As an ethnobotanist I expected that my inaugural blog would wax poetic on the ethnobotanical and medicinal qualities of a mythically fascinating plant however, I find myself musing on the deep ecology of the Milky Way.
Twelve weeks ago, within hours of bringing home a stray cat, she birthed four, wet mouse-like kittens. I named my cat queen Phoebe after the Titan goddess of prophecy, the daughter of Gaia (Mother Earth) and Uranus (Father Sky). Phoebe instinctively knows exactly how to mother and the babes blindly crawl up to a tit and suck sweet mammal milk. As I listen to those ridiculously adorable suckling noises, I can’t help but dwell on the deep ecology of this milk of the goddess.
Phoebe’s hip raw diet is heavy on beef hearts and bone meal. Those cow hearts once beat happily, eating invasive grasses of Marin County. And those grasses got their food from where? They drew up precious rainwater through their roots and mixed it with our exhales and exhausts of carbon dioxide and in their solar panel leaves they made sugar from sunshine. That’s right – sugar from sunshine! Carbohydrates are like tiny batteries storing the sun’s energy in their molecular bonds. When you eat a sweet treat, like macaroons (my favorite), those glucose molecules are broken apart and energy is released. That sugar rush is really a sunshine buzz. Sweetness is certainly the currency of the universe that runs our world: sugar, not gold
And if this plant alchemy is not astounding enough, this process of photosynthesis is what supplies the oxygen that inspires us all. With every breath we take, even in our sleep, even in a coma, a cubicle, or a jail cell we inter-breathe with our plant relations around us. We inspire what they respire. They inspire what we respire. We are so intimately connected in this shared inspiration that we are blind to it. Yet take away the breath for just four minutes and we die and give up the ghost – our spirit leaves our body. In countless Earth-based cultures, breath is inseparably linked with spirit. The Hopi word for God translates as “Giver of Breath of Life”. The Creek word for Creator means “Master of Breath”. The Seminole word for Creator translates as “Breathmaker or Lifemaker”. [i] And in my ancient Earth-based Jewish tradition the Hebrew word for breath, wind and Spirit is Ruach. Ruach is a key player in the most famous creation myth of our day:
In the beginning the Creator created the Heavens and the Earth
and the Earth was waste and void;
and darkness was upon the face of the deep:
and the ruach moved upon the face of the waters. And the Holy One said, “Let there be light,” and there was light
Genesis 1:1- 1:2
When I watch the kittens crawl over one another, yawn and latch on to a nipple, I imagine a golden thread of sugary sunshine weaving those pink little mouths into Father Sky, the cosmos and ultimately the sun who inspires all of us.
Descending back down from the Father Sky to Phoebe’s mother, Gaia, I contemplate the bone meal in Phoebe’s food, which she is eating in colossal quantities now. Where does the calcium come from that make those cow bones strong? Some of it comes from ancient coral and clams, the primeval ocean dwellers that lived at the times of the dinosaurs. In Marin County this prehistoric ocean floor was uplifted about 10 million years ago and became the parent rock of our rich soils. This oceanic rock has been weathered by rain, wind and fire at a timescale that truly boggles my mind. A really, really long time ago an ancient seed floated onto hard barren ground and sprouted, flowered, fruited and withered back into the earth becoming compost for the next generation of life. And over millions of generations with the astounding teamwork of bacteria, fungi, termites, earthworms, pill bugs, bumble bees, moths and slime molds we have fertile soils rich with the recycled bodies of grizzly bears and banana slugs. Nature is a shape shifter: ocean to rock to soil to grass to cow to kitten milk. My kitten’s bones are rock and barnacle, silt and starfish. We are all walking rocks, Earthlings made of the earth, destined to return to Gaia to be remolded into the beauty of instars and eagles.
My four delightful carnivore kittens have never stepped one paw outside of my house yet they are firmly suspended between Father Sky and Mother Earth, woven in a web, spun in sweetness. Really, we are all delicately entwined with pollen grains and oak galls, barracudas and brine shrimp. We are just like blind kittens clambering for sweet warm milk made from the eternal love of Mother Earth and Father Sky. This sweetness is as close to us as our breath, yet we have forgotten that with each breath we take, we create the universe and the universe inspires us. We have forgotten how our honeyed golden threads weave us from cosmos to clam. We have forgotten that when these golden threads unravel all our relations suffer. We have forgotten our ancestral memories, myths and dreams that instruct us how to live in balance with all our relations. We have forgotten, but we can always remember – it’s in our bones.
[i] Mehl-Madrona, Lewis. 2007. Narrative Medicine: The Use of History and Story in the Healing Process. Bear and Company, Rochester, New York.