Oshá ~ Ligusticum porteri ~ has inhabited a variety of names for its potent uses as an antiviral and antibacterial medicine but Oshá became the most familiar title for its widespread trade from Alaska to Mexico. A multitude of Peoples worshipped Oshá. It is a perennial (continuously recurring) who grows up thriving in high mountain terrain. An early origin story from the Diné / Navajo tells of its uses being demonstrated by bears. A powerful gifting.

First I remember the smell of Oshá when I was invited to dig it up out of the ground with two girlfriends of mine, one who has extensive experience with ethnobotany and grew up hunting, who brought us to this harvest as our willing guide. I recall that Oshá has a parsley musk, a bit like celery, being in the Apiaceae family too, so thick with wet vascular earth green flavor. Oshá has a heart, a hairy heart, at the cusp of where its roots run. I kept this part for myself.

Mine was an elder plant, we felt. Tough and stubborn. They were pinched between two rocks with a tap root that reached far and it was a labor to remove. We spoke to them not as if they are living, like some desensitized metaphor made to make brittle our soul, but because they are living. I wrapped the plant carefully in cloth and later, back at home, dried out the root and chopped it up for a honey infusion and gave these jars to my friends.

This responsible and reverent harvest was on Union Pass, above Dubois, in a location that was especially abundant with a plant that was reported as over harvested. I would not consider that every plant yield is done in this way. Sometimes you’re in a damn hurry and you just gotta dig it up. Rarely is anything ever so tidy or neat or convenient. But here, by the chosen nature of it, we held ceremony and intention and intuition got involved and it was as much pulled from the teachings of my friend who learned these ways ~ and those mountains are her old stomping grounds ~ as much as it was a ritual fusion of our own mendings: (as much as it is and can be, chasing ‘traditions’ after so much was lost and fractured over time, some reclaimed, some regifted, some the same and some have changed; everyone running from something, somewhere, seeking safety, belonging ~ we were given instructions and we found them too ~ so what are the ways to build those pathways again, to re-weave them anew?)

I support Land Back for these reasons. Who carries the original languages? And how are we serving to mend the fractures of history in a forward momentum that blurs the boundaries and further resists our romanticizing of it; of the past, of people ~ to be present, all encompassing, without the new-age misconceptions? When I research Oshá I always find reference to Native American uses with very rudimentary descriptions that are superficial at best. Spiritual uses are mentioned, but I question whether the authors recognize the potency and legitimacy of that, let alone witnessed them, and how critical it really is to have energetic ties woven in with these timeless practices. It is not metaphor or sentiment. It is the very fabric.  

Westward expansion and colonization wrought a lot of damage to these connections. The industrialization of timber in National Forest System lands saw the tribal forest access diffused and transferred under Roosevelt’s proclamation and several reservations were targeted for their resources and placed on the public chopping block under the U.S. Forest Service. It is quintessential to examine this calculated cut-off and how it has impacted our current standing with where we live and who’s been running the show of our modern perceptions: two-tongued thieves.

This is but one small sliver to a massive fracturing. It is not acknowledged enough.

I have witnessed a potent resurgence of this conversation since 2020, when millennials got caught up to speed in the digital information age and began sifting through the rubbles of it all. Suddenly we all saw so many things for the first time. Suddenly I was having conversations that I never knew I could have and they unlocked deep riddles that I could not otherwise solve. Suddenly I understood why I struggled with severe depression through my young adult life: so much crafted abuse had been normalized and glorified. And I’m not talking about the naive, sheltered perspective that assumes against the ugliness within and around life, in ourselves, in nature, in wildness (and this was the other side of the double-edged sword of this tender cutting: that perspectives from sheltered humans grew more fury and fracturing on the internet than anything else, and huge rifts spread further from unprocessed grief and the pressure to conform to petty social media nuances). Are you talking the talk, or walking the walk? I’m referring to a kind of spell craft that any of us inherited by means of what our generational turnings reveal and teach us, again and again, in and out and around and revisiting until we mend and follow through. I can say that I never grieved so hard or so long as I did that year of great earth-pulse and the ripples still carry as we are sensitive to it. Hindsight is 2020 is a remarkable understatement. Every aspect of that chapter was about deep healing and understanding. Suddenly, the veil lifted, and Oshá, in tandem, flew off the shelves during the COVID reign. According to a botanical yielder I know, you couldn’t find it without some effort and he couldn’t keep it stocked in his shop to fulfill the global needs.

The spring of 2023 hosted a surge of thunder storms and all the moisture from a heavy winter brought the most abundant blooms to the mountains and foothills. I was employed with the small botanical business that summer and spent days at a time in the high country either wandering and observing or gathering plants for his business. There was no shortage of Oshá. Every Native plant was blooming and plentiful. Rolling swaths of wildflowers like I had never seen before. It was stunning. Relevant. It was not published anywhere that I could find. All our knowing was from the ground truth trekking.

I learned about foraging and fishing and hunting from hillbillies and hicks in Wyoming. So that means it was mostly rowdy. Instinctual, clever, survival crafting with a lot of unruly doggedness. Nature-all: Wild. Because nothing is tidy, as much as there are efforts to polish the rough edges and glamorize the reality. And not the greenwashing capitalist wording. I’m talking about the Wyoming country style way of schooling and it’s partial to the cowboy ‘culture’ that’s founded on a kind of outlaw ethics with its impressions of depression and homesteadin’ and rallying but, fuck it, we alive and we having a great time. Years of grueling hardship kindle a particular tenacity when you got the grit to make it. It is an ugly honesty blended with beautiful sensitivity if you find the no-nonsense types because not all of them are going to aim true with you. Besides, you can’t expect rural renegades to be inclusive unless you earn it. Or anyone, for that matter. Entitlement beckons foolishness. The oral story holds the power in places like these, where illiteracy is often prominent and your actions and character speak louder than any inflated statement. They will see right through you if you’re naive. I figured that the hard way, in the beginning of my skill-gathering, all green and starry-eyed when I first moved out to Ten Sleep, Wyoming in my early 20s. But I was enthusiastic and hard working and kept showing up. My mistakes make for a hilarious story now, becoming entangled in a vibrant selection of yarns we know and love to spin and the whole spectrum is just too vibrant to get polished into the page. Because there’s no polishing out here, with its high desert rough edges, sandblasted and stiff as a lifelong grudge. Bigger than any book, anyway. In those spaces of witnessing I found that the people I could connect with were willingly vulnerable with their more super-natural experiences and especially with all the intimate time spent in some very old and difficult-to-access locations. On these distant traipses, it was common to see lights in the fields or feel vibrations from the waters. It was common to have an encounter with an animal that bordered on the mystical or ‘beyond’ convention. Completely normal. You were just care full who you shared those special spaces with. Because a history of extraction and exploitation still exists on the lips of those who benefit from it. They have not learned, and they cannot heal, and they likely never will.

I did not grow up engaged in the activities of foraging / hunting / fishing and did not display any interest in learning until much later in my life. I do not consider myself fluent in any of these art forms, currently. I can perform advanced basics and spend hours identifying plants for personal intrigue and occasional and verifiable uses for medicines. Medicinal applications and successes are far more complex than most quick-fix remedies you’ll read about online. Medicines work in relationships and in a wholistic way. Emotions, mentality, body, and environment are all included. Spirit, too ~ the unseen places. Medicines are specific to the condition. Timing of harvest is critical too. Oshá is most potent after the first frost when the compounds retreat into the root for storage. The chemistry changes. There is trial and error in foraging involved but the error could be fatal too. For example Oshá is easily confused with Water Hemlock who shares a striking resemblance and whose differences are as subtle as where the veins in the leaf reside and the smell of the root. A helpful tool; “Hemlock veins run into the cut (of the leaf) and rot the gut.” The Hemlock root has an uninviting stink to it. Discernment is a technique gathered by frequent, care-full excursions.

But make no mistake in my meaning, here: there is a defined distinction between medicine & poison. You feel it by an atunement of your sensations.

I expanded deeper into foraging when I lived in Alaska, and it was knowledge offered by Carharrtin’ artist punks who grew up in the manic swings of the great North and are a culture entirely of their own and who shared in frequent social gatherings featuring the fruits of their seasonal bounties. Very different flavor of people. My kind of people. Very much a community. Friends I made in Alaska are my forever family. More music and art were involved in those spaces, more bridge building and natural inclusivity, more of a harsher environment to force you out of any day-dream daze and into your body or else the cold or the dark would swallow you whole. Careful, if you be a dreamer. You’ll get stuck in an undertow that’s not just your mind. Some are built for it or rebuild themselves for it. Different regions and ecosystems, Alaska & Wyoming, different languages and beings; different songs; but awarenesses and sensitivity to environmental rhythms are, energetically, the same. It’s what you mend of it and it’s Love.

Not your hallmark garbage or your miner’s delight. Real Love. Tough Love.

I love Alaska. I will keep spilling words about Alaska, over time. I will always return to it. The rich glacial moody living. But Wyoming makes me feel a way that no other place can reach. It is the center of our Earth. I observe that this is the navel of geological creation. There is undeniably an energy here and it’s older than we can even numerically transcribe. It draws me in.

I am curious about this place for different reasons. I am interested in the dynamics and the missing links. I am hungry for translating the common ground of the local language of land. A Poet’s Perspective. A drifter, a Lover. I Love being up in the true Wilderness, thoroughly – and there are fewer people I admire more than the folks who devote themselves to these intricate processes.

I miss it when I’m not in it. I miss the unpretentious cadence of it all. The mountain holds the happiest and most dangerous memories of my life.

Flashing back, to Union Pass, over Oshá ~ at camp, my teaching friend invited me on an elk hunt at the closure of September and this post is abbreviated for the immeasurable scope and scale of that tale. Rifle season opened early in Togwotee Pass and that’s where we were headed first, then onward to a spectacular place off of Union Pass. 

I had been on a few elk hunts before but they never held a candle to this one. Even without a bounty to bring home. My friend has an impressive score card carried from when she began hunting in her youth. She’s not here to prove anything and she’ll outsmart and out-grit you anyway.

She knows generations of animal neighbors by their colors and shapes from her 20 years of living on the mountain with her late husband. Mule deer herds had familial names dependent on generational markings. It was an honor to be shown this on our drive up the pass. She recognized every one we saw. Being in tune with the lay of the land and its pulse is the link to that deft competence, and especially as a solo huntress who lacks the fancy gear and pretentious airs. Threadbare thrift and humble but intense devotion. The art of it is what she Loves and the nutrient dense quality of sustained wild game is not a luxury, but a lifeway. She has an autoimmune disorder so what she puts into her body is everything. This is the door to all vitality. There is never excess, only necessity.

She made any other hunter I ever met look spoiled. I have known hunters who love to hunt because they love the thrill and there’s no argument there but their freezers are full of meat that never get eaten or dispersed. They brag and they bloat. I do not trust or like them. Their acts are built on ego and not the eco. Perhaps these persons got lost in the capitalist abstraction of it. A purity became tainted. Sickness: Material became more important than the Spirit.

On this hunt: sensational highlights were stalking, soaked in cow elk piss, within 40 yards of a bull, watching mule bucks spar, surviving the biblical thunderstorm, coyotes talking to each other from across the ridge, the bear scent tree post on the hill where Pat Van Vleet was mauled, the grave meadow of congregating birds, and more. It was a beautiful and brutal ride. 

I filled pages of notes, mostly on the gross domestic developments that had pushed not only her out of the mountain but placed pressure on her familiar hunting grounds too. Decades worth of the intimate knowing of its residents clashing with big, fractured, expensive change. I wrote about how there was no graceful bridging of education either. Just a lot of frustrated, passive attitudes. History loophole.

Concern for the amount of skeletal trees devoured by the pine bark beetle above Dubois still standing, a tinder box waiting to catch, a recognition that bigger change is infinitely en route and the sensitivity of fluid adaptation is key. You have to know it by every shift. You read it, not on the page, but in the scriptures of roots. You have to get out in it. Becomes part of you. Because you are a part of it.

Perhaps our most lingering memory was our conversation on animal cultures from the witnesses who are immersed in the wildlife world  ~ that each region cultivates a different behavior in its inhabitants. No two animals are the same. This is universal. My friend knew the bears who came through her yard on the mountain. She trained her dogs with a particular sow dubbed ‘Cinnamon’ who displayed a keen awareness and deliberately interacted with her intentions of teaching. Some bears were intelligent, engaging ~ shaped, perhaps, by easy food access and a favorable genetic line ~ others were not. It made me examine the privilege of hunting as a whole, as hunting has become a privilege as a result of colonization, and it is an important detail to consider in the way it shapes our interactions with the Wilderness. Could there be room for stronger stewardship in conservation if the animals were considered for their habits and not simply for their hides? That the remarkable stories that follow the hunt be one that includes their unique individual dynamism as part of the whole and not, just, for the entitled sake of it?

A Poet’s Perspective. The Heart of it. For the Love of it.

Because when you really know it ~ you want to protect it. Respect it.

If a legislative member left their gilded vault halls and sat in the dark womb space of earth over a burning brew of Oshá root, soothed by the serenade of song, could their worldview change? Could their heart bloom open; be flooded with oxytocin; feel the intricacy of connection? Feel Love

When was the last time any of them ever wandered the woods in wonder? With an herbal agent to assist in the transition of emotional atonement? 

Wishful thinking. Their roots are so torn and sterile. Many of them are lacking consciousness or conscience. There may not be a medicinal remedy strong enough for that kind of hard-wired toxicity. It will never entirely go away. Like Hemlock.

But Oshá, in its brilliance, is far stronger, and has been here longer, has traveled farther. In our recovery, we find it again ~ or Oshá, rather, finds us.

And we are all in recovery.