Archive for January, 2009

Wild Healing: The Medicine of Moonwort

Thursday, January 29th, 2009

mugwortbww.gifIt’s not even February yet, but you wouldn’t know it by the weather. It’s been unseasonably warm outside lately.  The ground is muddy, the sky clear and the plants responding by growing more rapidly each day. The vibrant moonworts (Artemisia ludoviciana and related spp to you plant people) are especially happy, and their silver green sprouts grace the ground everywhere I turn. Rubbed between gentle fingers, their leaves release the pungent aroma of wildness itself. In fact, this plant is one of the Canyon’s most intense and insistent inhabitants and one that I spend a great deal of time focusing on when leading plant walks during workshops and classes. Much can be learned of this special place and land through its flora and fauna, through the individual microcosms that make up the whole — and this particular herb is a unique and powerful expression of the Canyon.

More than any other single plant, the Artemisias attract the attention and affection of our guests here in the canyon. People who have otherwise never paid any attention to flora are enchanted by its soft touch and seductive fragrance. They catch themselves stroking its feathery leaves and brushing its small flowers against their faces. “What IS this?” they ask me in awed, eager voices as they continue sniffing and touching it. At first, I wondered why this specific plant attracted so much attention when there is such a diversity of flora here in the Gila, but I’ve finally come to understand that its vibrant and wild, fierce yet gentle personality is the medicine many of us need.

Although the moonworts are widespread and populate almost every part of N. America, they are especially prolific here in the Southwest, and the scent of sagebrush is certainly one of the signatures of mesas and steppes of the Wild West. So common here as to be practically invisible to many peoples’ eyes, they are easily one of the most prolific species of the canyon and surrounding areas. Their prevalence may allow us to pass them over more easily but actually makes them that much more important to us due to their sustainability and accessibility.

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Moonwort is often an indicator of disturbed soil, happily thriving where grazing and concurrent erosion has stripped away most plants. They help to heal the ground by preventing more dirt from being washed away and by providing essential nutrients to the often starved topsoil. They are stubborn and strong willed, often growing in the harsh light of direct sun without any signs of wilting or being burned. As long as they occasionally get some water to cool their roots, they’re happy just about anywhere. While many people consider them to be weeds, I feel a rush of gratitude every time I see a colony of Artemisias staking down the sand and providing a welcome surge of green in an otherwise barren landscape. They survive floods, droughts, grazing and even pavement in many cases, providing a powerful role model for us humans trying to adapt and heal in an increasingly unsure and changeable era.

What many people simply call sage, is actually our moonworts, who have been known for as long as people have used plants as an herb of prayer. Twisted into tight bundles and dried, they are commonly burned as a fragrant smudge during ceremony, prayer, the sweat lodge and other sacred uses. They clear the air and the mind with amazing efficiency and Wolf and I often sprinkle a pinch of crushed dried leaves on the woodstove during the day to take advantage of their refreshing effect.  I love these plants for their tenacious, healing touch on the land and on us humans. I don’t leave home without a fresh sprig tucked into my pocket or a bottle of the tincture in my bag.

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Often thought of as a dream herb, it can certainly provoke vivid (and sometimes disturbing) nights, but they are equally skilled at waking us up by providing a bitter tasting dose of medicine that both enlivens and relaxes the nervous system. I consider them to be one of our most important indigenous herbal remedies. For the gut, for the liver, for the nervous system, for wounds and damaged muscles and beyond. When I feel depressed or down, I chew a pinch of the flowers or leaves and the strong, bracing taste brings me back into myself and leaves me more grounded than ever. I’ve been working with moonwort for years, and I still feel as if I have barely skimmed the surface of its capacity for healing.

If you’d like to read more about the specifics of healing with this powerful and prolific plant, check out the Artemisia entry on The Medicine Woman Tradition site or search for Artemisia on the Medicine Woman’s Roots Herbal blog.

~Kiva Rose

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Photography and Artwork (c) 2009 Jesse Wolf Hardin & Kiva Rose

The Search for Home – Part 1: The Search Begins – by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Thursday, January 22nd, 2009

hohokamspiral.jpgThe Search For Home

Part 1: The Search Begins

Excerpt from the upcoming book Home by Jesse Wolf Hardin

 

“There are more people wanting to break out of houses than wanting to break into them.”
-Thornton Wilder

“There’s no going home,” you may have heard them say.  What they mean, of course, is that there’s no way to go back in time, no retreat to the comforting arms of parents who always made sure there was food on the table and the cuts on our knees healed, no way to reclaim the houses we grew up in or the innocence that attended us there.

What a terrible thought, to never be able to go home…. whatever that word has come to mean for us.  Depending on the circumstances under which we left our parent’s domicile, at one time or other most of us experience a longing to return to whatever familiar landscapes — childscapes — once permitted us the feeling of being most ourselves in at least conditional safety and relative privacy.  Sometimes this meant a comforting house with a protective papa and a loving mama who served both delicious foods and bountiful hugs, a fort with walls that neither ill intentioned bullies nor freezing storms could ever breach.  A grandparent’s farmhouse with printed flower wallpaper and a porch with a squeaky swing.  An adobe casita with a torn screen door through which the chickens always got in.  Or even the basement of a red brick tenement house, featuring high windows with opaque glass that no stranger could look in.  For others the buildings of our earliest memories still house either real or imagined terrors, sometimes a father’s unforgivable abuse, and in other cases simply the oppression of suburban mediocrity, of tasteless art on septic white walls.  Or the stench of mildew on old carpets and the ominous clanking of the plumbing in an overcrowded apartment.  For them the hunger to return is no less great, though it be to the undeveloped lots where they could play free of not only violence but from manipulation, convention and constriction.  Or to a well-remembered tunnel under backyard hedgerows, beneath concealing stairs in a wilderness of alleys, or the trusted arms of neighborhood trees that conspiratorially lifted us above the line of sight of any supervising adults.

Either way, a toddler’s entire world consists of a relatively small amount of space, a playing room that also happens to be the place where they sleep, and a bathroom once it’s time for toilet training…. living as if nothing exists beyond the reach of one’s own hungering physical senses.  It isn’t long however before that reality expands to include a yard, a local park and then an entire sprawling neighborhood.  The growing child ventures out in all directions but returns home each time, usually well before dark.  Its movements back and forth trace the spokes of a wheel whose center remains essential and intact.  For most kids this reality, this home keeps on changing, but each new house or secretive yard becomes the center of their attention in turn, the center of the known universe.  We want to believe, long after we’re grown and on our own, that we could go back to that center if we “really wanted to.”   We’d like to believe against all evidence, that even if birds ate every bread-crumb left behind to mark our trail we could somehow find our way back.  Back not just to a time but to a place where things made “sense,”  where our senses were at home in the characteristic tastes, sounds, sights and smells or our childscape.

And with this taken away, perhaps we can’t go home after all.  At least not to those homes, not the way we remember them.  While some writers have described successful pilgrimages to the only slightly affected haunts of their childhood, for most of us such haunts no longer exist on the physical plane.  If our idea of home was a tract house with pink stucco walls and sprinklers in the yard, we could be in for a surprise.  Locate a recognizable spot on the map, hunt down the appropriate off-ramp and try to ignore the malls ever under construction.  The whims of progress will likely have altered the landmarks you once depended on to orient yourself.  Without a numbered address, one could easily get lost.  Even with some surviving reference point such as a hill too tough to have been completely leveled, a church preserved by the Historical Society (exactly two and a half blocks east of the house, and you passed it twice a day being while being driven to school and back) still the land may appear foreign, reordered and remade.  Even if you could find a high spot from which to judge the morphed terrain, pulling off a digital survey of this alien movie set, hold the surveyor’s mast up on the giving tops of the parked cars, shoot a line through the discount store and the waiting room of the MinitLube and determine the exact spot where you’d slept beneath cowboy or castle print covers, where wild things lived in forests beneath your bed….  even then, you might not know your home.

Which is to say, it may not look at all the way one remembered it.  There could easily be fuel station trade magazines and nondairy creamers where your comic books were once stacked.   The nightly walk down the hall to the bathroom may cross the floor of a hair salon, or point through the walls of several subsidized housing units, deep in the bowels of a giant forty-story complex.  Reach out in the dark, but there will be no familiar light switch.  Every direction would involve moving through unfamiliar terrain and arousing the suspicions of strangers.

For many of us it was never really our home anyway, perhaps just one in a long string of rentals, in a succession of inner city apartment buildings or the generic houses of the suburbs.  Our conceptual home often remains hidden in the “Never-Never Land” beneath the old maple bed, a place full of secrets and dragons and bears extending down through the floor and foundation, down into the soil and the depth of the stories it could tell.

It is the soil, and sometimes only the soil that lasts– home-ground, alternatively covered with concrete or asphalt, and successive waves of structures built with the flesh of trees and powdered gypsum-rock pressed into panels.  Forests are leveled, hills terraformed by men in roaring graders, and one building after another succumbs to rot and age or the fickle whims of a never-ending series of titleholders…. but beneath all this surface traffic the earth abides.  Microorganisms feast in it’s fermentive hold, working away in the dark, patiently feeding on those “made to last” materials standing between it and the warming rays of the sun.  As children we bond not only to the layout of the rooms, but to the particular feel and odor— even the taste— of a soil blend peculiar to the area we’re in.  Our subconscious bodies register their position on a grid of electromagnetic lay-lines, as they naturally attempt to orient in each new place we move to.

For someone like myself, it’s a difficult matter to determine which of so many residences could be considered a home to return to.  I remember the confidence I felt as a young boy paddling an innertube too far out into a darkening sea, depending on a recognizable shore light to guide me back.  The outgoing tide threatened to take me away to my destruction, and the further out I got the more lights I could see until I could no longer tell one from the other.   I’ve experienced a similar terror in the search for my roots, looking back for a single point of origin, a spot on the horizon that would tell me, unequivocally, that I was on the right road home.  Instead I see a plethora of too-bright spots, accompanied by the hazy recollection of jumbled numbers on faded curb sides and tin sidewalk mailboxes.  My head spins with the pictures of so many walkways, doors in dozens of different colors each leading into a place where I’d once tried to belong.

Where would I start on a search for my source-point, the geography of my mortal and spiritual beginnings?  Surely not the hospital where I was born in transit west to a “promised land,”  that three-hundred room concrete “birthing hut” with the aluminum chairs with their red vinyl plastic seats lining its waiting room, a sterilized stopover on the way to someplace else, just another “rest stop” on the highway that  happens to have a particularly high percentage of doctors and nurses milling around.   How about the first  “tract home” my parents ever bought, purchased before anyone had planted a blade of grass, with many of the neighboring structures empty and the smell of freshly turned soil still strong?  Definitely not the various pastel apartments with their chlorine-smelling pools with the impossibly blue bottoms, huge structures packed with folks I never met, subjected to the sometimes personal sounds of deliberate strangers bleeding through my bedrooms’ hollow walls.  Nor the garages I converted into black-light bedrooms after puberty cast its spell, yearning for freedom but clinging to free meals and shower privileges.

ocean.jpgWhenever I travel through an area I knew as a child, I longingly scan it for anything even remotely familiar after the passage of so many years.  One time I found a particular house we’d once lived in, now inhabited by a family with no toys out front. I wondered if they’d let me go inside for a peek, hoping for the relief and affirmation a flashback might provide, hoping to spot something in the corner of the house that would confirm my future by verifying my past.  But of course I never knocked, unwilling to face their suspicious expressions through the locked security screen or be subjected to an interview through the peephole in a closed door.  Instead I took advantage of the coming darkness to walk around the side, defying the “Neighborhood Crime Watch” signs posted on its lawn.  I moved slowly past windows full of well illuminated residents brushing teeth in the bathroom and watching TV in the den.  I stopped at the rear corner next to the arresting smell of a honeysuckle vine still working its way up the trellis by what was once my bedroom window.  Though empty, the overhead light was on, and my attention was drawn to the spot where a poster of Bardot on a Harley once hung.  While the house no longer appealed to me, I felt somewhat betrayed by its easy acceptance of others. The wall was still white, flecked with little sparkly stuff just like it always was,  but now it sported fluorescent pennants instead.

All in all I’ve found a half dozen of my early residences.  More often though the buildings are long gone, replaced by a fast-food restaurant or “multiple-unit housing.”  At best I may have located the parks where I underwent romantic rites of passage, now too brightly lit and too well patrolled to serve these darker rituals.    Even the shopping center once billed as the largest of its kind proved long outdated and long since removed, sometimes making it difficult to come up with a single crucial landmark (so little exposed “land” these days, and so many “marks”).  Again, it seemed as if the only constant was the soil beneath it all.

Soil, and water.  Water running underground, rain flooding the streets, water escaping down cement ditches in a mad dash to the sea.  The rocky cliffs I once clambered down to launch my innertube have been terraced and developed, fenced and posted, but like the soil the ocean abides.  Some years ago I snuck down a driveway, past the resident’s covered motor boat  and down a familiar trail to a shellfish-encrusted rock.  I sucked in the collecting dark, faced the immensity of the mighty Pacific.  Behind me a place I no longer knew busied itself with foreign endeavors.  Ahead of me, save for two distant ships, lay an empty expanse I still associated with whatever “home” was.  What else could I do, there beyond the reach of the rear porch light, but take my shirt off and jump in?  Jump in, and forget about looking back.

(to be continued)

(you are welcome to forward or post this article anywhere you like, credited)

Get Along Little Cowboy! – Wolf Rides High at Age 5

Wednesday, January 21st, 2009

little-wolf-on-pony-sm.jpgPeople get very different impressions of Wolf, depending on their preconceptions and the circumstances under which they meet or read his work.  To back to the land types and conservative outdoorsman he is a Libertarian iconoclast, a throwback to another age and time who just happens to be a crazy tree hugger who consider the mountains his school and church.  Our more alternative friends and students tend to think of him as the rather psychic Intuitive and Counsel that he is, but manage to overlook his primitivist streak, or support for very non-liberal ideas like limited government and personal self defense.  Those living with him can attest that he is more of a warrior than his compassionate counsel would seem to indicate, and sweeter, gentler and funnier than his muscles or adament opinions might lead you to believe.  This picture of him was taken at age 5, at a time when it was trendy for photographers all over the U.S. to pose urban kids on groomed Shetland ponies (note that his legs were short and only extend halfway down the one-size-fits-all chaps).  Here you get a glimpse into the real Wolf, always ready to pay any price for adventure, and ready to break out of all restrictive conventions just like he broke out of the suburbs… mischievious and unreasonably happy, as he rides off into the sunset on his hero’s quest!

-Love, Kiva

Resolutions – Resolving to Improve

Sunday, January 4th, 2009

bigredindianpills-sm.jpgTis the season of the proverbial “New Year’s resolution,” a moment for looking back at how we’ve acted and what we’ve been, and to look forward to new or deeper ways of living and being.  Over the past few weeks I’ve been asking folks what their new resolutions might be.  Responses included “putting my Animá lessons into practice,” “risking offending others by insisting all conversations are deep, significant or meaningful.”  “Finding a way to move to the north country that has always called to us.” “Loving myself more, before looking for love and approval in others,” and “to say what I’m really feeling even if it gets me in trouble.”

Some of us, of course, have more room for improvement than others.  I can be testy, being right means more to me than being fair, and patience still seems like a far and distant goal that could require divine intervention to accomplish.  I’m thus resolved to be less impatient and anxious.  To be more present for every second, meaning to be conscious of the bath when I’m in it and fully noticing my meals.  I’m resolved to always act out of compassion and wisdom even when it makes me or others uncomfortable, and to try to spend more time walking the canyon labyrinth even it means less time to write about its lessons and insights for all the world to hear.  To accept more assistance from our students, apprentices, supporters and other allies, in spite of my tendency to try and do it all myself rather than wait or coordinate.

If anything is decided and resolved, it is surely the living land itself.  “I’m resolved,” the earth would seem to say, “to be wild yet generous.  To not only remain attractive and dynamic but also prickly and snaky and wild enough to keep the destructive crowds at bay.  To resist the ugliness of the modern world by proliferating in beauty.  To embody the hope of the future, while reflecting the native truths of the valuable past.  To promote hard work through adversity, and gratitude through gifts.  To demonstrate the ways in which all people and things are connected to each other, along with the many reasons for them to love.  To inspire the young with a deep affection for nature, and one day supply a padded bed of loam for their return at life’s end.  To be the soil for seeds of possibility, while rooting in what stays essentially uncorrupted through all change.  To compost what needs composting, and birth for us another chance.   To inspire the creation of art, uninhibited love making, mountain top adventures and creative adaptive behaviors.  To grow its long-grass hair, throw off the suffocating mantle of concrete, and spend more time dancing the dance of swaying forests and blustery Summer storms, fleet footed foxes and leaping frogs.  To bear a diverse range of blessings and fruit, whether or not there remain any humans conscious of their complex uses and tastes.  To survive the worst of humanity or circumstance can do it, to diversify, evolve, thrive, express and celebrate.”

And for us, a resolution isn’t just “turning over a new leaf” once a year or at a prime time in life.  It is a decision and commitment to act, best made with full awareness every moment of our awake day.  We would thus be wise to resolve to be more aware, and to make every action more deliberate.  A resolution describes intention, but also speaks of our will… the will to make real what we know needs to happen for the good of ourselves and the entire world we help create.  We should note the secondary definitions of the word resolution as well: resolving conflicts between dissimilar or disagreeable elements, the “intense loosening” of fused and rigid elements to literally make possible a new solution, and the solution to a problem or healing of a disease.   In all these ways, it would do well for us to make being more resolute our number one New Year’s resolution.

We wish you all a year of conscious choice, insistence and accomplishment, satisfaction and delight.  It’s only right.

-Jesse Wolf Hardin (www.animacenter.org)