Springing Zinging Nettles

•March 25, 2013 • 2 Comments


Spring is Here! Fresh with green sprouts, clear days, and a brisk wind that moves us into action after the slowness of winter. Just last week marked the vernal equinox, like the fall equinox, a day when we are exactly in balance. 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night. And with this the turning from Winter into Spring, from stillness to motion, from seed to sprout……

What was deep and still in the ground all winter now pushes its way up through the soil and sprouts green and emerging with life, and so the never ending cycle emerges once more. What do you see blooming, sprouting, growing? Although the first day of spring was just officially announced, new growth has been happening for a while now and the land is alive with plants, flowers, and herbs! One herb in particular comes alive this time of year and has so much to offer… Stinging Nettles.

You have probably either heard of this notorious plant or had a run in with her but either way she is an herb not to forgot, and for good reasons! Besides the blaring fact that Stinging Nettle can cause much discomfort it also has another side to it, one that I have found impactful, powerful, and soothing. This wonderful herb has many medicinal properties and is rich in nutrition! She is like a Queen in springtime offering so much bounty, beauty, and reigning over shaded areas near creeks. Spring is the time to head out onto the sweet land to harvest this abundant and worthy herb.


Why go harvest nettle? Through out the ages Nettle (urtica dioica) has been revered for its many medicinal and nutritional uses that keeps devoted wildcrafters coming back every spring. Its rich green leaves are FULL of vitamins, minerals, and amino acids, supplying a high amount of plant based proteins. Nettle is a rich green tonic from the Earth full of zinging, energizing, toning, and healing qualities. While many of us rush to make coffee in the morning so we an get a jolt of energy to face the day ahead, Nettle has more rejuvenating and energizing properties that with regular use tone the adrenals and kidneys thus giving us MORE REAL energy! I often feel that with the modern world we live in Nettles are essential super food that feed our deepest organs, that provide wholesome restorative energy, and connect us like lifelines to the nourishment of Mother Earth. Susan Weed writes of Nettle in Healing Wise,”I transform the very elements into green milk for you, green milk alive with chlorophyll, calcium,iron,trace minerals, proteins, vitamins, and my own zest and love for life. I am, the milk of your mother, the earth”.


This rich green plant heals and tones the liver, spleen, and stomach, soothes the  mucus membranes in the intestines,  and reaches deep into the kidneys and adrenals restoring our energy supply. In Women Nettle acts to tone and nourish the reproductive system. Nettle Tea or fresh cooked nettles provide iron to the womb, clean the blood, prevent cramps, and calm stress/PMS. Nettle is a safe plant to use everyday as it energizes, tones and heals over time!

That’s all internal, what about external? Yes, even the stings are medicine! Referred to as Urtication, the intentional braising of oneself with fresh nettles, it is a practice that offers its own healing therapy. The release of histamines, formic acid, and acetylcholine from the small hallow hairs on the leaves triggers the body’s circulation, nerves/meridians, muscle fibers, lymphatic flow, and cellular metabolism. Susan Weed states it brings,” dormant energies into action”. This method of therapy aids in arthritis, muscle tightness, congestion, paralysis, palsy, cold feet, gout, and rheumatism.

Now that you have read the wonderful qualities of Nettles are you thinking of using this great herb? Because whats more is that they are abundant and waiting to be harvested! Waiting to be ingested, to work their magic in our human bodies.  So.. how do you harvest nettles?

Many people prefer to use gloves when harvesting nettles, while a rare few choose to go bare handed and receive the effects of the sting. I have done both and find each method to serve in different ways. Recently I have preferred gloves as I often go to collect a lot and want to be more efficient with my hands. For this method you will need: Hardy Gloves ( thick leather is good), scissors/garden clippers, and a paper bag.

Nettles usually grow in shaded areas near water, my favorite spots to pick them are along creeks, often under Alder trees. They tend to grow in large numbers and spread out along these shady zones. You do not want to harvest them once they have gone to flower or seed, then all the nutrients have moved from the leaves into the flowers and seeds. We want them when the life energy is still concentrated in their dark yummy green leaves…..

When I harvest herbs in general I say a prayer of thanks and imagine all the good uses the plant will be put too. When I feel complete and connected in a good way I begin harvesting. I like to clip the top section on the Nettle  where the leaves are freshest. I clip and clip and clip then put them in the bag…simple! Its a sweet thing to be outside surrounded by green, singing spring birds, and harvesting good food to bring home.

Now that you have a bag full of spring green nettles what do you do with them? Steam the greens and toss with a little olive oil, lemon, and salt. Dry the herbs and save for tea. Cook into omelets, casseroles, stir fries….. ! And if you are a pesto lover then make nettle pesto. I look forward to every spring when I can make nettle pesto!


Here are the basic ingredients of Nettle Pesto ( I am not providing a recipe because the way I learned was by experimenting) … We all prefer things differently. I like my pesto with more lemon, others more garlic, ect. So I am giving the ingredients and its yours to run with….It also depends on how much you wish to make. I make big batches and use lots of nettles, olive oil, ect. You can either use a food processor, blender, or mortar and pestle.

Nettle Pesto Ingredients:

~ Fresh Stinging Nettle Leaves

~ Olive Oil

~ Pine nuts ( or any nut )

~ Lemon Juice

~ Garlic

~ Parmesan Cheese

~ Salt and a little pepper

Blend to your preferred taste and texture…! ( you can also look up recipes online if you want more structure)

So get out there and jump into Spring! I hope to hear stories of converted Nettle lovers!

Fall Wanes and Winter slips in

•December 11, 2012 • Leave a Comment


In a little more than a weeks time the Winter Solstice will arrive, marking the transition from autumn to winter and beckoning in the return of light. What does this mean? On the land, in ourselves, and in the greater scope of life?


Just as autumn was a time for gathering, harvesting, storing, and celebrating, winter has its own medicine bundle. All over the world winter has been associated with cleansing, renewal, death/re-birth, stillness, and turning inwards. Since the beginning people have gathered together in the dark winter nights renewing themselves for the next cycle.


Plants and animals also slow down and conserve energy. Think of bears hibernating through out the winter, I imagine it like a big re-charge. There long rest akin to charging up their life force for the next year to come. The natural world reflects this time of stillness, integration, and rest.


This year’s solstice falls on Dec 21st 2012 and marks the shortest day of the year. There are many holidays, traditions, and festivals that align around this time and if one explores back far enough they will find the roots of these lay in nature-based observances. One lost remnant of these in the west is the setting of intentions for the New Year, or new years resolutions. This practice is but one small piece of a much greater lineage that is not lost but being resurrected.


In ancient Greece this was the time the goddess Persephone went to the underworld and her mother Demeter, the goddess of grain, abundance, and earth mourned her loss turning the earth barren and cold. It is a time of stillness and holding before a new cycle begins. Many cultures have myths and stories that tell of the origins of winter, often involving a passageway to the underworld, symbolic of the descent into darkness of the soul. This exploration of the deeper depths of our own selves is where we can claim lost or forgotten pieces so we can be more fully alive come spring.


These myths serve to highlight our own inner processes in the winter. In this time of darkness we are more naturally pulled inwards to reflect and review our own life and it’s meaning. This is the time to pause and integrate before the zinging energy of spring. I feel thankful to recently be reminded of a powerful tradition surrounding winter that has been passed down by Jon Young. This practice is called Renewal of Creative Path and involves taking time aside in the winter months to reflect on ones life as a whole but also on the past year. This process of reflection and digging inwards provides potent material for self awareness and helps one reach more clarity on how they want to move forward in the next year and where they wish to place their intentions. The Renewal of Creative Path comes from the same lineage, which the Thanksgiving Address was given to us. When Jon was studying with Jake Swamp he learned this to be the most important ritual of the year. Renewal of Creative Path is but one facet of many traditions that serve to renew and reset people and communities for the new cycles ahead.


It basically involves a deep reflective process stemming from soul based questioning that propels one to find their truths in a deeper way then the average day to day running around most of us partake in. I am going to share of few questions that are similar to the Renewal of Creative Path as an offering for you to take into these dark winter months. May they serve you in greater awareness and alignment between your actions and visions.


What deeply connects you to life? Nature? Yourself, family and community?

When were the times you felt truly alive and connected?

What were the challenges from last year, what did work, what didn’t?

What are your dreams and visions?

What makes you happy?

What are your gifts in the world?

It’s amazing what can come out of journaling these questions. If you choose just one to go deeply with you will discover so much within your self. I was excited to write a blog on winter and how it is such a prime time to go inwards because that is also one of my personal intentions for this time. In my bones I feel ready for dark nights, firelight, pausing, reflecting, dreaming, and setting my heart further aflame. What excites you around winter?


I will leave you with a little winter poem, hoping to inspire to write one too, what is winter to you? ….



Low light of winter, bright in my morning eyes,

Something still settles into my bones

And a long breath escapes, held from the year, from life

Exhale it leaves me alone with the stark trees barren of fruit

Their branches naked and spindly in the grey sky

The sunsets glow bright but not as warm now

There is a chill creeping

We light more fires and come home sooner

The air is crisp and cold, I remember this feeling again

Every year my bones remember it before my mind

My heart knows the soft silence and rejoices

Even as it longs for warmth and light

I still find refuge in the dark and burrow within

Happy to be held in the many layers of winter

Like a seed surrounded not ready to sprout

But held, held,

Until the spring light sings me upwards

Shelter at Sinnikmatak

•December 3, 2012 • 1 Comment

IMG_4980Recently Riekes Nature staff, kids, and parents gathered with the local Amah Mutsun tribe to create a shelter at the U.C. Santa Cruz Arboretum for the kids.  This was part of a “work-learn” party in partnership between the Arboretum, Riekes Nature and the Amah Mutsun tribe.  Riekes staff have been participating in these work-learn events since fall of 2011.  These gatherings involve a morning work party, most often in the Arboretum’s Relearning Garden where plants of local traditional significance are planted.  These work parties are then followed by a hands-on learning sessions often using locally grown plants to make things such as fire by friction, medicinal tinctures, pine needle baskets, shell necklaces, and most recently, bark baskets.  Riekes staff have regularly participated and helped to lead hands on instruction for these learn parties.

The recent gathering was unique in that it was an opportunity to create a long term shelter to benefit the kids that will use this site into the future.  First we gathered with tribal and community members to strip the bark off of redwood poles that were harvested on site at the Arboretum.



This was a lot of work as you can imagine.  By the end of the day we had completed all 16 poles and set them into the ground.

IMG_4967IMG_4988We took time out after lunch for the dedication of the sign and the official naming of the site.  Amah Mutsun representative Paul Mondragon told the story of the naming of the site, “sinnikmatak”  which means “gathering place of the children.
IMG_4978He related a beautiful story about an eagle that looked down on the land and saw that the children were unhappy because they were all indoors, and that this site would be a place where the eagle would look down and see happy children.

After lunch we got to work on making bark baskets.  Ken Clarkson, Riekes Nature Awareness Director led this learning session.  We had a lot of fun peeling bark for baskets which required a little more finesse than the faster stripping of the poles we had done previously.  It was a group effort with lots of laughing.

IMG_4987And check out the finished bark basket!  Nice job Laurel!



Next came more bark stripping and connecting the roof frame.



Then it was time to harvest some bamboo from the Arboretum, split it and then begin attaching the roof.



Build it and they will swing…



Just before the big storm hit, we did the final synching down, and then, on a very rainy day this past wednesday we lit our first fire!!!

IMG_5010IMG_5023We look forward to seeing you at sinnikmatak!





Gotta Give up the Gratitude!

•October 23, 2012 • 1 Comment

What are you feeling thankful for?

 This question is asked at every Riekes gathering we have, whether it’s a small staff meeting or a weeklong camp out we begin everything with gratitude. These words are spoken to bring our minds into harmony and to acknowledge and appreciate all beings of the natural world. The practice of thanksgiving reminds us we are but one strand in this web of life. To me it is an essential practice to stay grounded, connected, and aware here on Earth, especially in these crazy times we live in.

 The practice of giving thanks was passed on to our community through Jake Swamp, a Mohawk sub chief and representative of the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) confederacy. It was actually from this nation that the founding fathers generated the vision of democracy based upon the Iroquois’ successful and peaceful democratic system. But our founding fathers left out a critical aspect to the new structure, the custom of giving thanks. The Iroquois elders who aided the founding fathers warned them of this, saying that if they left out giving gratitude they would be leaving a seat for evil to come sit at the table. I wonder how the world may have been different if our nation kept up with the practice of gratitude…. would we be facing the challenges we face today?

    The Thanksgiving address is a fundamental practice for many of us at Riekes. We have noticed the profound and positive impact it has within us as individuals and also as a community of people connecting deeper to the Earth. As staff we always arrive early to programs to “bring our minds together” over gratitude, there have been some days where we arrive late and did not get to have a quality thanksgiving. We have all noticed that on these days we encounter more challenges and it takes more energy to keep an elevated mindset. When we do come together and share thanks the days are amazingly smoother, more connected and fun! It’s no wonder the wise ones say these are “ the words that come before all else”… They are the breath of our connection.

What generates deep Gratitude?




And visa versa… Connection creates gratitude….Gratitude births deeper connection. The spiral dance…


When we are in good connection gratitude will flow effortlessly.

I have a personal story to show this…. 

This past Sunday I went on a wander on our coastal bluffs above the ocean, the sun was setting and there was a soft quality in the air that spoke of the heaviness of coming rain. Walking slowly down the path I felt how my heart was racing, there were so many thoughts in my mind of what I needed to “do” and worries I had.  I took some deep breaths to bring myself back and began to notice the golden crowned sparrows feeding nearby…singing their sweet sad song. Stopping I felt a kinship with the sparrows. Thank you sparrows! Breathing deeply and going into soft owl eyes I felt a lightness spread through me. There was a sense of deep peace that came with a strong aliveness, like I could run for miles but was happy to be slow and breath deep. The deeper I breathed the more present I became, the more I connected to the life around me. I noticed how free the ocean was as she tumbled onto the shore with out a care. How the seal played in the surfline. I felt the cold wind rush down and whip at my exposed face. I smelled seaweed below on the beach and watched the waves spill forward and then suck back, again and again. The power of the land and ocean made their way into the cracks of my heart, my soul and widened them so more life could pour through. Like invisible water the birds and sky, the colors and silence watered me back to life, seeped into my bones. I was left where I needed to be, alive and thankful. Aware of my small but beautiful place in the whole of life….

 This deep way of connecting watered my personal well of thanksgiving. In busy moments the past couple days I have closed my eyes and remembered the sunset moment of beauty and peace, I take a sip from the well within me and am nourished. It is a simple practice, it’s free, but it’s more powerful then anything you could by. Giving thanks is like watering your own inner garden. Don’t let your life be barren of these rains! Be Grattitude!

 We are blessed to be a part of this wild ride of life. I remember Finch, Jon and Nicole’s son, playing on a log, bouncing up and down on it and he said with gusto “ This is my problem and this is my wild ride!”. I laughed out loud because it’s so true; life is a wild beautiful ride and so challenging at once. Giving thanks helps us to cultivate a strong connection and balanced mind to meet our lives, the joys and the pains. I believe if more of the world came together in gratitude we would see monumental shifts and leaps towards a more balanced way of living on Earth. Let us be the change we wish to see and carry the flame of thanksgiving.

 So as we begin with Gratitude so we end….

What are you feeling thankful for? …Really, truly?


Write about it……

•October 9, 2012 • Leave a Comment

All week long I have been pondering what the theme for this weeks blog will be… and all week no definitive answer came. But this longing kept popping up into me and I kept pushing it back down. It was the desire to share poetry and create, for that is so much of what my nature connection brings up in me. But my logical mind kept saying that is not enough for blog substance… who values poetry? Do people now days take the time to read it? Should I write a blog that tells you how to DO something? Or give you more information about nature?

I am tired of information this week and I long for beautiful words that call my imagination forward. I want to see the land in my mind, feel the fox’s fur, listen to the rustle of the wind, and watch the leaves fall in the golden light. It is the connection to this world that feeds our bodies, hearts, minds, and souls.

Do you have moments in nature that just seem to fill you with life?  Maybe you have gotten very close to a deer and could hear its breathing? Maybe an owl silent in the night swooped over your head?

These are moments to honor…they are food for your soul and can be honored through a creative act like writing, painting, singing, dancing or making music.

 In my journey with nature connection I have found that I am often filled with the desire to create. I experience so much beauty in the natural world that I feel filled up and need to move that feeling into another form.  I would love to share a simple technique I often use to express potent nature connection moments. May it serve you in expressing your unique connection to nature…

Maybe some of you are familiar with Stream of Consciousness writing? Basically stream of consciousness is a way of writing that puts more emphasis on expression and creation then a specific goal. The goal is actually to just write and let go of judgments around your finished piece. Just allow what comes out to be and surrender to your own inner direction. You can do this for a short or long period of time. The point is to write not to make something for show. This is an amazing tool for accessing what you feel, touch, smell, taste, and celebrate in nature, life, and yourself.

So enough logical words lets get to the beauty of pure expression. I am going to offer up an example of my own stream of consciousness writing as an example and inspiration for you to do the same.  It’s my intention that it inspires you to take some time to write about your nature connection, stream of consciousness style… So do yourself a favor and take 10 minutes to write from your heart. You will be grateful you did it.

And remember it doesn’t matter if it’s “good”… I am jumping out on a limb here sharing my own “poetry”. Just as we need nature connection in our lives we also need to honor our own intrinsic need to express our creative energies…

 Here is a stream of consciousness piece that I did in relation to my time at Huddart Park last week…  Mahalo!


I lay in the still dry grass waiting

A new wind rustles through and fall is upon us

I am lying on my belly and the earth is warm

The grass is loud when I crunch and move

My hair slips out and all over sliding into the grass blades

What is hair, grass? They fuse into one

I forget the word me, this is unity

My skins melts away I am the grass and earth

For a moment before returning

A harsh call pulls me out

I stand up and am two-legged human now

My blonde hair swept up away from the dry mothers grass

We flit in and out of the present this way

Now there are eyes shining all at me

They are full of life and bring me closer to the fast heartbeat of joy

The knobcone pine needles tickle us and we taste the chalky manzanita berries

Again and again

Crawling on hands and knees humbles me and slows me

I bow to the manzanita bark, touch the smooth red trunk

It is hard and cool in this autumn dry heat

I rest my cheek against it for a slow moment

The honeysuckle berries are red too

But do not eat them the way we grab red manzanita berries with glee

My hands reach again to the manzanita trunk, cool and smooth

Not like redwood bark

I can peel the manzanita bark off and it reveals a sheer beauty beneath

I wonder how we are like that 

The Fall Migrat…

•October 2, 2012 • Leave a Comment

The Fall Migration

It was said that the sky was black with the bodies of birds, loud with the cacophony of their calls and the flurry of their flapping wings. Now what remains is but a faint echo of the once astounding bird populations that came though during Fall migration. But we still have the blessing to become aware of the movements of birds, mammals, marine life, and insects around us as they respond to the changing seasons. And this is an amazing time of year to tune into these ancient migrations around us.

This weekend I was driving home along the Sonoma coast, the air was balmy and the sun strong in the sky. As I looked around I noticed the subtle signs of fall along the California coast. The subdued reds and browns, the thistle down still dancing like snow in the sky. The crunchy dry grass. The wild herbs no longer green and young but fading away to become dormant for the winter. The mugwort on the roadside shriveling in the sun, drying out and full with seeds. And a quietness, a slowness that begins to creep into the air.

Winding along the coast we came to the Russian river mouth, it was wide, glassy and glimmering in the golden sun. Harbor seals lounged along the beach where it met the ocean, and flocks of ducks swam lazily upstream. This huge waterway caused me to pause and reflect. Once this river served as a huge stopping point for migrating waterfowl. Were there signs of it now?

We pulled the car over and got out to gaze at this powerful meeting of river and ocean that nourishes and supports a diverse range of plants, animals, and birds. Edge areas like this often have a lot of animal traffic as well as interesting plant diversity. I looked across at this wide meandering river feeling a sense of peace and belonging wash through me. I felt held in the whole wide scope of life. A small dot on the map. As I stood the sounds of distant honking grew closer and closer. Canada Geese! I love geese, the way they fly in V and stretch their long necks out. They flew into sight, dark silhouettes against the golden sky, flying low over the slow heavy river. They were free and fast and the water seemed to move slower, more languid as opposed to the swift geese. Their honking calls and distinct V shaped flying pattern seemed to dial something into me. Here they were following what their ancestors have done for thousands of years. Migrating from their summer grounds to warmer winter areas… following a deep instinct and mysterious way of navigation passed down goose to goose to goose. How do they know where to go? I do not know.

But I know it’s a good thing to see them flying, low over the river, honking as they go, being geese. Their movement is a clear sign of the changing seasons, and even though it’s warm down here the lands to the north are becoming colder and colder sending many species of birds down our way. Keep your awareness out for the sounds of geese flying high in the sky. They are known to fly for 16 hours at a time and up to 8,000 feet! Some Geese will winter in California and others head father south to Mexico. Do you notice any year round residents in your area? Or seasonal visitors? Where would you find them? What color are their necks?


After taking in the beauty of the river mouth, we got back in our car with kayaks, surfboards, and paddles boards strapped on top and drove towards the ocean. It was the first big swell in a long time and overhead waves pounded the shore. Another sign of fall, more steady swells are back. What else in the ocean indicates changing seasons and migration?

Gazing out at the ocean, memories swelled up in me. When I lived on the Hawaiian Islands I was blessed to witness the Humpback Whale migration up close. These amazing marine mammals winter in Mexico and Hawaii giving birth to their calves in the warm waters. I remember watching them arrive, they would breach lifting their whole bodies out of the water before splashing back in causing huge ripples outwards. Have you seen one breach before? The underside of their flipper is white and that helps me identify them when they breach ore move their flippers in view.

Now is the time of year they begin to travel south towards these warmer waters so they can give birth! Bring binoculars out to the coast and shift into owl eyes, keeping your eyes soft and in wide-angle vision so you can pick up movement in the water. See how far you can see to the horizon line. I have been amazed by how far out I can spot a whale spout! We are blessed to have the opportunity to spot these migrating whales! There is nothing like watching one heave its huge body out of the water and become air borne for moment. The humpbacks that will be hugging our coastline this fall are heading down to Mexico to winter. Make a point to hit the coast this fall and watch for these beautiful animals. It will fill you with goodness.

Humpbacks may be one of the larger migratory animals with a long migration of up to 6,000 miles! Can you imagine that? While they swim through the Pacific Ocean there is another smaller fluttery animal also making an astounding migration. The Monarch butterfly.

Monarchs begin their migration in October, those living west of the Rocky Mountains head to California and Mexico. Here in California they hibernate in Eucalyptus trees, forming large clumps and going back to the same tree generation after generation even though they never migrate twice. The Monarchs migrating south are the great great great grandchildren of the ones that migrated north the previous spring. In between the migration they go through 3 generations, the 4th generation born in sep and early oct. are the ones who migrate back. When it warms again in spring they head north to lay eggs on Milkweed plants, the only food that monarch caterpillars eat. There they continue their cycle until the next fall returns and they head south to hibernate. Sometimes traveling 2,500 miles!!! That’s a lot for butterfly!

As the leaves yellow and fall on the trees that remain rooted all year round so also the geese, humpbacks, and monarchs express the fall through movement. So many other amazing animals are moving in the sky, oceans, and air… The world around us turns and changes following its natural order and we find our selves some where in it, becoming more of nature the more we connect to life around us.

Watch the monarch softly flutter onto a leaf, hear the honking geese above, imagine the sound of humpbacks singing their way down south. Do not stray from the beauty of them, their colors, their ways, when you close your eyes see the geese flying overhead. Wake to hear them. Look for the monarchs arriving. Imagine how far it has traveled on its delicate papery wings… Be like that.

Be keen. Be connected. Go out. Notice the migration, the movement, and also the stillness, the grounding. What do you observe around you?

~Autumn Equi…

•September 26, 2012 • 1 Comment

~Autumn Equinox~ Balance of dark and light


This past Saturday marked the passing of fiery summer and the birth of riper slower autumn. The Autumn Equinox is the mid point between the two solstices and holds light and dark in balance, neither one dominating but dancing in equality. It is when there are nearly 12 hours of daylight and 12 hours of night. A moment of pure balance, now there is more dark hours then light up until Winter Solstice when the light hides itself on the darkest day of the year. After solstice the light begins to return slowly eating away at the dark hours until it meets back in balance for another 12-hour day and 12 hour night at Spring Equinox. From there light holds over dark and the days are longer up until Summer Solstice where the light peaks, reigns over the night and then begins its journey once again into darkness.

And so in the cycle of things, light and dark have just met in balance. Even the word equinox, derived from Latin meaning “equal night” expresses this special day. The Earth’s axis  is neither tilted away from the Sun nor towards it but it directly aligned it. The center of the sun is in the same plane as the Earth’s equator. Cool!


What else does the Equinox and Autumn itself mean?

All over the world this is is a time of balance, celebration, harvest, and gathering.  In many cultures it also represents the mysteries of turning inwards represented by the nights being longer then the days.  It is the time to reflect on the fruits of the past year, what have we learned? What would we change? We gather and share stories from the year.

In ancient Greece the Goddess Persophone was honored and this is when she made her descent from the summer world into the underworld.

In Celtic traditions Autumn Equinox was called Mabon, and  communties would gather together and make a large man made from Barley. He was called John the BarleyCorn man and it was believed that the sprit of the harvest lived inside of the Barley Man. The village would gather and burn him in celebration of the harvest and with thanksgiving for the food that would sustain them through out winter. The burning of the Barleyman also represented the cylces of life and death, his body nourishing the fields for life to pop up again in spring.

In many Native American traditions Autumn is associated with the direction of West on the Medicine Wheel. Ruling over grounding, wisdom, and introspection, where the sun sets we also set inward. In coyotes guide West represents, ” The essential energy…is that of gathering together, in communtity, to share our bounty; of Harvest and Celebration”.


We can see that cultures from every part of the world have rituals and celebrations to honor the pivotal change from summer to autun, autumn to winter and so on. Living in the modern world it is much easier to slip away from seasonal awareness. We can buy apples any time of the year, we can stay inside and never feel the touch of winter in our bones, and as Ingwe, our great elder and teacher, lamented we can go a whole year with out ever touching our bare foot to the Earth.

So how can we get back in touch with the beauty of each season?

~ Make seasonal dishes with apples, pumpkins, squashes ( cider, pies, soup!)

~ Bring Fall into your home, decorate wit gourds, colorful leaves, acorns

~ Research your ancestors seasonal tradations!

~ Give Thanks for the gifts and experiences from this past year

And most importantly make time to connect with yourself, community, and Mother Earth.

Sit on the Earth and reflect on this past year, what are your greatest harvests? What ideas/projects fruited? What would you do differently?

And rejoice in the beauty of connecting to this time. How does it feel to notice the season? The shift in light? What is just beyond your awarness.. what are you not noticing out there?  What is Fall whispering? Go that way into the mysteries of Autumn…..



Autumn Wanderin…

•September 18, 2012 • 2 Comments


Thistle Down and Nettle Stalks

Fall is arriving, I notice the big leaf maple leaves beginning to yellow and the black berries are drying up on the vine. The grass is dry dry dry. Yes, some of the delicious fruits of summer are coming to pass but Fall also offers much to be gathered, eaten, crafted, dried, stored, and celebrated! Its a wonderful time to wander the landscape, the earth is warm and dry, the golden sun is soft, and there are many things to harvest.  So… what is out there right now?


There is much happening on the land as the seasons change!

Have you noticed any white fluffy down like materials floating in the air lately? About an inch in diameter? Pay attention you will start to notice it everywhere, especially meadows and open areas. Thistle down is a soft silky material which enables thistle seeds to float on the breeze so they can propagate elsewhere. Not only is it fun to watch blow through the air ( sometimes there is so much its like thistle down snow billowing about in the sky) but thistle down is also a very useful material. The soft downy material is ideal for fire making, specifically the tender bundle (the nestlike bundle that a coal is blown to flame in).

Yes Fall is warm and dry and fire is easy to make right now but winter is coming and the rains will bring moisture… now is the  time to prepare for winter. Next time you go for a wander bring a little bag with you and collect the thistle down as you go. Its best if you find a patch of thistles growing and can then harvest a bunch of the down while its all bunched together still, before its blown into the sky and dispersed. Keep it dry and tucked away for the winter time! It will come in handy when you want to blow your coal into flame!


If you wander from the open spaces full of flying thistle down and into the riparian zones another useful plant awaits you…. watch out though, even though it no longer displays its large spring green leaves this plant can still sting. I love this herb for its many uses and become excited every time spring rolls around to collect its nutritious and medicinal leaves! But it also offers itself in another way, Stinging Nettle(urtica dioca) is an excellent cordage plant. And Fall is the time to harvest its long stalks to make cordage from.

Look for standing patches of Nettle, mature and drying but with a good amount of green to ensure the fibers are strong. Its best when the leaves are fallen off or at least sparse. Right now the seeds of nettle make it very distinguishable, you will notice them  hanging in clusters and dangling off the plant.


To gather for cordage, wear gloves and harvest the Nettle from the base of the plant and remove any leaves/seeds so you just have the stalk. You can gather a bundle of stalks and let them dry.

To prepare the dried nettle stalks for cordage:

~Trim off the thin top part of the stem with pruning shears or scissors

~Crush the hollow nettle stem. Press in on the stem or roll a heavy branch or rock up and down the stem to crush it along its length

~Open the crushed hollow stem along its length. Find a weak point and pry the seam open with a fingernail

~Flex the opened nettle stem backward, away from the interior all along its length. This will separate the hard inner core from the usable outer fibers. It is also a very satisfying task! Be gentle to keep the fibers as long as possible while you are separating the inner from the outer. This will make it easier when you begin the cordage.

~ You now have the outer fibers separated but they are still all connected together, use your fingers to separate the outer fibrous bark into smaller strands to begin the cordage making.

~ Now rub and roll the fibers between your hands to clean the fibers of debris. The outer fibers may need to be dried or can be used right away depending on various factors…. pay attention to what you feel

Congratulations! You have now prepped nettle stalks for cordage making. A wonderful way to make cordage is to gather a group of your freinds together around a fire and tell stories while working on your cordage( or any other craft) There is something so timeless about sitting around a fire and crafting with community. The hands are busy and happy and the heart and ears are open. You can use your thistle down to start the fire and then make nettle cordage while you enjoy the warmth it provides and the stories around it.

here are some good online resource for cordage making:



~ Both these sights have very thorough pictures to guide you as well.

Enjoy and stay tuned for more Fall havestables! There is so much bounty out there and I look forward to sharing the gifts of this season!



Medicine from the Mountains

•September 10, 2012 • 1 Comment

Hello All….Summer is late and ripe now… golden leaves begin to form. Subtle shifts remind us of fall and the winter that lays beyond. We prepare for a new cycle of life. And as all things change, so this blog does.

Jen who has held down these wonderful blogs for the past couple years has passed the torch to me… you may be wondering who is “me”?. I am Coco a new instructor here at Riekes…if you have not met me yet I am sure our paths will cross soon enough! I am honored to continue on these blog posts so we can keep connecting to nature, ourselves, and community in all the ways offered. May they serve to teach us and inpsire us to all get out there and dive into the natural world around us with more awareness, curiosity, vibrancy, and joy…… With grattitude and exictement for this upcoming year I am happy to write an entry from the recent Teen camp-out to Tunnels Mills….deep in the pine and ceder trees of Tahoe National Forest…..

Loaded into the two vans, piled with gear, happy people, food for a week, and the jittery anticipation of adventures to come we made our way northeast. Fist sharing 4 lane freeways that narrowed to 2 lane roads lined more with pines then shopping centers, each road becoming smaller until we reached our final turn off in the late afternoon. We travelled down a small paved road for 7 miles through the insense ceders, doug firs, and sugar pines…turned off the music and slowed way down, rolled down the windows…let the fresh mountian air in. We were here. The ground was covered in red orange needles and pine cones. A raven, the only one I saw the whole trip was perched on a stump at the entrance to our campsite. The rush of the cold creek made its way up to our ears. This was new land, old land, land with songs we had yet to learn.

We were greeted by Charles an elder from 4 fires, and Rick Berry of Four Elements Earth Education based in Grass Valley. To be welcomed by them felt like a reflection of this growing community and movement. Once set up we gathered around the fire to make our selves known in this place. To speak or sing ourselves here… not back in the vans, or the long winding roads, but on this patch of earth, where the creek runs over the stones, where the stars make us feel the good kind of small. 

When I awoke the next morning and took my first inhales of the day I smelled the sharp aliveness of Ceder and heard the high pitched alarms of chickarees (douglas squirrels). What were they alarming at? Through out the whole week their alarms resounded through the forest and became a common sound to hear in the distance or right at you as you walked by. They served as a reminder to walk soft and quiet. The chickarees left very obvious signs of themselves for us to find. Walking through the forest we came across various piles of shredded douglas fir cones called middens. Chickerees will often choose one spot to sit while they tear off the scales of the pine cones eating away at the seeds with vigor,as the scales fall they pile up and over time this becomes a midden.. some spots are used for generations! 



As the chickerees went along their daily lives we established our own beat up in the mountains, rising early  and working hard on tanning our deer skins into buckskins then usually heading to the water in the afternoon to cool off and explore the land. The creek that ran through the campsite rushed cold and clear. Rocks of all sizes shaped the water flow and provided fun rock hopping for everyone. The icy water stopped no one from stripping down to their suits and jumping in. The sound of the water was loud it its swiftness, quiet in the delicate eddies, gurgling in small pools, and whispering over slippery river rocks. We let its music wash over us, adding our own voices with gasps and screams that the coldness pushed out of us. As we explored the small creek behind our campsite I kept hearing tales of an epic waterfall, THE waterfall…would we be going to it? 

Two days into the trip we had made strong headway tanning the hides as well as collecting Ceder to make a medicinal salve. Hide tanning is a process that requires dedication and hard work and by Thursday we were in need of this legendary epic waterfall to match and balance out our hardwork and focus. We needed to let loose, jump in and feel free.

A short drive down the road and a sweet wandering walk in led us to an outlook above the river. Looking down I was amazed at the power of this water and beauty of these mountains. The mountains were steep that led down to the river dressed in slabs of rock. In some areas the rock wall went straight up and others is undulated and sprawled providing nice sunning spots. There were two main smimminng holes, a smaller one above that gave way to a wide and deep swimming hole below. The waterfall fell heavy, loud, and pounding into the smaller pool above, spraying the rocks walls around it with its force. It was amazing to think this waterfall just kept falling for so long… how long? How many hundreds, thousands of years had this river ran? Had this thick sheet of water rained down upon this exact spot that we now stood in awe? how many bodies had it touched…did the natives come here often? There was so much power coming from the water. 

Following last years tradition the girls and I swam to the waterfall together singing our women’s power song passed down by Lauren. We clambered up onto a narrow slippery ledge before the falls singing loud to match the pound of rushing water and one by one sung each other though the fall. Passing under the sheets of water was intense as it roared and pelted down on me. I felt as through I was being washed away and made anew. Popping back out into the light and dry air I danced with excitement and dove back into the pool. This is what being alive felt like, I dove deeper opening my eyes and opening my heart. We stayed and played in the water all afternoon, jumping off rocks, laying in the sun, diving in the pools and climbing up the rock walls. All of us were feeling the grattitude that comes with being in the beauty of nature with our whole bodies. 

After such an amazing day at the waterfall… what could top that? Along comes Grayson, a Maidu cultural director. The Maidu traditionally lived in the lands where we were staying and having Grayson come and share his knowledge and connection with this place was a rare and powerful experience.  He arrived Friday morning and I remember watching him collect tons of long thin douglas fir branchlets. What was that for? Later he had a five gallon bucket of water filled with ceder leaflets and the douglas fir branches were stripped of all their needles except for the very ends. They were as thin as uncooked spagettie and a little longer. He gathered everyone around the fire where he stood with his bucket of water, fir cones, his bundle of douglas fir branchlets, and Peltiphyllum, a large leaf plant that grows in/along the creek and looks like rhubarb. Grayson then shared a traditional steaming method.. In this case he was steaming the doug fir branchlets to make them flexible enough to bend and craft with. 

Here is the awesome process….try it out! 

1) Stoke the fire and add the cones until the fire burns down but the cones are still coals and hold their shape, this is essential for air flow to reach and feed the coals

2) spread the pine cone coals out making a flat surface big enough for what you are steaming

3) Dip the ceder leaflets into the water and shake the water off so the ceder is damp but not soaking

4) Place the ceder leaflets evenly over the coals( its like a bed for what you are steaming)

5) lay down the steamee… in this case the doug fir branchlets and cover them thoroughly with more ceder leaflets You can also add the doug fir needles that were stripped on the very top

6) And the final touch….lay the large leaves over the top to encase the steaming process and place rocks along the edges to hold the leaves down and seal the steam in……let sit for 10-15 mins

7) uncover and wallah! Remove what ever have chosen to steam.

(We also steamed a zuchinni which tasted great! Traditionally this method of steaming was to make vegetation flexible for crafing/tools ect. )

Through out the day Grayson shared many other awe inspiring teachings from his people including manzanita berry powdered sugar and teaching us an ancient game called Hand Stick which we played around the fire late into the night. I am so thankful for his willingness to share these ancient and sacred ways that connect us deeper to living on earth. Thank you Grayson!

Being up in the mountains was deep medicine for all of us. Charles an elder with us said the earth has a way of giving us each exactly what we need. We all come together and recieve group blessings and we also all come alone, with our self, with our own questions and mystery. To be taken in by the land, to be whispered to by the trees and creek, to hear our own individual heart beat it in all. The dance is to remain awake to our own story unfolding it its natural way. To see the little gifts brought to our awareness. Each place has its own medicine just as each person has their own gift they bring.

For me mountain medicine has a way of cleansing the soul with its sharp clarity, the air is thinner crisper, the water colder more cutting, it carves away making you more alive.  That is not to say its harsh but powerful and raw. Have you ever laid in a mountain meadow under the night sky. Millions of stars, so ancient. There is nothing, no-thing, like that. And that is all there is to live for in that moment, the spattering of beauty across the sky like diamonds. And so  I say thank you to the mountains. For the waters we swam in, the fires we sang by, the meadows we laid in, the scent of ceder, the crunch of pine, the chickeree alarm, the american dippers, and all the stories we now hold within us.

What medicine does the mountain bring to you?







Buckeye Gathering 2012

•May 9, 2012 • 1 Comment

Most of the Riekes Nature staff, plus many Riekes families, had the pleasure and privilege of attending the Buckeye Gathering at Ya-Ka-Ama last week. I attended as an instructor (Scott Davidson and I led tracking outings all week), and the rest of the Riekes crew enjoyed the camp.

The first thing we saw when we got out of the cars to set up camp was the wildflowes. Lupins, poppies, vetches, blue-eyed grass, flax, blue-dicks, larkspur, and others decorated the land around our tipis, tents and tarps.

The next thing we noticed were the goats. The organizers had brought in milking goats, which lounged around and munched the greenery, giving milk for our kitchen. Goat kids roamed freely and played with children. Other goats came as culls from local herds and the animal processing class learned to slaughter humanely to provide meat to the camp. The goat’s hides, hooves, bones, sinew, and all other parts went to the many primitive craft classes, and nothing was wasted. The food that the kitchen crafted from these animals, and from local organic produce and wild plants, was well worth the price of attendance.

Some other prominent features of camp were the arbor, where meetings and many classes took place. On opposite edges of the main camp, there were also a Women’s Lodge and a Men’s lodge. Each held ceremonies, discussions, and space for contemplation specially for their gender.

I took off soon after arriving, to scout the land and find the really fun tracking stories. The rest of the Riekes crew made camp, wandered around the central arbor talking to instructors, or went down to the river (the Russian River flows right past camp, and offers a great spot for a dip). The land around camp is not as wild as some, but still offers up coyote, bobcat and fox sign (as well as sign of many, many other animals), and the occasional wild pig or deer sighting.

The classes offered varied tremendously, as did the participants. Some spend their 5 days lounging by the river, watching ospreys fish. Others jumped from craft to craft, working intensively while they could. One of the Riekes boys worked for three days to make a deer skin into braintanned buckskin. He also got to attend a rite of passage ceremony at the Men’s Lodge soon after.

Some of the fire arts offered were hand drill, bow drill, and flint and steel (and it’s stone-age variations). The pottery makers, working with local wild clay, demonstrated a primitive 0pen-fire firing. Blacksmiths demonstrated smelting ore into iron, and taught classes on smithing. We witnessed a primitive charcoal burn, and a very simple but spectacular lime burn that took simple shells and transformed them into slaked lime.

Instructors showed us how to take the skins of rabbits, sheep, goats, deer, fish, and probably other animals and make them into furs, bark-tanned leather, brain-tanned buckskin, and rawhide. The leather workers showed us how to make containers out of rawhide, bags and clothing out of buckskin, shoes and hats from bark-tanned leather, and more. The animal processing instructors showed us how to kill an animal with the least suffering possible, and then process the whole creature so that nothing was wasted and everything could be used for some important purpose.

Herbalists and ethnobotanists led walks to ID and harvest local edible and useful plants, and showed many ways to prepare and use them. Julia and Lucy parker returned to teach about acorns as food.

Guatemalan back-strap weaving, basket weaving of many sorts, wool felting, net-making, cordage spinning, and hat weaving were some of the fiber arts on offer.

Flintknappers showed us how to get a cutting edge from a stone. Archers coached participants in shooting, and bowyers helped people build their own bows from simple sticks of wood. The night atlatl toss (with glow sticks) was a success, with something like 30 tosses and 15 hits of the target.

We also pushed our awareness edges. Instructors from the Regenerative Design and Nature Awareness program taught classes in Bird Language, and Scott and I brought people out to connect with the animals through track and sign. And movement artists of all sorts helped us move more naturally and comfortably through the week.

On the final day of classes, we ended early for a barter fair. The arbor was packed with shoes, clothes, knives, awls, food, containers, bows and decorative items, to name a few, in a celebration of the material culture we’d been making all week. The next day we ended with powerful words around the fire, and sent each other off, back to the modern world. But each of us carries crafts and experience to keep working with through the year, until the next Buckeye Gathering.