Return To Nature – on – TV – It was fun to get an email from someone from Verizon that wanted to come film at a plant walk. I decided that surely he was welcome and that I would share what I could. Hopefully someone watching public access gets a bit of a wake up call…
You can see the video Here: http://youtu.be/c_leeRkFxwg
“Rock the nation, take over television and radio station – give the corporations some complications.” - Michael Franti
I meet Dan Farella as I come to attend a plant walk with him in Eatontown, NJ. In his comfortable-looking free-flowing cottons and long dreadlocks, he seems very much at ease and at home among all of the wonderful greenery surrounding us, almost being an extension to the tree we are sitting under. Behind his back is a sizable forager basket with a curious specimen selection, dried mushrooms, paw paws, seeds, herbs, all in attendance.
A few minutes later, he is surrounded by a bunch of light-bulb youngsters, listening in utter amusement to captivating stories on common dirt and the six inches of soil out of which all of our sustainment comes; about fruit pits and seeds being the essential currency of the future; about the irony of recycling and the amounts of fossil fuel it takes to recycle a glass bottle; about the function and importance of the ‘weeds’ root systems in irrigating the soil for nearby plants. Dan is totally absorbed, in the blissful state of fun and calmness, satisfying natural curiosity of his listeners’ inquisitive minds, making jokes in the process.
Gradually, the focus shifts to medicinal mushrooms, herbs, and wild edibles. As we examine the fragrant contents of Dan’s basket, the recurring thought keeps popping into my head “I didn’t know one can eat that.” Next, the magic paw paws come out, and I catch myself drooling over the delicious native fruit, musing at my ignorance of not suspecting of its existence before.
While I listen to this man unfolding the wonder-world of greenery in front of us and observe him bending the boughs of trees and bushes with natural gentleness and gratitude, I make my re-acquaintance with the plants I loved as a child, wondering how disconnected I am in my everyday life from these direct experiences and creative interaction with Nature. It seems that almost everything that surrounds us has some culinary or medicinal application. How many of us nowadays use plantain leaves, so common under our feet, as a first aid for scraped knees and insect bites; yarrow, with its powerful astringent properties, to stop bleeding; jewelweed to relieve a poison ivy rash. Back in the day when I was a kid, we did that all the time.
Over an hour passes, yet we barely travel a few hundred feet. What I expected to be a trekking expedition into the forest, ended up being a very informative, eye-opening gathering in the middle of a developed park, listening to a man with this magical capacity of experiencing the world around him from the perspective of the things growing around, seeing the universe’s workings in a single leaf or a flower.
Dan’s path is far from traditional. His knowledge and understanding of plants, their medicinal qualities and nutritional values and their role in nature is extraordinary. His work and visions are inspiring and attract conscious people from all over. Currently, Dan is teaching multiple classes and workshops on plants, edibles, medicine making, foraging, while also working on various permaculture and sustainability projects. If you would like to learn more about Dan’s work or attend any of his classes or workshops, please visit his website: www.returntonature.us
Last night, while I was driving, suddenly I witnessed that there was a young and adorable raccoon frozen scared in the middle of the road and cars were whizzing by it. Not wanting this beautiful beings life to end so senselessly, I pulled off and parked, and headed towards the road. As we stood there for a moment looking into each others eyes, both wondering what the next step was, I entered into a moment of eternal contemplation. This being was so adorable and was so young it seemed it wanted to cuddle, or defend itself, or run – and it seemed to assume all of these 3 postures at once, obviously utterly confused at my presence. In this simple moment of connection, I felt a deep sense of reverence and appreciation for such a divine and innocent creature that just cannot be experienced in any other way than directly engaging Nature as it is.
This great evolutionary mystery before me; so many questions could be asked… Why this specific body design and markings? How did it evolve and from what? How are we related genetically over millions of years of growth? How is it delicately still thriving in the middle of suburban New Jersey, and will enough people in suburbia be conscious enough to watch their numbers disappear? Will it come a time for this creature to also be forgotten? Just a story among our generations of the suburban masked messenger that once existed amongst our highly spastic village-in-overdrive.
In these engagements with the wild, for me, and I’m sure for many, it’s difficult to know the balance between help and interfere. I decided it was best to give it a sense of fear of people and the road and started shooing it off the road. The raccoon eventually ran off to the side of the road and I got back into my car and decided I would watch the area for about 10 minutes.
Eventually, as I suspected, it poked its head out from the divider again, potentially thinking of making another go-or just wondering what kind of crazy animal I was. At that moment, knowing that Nature works through reciprocity, I reached into my basket of wild pears that were on the passenger seat, and of course I pull out 3. So now with my wild pear trinity I brought them to the side of the road, and made an offering and a prayer, “Hopefully you can be satisfied with these instead of running all across the road little guy.”
I returned to my car to go home and leave his fates now to the great mystery, I did what I felt I could and it felt complete for my presence. I turned my car around and instantly I spotted money in the middle of the street. Ok Nature… Thank you. I picked it up and it was 10 dollars. Feeling thankful for the teachings of raccoon medicine, and Nature for guiding such a beautiful experience, I once again had it shown to me that service to the divine in nature will provide what we need if we do our own inner work the best that we can.
This tree meant a lot to me over the years. Growing up it was the highest tree that we could climb. I climbed so high up and remember the wobbly feeling as gravity felt that it had less of a hold on me. The view was beautiful, peaceful, serene and meditative. One year, they cut the limbs off so people couldn’t climb it. I suspect that these big arm wounds on the tree is how it got inoculated with oyster mushrooms in the first place, that’s how it happens. It’s almost as if a tree gets a mushroom infection by exposed skin, just the same as what happens to a human who gets an infected cut.
I’ve had some great hauls from this beautiful tree. It’s provided me and many friends with lots of delicious and medicinal mushrooms. Did you know that this commonly sold mushroom grows in your back yard and is also being shown to have medicinal effect on the body? “Pleurotus ostreatus [oyster mushroom] extracts may inhibit cholesterol biosynthesis, as well as having potential anticancer and immunomodulatory activities” *. And since mushrooms consume hydrogen and carbon they can break down lethal hydrocarbons (environmental pollutants) into harmless substances, as has been shown with Paul Stamets work, and with the mycoremediation project.
I hope that one day we can see the ecosystem as something that shares with it an incredible amount of sustainable resources if met with the right awareness and attitude.
Here is an excerpt from my upcoming film – Hunting the Medicine: Stalking the Wild Spirit.
As I was driving through Shenandoah National Forest I spotted a pretty large rattlesnake sunbathing on the road. It was amazing and majestic as it was the first I’ve ever seen. I quickly pulled off, parked, and grabbed my camera. I knew I wanted to help the snake and that I didn’t want it to get run over. It was right around a bend and so hard to see, even I at first thought it was just a stick in the middle of the road. A few moments passed by, wondering what to do; should I try to get a stick and bring it off the road – or not interfere with the natural flow of things? Was my being there at that specific time and place part of the natural flow, or was I going to interfere with that flow? As I stood there, mystified by its beauty and presence and feeling my heart I was just holding space for it. As cars went by I waved my hands to them, guiding them around the snake. From there eventually it naturally seemed to sense the vibration of the vehicles and turned around.
It slithered silently up the hill where I suddenly spotted lots of St johns wort growing wild. Happily and excitedly, with lots of thanks I collected some to make an herbal medicine with and named it Shenandoah Snake Johns Wort. I will be making an infused oil from it (more in the documentary). It will be a good blessing and will continue to give lots of healing from the special memory as well.
Film Title: Hunting the Medicine – A Story of Stalking the Wild Spirit
July 4 to August 16, 2013
Return to Nature is an organization with the mission to provide a safe and healing teaching bridge for individuals and communities to recognize Nature as a continual and abundant provider of nourishment, medicine, and spiritual connection. Dan is a Teacher, Forager, Herbalist, and Musician dedicated to working with Nature to further the healing of the planet, the soul and communities.
Appalachian Expedition Mission:
Throughout the Summer I will be journeying through North Carolina where I will be sharing my adventures with our community throughout my travels. The aim of this expedition is to understand, practice, document and explore herbal knowledge in North Carolina and to share this wisdom with you. My vision for this expedition is to create a great sustainable survival and documentary experience, and for this knowledge to be cherished and practiced in the wider community.
Documenting, Preserving & Sharing:
I will bring this experience to youthrough video documenting, blogging, photographing and writing, interactivelythrough these mediums; for example, filming Wildman Steve Brill when I recently met him to exchange knowledge of foraging at one of his classes. My knowledge will be combined with that of other teachers and herbalists throughout my travels to bring teachings to the community. I will meet with Ken Crouse, a most influential elder of these traditions and lineages. Ken is a mushroom foraging, ceremonial permaculturist and a true wisdom keeper of the south. I will keep my path open to meeting other knowledge holders along the way that I have been in contact with and will have a few surprise encounters to document and share. For some examples of my films please click here. This project will aim to show the ceremonial, ritual, and practical work that people are doing to gather their own foods and medicines from the wild; and how this practice and connection transforms them. The working title of this so far is “ Hunting the Medicine – A Story of Stalking the Wild Spirit”
Teaching, Gathering and Cooking:
Throughout the journey I’ll be exploring plants and mushrooms, herbalism, traditional skills, interviewing knowledge holders, foraging, living off the land and attending herbal and permaculture gatherings. I will share my knowledge of foraging and cooking with wild greens, mushrooms, fruits, berries, nuts and seeds. I’ll make stir frys and tea on campfires while sharing skills for living off the land and enjoying Nature’s bounty. To view one of my videos on firemaking click here
Donations & Contributions:
All energetic and monetary contributions are cherished components to the success of this endeavor. Monetary gifts will be gratefully accepted in person, or through the Paypal donate button below.
Lavalier mic(s) - Over 200$ ea. – A clip-on audio microphone will be essential for clearer audio recordings of people speaking while filming them.
Solar charger – estimated total – 100-200$ – Something such as this for charging all of mygear on the road.
Transportation costs such as fuel – estimated total – 200$
Staple foods (beans legumes etc.) – estimated total – 200$
Itinerary – The Road Less Traveled:
I will be traveling through the lands unfolding an adventure, finding secret spots full of lush and magical vegetation, swimming holes, sustainable schools, and friends and teachers. Between these events, I will be keeping my mind and heart open and following the mystery toward whatever it wants to present.
The following is my itinerary. Join me in person or online!
I’ll be visiting the Appalachia School of Holistic Herbalism July 14th – 21st, where I’ll teach three classes as follows:July 14th – “The Alchemy of Vegetable Fermentation” – A hands on workshop exploring the ancient alchemical practice of breaking down plant cells in salt water to extract the highest form of nutrients.July 17th – “Wild food and Medicine Walk” – We’ll explore the land identifying and sampling the wild plant wonders Nature guides us to.July 21st – “The Deep Ecology of Foraging” – A meditative and inspiring workshop designed to help us reconnect with our direct perceptual knowledge of the foods and medicines found in Nature.
Meetings with Ken Crouse: Interviews, discussions, and mushroom hunts.
I’ll attend and contribute to the Green Scene Herbal Gathering held on Ken Crouse’s land.
A mushroom Id retreat with Ken Crouse at the Sunnybank Inn, where we complete the weekend workshop with a soak at the mineral springs in town.
On the way home
Potomac River, VA
Wild pawpaw (Asimina triloba) foraging on the Potomac river: Completing a documentary video that I began last year. It will be such a blessing to bring an abundance of wild harvested pawpaws to share with you in NJ!
For ideas of gatherings or sacred sites along the route email me!
Stay tuned for a closer look at the gear I’ll be traveling with as well as the adventures I have planned to share with you!
Today I was shown a bit of groundhog medicine. She lives in my front yard with her 4 babies, so I want to befriend her, learn from her, and become connected with her, to work in symbiosis, and to watch her nurture her children with wisdom and awareness.
This begins first by picking up on the subtle cues of each other when we are in each other’s space. She will make alarm calls that will inform all who listen when someone, or something is coming. Groundhogs have a very loud and powerful alarm whistle. Every other animal listens to this, for it can mean life or death for them.
As I was sitting and meditating in the sunlight she decided I was too close to her home. She stuck her head out and gave a startling alarm to let me know of her boundary, and that I was too close for her feeling of safety. I carefully obliged and changed my location, knowing that this very moment and my choice would leave a deep imprint in her psyche and how she viewed me; friend or foe. Luckily I got to capture one of these sounds on my audio recorder.
Here is the alarm of groundhog. Listen to how the birds alarm in response. She informs them of a danger, which in this case was me! And the birds in turn alert the whole rest of the landscape; whoever is aware enough to listen.
Later, as I was in my shelter, I got to watch her eating on her belly, scurrying and chewing. She was eating clover, grass, sorrel and plantain. I learned by observation that every time a groundhog eats it leaves a huge belly track on the grass, and then it later becomes a mystery to follow, and I could then pick that out of a landscape, “A groundhog has been here!” But, of course, this mystery often can’t be seen and is covered up because of our society’s obsessive compulsive mowing disorder.
As I was observing, It dawned on me that perhaps the reason groundhogs eat our garden is because we mow theirs. Then they have no choice but to eat the only plants we leave. They would prefer to eat closer to their shelter and escape and evade and not be exposed.
After observing this and filling my senses with the lessons and medicine it was time for lunch. I harvested as the groundhog had taught; eating a lunch of the many foods I watched her eat. All of those plants were already my good friends and I could ID them well.
Here is a video of the meeting:
- Groundhogs Message -
A very difficult and powerful totem to have,
Groundhog is the symbol of opening fully to the dreamtime.
Of exploring altered states of consciousness more deeply and fully.
Dreams will have great significance.
Lessons associated with death, dying and revelations about its processes will begin to surface. Groundhog can teach its people metabolic control.
How to go into the great unconscious without harm.
People with a Groundhog totem need to have definite
boundaries in their life and let those around them know those boundaries.
Groundhog’s power is strongest in Winter and two years is an important time period.
Two years of intensive studying might be required to achieve
true trances or alter states of consciousness.
Each morning I’ve literally been going out with a colander and a pair of scissors to clip from my garden and use for my morning smoothie. but lately I’ve been venturing farther and farther from the “box”. I’ve found myself carefully and gently snipping and tending the lawn as an already-planted garden and adding it to my smoothies.
Wild plants such as Hairy bittercress (Cardamine hirsuta), Chickweed (Stellaria media), Dandelions (Taraxacum officinalis) , Purple Dead Nettle (Lamium purpureum) and even grass clippings are packed with phyto-nutrients, vitamins, minerals, and chlorophyll, and are all found on almost every lawn I see. This is the same stuff that we pay big money at health food stores to get with our exotic supplements and super foods. Perhaps a more sane solution is already present! Juice your lawn!
If you have attended my plant walks, perhaps you have heard me ranting about how you could practically juice your lawn clippings. Well actually, it’s not very far from the truth. Granted, you should know every plant that you consume on a first and last name basis. I do however, often have trouble finding poisonous plants on peoples’ lawns, with 2 exceptions, spurge (Euphorbia maculata) and Groundsel (Senecio vulgaris). Also, Groundsel is questionable due to its toxicity.
From wiki, “As a plant that is reported to be both poisonous for human ingestion and also medicinal; much of the contradiction can be found by closely reviewing the words that are used and the dose (amount) of the poisonous substance that is ingested to prove either claim. All species of the genus Senecio contain pyrrolizidine alkaloids (e.g., senecionine) a substance that when a human has chronic exposure can cause irreversible liver damage.“ So what is chronic exposure? A very vague term.
Today my delicious and power-packed smoothie consists of..
-about 30 dandelion leaves
-A hand full of hairy bitter cress
-a few sprigs of grass
- a few sprigs of purple deadnettle
- a few springs of lemon balm
As well as some home ingredients, including a nub of ginger, a banana, some yogurt, 10-15 soaked hazelnuts with the water, and homemade maple syrup from a friend.
Blend it up In-Joy! And feel the healing.
p.s. of course be mindful that if you spray your lawn you are ruining the fun, although is it still comparable to gmo non organic food? probably. Use your discretion where you forage, and shop.