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Archive for January 23rd, 2011

Shooting stars at Mt. Shasta

“The day man experienced the consciousness that made him feel separate and superior to the other forms of life, at that moment he began sowing the seeds of his own destruction.” (U. G. Krishnamurti) 

I am on a journey, a quest to save native plants from destruction by our mechanized minds and world.

I want to try and save what is left of the natural world. I think it is important. I want there to be a beautiful, healthy, safe world for my children, my grandchildren and  for seven generations after me.  There are so many beautiful parts of God’s creation worth saving. It all needs to be saved.  The web of life fits together like a puzzle. When one part goes missing, the rest is weakened. I choose to try and save native plants.

We have been going down this path for some time. Most humans are oblivious to what is happening to our planet, or they choose to close their eyes and try to ignore it.  I choose to teach about native plants because they choose me and I would not want to live on this planet if all the plants were gone. In fact, none of us could.

All parts of the web of life are worth saving.  The polar bears, the whales, the brown pelican, the hummingbirds, the great trees and the great forests are all worth saving.  The water and the air and the earth are needed for the web of life to survive. They are all worth saving.  Each of us who understands the importance and immediacy of saving the planet will need to choose where to focus. I choose native plants.

I am almost old and I have been on this journey for some time. I have been blessed to have good teachers.  When I was a child living near the forest I only knew a few names of the plants.  I spent years exploring the forest before I found a good teacher to tell me about the plants. The plants were always there for me, healing me, and helping me through loss and in times of wonder.

I walked through the forest speaking to the birds, the tree,  and the other plants. I built a nest in a tall Red cedar tree and climbed the great oak. I carried a pad and pencil with me into the forest and sat for hours watching the forest, observing the plants and wildlife. I made note of how the petal of a flower connected to the stem and how the stem connected to the root. I drew pictures of what other plants might be growing nearby so I could remember how to find it again.  I was amazed at the ingenuity that plants develop in order to survive.  I observed that the natural world is a place of connections.  Nothing is alone. I saw how the native plant connected to all species including humans.

I had teachers when I was a child who told me stories about the plants: grandma and my wonderful father.  Very little was taught to me in grade school or high school about native plants. I remember being told not to eat anything in the forest because it was probably poisonous.  In fact as a women I was only allowed to take one science class in high school.  What I learned later from history books was that for thousands of years women were the keepers of plant knowledge.  As Black Elk said: the world has turned upside down.

I combed over books. I looked for pictures and I looked for thehistory of the plants.  I never took a botany class in college although I had many mind-numbing science classes.  I did not want to memorize factoids, I wanted to understand and know the plants. I did not want my childhood wonder to be destroyed by long intense lectures and pressure to “get the grade”.  And yet I have learned that it is helpful to learn about plant kinship.

So I asked myself: how could I teach others about native plants?  What would I want them to know?  How could I get other humans to understand that native plants are not on this planet just for our pleasure?  Would I teach you one plant at a time?  Or would I teach you all about “keying” plants using the “binomial nomenclaturemethod of plant identification.  I surmised that people learn differently.  So I will be teaching all three methods, keying, “binomial nomenclature” and grandma’s way.

Grandma

Who was grandma?  She was an older woman who lived across the fields and forest from me when I was a child.  She loved the natural world. She was patient and kind and a very good teacher. I discovered her one day in a field of Queen Anne’s lace collecting the tiny purple flower found in center the plant. She was going to make dye for fiber baskets. We struck up a friendship. She told me many stories about the plants and I am forever grateful that she taught me about native plants.

If I was to try to teach you about native plants using grandma’s method I would take you on a walk in the forest.  I would ask you to bring a notebook and a pencil. I would find a place that attracted me. We would sit amongst the plants and we would be quiet and observant. I would ask you to write what you are observing. I would ask you to make notes about the weather, the time of year, the condition of earth: is it wet or dry? Does it have a smell?  I would wait until a particular plant came to me attention. And then I would ask you to observe it as I told you a story about this plant. It might be a story about its structure or connection with the forest. Or it might be a story about how to use the plant for food, medicine or how it might feed and attract wildlife.  If it is edible, I would ask you to taste it. I would ask you to find its flower and draw a picture of it.  I would ask you to write about how it connects to the rest of the forest.  I would try to tell you a story about how the First People’s used this plant. I would hope that this story would help you remember it. This is my way of learning and teaching.

Shooting Star (Dodecatheon jeffreyi)

 Over the years I have carried my water colors into the wild places and tried to capture the beauty of plants in their own spaces.  I rarely pick wild flowers. I have attached a painting I did of Shooting stars in a meadow just below Mt. Shasta in Northern California.  The variety is called Tall Mountain Shooting Star (Dodecatheon jeffreyi).  This plant is so beautiful.  Pojar and McKinnon in their book “Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast” describe the special relationship between Shooting stars and bumblebees. The Shooting star they say provides a good example of “buzz pollination”. Pollen is shed into the stamen tubes of the flower. The sound waves set up by the buzzing of the bumblebee dislodges the pollen and makes it available to the bee. A member of the primrose family (Primulaceae) the plant is most often found in moist meadows. The First peoples of the Willamette Valley, Okanagan, and Yurok tribes mashed the flowers and used the stain to dye fibers and wood.

There – I just taught you a little about this plant. Where to find it, what it was used for and how it interacts with wildlife. That is the way I like to teach. But there are others and I cannot always be with you.

So until next week – See you in the deep woods…

Next time:  Kinship and the “Keying” of  plants – teaching you to be self sufficient in your learning.

References:

Pojar & McKinnon, (1994) Plants of the Pacific Northwest Coast, Washington, Oregon, British Columbia & Alaska, Lone Pine Publishing, Vancouver, British Columbia

Turner, Nancy J. (1979) Plants in British Columbia Indian Technology, British Columbia Provincial Museum, Victoria, British Columbia, Canada

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