The following is a brief interview conducted with Wolf prior to this year’s conference, used as background info for an article Sarah did on us for the Arizona paper The Noise. It includes insights on not only the event but also the Medicine Bear novel I love, and on the spirit and future of herbalism. Soon I will be working on my book and course, while Wolf will be writing interview questions for 10 herbalists and finally getting to read the applications from those of you who applied to help as staff! We’ve been so swamped since getting back from the event, that I only today got something new posted on the Medicine Woman Roots blog, and we’re only now getting this interview up. I hope you will enjoy reading it, and sharing. –Kiva
Noise Magazine Interview With
JESSE WOLF HARDIN
Author, CoFounder of Plant Healer Magazine and Herbal Resurgence Rendezvous
Conducted by Sarah Supernova, Noise Magazine, AZ, Aug. 2012
1) Speak about the intimacy of your relationship with plants.
Jesse Wolf Hardin: I grew up in the suburbs, nothing like the river canyon I now know as home. That said, from earliest memory I was drawn to the natural world, its authenticity as compared to many people’s lives, its diversity and oddness, enchantedness and eloquence. This led me to wildlife that was pervasive enough, or small and slow enough, for my inspection… and to plants, easier to find, or fun to climb. Like our partner Kiva, I spent much of my childhood exploring and finding refuge high in the branches of trees, as people walked busily below without noticing. There may have been no coyotes in the neighborhood, but there were exotic green beings from around the word used to landscape the nearby yards, and weeds, lovely willful dandelions that I respected for their brilliance and tenacity long before I was aware of their medicinal value. Even my mother’s house plants served as conduits to the natural world, agents of the wild preaching their radical vision of beauty and liberty and subverting the barefoot boy who entrained with their movements, and tended their needs.
Today, we publish Plant Healer Magazine (www.PlantHealerMagazine.com) and put on the Herbal Resurgence Rendezvous (www.HerbalResurgence.org), in order to share with people the empowering knowledge of plant medicine… while at the same time, we champion the cause of the often endangered plants themselves, and write about the intrinsic value of these wondrous green beings apart from their nutritional, oxygen producing, scenic and even healing benefits. And we teach that it is personal familiarity and deep intimacy with the herbs that can make us more intuitive and effective herbal consumers and practitioners.
2) Speak of the different levels of medicine. How herbs work not just on physical level, but emotional and spiritual as well. (or do they?)
JWH: At their most evident, plants are organic chemical producers, manufacturing chemicals that serve them in various ways, and coincidentally also prove useful in treating a lot of human conditions and ailments. In addition, it’s now scientifically proven that we are affected energetically by plants, our moods and ways we perceive triggered or influenced by nothing more than the smell of a calming lavender sprig, for example. And plants have been given credit for contributing to a spiritual sense of interconnectedness or “oneness,” the sense of accessing a transglobal body of collected terrestrial wisdom, and a feeling of being a part of something as eternal as it is ever changing. From the psychotropic visions induced by Peyote cactus to the more pedestrian sense of well being that comes from tending the roses in the yard, plants provide a healing experiences far beyond their uses in tinctures and salves.
Herbs are an affordable way to sensibly manage our own health, in the majority of situations, and they can also lead to realizations that are deeply personal, emotional, even spiritual, and inspire us to make lifestyle changes that result in us becoming more self sufficient as well as healthy.
3) Speak about the demographics and kind of people seeking herbal knowledge these days, and who show up at your Herbal Resurgence Rendezvous (TWHC) each year.
JWH: Herbal medicines, self care and natural healing no longer appeal only to traditional rural folks, homesteaders and New Agers, but to broad spectrum of the mainstream as well. The majority limit their interest to the purchase of herbal supplements, but a growing number are also seeking out herbal books, schools and conferences to further their understanding. Published stories on the dangers of pharmaceuticals, difficult economic times, ecological destruction and increasing government regulation have all resulted in increased interest in herbalism in recent years, after what had been a decade of decline.
Herbal Resurgence attracts a special audience that is anything but typical, with many attendees to our international event avoiding normal conferences. What we host each year is an intense tribe of plant and herb enthusiasts from all over the world, grateful for the opportunity to gather together, strengthen bonds, and plan alliances and projects. They range from esteemed clinical PHDs to excited beginners just learning about herbs, from elders to wild eyed children and teens, and including “kitchen” herbalists, misfit nurses, street medics, free clinic organizers, herbal activists, visionaries and alternative folks, outliers and oddballs, the happy loners and sadly alienated now finding their “people” and “home”.
4) What goes on at an Herbal Resurgence Rendezvous?
JWH: Resurgence is a combination gathering/celebration and unique educational event, featuring unusual and inspiring classes taught by some of the biggest names in herbalism, like Matthew Wood, Paul Bergner and Rosemary Gladstar, along with the most intriguing and promising of new talents in the herbal field. Classes include both lectures and medicine making and other topics that invite audience hands-on participation in the processes being taught. Participants also join in a number of plant identification walks along the beautiful trails surrounding Mormon Lake, and party hearty during the two nights of live music and entertainment.
5) Speak about how you and Kiva decided to put on these conferences.
JWH: The informed practice of herbalism had been in a tailspin since the mid 1990s, with schools losing students, and many conferences closing or contracting even as billions of dollars was starting to be made by the big corporations selling herbal supplements. We’d witnessed political infighting and been saddened by what was often an air of quiet desperation in what should by all rights have been a practice and community that brings great joy. We launched Herbal Resurgence Rendezvous (first called Traditions In Western Herbalism Conference) to assist the reinvigoration of the “people’s medicine,” a resurgence of inquiry, study, history, community, and new ideas. And to instill a sense of personal responsibility and herbal knowledge that’s resistant to what will be increasing regulation and proscription by the corporate funded U.S. government.
We measure the success of this event not just on the quality and originality of the presentations, but on the residual effects it has on all how attend, the new friendships and alliances, new realizations and valuable lessons learned, the joy felt and callings affirmed.
6) Speak about your personal journey as an herbalist, how you came to this path.
JWH: Kiva is the accomplished herbalist, whose intrinsic affinity for plants combined with efforts to heal her own condition and imbalances, resulting in a lengthy study and then practice. I serve as an herb interlocutor and agent of the plants, helping grow and deepen the herbalist community while promoting herbalism’s values, aims and aesthetics. My work in this field naturally follows my years as a naturalist and ecological activist, in which I used music and story to inspire an inseparable healing of the land, our community, and our emotional and physical bodies.
7) When you encounter an unfamiliar plant, what is your process for gaining knowledge of it and building your relationship with it?
JWH: We’ve written thousands of words on this topic so far in Plant Healer Magazine! Familiarity and relationship with a plant requires that we first positively identify it (“key it out”) and do all the research and reading we can do on it. But it also requires that we set aside our formed preconceptions and all we think we know about the plant, long enough to perceive it fresh. That we resist humanizing the plant (anthropomorphizing it) and projecting our preferences or imaginings on it. That we take our time, sense it with our physical senses, and get a feel for its energetic actions. That we recognize its needs as well as its gifts, honor its integrity. If and when we harvest it or snip from its limbs, we do not ask permission to cause it pain or take its life, but rather, acknowledge that it feels pain and has a desire like our to live and thrive… and then give thanks. And we need to relax into a wordless communication, that is more about mutual recognition than special instruction. Only then can we expect a clue as to all the ways that ingesting it will effect us and maybe help us, and feel close enough to the plant to be full deserving of its gift of healing and life.
8) About your new novel, The Medicine Bear (www.TheMedicineBear.com), how did you conceive of the story and the characters? Did it come all at once (as visions so often do!), or was it something that came slowly and was put together piece by piece?
JWH: The Medicine Bear is the first work of fiction of my several books, envisioned to be an accurate and thought-provoking history of this region in the closing days of the “Old West,” with these mountains and deserts, forests and rivers being not just the settings for the story, but complex and evocative characters in their own right.
Nearly all of the tale came to me at once, the juxtaposition of real historical characters such as Pancho Villa with my fictional protagonists, the writer and adventurer Eland and Omen, the gifted but haunted, mixed-blood, herbalist Medicine Woman. And the flow of events, from Eland’s birth in 1892 to the closing scenes in 1964, spanning Omen’s apprenticeship to the Tucson cuarandera Doña Rosa and the central event of 1916, with Villa’s retaliatory raid on Columbus, New Mexico and the scene of revolutionaries with bows and arrows facing the machine guns that would so loudly announce the modern age.
The Medicine Bear’s inspiration were its themes of undying love, personal and cultural transformation, recognizing and living our dreams, and healing… the healing of emotional wounds caused by alienation or abuse as well as the art of helping to heal the ailments of others with the artful use of medicinal plants.
9) Your book sounds deeply researched and richly written. Can you speak about the process of writing it and your relationship to the characters?
JWH: I, like the Medicine Bear, am a product of the fertile milieu of the Southwest’s inspirited places and Indian, Hispanic and Anglo cultures, of un-corruptible elemental values and resilient outlaw attitude, its deep passions and particular aesthetic. As a denizen of this place, the book’s accurate history of this area is my history, and its characters are amalgams of and representatives of my neighbors and loved ones, from native traditionalists and cowboys to those folksy, big-hearted purveyors of herbs… the people’s medicine.
I’ve lived at the Anima Sanctuary (www.AnimaCenter.org) for over 3 decades now, a restored riparian wilderness, a botanical and wildlife sanctuary seven river crossings and several bends of the canyon from the nearest pavement. It was therefore not hard for me to suspend for a year my preoccupation with the modern age that I’m trying to affect with my writing, our magazine and conference, and instead to fully inhabit – moment-to-moment – the world that existed a hundred years ago… one that still exists here in the Southwest’s more remote mountains and canyons. I lived and interacted with the Medicine Bear’s characters for all those months, shared feelings, fears and hopes as I scrambled to keep up, to type as fast as the scenes became clear to me. The Doña gave voice to what I teach regarding place, true magic, glad service and devotion to a calling. Eland embodies the quandary I’ve always faced, the tension and hopeful balance between adventuring and settling, between creating for others and simply deeply experiencing, between the endless train of words and a profoundly experienced, wordless reality. And in Omen, blooms the sweet sadness and resolute will that complicates as well as helps to shape my own winding life trail, portrayed in a woman a heckuva lot like my Kiva Rose.
The process of writing The Medicine Bear was emotionally challenging more than technically difficult, with my investment of time and caring rewarded by every reader who tells me they were touched or opened by its sentiments and passages, stirred to action or deeply inspired.
10) Anything else you’d like to add?
JWH: The need and calling for self-care and community care skills like herbalism has never been greater. As the price of pharmaceuticals continually goes up and their dangers become ever more evident, and whenever the general economy is shaky, herbal knowledge is becoming once again as essential and accepted as it was in the days before the advent of “modern” medicine. There is a new and rising wave of herbalists of all ages, insistent on learning the old ways and the new twists, treating their families or serving their communities. It’s that which has us giving nearly all of our time to these projects, the necessity for a “Medicine of The People, By The People, For The People”… and the satisfaction that comes with helping to feed and further this aroused herbal resurgence.
Folk Herbalism is only one piece – although a key piece – in what is a larger interweaving of social action, earth stewardship and crucial cultural change. With increased attention to the self-empowering field of herbal healing, we will again and again be making the connection to the necessary, active healing of our wounded hearts and psyches, healing the schism between us and the rest of nature, healing our communities and the damaged earth.
Nothing is needed more. And nothing could be more exciting or satisfying.
(please RePost and share)
Jesse Wolf Hardin is an acclaimed teacher, presenter, artist, activist, and author of 7 books including his new novel The Medicine Bear (www.TheMedicineBear.com). His over 400 published articles have been featured in numerous other books including The Encyclopedia Of Nature & Religion (Continuum, 2005), The Soul Unearthed (Tarcher/Putnam, ‘96), and How Shall I Live My Life? (Derrick Jensen, PM Press 2008). His work has been praised by a wide range of luminaries from the poet Gary Snyder and herbalist Rosemary Gladstar, to the editor of True West Magazine, Bob Boze Bell. Hardin writes and teaches at his remote botanical sanctuary in a river canyon in SW New Mexico (www.AnimaCenter.org), and is the cofounder of both Plant Healer Magazine (www.PlantHealerMagazine.com) and Herbal Resurgence Rendezvous (the third week of each September – www.HerbalResurgence.org).