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Bear Medicine and Right Relationship

Last week just before we got our first hard freeze, I headed for my special spot in the San Juans to harvest the potent immune supporting medicine of osha root. This aspen garbed hillside, in its autumn cloak of orange-gold, is inhabited by one of the largest stands of osha I have ever met. And this is why, when there is a green light for harvest, I visit this stand of medicine each time deepening our relationship.

Last year there was a red light….the dry summer left many osha plants holding onto their reserves and not sending up flower stalks and therefore no reseeding. I didn’t even bother to ask the plants that time. Their lack of white parasol petals told me all I need to know. I did not harvest.

One of the things I love most about osha is she resists domestication. Freedomphile, wild child, untamed….She wants only sweet rainwater and to reach skyward from her indigenous terrain. It is very difficult, next to impossible, to cultivate her. She prefers to stand sovereign amongst the aspens, twisting her roots amongst the local roots of other plant and tree people.

Osha is facing the threat of over harvesting. This is why, when I harvest, less that a 1/2 pound is what walks with me and when she tells me I’ve had enough by refusing to offer up any more of her pungent roots, I listen and do not force the matter.

As it is, this harvest is a meditation, a patience and gratitude practice. She does not give herself up easily, requiring sometimes 30 minutes or more to gently remove the soil she is so determinedly anchored in. In order to be ethical with the harvest, care must be taken not to harvest all the roots from a plant and the hairy tips of the root crown must be topped and replanted to regenerate. Each section of root is a tender investment of hands in the soil, dirt under the nails, a listening to the aspens doing their quaky thing and those trickster ravens doing the corvid heckle from the canopy above… “Don’t take more than your share,” their tongues wag.

Robin Wall Kimmerer points out that, “ Cautionary stories of the consequences of taking too much are ubiquitous in Native cultures, but it’s hard to recall a single one in English. Perhaps this helps explain why we seem to be caught in a trap of overconsumption, which is as destructive to ourselves as to those we consume.”

Our Western culture has almost entirely forgotten self-governance with our resources. We are toddlers spoiled on the illusion of our greatness and power set before the cake with no one to curb our consumptive frenzy.

Osha is important medicine for the bears. I saw piles of dirt among this stand evidencing bear activity. They seek it out in the spring when they come out of hibernation for their own immune support.

We are not the only ones who need the resources. We forget that we are not the only ones who matter in this relational existence.

Like any relationship, in order to flourish, there must be patience, gratitude, communication, honesty, accountability, respect and a knowing when to take and an equal awareness of when to give.

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