The Language of Nature

We often hear stories that begin with “A long, long, long time ago, humans and Our Relations in Nature lived in harmony and spoke a common language…”  This is not just the stuff of myths and fairy tales; the language of nature is not a dead language of a mystical time; it is a vital living language of our day. This is a story of how to rebuild our fluency.

Having just moved to Ashland, Oregon, and not knowing many folks yet, I initiated a talk with my neighbor who is a Red Tailed Hawk. The conversation ended with her tossing down an offering that consisted of one decapitated ground squirrel. The discussion began like this….

The land where I get to live now is a gorgeous piece of earth, about twenty-five acres, right on the banks of a salmon bearing creek. The private drive is lined with oak trees and there is a metropolis of ground squirrels that dart across the drive frenetically at all angles. Driving home through the arc of oaks feels a bit like being in a Disney video game where you have to avoid running over the cute wildlife running at you from all directions. Of course, this squirrel megalopolis is where the hawk hangs out because the oaks drop acorns, the squirrels gorge on acorns and the hawk feasts on the squirrels.

It’s late spring now and given that acorn season is a few months off, I suspect that the squirrels’ nut caches are running low. Being new to town, I want to make new friends and many, of late, are of the non-human variety.  I have around one hundred pounds of acorns squirreled away for my Wisdom of the Oak program. My movers thought I was a bit “nuts”, as they hefted the acorn boxes labeled by species: valley oak, black oak, tan oak, golden… Since all new friends appreciate generosity and good will, I have been making frequent acorn gifts to the squirrels on a flat boulder that sits in the middle of a circle of dark stones under the oaks.

I leave a small palm full of valley oak acorns on my way to town or a little mound of golden cap nuts under the brilliant full moon of spring. Many evenings I have set out with a pocket full of nuts and a warm-hearted desire to build my community.

A gift for my squirrel friends.

The day I met the resident raptor, she was in the oaks hunting for acorn fattened squirrels. This is almost exactly what I said to her out loud, “Hello beautiful hawk. You are a gorgeous creature.  I am so happy to be living here. I know that this is your home and I really want to be respectful and be a good neighbor. I hope it is okay that I live here with you”.  She perched, eyed me and moved her head side to side. We both stood there for a minute in an easy silence and took each other in. Then, I walked on.

Several hours later, I returned lugging my groceries, thinking about something else entirely, when I felt the push of wind off large wings, I heard a loud screech, and then a thump. The bird tossed a headless, bloodied, plump squirrel three feet from where I stood. My new friend flew back to her oak perch and in that telepathic language of nature that I only comprehend when I am present, quiet, and bursting open with love for all of life, I swear she said: “You are welcome here. You are welcome here”.

Mama Plants Feed, Protect and Dress their Young

Around Mother’s day we see innumerable cards and posts with adorable furry baby mammals with their doting and capable moms (click here for cute pictures). However, this mother’s day I want to celebrate a whole other maternal kingdom. This post is dedicated to all the hardworking, loving, and under appreciated plant mothers out there!  tendrils

While this story is less photogenic than tiny bears nursing adorably as their mama looks on proud and protective, it turns out that plants can make pretty good mothers who feed, protect and prepare their babies for upcoming weather.  Check this out:

Some plants feed their babies –   Did you ever wonder how baby forest trees in the shade of elders get enough sunlight to grow? Suzanne Simard’s research shows that mother trees in the Pacific Northwest actually move sugars into the roots of their young via underground fungal networks until the babies are big enough to reach the sunlight and make sweetness by themselves.  Could this be considered a form of suckling? Read More »

The second best day of her life

Our Wisdom of the Oak program touches hundreds of elementary school students every year. I wanted to share this note from a girl who said that our program was the second best day of her life (her best day was the day she was born).  

Nursing the Wild – Who is your Family?

Imagine belonging so deeply to the wild that you would breastfeed a motherless squirrel. The endangered Amazonian Awa people love wild animals so much that the women breastfeed and treat them as part of the family. In return, the animals help them with everyday tasks such as cracking open nuts and getting fruit from high trees.

Awa-Guaja123.jpg Awa tribe Dan Sanderson

When you think of “family” what comes to mind? I am willing to guess, that besides our beloved pets, we all define our family in mostly human terms. The Awa people have a strikingly different notion of family that includes wild creatures, some of whom have suckled alongside human kin. When we count wild creatures as our intimates, it radically changes how we nurture and protect our wild places – our home.

This holiday season I encourage you to expand your concept of family and home to include your neighborhood trees who continually inspire you with oxygen, and the sweet little birds who sing you awake with their song. For a moment, bring to mind your extended furry and feathered family and wish them health, joy and prosperity in the New Year. This simple act is radical because when we change how we relate to nature, we change how we treat the Earth and all of our wild relations.

This is exactly why I founded Go Wild Institute – to foster a deep sense of belonging in the great web of life. And, this is why I have launched our Wild Woman:Your Nature is Calling program that weaves modern science with the ancient awareness that the earth is alive, sentient and sacred. It is an opportunity for women to awaken our natures, build a wild sisterhood and (re)source from the Earth. The adventure begins in February. Come join us. The Early Bird Discount ends on December 17th.

Bay laurel kahlua and other gifts from the California bay tree

The California bay laurel tree (Umbellularia californica)  is one of  the San Francisco Bay Area’s most  iconic trees.  This tree is closely related to avocado, cinnamon and the European bay  laurel, whose leaves we often throw into tomato sauces and soups.  You can substitute the  leaves of our local bay trees for European bay leaves.

The biggest California bay laurel I know. I call her Grandma Laura

The biggest California bay laurel I know. I call her Grandma Laura.

In early winter, California bay trees put forth flower buds that can be gathered and pickled into capers. I like to eat them with goat cheese on an acorn cracker. Read More »

The Mighty Acorn: Eat Your Way Back Into the Web of Life

Acorn

Acorns have been eaten and revered for their nourishment the world over—by Celts, by Koreans, by the native people throughout North America. Perhaps your ancestors were acorn eaters – you might be surprised   Long before the cultivation of wheat or the advent of agriculture, people from Mesopotamia to China, from ancient Rome to northern Africa, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, relied on oak trees and their acorn crops for food.  And what a nourishing, robust food it is! On his long treks through the Sierra Nevada mountains, John Muir swore by the hearty acorn bread he learned to make from the native people of California. What’s more, the preparation of acorn food is easy, and it reweaves you into the web of life.

TwdDSpcsvaMItI8QVuIJlvXw9ATPIm6Ck8Q3ee7o0Vo

The oak tree, a wild being, grows of its own will in its natural habitat, fed by seasonal rains and sunshine. In a robust year, a single valley oak can provide up to 1000 pounds of acorns. In California alone, we have 20 different species of oaks, each adapted to California’s great diversity of ecosystems. Acorns are high in protein, carbs and fat, and were the staple food for the native people of California, much as wheat is to us today. Read More »

The Most Radical Act – Love

Jolie Earth First PicAs this picture of  me might indicate, I spent a lot of my youth in active defense of Mother Earth.  In this particular action I locked my neck to the Washington State Federal Building to protest the Fed’s disastrous and wrongheaded logging policy that targeted the last remaining ancient forests in the state. It was a thrilling time in my life; I organized massive demonstrations and hauled myself fifty feet up in moss filled ancient trees to halt illegal logging.   I joined a dirt loving community of Earthlings who knew ourselves to be connected in a great web of the life. We knew viscerally that our fate is irrevocably intertwined with the Spotted Owl and clear flowing streams.  These days were super-fueled by righteous anger, but as I learned, anger only gets you so far and it is just not sustainable.

Twenty five years later,  I am still a radical activist for the Earth, but now I act from a place of love rather than anger.     One of the most radical acts we can take is to connect deeply with nature and see its beauty reflected within us.  The word radical means to go to the root of the problem and at the root of our environmental devastation is the misconception that we are separate from nature. When we know ourselves as part of the living fabric of the universe we can’t help but treat Mama Earth, her creatures and ourselves with love and respect.

This is the reason I started Go Wild Institute. I wanted people to reclaim their place in the family of all life and act accordingly. Environmentalism, for me, does not originate from my head; It comes from a place deep inside my soul  that is intimately connected with the rivers, mountains and mountain lions who are harmed by our disconnection. One problem with the Left is that we think if we give people enough knowledge about a problem, let’s say climate change or elephant extinction than people will naturally change their deep seated behavior. But here is where we are wrong.

Scientific arguments don’t generally motivate people to take action. People act when something or someone they love is being harmed; when a family member needs help; when our heartaches wake us up in the middle of the night longing to comfort terrified Syrian children fleeing their lives in a confusing violent world. We take action out of love: love for our relations in nature, love for our unborn generations, love of clear flowing rivers, love of humanity and our special role in the great web of life.

And if you are feeling overwhelmed in our current political craziness, the best remedy could be to go outside, sit quietly and let your heart fill at the first hints of spring, the new buds of the season and the knowledge that every winter passes in its own time.  And if you are looking for more ways to fall in love with the Earth join me for a special Point Reyes Valentine’s Walk- Violets are Blue on February 12th.

Flower Seduction

bleeding heart not by meLet me dispel the misconception that botanists are geeks – the reality is we are in it for the sex! I can’t walk down the street without being blown over by the sexual exploits of the plant world this time of year. Just like some humans, when plants get ready to reproduce they put on a pretty flower dress, drench themselves in scent and get out there into the party of spring. It’s an orgy out there right now! The difference between plants and people is that plants can do it in an unimaginable number of ways and their sex parts come in the most exquisite, outlandish and fantastical shapes and colors. When you know what you’re looking at, you cannot help but be turned on. Come join us for some classes and get turned on to nature.

Wild Love

I woke up on Valentine’s Day morning with a river of love and happiness streaming through me. It’s not a mere romance that has filled me up today. Rather, I had the unbridled pleasure of spending a perfect spring Saturday in the company of eleven remarkably authentic wild women. We came together on a Wild Woman adventure to awaken our true natures, to build a sisterhood, and to deeply entangle ourselves in the great web of life. Read More »

How to Inspire a Wild Mind

The National Geographic Society, one of world largest nonprofit scientific and educational institutions, has been taken over by right wing media tycoon and owner of Fox News, Rupert Murdock.ng

As a child I pawed through the magazine and imagined myself in mysterious far flung lands living with tribal women wearing grass skirts. I was mesmerized by the stunning diversity of natural beauty and the myriad of ways humans live within the intricate web of life. National Geographic turned me on to science and indigenous wisdom from around the globe. Those magazines woke up my sense of wonder, made me rethink my cultural framework and by doing so helped me change my relationship to the earth.

And now, National Geographic is owned by a right wing, greedy, lying cheat. The irony is that now, more than ever, we desperately need to foster a sense of wonder, understanding, and true belonging within the web of life because when we change how we relate to nature, we change how we treat the Earth and all of her wild relations.

This is exactly why I founded Go Wild Institute – to help us find balance in the great web of life. And, this is why I have launched our Wild Woman:Your Nature is Calling program that weaves modern science with the ancient awareness that the earth is alive, sentient and sacred. It is an opportunity for women to awaken our natures, build a wild sisterhood and (re)source from the Earth. The adventure begins in February. Come join us.
Come join your sisters!. Please contact us if you have any questions about this program. Early bird discount ends on December 15th.

It’s time to celebrate our oaks!

I have a gratitude practice in my life. Every morning I wake up and while I am still in bed I bring to mind all that I am grateful for including my teachers, loved ones, my lovely cabin, good air, beauty, wonderful food and the fact that all my organs work.  There is great power in Gratitude. My life is changed because of my practice.  Gratitude by one person is powerful, but when many of us come together in ceremony to express our gratitude, it is immensely potent.

First annual Mount Tam Oak Ceremony

In so many traditions, gratitude is about closing a loop. Nature gives to us great gifts and our unique role as humans is to express our gratitude. We are the only species that can do this in an ritualized way (that I know about).

All over our beautiful Earth, legends foretell that our precious relations in nature will cease to exist when humans stop honoring, celebrating and caring for them. Embedded in this world view is that we must follow Nature’s three R’s – Respect, Reciprocity, Relationship. Ceremonies that honor the earth demonstrate respect, create a relationship and reciprocate the gifts we receive. It is this relationship that ultimately instructs our sustainable management of our resources because these celebrations reorient our hearts and minds to a place of belonging within the web of life. When we act from this place, we can only act in a way that mutually benefits ourselves and our relations in nature. When we change our relationship to nature, we change how we impact our environment. Read More »