Peter French Round Barn

“…hardly anyone, to my knowledge, is expressing concern about the removal of humans from the roles within the ecosystem that we have evolved to play, and that Nature has evolved to have us play. Nor is anyone conducting studies to determine what these roles were or what changes have occurred because we no longer fulfill them. Most important, perhaps, no one is trying to reintroduce humans into the environment to have us resume our duties as hunters, herders, gatherers, and whatever else, even though we’re going to great ends to restore animals that have played much less significant roles.”

On a recent camping trip in eastern Oregon I stopped at the visitor’s center for the historical Peter French Round Barn in Harney County. The barn and the visitor’s center are well worth a visit. The visitor’s center has an amazing book selection, mostly concerning the American West. I wanted so many, but I had to choose just one: Gardners of Eden: Rediscovering Our Importance To Nature by Dan Dagget. I was particularly drawn in by cover quotes from one of my favorite ethnobotanists, Gary Nabhan, author of several books about indigenous plant use in the Sonoran desert. I was surprised I had never heard of this book, but when I saw that it was published by a charitable trust it all made more sense. The author is a former environmental activist, and the book in many ways looks like a glossy brochure for an environmental group, laden with pictures, side quotes and, large margins. That is not a bad thing, it was an easy and beautiful read that I devoured in just a few days.

Disgruntled and frustrated by “leave it alone” environmentalism, Dan gives numerous examples of how human interaction is an integral part of natural ecosystems, and how most ecosystems rely on disturbance of some kind such as fire or grazing or harvesting to be healthy. He is a particular fan of the “poop and stomp” method of habitat restoration whereby cattle are brought into a desertified area such as an abandoned mine, which is strewn with hay and straw and native seed, which they eat and grind into the ground fertilizing it while at the same time creating divets with their hooves for rainwater to collect in. Another method he is a fan of is the building of trincheras which are small stone dams that pool water and stop erosion. Being much like the small dams that children build for play, these do not stop the water but merely slow it, and it is not important or devasating if they wash out because the idea is you can build dozens or even hundreds of them on one stream.


Trincheras on El Coronado Ranch

This book comes off as one long rant,  which some people might find annoying. I find it humorous. It would make an excellent  companion to Samuel Thayer’s latest wild foods guide Nature’s Garden which is also hilariously ranty. My only criticism is that the book focuses mainly on the west/southwest and that I would like to see more non-cattle ranching related examples of how modern humans can restore ecosystems.  It would be great to see it expanded for more bioregions, and while I personally have no problems with the use of domestic animals raised humanely and on a small scale, I would love to see some other examples, okay, do I need to spell it out? This may not be happening in too many places, but I would like to see hunting and gathering being deliberately used for restoration, and also to keep environments from deteriorating further.  The author points that when the Forest Service is making management decisions it does not prepare impact statements for leaving the land alone, even though this could be very harmful. Wouldn’t it be amazing to see a public policy that actually required hunting and gathering!?

I’m an anarchist at heart, but I like to play a little game called if I were President of the World, (this can entertain for days on a roadtrip) and if I were president of the world I would turn over the management of public lands to the tribes which originally inhabited them with similar restrictions on development but allowing traditional cultural uses including dwelling and gathering. In fact, a National Park Service rule that would allow tribes to collect plants minerals from parks and that admits that traditional gathering helps preserve plant communities has been been propsed, but it is experiencing strong backlash from a group called Public Employees for Environmental Purposes who believe that doing so would open the door to commercial level harvest and threaten endangered species.  (National Park Service Moving To Let Tribes Collect Plants, Minerals From Parks For Traditional Practices), Naturally, there are also racist undertones to the resistance.

Another idea that I’ve had would be to start a land trust or hunting and gathering collective of some sort… The quote I used in the introduction also bespeaks of ecopsychology: how does shirking our duties as caretakers affect not only the land, but our bodies and minds? Perhaps Gardner’s of Eden Volume II is a book I need to write. So if you are currently working on a project of this nature, lets talk.




tule mat

Tule mat I just made, even though it hurt like hell!

Hi There! You haven’t heard from me in awhile. That is because I’ve been busy getting my Master’s Degree in Counseling Psychology . Now I’m done. You may have noticed a change in the subtitle of my blog: I decided to add Chronic Fatigue Syndrome (CFS) to the list of topics. Over the years I’ve written about my health here and there, but I’ve recently come to the decision to incorporate more writings about Chronic Fatigue Syndrome into my general repertoire. A lot of this comes as a direct result of my academic studies. One reason is that I feel it is important to advocate for the disease itself, which is grossly misunderstood and something most people simply don’t know much about. Labels can help and labels can harm. The name Chronic Fatigue Symdrome itself is problematic, as it lacks gravity, and comphrensiveness. Fatigue is only one of numerous symptoms.  Nevertheless, for me it has helped tremendously. People categorize things. It is how they communicate. It took me 10 years to accept this label, and my decision to become diagnosed was a deliberate one, and I now bear it with pride.

I’ve spent so much time experimenting with different treatments, that I often thought of creating a second blog, something like trackerofhealth, but decided against it because although it helps to express feelings and organize thoughts, dwelling excessively on the subject can be painful, to make a whole site about it would be a big commitment. So duh, why not combine the two which is a more authentic representation of my life to begin with!

I hope I can be a positive role model  (even though I may sometimes have “dark” thoughts on the subject) for other people with CFS, connecting them with my wildish interests, and for other rewilders suffering invisible, chronic, stigmatized disease who feel alienated from the community at large. The primitive skills scene, and most other DIY scenes, though they pride themselves on providing alternatives to modern society have a long way to go in becoming more accessible to people with disabilities, and I hope to make inroads into changing this. The American ethics of hard work, rugged individualism, and materialism are still very much evident in our attempts to break away.

I envision starting with something simple, support group workshops,  moving up to perhaps a horse packing trip for women with fibromyalgia, up to a whole civilization rehabilitation center for learning and healing (hopefully I will find a healthy, energetic partner to help with this!). Many internships, gatherings, and wilderness programs are  unsuited to people like myself who cannot carry a pack, eat a starvation diet (or a pasta and oatmeal based diet for that matter), or work 10 hour days 7 days a week. Pioneer heros, TV shows, and even Tom Brown Jr. stories can glorify the single-man survival style. For some people this is just not as possible and practical as it is for others. On a philisophical level I believe our culture will continue to create outliers who force us to acknowledge such problems, until a better balance between individualism and communalism can be struck. When marginalized people can’t “pull their own weight”, we must examine what weights they ARE pulling and why. What burdens and wisdom are they holding for the rest of us?


A girl's best friend.

In the field of wilderness therapy most existing programs, though communal, are oriented toward backpacking and short term survival rather than long-term, hedonistically cushy  simple living, which is what many of us rewilding types are all about anyway. While this may be appropriate for rebellious teenagers who thrive on stretching their comfort zone and testing their abilities, it is not neccesarily appropriate for those who have been “broken” by this world, those who have already undergone underworld initiation by any number of difficult and traumatic experiences and need or desire slightly more accomodating accomodations. I already know I can walk 30 miles in a day even with my condition, because I’ve done it, but that doesn’t mean its a good idea. I’ve got nothing to prove to myself.

The world of primitive skills gatherings is also highly communal, but in this craft-based culture a person is often evaluated by what they can produce, or can teach other people to produce. It seems to be less satisfying when, for example, you don’t make a hand drill fire all by yourself. But should it? When friends visit my house, they look at my things and ask, “Did you make this?” And who wouldn’t? That’s what people do. But if I, not even trade for, but just plain buy my hides, or pack basket, or a bow and NEVER make one, am I going to be viewed as less authentic? I don’t know. I hope not. What I do know is that because of my pain, it is difficult for me to complete most crafts, some like hide tanning require physical endurance and a certain measure of strength, but perhaps even worse for me are those that require sitting on the ground and engaging in hours of small repetitive hand motions such as loom weaving, basketry, and beading. I’d rather dig ditches any day. Admittedly, most all of the projects I have ever completed have been under the influence of drugs or alcohol.

chronic fatigue syndrome

Another reason I am choosing to write about this topic is to give those around me a greater understanding of who I am personally. I am very independent and stubbornly capable of just about everything a normal person is capable of…for a short time. I am tanned, toned, and let’s face it, sexy as hell. I smile and laugh (though I never feel it in my core). I run and dance (though my joints ache, and I get nauseous if I stay up late). I travel alone and lift my 70lb tipi canvas onto its frame. I may come off as shy and skittish, doe-like. I am. People see that, but because of these other things most people don’t know I’m quite ill, and even those who know me well don’t understand the extent of it. You cannot judge the health of a person with chronic disease based on what they do, as this does not take into account the strength of their will, nor can you judge based on what they say, since you have no idea how accurately they are portraying their condition in proportion to the amount of suffering they are experiencing. I would hazard a guess that a good number of people who are accused of negative thinking, actually spend a good deal of time hiding, or skimming over unsavory details as it is not socially appropriate to continually answer the question “How are you?” with “Fucking terrible, and yourself?”

A note to people reading this: You may be tempted to offer helpful medical advice and suggestions. Thank you. Don’t. Almost all people with chronic disease suffer from an overload of “maybe you just need to…”. Most likely they have internalized these messages about what is wrong with them and now feel that they can’t do anything right, can’t eat right, can’t sleep right, can’t exercise right. I have not given up. I am currently undergoing treatment. If you have an herb or supplement I just need to try, I will give you my mailing address and you can send it to me, because I am not buying anything else, nope, not even digging it up. Same with services. You want to come to my house and give me a massage? Sweet. If you want to offer words the best thing to say is something like, “That sucks. I’m sorry to hear you are having such a hard time. Let me know if you want to talk about it more.” If you would genuinely like to help, this is going to take offering real energy, not just ideas. My favorite thing is food and one thing I have a hard time with is feeding myself. Making me food is the number one best thing you can do for me. Contributing energy to helping me finish projects is the next best thing. Cognitive issues like concentration and motivation are huge with this illness so just having someone around helps keep me on task even if I end up doing most of the work myself.

Side effects of chronic fatigue syndrome often include pillow hugging, making frowny faces, and looking hot:

chronic fatigue syndrome chronic fatigue syndromechronic fatigue syndrome

I was told by, ahem, a psychic recently to change my drinking water, which is primarily Portland tap water. I know that city water is probably mildly bad for me, like duh, but then so are a lot of things from the air I breathe, to food I consume, to the electromagnetic fields I’m bathed in. As an environmentalist first and later one of those chronically ill Americans with what I have referred to as a “nebulous, intransigent allergy to civilization”. I went through a phase of toxin nazi-ism utilizing air and water filters, writing my schoolwork with pencil and paper, and shaking my fist at automobiles, and found, not only did it not noticeably improve my health, it actually made life suck harder and that being friends with people like that just isn’t very fun. So I gave it up for a life of moderate toxic hedonism. I’ll eat cane sugar and swim in a chlorinated pool and sometimes wear aluminum based antiperspirant, especially if it means I have to wash my clothes less often. I HATE doing laundry.

But after getting an off-the-charts lead reading in a recent heavy metals test, I’m slightly more open to suggestion. First though, I want to know what exactly is in this Portland water. According to the front page of the Portland Water Bureau website, they deliver “The best drinking water in the world”. I highly doubt it, but given the state of the world that  is probably nothing to brag about.

Bull Run Watershed

Portland’s primary source of water is rainwater from the protected Bull Run Watershed, located in the Mt. Hood National Forest in the vicinity of Sandy, Oregon. On rare occasions this is supplemented from an underground aquifer system. This water is tested regularly  for 200 contaminants including pesticides and radioactive particles. It is naturally soft water, does not have added fluoride, and is not filtered.

At its source the water is contaminated namely by Beaver Fever (giardia) and other expected surface water organisms. So the water has to be disinfected somehow and that is done using chlorine, and then ammonia is added to form chloramine, which maintains even distribution throughout the system because as we all know from the smell, chlorine evaporates.

The Water Bureau claims this also cuts down on the formation of potentially harmful disinfection byproducts such as trihalomethanes and haloacetic acids from the reaction of chlorine with organic substances. One example of a trihalomethane is chloroform, the old-timey anesthetic. (Not saying that chloroform is or isn’t in our water, just giving an example of a relatable trihalomethane).  Sodium hydroxide (lye) is also added to give it a higher ph 7.2-8.2. No, this is not because so many Portlanders are on a detoxifying alkaline diet, but because it reduces corrosion of lead and copper pipes. Water samples from the reservoir and aquifer at entry into the distribution system include small amounts of lead, fluoride, arsenic, barium, cyanide, radon  and ibuprofen. Eww. The Portland Water Bureau claims most of these pollutants are from “natural sources” in the ground aquifer, but if ibuprofen can get into there, why is it not possible that the others are also a result of or increased by agriculture, sprawl, and industrial development?

If you believe this  “government propaganda”, and I kind of do believe that this is an accurate description of what is in the water, the Portland tap water doesn’t sound that bad. It appears that most of those contaminants, except cyanide which is attributed to algae in the Bull Run,  come from the aquifer, which isn’t used that often. Household piping adds more lead and copper, but I doubt that is the source of my lead poisoning since I’ve been ill for a long time and don’t believe I live in high-risk housing with lead pipes (if I may so boldly assume that feeling bad has anything at all to do with the lead). So what gives?

Well, the folks at Citizens Concerned About Chloramine (CCAC) a group based in the San Francisco Bay area where water is also treated with chloramine claim it’s pretty bad stuff. They point to research done at the University of Illinois by Michael Plewa indicating some of the disinfection byproducts of chloramine known as iodoacids are more toxic than those of chlorine (abstract here). Note that this research was done on hamster ovaries. Stupidly, no real studies have ever been done on the safety of chloramine tap water, but anecdotal evidence suggests adverse reactions in individuals after municipalities have switched to chloramine, including respiratory, skin, and digestive issues.

CCAC also links to an article about a spill of chlorimine containing drinking water killing steelhead in San Mateo, CA. It reads, “Chloramines have come to replace chlorine as the principal disinfectant in drinking water. It is harmless to humans but not to aquatic life, and it was discharged into the creek at concentrations well above the amount known to be lethal to fish in a scientific study, according to the water board.” Ok, I don’t know how the amount of chloramine in San Mateo water compares to that in Portland water,  nor am I convinced that it is harmless to humans, but do we really think it is okay that our drinking water kills fish!? I am NOT okay with that. Keep in mind that tap water is not just used for drinking, but also bathing, irrigating plants, washing cars, and a variety of other things.

Further Google-vestigations reveal that in 2009 Portland was ranked only 59th out of 100 by the Environmental Working Group in a survey of our nation’s best drinking water, due primarily to the amount of haloacetic acids and trihalomethanes. I’m guessing there is no measure yet for iodoacids. Portland water also contained 15 measured pollutants total, while the national average was only 8.

angry beavers

Given what I have learned, I think I’d prefer the water come out of the tap complete with animal feces, or you know, ideally, not come out of a tap at all, but since that may not presently be a realistic option for some people, my next installment will be considering alternatives for city dwellers including filtration and the delightful (as in sucks the light right out of your soul) task of sorting fact from fiction when people are trying to sell you stuff…on the internet… STAY TUNED.

Pine pitch

Awhile ago I wrote about leg waxing with sugar. But since I’m always interested in going even more “primy”, I wanted to try a more free and bio-regionally available body hair remover. So when my friend Brian gave me a full can of pine pitch I knew just what I was going to do with it. Sometimes pitch is hard and crystally, but this stuff was naturally soft like taffy. I warmed it up inside a pot of boiling water, double boiler style, and tried it out. Lo and behold it worked just like the sugar, maybe even better.

From what I can see, one advantage is the pitch is liquid at a lower temperature so its less easy to burn yourself, and also you don’t have to boil it, and either use a thermometer or test it repeatedly to get it to the right consistency. The disadvantage is sugar dissolves in hot water, pitch doesn’t so its harder to clean up. I would recommend doing it outside or on newspaper, using a dedicated container like the aluminum can for melting and a dedicated pitch utensil like a flat stick or butter knife for stirring and spreading.

Then be careful not to get it all over. You’ll get some of it stuck to you anyway. As my friends in Northern California know, alcohol or oil helps dissolve resin. I found a rancid glob of butter in my fridge and used that to get off the remaining sticky. It worked like a charm. Then I rinsed my legs because I didn’t want them to smell like rancid butter, even though they were very smooth and shiny and a great photo op at this point…next up, bikini line! ouch.


I was demonstrating the cold infusion technique to a class of herbalism students when I discovered my new favorite drink: cold cleavers (Galium aparine) infusion. I had never actually used the cold infusion method on cleavers before. “It tastes like Easter!” I exclaimed. “Banana Laffy Taffy!” said Gabe. You can decide what it tastes like for yourself by chopping up a bunch of fresh cleavers and suspending them in a cloth at the top of a jar of cold water approximately overnight.

-Michael Moore says, “It has feeble effects on liver function but it one of the few herbs that has some healing value and yet may be used during hepatitis without fear of irritation,” and “In cases of urinary calculi or gravel…drink two or three teaspoons of the juice in a cup of water three time a day.”

-Juliette de Bairacli Levy writes, “Its refrigerant properties  make it excellent for all fevers, including smallpox and typhus. For skin troubles including dandruff. It is also an effective jaundice remedy…taken internally, cleavers is also a hair tonic and does much to help check tooth decay.”

-Gregory Tilford says, “Herbalists frequently use cleavers in the healing of stomach ulcers, ovarian cysts, tonsillitis or in circumstances where the lymph circulation seems to be chronically or acutely impaired. Because this herb is safe in large doses over extended periods, it is commonly used as a preventative ‘lymphatic tonic.’”

-Susun Weed comments, “I find it unsurpassed for easing tender, swollen breasts, PMS symptoms, and mild lymphedema. It is also reduces allergic reactions.”

-David Hoffman adds, “Cleavers is helpful in skin conditions, especially the dry types, such as psoriasis.”

-Emily Porter says, “That’s all good, but more importantly, it tastes rad.”

A study by the Landscape and Human Health Laboratory at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign found that for kids with ADHD a 20 minute walk in the park improved concentration with effect sizes (the relationship between two variables) comparable to Ritalin. The walk in the park beat out a downtown walk, and a neighborhood walk.  Children also rated the park walk as significantly more fun than the other walks. Here is the abstract http://jad.sagepub.com/content/early/2008/08/25/1087054708323000.abstract. 

One basis for this study is Attention Restoration Theory which was developed in environmental psychology to explain why people report feeling restored after spending time in wilderness. The theory maintains that natural environments are restorative in part because they are “gently absorbing” or hold effortless “soft-fascination”.

The researchers in the walk in the park study explain that:

…ART, which is based on work by William James, posits that attention draws on two different mechanisms: one for deliberately directed, effortful forms of attention, and another for involuntary, effortless forms of attention. The notion of two mechanisms underlying attention may partially explain why individuals with ADHD can routinely sustain focus on tasks they find interesting (i.e., tasks drawing primarily on involuntary attention) but are unable to do so for tasks they find uninteresting (i.e., tasks drawing primarily on effortful, directed attention).

In other words, ADHD is probably a result of the things you are required to do being freaking BORING… like HOMEWORK! Duh. Unfortunately rather than the blatantly obvious critique of compulsory education that I read between the lines, the authors of this study conclude that hopefully in the future nature may be used in “doses” to help us do better on homework.

In earlier work on the subject of directed attention, researcher Steven Kaplan implies there may have been historical benefit to the less directed style of attention:

It might seem peculiar that a mechanism so intimately involved with human effectiveness would be so susceptible to fatigue. Yet, in evolutionary perspective, this apparent limitation might have been quite reasonable. To be able to pay attention by choice to one particular thing for a long period of time would make one vulnerable to surprises. Being vigilant, being alert, in one’s surroundings may have been far more important than the capacity for long and intense concentration. Further, much of what was important to evolving human-wild animals, danger, caves, blood, to name a few examples-was (and still is) innately fascinating and thus does not require directed attention. It is only in the modern world that the split between the important and the interesting has become extreme. All too often the modern human must exert effort to do the important while resisting distraction from the interesting (emphasis mine). Thus the problem of fatigue of directed attention may well be of comparatively recent vintage.

If I may paraphrase, I agree with Kaplan that modern life is rather sucky. Yet, if anything many tasks of paleolithic living such as hide tanning, acorn grinding, and basketry, are incredibly slow and tedious, and would seem to require directed attention. Are they the equivalent of primitive homework? And if so, is that ability to concentrate restored by practicing more scout-like skills which require a more the ADHD style of attention!? And doesn’t “gentle absorption” or “soft-facsination” sounds a lot like being in wide-angle vision!?


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 163 other followers