Archive for April, 2010

Wildcrafting and Sycamore Rambling: An April Photoessay

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

In celebration of Spring and of our dear friend and student Resolute’s visit, we decided to visit the Gila National Forest’s lower elevations in search of warmth and wild plants. We drove south and down, through the twisty Saliz Pass, past Glenwood’s green haven and into the desert hills colored gold and scarlet with blooming wildflowers. We ended up in the general region of the village of Gila, appropriately located on the banks of one of New Mexico’s most vital waterways, the Gila River.

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It was there beside the swollen river that we spread our blankets and sarongs for a picnic. All around us Cottonwood fluff was floating in the air and the birds singing from their perches in the Willows and Sycamores. The day was warm and breezy, the sky bright blue with small, downy clouds drifting lazily across the sun now and then.

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Our lunch was a delicious array of flax cakes, stinging nettle/buckwheat bread, coarsely ground mustard, creamy nettle dip, meats, cheeses, wild greens and deviled eggs made with lamb fat mayonnaise. Rhiannon was thoroughly pleased with our feast, especially since she’d helped to prepare and pack it.

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We sat below several towering Arizona Sycamores (Platanus wrightii), enjoying their musky scent and generous shade. These are favorite trees of mine, and I was so excited for the chance to spend time with them beside the river.

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I especially love their velvety soft and palmate shaped leaves. The picture above shows the lovely texture and shape of both the full grown and the younger leaves. You can also see the abundant Cottonwood fluff that was sticking to everything, from flowers to berries to my fingers.

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Sweet Resolute wandered beneath the Sycamores and gathered large bundles of Wild Mustard greens to be brought home to pickle and preserve.

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Another especially lovely and abundant tree that populated the box canyon we were visiting is the Hackberry (Celtis reticulata) whose fruit will ripen and sweeten over the next couple of months. I’m definitely thinking of heading back down to Gila to harvest some of these tasty treats.

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In between eating and wildcrafting adventures we all ventured into the water, and Rhiannon and I had great fun being swept down the river while holding onto the Cottonwood roots jutting out from the river bank. The water was quick and cool, but warm enough to enjoy and play in.

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Dakota Vervain (Glandularia bipinnatifida) was abundant beneath the Sycamores and Cottonwoods. Their lavender/pink flowers are also a common sight here at home, and I love their bitter medicine as a relaxant nervine and as an excellent remedy for tight, painful neck and shoulder muscles that result in headaches and irritability.

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Along the canyon wall where the Hackberry grows thick enough to mostly block out the sun, I found a goldmine in the form of sticky mats of Cleavers (Galium aparine). This weedy and often invasive plant is also a much valued medicinal plant in traditional western herbalism. It seemed somewhat invasive in the area where I found it, and it was clearly choking out other native plants, so I was able to harvest a large amount for medicine making.

The cooling, mineral rich herb is an effective but gentle lymphatic and alterative, especially appropriate for children (or anyone) with signs of heat, hypoimmunity and lymphatic congestion. It’s also an aquaretic, a potassium-sparing, non-irritating diuretic, making it useful in cystitis where there is notable heat and irritation.

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Here I am with my skirt full of Cleavers and Golden Smoke (Corydalis aurea). Corydalis is locally abundant indigenous herb that I frequently use in cases of chronic pain, especially pain associated with fine tremors. And yes, I was definitely very pleased about the incredible amount of wild medicinal plants I found!

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Rhiannon and I were rather surprised to see this Skunkbush Sumac (Rhus trilobata) already adorned with ruby colored berries. Back home in the higher mountains, our Sumac bushes are still transitioning from golden flowers to the first pink blush of immature fruit. But down in the desert, they were much further along and we stood for quite some time relishing the tart sweetness of wild Sumac berries.

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Here’s Rhiannon, fresh out of the river, with a plume of Wild Rhubarb (Rumex hymenosepalus) flowers in her arms and wrapped up in her favorite blue sarong.

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Another wonderful wildcrafting find was the roadsides and rocky hills turned a brilliant gold by the beauty of Mexican Poppies (Eschscholzia californica subsp. mexicana). These gorgeous Spring wildflowers are also an important medicine, and one that I often utilize in calming or pain relieving blends. As a sub-opiate, they have a mild but wide range of use in remedying anxiety, insomnia and pain and are safe even for children and the elderly. As an extra benefit, the plant is topically anti-microbial and useful for abrasions, mild to moderate infections and similar issues.

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Loba & Resolute helped me gather many armfuls of Mexican Poppy to take home and tincture for medicine. Even after our harvest, we couldn’t even see a dent in the patch we’d taken from and we were all grateful for the abundance that provides us with free medicine that we can share with our community and those in need.

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For those of you from back East, the plant above may not be immediately recognizable. This fuzzy little beauty is actually a Plantain, in this case Plantago patagonica, a diminutive native herb with the same medicinal properties as the much more common Plantago major.

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All though the box canyon we explored as well as the roadsides and up into the mountains, we saw bushes of profusely flowering Wolfberry (Lycium pallidum). These native Southwestern plants are members of the Nightshade family (Solanaceae) and have the distinctive trumpet shaped flowers common to that family, including Datura and Wild Tobacco (Nicotiana). This is yet another excellent herbal medicine, specifically for treating congestion, constricted breathing and rhinitis, as well as intestinal spasms and acute pain.

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On the way home, we passed through some of my favorite canyons and ridges, including these amazing rock formations outside of Glenwood.

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Lured by the beauty of the colors of the hills as the sun made its way over the edge of the mountains, we stopped to explore an area thick with wildflowers.

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All along the rockface was huge stands of Cliffrose (Purshia stansburiana), which are both beautiful and incredibly aromatic.

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Closer up, it’s easy to see the hypanthium, five petals, five sepals, five to numerous spirally arranged stamen and other characteristics that mark Purshia as a fairly typical Rose family (Rosaceae) member. Like most Rosaceae, their flowers are showy and insect pollinated with abundant pollen.

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Blooming very near the Purshia was also Feather Dalea (Dalea formosa) in full flower. This small shrub is a member of the Pea family (Fabaceae) and like the Cliffrose, has a delicate but notable floral fragrance. Not only do the flowers smell good, they also taste wonderful as a tea.

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And last but certainly not least was these well named Baby Daisies (Chaetopappa ericoides), growing in some gravel on the side of a cliff. I love their cheery little faces, and am glad to see how prolific they are this year all through the mountains and hills of the Gila.

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And at long last, we followed the winding road through the rose and purple hills of the Saliz and Mogollon mountains. Further up into the mountains and deep into the heart of the Gila to where our beautiful Anima Botanical Sanctuary rests along the San Francisco River. In the last light of a gorgeous April evening, we returned to the magic of home with our harvest of wild foods and medicines with our hearts full of gratitude to the land for such amazing bounty.

~Kiva Rose

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All Photos ©2010 Kiva Rose

The Humbling Unpredictability of a River’s Form and Course – by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Saturday, April 24th, 2010

SHAPESHIFTER:

The Humbling Unpredictability of a River’s Form and Course

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

www.animacenter.org

One thing about river morphology, is that is only in the broadest terms predictable.  We can predict what events might lead to the water curving or diverting at a certain point in the landscape, and we can bet that a stream devoid of bank-stabilizing plant life due to overgrazing or other causes, will tend to straighten out and speed up, with less saturation of the earth nearby.  What is a continual surprise is how a high water event will alter the streamflow.

Without constraining dams or concrete channels, a river does whatever it wants… and as with certain people, it can prove unwise to assume we know what will or won’t trigger a certain mood, or result in a certain reaction.  Like a willful child, just when you think you know what it will do next, the river will do something entirely unexpected and seemingly improbable or even unreasonable.  One flood may fill in a channel with silt and debris, while the next one might strip it bare or dig it deeper.   It can remain within the same bed for years and then suddenly jump to another, straightening out a lovely meander or suddenly begin weaving thanks to a fallen tree or rockslide.  One time, the river might swirl and excavate a ten feet deep swim hole that lasts even through the Summer months of hot days and low flow, a delight to dive into from the rocky cliffs… but another time, it will shift away from the rocks and leave us with nothing to leap into but a fresh pile of wet sand.  Willows may be ripped up from one stretch, as a Spring season’s snowmelt gobbles up the banks, but then a short while later reappear along the new water’s edge, springing up from a vast an insistent mat of roots that survive every fickle shift in river height and path.  I assure you, the ultra attentive resident of decades is still regularly surprised.  Even the shaman – who usually perceives and predicts the unfolding patterns of weather, human events and the intentions of an inspirited land – must nonetheless be humbled by a wild river’s unexpected course.

This year’s mountain run off has been no exception, and after two months of our having to wade out through high flow, it has now dropped enough to un-curtain a river unrecognizable in places.  Nothing illustrates this more than the area by our green Anima Sanctuary gate.  A gate, of course is meant to be a point of ingress and egress for walking visitors and our supply laden jeeps.  Ours, along with the plethora of Anima School, United Plant Savers and No Trespassing signs no longer face a drivable trail but a branch of flowing river, and what used to be our sixth crossing coming in is now no longer.  In the photo below, the gate can be seen in the center of the image, to the right of what is the new river channel.

We would have no objection to any new way that the rewilding canyon shapes up, if not for the need to be able to get a jeep in at least part of the year.  Food and mail can be transported in backpacks the 2 miles from the Sanctuary to the pavement, but the blocks of ice we need for refrigeration during the hot Summers can’t survive the hike, and over the years it has gotten less and less doable carrying full propane tanks in on a frame strapped to our backs.  With the ever denser conglomerates of thick willow forest and accumulating driftwood, options the sixth crossing have all but disappeared among the impenetrable rows of 15 feet high willows and young 100 feet high cottonwoods.

Thanks to water dropping to thigh deep, yesterday we managed to drive all the way to the cabins for the first time in 9 weeks.  Note that I said “managed,” as it was indeed a well considered and intrepidly carried out system, requiring 3 radically raised vehicles, an offroading paraplegic project foreman (“Little Brother” Ryan, pictured below), 2 strong backed adventure loving boys and a red bearded anti-roads author to alternately cheer and grumble.  Even with Samurais and our Jeep “The Beast,” we still managed to get stuck in the river over a dozen times getting in and out, each time sucked down by wet silt reminiscent of the explorer-gobbling quicksand seen in old B movies.

Our chosen path stays out of the floodplain for longer stretches, and will result in a larger portion of the Sanctuary proper being able to re-grow where the old track used to be, but the crossings themselves are still many weeks away from being solid enough to drive over without a 50% chance of bogging.  The plan for now is to try and ride in as far as the well discussed sixth, and then carry everything the remaining few hundred yards up over the precipitous “Winter Trail.”  The next test will come tonight, as I shuttle Resolute in for a week stay, no doubt hooting and hollering as we make our brave splash.
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P.S.:  I’d like to take this time to welcome our many new Foundations in Western Herbalism and Journey Begins correspondence students.  Your responses since their recent release have been very gratifying for all of us here, and we hope the will continue to serve you well.  You can expect a series of pieces on various aspects of healing here, as well as increased coverage of our homesteading and wildcrafting activities.

And a note to everyone: You will notice yet more updates to the Traditions In Western Herbalism Conference website, with a few more additions coming to the Anima site as well.  The site links to the course, retreat and events applications will be fixed, but until then please continue emailing us with requests for the right form for whatever it is that you are applying for.

Forever wild,

-JWH and Family

Pancho Villa’s Motorcycle: Anachronism, Anomaly and The Last Indian Raid Of The Old West – By Jesse Hardin

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

Intro:  I seldom publish any of my writings about American and world history here, worried that it can be too much of an aside from our usual focus on nature awareness and homesteading, personal growth and healing with herbs.  I certainly understand if you find that the convoluted and often violent history of our country and our species makes for unpleasant reading. That said, the colorful events, human drama and twisted plots can reveal a lot about ourselves, about the motivations and manipulations of current power brokers, and about what we can expect in the future based on the patterns of current and past events.  This is certainly true in the case of Pancho Villa, a charismatic brigand and unquenchable revolutionary who was a creation of not only injustice in Mexico but also American power politics and corporate conspiracies.  And his albeit despicable raid on U.S. territory only 150 miles south of the Anima Sanctuary was nonetheless arguably an act of aggravated self defense.  It also marks the closing of the Old West, and our entry into an age of cars and telephones, tanks and machine guns, oppressive laws and intrusive enforcement far more dangerous to life and liberty than the Wild West ever thought of being. -JWH (www.animacenter.org)

Pancho Villa’s Motorcycle:
Anachronism, Anomaly and The Last Indian Raid Of The Old West

By Jesse Wolf  Hardin

“Pancho was a bandit voice
his horse was fast as polished steel.
He wore his gun outside his pants
for all the honest world to feel.”

Towns Van Zandt, “Pancho & Lefty”

Pancho Villa is a name that rouses strong reactions among peoples of the Southwest.  To the impoverished people of Mexico he is a hero who stood up against the privileged Mexican aristocracy, and then faced down the mighty United States with only a few ill equipped peasant soldiers after then-President Woodrow Wilson betrayed him.  They picture him astride one of his gallantly charging Spanish stallions, a “Centaur of the North”.

To the descendants of the rich ranchero landholders that he dispossessed, however, as to those of American citizens wantonly killed during his audacious March, 1916 raid on U.S. territory, he is envisioned as a blood thirsty monster instead.

Regardless of who you might ask, few are likely to picture this daring and polarizing character in retirement after the long revolution was finally over, having eluded General Blackjack Pershing’s modernized “Punitive Expedition” as well as attempted assassinations by agents paid by a cartel of stateside businessmen with an interest in their Mexican properties and holdings, walking around giving candy to adoring street kids on his way back to his government provided hacienda.  And fewer still will imagine him stopping to pose for reporters enjoying a brief test ride on a newfangled petrol-powered motorcycle, as excited as a little kid, grinning from ear to ear!

When I first discovered the Pancho-as-Biker photo, I was struck not just by the anomaly, but by the name of the attractively lettered name on the bike’s elongated gas tank.  How appropriate, I thought, that the motorcycle the deadly Pancho Villa straddled would be not a Harley Davidson or other early model, but an Indian.  It was, after all, a force of primarily Indian blooded men that he sent across the border on that fateful day, at the onset of what come to be called World War I, wielding Old West style Winchester lever action rifles and even handmade bows and arrows in a losing battle against U.S. troopers armed with the latest in fully automatic machine guns.  Villa’s pre-dawn guerilla attack on Columbus, New Mexico was only the second time – counting the War of 1812 – that the territory of the United States has ever been invaded by a foreign army,  and even more interestingly, proved to be the last organized “Indian raid”, making March of 1916 the possible true end of the Old West period.


At the time of the Mexican Revolution over 80% of the population had a preponderance of native Indian blood.  And the raid was, in nearly every way, a Western affair.  The raiders were dressed in roughly woven pullovers and vests, with reddened faces and glossy black hair, feathers and bandannas.  Villa’s men arrived on horseback and eventually retreated the same way.  Their women back in camp were feisty native fighters too, wrapped in blankets decorated with symbols that could stand for an eagle, a phoenix, the magical thunderbird born of Earth and sky.  At this point in time the “Gringo” army that they are attacking had only a few motorized vehicles, and so continued to rely heavily on horses and wagons for its deployment.  The word “cavalry” still indicated an ability to ride, and most of the soldiers have had prior experience either as horsemen or as working cowboys.  Their boots were made of mule hide just as they had been in the days of Custer and Crazy Horse, and the troopers’ skin was darkened and hardened as it always had been, by a relentless Western sun.  As with the men facing the Sioux and Cheyenne 40 or 50 years earlier, they fought against a variety of antagonists displaying generally poor marksmanship. but who nonetheless came with the passion needed to propel them towards a distant dream, the courage to take unreasonable risks, the resolve to kill, and the willingness to die for what they believe was “the good fight.”

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To this day, the landscape around the border town of Columbus is primarily “tortilla flat” with only a few seductive hillocks.  Just to the south of town there stands a five strand barbwire fence stretching all the way from one side of the state to the other.  The ground on either side of the fence looks exactly the same: white sands speckled with jumping cholla, prickly pear and golden snake brush.  Sticker-laden coyotes chase jackrabbits back and forth beneath the wire, and a desert eagle high in the sky crosses over to where one government’s dominion ends and another country begins.

If people in this part of the country were anything, they were scarce.  Columbus never had more than a few hundred permanent and temporary civilian residents, and most of the 600 man army detachment was likely to be gone on leave to El Paso at any given time.  That fateful night, there are only a handful of electric lights or oil lamps burning.  The only sign of activity in the army camp was a single small campfire in one of the ditches, around which a few sleepy sentries huddled to stay warm.  As they did so, a Yaqui Indian warrior was sneaking up unseen with a knife in his teeth, chose for his ability to silence those gringos assigned watch.

Villa knew he had no real chance of winning even a battle let alone a war with the U.S., but he was so pissed off that practical matters like his survival weren’t even part of the decision making process.  President Wilson, a Democrat and pacifist as well as pragmatist, had been supplying guns and ammunition several of the various revolutionary groups in Mexico fighting to depose the despot Presidente Diaz.  After Diaz’ fall, however, Wilson considered it strategic to shift all of America’s support to a single faction, and so while he continued to supply rounds to Villa’s competitor General Carranza, Pancho would no longer get any.  The final straw from Villa’s point of view, was Wilson authorizing the clandestine transport of Carrancista troops on a U.S. rail line in order to lay a murderous trap.  U.S. troops manning the border were ordered to light up the Mexican landscape with powerful spotlights, as Carranza’s forces used newly gifted machine guns to wipe out much of the Villista army.

The odds were may have been against him, but Pancho remained undaunted and defiant nonetheless.  He’d survived dozens of battles already, always leading his men from the front, always braving the thick of battle.  His was the strategy of a true cavalryman of any nationality: when in doubt, charge!

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A Mrs. Parks was already awake an in her office when the first shots were fired, and continued her work of telling the world what was happening in Columbus even as glass from her office window was flying in her face… and in another sign of the changing times, she did so not by tapping away on a telegraph key but by dialing out through her town’s proud new telephone switchboard!


In spite of months of warnings and reports that they were coming, the raiders were still able to take town more or less by surprise.  As most of its townsfolk and troopers slept, they were at first able to take over the town and briefly abuse the residents.  Then in relatively short order, U.S. soldiers with Springfield rifles and fully automatic French made Benet-Mercier machine guns effectively killed over half of Villa’s 200 indigenous soldiers.  Many of the Mexicanos were cut down in the streets, silhouetted by the flames from the fires they’d lit, some of them both poor enough and foolish enough to pause to coil rope stolen from the hardware store, or to try on the new boots they’d just taken from its shelves.  The four full-automatic weapons burned an average of 5,000 rounds in the the 1.5 hours that they were up and in action, and accounted for the largest number of the Villista losses.  When interviewed later, army officials both downplayed the fact that they’d been forewarned of the raid without taking necessary protective measures.  They also cited the benefits of the impending Punitive invasion as a “test of U.S. tactics and equipment” in preparation for this country’s involvement in the war against Germany.

You may recall the bad press that came with the release of photos of abused and shamed detainees in Iraq’s Abu Graib prison.  In a similar bit of failed public relations, that next day in Columbus a group of victorious troopers who gathered, soaked with kerosene and then burned the bodies of the enemy dead, famously took photographs of each other posing and clowning atop the charred remains.  Nearby were other piles, not of bodies but of the weapons and personal belonging that the raiders had carried.  Among these were photographs of some very indigenous looking wives waiting in vain for their return… and a number of steel tipped arrow fletched with wild turkey feathers.

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After many arduous months south of the border, the troops sent to wreak revenge after the Columbus raid were finally called home without ever having caught up with Villa or most of his remaining loyal troops.  In the chase they had made use of gas powered trucks instead of horse and wagon, a motorized armored personnel carrier, and even a couple of the first airplanes ever to be used for a military purpose.  And Villa wasn’t the only one with an appreciation for motorcycles, since the American troopers left back at Ft. Bliss a half dozen motor bikes onto the side-cars of which had been mounted light machine guns.

Villa would be dead not long after that photo was taken of him on the seat of the Indian, gripping the handlebars with unrestrained relish.  It would be an ambush by political opponents that finally brought him down, as he rode brazenly in an open touring car.  But for the moment he would relish his many victories and fabled life, his numerous enemies and proud hearted wives, and his surprise attack on a well fortified American town… as he playfully revved up his gutsy Indian, then raced without regard for safety down the town’s dusty dirt streets.

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(Artwork (c) Jesse Wolf Hardin.  Permission is granted to share this piece)

The Forager’s Basket: Wild Dock Greens

Monday, April 19th, 2010

The Forager’s Basket: Wild Dock (Rumex spp.) Greens

by Kiva Rose

Botanical Name: Rumex spp. (and here, specifically R. obtusifolius and R. crispus)

The myriad tongue-shaped leaves of Dock are often the very first greens to appear here in the canyon each growing season. With their sour but mild flavor, we’re always thrilled to get a taste of vibrant freshness of Spring and eat dozens of panfuls of this tasty delicacy every year. Neither Rumex species mentioned here are native, both originating in Europe and are sometimes invasive in parts of the US. To me, this means all the better to eat them up and keep their spread under control. If perchance, you aren’t lucky enough to have any yummy wild or feral Rumex near you, they are easy to spread by seed in your garden or even in a pot indoors. In fact, I seem to accidentally be growing some wild Dock in our potted Bamboo right now.

Taste seems to a vary a great deal within the Rumex genus, and I can only comment upon those I’ve actually tried. While Yellow Dock (R. crispus) is fairly abundant here and is one of the Rumexes most often used as a wild green, I actually far prefer the larger and more tender and mild leaves of R. obtusifolius, also known as Round Leaf Dock. Often accused of being unpalatably bitter by popular sources, I find Dock greens to be far less bitter than Wild Mustard or many other often enjoyed greens. While these tenacious plants do quite well without any maintenance at all, we keep our Dock patch well watered to reduce any bitterness and to keep them going strong all Spring and Fall, and even giving us smaller amounts of fresh greens through the hotter Summer. Some species of Rumex are irredeemably bitter, and while they can be boiled in several changes of water, I find this pretty much ruins their texture and prefer to search out the very common species that taste better.

Wikipedia and some other sources will tell you that all Dock is considered slightly poisonous, but this is only true inasmuch as the leaves tend to be sour and somewhat astringent, and thus can give you a bellyache if you try to eat a large amount raw. And while I like a small amount of raw Dock green chopped finely and added to other salad greens, I think it would be difficult to eat enough to cause a problem. Rumex spp. do contain high levels of oxalic acid, which is thought to prevent the absorption of key minerals if consumed to excess. Oxalic acid is much reduced by cooking, which also makes the greens much tastier in my opinion and is the way we prefer to eat almost all of our Dock.

Harvesting

Simply gather the most tender and green looking leaves. I like the extra sour flavor of the stems, so I’m always sure to gather from the stem base rather than just the leaf. Dock greens can remain crisp and fresh if kept in a cool place for many days, making them an easy green to keep on hand. If you don’t have refrigeration, you can also keep them in a bucket of cool water for a few days.

Processing

None really, just wash well to get any grit out of the leaves.

Food Preparation

My favorite form of Dock greens is to cook the whole leaves until tender in a bit of butter or bacon fat in a cast iron frying pan. When bright green and wilted, we add a splash of vinegar (rice wine vinegar is very nice here) and a pinch of brown sugar to a panful. Stir a few times and remove from heat. Serve with butter and salt. Prepared this same way, you can add some caramelized onions, sauteed garlic, with or without tomatoes or tomato sauce, black pepper and wild game for a simple but delicious meal. Also great with bacon and eggs for breakfast.

If you are using older Dock leaves it can be useful to to place all the leaves in a pile with stems facing the same direction and cut them width-wise down the middle. Add the half with the stems first, and then add the other batch when the stems turn a vibrant green. Doing this allows the tougher stem end to cook thoroughly and become tender while preventing the more delicate end from becoming soggy or overcooked.

The young green leaves can also be chopped well and added to any salad where a crisp texture and tart taste is desired.

Medicinal Notes

  • Dock leaves tend to be somewhat astringent, and are well known for stopping the pain of Nettle stings. Crushed and used as a poultice, they are moderately useful for minor scratches, cuts and other abrasions.
  • The yellow to orange roots of Rumex crispus have a long history of use in herbal medicine as an alterative, laxative and iron tonic.
  • The white roots of Rumex obtusifolius can be used as a moderately strong astringent in a pinch.

All pics ©2010 Kiva Rose & Jesse Wolf Hardin

Quiet Time: The Music of Sound and The Value of Quieting in Our Clamorous Age – by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

Introduction: Because of where – and how – we live here at Anima Sanctuary, whenever we are off the computers it can feel like an earlier century: surrounded by the homestead tools and aesthetic embellishments of the Old West, the pre-invasion tribes of America, the Middle Ages and even the ancient Pleistocene.  And away from our creations and belongings, it is wilderness such as howled, pulsed and flourished long before the first human beings arrived here.  With no noises that aren’t natural , it is easy for me to slip into an archaic or even timeless state at the touch of the canyon winds and under the influence of its wild sights… that is, for the length of those undisturbed periods between overflights by prop planes or jets.  We aren’t at all unusual in this regard, with freedom from man-made clamor being yet another liberty lost to increased population and pervasive technology.  If there is a positive consequence, it is the degree to which such noise makes us better notice, savor and appreciate the sweet sounds between.


QUIET TIME
The Music of Sound,  & The Value of Quieting in Our Clamorous Age

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Parents often set aside a little “quiet time” for their fun loving but frantic kids… and it is something we could all benefit from ourselves.

Scientists tell us that sounds are vibrating air molecules, defined by pitch, tone, volume and duration.  Loud sharp sounds – from someone yelling to the snap of a tree limb – alert us to the possibility of immanent danger, and thus wind us up.  Longer, softer sounds tend to relax and soothe us instead: the sighing of the wind or trickling of a river, the creaking of a weathered saddle and the steady hiss of a steam kettle on a Winter wood stove, the breath of a sleeping lover, the cooing of a baby and her mama’s sweet lullaby.  And a moment of relative quiet, rare as it may be, allows us to emotionally respond and wordlessly reflect.

This is one reason for the “moment of silence” we observe when we hear that someone has died and again when we lay them in the ground, when a prayer is concluded and when some great accomplishment or mission is first dedicated, committed to and launched.  But more than that, a pause is of help in a conversation every time something really significant is said, giving time to allow the idea or insight to sink in.  A quiet mind preceding and following our busy thoughts is like having open land, hay fields or wildness surrounding our not so quiet towns.  If it wasn’t for the spaces between musical notes, even the most beautiful instruments would produce nothing but a wavering drone.  It’s during the quiet hours away from the yammering video screen that we get to love and tend one another in the ways our hearts are led.  And as delightful as the squeals of toddlers can be, there’s also something special about those moments of quiet after the last kid’s tucked in bed.

We live in a world of sound, beginning with the heartbeat that comforts us while still in our mother’s womb. We are informed not only by the lessons we are taught, but by the actual tone of the teacher’s voice.  A special song can lift our spirits, but on the other hand, we likely become both less alert and more agitated the more clamor that assaults the ears.  Men employed in the loud machining rooms of major factories not only suffer hearing loss, but increasingly lose the ability to notice and respond to other sounds when they’re away from work.  Those who grow up in urban neighborhoods tend to seek refuge in their heads, missing out on the sensory clues in their surroundings as a result of their subconscious attempts to escape the nonstop noise from freeway traffic and sidewalk boom-boxes, street sweepers and road graders, police sirens and car alarms.

A healthy town is never without some noisy activity, and there can be both a certain comfort and music to the hum of creative human activity there, the raucous laughter of children on the playground, the rhythmic clatter and tinkle of valued dishes being washed and put away.  And while sirens roaring engines are decidedly unnatural, the wind I love in the trees of my home are reminiscent of the pleasant whirring of sewing machines producing the clothes that we wear, and the grousing of an old couple – heard from a distance – sound remarkably like fidgety, boisterous ravens.  The problem is when man-made noises are not only loud and abrasive but constant and perpetual, leaving no sonic space, leaving us with no chance and little desire to make out the subtle sounds of our lives, sounds meant to warn, inform, and sometimes please us.

And this problem is not limited to our busy cities.  Acoustical researchers have traveled all over doing audio recordings in the wildest and most remote portions of the planet.  Incredibly – and thanks in part to the perpetual overflights of admittedly convenient modern jets – there’s evidently nowhere that they can set up for even a short time without inadvertently capturing the noise from some man made invention or device.  There’s apparently something a bit distracting about the pipes of a kick-ass snowmobile in the middle of a rare bird recording.  Or a bit disquieting, might be a better way to put it.

The main racket blocking our awareness of our world, however, is not outside our ears but inside our heads, the nearly ceaseless commentary and analysis.  The consistent self criticism and common critiquing of every one and every thing else.  If silence were truly golden, you wouldn’t know it by how quickly we tarnish every still moment with internal conversation.  And whenever there’s no intelligent thought, our brains are likely to repeat phrases or hum stupid commercial jingles just to fill the presumed vacuum.

There is, of course, no such thing as true silence outside of regions of airless outer space.  Nature without the sound of factories and jet airplanes is not silent, but a dynamic symphony that is best heard without the distraction of our own roar and clamor.  And people who meditate don’t drift off into the void when they are finally able to derail their train of thoughts, but rather, other sounds suddenly rise to the forefront of consciousness, along with other feelings, the world becoming more present, discernible and knowable for them.  This meditative moment is a peaceful analog to the hunter’s silent mind when it’s time to pull the trigger or release the arrow, and the wordless state of hyperawareness that comes with a jolt of adrenalin in a moment of screeching tires on pavements or other apparent threats to our lives.  The gift of our quieting is not retirement or resignation, sedation or relief, but reengagement and reawakening… making possible more powerful acts, and more sense-filled and satisfying lives.

(Please post and forward this piece freely)

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To further explore quiet and sound in your lives, we recommend enrolling in the Awakeness and Awareness correspondence courses.  Full information is found on the Courses page of the Anima Website, and you can download the application here:  Correspondence Course Application

In Common: Exploring the Meaning of Community – by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Sunday, April 11th, 2010

IN COMMON:

An Anima Exploration of the Meaning & Ramifications of Community

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Anima Lifeways & Herbal School <www.animacenter.org>

We had some folks down for dinner some years back, lifelong residents, and proprietors of the only grocery store in our remote little town.  I can’t tell you how good it felt when the gentleman shook my hand, looked me in the eye and said “You’re really a part of this community now.”  He wasn’t saying that he agreed with everything I think or do, only that I’d “earned my spurs” through years of hard work and unshakable commitment, through the relations I’ve built as well as my refusal to let anything drive me away.  His point wasn’t that oddball, braid-wearin’, gun totin’, cactus huggin’ anitauthoritarian me is either blameless or unblemished… only that I belong.

There’s hardly a community anywhere that doesn’t contain people with conflicting religious and political lifestyles and beliefs.  The only exceptions are cults and one-party countries where a guru or dictator wields total control over the residents.  Forget politically correct complete consensus, healthy community isn’t a matter of everyone agreeing.  At its core is a shared identity and basic, deep seated values that by their very relevance and power manage to supersede most differences.  Like wolves packing up to bring down game much too large to be taken by a single individual, a community’s members gather not so much for company, as to accomplish or realize shared goals.

The very term, “community”, derives from a Latin word meaning “common.”  The glue that binds a village or society together, then, is made up of those things its residents and participants feel, exhibit and act on, their common intentions and common needs, contributing to a common body of ideas profoundly affecting both the ways we live and the nature and quality of our lives.

Communities, activities, schedules, and even our very characters are often defined by the experiences, landscape and climate that we share in common.  In rural America, ideas are shaped by the independence and self sufficiency that comes from living on parcels or ranches scattered far apart, where because there’s no specialty shop around the corner, most of us can make repairs with a little “spit and bailing wire.”  Those of us out here in “the sticks” have been taught patience and fortitude by Summers of failed crops, and by those long drives to the grocery store or social events.  We’re carved by the knife of the land that we live on, much the same way that these sandstone cliffs are sculpted by the Southwest’s hot and blustery winds.


A healthy society takes its cues from the natural world around it, and responds to the needs of the land even as it provides for its own.  Such a community is “native”, as embedded in a certain region as plants are bedded in their native soils.  It is this rooting that provides the wisdom of stewardship, and a real “sense of place.”  And a healthy society is also traditional, in that it takes the most proven and healthy ways and lessons of the past with it as it makes its ride into the unforeseen future.  We show our respect for our pioneer fore-bearers, and for the very first Indians that ever occupied this land, by proving that we can take care it, by making sure our children and their descendants inherit a region no less beautiful or bountiful then we ourselves were blessed with.  Rural, land based community is, as much as anything else, a shared fate, with its residents affected by the same floods and droughts, thin times and bountiful harvests.  Whatever befalls the land we depend on, must in the end befall us.  And with its many different interdependent relationships, whatever suffering is brought upon one segment of such a community is likely to be suffered to one degree or another by the rest.

These days, in fact, what happens a not only a county but a a continent away can often potentially affect us wherever we are.  Winds spread fallout from the nuclear meltdown at Chernobyl to families, crops and water sources all around the planet.  The water flowing by towns lying downstream have always been subject to both pollution and depletion by the cities above.  But now, it is as if we’re all situated downstream of somewhere, sometimes benefitting from the accomplishments of distant communities, other times paying a high price for their mistakes.  An increasingly globalized economy means that the shenanigans of bankers on the Atlantic has in many cases determined whether someone in New Mexico or Oregon lost their job, and the flow of oil from Arab nations being the biggest factor in the rising price of gas.  Ideas good and bad – from caring messages and helpful tools to rabid jihad and our own government’s culture of lies – travel faster than ever in this highly technological age, require that we become all the more aware, knowledgeable and discerning.

On the other hand, to some degree these same technologies are able to help foster the formation and functioning of not only virtual community but communities in a very real sense.  This becomes true as soon as people interacting through internet forums and chat rooms around a shared interest or priority, sharing feelings and stories, exchanging information and inspiration, and offering advice.  And even more so, if as a result they end up shopping or bartering with each other, sending trade items or sending gifts snail-mail that can be used and held in the physical.  Or if they stir each other to change their lives for the better, to sign a petition or join in a purposeful campaign.

Unlike in rural areas, in many cities we may find we’re as strangers to our nearest neighbors, unaware of their joys or troubles, enjoying different hobbies and voting for opposing candidates, identifying not so much with a place or each other as with the slant of a certain news program and the culture of our vocational career.  In some cases the more genuine and interactive community may be found online, allying with and meeting the social needs of people who speak the same “language,” pursue similar passions, and support the causes dearest to our hearts, even when they seldom or even never get to meet outside of the computer screen and telecommunication.

As a kid I never settled down in one place.  My mom moved us so often that I wouldn’t have had time to even build friendships, and I’d use that as an excuse for any of my unsocial tendencies… if not for the fact that I weirdly enjoyed being a loner from the time I was very young.  I could relate to largely solo athletic pursuits like gymnastics and mountain climbing, but from the get-go I avoided team sports like the plague.  No club ever interested me, I felt innately suspicious of conformity-building uniforms and fraternity pledges, and neither of our two main political parties has ever seemed authentic enough to tempt me to join.  The leaders of the communes that I visited as a runaway from military school at the close of the 1960’s, somehow came to the conclusion that I was “a bit too much”, to intense or out of control to fit into their mellow scenes.  Even now I live primitively, at the far wild edge of the remote rural community I’m a proud part of.  And while I am increasingly connected to, care about and act in coalition with a like minded community of wonderful folks from all around the world, I still largely use the internet like a hunter-gatherer collecting information, or a public wall where I spray my never ending stream of graffiti opinion, story telling and soapbox agitation… in every case entering stealthily, filling my gatherer’s goat-skin shoulder bag, rattling cages, making my mark, then slipping back out again to the edges of the unwired forest.

Over time, however, I’ve come to recognize the value of clustering together with other like minded folks, ideally sharing both a common caring and common vista, standing together against the incessant pressures from without, joining with them in deeply identifying with the places that we live in, love and learn from.  I hold up the community garden as a perfect example of the way, the means and the benefits.  I’m in many ways a community healer as well as firebrand, as I do what I can to not only awaken and enlighten but aid and improve.  And I now see, ever so clearly, the importance of our working together in a great cycle of giving and sharing – even those of us who may never meet – using our uncompromised freedom, varied perspectives, skills and knowledge to create a society that we can all be glad to belong to.

(Please feel encouraged to Forward and Post)

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

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

THE PHOEBES ARE BACK!

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.

(Post and Forward Freely)

(For more reflections on nature and place, go to the blog archives at right, or to www.animacenter.org)

The Dancing Rabbit: On the Balance of Light and Heavy, Humor and Import

Sunday, April 4th, 2010

The Dancing Rabbit:

On the Balance of Light and Heavy, Humor and Import

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

www.animacenter.org

Spring winds have sprung, throwing themselves on the trees like overenthusiastic kids leaping on parent’s and siblings backs, alternating moments of disarming quiet with sudden rushes like Calvin’s pal Hobbes pouncing from ambush.  The river is staying the same height, roughly crotch to waist high, and indeed appears that it intends to stay that way.  Appointments require we go out two days in a row this week, thus I can predict with little psychic effort, that the workload on the laptops will not prevent us from getting ample fresh air and exercise in the coming days.  And ample or even an excess of juniper of pollen as well, causing me a good deal of allergic consternation.  I hop up every so often to sneeze, rhythmic as a drummer must do all things, like a wolf leaping at the moon, or perhaps – since it’s Easter after all – like some kind of dancing trickster shaman rabbit.

It’s Easter as I write this, and I’m wondering what it is about holidays that can cause some people to set aside both the messages from their telling hearts and the signals from their critical minds, causing them to pretend that their is no twisted and macabre other side to cultural piousness, humor and tragedy that are both more immediate and alive than traditions shallowly and unquestioningly repeated.  Better to carry out any Easter sacraments in earnest, deeply feeling them, conscious of their meaning and significance for our lives, or else to give them up altogether.  Better to keep the eyes open even on a happy, Easter Bunny day, to the suffering in the world and the man in the bunny suit.  And likewise, ’tis better methinks, to not let the pain of the world, neither dreams unfulfilled nor abused children nor even those bastard Romans having truly nailed or roped to crosses every rule breaking, free living icon and paradigm challenging miscreant they could find.  It seems I share those outlaws’ general  disrespect of official and often sanctimonious authority,  abhorrence of hypocrites, appreciation for the sincere and hard working, compassion for the underdog, appreciation for the rebel… and  irrepressible sense of humor.

At age 9, Rhiannon certainly demonstrates what I hold up as the ideal, natural, healthful balance, at once holding knowledge of the ugly and lies, while focusing on and embodying beauty, intellectual curiosity and goofy degrees of joy.  She will not let anyone else’s injustices, inconsistencies, fears, rules, dogma or confusion get in the way of her personal engagement with eggs that can mean chicken and food at the same time as rebirth and continuous life.  The worst that she hears on the news, has to measure against her pleasure painting them, and then finding them in the places where Loba hides them.

We are in a world full of wonder and perversity, of ecstasy and war, crying victims and playful babies among another year’s green sprouting.  There is madness afoot, and truths more amazing than any lie awaiting us to notice.  Time to duck the bayonet, criticize the hypocrite, face down the despot, tend the tears and heal the wounds.  And time to notice the art of the moment, the gesture of love, the seed’s potential, the satisfaction of the valorous act, the tingle of delightful physical sensation, and the whirl of this dance we’re unavoidably involved in.

One would be a fool not to take it all quite seriously… and a fool not to laugh.

Eggsactly.

Easter blessings, earthy Spring Blessings, and the blessings of open hearts and eyes!

(Forward and Post Freely)