About 7 years ago I lead a Traditional Medicinal Native Plant inventory in a Native community not far from my home. I describe it as the highlight of my ecological consulting career. But it was way more than that.
I remember vividly the moment a Native Elder put me in my place. His timing was impeccable. I had been a recovering scientist* for several years previous. Standing in the forest filled with spring bloom, he looked at me and said, “You’re too busy and active, moving from plant to plant and checking your list. You’re like an Olympic bee on steroids. You have names for all these plants, but do you know these plants?” he exclaimed.
A family of Blood Root plants in early spring. Each individual has a flowering head and lives sometimes for more than 100,000 hours (10 years) in the same piece of land on Earth.
“Well, for some of them I know interactions with other species like insects, birds and mammals. So yes; I would say I somewhat know them,” I replied in careful defense, so as not to seem like an academic know-it-all.
“I’ve watched you and you rarely spend any quality time with them. How can you possibly know them?” he asked.
“Well, I know how some of them can heal our lungs, how others are good for our throats, some can combat cancer and others can treat various aliments.” He looked at me with a generous smile.
“I still think you’ve likely read these things in a guide or a book. There are many things these plants can heal that only can come about when you get to know the plant personally through time and conversation – not the species or type of plant – but this plant before you.” He continued, “Please sit with this plant here, and I’ll tell you when to get up.” I considered this.
Blood Root plants in full bloom. While this plant offers many medicines if you are willing to enter intimate relationship with her, she can also be deadly poisonous to humans should one act superficially and not learn the ins and outs of right relationship.
“By the way,” he added. “How many hours are there in a year?”
I calculated. “Over 8,700.”
“How long does this plant live?”
“Over ten years,” I replied, continuing,”…so, 87,000….it lives likely over 100,000 hours.”
“I now introduce you, Ben, to one of this plant’s 100,000 hours in this spot on Earth. I hope you come to know her better.”
Plant conversationalist and Native Elder Isaac Day. He’s one of these guys that can speak miles and miles in simple smiles. He also put me in my place, forcing me to enter into my first conversation with Plant.
There I sat with Bloodroot. An hour passed. I squirmed but focused to the best of my attention span. Looking for cues to be finished, thinking he had forgotten about me, I sat some more without much insight. I became quite squirrely. Then messages, stories, anecdotes and jokes started to come from my conversation with Plant. Indeed, I started to know this plant, get a feel for her spot and a snapshot of her time. I sensed more about her, the forest and the simple intricacies of cycles of the woods than in all of my previous years combined. Therein lay my first Conversation with Plant.
A bloody conversation with a plant? How is this possible? The science, the professional persuasion, the convincing evidence, the authoritative balance tipper; these are not the points of this post.
This is what I know. Plants speak. Plants listen. Plants advise. Plants are funny. They also respond to our presence, our energy and feel our love. I know this not because of any personal study with trials and statistics. Forget any other evidence. Sure, ask a pink and grey rock or a piece of yellow Lego a question and we could argue our brains will reflect back an question that silly people like me think are coming from the gneiss or poly-something-or-other. It is my belief that there is something profoundly different than that with a living plant. It’s about the presence, the energy field and the life force of a particular plant.
Bloodroot after a rain shower. Time to uncloak and open up. For soft, delicate tissued-plants, they stand their ground firmly. They unleash their powers in early spring, uncloaking their strength to make way for the rest of the plants to follow.
Ok, beyond mere belief, and since I’m still not fully recovered as a scientist or sense-maker, my mental rumination unfortunately has come to some conclusion about the ‘how.’ I wish I did not feed the need to quell my scientific mind, but since I have, it allows said mind to say, “Ok – gotcha. Talk on, brother; listen up.”
Here goes. Quantum physics. Yeah, it’s the new age explanation for a lot these days. Simply put, we know this – observing a molecule results in the molecule behaving much differently than if not observed. Extrapolate this. Observe many molecules of a whole plant. Mentally or verbally converse with Plant. We know that plants can detect energy from other beings; energy in forms such as sound, other vibrations, touch, heat, etc. Thus, plants observe us and our molecules are impacted. Speak or think words or full questions – again, forms of energy – and, if only at the molecular level, plants are there to interact with the energy. This changes the molecules and toys with the electrical thought impulses in our brains, impacting our energy fields.
It’s that simple. Plants can speak with us.
What was the nature of my conversation with Plant? The usual starter place for a human, according to Plant. Here’s the synopsis:
- Idiot human (me) questions sanity of talking to plants. Plant (Bloodroot) says, don’t be dumber than you already are.
- Idiot human (IH) expresses feelings of guilt for destroying natural world and her inhabitants. Plant says, guilt, shame and bad feelings will get you nowhere and actually weaken you, resulting in more destruction and killing.
- IH looks at plant in wonder, tries to make sense of plant’s purpose and part of the greater whole. Plant responds with most beautiful of scenarios, imparting images of plants dancing across the landscape in time, partying with (and signing contracts with) ants, other animals and moving to the beat of the sun’s seasonal and annual drum. Wow. This one really gets IH, bringing him to his knees. Plant explains human-imparted name; Blood Root. IH again moved, this time to tears, which fall to surface of leaves of Plant. They become extremely re-connected.
As I left the natural area, I got another comment, seemingly coming from the whole forest, “Now that Plant has spoken, are you going to listen?”
Plants talk with us by observing us back. This rocks our molecular world, sending shock waves that eventually touch us deeply.
With 7 billion people on Earth, there’s no shortage of conversations we could and should have with humans. Why add plants to the mix? As Isaac suggested to me, plants are great agents of slowing down. This counters our obsession with fast pace, speed and efficiency. Plants are wise in their place. Their insight is from roots firmly grounded for decades, centuries and in some cases, thousands of years.
Of course this introductory Conversation with Plant was just the beginning for me. I have since met people who teach courses on it. I’ve read other blog posts on specific methods for such dialogue. I’ve read scenes in books and seen movies where it is shown how to detect and interact with plant energy fields. I’ve watched videos on plants seemingly having learned how to sing…and then learned the ability to teach this to other plants. Shinrin Yoku (a.k.a. Forest Therapy or Forest Bathing) has a number of invitations where participants are invited to converse with trees or other plants. As a Forest Therapy Guide myself, I can honestly say I’ve witnessed dozens of people completely moved by their conversations with plants.
When I remember the heartfelt confidence and joy with which my Native Elder friend Isaac coached me, I am reassured that this practice is not new. No, no, no. This isn’t new aged bullshit. This is likely a reclamation of a lost art, a retrieval of ancient wisdom gone to the wayside. Two thumbs up from me. Give it a try if you aren’t already in conversation with a plant near you.
Engaging in another conversation with a tree at a family function. Trees are surprisingly good advisers and confidants. Photo by Cassie Dugsin-Porchuk.
Stay tuned for some more posts to come on other elements and stories about this much needed inter-species dialogue.
*A recovering scientist; striving to breakaway from the thought confines of current paradigms, including the scientific method, the Darwinian paradigm and others (not to say all science is bad and not necessary!).