Sunday, February 26, 2012

Thoughts on civilization and wilderness

Some thoughts on civilization and wilderness

We all stand here broken and torn,
we long to get back to what's real-
back to the open fields
back to the rolling hills
back to the running burn...

Dougie Maclean

     When I finally discover a long sought plant, I always experience a thrill of pleasure and gratitude. I understand the feelings of those old medicine men, who, when seeking medicinal herbs, would not pluck the first specimen found, but would sit down by it, bury a little tobacco by its roots as a thank offering, then meditate awhile and go on until they found other plants of the same species to collect and use. They believed that finding an abundant supply of the herb they were seeking depended upon faithfully following this ritual with the first specimen encountered. This was not the unreasoning superstition it sounds, and I have found they were right.
     Meditating on the first plant that is new to me opens my eyes and sharpens my awareness until other plants of the same species become visible, standing out from the green background in an abundance that was always there, but which I was unprepared to see until I had gazed deeply at a single specimen. When I collect such plants, take them into my kitchen, and transform then with my own hands into some fragrant or savory seasoning, a delicious dish, or a benign remedy, it has a totally different meaning from using a commercial product. A remedy in which both nature and I have entered deeply does something for my soul as well as my body.
     I know there are people for whom wild plants don't invoke the same kind of response that they do in me. Some are merely indifferent- they couldn't care less whether those green things have values they could use or not- but others are actively antipathetic to the whole notion of making friends with these wildings. They are a little frightened by a plant that grows where man did not will it to grow, indeed, where he may have tried to eradicate it. We spray our roadsides with deadly herbicides, giving them the appearance of having been struck by an ugly blight; we rip out the natural growth and replace it with familiar and "safe" domestic plants; we clear away the thickets, mow the open places, level off the hills, and fill the swamps, without ever asking the name or nature of the plants that we are destroying. 
     There are those who think that the history of civilization is the story of man's conquest of nature, and they are not about to make friends with the untamed and unconquered remnants of the ancient enemy. Our artificial environment causes a one sided development. If we live only on our civilized side, then contact with untamed nature becomes traumatic. It arouses feelings of insecurity, and we rush with relief back to a man-controlled environment. We become so dependent on the comfort and security of our artificial world that the continued existence of wild things, not under the ordering of man, seems a threat. We retaliate against this wild flora by name calling, labeling it "weeds," "brush," or "briers."
     The thought of really getting acquainted with wild plants, eating them, and taking them as medicine arouses an unconscious, primitive fear in some people, or a primitive fascination. Even in modern civilized man there is buried an element that is atavistic and untamed. We will never be whole men until we have learned to accept, and even to love, these primitive aspects of ourselves, and to see their counterparts and their fulfillment in the elements of nature itself that grow with no aid from the hand of man. 

~Euell Gibbons
Exerpt from Stalking the Healthful Herbs

What do ya think?