Medicine from the Mountains

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?







~ by rcnature on September 10, 2012.

One Response to “Medicine from the Mountains”

  1. This is so beautifully written. Thank you!
    “What medicine does the mountain bring to you?” Clarity. Space. Holding. Acceptance. Greater awareness of individuality and unity in the same moment, intertwining and woven as life.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: