Archive for June, 2008

Primal Sacrament: The Joy of Wild Foods and Medicines

Sunday, June 29th, 2008

nettle-harvest.jpgThe air is heavy and the sky dark nearly all day long. The awaited monsoons are almost here, hovering just beyond the horizon and taunting us with long spikes of silver lightning stabbing the sky. The plants glory in the rare humidity and ripening berries weigh down the branches of Mulberry and Saskatoon trees. We are at the cusp of my favorite season, from now til October I’ll be in absolute heaven and loathe to step indoors away from the lush green beauty that the Monsoons bring.

While all four of us enjoy a huge variety of foods from different traditions, cultures and parts of the world, what we love most of is the intense, close to home nourishment of wild foods. Whether Sweet Clover pesto, creamy Nettle soup or smoked Elk, the taste of this land is like no other. The act of taking in the primal sacrament from what we ourselves are grown from provides us with a feeling of completion, of rightness and a deep sense of satisfaction. I’ve written on this subject before, most recently in my post The Forager’s Song over at the Medicine Woman’s Roots.

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Loba’s been gathering Nettles, one batch at a time, and then cooking them down on the outdoor fire for storage in a friend’s freezer. Rhiannon loves helping with the plants and puts on her favorite leather gloves for the task of picking, sorting and processing the Nettles. And in my own spare moment, I relish harvesting huge armloads to carry home to the cabin kitchen. These nutrient rich greens are one our most important staples, along with Lamb’s Quarters and Beebalm. Every year, we harvest as much as possible and store them all away for the cold months ahead and then delight during Winter in our vibrant, delicious greens. We prefer doing as much of the cooking as possible outside during the Summer. There’s nothing like roasting fresh vegetables in the hot ashes of a burned down fires, or grilling a fine steak over red coals. The taste of the mountain air seems imbued in every bite, and all the more nourishing for the vital wildness of it.

rabbit-stew-1.jpgLately we’ve been enjoying a precious supply of fresh caught Cottontail, lovingly hunted and delivered into our hands by our dear Wolf. He regularly heads out into the dusk carrying his antique shotgun with Rhiannon tagging close behind to learn her Papa’s fine hunting skills. She’s also often the one to run to get the rabbit, picking up it’s soft body and whispering a thank you and kiss for its precious life.

Now, you may have heard that rabbit tastes just like chicken, but you heard wrong. And if you’ve ever had domestic rabbit, well, just disregard that. Wild rabbit is a creature until itself, and a plump young bunny makes a wonderful meal (or two) for our small family. While not possessing much in the way of fat, the meat is still tasty and can be surprisingly tender when properly prepared. The addition of pork belly, bacon, lard or other high quality fat increases tenderness, and soaking the meat in the fat can make for a much better grilling experience.

rabbit-stew-2.jpgLast night we put together a delicious variation on Lapin Moutarde á la Créme, a rich, almost intoxicating rabbit stew. The original recipe called for pork belly and hard cider in the stock, but we substituted bacon, sauteed apples and a fine chardonnay with very tasty results. The light fruit flavor mingled delightfully with the mild taste of the rabbit. At the last, Loba added a generous splash of cream to the boiled down broth before adding back vegetables and meat. The soup was served over a bed of mixed greens and adorned with crumbled bacon, toasted pecans and finely chopped flat leaf parsley. Truthfully, I believe the recipe resulted in one of the finest broths I’ve ever tasted.

My own evolution of healing has taught me that my body most often prefers the simple fare of meat, veggies and berries, rich with wild greens and local game. These foods have the amazing effect of keeping me balanced, both emotionally and physically. I no longer have blood sugar spikes, chronic fatigue or digestive issues. Some people are horrified at the idea of a life without bread, rice or potatoes but I am delighted by the idea of a life without pain, exhaustion and insulin resistance. One of the wonderful things about this particular approach to eating, is that much of my diet can come directly from here. This wild bit of NM is not suited for intensive agricultural practices and gentle living with the earth means harvesting what is most abundant. Here, that’s greens, game and you guessed it, berries! In fact, tomorrow I’m heading over to a friend’s house to gather a (hopefully) abundant amount of Mulberries from her huge, prolific tree.

rose-bowl.jpgAnother friend generously allowed me to pick some delicately scented petals from her old fashioned rose bush and this morning Rhiannon and I brewed up some delicious Rose elixir, and she even made her own small bottle of ruby colored magic to have on hand. Each of these every day experiences, from food gathering to medicine making, is filled with a quiet sense of the extraordinary. Of the miracle of each day, and the gratitude that weaves us all together.

~Kiva Rose

~All pics (c) 2008 Kiva Rose

In Their Footsteps – By Jesse Wolf Hardin

Monday, June 23rd, 2008

sherds3sm.jpgLiving as we do on the site of an ancient Mogollon village and ritual center, it’s easy to regularly imagine our predecessors as they walked about the same landscape as we do, stepping out of their recessed pit-houses as we spring from our little cabins into the same burst of forest green and skies blue.  This time of year they would have been gathering the wild mustard and river watercress, and spreading stinging nettles and current berries out to dry.  They would be looking forward to harvests of saskatoons and gooseberries like us, and be spending part of their day adding daubs of mud to the roof to help keep the family dry through the likely drench of August and July.  Rhiannon has been asking about how to catch a rabbit to eat, which are at a population peak right now, and what comes to mind is the image of other dark headed urchins of an earlier time… walking proudly into camp with their contribution to dinner, a net bag of greens from mother’s wish list, and small slain fur bearers that had been properly thanked and kissed.

For them as we, food and fire, wood and water were not mundane chores separate from the spiritual or magical realms, but integral expressions and appropriate exercises, with every act infused with meaning, every thought at some point made real.  It matters not what name they gave to their sense of the divine, only that they were sensitive enough to know this canyon as special, just as all who come here sense it in a similar way, in the heart and gut, clutching heart and tingling skin, in bodily memory, dream and hope.  That they came closer to their selves as well as to spirit, in the daily and moment to moment processes of planting and gathering, cooking and hunting, teaching and learning, binding wounds with native herbs, carrying water from the cooling river and weaving blankets for warmth, processes made of nourishment and hunger, earth and stone, growth and death, hearth and birth.

It was in shallow cave directly below this pine-board study, that I once found a sandal woven of yucca fiber, a discovery I took as reassurance and encouragement at a time when I was feeling sorely tested.  It was perhaps not unusual that it fit me perfectly when I held it up to my foot, since mine are a fairly common size, but I could not help but think of the old adage “If the shoe fits, wear it,” as in “if the role fits, assume it.”  And the expression “walk a mile” in someone else’s shoes, as a way of better understanding what they experienced, understood and faced.  In the spirit of the former, Kiva, Loba and I have indeed assumed a role as guardians and attentive lovers of this amazing place, and as purveyors of what we have learned here.  And when it comes to walking in the sandals of of others, it’s something we and our students and guests do every precious timeless day.

(photo of canyon pottery shards by J. Wolf Hardin) 

Close To Home

Wednesday, June 18th, 2008

blueriverwaterfall1sm.jpgThe photos you see here are of the Blue River, a usually creek-sized flow that runs from the White Mountains on the New Mexico/Arizona border, down through the sculpted red rocks of the Blue Range Wilderness Area. It’s hard to leave the Frisco River we love to drive the 40 miles of washboard-rutted road to get there, sliding sideways on the loose gravel with every hairpin turn. This particular spot is one that we find attractive enough to set aside a day’s projects for, with Loba and Rhiannon packing a picnic basket this time and Kiva anxious to try again to teach our little girl to swim. Waterfalls form where the Blue drops through solid rock, marked with red patterns reminiscent of native etched petroglyphs but drawn by no mortal hand. I enjoyed leaping off the highest cliff into the narrow gorge, and the sensation of the massaging torrent and swirling tickle of bubbles.

It’s seldom that we travel out of the Canyon far, and the reasons are many. Perhaps most important is that we teach the importance of intimacy with place, and of first seeking in our local bioregions, parks and yards the wonder, connection with and lessons of nature that we need. In addition, it is hard to find anywhere so lovely that it can draw us away from the Sanctuary’s own dynamic magnificence, its tantalizing shapes and hues shifting hour by hour, ever affording us new sights and sounds.

One of the main reasons we use to go out more was to give talks at various schools, conferences and activist gatherings across the U.S. Those venues have mostly dried up, with the transition in many people’s priorities from self-growth and the natural world to distracting entertainment and elusive personal and economic security. Even when I have been paid well to speak or perform, I donated most of the the proceeds to whatever local group of cause I supported… and now there is simply not enough money offered hardly anywhere to cover even the cost of flight or gas. The logical but painful climb in fuel costs has not only affected the number of registrants we get for events here, but also the number of worthwhile venues that can pay the increasing expense of the drive from here to there. We have started putting the word out for a donated car with super mileage, but even then travel will have to be something important and in budget.

blueriverswimhole2sm.jpgFor all those reasons we can be found increasingly close to home, and thus close to the very heart of our work and purpose. When we do leave to give presentations it is to regional, land-based events such as those at 3-Sided Whole in Central New Mexico, or to cities within a days drive such as El Paso, Santa Fe, Albuquerque or Tucson, where our excellent student and herbalist Darcey (desertmedicinewoman.blogspot.com) and our ally Allison are helping to network. And when we stay, it will be with the possibility of hosting Resident Student Interns as well as Retreat guests, and the certainty of being able to give more time to our growing number of Correspondence Course students.

We are so fortunate to be not only intimates with life and earth, but witnesses to the results of what we teach. Today when we get hot in the afternoon extremes, we’ll lie in a Frisco River that is but one watershed east of the Blue, flowing along a parallel course to the southwest, tilting towards an ocean they will never see.

-J. Wolf Hardin

(photos by Jesse Wolf Hardin)

Falling in Love with the Flowers of the Gila

Sunday, June 15th, 2008

datura.jpgIt was hard for an Apache-raised girl to understand, how some could see the planet as but a lifeless rock, upon whose surface a bounty was distributed for the good of man.  Who saw animals not as spirits but as steaks, fur and wool, pet or threat.  Who saw trees only as lumber to be turned into buildings or offer shade from the sun, who judged plants as being decorative or itchy, weeds or crops.

To Omen, they were not just wondrous sunshine-eating entities, without whom humans and most of the life on Earth would die.  They were proof of miracles, and reason for hope.  The inspiration for a good and balanced life, and examples of how to live it.

They were her ever growing, ever reaching truth. 

They were the medicine she would need.

– Jesse Wolf Hardin, from The Medicine Bear

Something about the summer — something in the hot scald of sand underfoot, the full body touch of brilliant light and the erupting waves of botanical color — always reminds me of my first moments of falling in love with this place.

I arrived in August, flying into Albuquerque from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. And although I’d lived previously in southern Arizona, I’d never before experienced the signature pink and red stone, the perfect white faces of thorny flowers and the sheer luminosity of the sky that is New Mexico. Loba arrived to pick us up, and promptly burst from the truck barefoot with armfuls of pollen-dusted Sunflowers and the exquisitely beautiful blooms of the Sacred Datura.

On the long drive from the city down into the southwest corner of the state, I rode with my head out the open window and my red hair whipping around my face. The monsoons were in full swing and the flowers crowded the roadsides with a brilliant display of scarlet, ivory, gold and lavender that stretched for miles across grasslands and wound up into the mountains. I wanted to know the names and scents of every single little green plant that waved in the afternoon winds. I begged Loba to pull over, and somewhere near Horse Springs, we sat in the wet dirt and smelled Coneflowers and Prickly Poppies while Loba told me the names and ways of each plant she knew.

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The many colored swaths of flowers expanded and interwove as we traveled south, deep into the Gila. By the time we reached the sanctuary, it seemed as if we’d driven right through the veil into fairyland. Castle-shaped cliffs jutted from Juniper clad mountains and the river curved wildly through the center of the narrow canyon.

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Rhiannon was so little then, only a toddler, and she gazed out at her new home with sleepy but wide eyes. On our walk in, she and I gathered flowers to wear in our hair and stopped to sniff the little yellow faced beauties that grew from the sides of the river banks. Back then, the identities and histories of the plants were mostly a mystery to me. Many of my first conversations with Wolf and Loba revolved around me pointing to any and all plants and asking “what’s that?” and “what’s it for, can you eat it?” kind of things. Loba happily showed me all the edible plants she knew and told me the names she knew for each one. In some cases, she had no idea what the plant’s botanical name might be and referred to it with the personal title she’d given it from her experience with and feelings for it.
I’ve had an abiding love for all green things since my earliest memories of picking Strawberries and playing with Peppergrass as a child. Somehow though, the canyon plants seemed to call me even more loudly than any I’d previously met. Their colors and scents, their flowers and thorns all spoke to me of magic and medicine. I couldn’t have known back then, how the plants would become an integral piece of my work and growth, of my own sense of self and personal mission. Wolf saw it early on though, and bought me my first plant books, and Loba brought me flowers at every occasion and has picked Datura blossoms for every single birthday I’ve had since I arrived in the canyon.

It’s only grown since then, and every summer I stand back and feel the bodily memory wash over me. Each afternoon when the monsoon clouds start moving in and the flowers turn their brightly colored faces towards the spiraling sun, I fall in love all over again.

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Wild Herb Pesto

Thursday, June 5th, 2008

What a glorious time in the canyon it is right now! We had an unheard of day of snow the last of May, followed by two days rain last week filling a good number of our empty barrels with fresh water (thanks to Kiva and I getting up in the middle of the night to tend to them!).  This morning is cool enough for shawls while the afternoon is expected to get up to the 90’s, and the early Summer sun is stimulating every native plant to green and surge.  Our newly planted hawthorne and saskatoon trees are thriving, and so are most of the blackberry transplants.   The nettles are getting huge, and I’ve been trying to do some harvesting several times a week.  We’ve been feasting on them like crazy, and also filling bags full of boiled nettles to squeeze into a local friend’s freezer, along with the many accumulating jars of sweet clover, bee balm, and wild mint pestos!  So exciting to think of getting to eat all of this wild gloriousness through next winter!  One of our recent guests loved the bee balm pesto so much, she jotted down the recipe before she left so she could make it at home.  I’ll share it here, so you can try it, too, and make use of what’s growing in your neck of the woods!

pestosmall.jpgWe normally think of basil as THE pesto plant, but if you expand your idea of what pesto can be, a whole range of possibilities emerges. Pesto can be made with any pungent leafy herb, like oregano, clover (sweet clover much preferred to red clover), marjoram, mint, and of course basil, and all its relations! You can also make pesto with fresh nettles, believe it or not, and with dandelion greens, or wild mustard!  Try mixing in fresh sage, thyme, or rosemary in smaller quantities, as well.  I used to always make my pesto on my thousands-of years old stone metate, but ever since my parents gifted me with a wonderful glass and steel blender, I’ve been mainly using that.  It makes a large batch of pesto in a very short time. When Kiva and I know we’ll be harvesting lots and lots of “pesto greens”, we stock up on gallon tins of extra virgin olive oil and bulk nuts ahead of time, so we can make several batches anytime. We come back from walking up the wash with armloads of bee balm, daydreaming of the yummies to come! We love this pesto on sandwiches, in tortillas, curries, on rice, in stews and soups and of course in pasta dishes and on garlic toast, and homemade flatbread!

Wild Herb Pesto

3 cups loosely packed wild herbs
1 cup walnuts, pine nuts, or almonds
1 teaspoon salt
a pinch of curry powder
juice of 1/2 lemon
3-6 cloves fresh garlic
extra virgin olive oil, about 1 and 1/4 cups

Toast the nuts in a large heavy skillet (cast iron works best), with a few tablespoons of olive oil, till they’re lightly browned all over. Strip the leaves into a big bowl, it’s ok if some of the tender stem-tips get in there too, just don’t put in the thicker stems.  Pack the leaves loosely into a blender, and put in enough olive oil to drench them, but not enough to completely submerge them.  The measurement above is not exact, as the exact amount of greens will vary as to how you interpret “loosely packed”.  Add the rest of the ingredients, blend till smooth, pour & scrape into a pint canning jar, and keep in your fridge for immediate use, or store in your freezer to look forward to using next winter!

Let me know how your experiments go, ok? I’d love to hear!  Till next time, I send you lots of love and yumminess!
-Loba

(photo by Kiva Rose… Wolf gave her an extra camera and some tips, and she’s gotten great at it in no time!)

Immersion: A Spring Walk by Kiva

Sunday, June 1st, 2008

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Thanks to unexpected April rains (and snow!) the Canyon is a lovely shade of green just now. The Beebalm is knee high and preparing to flower while the Saskatoon berries are just beginning to show their first blush. Another blessing from the rains has been that the Nettle hasn’t gone to flower yet, so we’re still joyfully eating them at nearly every meal.

Rhiannon and I took a long walk downriver earlier this week, to gather Wild Roses, and to soak up the incredible lush beauty of the fully leafed out Gila. The day was Summertime warm, but with a cool breeze skipping along the river, brushing back our hair and keeping us comfortable. We walked down the center of the calf deep river, so as to better see the flowers and butterflies on every side. We were both delighted by the thousands of Horsetail plants gracing the banks and by the plethora of Wild Mint and Silverweed at every turn. We even found the first ripe Red Currant berries, which Rhiannon happily gathered and sat upon a smooth rock to eat one by juicy one.

pink-and-yellow-ragwortsm.jpgThere’s something about these long rambling walks that teaches me more about ecology, herbalism and poetry than any book ever could. It’s life close up, magnified by the senses and intensified by the immersion of self into place. The wandering here and there with my face in the plants while listening to the Cliff Swallows sweep by helps me to fully understand and experience each season, each natural transition and every possible nuance of the land I live with and from. Every flower, bit of wind or colorful bug gives me yet another source of gratitude and wonder.

Rhiannon approached each fragrant hedge of Wild Rose with a joyful cry of “oh, you pink sweeties!” and spun wildly around them, plucking petals to nibble and sniffing every thorn guarded blossom she could reach. Under the outstretched boughs of the silver-barked Alders, she danced upon the dry rocks protruding above the water’s surface. She thanked each tree for its shade and ran back and forth along the bank, proclaiming the tree sheltered path to be “the most dream-like tunnel in the world”.

These slow moments of delving fully into the present moment — caught up completely in the smells and tastes and sounds and touches of the world all around are truly when I feel most alive, most fulfilled and most myself. This is the simple, and completely profound existence that all wild things are made for. Every walk is a portal into a more primal, and primary, place. Every moment brings me more and more home… To here. To myself. To the whole.

So go outside… take a little ramble, and find some flowers to immerse yourself in.

~*~Kiva Rose

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