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Conservation Through Economic Development: Lemon Grass Saves Trees

Feb. 11th, 2017 | 01:27 pm
location: Peru, Iquitos

In 2016, the owner of Aroma Maderosa (www.aromamaderosa.com/), Celine Motard, approached CONAPAC with the idea of purchasing lemon grass from a partnering community.  She was interested in producing the essential oil, and wanted to obtain the crop from a reliable group of rural people who showed a concern for forest conservation.  Moreover, she offered a fair price, and committed to a large quantity purchase.
The initiation of the project required experimentation and seed funding, so the CONAPAC team got together to brainstorm what the required steps would be while Cynthia sent out inquiry for donation interest.  Soon after, a brief list of materials and costs were identified, and Adopt A Village (http://www.adoptavillageinternational.org/) had stepped up to the plate with a donation.  Within a few months, three communities then agreed to join the pilot project.
Each of the communities assumed that lemon grass would grow easily because it's a native plant to the region.  They each formed nicely organized rows of the bushy, tall grasses and let them grow.  After several months, however, two of the communities began to notice leaves drying at the base of each plant and at the tips.  Only one community was able to maintain their plants as lush, healthy, and vibrant green.  The conditions were different for the successful plot.  They were the only ones who had both a full day of sun light accessing their plants, and well draining sandy soil.  We can only speculate before our soil test results are returned to us, but it seems that the combination of clay, partial sun, and mono-culture prevented lemon grass from growing to its full glory.  Nonetheless, the plants that did not become strong can be dug up, leaves cut off, and roots replanted next year in a more ideal location.
As indicated by our facebook post on February 10th, the lemon grass that was successful provided an abundant harvest, and it's only the first of five deliveries for the year.   Aroma Maderosa generously accepted three times their preferred amount for this first harvest.  Our team had arrived to the community early on the morning the harvest was planned.  We had expected to indicate the weight limit before they began cutting.  However, this community's organization skill and speed was strong, and between 6am and 7am, they had harvested over 1600 pounds.  Fortunately, this was a mere one quarter of their total crop.
Adopt A Village played a crucial role in providing transportation supplies, fuel, and other critical items.  They made it possible for us to learn how to set communities up to be successful in this project.  From growing condition requirements to logistical processes, we now understand what is needed for a community to begin from scratch, deliver a harvest, and walk home with a profit.  The more profit they obtain, the less need they will have to turn to the precious rain forest for income.  Equally important, we now understand how to set up these agricultural projects with a single visit.  Once we initiate  a community, the communication will thereafter remain between the townspeople and Aroma Maderosa.

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Brian Interviewed for Beekeeping!

Apr. 7th, 2016 | 07:42 pm
location: Portland, OR

Interview: Bees at NCNM & Supporting Our Natural Pollinators


The month of June has brought beautiful warm weather, blue skies and… bees! NCNM welcomes our new bee neighbors to campus. But what do bees have to do with natural medicine? Mary Doyle, Admissions Counselor, recently sat down with Brian Landever, NCNM’s beekeeper extraordinaire, to learn more about the role bees play in natural medicine.

bee hive 001[1]



Mary Doyle: Thank you for agreeing to an interview. So, why bring bees to NCNM?

Brian Landever: We are primarily inviting bees onto our campus to increase the pollination of our lovely gardens and local trees. As bee populations have increasingly become an issue throughout the United States, it has become important to support their survival by providing safe homes for them. The hives we have built attempt to do just that.

MD: What do bees have to do with natural medicine?

BL: Supporting the life forms that sustain the fertilization of the very medicinal plants we learn to use at NCNM adds another component to the circle of sustainability in our practice.

MD: How many hives on campus and where are they located?

BL: Thus far, we have one hive, and we soon will be transferring the bees from that hive into a larger hive to provide them additional room for population expansion and increased production of honey comb. The hive is located behind Spaulding House at the corner of SW Water and SW Hooker streets, and houses approximately 30,000 bees. These bees are more than capable of taking care of themselves, and are quite occupied with pollen collection throughout the day.

MD: What if someone would like to visit the bees?

BL: The hive may be visited, but it is important to be calm and move slowly when you peak behind the fence. If a bee lands on you, do not touch her. She will fly away on her own.

MD: Will the honey and/or wax be harvested? If so, for what purposes?

BL: We are still determining if and how we want to use the honey. We primarily want to ensure that the hives have enough honey to eat throughout the winter.

MD: Who tends the bees? Can students volunteer?

BL: If students are interested in volunteering, they may leave a note for Brian Landever at the Spaulding House. Volunteer roles could include setting up new hives, assisting with the introduction of swarms, or gradually repositioning hives to ideal locations.

MD: Excellent. Thank you for your time. Is there anything else you would like to add?

BL: Thanks goes to Tim Wessels, founder of Bridgetown Bees, who is guiding and overseeing our apicultural activity, and Dr. Meed West, who provided NCNM with the first swarm of bees.

Thanks to NCNM, Brian Landever, Bridgetown Bees and Dr. Meed West for supporting this venture! If you would like to come visit the hive, please fill out a campus visit request and we’ll get you on a tour of the campus, our gardens, and the hive.

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Leading kids in gardening

Dec. 2nd, 2015 | 11:34 am

Last Wednesday, 13 students from Reynolds Learning Academy came to NCNM to volunteer.  They worked with Brian Landever, Advancement Officer of Campus Beautification, in planting Rose of Sharon shrubs in front of Spaulding House, and transferring many medicinal plants from the Galen’s Way Garden into pots.  These were then lugged over to the front of the academic building, transforming the entrance ways into fragrant pathways.  Holy basil, rosemary, ceanothus, and oregano filled the new pots, and have started a theme for the gradual greening of the entire campus. 

Reynolds Learning Academy is a vocational school for teenagers who haven’t received enough support in life.  They enter into daily, hands-on vocational training in order to build the skills they need to become master carpenters, journeymen, iron workers, landscapers, and more.  Mindful of this, Kathy Stanford, Director of HR, gave them a formal welcome in the Ken Harmon Community Room.  Brian then spent two hours explaining how to landscape to client interests, describing the aesthetic and medicinal benefits of Rose of Sharon, how to establish proper watering systems in gardens, how to curate gardens, and the how many of our Min Zidell garden’s plants are used medicinally.  They were enthralled to be able to sample typical home spices like coriander right from the garden beds, and were filled with questions.

The NCNM community also made these students feel welcome.  When they entered the student lounge for lunch, NCNM students invited them to use the tables, the society of cultural diversity invited them to share the potluck they prepared, WishGarden Herbal Remedies provided them with 20 minutes of lecture about their wonderful botanical formulations and even sent them home with samples, and the ping pong table provided a rare lunch time treat for them. 

Their teacher, Angie Gilbert, recently called with many appreciative remarks.  She explained that these kids need people in their lives who value and respect them, who are willing to teach them according to their interests.  The entire community of NCNM made this happen during their first visit, and the kids are excited to continue to return for more projects.

This article was published with pictures at:


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Touched By a Garden

Oct. 31st, 2015 | 08:10 am
location: Portland, OR

Six months ago, when I took over the Galen’s Way at NCNM in Portland, Oregon, I never imagined it would become a stopping point for tour groups.  I never quite foresaw the joy children would have to see their plants grow tall and artwork displayed on the garden fences.  I knew I’d enjoy getting my hands in the dirt and showing others how to do the same, but the ripple effects have taken me by surprise.

It was May, 2015 when I first took kids from a local elementary school over to the garden to plant small artichokes and blueberries.  The kids were timid to dig into the dirt freely, and were unsure of how best to place the plant in the hole they eventually dug.  When it was finally in with dirt patted down around it, they started running around the garden, exclaiming their newfound grand visions for how best to organize the entire garden.  The next day, their parents were happy to tell me that their kids wouldn’t stop talking about gardening, and that it seemed their inspiration was going to have to result in a cultivated back yard.

This trend gained momentum once groups from surrounding schools began contributing to the garden beds.  With a little coaxing, three nearby elementary schools made the time in their schedules to tend to two to three, 20 foot long beds, planting pumpkins, wheat, lavender, calendula, and many sunflowers.  One school’s kids even went the extra mile to paint over a dozen, elaborate, three-foot tall plaques of common garden plants.  The involvement has motivated people all over town, leading to several donations and discounts that have helped the garden blossom into the wonderful, lush, relaxing place that it is today.

The lot at the corner of SW Naito and SW Meade had previously been vacant before the college decided to pursue beautifying the area in 2014.  With the help of Galen’s Way, an herbal medicine company, they were able to install water, 10 garden beds, a mulched ground, and a green perimeter fence.  Unfortunately, it was then unclear who would actually do the gardening.  In 2015, I became involved after being invited to bring students to the garden, which later led to involving other schools.

Today, the garden has over a dozen 12+ foot tall sunflowers towering over the fence, healthy, aromatic rosemaries and lavenders garnishing beds of vegetables and flowers, and the latest addition of a landscaped area.  This newer space will provide for next season’s medicinal plant section, and is designed within a winding walkway before opening into a small meeting area.  A picnic table with four chairs sits in the open area, and the fresh wood chip layer that was placed last week provide refreshing scents of cherry trees.  Humming birds zip from one sunflower to the next, birds sing in neighboring fig trees and enjoy hiding below pumpkin leaves, and honey bees, whose hive is boxed nearby the garden, have found select locations in garden beds for drinking areas.  Tall broccoli heads stick up from lower parts of garden beds amidst their abundant yellow flowers, and hot orange calendula and bright red zinnia flowers surround them with backdrops of lettuce grown to seed.  The environment is as uplifting as one can ask for of a natural space within our metropolis.

As time continues forward, The Galen’s Way garden is going to become more abundant and vibrant, and will likely include the contributions of more people.  Volunteer opportunities are growing, and the space already requests cost-free registration for those interested in using the common space for tai chi classes, meetings, or group lunches (the website may be found on Google Maps).  As word spreads from the photos taken from tour groups, use is expected to become a desired community resource.

Most importantly, this garden symbolizes hope.  When I see groups of people with illnesses walk down from the nearby hospital just to take pictures of the garden, it reminds me that the beauty of nature breathes life force into us.  It represents that central place in our hearts that knows we can slowly, gradually build an entire society that uplifts us just as much as those tall, colorful sunflowers.

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Married in The Mountain

Sep. 20th, 2015 | 09:20 pm
location: Portland, Oregon
music: Elis Regina

Mariella and I got married yesterday.

Our wedding was lovely, the ceremony was spectacular with Wahclella Falls behind and supporters surrounding, and the sunny picnic reception that followed was great.  Kids were running around joyously, folks were chatting happily, and public onlookers had sweet smiles upon seeing our party. Tall Douglas Fir trees shaded our area, letting glittering sun beams strike the surroundings, soft grass below encouraged shoes to come off, and the bossa nova and bachatta music playing in the background encouraged cheerful, slow dancing for all ages.  A tamale lunch and cheesecake dessert made for a delicious, filling meal, and everything went smoothly with help from all.

The day happened to start out later than expected due to morning preparation issues, but that calmed down on the 45-minute drive to the mountains, and even more so during the 1-mile hike into the waterfall.  The pathway goes over mildly forested hills, and provides views of running rivers with spawning salmon, high mountain walls, and thousands of big leaf maples, cedars, and hemlocks.  All those attending kindly awaited our arrival to hike in with us, gently chatting with us along the way.

The officiant seemed peaceful when we showed up 45 minutes late, perhaps transfixed by the powerful environment of the rushing waterfall, huge, moss-covered boulders, and deep pond 100 feet beneath our chosen spot.  We stood just below the officiant as he gave his heart-warming speech, the waterfall to his back, the people circling around to his front, and us in between.  The group easily situated into convenient spots on the rocks, and later reports let us know that we were even loud enough to allow all to hear our spoken words over the crashing water.

"We are here today before the majesty and beauty of the falls to celebrate the joining of Brian and Mariella.  They have cultivated their love for one another from the jungles of Peru to the rainforests of Oregon and when tested or confused both Brian and Mariella turn to nature for balance and to keep their hearts open so it is fitting that we celebrate here.

“When two people join in marriage, as Brian and Mariella, we see the love, friendship, and joy ~ within them, as well as within their beloved family and friends. We hear their earnest vows, their heartfelt pledges and their words of deepest commitment, which sanctify their love.

“Love has no other desire but to fulfill itself.
But if you love and your needs must have desires, let these be your desires:
To melt and be like a running brook that sings its melody to the night.
To know the pain of too much tenderness.
To be wounded by your own understanding of love;
And to bleed willingly and joyfully.
To wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving;
To rest at the noon hour and meditate love's ecstasy;
To return home at eventide with gratitude;
And then to sleep with a prayer for the beloved in your heart
And a song of praise on your lips.

“Brian and Mariella, treat yourselves and each other with respect, and remind yourselves often of what brought you together. Give the highest priority to the tenderness, gentleness and kindness that your connection deserves. When frustration, difficulties and fear assail your relationship, as they threaten all relationships at one time or another, remember to focus on what is right between you, not only the part which seems wrong. In this way, you can ride out the storms when clouds hide the face of the sun in your lives -- remembering that even if you lose sight of it for a moment, the sun is still there. And if each of you takes responsibility for the quality of your life together, it will be marked by abundance and delight.

“Brian do you accept Mariella as your wife — joining with her today in matrimony — offering your friendship and loving care — honoring her growth and freedom as well as your own — cherishing and respecting her, loving and embracing her in times of adversity and times of joy?"

"I do."

“Do you Mariella, accept Brian as your husband — joining with him today in matrimony — offering your friendship and loving care — honoring his growth and freedom as well as your own – cherishing and respecting him, loving and embracing him in times of adversity and times of joy?"

"I do."

"Vows like those you are about to make have been spoken by men and women throughout the ages as a pledge of faith selflessness and love to each other.  They represent your personal commitment to put forth your best efforts to make your marriage a union of happiness, trust, honesty, support, and friendship.
Brian, please say your vows to Mariella."

“Baby, I want to marry you.  The peace of this place reflects the peace you bring to my heart.  The strength of these mountains reflects the life force you put into my spirit.  With you by my side I feel like I can jump from peak to peak.
The way we motivate each other when we're sluggish, ground each other when uncautious, and balance practicality with style makes us a partnership that I love, and want to cherish.  I want to marry you to hold you close in the evening, share achievements in the day time, and laugh together throughout.  I want to marry you to make you happy, bring sweetness and strength into your life, and light up the world with our happiness.”

“Mariella, please say your vows to Brian.”

“My love, with the blessings from the spirits of this mountain and the healing whispers from the plants, I will be your partner.  We have many upcoming experiences in life, and I know they will help us grow as partners and human beings.  I know they will make us wise and ever more united.  I want to be your wife for all my days, and share our happiness with our family and future children.”

“Brian and Mariella, look at the hands you are holding.  These are the hands of your best friend, young and strong and vibrant with love, that are holding yours on your wedding day

“These are the hands that will work along side yours, as together you build your future, as you laugh and cry, as you share your innermost secrets and dreams.

“These are the hands that will hold your child for the first time.

“These are that hands that will passionately love you and cherish you through the years, for a lifetime of happiness.

“These are the hands that will countless times wipe the tears from your eyes: tears of sorrow and tears of joy

“These are the hands that will comfort you in illness, and hold you when fear or grief wrack your mind.

“These are the hands that will hold you tight as you struggle through difficult times

“These are hands that will soon wear your wedding rings.

“The wedding ring is the outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual bond which unites two loyal hearts in love and affection.  May the rings you have chosen always remind you of the vows you take today.

“Brian, please place Mariella’s ring on her left ring finger and say these words to her, “I give you this ring as a token of my love.  May it always remind you of the commitment I make today.

“Mariella, please place Brian’s ring on his left ring finger and say these words to him, “I give you this ring as a token of my love.  May it always remind you of the commitment I make today.

“Brian and Mariella, may the sun bring you new energies by day, may the moon softly restore you by night, may the rain wash away any worries you may have, And the breeze blow new strength into your being. And then, all the days of your life, may you walk gently through the world, and know its beauty and yours.

“You have expressed your love to one another through the commitment and promises that you have made today, and it is with these in mind that I now pronounce that you are husband and wife.

“You may seal your vows with a kiss.

“Now you will feel no rain, for each of you will be shelter for the other. Now you will feel no cold, for each of you will be warmth to the other. Now there will be no loneliness, for each of you will be companion to the other. Now you are two persons, but there is only one life before you. May beauty surround you both in the journey ahead and through all the years. May happiness be your companion and your days together be good and long upon the earth.

“Ladies and gentlemen, it gives me great joy to introduce for the first time as husband and wife, Brian and Mariella Landever!”

We feel happy and blessed to have gone through this ceremony in such a powerful location.  Connecting to the loud roar of the falls with the gentle whispers of rattling leaves seemed to make it easier to feel alive, confident, and in love.  The radiance of the day still feels as if it warmed us, now 24 hours later.

The reception collected blessing as well.  In addition to a lovely setting, my brother, Matt, gave a warm speech that seemed to call nature’s response.  Several words in, a Great Blue Heron flew onto a branch 30 feet above our circle, and peered down on us from that point onwards in the event.  We were surrounded by love, and it’s that which we want to share with the world.

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Upright Pallet Gardens

Apr. 3rd, 2015 | 12:54 am
location: Portland, Oregon

After sight seeing throughout the Western United States in 2013, I decided to stop in Portland to attend herbalism studies.  Soon after my arrival, I gained employment as a middle school teacher at Renaissance School of Arts and Sciences.  It has been an adventure working at this school, mentoring kids, learning how to build interesting lessons, and keeping the interest of a classroom.  During spring break, we offer a camp in which kids attend one class, 6 hours per day for 4 days.  Wanting to brighten the environment, I offered to lead a class in gardening.  The directors gave me a thumbs up, and I began researching ways to be creative.  My end plan was to teach how to make trash into living art, using wasted pallets to make living gardens.

Over the past year, I have learned a considerable amount in project-based, inquiry-led education.  Many small lessons are included within a larger objective.  In this case, within the creation of a vertical pallet garden, I included lessons on measuring, drawing 3 dimensional shapes, planning a construction project, and how trees are saved by re-using lumber.  The children made visual presentations of each of these to reinforce the knowledge and show off to visiting parents.  The gardens themselves were fun to make and sent home children inspired to do more gardening.  Today, after the completion of the garden beds, parents informed me that their kids won't stop talking about what they want to do to their gardens at home.

The attached pictures show the project from start to finish.  Take a few moments to read through the kids' description of how they built their garden beds, and check out their detail on the 3-D drawings.  Such drawing and planning has lasting impacts on their creativity and confidence.

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Oh, great mountains, let me know your mind

Oct. 15th, 2013 | 10:36 am
location: Coeur D' Lane, Idaho
music: Yo-Yo Ma plays 6 suites for cello solo by Bach

Oh, great mountains, let me know your mind.

You tower around like giants.
Surrounding, encompassing, making yourselves known.
And yet,
you sit so still,
not daring to show your true power.
We know, mountains.
We know you could swallow us hole
Trees, humans, and bunnies alike.
We know you could wipe us out.
But instead you provide for us.
You sit so still
while we move all about,
even cut into you.
Your stillness is sometimes too still.
Why do you not cry out
when we cut out your gold?  Remove your trees?
It nearly begs suspicion.
Are you waiting? Plotting?
Is there a right time?
Will you take your revenge for our disrespect?
Or are you freer than that?
Freer than the anger of human ego and revenge?
Freer than the reactive thought and fiery emotion?
Accepting that earth will move as it does,
knowing that whatever touches you is part of Earth,
that you never really go anywhere,
that you are always within the movement of Earth.
Does some part of you know this?
Or have you found such peace
that your knowingness lies in the expansion of being
in the experience of being
of being you,
of being Earth?
Show me your peace, great mountain.
Whisper to me
in the ways that I too
may know myself
as earth.

Oh, great mountains, let me know your mind.

Brian Landever

Montana Splendor?

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Home town Missoula

Oct. 12th, 2013 | 03:31 am
location: Missoula, Montana
mood: Appreciative
music: Mark Takata

I have found absolutely nothing of the preconceptions that Missoula would be the middle of no where.  On my way up here, many mildly cringed when I told them of my long standing interest in visiting this city.  Their suspicion that it was too far removed from the rest of the country to offer anything sophisticated has only partly shown itself to be true.  It is indeed removed.  Mountains surround the city in all directions, but the amount of interesting cultural activities I have found here has been endless.

I awoke the first morning after a late night arrival to the home of my gracious Couch Surfing host to see an amazing sight around me.  Mountains in all directions in the not so distant view welcomed me and again spurred that awe striking feeling that I only know how to handle by taking out my camera.  Some covered in evergreen, some in low brush, the bowl like effect of the mountains around this valley creates a steadiness.  It's even in the air's low winds.  The energy holds here, and it makes being here feel stable, easy to identify with.  This became clearer the first evening when I went to a public reading by Sherman Alexie, famous Montana Indian author.  His provocative, comical, intelligent act was introduced by a mayor who not only had all the characteristics of a top notch stand up comedian (as in piss-your-pants funny), but also spoke to people like he knew them.  I suspected this was just a politician's charm, but everyone that I've discussed this with confirmed that, yes, they did in fact know the mayor, and had had numerous casual and formal personal interactions with him.  Moreover, they seemed to talk a similar language, based on the common experience of sharing this enclosed town.  The mayor joked that he loved festivals, to which everyone applauded in agreement to the many festivals hosted by Missoula.  He then had everyone crying with laughter yet again with his description of the backlash he received for not offering municipal support for the festival of... testicles.  Something along the lines of bloggers saying he might be more open if he started wearing woman's clothing and weren't so fat.

Today, I had the pleasure of spending the entire day at various lectures and readings during Missoula's literature festival.  Each event had a nice theme, and many of the writers were from the town, if not the state.  When Q&A sessions came, the mediators were actually able to acknowledge people in the crowd by their first name.  Forget that ever happening in New York.  I know, it's inappropriate to compare, but the vast contrast in subjective experience is unavoidably shocking.  This is a small town environment.  The first I've ever experienced, and I like it.  It's familiar and friendly.  And with such great activities, there are substantive things to share and collectively contemplate, giving less space for small town obsession with nosiness.  Even the evening's poetry slam crammed the large room with several hundred people of literally all ages.  And the poetry was gooood.  Well presented, with passion, and with impressive content too.  They seemed to have a running theme of being independently minded, spiritually in touch, and warm.  It wasn't political, it wasn't angry, but it did have the purpose of making a point.  The MC's, one no older than 18 years old, were also impressive when put on the spot to freestyle hip hop.

There also seems to be a growing awareness of Native American issues.  Growing because I'd be surprised if many people cared 30 years ago.  I could be wrong, but I've heard that Montana is notorious for its racism against the Indians.  Alexie's act did everything it could to highlight the problems with unapologetic humor, slamming white people for sometimes romanticizing Natives and having a kind of culture lust, while other times flaunting signs of colonization, and also sharply criticizing Natives for being sad drunks.  The audience?  White Montana residents.  And it was the same crowd who packed the movie theatre tonight to see a film about the alcoholism and search for ancestral ties of the youth in the Black Foot tribe.  This all gives the impression that people here are open enough to educate themselves of what is really going on in their section of society.  Not everyone was laughing during Alexie's bit, but they didn't leave either.  Perhaps this is to be expected of a university town, but given this is taking place in conservative Montana, it holds significance.

Missoula has a special feel to it overall.  Old mountain townish, with some buildings still clearly waiting for renovation since 1960, progressive, socially aware culture, cowboy culture, familiarity with neighbors, and a humbleness that keeps most people interacting with each other in a down to earth manner.  On top of this, the endless amount of activities available here offer a fully entertained life style.  My stop in to the visitor's center was supposed to be a quick five minutes with someone that wouldn't be that helpful.  I left 45 minutes later, equipped with upcoming bluegrass schedules, festival schedules, Buddhist lecture schedules, herbalism class schedules, a full list of descriptions of lectures in this festival, and free maps of Montana and Oregon.  The mountains surrounding serve to encourage people's familiarity and cooperation, further defining Missoula and the character it has to offer.  Oh, and parking tickets come with a friendly waiver note if it's your first one.

More is always to be learned, but from what I see so far, this is a town I'd be happy to raise children.

Missoula from the M

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The Shoshone Nation

Sep. 16th, 2013 | 12:56 am
location: Blackfoot, ID
mood: Amazed
music: Shoshone dance singing

I’m staying on the Shoshone reservation in Idaho. Saying that alone seems sufficient on its own in some ways; getting close to America’s access to earth consciousness or the paradigm that sees we belong to this earth and must protect it. However, the historical reality at the moment is much more complicated. Where once there was expanded wisdom into how earth shifts over time with plate tectonics and how to listen to spirit animals, now there is a mix of poverty, substance abuse, a longing for what once made these people great, and light sprinkling of old traditional ways. There is an air of depression, of a people being forced to mold themselves into a culture antithetical to their way of life. Time has not eradicated this awkwardness, and at best has simply given way to a re-emergence of their customs.

I’ve never done sufficient homework on the Shoshone to be an authority, making this reflection article risk naivety, but refining one’s perceptions of a people through writing and conversation holds merit too. The little I have learned, such as the 1863 Bear River Massacre that wiped out 300 Shoshone in a single morning, and the prohibition of the use of their native language and ritual ceremonies, have suppressed them more than induced them into American culture. Today, the majority of these people are overweight, carry themselves in gangsta-like ways typical of people portrayed as outcasts, have children before 21, do not know their native language, rarely have advanced education, work in labor, and abuse alcohol and other addictive drugs. There does not seem to be pride in the laborious work they do, and the younger men’s toughened faces suggest a hint of warrior culture from the past mixed with an angry reaction to being in a world that tortured their ancestors and does not currently accept them.

However, they have not entirely forgotten who they are. Natives seem to marry other natives, even if inter-tribal, and other developments have slowly unfolded over the last 50 years. The man whom I’m staying with from couchsurfing.com has dedicated his life to improving Shoshone education, culminating in two schools now on the reservation, populated solely with Shoshone youth. The elementary school is teaching them their original language (tremendous linguistic-cultural impact!), at least to the extent it is known, small customs are being reintroduced like how to honor someone’s work, and isolating interaction amongst Shoshone without the cultural influence of Americans allows dormant seeds to begin sprouting.

Ceremonial activity has also been returning. The dances performed in Pow Wows, originally known as Pau-Wau (gathering of spiritual leaders), slowly became permitted once most Natives were speaking English. This has evolved over the past 120 years into money-awarding contests. Natives travel all over the country to compete with others in ceremonial dance and dress, magnetizing the vast majority of the younger population to master these forms. Local Pau-Waus also attract large numbers. This evening’s event, dedicated to celebrating tribal sobriety, had well over 100 dancers, mainly skilled teenagers, and over 300 family members. I happened to be the only non-native, but was treated kindly and respectfully as I took many pictures of the dancers in impressive regalia.

The other day I visited several Shoshone in their home. The place was small and disorderly, but had a clearly designated space for their traditional beadwork (which was being sold for over $1000 in a nearby hotel), and the kitchen table had at least enough free space for the laptop that was showing you tube videos of previous year’s dances. Those in the home cheerfully, and briefly, acknowledged me as I entered, and then continued about their activities. I was given the impression that they were highly accustomed to people being in their home, making my entrance ordinary despite being a stranger. The children continued playing, partly practicing dance steps, and when I asked questions, I received responses as if I was a long-time friend- kind, laid-back… In a word, I felt they were accepting. It was warm, and impressive considering all the reasons they have to keep up their guard. More significantly, it hints that the radical sanity of their world view has survived, even if it is latent- that all beings made of the creator of this earth are blessed, that we should honor one another, and that acceptance of people and earth will keep us on this planet in a healthy way for a long time.

There are other defining pieces of their culture that still exist- the ceremonial sweat lodge and vision quest. Each provide significant purification that provides clarity into where one is in one’s life, the best path forward, and what forces are helping along the way. These practices may not eliminate all toxins and problems, but their survival provides ground for a future awakening.

Perhaps it will be a long time before Native wisdom, forms, and paradigms can flourish. It most likely relies on clearing out the damage of toxins, improving education, and connecting their lifestyle once again to the earth through farming and hunting. This is possible. Hunting may not mean tracking down buffalo, but it can extend to deer and elk, and farming animals and crops on their reservations could happen in a communal way that strengthens tribal bonds, inspires new visions for what they can achieve, and feeds their unconscious connection to Earth. The development of agriculture could be fed by and initiate further advanced study into the subject, and slowly make way into trades that support the efforts such as engineering farm equipment and business initiatives to sell crops efficiently. Education could continually be designed for academic achievement, cultural re-development, and pride building, coupled by teacher training programs on the reservations to keep Native teachers teaching Native students. As Pow Wows and sweat lodge ceremonies continue to happen, and re-enter the lives of youth, there will be decreasing draw towards substance abuse and other forms of distracting materialism, and more social incentive to develop a path that celebrates everything that makes Natives Native. Imagine- Shoshone, Navajo, and others all joining together to rebuild their nations, becoming confident industry leaders either within an economic network of Native reservations, pushing for sustainability, or within the larger US economy. It could happen, and most likely will. All that awaits are the right leaders, money loaned from native-owned casinos, and communal action.


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Lovely Lander

Sep. 8th, 2013 | 10:16 pm
location: United States, Wyoming, Lander
mood: contemplativecontemplative
music: blue grass

Who knew this country could be so gorgeous? This earth packs power into its land to strike awe into us time and time again; forever giving us opportunities to stop the mind, and realize that the tear-jerking, amazing landscapes before us are in fact mirroring something inside us we so often forget to cherish.

My travels have taken me into Wyoming, and despite initial raised eyebrows that assumed nothing but narrow minded cowboys, I'm loving my time here. A wonderful host in Lander, whom I met through couchsurfing.com, has opened her home to me and generously shared all the parts of this area that makes her love living here. She too is from a more populated area, has traveled the world doing humanitarian work, and loves the outdoors. She chose this tiny town with population only 7500 due to the supposedly well funded public schools (she teaches 3rd grade) that gets money funneled to them starting with the state's oil industry. But her personal reason is the same reason that tempts me to sleep on the grass staring at the perfectly, milky way-highlighted clear, starry night- the land. At an altitude of 5200 feet, the clouds sit close enough to give that dramatic feeling, the air is crisp, and the mountains stand out like gloriously decorated warriors prepared for battle. They create, and are, exhilarated confidence.

Driving up here from Colorado, I was impressed by the long views of plains covered in sage-bushes, diagonally projecting rock, dry, sandy rock hills, and the jetting, jagged peaks of the mountains further north. But this in Lander holds even more interesting mixes- the lush forests of evergreens covering high hills, rushing rivers, and sharp cliffs that capture puffs of lower clouds. It provides a majestic feel that I haven't felt since I hiked to Machu Picchu years ago, and the government clearly recognized there was something special here too- they declared it the Shoshone National Forest in 1891. It's as if the earth still stands in its own right here, having avoided being entirely tamed and paved.

It all feeds a clear minded empowerment. Breathing it all in, it's evident that the spectacularness will always fall short of words, but it can be digested. Blessed earth, blessed mother, you give such life.
This travel for me represents a certain important moving forward in my life that is only now illuminating itself. The west has such draw for me. Letting go of the attachments to the east coast and South America just enough to venture out creates awareness, or a sense of, endless possibilities. I'm not sure where it is all headed. I'm still mildly in limbo from the Peruvian adventure, clouding the full force of power behind any chosen path, and reminding me to choose more carefully. As the cloud gradually lifts, the sun that is shining through seems to be associated with a life in the west. Boise? Portland? Eureka? Time and connections will tell.

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