Four Native Species to Know

Here are four species of native plants of the Pacific Northwest. If you live in this region, do you recognize any of these? They are common friends to know.

The first, Oregon Grape, is a delicious (albeit rather tart) edible berry. It is most ripe at the time of my writing this in late August. When the berries start to shrivel up just a little bit is when they are most sweet to eat by the handful. It’s okay to eat the little sift stems attached to the berries, too. In springtime, the new leaves of this plant are deliciously edible; they are very soft and light green and taste like a tart apple.

It is said that parts of the Nootka Rose can be edible. I am not certain about this, and beside, we should all do our research to make sure we can absolutely identify any wild edible plant before eating them. Some wild plants have parts that are edible and other parts that are poisonous. Others are completely edible, but only at certain times of the year. It’s not hard to learn these things, but it does take a bit of real-world identification practice.

Salmonberry is one wonderful species that I can say for certain is edible. The berries are totally edible, being ripe in early summer, around early June. The flowers, which come out in springtime before the berries, are also edible right off the stem. They have a very subtle, soft, sweet taste. I don’t think the rest of the plant is edible. Salmonberry is super prolific in this region, so I’m never concerned about over-harvesting. It even competes with Blackberry.

Snowberry, the fourth plant here, is poisonous. Many plants with white berries are poisonous; learn who lives around you, so you are not wrongfully fearful of an edible plant. It’s strange that this fourth picture is the darkest, an uncanny coincidence of an omen.

It was at Wilderness Awareness School that I adopted the practice of using the word “who” to describe plants and nonhuman animals, instead of “what”. This choice of language signifies a different way of thinking about nonhuman species; the sense that they are alive, and that a species need not be human to have a personality or be in meaningful relationship with others.

 

 

 

Plant photos by Gentle J. Pine.

Featured photo by luke flynt on Unsplash.

Within Humanity: Toward a Healthier Ethnic Identity for Ancestrally European People

A little while ago, I was speaking with a friend about the racial tension issues surrounding the 2016 election in my country, the United States of America. He reacted strongly to the national tension by veering further “left” politically than me, whereas I have become more cautiously moderate. In this conversation I expressed my anguish about becoming separated from beloved friends over these divided politics, especially friends like him. We were talking about the issue of perceived “whiteness” in America, and he felt strongly that White people might be historically redeemed by wiping away this stain of self-identified “whiteness” by no longer identifying as “white”, but instead by reclaiming their roots as ethnically Dutch, Irish, Norwegian, French, Russian, Italian, and so forth. I told him why I take issue with this: “Tell me,” I said, “which am I? Am I French or German or Danish? Am I Scottish or Swedish or English? I do not know which section of my DNA is more worthy of my recognition, in order to be pardoned from a cultural guilt which I have no responsibility in creating.” By trying to uplift the cultural experiences of non-white Americans, he was ignoring and devaluing his own simultaneous reality that White people in America tend to identity as White for a very good reason. They do not belong to only one of these disparate ethnic European groups, but an ancestral admixture of many of them. The story of gradually becoming White in America was not some sinisterly ordained plot worked out in advance from the Mayflower. It was a multi-century, organically evolving experience of blending into a new cultural group of pan-European American people, which eventually resulted in us having only one box to check on the census: “White/ Caucasian”. This blending of ancestries was not some malicious conspiracy to make all ancestrally European people immediately the top of the social hierarchy, though this happened for a multi-generational period due to being the majority population with its own set of complicated values and age-old human problems. This is a story of a people’s multi-generational diaspora, and it isn’t very remarkably different from every other migration story in the history of humanity.

I want to participate in my own ethnic European-American “tribe” the same way other tribes are openly permitted to do so in my country without all the shame and blame to follow. At the same time, I do not accept any supremacist attitudes from anyone, regardless of their “race”. I put the word “race” in scare quotes because I follow the scientific conclusion that there is no biological evidence for the distinct categories we call “races”. There are varying genetics, haplogroups, phenotypes, and distinctive cultures, all of which result in the many ethnic groups of the world, but there is no evidence in reality for such a thing as “race”. Looking at this desire to wholly belong to and participate in the communal life of a human tribe, I view my own need for this cultural identity and cohesion through the same evolutionary and anthropological lens that applies to all in our Human species. I place my own pan-European and American ancestry within that global, million-year-old Hominid story.

Part of the ongoing problem of colonialism’s legacy is that the “privileged” groups tend to unconsciously feel that they will only ever have their privilege to identity with, or else their utter shame and self-hatred in response to it. They forget their own normal humanity that holds the same needs for a semblance of peaceful cohesion as does any other ethnic group. A healthy ancestrally European identity could begin as one which does not assume the blank slate of normalcy for all that is culturally “white”, while marginalizing all non-white people as the Other. Instead, it would claim the beauty and humanity of its Western ancestry, influenced by many peoples over many centuries, while acknowledging the parallel normalcy of everyone else’s accomplishments and subsequent centrism in their own ancestry.

One of the ironies of the politically “progressive” White-guilt complex is the blindness to it’s own ability to be so deeply self-critical as a group of self-identified White people. If White people were so hopelessly irredeemable for the sins of history, we wouldn’t be repenting on our knees through the desert in sackcloth and ashes like we are. The alarming part of this is not a peoples’ willingness to be self-critical, but rather a peoples’ willingness to eagerly self-destruct their own culture in hopes of redeeming itself through a sacrificial offering. The sick religious connotations I draw are intentional. The proclamations on the part of white people who wish to culturally beat themselves and their progeny into submission in reparations to people with more melanin in their skin is sadistic, unacceptably emotionally self-mutilating and will never change the past. It will only put a stain on the wellness and relationships of the generations of the future, whatever their skin colors.

Some contemporary people of European ancestry are trying to creatively re-envision an ethnic identity not automatically tied up in the colonial slaughter of the past five hundred years as their founding mythology. It is appropriate to acknowledge the pain of the victims of colonial history without relegating our own European ethnic heritage to the two worst options: either crippling, self-hating ancestral guilt or inexcusable White supremacist ideology. Neither of these can ever be healthy and I look forward to the future demise of each.

We do damage to upcoming generations when we give them only the consistently despairing accounts of history, without pairing them with the equally true and powerful stories of inter-ethnic friendship, cooperation and acculturation to each other. To only speak exclusively of historical despair –hoping to heal the wounds of history by emotionally flogging the children of the future– only perpetuates conflicts that do not belong to the future. Each of us are born to be the living recipients of history, and so we are the ones qualified to talk back to it. The greatest wisdom of the elders should be to let their warfare die with them.

 

 

Momaday’s Pilgrimage to the Ancestors

Pulitzer Prize winning author N. Scott Momaday wrote The Way to Rainy Mountain in 1969 as an offering of love to his ancestors and living relations, the Kiowa people. The Kiowa live in what is now Oklahoma, though their ancient origins are in the Montana region. Momaday’s relationship with his land, the land of North America as he intimately experiences it, is rooted in the human being’s instinctual identity in place and peoplehood, a vital experience now forgotten among many contemporary Americans.

Rainy Mountain is located northwest of the Wichita Mountains National Wildlife Refuge in southwestern Oklahoma. The Kiowa people came to this region after encountering conflict with the United States Cavalry, who eventually forced the Kiowa into Oklahoma during the tumultuous 1860s, though migration began as early as the latter 18th century (the 1700s).

Momaday returns to Rainy Mountain as one returns to a home that is longed for, searching to understand his and his community’s storied places with maturing devotion to people and place in a new era for Indigenous communities. It is a journey that is a pilgrimage to his honored grandmother, now an ancestor who sleeps in the earth. Through finding her grave, his visitation here is also a way back to his people, the Kiowa, searching for their sacred story as told through their own lives in the language of landscape.

The next morning I awoke at dawn and went out on the dirt road to Rainy Mountain. It was already hot, and the grasshoppers began to fill the air. Still, it was early in the morning, and the birds sang out of the shadows. The long yellow grass on the mountain shone in the bright light, and a scissortail hied above the land. There, where it ought to be, at the end of a long and legendary way, was my grandmother’s grave. Here and there on the dark stones were ancestral names. Looking back once, I saw the mountain and came away.

This piece was originally posted online as an answer I wrote in response to a student question on enotes.com

Photo by Chris Schog on Unsplash