Under the Spell of Nervines

It’s soupy outside. Like honey and molasses. Like hot mud. The sun keeps crushing me. It turned me into a puddle like the wicked witch of the west. I melted and the sun sucked me off the ground. Through the air I flew straight pass the moon and pass those inner planets. Now I’m burning in that fiery goodness. That fiery goddess got me in a spell of wordy worships.


We went for a hike today in Wissahickon. I took off my shoes. Touched the ground. Sole to soul. It was relieving to feel the earth underfoot. The compacted soil absorbed my steps, and the networks of fungi heard me coming from several if not hundreds of feet away. Ghost pipe popped out into my vision field. I immediately sat with it, and it asked to be harvested. I’ve found it growing a number of times, but haven’t up until this point lifted it from the ground. It felt right. It felt full of mystery and intrigue. That’s usually how I know it’s time. When I’m on the edge of falling in. Right on the precipice. When I can sink my mind in easily and absorb what the plant has to offer. There’s some kind synergy at play. Cross specie telepathy. I left a good bit of the ghost pipe alone. Ethical harvesting always in the back of my conscience.

The ghost pipe looks just like that. Like an opaque pipe. They grow in what I’d like to call a village. Clumped up together like a band of little huts. It’s a plant, but it doesn’t produce chlorophyl, so it never gets green. Since it doesn’t produce its own food, it feeds off of the mycelial growth of mushrooms, and the mushrooms feed off the roots of trees. So in a sense, the ghost pipe is an epi-parasite. A parasite of a parasite. Which is really interesting when considering its medicinal action: It helps relieve pain, but it doesn’t get rid of the pain. It allows you to “feel” the pain but ignore it. Like getting outside your body to witness what is happening but not partaking in it. Like an out of body experience. Like becoming a ghost. And it has this similar action on emotional pain: It allows the person to see & engage the pain instead of turning away from it because it so deeply hurts.


Disclaimer: I’ve not experienced this for myself with regards to ghost pipe, I’ve only been reading about it. But it makes a lot of sense to me, like I’ve known it for years, because I’ve worked with psychedelics and meditation. That sense of “being beside one’s self” is all too familiar. Ekstasis. It’s where the word ecstasy derives from.

But what I find really curious is that these similar plants are coming into my life right around the same time. Plants that work on deep hurt. Deep wounds. The wounds that are forgotten about because they seem so long gone, but out of nowhere, or so it seems, they give rise and ravage the sleeper from passive dreams into conscious action to heal.

St. John’s Wort is one of those other plants I found recently. Hypericum perforatum. I found it growing wild for the first time ever. It was alongside the railroad tracks in my hometown. It jumped out at me like, “Hey! Would you like a helping hand? How about some of that fiery golden sun absorbed & redistributed into my bright yellow flowers! And when you crush my petals, I’ll bleed a maroon blood on your hands…” It works in that way, on the nerves and on the metaphorical blood. The life force. It helps lift one out of mild depressions, re-directing one’s inner fire, re-aligning the will. I harvested it under the full moon, the gusting wind and rainstorm that blew in beforehand still wet on its leaves. I let it dry out into the next day, then bottled it up with apple cider vinegar and honey. I’m planning on waiting until after the autumn equinox to crack it open in hopes that it crushes me like the sun when the darkness of days is full tilt in the winter valley.


I also bottled up the ghost pipe, but instead of acv, I used one hundred proof vodka. I don’t plan on using it. But I’m sure I will. I guess I’m already working with it. I don’t know why I took it home with me in the first place. It just called on me to save its spirit. Perhaps I need it more than I realize, like I’m entering a deep searching and realization of my own traumatic experience growing up in America. It’s heavy when so many people fly the flag ignoring the war machine that devastates both the home front and the world stage. When I walk downtown, I see all these people wearing flag shirts and other propaganda paraphernalia. When I walk around the suburbs, everyone has a flag marking their home like it needs to be stated: “I am a nationalist and this is America!” That seems to be the lynchpin for patriotism. It’s the forefront of discussion, how complicit are you? The more complicit, the more American. Apparently.

But, come on. We have a problem with healthcare.

Really though. It’s absurd. It’s got that clownish quality to it. We have a major healthcare problem. You don’t know if it’s laughable or so sad you just want to burst like a cloud. So you do both. All of it too real. It’s surreal. All the feels right in the gut. Right in the heart. You want to love everything to death, and death everything to life. Start it all over. Revolutionize the whole damn thing.

And none of us are untouched. That’s for sure. And because of that, it’s nice to have plant allies along for the journey, especially when it gets so treacherous or too much to face.

In my younger years I often walked a path of escapism while calling it freedom, and I see that pattern arising here and there in my adulthood. Don’t get me wrong, I think we all need some rest and relaxation, restoration and rejuvenation. We need to take care of ourselves. Time to slowly experience the intricacies unraveling. To sip sweetly the cup of life. That’s why I take to the woods. Take off my shoes and commune with the plants. So when I come back to the city, I’m a bit more ready to deal with the oppression of brick and wires, the concrete hard like the weight of jack hammers in the early morning, pounding sound in the ears, cramped up density of people stressed out & worked to the bone, which goes hand-in-hand with the constant, drastic change of the climate, politically speaking, environmentally speaking, socially, culturally, and spiritually. The streets are in heat. The war isn’t that far away. It’s a click away for some. It’s a step out the door for others. And if we have a pulse connected to the source, we feel the pain that too many endure.

Like, it’s hard to believe, but not surprising at this point, so many black people are still getting brutalized & murdered by police, and at the same time, so many people are still going about their days like the American dream is supreme.

It’s a broken record.

A broken record that needs repeating until the masses are moved. And there are too many broken records in this country.

But all that being brought up, the change is like this heat. Soupy. Running like molasses. Slow like honey. Insufferable. Thick and swampy like you just want to sit home naked in front of the fan with a cool glass of cucumber and ice. But you can only do that for so long. Because there is work to do. Because the plants are calling. Because people are taking to the streets and calling for simple things like sanity. Caring. Love. For politicians to get their hands out of their greedy pockets, to take a minute to stand outside themselves, to see what’s going on in the world, to give a fuck about the planet and people. But until that happens, we’re making waves in little ways, organizing ourselves, rooting deeply together, growing like little villages of plants and mushrooms. Feeding one another. Inspiring. Nourishing souls.

Advertisements

It’s All Happening

When I was in Valparaiso, Chile a few years back, I had the chance to witness & participate in some of the protesting happening there. It was wonderfully rampant. It took over the streets like morning glories take over an empty lot. When I saw the huge numbers of people marching on a weekly basis, from professors to students to shopkeepers to your average citizen young & old, or walking around seeing chairs thrown in the doorways of schools to protest for free public education, or people creating beautiful graffiti murals midday or simply tagging the wall “policia sucia,” or the organized pillow fights in the middle of an empty square, I felt as though I was amidst a widespread culture of protest.

Yes, I was an outsider looking in, but the spirit swept me up. It was all so joyous & empowering.

On any given night I could hear people jamming, singing, clapping long into the sunrise, and when morning woke, the workers who drove through the winding, hilly streets to pick up empty propane tanks would bang a little rhythm that echoed pang pang pangity pang. It put a smile on my face. The liveliness was ripe. I couldn’t help but join in the marches &, of course, dig my hands into the dirt. 

I find I am forever digging in the earth.

I started a couple plants from seed, and before we left, planted them on the side of a hill where people had occupied the abandoned land. (After we left, I had the chance to build a garden for a woman in Argentina. She owned a restaurant & fed us so much tasty food in exchange. Gardening has been a constant in my adult life, & for one reason or another, only now am I really starting to share that).

That was all 5 about years ago.

As I sit here now, reflecting, sitting in the community garden, taking in the growth of plants, thinking about the past few years living in & around Philadelphia, I can’t help but feel a similar coalescing of culture. Protesting has become so widespread, from the streets to the prisons to the sports arena to the sacred land of Native people, it’s difficult not to feel like we are living amidst a massive uprising.

People are congregating in so many ways.

I remember being at Occupy Oakland a few years back & someone gave me a pamphlet that read at the top in bold letters, THE JOY OF REVOLUTION. The theme of the pamphlet stuck with me. It was so simple. It read like this, “There are a number of righteous causes to take up, and we should give our time to that which our hearts are called, & never forget, the sheer happiness that exists alongside these troubling times. Rebellion in the face of oppression comes in many forms. When the spirit can rise up & laugh & dance & sing, remember that, remember you are alive.”

Alignment & the Synergy of Rebellious Spirits

We drove through Blue Ridge at sunset. It was perfect timing. We couldn’t have planned it better if we tried. The densely jungled mountains swallowed the evening sun, and we continued on our way to Asheville.

IMG_2785

We made the trip, a short one of about five days, to give a hand to a newly found friend we met in the Green Mountains of Vermont. He was leading mushroom walks and just spilling information & knowledge when we met him. We arranged a casual work exchange: We’d help out on his property in exchange for sleeping arrangements and general permaculture & mushroom identifying know-how.

It was quick, but it worked out in mysteriously synergistic ways.

At one point, I was pruning the yard and, inadvertently, snipped down the only elderberry on the 1.5 acre property. When I realized what I had done, a feeling of embarrassment swept over me. How could I be so careless? How could I be so ignorant? Why wasn’t I more mindful? I felt like an asshole. I apologized profusely, and upon instruction, filled a few buckets with water. We placed the elderberry cuttings in the buckets in hopes they’ll shoot out roots. With any luck & encouragement, there will be 8 or nine elderberry trees from the original one.

We got back to work, and the embarrassment eventually passed.

That night, we had a decadent potluck & shared bottles of mead. We sipped lightly appreciating the fermented goodness. As we sat in a circle, a few folks called in one of their herbalist teachers, Frank Cook, who passed a few years back. It was a powerful moment. His spirit was palpable. It pervaded the room. I’ve never felt such a strong connection of lineage as I did with these herbalists, ethnobotanists, mycologists, and permaculturists in Asheville.

We hadn’t planned it as such, and I don’t know that you can plan such things, but so many alignments were occurring: From our journey, to the filling out of the moon, to the work we accomplished earlier in the day, the gathering of people from all around, the potluck that night, the anniversary of their teacher’s death, as well as I’m sure a little magickal residual sparkle from the Perseid meteor showers the week before. & With all this in heart, mind, & spirit, I rolled up a little tobacco to share a few prayerful moments with the elderberry.

I walked outside & the moon hovered brightly in the sky, nearly full, maybe the slightest sliver missing from her edge. Despite it being almost Autumn, it felt like an appropriate time to mistakenly whack down the elderberry. Mateo, who we stayed with, laughed it off pretty quickly after the reality of it set in, saying he’s been wanting to urbanize the elderberry, and this was perhaps an instance of divine comedy or cosmic absurdity that could indeed turn into that opportunity to propagate the tree & spread it.

While I was squatting down saying a prayer blowing tobacco smoke to the heavens, a possum scurried by my feet. It gave me such a fright, I jumped up with a shout. The possum, I think, got such a fright too and redirected its path.

I laughed and shook my head thinking about the possum who plays dead but isn’t really. To think, I snipped the elderberry, but it wasn’t dead either. The symbolic nature of the situation further expounded when I relayed my experience to Mateo. He shared a theory of how the persimmon tree made its way to Central America via the possum.

It all made so much sense.

Here I was, under the moon talking to the elderberry, to the spirit of Frank Cook, to the land, and this little ancient mammal who propagates trees crosses my path.

You know those moments when synchronicity after synchronicity pop up? It’s kind of like deja vu but feels more like the complex, interconnectedness of a Celtic knot. The whole trip was so tightly woven & synergistic. It’s why I like to wake up in the morning & meditate. To let the upsurgence of life settle. To let it make sense. So often I just have to sit back in awe, because the language needed to unravel the journey crumbles at my feet.

This heightened experience is a gift. It takes work, but it’s a gift nonetheless. And it’s really wonderful to share it with other people too.

One night, at a farm house called the Galactic Sanctuary, we enjoyed homegrown squash soup and homemade pumpkin pies. We drank wine and people jammed their instruments. People danced and moved and felt alive. A bonfire blazed outside. We climbed onto the roof and watched the moon rise.

I met a young woman who traveled to Indiana, the Dakotas, and Pennsylvania to work with native tribes in ceremony. She felt a calling from a young age to learn tribal dancing and sit in sweat lodge, but it wasn’t until recently that she learned she has native blood.

I told her about my experience road-tripping through Indiana, how I kept seeing feathers in my mind’s eye, and native spirits flying around expressing anger and pain, and the earth bubbling over with blood. She was wowed at the visions, because, she told me, that goes beyond intuition, that’s psychic perception, it sounds so much like the Lakota Sun Dance.

It was all so intimate and eye-opening.

Each morning we awoke and made oats & cut up fruit for breakfast, drank coffee or tea, and listened to Amy Goodman & Democracy Now! It influenced the start of the day. We engaged a lot of political talking, ranting, and raving, a lot about the corruption of Hillary Clinton and her inclination for fracking. We went further than that, but so much of her shadow side is being hyper-focused on, I’ll leave it at that. I am hopeful, though, the Bernie crowd stays active & keeps pressure on Clinton and the status quo. We’re at a crux with this election, soon to see a turnover of presidents. There’s a need to push an organized movement forward to resist the further for-profit destruction of earth. It’s important we don’t fall into apathy. It’s happening. As I write this, the folks in the Dakota regions are raising the spirit against the construction of a new pipeline.

There are those reoccurring questions of how to get more people involved, how to wake people up, how to present & enact radical change without pushing anyone away.

The programming runs deep in so many multi-varied ways. We have to keep our heads high and our eyes wide. How long can we sustain what’s going on?

Baton Rouge is flooding & there are continuous forest fires in California. Not to mention, women are still being sexually harassed and raped.

It all has me wondering: How much violence & death can people mindfully absorb & process? Do we turn a blind eye because we’re already inundated with so much of it?

The ongoing war in Syria is so seemingly hidden. The situation is devastating. Seeing video footage of blown out streets & rubble leaves me wondering how so many people can be silent about it. At this point, since so many Syrians have fled their country, they ought to fully evacuate the worst of the cities, and blow the rest of what is already destroyed to smithereens and re-wild the area. At the very least, create space for the fertile re-emergence of earth living.

We’re dealing with a war in our own streets too. There are food deserts everywhere. There are prisons stuffed to the brims. There are black bodies shot up and thrown around by those who are paid by tax dollars to protect & serve. But who is being protected and who is being served? It’s clear there is a subconscious agenda lingering from the days of slavery, and some might say, it’s not even subconscious anymore. It’s out in the open for all to see.

Yet ever so slowly, we are breaking the chains.

I met a woman a few weeks back who is reaching out to the police to start a meditation class. Among other forms of activism, it’s a necessary frontline to forge if we’re going to see harmony in our streets.

Amidst all of this, we ought to find time for ourselves too.

One day on our trip we dedicated to hiking. To forest bathing. To remembering there is beauty in the world. We hiked to a 60 foot waterfall. We trekked down steep inclines and climbed up vertical walls. Along the way, we collected chanterelles and an enormous specimen of hemlock reishi. I carried the red mushroom with me, stopping every now and again to look at it and appreciate it. I was transfixed. The fan-like nature of the reishi kept conjuring images of the frilled-neck lizard as well as dancing shamans donning headdresses painted on cave walls.

My inner eye blossomed.

Initially, the reishi called to me through the trees from beyond a creek. I balanced across a fallen log to check it out. When I arrived, I couldn’t believe my eyes. There were two of them a bit over a foot wide each. I harvested the one mushroom, and cherished it, but decided to leave it in Asheville.

If swimming and meditating at the foot of a gushing, crushing, crashing waterfall is powerful, the reishi stands right there with that potency.

It was all so nurturing.

We put in a hard day’s work too. We plastered the exterior slip straw walls of our friend’s backyard cabin. We built and took down, built and took down temporary scaffolding. We told silly jokes. We plastered and plastered and plastered. A few of us who are skilled with music took breaks to play & sing as we continued to work. It was a wonderful convergence of livelihood & help.

There were friends from New Orleans, from Philly, from New Hampshire. It really amazed me that we all happened to coincide in Asheville at the same time. How many places is this happening? How many people are experiencing this similar interconnectivity? How often are we coming together to work in community?

It’s so true, the revolution will not be televised. If you’re not experiencing it for yourself, you might not even know there is one.

We mixed so many batches of lime & sand for the plaster, it felt like alchemy & earth magic. I wielded the hoe and the shovel, the wheelbarrow and buckets as if they were wands and shields.

IMG_2750

The night prior, we bottled two batches of mead. One had been aging for a year, the other had been aging for two. We sipped on them as we bottled them. I caught a little buzz before going to bed.

I had so many vivid dreams.

When we returned home, on the night of the full moon, I started a reishi tincture.

How Uncouth: Reverence for the Dirt, the Goddess, a Wild Garden Salad

The rain came in waves. Like oceans of orgasm. Five or six of them. Wet and sweaty and drenched. I lost count.

I stood under a tiny structure. Usually a place of refuge from the sun, but in this case, a safe haven to keep dry from the rain. Or so I thought. Intermittently, the sun popped out amidst thick grey clouds, but those rays only served as a false flag the storm had passed. Every time I saw a bit of blue sky, I walked into the garden & continued weeding. I stayed out for the lighter rains, but for the torrential falls, I took cover. Either way, I wound up soaked.

Throughout the course of the storm, the winds were both chilled and hot, which caused shivers to raise up and roll across my skin. A thunder clap reached so far into me, it cracked my skeleton, and my nerves jumped out of my body. It caught me by such surprise, I laughed at my timidness in comparison to the omnipotence of nature. There were moments I questioned why the hell I would be outside amidst such a storm, but that quickly passed because it all made me feel quite alive & connected.

And then, when the storm finally did pass, I dug right into the dirt. The soil was so soft, the weeds came up with such ease.

Calling them weeds, though, does such a disservice to what is actually growing amidst the vegetables and covering the rest of the lot.

Mugwort reigns in these parts. That creeper of a plant with her silver undersides & risqué name. Artemisia vulgaris. That enchantress of dreams. I pull up mugwort for days. I pull up so many plants for days, there are moments I wonder why the hell I would pull up plant after plant after plant knowing they just keep coming back, but that quickly fades when I see pretty red clover and pluck the flowers to add to the collection in my pocket. I like taking them apart, separating the tiny flowers from the flower head and adding them to salads. The tiny tubular flowers nearly disappear amidst the larger green leaves, but regardless, they are packed with nutrients.

Off to one side of the garden, along a fence, grows a patch of melons. Before we planted the melons, morning glories grew there. They still do, and it’s apparent they don’t care for uninvited guests. So I’m pulling up what feels like hundreds & thousands of morning glory seedlings. Despite this, I like them. As the name indicates, you have to catch their flowers early. They grow mostly along the edges where they are free to roam and climb, like a witchy coven of vines and flowers just radically doing what they do.

There’s so much natural spontaneity.

I met one neighbor at the garden who is half Puerto Rican & half Hawaiian. I saw him before the start of the rainstorm. He said he likes to get wet. I laughed, I do too. We chatted briefly, but then it really started dumping buckets. He went home, and I took cover under the tiny structure.

After the rainstorm, he came back around, so we chatted some more. He rattled off so many stories about his kids, his wife, his life in the military, his upbringing, his grandparents, where he’s been, the police, the neighborhood, everything. He’s lived a full life.

He offered a blunt to share, but I don’t smoke all that much, so I said no. He said no I’m offering it as a gesture of peace like a peace pipe. He smiled. I smiled. I couldn’t say no to a peace pipe.

We walked over to a mulberry tree where he likes to sit, smoke, and reflect. I took one puff and passed it back to him, but he said it’s mild weed it’s not that heady shit that makes you sit there STONED it’s homegrown by a friend there’s no paranoia it just makes your eyes click makes you aware. So I took a few more puffs and we passed it back and forth a few times and I got a nice mellow stone.

I invited him into the garden, because wild edibles kept catching my eye so I darted back and forth showing him the flowers of this and the leaves of that & it sparked that urge to keep playing in the dirt.

To both our delight, he speaks three languages: Puerto Rican, Spanish, and English, so we traded words. I gave him some plant identification & names, and he gave me some Puerto Rican. I was feeling stony baloney and goofy and my memory bounds along like an elephant; but it was worthwhile to readjust my tongue and vocal chords and practice what he was throwing my way. He kept calling me a green man and was trying to figure out how to explain it all to his wife. Like, this white nigga in the garden, you won’t believe what he’s growing, you will love this shit. I tried to give him some herbs to take home to his wife, but he said he wanted to bring her so she could see and learn.

It really struck me how amazed he was at the plants. Like we were on a foreign planet. He imparted to me as well, a renewed sense of amazement. Like wow, look at that corn. The way it sprouts tassels. The way they blow in the wind and shake off pollen and fertilize the silk that grows from a lower portion of the stalk. Maiz. It’s bisexual & voila, the male tassel and female silk birth ears of corn.

It’s so complicated, yet so simple.

I tend to relate gardening to zen, especially when it comes to weeding. Weeding a garden is both active and challenging. There is a focus required to make sure you pull gently enough so you don’t snap the stem and firmly enough so the roots come up. There’s also a letting go involved because I know I’m not going to get all of them. It teaches me to be content with the silence of equilibrium.

Like certain thoughts that come up in the mind, weeds can make you mad as hell. There are so many of them. And they just keep coming. So it’s good practice to weed, simultaneously, the madness from your mind.

I often leave a number of weeds, because often, they aren’t weeds. Purslane and lambs quarter are good examples of this. They pop up on their own accord, and they taste great in salads.

It’s wild.

There are so many plants who just grow because that’s what they do. They don’t need your attention or care, yet they can add flavor and nutrients to your life. They also impart that wonderful spirit of growing wherever the fuck.

Like the dandelion who will sprout from the cracks of the sidewalk AND detox your liver.

Here, there’s something to be said about soil quality or lack there of, & potency & poison. We don’t want to just willynilly eat any old thing that looks green. Educate yourself. Talk with people who are willing to share knowledge.

Also, if you’ve taken prescription drugs your whole life, just trying to shift to a more natural diet might be a bit of a struggle, especially if those prescriptions are psych meds. If we look at the body like a culture, how hard is it for people of an ineffective, racist culture, how hard is it to let a dead horse die and subsequently grow into the future? It’s difficult. The body is similar; it’s not going to change over night. I imagine there are people who specialize in those kinds of transitions, because, needless to say, the body is an intricate webwork of biochemistry & a wily, ineffable spirit that is impossible to box up.

There’s also something to be said about fear, lack of trust, and lack of confidence. How many people would rather buy a neat little package they find in a store vs harvesting something growing wildly in their own backyard? I understand there is hesitance that has been built in; too many of us grew up being taught that soil is dirt and dirt is dirty and dirty is nasty, disgusting, and just plain bad. Well, in one way, shape, or form, it’s true: the sacred mother is bad as hell. She is more powerful than we give her credit for.

It doesn’t surprise me people are scared.