Forage: A Commentary on Reciprocal Appropriation

Black Hawthorn Crataegus douglasii Discovery Park

I’m reading Pacific Northwest Foraging: 120 wild and flavorful edibles from Alaska blueberries to wild hazelnuts, by Douglas Deur, a compendium focused mainly on native wild plant species and their propagation/preservation.

Deur’s approach influences readers and foragers to focus on what “Kiowa author N. Scott Momaday has called […] ‘reciprocal appropriation,’”(19) a method of respecting, cultivating, and honoring the plants that nourish us in such a way as to give back both physically and even, he goes so far as to say, spiritually.

Momaday explains reciprocal appropriation as follows:

“I tried to express the notion first that the Native American ethic with respect to the physical world is a matter of reciprocal appropriation; appropriations in which man invests himself in the landscape, and at the same time incorporates the landscape into his own most fundamental experience,” (https://www3.dbu.edu/mitchell/momadayh.htm).

I did not know that my own formulation of an identity relied so heavily on my relationship with the landscape. I was raised in some rendition of cultural appropriation of the “Native” framework (in quotes because I don’t even know what kind of Native traditions I grew up with or how much of that was white washed) that has me tied to old world ways of relating to the land that are essential to the formulation of my identity. In short, without a dialogue with the land in which I offer it respect and sustenance as it sustains me, life feels empty and pointless. I’m just made that way. I think many of us are and have within us this primal instinct, I just happen to cultivate intuition and instinct more than I do knowledge and certainty.

I do not identify with cities, city dwelling, or city life in almost any regard. The city was as alien to me as I was to it. The more I learn about the land and spend time with it, the more I look back over the last six months and see how completely out of my mind I was. It’s a bit overwhelming and it is also nothing new.

My mind is a messy, complex, vast network of possibilities and potentials upon which I sometimes fear to act, especially in new environments when I am unfamiliar with the territory, the people, the ways of things. I fear my own potential to be destructive both towards myself and others. And yet inaction is still action and one that can be as destructive as any. My inaction began to take the form of cowardice, depression, a shrinking away from life, purpose, and intention.

I felt stuck. I don’t even know what I felt. Trapped in a body. It’s a feeling like the spirit is too big for the body. Dissociation is what it amounts to. I dissociate. The world becomes my bed and a stream of movies that imply all kinds of things about how the world works without actually saying anything about what’s real. Real becomes relative.

The idea of getting a job in which I work my way to the top of some kind of ladder, or in which I work for the mere sake of making a living because that’s what people are supposed to do because hive mind mentality makes me physically and mentally ill. I lost all motivation to do anything. I have not written here for more than a month. I hardly left my room even as the bank account and food in the fridge dwindled to nearly nothing.

Don’t get me wrong. I tried. I started a landscaping job which only lasted a day because intuitively I sensed a need to connect to the land…but landscaping is not connecting to the land in this reciprocal appropriation fashion, in such a way that the knowledge of, reliance on, and stewardship over the land become imbued in the formulation of this identity.

The influence of civilization upon the formulation of a new identity is one I feel like a septic stab wound. There’s a part of me that thinks I’ve outgrown this dramatic thinking as my ego simultaneously indulges in it. It’s the same kind of end of the world thinking we indulge at the fringes of consciousness during this pandemic…a possibility so outside the realm of normal it’s maybe impossible.

The veil between sane and insane, dead and alive, normal and chaos is as flimsy as a belief.

Possible has nothing to do with what we want, and yet we make up stories to constrain it within such parameters to the best of our ability because sanity is in security.

A striking characteristic of this mental landscape in which I make my nest, what has been deemed cyclothymia or a mood disorder on some kind of spectrum, is my insistence on following intuitive guidance. I’m obsessed with undoing the frameworks of thought influenced by my culture. I’m aiming always to tear them down, to experience the innocent mind in the purity of unindoctrinated experience.

It’s one reason I loved getting insanely black out drunk. I thought that’s what it meant to let go.

Do you remember the last time you thought an original thought? Do you remember the last time you thought without words or panic? Do you remember the feeling of experience without judgement? Do you let your mind go to places it doesn’t understand or do you shut the door to experience to protect your judgements of the way things should be?

The land provides this if you can be brave enough to step into your body and leave your mind behind.

Even in foraging, if my intuition tells me not to mess with a plant, even if it’s edible, I don’t. Our intuition knows.

Science and rationality are important and have contributed wonderful advancements to our medicine, our way of life, our modern conveniences. But science and rationality are worshipped as the gods of certainty, testaments to our great, fat societal ego.

I believe wholeheartedly that nothing is certain and that to cling to certainty and security are damaging, addictive inclinations which are responsible for our continued maltreatment of ourselves as natural beings and of the earth.

I reject most of our societal belief systems and so I must make my own way intuitively. This used to be something that caused within me a deep resentment towards people, but I am learning again to be happy in my own skin in my own weird inclinations and my total lack of motivation towards earning money and to live and let live. Many people do this. I’m certainly not unique in this regard. But to find one’s way through the world when money doesn’t motivate can be…well scary.

Without money we have little security I thought.

But the call to meet the self is intuitive. To rely upon science and rationality to such an extent that the self is negated, the intuition castrated, is to submit the self to the collective. It’s a surrender to the hive mind, a joining with the Borg, a refusal to be in and feel the present experience and to express one’s self appropriately in tandem with the experience. I’m radically against the hive mind because I think the hive mind makes people sick.

The hive mind is what people talk about when they say people are stupid. The panic and fear that erupted from the Covid-19 pandemic are hive mind mentalities. So, too, is the overwhelming display of camaraderie and kindness of people joining together in a time of hardship.

It’s a place where we agree.

It’s a place where individual experience is diluted into the all and becomes another voice in the echo chamber of what appears to me to be a sick civilization. I needed to clear my head of the voices—the self-induced schizophrenia of news and social media and feedback and opinions and inspiration.

The experience of the self and the void within is met sometimes by the refusal of the call in the form of what Campbell reveals is sometimes an outright rejection of the ways of life through forced introversion, a means by which we meet the existential problems of the hero on a magnified scale beyond the constraints of the mind where they are resolved. It is a temporary journey of insanity. The journey back to sanity requires the booms from this void and period of introversion be reincorporated into life successfully. Otherwise we remain mad.

I like people, but even the people I like best exhaust me a after a while. I am an extreme introvert and feel the influence of television, people’s opinions, books, music, noise, energy like intoxicants. The flow of life gets me drunk and sometimes I turn into a lifeaholic, looking for the next thing and the next. The influx of other people’s lives upon this existence starts to become like any other intoxicant, a bandaid over a hole and then a wadded up ball of soiled linens shoved into a gaping wound where a me used to be and now just a bloody emptiness.

Plants and the study of the ground beneath my feet became a paramount concern influenced by a strongly intuitive sense that I MUST learn.

The ways of life as it is accepted by many are unappealing to me to such an extent that to settle I must first know my feet on the earth here, my moods in the water, my thoughts on the wind.

Weirdly, I cannot and do not settle on a job until I have learned to forage some herbs, some horsetail shoots, ingested and invested in the landscape. I am from a place where the land and the water formed the fundamentals of my personality and I did not leave that place for longer than a year at a time before returning.

Black Hawthorn, he writes, is a thorny, deciduous shrub or tree with sharply serrated leaves famous for intoxicating birds that dine on it’s overripe fruit. The seeds contain cyanide, so probably best not to eat those, but the berries are good for turning into jams and preserves, something I’m happy to experiment with.

This is how I spend my time lately. I learn about the plants around me, how they can be used for medicine, eaten, prepared, and cultivated. I’m getting grounded here. I’m returning to my body from the far, far away place my mind wandered off to when I moved here in the fall.

Of all the things I’ve noticed with this mood disorder, it’s the unquestionable and infuriating element of time. Sometimes time is the only healing ingredient.

Time for me to adjust to a new setting is six months. Six months it has taken for me to get established in something like a life here, in such a way I do not feel on edge anymore or lost or wandering or plain out of my mind. I’ve cultivated some sense of purpose merely by learning about plants.

Most of what you’ll get now from me will be about what grows here, about forest excursions, about forage finds and weird plant recipes, about how my relationship with food and nature begins to influence sanity.

Here, for now, is a leaf-bare Black Hawthorn, wielder of bird booze and thorns. This book mentions also

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