Archive for November, 2010

Letting Go & Staying In Touch – by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

Letting Go & Staying In Touch

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Anima Lifeways & Herbal School

I can’t help but feel a tad wistful whenever I lose touch with folks I enjoy and care about, even though I may have been too busy to regularly answer their letters.  This includes everything from old friends, to strange cases like those “old school” pards who refused to get a computer and use email even though hardly no one communicates with paper and ink anymore.

While I’ve often wondered what ever became of certain of my early biker buddies, I’ve been out of touch with all those memorable outlaws since the day I started following other interests besides carousing with angry young women and outrunning police cruisers.  Needless to say, I lost touch with many of my later, self proclaimed “enviro” friends, thanks to the distance they sought once I started pointing out the hypocrisy of enlisting the very federal bureaucracy that legitimizes global corporate destructiveness and shreds our constitutional rights and freedoms to impose its rules on regional, state and county governments.  I’m no longer in touch with some very sweet hippie types, whom I made the mistake of letting see the number of rifles decorating my cabin wall, nor with a certain entertaining cowboy correspondent since he realized  I’ve led Indian style vision quests and wear a long Willie Nelson type braid under my 1800’s style Stetson hat.

Then there are those dear folks I have no time to write, and who often have little time to write me, but whom I hold close in my heart.  We are out of communication, perhaps, but never really out of touch.

To the contrary, is yet another group of people and things that I am – and am glad to be – truly and totally out of touch with, such as those teachers that fed me a school diet of idiocy and lies, and the bland white suburbs I endured as a kid.  Ex-girlfriends who promised one thing and did another, cities and neighborhoods that did more to crush than boost my spirits.  I’m out of touch with whatever makes some of today’s young play electronic games instead of having real life adventures, or what causes men my age to suddenly start wearing polyester pants and talk constantly about their internal organs.  And admittedly, I’m deliberately out of touch with the latest trends in facile fashion and short lived music fads.

I am not, nevertheless, out of touch with reality.

As proof, I understand the value of being in touch with the pulse of politics, the curve and thrust of repeatable history, with movements beyond our local regions, the manipulations of the insidious banking industry, the facts of reduced rights and official citizen detention plans, the impacts of our activities on the soil, air and water… so that we can make choices accordingly, resist and respond.  It’s valuable to us anytime we can be in touch with the natural world, with the need for self reliance and community self sufficiency, the arc of the seasons and the toil and harvest of a backyard garden.  It’s essential being in touch with our own bodies and feelings, the intuitive alarm over what’s going on in the world, the primal instinct to defend ourselves and our loved ones and homes, in touch with our hunger for a life with meaning and purpose.  If we are truly in touch with our physical beings, we can sense whether certain foods are good for us or not, we can tell what contributes to our health and what’s steadily laying waste to it, and live a healthier and more effective and satisfying life as a result.  Being in touch with ourselves means having a better chance of getting out of harmful relationships or careers, and of finding and staying with the people and situations that are really best for us.  Recognizing our needs and meeting them.  Bringing to light our submerged hopes and dreams, and then living them.

It’s good, as well, that we stay in touch to the degree possible with those other humans who not only meant – but still mean – the most to us.  Valuable, are regular sharings with loved ones you hope and pray will never go away, as well as a surprise email to a 9th grade instructor who might have inspired you at a some crucial point way back “in the day”.  But even more important, is staying in real physical touch with those beloved folks in our lives right now… not just sharing experiences, words and stories, but real touch as well: the firm clasping of a good friend or grateful client’s hand, or a spouse or lover’s kisses when there’s feelings to mend, the pat on the back for a deed well done or a ritual morning “bear” hug for a precious daughter or son.

One of the tricks to a balanced and satisfying life, is clearly knowing what to let go of… and why and when – with whom and with what – to stay in touch.

(Copy, forward and post freely)

Plant Adventuring and Fall Wildcrafting – by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Sunday, November 7th, 2010

Plant Adventuring and Fall Wildcrafting

by Jesse Wolf Hardin

Anima Lifeways and Herbal School

I rouse early, as I almost always do, but this morning it was with designs on a trip outside this special canyon.  Opening my eyes to the sparkling river and clucking ravens, white barked cottonwoods and swaying pines, it requires a task or destination with mighty heavy draw to tempt my eyes and mind away from this place even for a short while.  Depending on the need, circumstance or season, it most likely means an inescapable shopping trip or dental visit, an invitation for me to speak at an event within a day’s driving distance of our sanctuary.  Or when it comes to a relaxing break from writing on the computers, it most likely means a plant gathering trip.

Here you see recent photos of our cabins, as taken from the river, looking through the arbor of cottonwood trees that I’ve grown and protected for the past 31 years.  Our new set of solar panels can be seen between the cabins, one of which is actually my old schoolbus-home covered over with untreated wood.

Our trips are are never just about plant gathering, of course, but about our family gathering together in order to take in the beauty and knowledge that experiences in new and wild places afford.

The flora of the arid Southwest are extraordinarily diverse yet easily impacted, and so as a personal conservation practice we never sell – and seldom trade – any of the gathered bounty… thus a relatively small amount of our time away is expended on the actually clipping or digging of needed medicines.  Far more of our hours apart from dear home and ongoing mission, are given to plant exploration, estimation, classification and deep appreciation, to energetic exchange and mutual recognition, communion and reunion, to what might in aggregate be more accurately referred to as plant encounters, excursions or adventures.

Due to the very nature of our purposeful work and ambitious mission, such adventures inevitably feel both a little mischievous and a mite truant, and therein undoubtedly lies a fair portion of the pleasure.  In spite of their often sudden and impromptu feel – dashing away between needy emails and essential deadlines – these are very much planned trips, talked about days or weeks in advance, with local medicinal plants researched, trail guides and maps poured over and promising areas circled, the days checked off with my partner Kiva cautioning me not to change my mind.  Before we go to bed the night before, she’s already filled the preferred green canvas daypack that I bought her, with the most relevant and trusted plant identification guides and botanical keys (research being an important adjunct to intuition, energetics and impressions), tools like her root-scooping hori-hori and small clippers, protective work gloves, a waterproofed map and compass or GPS.  Bags for plant storage, preferably porous burlap, are stacked by the door, with the camera on top so we can’t possibly forget it.   Youngsters are known for getting extra excited on the night before Christmas, but in our odd-otter daughter Rhiannon’s case it is anticipation of an upcoming plant trip that spurs her to spin and spin before going off to her treehouse to sleep.

Gathering the plants that Kiva needs for making medicine, is compelling enough.  But what excites us most is the exploring of new terrain and what feels like exotically different elevations, varied biota in places we’re visiting for the first time.  And for me especially – much more of an ally and aficionado of plants than an herbalist – a good part of the thrill is in coming across an interesting or unusual species that whether medicinal or not, I might never have laid eyes on before.  The overriding inspiration for this trip was the end of the growing season and the certain and soon emergence of Winter, a final chance this year for gathering most varieties of fresh plants, and an opportunity to gasp and giggle over the high country’s mad display of Fall color.

Everyone climbed into the jeep for the trip through the river crossings, a ten or fifteen minute bit of bouncing before being disgorged at the back gate of the Owl (Land) Rover for the remainder of the trip.  Our destination this time was alpine meadows and draw at 8 to 10,000 feet, the habitat of white skinned aspen and coal black bears, deep rooted osha and hearty lupine.  We had permission this time to do some gathering as well as exploring on a private inholding near what is called Hannagan’s Meadow, not very many miles over the New Mexico border and into the mountains of eastern Arizona.

It seemed as if a number of conditions had combined and concluded, such that the meadows area trails remained moist year round, with a soft and padded feel to the bare feet uncommon in this part of the country.

The brilliant crimson and gold colors of the oak and aspen leaf skylines, was found duplicated in miniature on the verdant forest bottom.

Loba and Rhiannon rested on the trail, after recently fending off colds with the help of Kiva’s elderberry elixir and herbal steams.

Carpeting long stretches of the trail were layers of bright Aspen leaves forming a mind spinning mosaic, their brilliant yellow hue not the result of new pigment but rather, the seasonal leaching out of green chlorophyll.  I take numerous photos of this arboreal art, always looking for more shots that can be used for feature illustrations and background layers for the Anima and Traditions In Western Herbalism websites, as well as for the new and full color Plant Healer Magazine.

Looking up, one sees a similar pattern of back-lit leaves, not waiting their turn to fall, but minute by minute sustained by their connection to the tree, delighting in their place in the sky.

…and this is how it must have looked to Kiva:

Stunning in their own way, were the predigous shelf mushrooms, nested in a matrix of lush moss.

These firm bodied mushrooms are a service to the ecosystem, as well as are incredibly beautiful to me.  Kiva is currently undergoing research to determine what uses this particular fungal species might have.

Their undersides are a wonderful, creamy, abalone white.

The greenest of the remaining annuals, was this species we have yet to have had tome to key out and identify.  Possibly a member of the wild pea family, it grew nearly 4′ high, with no leaf discoloration or die-back yet in spite of the frigid night time temperatures in November at 10,000 feet.

A few plants were actually still blooming, like this hearty wild strawberry…

…and this resilient yarrow, its flowers celebrating life and fecundity even as its leaves are rendered a dark honey brown by the turnover of the mountain Southwest’s distinct seasons.

It’s only at the end of the season, with the leaves of this plant starting to look a lot like the leaves on corn, that it becomes obvious why they named it Corn Lilly.

And here is what this Lilly’s seed pods look like, dry, opened, and having already discharged most of their contents for another generation on the mountain.

Winter’s can be heavy enough up here, that we saw many young trees either snapped in half or bent over by the weight of winds and snow.  This particular one especially caught my eye, having responded to being nearly broke in half by continuing its heroic skyward climb.

While I seldom feel accomplished enough to feel heroic, I share with this tree certain twists of character formed in response to wound and challenge, and continue a purposeful climb.  In our case, of course, the aim is not only to survive and taste the sun, but to consciously and effectively do all we can for this living earth, and help others to awaken and heal.

After Hannagan’s Meadow, we headed over to a favorite place for serious harvesting.

Developing a genuine relationship with landowners, and conserving or even helping to propagate resident species, is  great way to secure long term gathering rights.  Rural Western landowners are generally against federal environmental regulation, but are often enthusiastically supportive of private efforts to perpetuate the traditional healing herbs used by their pioneer forebears.

One exciting find on land we know about was the Sweet Root plant… and single sniff of the root makes clear why it’s called that!  It is known so far mostly for use with digestive upset, gut infections, and yeast infections.

Kiva and Loba always bring home some Whit Fir, rare at lower elevations, and a favorite of theirs for a flavorful and healthy tea.

And while it may sound silly to those of you living in forests of Blue and Engelman’s Spruce, it’s admittedly an extra big treat for me whenever I am high enough up the New Mexico/Arizona mountains to be able to bask among these luxurious and deliciously scented trees.

Note that these kinds of plant excursions earn the title of “adventures” for a reason — not just because of the excitement and surprises involved, but partly for the difficult dirt roads and challenging foot trails they afford, the sudden shifts in weather and vehicle breakdowns.  This fact led me to write an entire article of suggestions and guidelines for the upcoming first issue of our new Plant Healer Magazine… crucial for those just getting into herbal wildcrafting or other plant adventuring for the first time, and hopefully a helpful aid to longtime plant folks who could use an organized list of hints and tips to pass on to their herbal students.  While the Anima Blog and Medicine Woman’s Roots Blog will continue featuring announcements and stories, after December all of Kiva’s and my most in-depth, information filled articles will be appearing in the Plant Healer instead, with only excerpts appearing on these blogs.  For this reason alone, we strongly encourage anyone with an interest in herbalism and wildcrafting, plant conservation and activism, to subscribe to this art and photo filled journal of Western folk herbalism… with articles written by some of the leading voices in the herbal and healing community.

Plant Healer subscriptions will be available very soon.  To read the latest of Kiva’s always insightful pieces, my new wildcrafter’s hints and tips and a dozen other engaging articles by featured authors, please keep checking for subscription updates at the
Plant Healer Journal Website: