Of Drums and Spirits

I am not Native American nor do I carry indigenous blood with the exception of distant ancestors. I had a friend drop by for a visit the other day and he is of Native American decent. We shared stories about recent Life happenings, and he shared his sorrow over the recent deaths of four of his sisters since June. Tears came to his eyes when he softly spoke about them…especially about the loss of his favorite sister to whom he was extremely close.

To help ease the difficulty of his emotions, I gathered up a frame drum I recently decorated for myself. My friend absolutely loved it, holding it fondly, striking it with my handmade mallet over and over again. He lamented over the condition of his own drum. The drum head had shrunk and pulled away from its base. Without a drum, his prayers lay silent….unexpressed within his Heart. I told him that I had an extra frame drum, an offered to decorate a drum head especially for him. He burst forth with such excitement and longing that I immediately told him I would do it. Why not? I had made one for myself…

Easier said than done. How do I give the drum head symbols that represent who he is? How do I change its tone to blend with his Voice? How do I give the Spirit of this drum an expression all its own?

There simply was no path this white girl could follow to accomplish this task….. Sooooooo, I decided to shut off my logical brain and let my subconscious do the “muse” work. Of course I looked at other drum heads and their symbols. I looked at native American symbols, looking for “who knows what” and slept on it.

I have known Russell some years now. I have known him at church, sat over cups of tea and listened to his stories, seen his home, met his family, and created and mended his prayer beads more times than I can count. I have heard him speak his Heart at times, and have witnessed his connection and passion to the Great Spirit. What a deep, deep honor to be asked to design him a drum head.

I finished his drum today. A process that simply happened, and happened quickly. The design of the drum has it’s own Story …. a Story that reflects how he sees and interacts with his World. He is both Shaman and Christian, so the Voice of his drum needs to Sing this Song. I wrote up a description for him that explains the design, colors and arrangement of components. It goes like this…….

The Stories within the Drum:
Story #1 – The Creation Story
Day 2 – Firmament. Which means “The heavens or the sky”… And God said “Let there be a firmament between the waters above and the waters below”. The “Waters above” or the heavens, are represented by the Dark navy ring around the edges of the drum head. The presence of the 3 white dots represents the Presence of God in the heavens above Us. The sky above our heads is represented by the blue colors on the upper half of the drum
Day 3 – Dry Land. “And God said … “Let the earth bring forth grass, herbs and trees …”. The dry land is represented by the green colors on the lower half of the drum.
Day 4 – Sun, Moon and Stars. “And God said, “Let there be Light above the firmament”. The Sun is central to the design whose rays penetrate to the North, East, South and West in yellow colors.
Day 7 – Creation of Man. The Creation of YOU…. YOU are represented by the Medicine Wheel in the Center of the drum head. The colors of the Wheel are taken from the tribal people’s of the Apache and Comanche who represent native people’s of the Southwest and northern Mexico.

Story # 2 – Personal Medicine of Healer
Your Gifts of Medicine are represented by the rays that extend out from the Medicine Wheel. Your Gifts bless all things above, and all things below. Your Gift of Song is Powerful….lift your Voice to Heal yourself, others, and most importantly to Heal and bring Balance back to Our World…. The three dots within the Medicine Wheel and at the end of the rays represents the Presence of the Spirit within you and your Medicine.

Story #3 – Of Ancestors and his own bloodline.

The Rim of the Drum has 3 colors… Navy Blue for the heavens above. Crimson Red is painted in a thick band around the Rim which represents your ancestors. The thin band of Vermillion Red represents You, Your children and grandchildren.

The drum head needs to thoroughly dry and “cure” a while before using. I still need to drill holes and thread a hand hold on the backside. When ready, I will present this gift to him with tobacco in hand…. can’t wait to hear his Song…

The Healer of Woundedness…..Willow

I was visiting with some dear friends this past weekend and came upon a massive willow tree in their yard. The tree was huge, a native species that had stood in the floodplain of the creek all of its long life. I took special notice of a gaping wound located at the base of its thick trunk. Her Wound was located just above Her roots, and I reflected on all of the wounds inflicted on Women….from the past to the present. What I saw within the wounds of this magnificent tree, was the greatest potential for healing I have ever observed as an herb-wife in the plant kingdom.

The Willow tree is a potent, potent ally to women. Has been since ancient times. It is associated with the moon, water, the Goddess and all that is feminine. It is a tree of dreaming, intuition and deep emotions. Symbolically it belongs to the beginning of spring, and is directly related to the celebration of “Imbolc” in early springtime. The essential power of the Willow is to teach us about the Feminine, connect us to our feelings and enhances our capacity to dream. She does this to bring our emotions to the surface for healing. My favorite ancient herbalist, Culpeper, says in his Complete Herbal “The moon owns the willow” and it was known as the witches’ tree and the tree of enchantment. The Internet has volumes of information on this subject under “Willow folklore”….

I created this montage to Honor Her Spirit and great capacity for Healing our wounds as Women in this World…..

Lessons from Rosehips….

The bright red hips of the wild rose are now ready to harvest where I live. There is simply nothing more satisfying than to gather and ingest the wild gifts of Our Mother Gaia…. especially those that come with medicinal blessings. Rose hips are high in vitamin C. Hands down higher than an orange or other citrus fruit, and are known to reduce inflammation, support the immune system, and counter the effects of stress.

To experience the concept of “beauty”, clean a bowl of rosehips. Each rosehip or “haw”, is unique in its shape, color, luster and scent. Only a few have the physical characteristics of perfection or superficial “beauty”. Some are ovate in shape. Others are obovate, falcate, rhomboid, circular, truncate, acuminate and even pyramid shape. The surface of the hip can be smooth and shiny, granular and dull or even have ridges and other characteristics.

The Strength and Gifts of a Rosehip lie deep in Her cells. Her Power, Her gift of Medicine has nothing to do with what she looks like, or the location of Her emergence on a rose bush. Her Medicine is not dependent on the color or blush of the fruit, nor on softness of Her body. Her Medicine rises … deep in Her flesh, in the flavonoids and cellular walls of Her Being, in the sweet stickiness of Her waters.

One’s Personal Medicine, One’s Gifts for Healing in this World have absolutely nothing, NOTHING to do with what you look like, where you were born, or where you live now. It has nothing to do with your age or place in your family tree, or how much money you have or don’t have. Whether you are educated or not …. The Medicine lies deep, deep within the very walls of your Body and the walls of your Spirit. It already exists … and Rises as you extend your hand to this World and to the woundedness you see before your feet. Feed your Medicine the waters of Life, the freshness of Air, the Earth beneath your naked feet. Turn your mind and Spirit toward the Light of Hope and Vision. See to the Fire that lies within your Breast and release yourself to Love …. and bring healing to yourself and to this World ….

Rosehip and Wild Plum Cordial (Syrup) for Colds and Coughs

1 quart of Wild Rosehips
25 Wild plums (Prunus americana)
5 cups of water
1 cup of sugar
Juice of 1 lemon

Clean the rosehips by removing any flower end and the stem. Rinse in a colander under cool water. Slice open and pit 25 Wild plums. Add to the rosehips. Put ½ of the Rosehips and Wild plums into a blender. Add 1.5 cups of hot water and puree for 1 minute. Pour this into a tall 4 quart saucepan. Repeat with the remaking hips and plums.

Add 2 Cups of boiling water to this slurry in the pot…set on medium high heat and boil for 1 minute. Turn off the heat, cover, and let stand for 12 hours to make a strong decoction.

After 12 hours, strain through a cheese cloth, and gently squeeze to get more decoction. Place the strained juice into a pan and add the sugar. Place on medium heat until it boils. Reduce to a simmer and cook for about 10 to 15 minutes. Remove from heat and add the lemon juice.

Pour into hot, sterilized ½ pint jars or jelly jars. Screw on lids and hand tighten, do not torque. Keep in cool, dry storage. Use within 4 months. If you want a longer shelf life, seal using a water bath canning method. This increases shelf life to 18 months. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons to a tea cup and fill with hot, boiling water…..enjoy

New Visions….

We stopped for a break on the Warm Springs Indian Reservation, near the Native Peoples Museum. The air and ground had mounds of cottonwood fluff…. Seeds drifting, released to the midday winds, falling……..caught in the wild roses below, falling in drifts against resistant structures on the ground…… I carefully plucked up small wads of cotton-engulfed seeds and felt “called” to pick emergent buds of the wild rose. I returned to the opened door on the passenger side of the truck, looking for a napkin to put my collectibles, hands full of Cottonwood and rose…..

I saw an animal emerge from the dappled shadows on the floor of the truck…… a cat, wild, smallish with black encircled gold spots. I stepped back with a gasp, confused, questioning what I was seeing. I shifted my gaze to clear my mind. It was there, real as life itself. I shifted my gaze again, and the image faded into the dappled shadows produced by the leaves of the cottonwood trees overhead. I was feeling a bit ill that day, and thought I must have been fevered and was seeing things. I told my friend that I think I was hallucinating, and that I saw a wild animal, a cat of some sort, in the truck……

I have been diving into my memory to scavenge any and all details of that visitation. I went online and looked at pictures of wild cat species from around the globe, and I came upon an exact image of what I saw……. a Margay. It is a small cat that is native to Central and South America, and LIVES IN TREES…..in primarily evergreen and deciduous forests. It is often referred to as a Tree Ocelot, and may spend its entire life in the trees. There is no literature on the Spiritual symbolism for such an animal. Other wild cat species are known to have a connection with both the physical and spiritual world. From the information I have been able to gather, these animals are seen both as a Guide and a fierce Protector. It differs from the Ocelot not only in size (It is smaller), but in agility. It has special ankle joints that are extremely flexible. It is remarkably agile; its ankles can turn up to 180 degrees. It can grasp branches equally well with its fore and hind paws, and it is able to jump up to 12 feet horizontally, and has been observed to hang from branches with only one foot.
Wisdom of this species may Include gifts or guidance offered by the Ocelot: regeneration through solitude; connection with physical and spiritual worlds; ability to be in two places at once; clear vision; and connection to the unseen.

Nemesis of Spring ….

I live in a house that was built in the late 1800’s…around 1868 to be more precise. It was built from wood acquired from the local mill …. good “clear” pine without a single knot to be found. Constructed of real 2×4’s, full size with evident kerf cut using old fashioned saw blades…… A sound piece of construction with an adjacent yard surrounding the premises. The yard is primarily comprised of green grass interspersed with a perimeter of shrub and tree species such as lilac, plum, apple, hawthorn and elm trees.

I do not know how long ago the grass was planted in the yard, perhaps as early as the 1930’s, 1940’s at the latest…. regardless, it was most likely after the plumbing system was put into the house. Earlier photographs of my house and town show bare dirt. All I know, I have attempted to outplant dozens of flowers, shrub and even strawberries over the past 25 years. Notice the word “attempted”, for it is key to describing an ongoing war I have had to battle with…….the grass….

This is no ordinary grass, mind you. This grass is indestructible, kind of like gorse on a golf course. I swear it has the genetics of dragon scales with a rooting density that out competes bacteria in a hot spring. It’s meristems are easily activated and kick it into overdrive when temperatures begins to warm. It is ever encroaching into any unoccupied nook, cranny or corner in the yard and oftentimes completely chokes out emerging resident species, such a my planted wild rose. Gnarly to whack back with a weed eater, I often go “for its throat” with my bare hands, tearing it out from the edges of planting beds, underneath my elderberry and other luscious little sites. I have given up on trying to introduce anything along its borders. It defends its territory so well, that I am tired of putting out anymore effort to restrain or “retrain” it’s indomitable spirit……

I now choose to release it to its own muse….look on it as Friend who will continue to stretch its boundaries. I think I would like to mirror its Strength, Persistent Temerity, and flat out Will to Live as something for me to take to Heart…Namaste.

All-powerful against “Wykked Sperytis”

Now that Spring has sprung up here in northeasten California, I find my emotional state to be as varied as the winds that blow across the emerging pear blossoms. Mind you, we have just survived Winter…an elongated, protracted season that invokes its own specialty of emotional torture. I am growing weary of navigating my emotional state based on what the weather is throwing around outside my front door.

I found myself today feeling agitated and anxious. Be it the astrological position of the full moon, or the cold, dark, dreary day….I was fighting a losing battle. So I bundled up and took off on a walk to see what I could find of emerging herbs that might prove useful for my flagging Spirit. Lo and behold I spotted the tender early leaves of catnip! Very little in this World proves as satisfying as a hot cup of fresh herb tea to soothe ones soul. Fresh sprigs of catnip simply immersed in a cuppa hot boiling water both delights the eye and warms the heart. Miss Bardswell in “The Herb Garden” wrote of catmint: “Before the use of tea from China, English peasantry were in the habit of brewing Catmint Tea, which they said was quite as pleasant and a good deal more wholesome”. Catmint is known for its benefits as a springtime tonic, among other graces, yet it did little to soften the edges of my agitated state.

Looking through my herb garden, nothing was showing above ground yet. I returned to the house and began to look through my dried stores from last year. Lemon balm…good choice, but so little of it left. As I pushed the jar to one side, my eyes fell upon my remedy…Motherwort Tincture! Ahhh, the Champion of herbs for a woman’s heart! Personally, I grow it in my garden. It is native to England, but certainly not here. I have to watch it carefully because it reproduces in a most prolific manner and will rudely usurp its neighbors.

In the older herbal texts, Motherwort is described as being used for everything female including an antispasmodic, tonic, and nervine, It stimulates blood flow and induces perspiration as well. It is especially valuable in “female weakness and disorders, allaying nervous irritability and inducing quiet and passivity of the entire nervous system”. Whoa, strong plant juju here…. Yet, it has proven its worth as an overall heart tonic and also in “spinal disease”. Hmmm, think it can regrow collapsed disks or remove spinal stenosis? Need to check that out….

Anyway, Culpepper wrote that “there is no better herb to drive melancholy vapours from the heart, to strengthen it, and make the mind cheerful, blithe and merry”. In another herbal it is listed as THE most powerful herb to use against “wykked sperytis”. By and far the best way to take it is in a tincture. So, 20 drops in a half glass of wine should do the trick. But I choose to keep my “wykked sperytis” wits about me……IMG_20170715_164223

Stories from an Herb-wife – Dandelion Flower Tea Cake

Dandelion Flower Tea Cake
Makes 2 cakes
4 cups flour
4 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 – 2 cups dandelion petals
1/2 cup vegetable oil
3/4 cup honey
2 eggs
2 2/3 cups milk
½ cup of jam Of choice

Mix flour, baking powder, salt and petals in a large bowl. Mix wet ingredients together, add to dry ingredients. Pour into 2 greased and floured cake pans. Bake at 350 degrees for 40 minutes.
Harvesting dandelion petals is a bit tricky. I recommend the following:
Pick flowers on a bright, COOL day, less bugs;
Pick large flowers only because they shrink and wilt quickly;
Split flower heads in half;
Pinch below white area with thumbnail;
Push petals up and pull free gently.

It took about 20 minutes to collect 1.5 cups of petals..

When baking with flower petals, make sure to separate them gently, and coat with flour. I do this by dusting petals with flour BEFORE placing in the bowl…..kind of like coating grated coconut with flour. Use a fork to mix petals into the flour to keep them more evenly distributed….. Mmm mmm, mmm good!inCollage_20180427_202804407

Stories of an Herb-wife – Honeysuckle Syrup


With spring and summer seasons beginning to Rise, I become a totally different beast. I spend hours out of doors sniffing the air, eyes on the ground, rapidly identifying most of the plants that come within view. I admit it, I am a junky…..and have to feed my habit of wildcrafting culinary and medicinal herbs. Botany was my soft spot in academia, and has become a skill I simply adore. I spend hours upon hours simply looking for and harvesting delectable and healing plants.

Honeysuckle flowers are the sweet heralds to the coming of summer. I love their aromatic, sugary scent that fills the air. Last summer I made multiple batches of Honeysuckle Syrup and cough drops and thought you might like the recipe.

Honeysuckle flowers have a variety of medicinal qualities including anti-inflammatory relief for headaches, they reduce fever, are excellent for bronchial spasms and coughs, and protects against viral and bacterial infection. In addition to its medicinal uses, the syrup is mild, and can be used simply as a sweetener in your cup of tea or drizzled over pancakes.

Pick the blossoms in the early morning, preferably before the heat of the day begins. Lay the blossoms out and remove the green sepal end at the base of the flower. Rinse the blossoms gently and place in a small pan. Create an herbal decoction by pouring 2 cups of boiling water over 1 cup of packed honeysuckle blossoms. Let this steep for a minimum of one hour. When cool, place the pot over a low flame and bring to a simmer. Simmer on low for about 30 minutes to reduce the liquid volume to 1 cup. Watch carefully. When completed, strain the decoction and compost the flowers.

To 1 cup of decoction, add 1 cup of sugar and 1 tsp of lemon juice. Bring to a low boil and cook until it begins to thicken. Pour immediately into hot sterilized jars, put on scalded canning lids and hand tighten. Place jars apart by a couple of inches to cool. Sealed syrup last up to a year when stored in a cool, dry place.

I make cough drops by boiling the decoction and sugar to a hard candy stage. I prepare a 9 x 13 inch casserole dish with confectioners sugar. I spread the sugar evenly in the pan and make small depressions using the bottom of a small glass vial. I then pour the candied decoction into the depressions with a small Pyrex measuring cup. Let cool and wrap each drop in wax paper. Store drops in a glass jar with a tight fitting lid.

The Warming of the Waters

IMG_20180307_080056The edge of winter is beginning to soften ever so slightly here on the Modoc Plateau. There remains another 10 weeks of unpredictable cool weather up here, but I am able to observe the warming of waters. The ice is transforming into its aqueous phase. Small rivulets of water have appeared on the soil surface.

Spring is being introduced by the coming of Light, more sunlight. Wow. The wonder of sunlight. It is the catalyst which drives the alchemy of the emergence of green life of this season. Deep changes in the soil. The quickening of new life, new tissues being formed. A release from the dark, frozen state to one of release, change, renewal and growth. The soil lets go of its slumber and inertia driven by cold. It is a time of tremendous, miraculous alchemy.

The alchemy of Spring simply happens with our Mother. There is nothing humans need to do to drive this intricate process. It is organic, taking on its own form and juices as it unfolds. I realize that becoming fully human is also an organic process, a pathway laid out and constructed by Gaia Herself. My illusion lies in my monkey brain, the part of me that thinks…. the part of my brain that incessantly chatters and chitters and thinks that it is somehow in control. My monkey brain also tells me whether I am worthy, beautiful, whole or loved. Or the opposite: I am unworthy, ugly, fractured and unloved. The monkey brain is only about 2% of my brainpan. Only 2%. Yet I give it voice and authority as if it is all of me.

The secret to connection, love, trust, and hope live in the soil of my subconscious, the other 98% of my brain function. There lies the moist soil of wholeness and is hardwired to Our Mother. My monkey brain tirelessly throws up pictures on the wall of my third eye, mostly negative, like a movie projector gone rogue. To allow myself to experience and be tranformed by the seasonal pulse of Spring, I have to stop the incessant noise and “fake news” of my monkey brain. I say, “go for the plug” and unplug this projector as often as you can remember to do so. And let Mother transform you effortlessly into a new emergence as a tender new shoot. Namaste..

From silence and deep soil comes
release, change. New growth
sprouts unbidden, unencumbered.

Let go. Cast off your sleep
As your Mother awakens you
like a child in slumber,
and quickens new tissue, new life
into your Being.
Warmth rises freely, organic.

Great change is coming…

It is a sobering fact that our atmospheric chemical composition has been altered by industrial pollutants. This alteration has resulted in creating atmospheric instability that is highly unpredictable and destructive. I belong to a conservation group called TreeSisters. This organization, along with Rainforest Alliance, the Arbor Day Foundation, National Forest Foundation, Eden Reforestation Project, Trees for the Future, the Greenbelt Project, American Forests, Plant-for-the-Planet, Greening Australia and others are planting trees – millions of them on a yearly basis. Simply planting trees. A global climatic emergency is in the making, one we will see and experience unfold in most of our lifetimes. As an ecologist, I have no doubt cropped-selfie_millerlakeabout this. Over population coupled with voracious consumption of natural resources has already determined this path. Although planting trees will not stop this change from occurring, it is a mitigating effort to minimize the amplitude of this climatic shift on all living systems.

Our Mother is self regulating. She has layers of intricate processes that go into effect to balance and harmonize Her body. As a species, we are part of Her body and our activities have had a significant effect on other species who are our equals and brothers and sisters in this miraculous place. This is all about Gaia Herself. She will retain what is important for her own Life and evolution. We have been blessed to be part of that process, and are highly successful in progenating our numbers across the globe. Our appetite as a species is HUGE. We have consumed everything in our path, so to speak, and will continue to do so today, tomorrow and in the future. Most of humanity is “not awake” yet. Not conscious of how we continue to feed and gorge ourselves as a single species on Mother’s bounty. Like a child who goes into the pantry and stuffs themselves on the carefully prepared foodstuffs, I personally believe that She will simply “take away our plate” in a manner which says “You have eaten enough, it’s not good for you or your brothers and sisters”.

My word to you is this…. PLANT TREES. Put your money where your mouth is.