Archive for the ‘Sense of Place’ 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:

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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.”


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


Reindigenation: Learning to Become Native Again

Tuesday, June 4th, 2013

Curandera Agave by Jesse Wolf Hardin

The Necessity of Learning to Become Native Again


By Jesse Wolf Hardin

The topic of what it means to be “native” or “indigenous” is a highly contentious one, ruffling the feathers of landless, cultureless “white folk” far more than it bothers even most activist Native Americans.  It is, however, an essential exploration for everyone on this planet, with a true and irrevocable connection to the living land being the best and only long term chance that our human kind has.

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.” -Vine Deloria. Jr. (Sioux historian)

One does not take as good of care of a place when they imagine they are only visiting.  In this age of constant migration, the best hope for the suffering environment may lie in people of every race and culture settling down and committing to a place that speaks to them, heeding the implorings of its spirit and tending to its needs.  The survival of myriad other species, and the future of humanity as well, may hinge on the degree to which we are able to set aside our comfortable habits, preconceptions and assumptions – and rebecome conscious participants, discovering what it means to be native again.

Celts Rooted to The Land

Now more than ever we need to look to not only the remaining land-based tribal peoples, but to the qualities and possibilities our primal minds.  Indigenous modes of perception become all the more essential as our modern society reels out of balance both ecologically and spiritually.  The land-informed stories of indigenous populations can help us recover our lost awareness of self and place.  The knowledge of how to live in balance, in a sustainable way, already exists–  in the ways of the ancient ones of every continent.  The information is all too often lost along with the unraveling of tribal customs, with time tested skills and informed insights vanishing as fast as the lands appropriated for development.  As our existence 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 Indian elders, the placed peasants, the Hispanic dirt farmers with their knowledge of weather and wild foods, Amish farmers, those nomads still following the reindeer and the seasons, or the Kayapo and their jungle pharmacy.  We must turn to them, not in order to emulate or simulate, but in a respectful search for the truths that are our birth right, for what it means to truly belong.  We are not “settlers,” we are simply the unsettled.

Peasant girl – Born to Care, Taught She Belongs

For all the differences in the world views and cosmologies of indigenous peoples, there are certain qualities they generally share in common.  From the Saami of the northern edge of Scandinavia to the Australian Aborigine, primal perception is likely to incorporate the following tenets:

1) The Earth is alive, self directed, with it’s own primal consciousness.

2) Life is inspirited and thus sacred with an innate, intrinsic value.  The rocks and the lichen that feed on them, the trees and the rain that drips down them, all creatures and all people are vested with spirit, meaning and purpose.

3)   All elements of the sacred whole are interconnected, interdependent, interrelated at the deepest levels… and all should be treated as our relatives.  At the root of all personal and societal turmoil is the illusion of separateness, a dis-ease which must be guarded against from birth until death.  Since there is no truly “other,”  all beings are hurt by the dishonoring or degradation of any one.

4)  Humanity’s additional cognitive abilities position us not above the rest of creation, but sorely in need of deliberate rituals to keep us grounded in relationship, purpose and place.  Our unique gifts were meant to result not in libertine distraction, but advanced responsibility.  Our kind is called to attend to the needs and lessons of the natural world we are a part of…. to acknowledge, partake in, protect and provide for the plants, animals and waters that in turn nourish, instruct, inspire and house us.

5)  Existence is to be smelled and tasted, embraced and absorbed.  No words for food are meant to substitute for the benefits of eating…. and all symbols and gestures are meant to bring us deeper into the actual wordless, physical, emotional and spiritual experiencing of life.

6)  Everything in the world functions in part as a message, and all that happens to us, positive or negative, is potentially a valuable lesson.  All truths and all beings are tested, and it is through these challenges that we earn our blessings, demonstrate our qualifications, validate our worth, manifest our love.

7)  Spiritual knowledge or power requires the complete, painful dissolution of illusion and the fearful societal self… and a committed realignment and recommitment according to the designs of Spirit and Place.

8)  Such designs exist for all things, heeding the imperatives of Gaian rhythm, pattern  and will.

9)  All things occur in cycles, and all energy and life seek to circle—  to return to its migrational origins, to spin in the grass before settling down nose to tail.  All there is is an eternal now, rolling over in place like a salmon, exposing in turn each of its sides Summer to Fall, Winter to Spring, first night and then day.  Humankind, too, turns in place, sequentially offering up the face of an anxious infant, a tempestuous teen, a focused adult, a grandfather or crone.

10)  The Seeker’s quest moves towards and never away from authentic self and inspirited place, heightened awareness and applied magic, meaning and mission…. a true journey home.

Indigenous Filipino Healer

Primal mind isn’t just for the shamans and seekers of a few tribes, the tranced-out Ladakh, Kogi or the Shuar.  It is, rather, a region or capacity of the instinctual human body, accessible by even 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 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.  Honored to be.  Honored to be here now.


Many generations in one place, reinforces the relationship with palce we all are born to have.

We each become more indigenous to the degree that we reside in our primal minds, in place, in the bosom of the land, in the lap of the moment.  Becoming: coming to be, leaning how to really be, coming onto and into one’s self.  In re-becoming native, we re-create  a contemporary culture, community, vocabulary, spiritual practice, 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 look to the the first “two legged” peoples to inhabit this continent for guidance, but we must also each establish our credibility directly with the land.  We need to own our deepening connection, the fact that we too belong to the places we’re promised to— even as we actively respect the ways of those peoples who showed respect to the land for so long before us.

Guadalupe by Jesse Wolf Hardin

In time we may come to recognize being native as a condition of relationship.  Of sensitivity, engagement, reciprocity and allegiance.  To survive, those facing the tests of the next century will have had to learn to be placed.  And they’re likely to be of ever more mixed blood.  They will be the descendants of Shona and Aborigine, Mongol and Semite, Hispanic and Cree, and they will 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.

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Being native is being connected to and taking responsibility for the living land.

Southwest Monsoons: The Gifting of Storms and Value of Extremes – by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

The Southwest Monsoons:
The Gifting of Storms and Value of Extremes

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Anima School & Sanctuary

Introduction: I find myself writing about the gift and lessons of our local monsoons, at the same time as villagers in Pakistan are dying by the hundreds in monsoon swollen floods.  All the more reason, to measure not only the ferocity and cost of these patterns, but the depth of their lessons, the value of their example, and the blessings of their life giving side.

The latter part of every Summer, the Southwest United States is host to what even the weather forecasters call the “Monsoons,” a series of thunderous daily showers that have more in common with the weather patterns of flood and drought ravaged Bangladesh than the remaining three quadrants of this country we belong to.  And sorry, friends, there are no monsoons in Oregon or east of Texas, no matter how strong your storms might ever be.  This particular weather dynamic often involves a seasonal speeding up and reversing of predominate wind direction, and on the North American continent always involves powerful winds blowing Northeastwards, powered by the extreme disparity between the Summer heating of land and ocean.  The resulting lower air pressure above the land acts as a siphon, drawing immense volumes of evaporated seawater high into the atmosphere and then releasing it in heavy concentrations on specific if seemingly random targets along its path.

They announce their start with the faint scent of salty ocean swells in deserts and mountains lying hundreds of Mexican desert miles from the Pacific coastline, and are characterized by dramatic dumps rather than slow and steady soakers.  Whereas the Winter monsoon patterns are dispersive and often contribute to drought, their Summer counterparts can result in flash floods in otherwise dry arroyos, and rivers swollen beyond their bed’s capacity.

It is perhaps that which I relate to most, the consistent embrace of wild extremes instead, the roaring and quaking over the calm and quiet storm, full sun followed by darkest imaginable clouds, the chance to thirst as well as to gorge and stretch.  There’s none of the uncertainty or equivocation of softer systems here, delivered on ever so gentle of winds.  And none of the kinder if monotonous storms that subtly inundate other places, settling in over the land and mind like great gray sheets.  Unlike with so many things in life from people’s characters to personal decisions, there are essentially no “gray areas” when it comes to the monsoons of the Southwest.  The boundaries between dense cloud and clarified sky are stark and easily referenced, and natural shape and fanciful form result from the delineation and contrast.  Sudden and severe fluctuations make boredom and desensitization nearly impossible, and contrasts and choices all the more obvious.  Indeed, if storms had minds, these would no doubt come with strongly formed opinions, forcefully argued in thunder’s rumble, and with pointed lightning bolts for impossible to ignore exclamation marks.  As a writer ultimately dealing with complexities and twists, I get relief from their certitude, feel gratefully affirmed by their make-no-bones-about-it honesty.  I find inspiration in their example of not hinging their act on audience response, “doing their thing” regardless of whether the human throngs either dread or adore it.  I only wish I could say as few lines as these storms, and understood as clearly.

I can intimately relate… to the monsoons’ immense energy, dedicated to what is in the end a life saving mission of bringing water to animals, people and plants that would otherwise perish without. To what feels to me like the freedom of the winds, of a great but guileless power answering to no authority other than its own true nature.  To the myth-worthy act of rushing in, accomplishing a goal and literally “making a big splash”, then slipping out before the applause like the Lone Ranger, while the gringo’s scratch their head and ask “Who was that masked man – masked writer, masked activist, masked healer?”

What I can’t relate to, and seem to have resistance to emulating, is the monsoon’s often absurdly consistent schedule, punching in like clockwork and almost always checking out on time.  Like a dinner date, these storms can usually be expected to arrive no later than 2 PM in the afternoon, and to pack up and leave that same night at a reasonable hour.  In the Northwestern sections of the country, folks often wake up to find a laid-back storm still asleep on their couch.  Not so in good ol’ New Mexico, where the Summer fronts storm in, perform a raucous rock n’ roll set for all assembled creation, and then get back on the road before before either their groupies or their detractors know they are gone.

Our monsoons begin after the July temps get up into the 80s.  And in the same way, their clouds seem to wait each day until the the afternoon’s heat is nearly unbearable before rushing in to darken, dampen and delightfully cool the Southwest’s fabled air.  It’s as if it were set up that way, so that we’d first have to really crave – and thus learn to better appreciate – the gift and relief of cooling moisture, before being subjected to what is often a discomforting deluge.

The clouds don’t roll in around here, they’re sucked in, on winds set to send fierce torrents splashing in great waves against the cliffs, bending over the tops of trees an hour before the first rain drop.  The thunder calls from a distance at first, then tumbles closer and louder, causing birds to launch and flutter, and leading a number of insects to take shelter on the protective undersides of leaves.  Magnificent white thunderheads suddenly rise up from behind the mountains like proudly unbeatable warriors, poised to overwhelm our bastion of relative tranquility and peace, a moment that arrests the prattle of the mind and bares the quaking heart.   The lightning arcs just overhead, illuminating both our inescapable mortality and the immanence of resilient life.  And with each thunderclap’s mighty roar, come the rains that pour, and pour, and pour.

Even with the lightning cause fires and the storms’ eroding of precious soils, the monsoons are still a sweep of the arm that bestows blessings.  The land is not just watered but graced.  The dusty greens of area trees and grass instantly brighten as if lit up from inside.  Normally dull pastel rocks shine like polished gemstones.  The seeps flow in serpentine patterns more beautiful than any artist’s design.  And everywhere a rejoicing!  Every person, plant and creature and even the soils themselves seem to give a glad shout!  A resounding “Yes!” to the rains that spur growth, the winds that test, exercise and thus make us strong, to the thunder that awakens and the water and spirit that sates our thirst.

As the monsoons pass over our cabins and Sanctuary, we do our best to gather every drop that pours off the metal roofs, transferring the life-giving liquid from barrel to barrel in what must look to an observer like a ballet of buckets.  We strive to make the most of these seasonal storms when they’re happening, to have our vessel emptied and waiting… and to be gladly willing to do the work of taking it all in.

As quickly as it starts, each monsoon storm stops.  The pummeling wind quickly dissipates, no doubt.  And what looks like a whole new set of stars soon pop back out.


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A Town’s Sad Tale: The Time To Act is Always Now, Avoiding Regrets Later – by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Thursday, June 17th, 2010

The following is another post such as will appear in the future Libertarian/Rewilding website magazine, unnamed as yet, and so for now called “The Straight Shot.”  These will consistently feature opinion, sentiment, history and a call to personal responsibility and action.  Read, and Spread Freely.

A Town’s Sad Tale

The time to act is always now… avoiding regrets later

Exactly 210 miles due north of my backwoods New Mexico home sits the little frontier town of Telluride, nested between the peaks of Colorado’s beautiful San Juans.  It reportedly got its name from the muleskinners yelling “To hell you ride!” as they maneuvered the racing freight wagons down the treacherously steep mountain.  Nine out of ten wagons made it into the village.  One out of ten plummeted off the cliffs.

Long after the mines played out and the only road was paved, it was still quite an effort and an adventure to get there.  Like my nearby village of Reserve, it’s located hundreds of miles from a city of any size.  The roads are twisty, the mountain passes are icy and dangerous in the Winter, and a lonely driver spends hours in his car between cafes and gas stations.  No one wound up there by mistake or on whim.  If you made it to Telluride it was because you really, really wanted to be there!  This was a great benefit to the fourth and fifth generation locals there, who liked to see a little money trickle into the community, but who were always glad the crowds didn’t get too big, and usually smiled with relief when the last tourists left.

For years folks parked in the middle of Main St. to exchange the latest gossip.  And while people complained about the price of food at the only grocery store, they were glad not to have to go to the “darn city” to stock up.  People played softball, attended socials, held dances and celebrated their remote, mountain defined culture.

By the 1960’s the town had started to change but there was no real crime there most of the time.  Sure, there were a large number of heavy drinkers and a few philanderers, but everybody knew who the only thief in town was, and he was more or less tolerated so long as he only stole from well-heeled “touristas.”  The locals hunted the plentiful deer whenever they needed meat, and the Sheriff’s main duties involved helping tipsy saloon patrons walk the two block to their home.  By the 1980’s they were getting pretty well known for their Summer bluegrass festival, but it was still a real adventure for anyone to make the trip, no matter where the heck they were starting from.  Of course, a few well-heeled land developers started talking about the need to “overcome Telluride’s primitive isolation,” but no one really believed things would ever change… or, at least, that they would change so fast.

Until the first airstrip went in, that is.  Suddenly it required neither obsession nor perseverance to make one’s pilgrimage to this special place, and anybody with the price of a ticket could check their golf clubs with the Denver Airport baggage handlers after work on Friday, and by evening be sipping marguerites in sight of Telluride’s scenic waterfall in the heart of the of the once unspoiled San Juans.  Suddenly, instead of intrepid souls and wild eyed adventurers planning for months to make the sojourn of a lifetime, nothing more was required than a momentary whim.  You can easily imagine the tone of the nattily dressed Salt Lake City lawyer or trendy Berkeley bartender, worried most about the area hotel rooms not being modern enough, or the local clubs sufficiently hopping: “I just can’t seem to decide where to go this weekend, and you know how easily bored I get… maybe I’ll buzz over to check out Telluride.”

As a direct result of such newfound convenience, longtime resident’s homes were soon bought out at inflated prices and turned into shops full of “Indian” crafts, souvenir snow globes with clearly drowned plastic skiers, and paintings of the nice way the place used to look before the ski resort spread out.  Swiss Chalets quickly overshadowed the historic log cabins and vintage Victorian style houses.  And worst of all, those apartments for part-timers they call “condominiums” started sprouting up everywhere one looked, like boils on a burn victim.  As a result, people who arrived with the intention of  having an experience in nature found themselves spending all too much of their June in chlorine-filled pools, or sitting in front of the TV’s in their rented rooms.

If that wasn’t enough, the community soon found itself in a major battle over the expansion of the airport, proposed in order to make it possible for small private jets to land.  Environmentalist ski-bums joined with old time ranchers in opposing the plan, but they may have waited too long to band together and resist the changes that were being forced on them.  When it was over, a handful of big-dollar lawyers and investors had effectively bought out or overcome the will of the locals and construction began.  As a consequence, real estate prices rapidly soared.  A good amount of money was made by those who sold their beloved homes and moved away, and those trying desperately to hang on soon found the annual land taxes had gone up to high for them to pay.  Everyday workers were losing their houses to “second home” buyers from from out of state.  They found themselves living in and commuting from Sawpit and Placerville, a 30 minute or more commute from the place where they actually wanted to sleep.

Today the town is not only gussied up but generally gentrified.  The sidewalks are sparkly clean, buildings have been nicely restored and the signs freshly painted.  Unfortunately, the few kids from local bloodlines that still hang out there are stuck with pouring bubbly water for thirsty restaurant patrons.  We find them maintaining the ski lifts in their tee shirts ironically festooned with corporate advertisement, or wearing little white caps to keep the grease out of their hair while flipping veggie burgers for their Winnebago driving patrons.  I remember one ol’ gal, still pissed off about what they’d done to her little town and their once way of life.  I can recall her looking past the blinking traffic lights and three story condos to the storm clouds forming and fuming just above the mountain.  “If only we would have could have done something sooner!” she growled.  “If only we’d seen it coming…”

And “it” is on its way, no matter where you live or may ever visit, to all the places that you might love just as they are: The scenery, transformed not by art or need but by a clumsier hand, into fabrications of the tacky visions of advertising executives with predictable post modern tastes.  The rural, recreational or agrarian culture you may have valued, not vanquished but sidelined, diluted, marginalized, and finally infiltrated, perverted and appropriated.  The Old Town section of your favorite city, with its park or plaza, narrow streets lined with hawking vendors and busking musicians torn down as part of some hallucinatory scheme.  The neighborhood with big yards where children play and flower gardens flourish, inexorably inundated with poured concrete and molten asphalt the way that Hawaiian volcanoes lay claim to nearby schoolyards with their suffocating lava.  The precious quiet, awaiting like a politically correct pacifist for a future mugging by the abrasive tenor of constantly arriving aircraft and consistently congested traffic.  The building of new airports were there were none, but also the swallowing of smaller airports where you may have enjoyed watching takeoffs and landings as a kid, by the broad security perimeters of giant mega-airports.  And you can’t say that you didn’t see it coming… once you’ve had forceful denial and comforting delusion dashed by this unenviable article.

We rightly get angry about those harmful and unbeauteous things that we have no influence over, yet by my reckoning, we need only regret that which we fail act on or respond to.  We’ll certainly have little cause to regret later those things that we successfully – or even unsuccessfully – repelled or resisted now.

-Jesse Wolf Hardin

To read an excellent article on urban guerrilla gardening, sidewalk reclamation and the garden as protest, we recommend checking out:

The Phoebes Are Back! – Ahh, How a Bird Can Lift the Heart… – by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010


It Takes But a Little Bird To Lift the Heart

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Sayornis saya
Order: Passeriformes
Family: Tyrannidae (Flycatchers)

She’s back!  And she has touched me like no other bird, I confess, with her simple yet incredibly sweet whistling calls so sadly missed during her lengthy Winter absence.  “Pd-eer,” she sings in occasional relaxed cadence, “Pd-eer, Pd-eer,“ as though a special sharing and gift for me.

I don’t mean that she’s a single individual, of course, since I have enjoyed the same April return to the eaves of our cabin since shortly after I built it, over 25 years ago now.  What I am so attached to is no doubt a lineage, sequential generations of these wondrous little flycatchers, with certain broods producing an offspring that will answer to call to root and bond at a cellular level like I have, to a particular place, to what is for us not only essential habitat but our home.

She makes a sound for me as she brakes and flutters when entering her nest, that she doesn’t make any other time, a lovely, bubbly trilling, followed by a few contented “Pd-weep, Pd-weeps” as lands for only a few seconds before flying about again.  No matter how heavy my thoughts or serious my work, every time I hear her landing trill my heart is lifted.

Within a short while she will be attended by a mate, in a monogamous relationship that will bear from 3 to 7 white eggs typically speckled with reddish brown freckles.  These she will sit on and incubate for 12 to 14 days, making constant trips back and forth to the nest to feed her hatchlings thereafter.  Surveying the landscape like a hawk from a convenient perch, this small fluffball will swiftly swoop down on any airborne insect that she sees, sometimes hovering over the tall grass until the perfect opportunity to strike.  While appearing the very epitome of sweetness and preciousness, she will be a protective mother who vigorously drives off any other birds that dare to venture near.  One of the words used to describe a collective of Phoebes is a “swatting”, perhaps as a nod to the earnest and tireless way that they box one bug after another from the sky.

I actually loved and praised my succession of Summer resident long before I knew their name.  For the longest time I had difficulty even seeing one clearly enough to make an identification with the help of our Sibley’s Guide.  This was due in part to their small size, gray backs and buff bellies, but also because they’re so active, only briefly tending to an important survey before dashing off, and otherwise seeming thrilled to be swooshing and rolling about through the air.  What we have here are Say’s Phoebes, named after the naturalist Thomas Say, a little larger than both the common Eastern Phoebe and the local Black Phoebe with its white belly and charcoal toned top.  The Say’s Phoebes are said to mostly spend their Winters in California and western Oregon, yet nest and breed along a huge swath of territory from the bosom of old Mexico all the way to Alaska, the Yukon and the northern Mackenzie, further north than any other flycatcher by far.  Throughout, they frequent more or less open ecotones like prairie and tundra, as well as riparian zones like the river canyon cradling and supporting the Anima Sanctuary.

Like so many species of plants and animals on this planet, the Says’ population is on a slow but steady decline.  The reasons for this are the most obvious and common, a continuous loss of habitat to development as a burgeoning human population understandably seeks to meet it needs for housing, food and roads.  We can only hope that their homes and weedy feeding grounds will be preserved wherever their role as a voracious predator of sometimes troublesome insects is valued, or where their trills and pd-weeps are cherished like here…

…and hope, as well, that we can come to see every living thing – furry or leafen, soft or prickly – as no less dear.

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(For more reflections on nature and place, go to the blog archives at right, or to

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:

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Depths: Affirmation, River and Mountain Style – by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Friday, January 29th, 2010

Affirmation River, & Mountain-Style

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

After a series of eastward-blowing storms, it’s been brilliantly sunny again.  Besides the pleasant warming ambiance, it has meant the ritual snowmelt, with the quickly saturated ground giving up its overflow in a convulsion of water.  Migrating in sheets off the steep cliffs and mountains, it breaks up into liquid fingers gurgling down parallel gullies, then plummets from the ledges in 2 feet, 6 feet, or 100 feet drops.  No matter their individual mini-headwaters, their destination is the same, gravity combining with earth’s ecosophic purpose to feed a quickly swelling river.

Quickly, I say, sometimes rising from a foot deep to over 20 feet deep, and from gently moving at a relaxed pace to madly rushing like a herd of bison stampeded by lightning.  Today the Sweet Medicine River varied from 3 to 5 feet depending on its width, as well as on the holes scooped out by the swirling force of eddies.  At such times it would be reasonable and perhaps even wise to stay at home here, in wood heated cabins perched far above all but the most biblical flood heights.  Reasonable, however, does not determine my actions when there is a cause to be championed, an innocent to be defended, a mission to be furthered… mail to be mailed, or cream, butter and treats for the gals to be got.

The adventure begins with taking off my pants and shirt and rolling them up, then holding the bundle of boots, clothes and outgoing mail above my head while stepping off into cloudy swirling waters where I can’t see the bottom.  From the second I touch bottom on sucking sand or bruising rock, the current pushes me hard down the canyon and to the southwest and Arizona and Mexico when I need to remain determinedly pointed to the east.  To compensate I set off 30 yards upriver from my preferred landing spot on the opposite bank, then bounce across in leaps that give in equal proportions to the diverging directions of man and river.

I’m very warm blooded, but snowmelt anywhere above the thighs is stunning to say the least, a jolt that arrests all thought even as it so loudly reminds me through every sense that I am alive.  Getting out onto largely muddy ground with clean feet is a trick best accomplished by holding onto railings of exposed Alder roots, and then squatting and dressing in atop its foundation of shore-clutching arms.  The climb to the waiting vehicle starts out at a 30 SunStreakedSnow-smdegree incline, and any thought of being cold is gone within the first third of the ascent.  Sitting for hours writing articles, books and emails is poor exercise and preparation, and my legs begin to complain.  When I was in my 20’s, I made it a practice to run as fast as I could without stopping for the entire 2 mile climb, carrying a pebble in my mouth because I had read the Apache ensured breathing through their noses that way, causing greater stamina.  Now I considered a satisfactory feat just to be able to scramble up its sides on deer trails that for a deer would be a relaxed pace.  And while the snow lay only in patches at the bottom of the canyon, with the first 500 feet of elevation increase the snow had thickened to a 18 inches or more, obliterating any sign of the winding way up.  With familiar landmarks draped or obscured and the ground appearing but a single precipitous angle, I was likely seldom if ever actually a trail, making headway by thrusting the sides of my boots into the snow for each step, and proceeding more sideways than forward myself.

Increasingly aching legs and ever more slippery and indecipherable terrain inspired even greater attention to each committed step.  A slip could mean plummeting at breakneck speeds checked only by collisions of flesh against bark, careening pinball style off one ponderosa tree after another.  The Winter is found no less lovely by the trekker, knowing that growing stiff and weary, or stopping and taking too long of a rest could mean never getting back up again.  There is only continuing as an option for life, as it is with all life forms empowered by this force and will to live, the anima.  And less dramatically, there is never any stopping and giving up for me.  Older and less exercised limbs showed no sign of giving out, but only signs of continuing to give their all.  In fact, the aching actually eased for the most part at the point when the climb was most difficult, and in that I found great encouragement.

The microclimate shifted with each few hundred feet of ascent, such that near the 7000 feet level I found myself walking into a cloud, a strata of airborne strata so pronounced that for a moment I could see my boot clearly while everything at head height was covered by mist.  Like the entrance to Avalon, all magic seems to be veiled for protection by a cloud of unknowing.  But for me then, it was a knowing instead, the knowledge that once in the cloud I was essentially at the mountain’s top and a waiting snow-tucked vehicle.  As always, the cream in our coffee will be made all the more enjoyable by the means through which it was obtained.  The books sent out will have an extra story to go with them, recounting their untypical journey.  And the where and why of our lives is yet again reaffirmed, not by the ease of our admitted paradise but by what we are willing to do for and because of it.  Affirmed mountain and river-style, instead of through its vista and sparkle we come to know its measure by its depth.

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The Town That Waves – by Jesse Hardin

Wednesday, January 27th, 2010

Intro: Our Animá school is situated in isolated Catron County, New Mexico, only 2 percent private land and a populous nationally famous for their their anti-government, libertarian, and sadly but understandably anti-environmentalist views.  Even as they have embraced a tree hugging ex-biker philosopher named “Wolf” as their own, they are terrified of the real wolf introduction program and angry over the ways the program has been operated.  For all its twists and complexities, we are very fortunate to live in a place where individual liberty is a paramount value, wide open spaces treasured, wild food eaten, medicinal herbs appreciated, gardens grown and human bonds strengthened.  Folks jump to help us and each other, and are disappointed if we don’t stop to visit.  If you ever make the trip here you will expect to see the disparaging sign about spotted owls in our landmark Uncle Bill’s Bar, but you may be surprised at the friendly greetings of folks walking or driving your way.  There is a reason why I may be calling my upcoming “straight shot” book of rural humor and land based insights “The Town That Waves.”  This will likely be its opening chapter.  -JWH

Goat Wagon-sm

The Town That Waves

by Jesse Hardin

I will never forget rolling into my home country for the very first time, awestruck by the sheer physical beauty, giddy with excitement as Sonoran desert gave way to vast stretches of piñon-juniper, then into thick stands of ponderosa pine bearded with dangling usnea.  The continental divide.  The exposed cliffs near the village of Aragon, with that inviting cave within sight of the road.  The bright green meadows fed by generous springs, the twist of the Tularosa river, the view to the north of the Frisco box.  Elk feeding at the edge of the pavement.  Bald eagles circling.  A fox dashing for cover at the sound of my engine.  The vast distances seemed to cast a spell on me, soothing my beastly youthful impatience.  And the land… the land felt animate with the ghosts of the past, its human and natural history somehow still alive for us to sense, learn from, and give thanks for.  Call it the presence of God if you will – or call it the power of the Great Spirit as previous generations of awestruck natives did – but the land seemed to me then and still seems to reflect, embody and vibrate with a divine force, appearing magical even to a hardened modern mind.  The closer I got to what would become my lifetime home, the closer I felt to heaven.  Blooming wildflowers and a buoyant northeastern wind worked in consort together, easing me into a timeless state of mind steeped in reverie on that long, long drive.

I was amazed on that fortuitous initial visit, however, not just by the landscape but also the people.  First, that there were so very few of them, with me seeing only a handful of trucks in the final one hundred and thirty miles.  And second, amazed that the drivers waved as they passed by!

I don’t think that a roadside iguana race hosted by hula dancers would have have been any greater a surprise to the 23 year old me.  Having been a teen runaway in the harder neighborhoods of several cities, I’d grown to expect a “dirty finger” flipped in my direction, or an occasional beer bottle being tossed at me by someone with an aversion for “long-hairs” or chopped motorcycles.  And even in the nicer parts of town, I could expect stiff indifference, pedestrians as well as drivers understandably going by without making eye contact, with me largely anonymous and irrelevant to them.  But waving?  I was dumbfounded.  Nonplussed.  Flabbergasted.  And I might add, deeply touched.

For the first few weeks here I felt guilty, like an impostor, worried that they were confusing my vehicle for someone else’s they knew.  Surely if those folks realized I wasn’t a local, they’d resent the effort.  And up until then I still preferred being ignored to being resented.  But that’s all changed in the decades since, and it’s gotten to where I’d rather be actively disliked than ingloriously ignored.  At this stage, I only feel guilty if I get so distracted with changing the music on the stereo that I fail to wave back.

For all those who wave, needless to say, I’ve noticed there are a few who never do.  These include the occasional stockman, too John Wayne-like stoic to do anything so ostentatious and undignified.  The nearly blind, who drive ten miles an hour and can barely see the yellow lines, let alone make out a raised hand behind the glare of an opposing windshield.  The teens scarcely old enough for a license, who are characteristically way too cool for such things.  And those who are both extremely old and stubbornly willful, working with white-knuckled determination to keep their thirty year old pickups on the road, justifiably afraid to take either hand off the wheel even for a second.

The above are the exceptions, while the majority of my community faithfully continue with this valued practice, going through the motions because we care.  Being a county of individualists, however, no two of these waves are exactly alike.  The personal variations demonstrate both the degree of emotional investment and the current mood of the waver, such as:  A single pointer finger lifted.  The same finger lifted, but wagged.  Two fingers doing the same.  The whole palm lifted, with the heel still on the wheel.  An entire hand raised and held still in the air, like pinto pony-riding Plains Indians meeting up in a flat stretch of buffalo grass.  The whole hand raised and waved back and forth, like a bobbing dashboard hula-dancer.  And there is both hands momentarily off the wheel, flapping wildly in the air because the driver happens to be truly excited to see you.

Such waves are about bonding, affirmation and membership in a way, about being genuinely pleased the other fellow is out on such a good day to be alive!  About fellow county residents sharing a common place and history, and a number of values and hopes.  But the wave is also about recognizing each other as fellow human critters only temporarily boxed up in ironclad machines on wheels, no matter our fellow driver’s place of origin… as sister and brethren sharecroppers working in a fractured economic system, breathing the same air, struggling with the same issues of growing up or parenting, of aging and health.  The same prostituted politicians and freedom-robbing legislation.  And similar purpose and belief, hardship and hope.

That said, my rural neighbors and I aren’t any too bothered if some tourist or house hunter motors by without giving us the courtesy of waving back.  We understand.  He or she just doesn’t know any better yet.

(Post and forward freely)

The Chiaroscuro: Of Light & Dark in the Storm’s Path

Monday, May 18th, 2009


With the thunder rolling through the mountains and the raindrops splashing against the dusty ground, there’s no doubt it feels more like the middle of July than the middle of May. We have our fingers crossed that the last few days unseasonal storms will provide some much needed moisture rather than triggering lightning set forest fires during what is normally our driest season. The nearly black clouds roll across the Gila, even as sunlight spills through and around them, creating a fascinating display of light and darkness upon the green and gold curves of the land. This natural chiaroscuro plays over New Mexico’s water and earth in an annual demonstration of wholeness, not of contesting opposites but the complementary parts coming together to create a greater beauty than either alone could engender.

As odd as the weather may be, the plants still seem to know what month it is and are coming out in their own steady schedule. Down by the river, the wild roses are beginning to bloom — their vividly pink petals unfurling slowly, a few more each day, and  their scent wafting up and down the river on the breeze. Gold and orange faced Monkeyflowers, lavender petaled Veronica and white sprays of Watercress grow from the riverbanks while the creamy lily-shaped blossoms of the Yucca adorn the stark cliff-faces and rocky mesas. Come evening, the rich, nearly overpowering scent of Wild Honeysuckle and Canyon Grape flowers drifts on the cooling air, drawing us all outside to breathe deeply of the sweet, almost intoxicating aroma.

Everywhere I step, I’m greeted by the colors and smells of Spring. The great sheltering canopies of  Gambel Oak and Canyon Walnut rear up from the hillsides, providing a shady haven even in the hottest of weather. At their feet, Pink Penstemon, Purple Vetch and Wild Skullcap proliferate and spread among last year’s slowly composting leaf litter.

On my frequent walks I almost always carry my large gathering basket, its strongly woven interior easily holding the many bundles of herbs I often harvest when out. I also wear my curved gathering knife (a sweet gift from Wolf) with its intricate damascus blade that’s perfect for cleanly cutting through even a thick section of plants. Rhiannon often accompanies me and together we hunt for the sweetest greens and newest flowers, crawling under fallen trees and climbing up lichen-kissed rocks.

No matter how many times I explore the same area, I’m bound to find something new — a clump of red earth, a rust colored crystal, just opened blossom or a small splinter of bone. Even the shades of earth and dirt change with season and weather, in the same way that the other colors and textures of every bit of the natural world are constantly adapting and shifting in relation to the rest of the whole. We as humans often want to hold onto what we love, whether child or place or era — to keep it safe, pure and unchanged. And yet, through the complex evolution and interplay of life in the myriad forms of soil, rocks, rabbits, butterflies, anemones, salmon and eagles we can see that vitality and loveliness are rooted in dynamics and relationship. Always moving, always adapting, always becoming.

In truth, beauty is not ephemeral, it doesn’t mysteriously disappear from humans at age forty or fade with the plant’s shift from flower to fruit to seed. It is constantly growing, changing, shifting. We are born, we age and die and become the soil, only to begin again. Every part of that process is beautiful and filled with the potential for grace and growth. In the light and the dark, in the blooming and the seeding, in storm and stillness, the land remakes and rebirths itself, and we along with it. In the chiaroscuro is the dance of life