tribe.  To thrive, rural, farm, and wilderness land needs to be free from the crowds and concrete of so-called “civilization,” and yet if can benefit from small groups who guard, restore, and celebrate it.  Finally, as I wrote for the M.E.N. blog:

“…remember that caretaking means literally “taking care” – tending, maintaining, nurturing, and ultimately benefitting a home and ecosystem that you deeply care about!  It works best not as an experiment but as commitment, committing as fully to a place and purpose as we would to a spouse, a child, or a cause.  …Whether we end up a lifetime caretaker or making years of payments, we each have the option and opportunity to live our wildest dreams – including a dream of living close to the land and the elements, inspired by its beauty, fulfilled by our earthen role and worthy tasks.”


(Share freely)

To write us, email: mail(at)AnimaCenter(dot)org      –     And to read the entire Mother Earth News blog post, click on:  Caretaking in Paradise


Old Houses and Heartful Homage: Mama Taught To Seek More Than Just Shelter – by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010


Mama Taught To Seek More Than Just Shelter

by Jesse Wolf Hardin


I often think about my precious mother, years after her passing, and especially the attitudes and behaviors that most characterized her… things like her great joy in the process of creating as well as her seeming inability to linger and savor what she had created or accomplished, the unfortunate penchant to endlessly migrate but also the meaningful ways she felt about the various places where she stayed.

She had barely moved into what was to be her last house when her uterine cancer reappeared, and yet she never regretted using up the last of her meager assets to make the requisite down payment… not even for a second!  She rationalized the move as a way of situating her  closer to a hospital and advanced medical care, but more than anything else she wanted a larger space for all her pretty collectibles and artsy second hand furniture.  Neither convenience nor size were factors.  As with each of her many previous transitions, she had been looking “not for a house” but for “a home.”

House1There’s no doubt that even a brand new doublewide mobile can be such a home, as soon as it’s furnished with one’s treasured belongings, and decorated with the personal touches that mark it as our own.  And a structure becomes enriched whenever it’s filled with laughter and gratitude, and its energies deepened once blessed by the holy-water of its residents’ tears.  But Mom had always preferred either unique handmade houses or else the really old ones, thick with memories, marked by attention and love.  Such as converted barns and Victorian bungalows.  Spanish ranch houses and adobe casitas.  Gingerbread cottages for enchanted grandmothers, with trellising gardens and glad teasing flowers.

house adobeAnd it’s much the same with all vintage houses.  Whether a hundred year old East Coast structure with its basement and attic or a moss covered Oregon fishing shanty – we usually experience a “take off your hat and lower your voice” kind of reverence when we first enter.  Once inside we can feel the accumulative emotions and moods of the previous generations of residents, sense their own devotions to place in the handiwork in each board and brick.  Weathered oak floors polished by the shuffle of sock-clad feet, tongue-and-groove boards reflecting the busy shifting images of families growing, dying, and giving birth.  The fence rails absorb the sweat of little hands reaching up, as well as crippled hands struggling for a helpful grip.  They soak up and then radiate with the intentions and dreams, loss and gain, love and anger, desire and satisfaction of those who have called it their home before.  You can take out all the heavy wooden furniture and the dark floral drapes, the faded woolen rug and the leaded glass light fixtures hanging from the center of the ceiling, and bring in bright acrylic pile or modern art with aluminum frames – and still an old house will resound with the echoes of its history.  Repaint the walls as you like, but something of the past will continue to show through.

House adobe pink

The last house that Mama bought was a New Mexico adobe that had been more than a shelter for the preceding generations, and it proved to mean far more to her as well.  Like every other building she had ever lived in, it quickly became her refuge and her castle, her consolation and her reward.  Her playground and her kingdom, her service and her glory.  Like all truly good things, it made her not only more happy but more grateful.

Perhaps this could be the real definition of the word “homage”:  honoring the source of all blessings, through the reverence and care of one’s own home.

(For a personal exploration of related issues, consider enrolling in the Anima “Sense of Place and The Search For Home” correspondence course:

(Feel encouraged to Forward and Post this piece freely)

Marriage to the Land: Part 3 of 3: The Active Art of Love – by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Sunday, April 12th, 2009

 Marriage to the Land

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Part 3 of 3: The Active Art of Love

hopsarbor-sm.jpgI likely say both “I love you” to both wife and land a dozen times a day.  My eyes play over every change of clothes or leaves, river swell or new dress, and I comment again and again on the smile that delights me, the smells of river and woman that arouse.  I draw pictures and write essays full of praise to acknowledge and even immortalize.  Drawings of blue eyes and flowing hair, of canyon bobcats and coursing river.  Stories written of feminine wildness and this special wild place.  Promises and endearments carved or painted and then left somewhere for a certain someone to find.

Marriage, after all, is not only a commitment to another’s well being but to romance as well.  It is incumbent on the spouse to tend not only the body of the beloved but the heart, honoring the other’s unique qualities and complimenting their beauty.  “Settling down” with someone is about settling into patterns of attentiveness and care, affirmation and celebration…. not settling for less.  Similarly we husband the land not so much by tilling as by extolling.  A paramour might leave flowers in the path of the returning beloved, faithfully kiss her mate’s eyes open each morning, or sing his praises with a mad passion.  The lover of a place bows to every new bloom, presses lips to tree bark, honors the setting of sun with a whirling dance, honors root and flight with bared toes on bare ground and the borrowed melodies of the meadow lark.  Such careful attention and creative expression is nothing less than art…. and this constant blooming, the art of marriage.  The goal is not only to make the relationship work, but to make it beautiful as well.  Not only meeting the needs of the other, but delighting them with our means of doing so.  In our marriage to the land, the care we gift it includes our attentiveness, passion, protection, and the artful celebration of what is surely our shared being.

In relationships as in paintings, the art is in the acknowledgment and glorification of the other’s inner essence.  The artist or mate draws out not only the actual appearance of the  beloved but also their feel, their spirit, their beauty that preceded the maturing of the features and will long outlive the perfect skin of youth, shining through a road map of facial wrinkles or mountain erosion to come.  Not only the lines and color of a landscape but the character that breeds and defines its landed features, with the spirits of place honored in deft strokes by those loving the hush of compost and gray of winter as much as the brilliant greens and bursting songs of Spring growth.  And it is just as true for our poetry, correspondence and diary entries, for craft and song and dance dedicated to the revealing of that inner power connecting us to the all.  Take the ancient dances to the hunted animals for example, the chants to the rain gods, magical paintings on mats of bark and myths telling and retelling tribal truths over a council fire, the ways in which we court our chosen man or maiden — all are stories, and it is story that centers us in our beliefs, in our world, in the progression of past, present and future.  They are the threads that stitch us back into our contract and our place, a portion of life’s crucial lessons handed down through the inheritance of craft more than genes.  Since the very beginnings of what it means to be human we have venerated and exalted Spirit, the living land and our conjugal loves through that confluence of feeling and demonstration called art.

The ancient ones they call the Mimbres peoples created a black on white pottery style that is still held in high esteem by modern art experts and connoisseurs.  Featuring fantastic images of wild animals and mythical entities, they inevitably evoke the Great Mystery.  The fired clay fragments scattered throughout our refuge tell of a life of honoring, each one a picture-puzzle piece still vibrating with the intention of its designer and the accumulative energy of years of reverent touch.  The first inhabitants of this canyon spoke their fealty for the land in rock art carved out of their collective and individual souls, lightning bolts and the seed-carrier Kokopelli painted on the insides of caves.  Here too are the forms of the artists’ fingers and palm, their signatures, the marks of their  selves, in graphic hands reaching out to their descendants across the chasm of time.  They left enduring images of their priorities and loves, deities and dreams.  They left their holiest expressions of wonder and communion, the evidence of a marriage with place consecrated in timeless artistic expression.

And of course there was beauty before there was ever an informed audience, in the way the setting sun sparkles on the cottonwood leaves, in the explosive and the sublime, the sensuous inner curves of the datura blossom and the upthrusting lava that first helped form these canyon cliffs.  In a wooden cholla cactus skeleton seemingly braced against both wind and sky.  In the way the morning mist clings to the mountains, and how the willows sway back and forth in the wind.  In the purslane stems forming a crimson star burst on the ground, and the juxtaposition of branches on ponderosa pines stout and tall.  In the orange feathers of clown flickers, and the purple undersides of lamb’s quarters after they go to seed in the Fall.  It is little different today save for our rapt attention and silent applause.  Resident and guest alike are touched to the degree that they are open and aware…. with each glinting rock, each flex of river muscle food for the observant eye, inspiration to the feeling heart, and food for the hungry soul.

Art is a matter not only of form but of deliberate expression.  Even a child’s crayon scribbles are art when they contribute to her sense of self, satisfy her inner muse, or are made to express an idea or feeling to her mama or papa.  This canyon’s river ripples and Zen-like displays of white fuzzy seeds are beautiful even without an audience, and have no need for our appreciation or approval.  But with no conscious intention of their own to impart, it is only as photographs in this book that they truly become art.

Art is conscious expression.  Therefore there is art in the sensuous ways a wife might move when in the presence of her lover.  Art in a mother’s calligraphy, in the extra swirls and embellishments that make her cards and envelopes stand out.  Art in carefully arranged wildflowers, in the way a little girl mixes, matches and layers her clothing.  In the balanced way we lay out the colorful foods on our plate, and on the walls that we decorate.  Art can be not only what we witness or create, but the very how and why of our lives.  How we dress or carry ourselves.  How we eat and think, and move when there’s no one around to watch us.  How meaningfully and expressively we speak to each other, and how well we listen.  The music we like, and the rhythms of our own day to day existence.  In the vernacular of the artist, attention to the forms our being and doing take is called “style,” though its not nearly so proscribed or restrained as that makes it sound.  Another way to look at an artful life and marriage is as a condition and practice of “grace,” sometimes defined as “seemingly effortless beauty or charm of movement,” “an excellence bestowed” or “a prayer of thanksgiving.”  It is to walk, as the Hopi say, “in beauty”… and to walk in gratitude, forever, together.

My decades in this canyon have taught me that whole relationship – whether with a spouse or our mated place – is founded on trust, deepened by respect, furthered by communication, bound fast through commitment and loyalty, blessed with surrender and sacrifice, lived and expressed in the most wonderful and artful ways.  It is love both given and received, and not only beautiful but seen.  In this marriage to the land I say, “let nothing come between.”

(photos (c)2009 by Jesse Wolf Hardin)

Marriage to the Land: Part 2 of 3: Re-envisioning Sacrifice & Surrender – by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Friday, April 10th, 2009

 Marriage to the Land

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Part 2 of 3:
Re-envisioning Sacrifice & Surrender

sunflower2-sm.jpg“Marriage is a relationship.  When you make the sacrifice in marriage, you’re sacrificing not to each other but to unity in a relationship.”           
-Joseph Campbell

It’s possible to go from girlfriend to girlfriend or place to place with neither commitment, sacrifice nor surrender, but a healthy marriage to anyone or anything depends on elements of all three.  We commit to be with someone or some place not just when its most convenient, profitable or enjoyable but “for better or for worse, in sickness as in health.”  When our beloved suffers illness and debility, rages with frustration or quakes from some old and unhealed wound, we hold him or her all the closer.  We meet those needs that we’re able, help heal what we can, abide that which we cannot help, and love the whole .  When our home is hurt we rise to stem the damage, and hold it all the closer as it trembles at the approach of bulldozers, concrete mixers and those furtive men with their seemingly limited feelings and limitless ideas.  The committed hold tight even when faced with an invasion by the most inglorious industries.  I know that a wildfire could blow through our precious canyon home, level our houses and destroy the forest I helped plant a quarter century before and still we would not leave.  We’d stay to bathe its burns with our tears, replant its soil with seed and hope and come nightfall, make our bed on its blanket of ash.

Commitment inevitably requires sacrifice.  If nothing else we sacrifice what we once planned or wanted to do in order to give our time, energy and focus to something that matters even more to us.  To “sacrifice” means literally “to make sacred,” through a deliberate, ritual and voluntary gifting.  As a teenager I hated the term, partly from hearing mothers say in barely disguised disgust how they had “sacrificed” their dreams for their children, and husbands who claimed to have “sacrificed” their lives for the sake of their wives…. using others as an excuse for not having taken the risk to go for what they claim to desire most.  Sacrificing isn’t “giving up” something as if under pressure or obligation, but “giving” it as a gift from our heart…. a meaning-filled offering to others, to Spirit, to home and to purpose.

It’s also true that there’s no sacrifice in inadvertently gifting, or in gifting that which we have no real desire to keep.  To sacrifice is to consciously give of those things we might otherwise rather hold on to, for the sake of our intention, priorities and promise.  Young and relatively clueless as I once was, I nonetheless knew that moving here onto this isolated piece of land would mean sacrificing my gallery and art career, income and social life, and access to cultural activities as well as medical facilities.  Thus instead of feeling victimized or penalized by unseen consequences, I felt empowered by the ritual of choice.  I could value my time and my role in the canyon in even deeper ways, knowing what I consciously gave, and continue to give, in order to be here.

There are no empty holes in life, and as the saying goes, “nature abhors a vacuum.”  If a species disappears, its niche is quickly filled by other life forms.  A basin is sure to eventually fill with rain.  Canyons summon rivers as soil beckons seed.  Thus it is impossible for anybody to give something over, without getting something in return, and with each thing sacrificed we’d do well to look for what might have been gained.   To sacrifice a prerogative, is often to garner respect.  With the sacrifice of one’s plans come the gifts of adventure and spontaneity, serendipity and surprise.  Sacrificing the boost in salary that a move to another region might bring, we gain a renewed awareness of and appreciation for where we already live.  It was through sacrificing my habitual urge to roam that I finally came upon the true meaning of home.

I had just as hard of a time with that other prerequisite of deep matrimony, “surrender”– which I confused with defeat, subjugation and shame.  I would never give up on any task no matter how painful or difficult, and when grabbed in a headlock by school bullies I’d have rather died on the spot than ever “say uncle.”  My images of surrender included cowardly troops on a field of battle, throwing their guns on the ground and marching off with the enemy in hopes of lenient treatment and a hot meal.  In reality surrender is hardly for the beaten or resigned, ambivalent or tentative…. and the stronger willed one is, the more fierce our intention needs to be.  It’s more akin to sacrifice, its roots found in the Old French surrendere, meaning “to deliver.”  Matrimony and allegiance to place have nothing to do with defeat and everything to do with giving.      While submission leads to subordination, surrender is a sharing of gifts that results in recombination.  We invariably become a component of that which we surrender to, and likewise what we surrender to becomes a defining part of who we are.  Therefore one must take care always to surrender to truth and service, but never to illusion or greed.  Surrender not to property but to land.  Not to force, but mission and purpose.  And not to separation, distraction or bitterness…. but to connection and placement, contentment and love.

(to be continued)

(photos (c)2009 by Jesse Wolf Hardin)

Marriage to the Land: Part 1 of 3: Promise & Commitment – by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Monday, April 6th, 2009

 Marriage to the Land

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Part 1 of 3: Promise & Commitment

riverpondeve-sm.jpgOur relationship to the land, like our relationship to other significant people, is in some ways a reciprocal contract.  But while it’s a hopefully lasting agreement, a healthy relationship with place is more of a marriage, binding similar rather than disparate parties, and formalizing promises between like hearts with shared values, desires and priorities.  It is a commitment unenforceable by law, and yet fastened by love, a lasting emotional and spiritual coupling and – in time – a mixing of the bones.  In its deepest measure it actually outlasts the flesh, not like the ghostly or risen but like energies alchemically enjoined, like a song that continues to reverberate down the canyon long after the singer has turned and gone.

Already once divorced at age 23, I cannot claim to have always lived up to the intent and goal of matrimony, but when I’ve promised I’ve given my all.  And likewise in my marriage to this land, nothing is held back.  I have given myself completely, while opening completely to the gifts of this place.  With full commitment, full belief, and full certainty that this marriage between inspirited ground and devoted man – and between those who tend that ground – will last.  Not until “death do us part” but somehow, some way, forever.  Holding on to each other not “by our teeth” but by hugging.  And more than that, by intertwining form, spirit and purpose until there can be no telling where the one starts and other stops, the lover and the beloved.

When the relationship is at its best, coming back to one’s home or home to our spouses is a return to our selves – to the wholest expression of what it means to be.  We feel the other, the land and lover, as integral extensions of this expanded self.  When we leave we carry them with us in our devoted hearts and minds.  When we are gone from the place we love most, as when apart from husband or wife, we ache for reunion.  We awaken to the comforting breathing of spouse, wind and land, work best all day for them or with them.  We can lose them to failed health or forest fire, and yet we hold them still.  They’re in the dreams we love to remember, and their absence is usually the mark of a nightmare.  We sleep deepest in the familiar arms of the mate or home that fullest knows us.  We plant ourselves in them, and feel them grow inside of us.  If we were to do something so vulnerable as to write a poem, it would be for that special him, or her, or there.

Far too many ceremonies retain the forms without the commitment, pledging allegiance to a country or cause without really meaning it, mouthing the sacraments of a church and then doing the opposite, pledging  a lifetime and then breaking apart in a few years or less.  When it comes to a relationship you want to last, as our relationship to the land, we’re well served by at least one line of the traditional oath, taking it one step further by promising and knowing that “even with death, we shall not part.”  We promise to give ourselves fully to one another, to respect and to nourish each other’s unique needs and vital expression, to share adversity and fortune equally, and to defend each other’s honor and form against all outside threats.

In any healthy marriage we praise the qualities and gifts of the other, consciously celebrate our relationship on a daily basis, infuse every moment with an attitude of deepest thankfulness, and seek to give back equally to the other with no resentment or restraint.  Whether a marriage to a person or to the land, part of what we give back is care, and this care is most significant when it is truly heartfelt.  However we might manifest them in the physical realm, the essential exchange of gifts are at the core emotional and spiritual in nature.  What we properly give back is the best of our selves, and our lasting devotion… voluntarily, out of love.

willowsbeaverpond-sm.jpgThis is not to say that we can’t yearn as much for a lover we’ll never marry, or ache as sweetly for someone who consistently spurns our attentions, but for something or someone to feel irreplaceable they first need to feel promised and attached.  An observant traveler should feel at least a slight tug in passing through each region, an entreaty from colorful roadside aspens and enticing lakes, but no other person or place can equal the pull of either mated land or fated mate.

I came to this river canyon a suitor, but quickly promised to serve her in deed and in heart – first as caretaker, and then as spouse.

(to be continued)

(photos (c)2009 by Jesse Wolf Hardin)

The Search For Home: Part 6: The Land’s Human History – by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Friday, March 27th, 2009

The Search For Home
Part 6: The Land’s Human History

by Jesse Wolf Hardin



In this quest for home we promise ourselves to the present and the future, apprentice ourselves to place and to past.  While our relationship with place is by necessity contemporary and immediate, it is further enriched by an understanding of and appreciation for what came before, the succession of events that transformed land and creature, and that bonded humanity to the land.  Where your house sits, what changes were made to be able to put it there?  Was it graded, a hill leveled, an arroyo or wetland filled to support it?  What plants grew there, and are there any of them in the yard today?  How many trees were felled to make room?  What kind were they, and what kinds of trees were planted instead?  What animals lived there before your place was first built, which of these are extirpated from the area or driven into extinction, and which still survive beneath its foundations or nested on its high-power lines?  What were the earliest creatures ever to live there, and what kind of fossil record did they leave?  Pick up a handful of the native soil.  What is it like, and where did it get its color and texture?  What mountains succumbed to create it, which rocks crumbled, or what period of volcanic activity spewed forth its porous tufa and brilliant crimson clays?

One can try descending into a nearby canyon or arroyo, or finding a spot where a road has been cut through a rise and read what is as much her-story as history.  Instead of from left to right, read from the surface down, beginning with the scant few inches of humus, a hundred years of composting leaf and bug and bone.  Read the lives of ground squirrels and moles, whose complex burrows are halved and exposed like the passageways of a child’s ant farm.  Belts of ancient clay above the bedrock of an ancient sea studded with the shells or Precambrian mollusks.  Seams of primeval coal.  Every foot down may represent centuries, of eroding mountains and upthrusting continental plates, of species birthed and extincted, of cultures flourishing and collapsing, populations rising and falling like the slow inhaling and exhaling of the great earthen body.

It is more than a matter of natural history.  Some might imagine themselves as originating from extraterrestrial forces, but we remain terrestrial nonetheless.  The same atoms that make up our bodies once vibrated in the breath of prehistoric creatures, and fueled the fires of creation.  In addition, we are each a  product of, a direct descendant of the original organic molecules.  And we harbor a molecular memory, of an ancient blood-red sky and its rainbow bands of unmixed gases, recall in the tides of our own blood the salten seas repeatedly pierced and stirred by amorous lightning thrusts.  We come from our mother, from a certain house or hospital, but still our essence arises from that same great cauldron that gave birth to the first living cell.  We remain part and extension of that unicellular ancestor.  We share with the rest of life, from dragonfly to towering pine, this common progenitor— and those spiritually and scientifically defined energies that have, since the very beginnings of time, animated us all.  We are coparticipants in the miracle called “life,” sharing the thrills and pitfalls of a three and a half billion year joyride.  What we call “sense of place” must include sensing our position within the sequencing of evolution, the unraveling chain of time, and the regional histories of our own kind.  For not even the wilderness is free of a history of human association, all the more powerful that it was never written down, passed instead mouth to mouth in myth and song and the resounding petroglyphs of desert canyon walls.  It is a story told in the shadows of its forests, the trails winding above its rivers, and its powerfully painted caves.

I’ve always thought of old houses as special in a similarly wordless way.  The run-down ones stand out stark and skeletonized, yet still meaningful and inspirited like the collected rocks of Stonehenge and the exposed walls of  Indian ruins.  The well kept-up ones feel like little monasteries, places of refuge, the destination of heaven-minded pilgrims.  Once inside some hallowed old home it seems like I can feel the various moods, the emotions of the individuals of past generations.  Whether an East Coast townhouse with its basement and attic, or a moss covered log cabin in Oregon, I experience a “take off your hat and lower your voice” humility upon entering one.  The sense is of the the hand work in each board and brick, and the investment of so many human hours into living within its fastened frame.  Polished oak floors glisten with the tears of joy and anguish as much as polish, brought to a deep luster by sliding stockinged feet, tongue-and-groove boards reflecting the busy shifting images of families growing, dying, changing.  The stairway rails absorb more than the sweat of hands tender and strong, teasing and anxious— little hands reaching up, crippled hands working for a grip.  They soak up and then exude the overlapping emotions of resistance and resignation, engagement and denial, loss and gain, love and anger, desire and satisfaction.  Take out the heavy wooden furniture and the dark floral drapes, the heavy woolen rug and the leaded glass light fixtures hanging from the center of the ceiling, bring in bright acrylic pile and trendy aluminum-edged lithographs, but an old house will still reverberate with the echoes of the past.  One can repaint, but something deep and old continues to shine through.  Some walls give the impression they’re imprinted with intricate shadows cast by yesteryear’s window lace.  Another holds a stranger’s attention the way it had when it hosted that oval-framed tintype, featuring the roving eyes of the scowling family patriarch.

Ask yourself, what sort of people lived in the house you’re in right now, before you ever did?  Were children born in its back rooms, were there proud matriarchs who breathed their last where the sun still comes in the east window?  The house may be new, or you may be the apartment’s first tenant, but were there structures tore down to make room for one you moved into?  Perhaps a row of old uninsulated brick houses scraped aside for a new development, or a flat-roofed adobe casita given way to ranch houses with large windows and Kentucky bluegrass lawns?  The ethnography of one neighborhood may have changed several times over the course of the last two hundred years, from Indian to Spanish and French, French to English, an Italian quarter now considered part of the Cuban enclave, extended Irish families supplanted by Afro Americans, in turn replaced by buyers of diverse racial backgrounds who by chance or fortune can afford the rising cost of its real estate.

Look outside.  What people tended gardens in the bottoms, on the constant lookout for raiders, and were these “raiders” the peoples they were encroaching on?  What indigenous tribe once gathered shellfish from the edge of the bay and walked the narrow trail where the interstate now lies?  And who preceded them?  I live in a river canyon uninhabited for a thousand years before I got here.  But a few miles away the river winds through a valley where the trailers of retirees sit amongst baked mud haciendas, the  residents of the latter keeping alive much of the traditional Hispanic, frontier lifestyle.  I love watching a family roast their chilies, the oldest son off to hunt for the winter’s meat, the little girls braided with bows for the many fiestas.  From where I park our truck to walk into our place, I can see the land that belonged to Senovio, our deceased patron, or protector.  The little casita is as empty as a torn pocket, and the status-earning direct-TV dish he never even used is now nearly hidden by a curtain of beautiful, uncut weeds.  But I remember that land as an extension of the little man with the big straw hat.  When I look over that way I imagine the way he looked at the sharp crack of dawn, leaning on a pitchfork, pointing with pursed lips at the horses filling up on their breakfast hay.  His beloved animals were fed, and the sun was up in its usual show of morning color.  I see the silhouette of this Spanish American with the baggy pants, rooted to his place, contemptuous of any cities more than a three hour drive from his needy animals, doubtful of or indifferent to any claims of distant wonders.  Everything he ever wanted, everything that mattered was closer than that.  Close enough to see, maybe close enough to smell, certainly close enough to nod at slowly with a dusty Stetson.

But there is more.  Behind him, camped beneath the cottonwoods or sneaking up on him from behind the barn, I sense the intrepid Apache.  And behind them, the pit-house and cliff dwellers they preyed on, the ancestors of the Pueblo Indians, the people they call “the Old Ones” pushing corn seed into the riverside soil with a willow stick.  They are the earliest known human inhabitants of this bioregion, and their presence can still be felt over a thousand years after their migration away from this river drainage.  In countless ruins, in the remnant stone-age irrigation ditches, in the cliff art and pottery sherds scattered about the desert floor, in the multihued vistas they themselves fancied— here we find the legacy of the Sweet Medicine People.  To archaeologists they are known as the San Francisco Culture or the Basket Makers, and are commonly but mistakenly referred to as the Anasazi.  And before– yes– before a single human foot edged across this rain-licked rimrock there were those other intrinsically wild beings, plants and animals characterizing and being characterized by the interplay of elements and energies that is land, in the unique combinations that define place.  Behind the patron’s silhouette, the shadows of the Apache and the echoes of the Old Ones— I see, I feel, I delight in the dancing ghost images of leaf and tendril, tail and paw, fin and feather fluttering in the dawn breeze, sensuously rubbing up against an arching New Mexico skyline.

As surely as we alter and impact the places we live, we are ourselves shaped by the land.  Nature seems like a foreign and even frightening place to many of us these days, but it is nonetheless our original, formative context, the very set of forces and qualities that first conceived and equipped us.  What we now call “wilderness” once meant everywhere.  It is the unmanaged Nature that stressed our developing beings to make us strong, that provided not only physical sustenance but the avenues for both love and loss:  the genesis of human compassion.  In experiencing a place’s natural and human history, we honor first our immediate ancestors, then those peoples whose relationship with the land predates our own, and finally those lifeforms that gave way for our emergence, or sustain and enrich us still.  Finally we honor the evolutionary cauldron, creation itself, the ultimate terrestrial source, the swirling matrix that was and is our unique home.


(feel encouraged to share this with others…)

Reindigenation: Matters of Respect & Belonging – By Jesse Wolf Hardin

Sunday, March 8th, 2009

 Preface: In the past few years there has been an increase in pop shamanism as well as “white” people insisting on the right to market “Indian” ceremonies.  This has provoked a militant reaction among some Native American traditionalists and even their strident Anglo followers to expose, discredit, disrupt and in some cases maliciously destroy the lives of what they consider to be New Age Wannabes appropriating their sacred ways.  In the ensuing conflict many truths have been ignored, complex relationships and inevitable twists overlooked, and people on both sides have been distracted from the real and urgent work of personal growth and realization.  Cultural rewilding.  The awakening of compassion and response.  Opposition to global institutional injustice and the rape of the planet.  The work of reducing population while raising empowered children.  Creating alternative schools and community organizations.  Planting trees, gardens, and the seeds of noble resistance. Coming together to heal and repair.  Remembering to celebrate, and to savor…

 In the interest of of getting on with this shared responsibility, we offer this revised version of the classic 1986 Animá text:


Matters of Respect & Belonging

By Jesse Wolf Hardin

IN-DIG-E-NOUS: adj. 1) Occurring or living naturally in an area; native
2) Intrinsic, innate

“We see in the present best efforts of groups of non-Indians an honest desire to become indigenous in the sense of living properly with the land…Sacred places in North America may yet see a series of transformations in which new peoples using new languages rely on them for spiritual sustenance.”
-Vine Deloria. Jr. (Sioux historian)

garden1-sm.jpgNot so long ago unassimilated Native Americans marked five centuries of opposition to the European incursion… preceded, we should note, by over three millenniums of struggle waged in behalf of cultural sovereignty and human dignity by land-based tribes, each courageously facing the encroaching civilized paradigm as it crept over Asia, Europe and Africa before the Americas.

The strength to resist destruction or assimilation, to resist the denigration and transformation of the physical landscape, comes from the depth of one’s relationship to it.  Strength is one of the gifts we’re given in return for our devotion and loyalty, for acting like responsible natives.  The power lies in belonging not owning, from hearing and serving, stretching and risking for a larger purpose… and it is the unimpeachable connectedness of all indigenous people that gives them the strength to face seemingly insurmountable odds.   Such connection comes from our species slowing down and staying put for a change, on our loving tending and intense paying of attention.

To commemorate, to celebrate, to pray or just to make their lives and their spirituality more real, contemporary land-based and spiritual communities have begun to fashion rituals relevant to current times, the planet’s dire straits, the mixed-lineage of the clans, and their terrestrial sites: their place.  They may be fourth and fifth generation inhabitants of Turtle Island, as the North American continent has sometimes been called, and yet they are unlikely to have elders to turn to for instruction or rites to call their own.  In camps next to threatened forests, in gardens and on mountain walks, during rites of passage for their children and attending the births and the deaths of their loved ones, they piece together fragments of prayers, symbols and ideas.  They draw from the universal to tap the power of the sacred circle, of sweat lodges and burning smudge.  They gather bagpipes, drums, rattles, sometimes even a saxophone– and open themselves to giving voice to Spirit, to Gaia, to Mother Earth, to God.

It turns out to be a fine line between the creation and adulteration of tradition, between honoring Indian spiritual traditions and what some AmerIndian activists have labeled “cultural genocide.”  After a history of their homelands being appropriated and sold, the extraction of their Native American rituals and symbols is experienced as the final affront, the ultimate theft.  The one thing usually left to a defeated and dispossessed peoples was their unique cosmology, the songs and rituals through which any culture knows and defines itself.  The new Indian traditionalists grew up with their artifacts sold to museums, their implements bastardized as rubber tomahawks and pueblo ashtrays, their people stereotyped thanks to non-Indians playing their part in a deluge of western movies.  Many have struggled to eschew the materialist ways of the invader culture, and applied themselves to learning the old ways of their various tribes.  Now they find other Native Americans sharing, and sometimes charging for lessons in their spiritual ways.  They find Europeans and EuroAmericans marketing “Lakota” Inipi ceremonies (sweats), and making money writing “Indian” books.

It’s important, however, not to invalidate someone else’s personal connection when protecting the exclusivity and privacy of cultural knowledge and ritual.  Many questions remain unanswered, even by the most vocal of activists waging their campaign to bring grief to what they call “New Age Wannabees” and “Twinkies.”  What of non-Indians who have grown up on the reservation, and call a particular tribal world-view their own?  What should a non-Indian do if invited by a Native American to join in a ceremony?  What of the appropriateness of the spread of the plains’ Sun Dance the Pueblo tribes of the Southwest?  The line is further blurred when one considers the ritual use of sweat lodges, drums and vision quests which are common to the primal peoples of numerous races and cultures, regardless of place of origin.   No one can reasonably make any proprietary claim to that which can’t be owned: the spirit of place, right here in North America, and the search for relationship with all its resident beings.  Nor are those of Celtic descent the only peoples capable or worthy of accessing the energies of Ireland.  Indeed, it is not only possible but crucial to that country’s spiritual and environmental realities that any AmerIndian, Asian, Australian Aborigine or multi-racial New Yorker visiting or settling there learn to connect to its Spirit and honor its timeless character.

In Animá we’ve not only avoided muddled eclecticism, but also honored the concerns of our American Indian friends, by employing only practices that both our feeling hearts and our deep experience of our home place provide – regardless of how useful certain practices from other cultures might be.  And in addition, we discourage any ceremony or practice that doesn’t naturally arise from present needs and context, the land we are a part of and our individual experience.  Our Shaman Path correspondence course doesn’t offer easy feel-good shortcuts to weekend enlightenment, but nature-provided insights and tools for the few to answer an insistent calling, painfully readjusting perceptions and remaking their daily lives, preparing them to serve the larger whole.  The quests we facilitate are in no way meant to be traditional Native American ceremonies, they’re processes and tests that the land and spirit call to us of every race and culture to undertake.  We do not do “Indian Sweats” or teach an “Indian Medicine Wheel”… we strive to understand the life wheel as it is revealed now and here.  And we just sweat, as part of the effort of doing our best.

“It is essential that people reconnect with Earth-based religions, but many times people are trying to practice Lakota vision questing or other practices out of context.  You can’t practice Lakota without being in the context of a Lakota community.”
-Winona LaDuke

I’ve given talks at several conferences where fellow presenter LaDuke admonishes our mostly Caucasian audiences to search out earth-honoring practices within our own cultural and religious framework, meaning to look to the Kabbhalic roots of pre-patriarchal Judaism, the Gnostic traditions of early Christianity and the example of St. Francis, and by implication the religiosity and rites of the Druids of Western Europe, the Yoruba of Africa and the Jains of India.  The problem is that not everyone claims a single country of origin, a single (or any) existing religious practice.  They couldn’t “go back where they came from” even if they wanted, when so many migrants from so many different countries may have crossed to create the persons they are.

Should someone of mixed lineage return to their Pict roots, search through the sprawling cities of Great Britain for the vibrations of their history, or take off to find the birthplaces of ancestors on their mother’s Russian side, where the oldest surviving tradition is patriarchal Orthodoxy?  Or might they belong in France, the place of origin for at least one branch of the spreading family tree?  Or is the only real geographical return one to Mother Africa, the playground of “Lucy,” according to genealogists the original home of the common ancestor of every human on Earth?  Nor can one carve up their body, send a foot to walk two separate shores, an arm to be raised to the Gods of the Pyreenes, guts to the Caucasus, one’s head staked to the destiny of the Emerald Isles…forever looking west.  And even if, our heart must surely remain in the place we love most, the place of allegiance, the place where we finally take on the responsibilities of home.

manometate2-sm.jpgBeing Indigenous doesn’t necessarily require one be a member of an established culture, religion and community history previously associated with that piece of land, although it certainly helps strengthen and codify the relationship.  More crucial, perhaps, is that the person (or other lifeform) be open to the directives of the ecosystem, ready and able to symbiotically interact with every element of that ecosystem.

At the same time, the primal perception of remaining land-based and tribal peoples becomes increasingly important as our modern society reels out of control, out of balance both ecologically and spiritually.  In their land-specific stories we can help recover our lost the awareness of place, the feeling of being home.  The knowledge of how to live in balance, sustainably, already exists – in the ways of the ancient ones of every continent.  The information is being lost along with the unraveling of tribal customs, with time tested skills and gifted insights disappearing as fast as their lands are being seized for development.  The young often feel they have no choice but to embrace foreign values and lifestyles, seeking  a livelihood in the major urban centers of the colonizers.  As our existences and enterprises become increasingly commercial and controlled, our pleasures ever more vicarious, our sense of both culture and place perverted or absent, as both our schedules and our thoughts race ever faster, we can still turn to they who have lived here, and loved here the longest.  Turn to the Native American elders, placed peasants, Hispanic dirt farmers with their knowledge of weather and wild foods, nomads still following the reindeer and the seasons, the Kayapo and their jungle pharmacy.  Not to emulate or simulate mind you, but in a respectful search for the evidence of truths we might then apply in our own lives, families and societies.

The primal mind isn’t just for the seekers of a few tribes, a state of mind accessible to the tranced-out Ladakh, the Kogi or the Shuar.  It is a region or capacity of the human brain, accessible by the most predisposed of us.  It surfaces during love making, while crossing the slick head of a waterfall, in the presence of enraptured children, whenever circumstance and surprise have delivered us most fully into our sentient bodies.  At these times the the Earth reveals itself as unquestioningly sacred, imbued with the numinous.  Even the most mundane expressions of inanimate nature appear alive, and one can sense movement in patterns of fiber and the grain of  mineral and wood.  We find ourselves in the timeless now, the eternal bodily and psychic engagement with the present, a part of an interconnected universe that unfolds and contracts in cycles.  Even if only for the shortest period of time, we jettison words for reality, symbol for touch, and know the world through our primal minds.  We feel more alive,   complete, tested and worthy.  And we are.  Worthy to be.  Worthy to be here now.

We become more and more indigenous to the degree that we reside in our primal minds, in place, in the moment.  To become: coming to be, leaning how to really be, coming into one’s self.  In re-becoming native, we re-create a contemporary culture, community, vocabulary, spiritual sensibility and finally a history true to our mixed-blood ancestry and the urgent and trying times at hand.  Along with our grounding comes an almost forgotten humility.  We can look to the the first “two legged” peoples to inhabit this continent for guidance, but we must each establish our credibility directly with the land, own our deepening connection.  We must stand up for the fact that we too belong, while respecting the ways of those peoples who showed respect to these places so long before us.

In time we may come to recognize being native as a condition of relationship, sensitivity, engagement, reciprocity and allegiance.  Reindigenation is, in fact, an evolutionary imperative.  Just to survive, those people facing the challenges of the next hundred years will have had to learn to feel and act placed again… settling in not as the managers of creation but as humble co-creators of our world and our reality.  Such survivors will likely be of ever more mixed blood, the descendants of Shona and Aborigine, Mongol and Semite, Hispanic and Cree, and they will of necessity have learned respect.  They will be the proud inheritors of the affections of Aphrodite, the temperance of Chuang-Tzu, the resolve of Odin and Ogun, the determination of the Berserkers and the spirit of Crazy Horse. No matter where they’re situate, they’ll have survived because they came to know and manifest themselves – completely and unapologetically – as indigenous.

And this alone will have brought them great satisfaction and peace.

The Search For Home – Part 5: Creating a Native Calendar

Sunday, March 1st, 2009

spiraltime.jpgThe Search For Home
Part 5: Creating a Native Calendar

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

We may live forever in the timeless present, but we are also positioned at any given moment at a shifting point in the cycles of day and night, earth and life.  This schedule and record of events is marked neither by the clock nor the normal 12 month calendar with its state approved holidays and customary periods of work and vacation.  It is, rather, a native calendar, marked by shifts in climate and vegetation, familiar to most land based indigenous peoples… as well as to many of those street-people we call “homeless.”

They should perhaps be called “houseless” instead, since they know better than most residents of the suburbs just what it means to be intimate with the largely predictible changes that help define “home.”  They may know the names of the nearby boulevards, but more as places to avoid because of the traffic or the police, dangerous corridors they must cross to get from one neighborhood to the next.  Ask them where they live, and instead of rattling off a numbered address they’re more likely to respond with a litany of landmarks: next to the river past the ruins of the old brick factory, under the old fir tree behind St. Martin’s, a five minute walk from the tracks.  They know what hour each bakery throws out its unsold bread, what days the supermarkets rotate their milk, how often the police patrol a particular street, what air ducts supply heat in the winter, and where the overhangs provide the most relief during the hottest months.  With no lawn of their own, they become familiar with the flowers and layout of everyone else’s, and can often recite the names of the local children they come into contact with.  They can, and often do, find their way home to their camp in the dark.  They usually have a deeply realized sense of where they “belong,” and exhibit a profound intimacy with their local environs.  Often frequenting the same neighborhood for decades on end, some can recount the succession of families moving in and out of any particular house, identifying each by the way they took care of their yards, the style of their cars, the attitude of their dog, or a habit such as what time a renter would always come out to pick up his newspaper.  They navigate their world without maps, and likewise traverse the seasons without the benefit or constraints of a Julian calendar.

Like other natives, their calendar is internalized, remembered, and round.  Each new turning of the Earth into the light, each new day is distinguished by its sensory record rather than some assigned number.  A native calendar is an articulation of significant events, rather than dates.  Some, such as the longest day of the year, are experienced similarly by divergent cultures and will be duplicated on their regional almanacs, while others are events specific to a certain group of people, situated in a particular place.  We notice that while the seasons, the successions of wildflowers, and the hibernation of the bears are things that occur dependably every year, the exact time of their arrival is likely to differ:  The day of first snow, which has come for us as early as November and as late as the new year.  The show of heaviest rains.  The first Fall frost.  But others clock in year after year, almost to the day:  The arrival of the dock my partners gather for our salads.  The ducks faithfully returning, from either direction.  The insatiable whistling of the mating elk.  In time the more significant or memorable of these recurring themes define the character of each portion of the native’s circular calendar.

Try creating your own.  The most predictable events become as the cardinal points on a compass, in which the Solstices and Equinox mark the four directions.  Of course the North is midwinter, the hottest days of the year situated at the southern extreme of your rounded calendar.  We can break it down further:  Between the longest and shortest days of the year, the days of the longest and shortest shadows, the new and full moons.  Mark the points of natural and social transitions:  When school starts and ends, the onset of each vacation, the time for planting bulbs by the side of the house, the bug season, swimming season, traditional holidays, and the day regularly given to Spring cleaning.

Here in the mountains of New Mexico we’d make the Roman August “the month when the snakes come out.” We’d mark down the first appearances of foodstuffs like ripened acorns, pine nuts and sorrel, the ideal time for root and tuber harvests, and the month for drying fruit.  Then there’s the period of antler shedding, and the months they’re in velvet.  The blossoming of so many blue flowers in the Spring, a dozen different species of white-flowered plants in June, and the splash of brilliant yellow ones come every late September.

There is nothing in your busy schedules and wordy workshops, high tech entertainment systems or feel-good fantasies that can replace physical engagement with the very real planet, itself spiriling through nonlinear time.  Step outside your gated yards and walled minds.  Then look around you, go for long sauntering walks, take note of the colors and processes of your world and then position yourself within it.

(feel encouraged to share this post with others)

The Search For Home – Part 4: Orientation & Paying Attention

Sunday, February 22nd, 2009

The Search For Home
Part 4: Orientation & Paying Attention

Excerpted from the upcoming new book Home by Jesse Wolf Hardin (


One hears the word “space” a lot: maintaining our “personal space,” pushing for “psychic space,” zoning for “open space.”  What they’re calling space, however, is really more interlocking than open, and never “empty,” with even the air that surrounds the solid packed with shimmering molecules.  For the inhabitant, the native, space is complex and dynamic: a system of intrinsically meaningful places. Lacking a sense of our position and role within that system, one is thus “lost in space.”  The solution is simply to come back, out of the stratosphere of abstract thought, back to home-base, in body, in place.  And as with any return, one must first acknowledge that they are lost, and then proceed with a focused effort to reorient themselves.

This word “orient” originally meant “to face east,” in the direction of the restorative rising sun, and hence to revive, to awaken, to flush with inspired intent.  When I think of the term “orientation” I’m reminded of those times as a child when we were new to a school, class or program, initiated in a meeting where we were familiarized with its characteristics, its functions, and whatever expectations it had of us.  To orient in place one must likewise learn/remember its quirks and qualities, its complex and unique personality, and the demands its systems rightfully make on us.  Successful orientation is dependent on a heightening of our native awareness, the act and art of noticing.

Notice the changes in air temperature moving from room to room.  Notice the depth or shallowness of your breath, how the damp grass feels to your feet, the body language of those around you, the sounds in the room and beyond, the creatures big and small living in webs in the window and in nests under the eaves.  Notice the ground around and under you, its color and texture, and how much faces the sun, and how much is covered with asphalt or structures.  Notice the yellowing leaves of trees that for some reason aren’t making it, and any decrease in the populations of songbirds or bats.  Notice the noisy planes continually crossing the sky, the shapes of animals in the clouds that any child would have seen.  And every night notice the stars.  Or notice the lack of stars, and if this is the case, then demand of this world we humans would remake, “Where are my stars?”

Generally we only take notice of something when it grabs our attention away from our tasks or movies, or from the road and traffic immediately in front of our speeding vestibule.  It’s usually a loud noise, a siren or ringing bell, someone calling out our name, an unexpected movement close to our line of sight, a particularly alluring or obnoxious odor, or a hand placed on our shoulder.  In reorientation we go beyond this incidental gathering of information, making a daily, moment-by-moment practice out of noticing.  We make a ritual out of attentiveness, out of a life filled to the overflowing with the awakened experience of its living.

Paying attention is paying homage, paying acknowledgment and tribute to home.  An essential part of our practice involves a high-dive into the sensations of the area weather, immersing in its constant cyclical shifts, the changes in moisture and temperature from early morning to heated afternoon, and from Winter to Spring, Summer to Fall, again and again.  Moving into a new place, it takes time to not only notice but adjust to the unfamiliar weather patterns.  The midsummer humidity of the Southeast, the skin-drying air of the Southwest deserts, the Rocky Mountain snow pack and the persistent Winter misting of the green Northwest all take some getting used to.  What starts out discomforting the newcomer, becomes the comfortable norm for the long term resident, a crucial reference point, a sort of climatological landmark, a badge of regional identity and pride.  Orientation becomes not only a matter of noticing, but one of acclimatizing: developing a deep seated awareness of and resonance with an area’s many meteorological moods, acclimating through immersion in place, through noticing more, and feeling more.

Everyone pays attention, no matter how caught up in the momentum of their assignments and the net of their thoughts, when bright bolts of lightening are reflected in high-rise windows still shaking from the last peals of thunder.  Few things draw us out of the revolving squirrel cages of our minds and out into the nerve endings of our skin better than that.  With the first gathering of clouds comes the awareness of a tingly electric feeling in the air, and we may suddenly stop on the sidewalk or turn off the tractor in the field long enough to focus on the feeling of it, nodding imperceptibly as if to agree with one’s self, “Yes, a storm is coming.”  When the drops fall hard even the most stubborn pedestrian below must give up their attachment to their train of thought, if only to complain, and the drought-concerned farmer gives prayer for its bounty.  We get wet, we may get cold, and there is no way to ignore the rain.  Kids are mesmerized by the rhythm of the drops falling on their schoolhouse roofs, and every little face turns to watch the rivulets of water making pretty patterns on the classroom windows. Then, as countless times before, the clouds part, and a few people pull their cars over to get a glimpse of the sun bursting through in a display of naked glory.  Anyone still walking the sidewalks is likely to slow down and consciously or unconsciously raise their heads to increase the solar gain on chilled cheeks, to squint for a moment in its proud glare, and to be thankful— if not for the rain, than surely for its passing.

Your sense of place should waken when you do.  Try this. Before your eyes are even open, picture the place you are in, the part of the room where your bed lies and which direction it faces.  Recall what beings and objects fill your room, and which lie or stand or grow in trellises on the other side of each wall.  Before the first words intrude, barging in with their own agenda, take time to sense whatever energy or spirit infuses and animates everything around you, let the heart feel thankful for whatever this is we call “magic” or “physics” or “God,” and know that it too is manifested through the body of place.

If no longer in bed, find a safe place to sit with eyes closed, and allow your busy thoughts to surface and burst like fragile bubbles. With the ears, pinpoint the source of every sound, the origin of each thing’s voice:  the ticking or subtle buzzing of any nearby clock, the branch creaking against the house, the wind that moves the branch, and the barking of dogs beyond.  Imagine a clear sound-map, placing each by its direction and volume, and situating yourself within it.  A closing door to the left, or a floor below.  Music from across the alley.  The traffic from two streets away.  In the park or in the woods, experience your position in relation to the intermittent flapping of wings from one side to the other, the constantly fluctuating melodics of the giddy creek to your front, and the sound of acorns dropping noisily on the mat of dried oak leaves behind.  Now overlay another transparency, a map made up of scents, the smells of wet grass beneath you, of the fertile water rolling by and the steel mill or cornfields that signal the direction of town.  Open the eyes slowly, and without focusing on any one particular object seek to absorb the totality of everything within the range of your vision.  Then turn not only the head but the entire body around a slow, full three hundred and sixty degrees, noticing how each scene exists on a single connected plane, and how you and your awareness are centered within this circle of interlocking elements.  No matter who we are, or where we are, we exist between the above and the below, always in the exact center of what are called “the four directions.” While we are irrevocably connected to all that is, connected even to those things far beyond our sight, we remain largely defined by those places of which we have intimate knowledge, by that which we see and feel around us, and especially the area where we now live.

In orientation we start right where we are, walking towards each of the cardinal points, and returning each time to the center our motion describes.  At every step, take the moments needed to emphatically register every feature, milestone and benchmark.  In the country this means the kinds and distribution of plant life, the low spots where runoff crosses the trail during the wet season, the position of the nearest, highest tree or mountain, and whether the high ground lies to our right or to our left as we walk towards the west.  In the city we must include an inventory of the most prominent buildings or businesses, make a note of unusual billboards and the size and color of the houses, watch the changes in the years and models of the cars parked out in front of them as we move through less or more affluent neighborhoods.  More than anything else try to memorize the names of at least the largest of the streets, whether they run east and west or north and south, and which direction the numbers get bigger or smaller.  But to really become familiar with a place we must also look to the lay of the land, rising and falling irrespective of the weight of the pavement, steep streets under which mountains still sleep.  Watch for where ancient watercourses continue to flow, where they’re channeled into pipes and ditches, and where culverts divert them beneath busy roads.

To be continued…


(feel free to share this post with others… thank you)