Tag Archives: gratitude

Yew That Saves Me

I’ve written about my favorite birches, oaks, and redwoods, and even a post titled, “Have You Thanked a Tree Today?” Currently, I have another tree to thank and my gratitude reaches a new level, coming from the very marrow of my bones, even as that marrow struggles to make white blood cells. The leaves of Taxus Baccata, the European yew, are the basis of a drug called Taxotere (generic name: docetaxel) that is helping to save my life.

yew

My Welsh ancestors may well have had such yew trees growing nearby, as they were favored in church yards. The toxic leaves repelled the cows, thus protecting the cemeteries from trampling. Nothing could protect the trees, however, from monarchs’ demands for springy yew wood to make longbows, depleting forests for 300 years until guns became the weapon of choice in the 1700s.  But a few ancient yews, some more than a thousand years old, can still be found in the old church yards.

Now the trees contribute to my longevity as I take my chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer. Of the four drugs injected into my system every 21 days, Taxotere from European yews (or Taxol from Pacific yews) is most common. It is apparently a reliable and accurate assassin of cancer cells and has helped shrink my tumor to a fraction of its former size. Due to its’ effectiveness in treating various cancers, there is a rise in demand from pharmaceutical companies that could again threaten yew populations. After all, cancer drugs are lucrative business. For instance, the United States saw $3.1 billion dollars in sales of Taxotere in 2010.

I wish the trees, and all those receiving their medicine, well. Yeah, they inhibit all the cells in my body, even the good guys like white blood cells, from dividing and make me nauseous and almost bald. I’m as sick as a cow in a graveyard, but I plan to get rid of disease, recover from the side effects and surgeries, and live cancer-free.

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As I said to my nurse during chemotherapy, “You’re giving me poison in order to save my life.” She said that’s right. Thank you, yews. May we turn your cytotoxic poison into medicine so we can stand strong and live. And may you do the same.

Awesome Life: Take Time to Savor

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Yes, you can get high on nature.  And, doctor’s orders, you should, for your own happiness, let it blow your mind.  The humbling emotion of awe can transform your life and revise your view of the world.  About 75% of the time, the feeling is elicited by nature, according to Sierra magazine.  It is an energized pleasure that seems almost on the brink of fear, touching infinity or at least something beyond ourselves.

What triggers awe?  Flowers?  For some people, yes.  Clouds are ordinary yet can be seen as awesome, particularly at dawn and dusk.

As Scott Russell Sanders wrote in A Brief History of Awe (2006), witnessing a thunderstorm on his porch as a child first provoked the feeling in him.  Sanders is a soulful environmental writer, sensitive to both brutality and beauty.  He is as much a conscientious affirmer of life as he is a deeply conscientious objector to war.  His memoir is a beautiful study of love for the world and its beings.  His Earth Works essays continue in that vein.

Being awestruck is a good thing as researchers at Stanford confirmed and as described in this video.  I remember walking with my husband for twenty miles through a misty fern forest and emerging onto a rocky beach of a New Zealand fjord.  The view of mountains and sparkly water was spectacular.  Taking the experience clear over the top were the yellow-browed penguins nearby, hopping from rock to rock.  That was a big kind of awesomeness to be in an extraordinary place I’d never seen before with creatures that charmed the socks off us.  But I also like the everyday experiences that fill me with a sense of the sacred.  Seeing a pair of crows, common as they are, in a tree can be awesome, too.  Crows and ravens are as intelligent as human toddlers and I view them as protectors, listening for their warning calls.

Pair of crows in a white pine tree.

Pair of crows in a white pine tree.

Being grateful also has some benefits and is certainly enhanced by allowing ourselves to be awed and moved, as suggested here.  Take time to smell the roses, a baby’s head, and your dog’s paws that smell like popcorn.  Notice and acknowledge those who enhance your life.

While standing on the vast shore of Lake Superior, I take in the whole vista of sky, sand, and November breeze, and soak it in.

Lake Superior beach, November 2014

Lake Superior beach, November 2014

Then I turn my attention to the small miracles of agates and other stones along the beach.  Whether or not I reach the worshipful level of awe, I take time to savor.  And in savoring, I believe, is the salvation of the world.

Pebbles on the shore

Pebbles on the shore

Evening clouds

Evening clouds

Ancient Advice for Sustainable Harvests

Greenery

The passenger pigeon named Martha was kept in a Cincinnati zoo.  This September 1 marks 100 years since her lonely death as the last of her kind.  I attended a forum reflecting on Martha and other extinctions at the Chicago Botanic Garden.  One speaker I wanted to hear was Robin Kimmerer, a Potawatomi woman and Distinguished Professor of Environmental Biology, SUNY.  I also wanted to get her new book, an Orion award finalist.  She is  an expert on moss, among other things.  The heart of her talk was what she called the Honorable Harvest, principles by which we can interact sustainably with the world.  She called these ancient tenets “rules for those of us who can’t photosynthesize,” because really, when you think about it, all life relies on the sun and we rely on those forms of life that can harness solar energy and pass it on to us as food.  Let us not take them for granted.  And let us not take more than our share or, like the passenger pigeon, they will be no more.

Here are some wild harvest guidelines I gathered from Dr. Kimmerer’s talk.  She also has a chapter in Braiding Sweetgrass on “The Honorable Harvest” in which she says that these things are not usually written down but “reinforced in small acts of daily life” and apply to all “the gifts of Mother Earth–air, water, and the literal body of the earth: the rocks and soil and fossil fuels.”  These “small acts” can be practiced every day in some form or another.

1.  Never take the first one you see.  How do you know it’s not the last one?

2. Introduce yourself.  Approach the fungi or roots or whatever you’re gathering and tell them your intent.  Ask permission to take them.

3. Listen for their answer.   There are ways to communicate and receive an answer.  If you are quiet enough, you can hear (or feel) it.

4. Respect the answer.  If permitted to harvest, take only what is needed.

5. Minimize harm.  Be careful how you harvest and how you move around the area.

6. Use everything you take.  “Do eat food that is honorably harvested, and celebrate every mouthful,” Kimmerer writes.

7. Be grateful.  “The practice of gratitude is a radical act,” Dr. Kimmerer said.  It is humbling and it is part of reciprocity, giving back.

8. Share what you’ve taken.

Similarly, Anishinabeg (Ojibway) elder, Anne Dunn, let me know that wild rice is harvested with gratitude and “cherished as a gift from Great Spirit” and will “flourish and feed many generations of countless people” as long as it is treated with appreciation and respect.  The Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) gave an address in 1977 in Geneva, Switzerland, “A Basic Call to Consciousness,” noting, “The Western culture has been horribly exploitative and destructive of the Natural World.  Over 140 species of birds and animals were utterly destroyed since the European arrival in the Americas… The air is foul, the waters poisoned, the trees dying, the animals are disappearing.  We think even the systems of weather are changing.  Our ancient teachings warned us that if Man interfered with the Natural laws, these things would come to be.  When the last of the Natural Way of Life is gone, all hope for human survival will be gone with it.”

Robin Kimmerer said at the May 2 Nature and Ethics forum, “It is not land which is broken but our relationship to land.”  She said we are in the time of the seventh fire, at a fork in the road.  Honoring our plant and animal relatives, “we can light the eighth fire of kinship” and heal some of what we have broken.

Robin Wall Kimmerer, Chicago Botanic Garden

Robin Wall Kimmerer, Chicago Botanic Garden

Have a healthy harvest and enjoy!

Vehicle of Gratitude

We get a free paper in our rural mailbox in Wisconsin.  I like to read about upcoming Amish auctions and fundraiser bratfests (for enjoying bratwurst sausages, not naughty children).  I also read the classifieds, which is kind of a sociological experience and is sometimes quite poignant.

The September 8 edition tells me that Sherm’s Piggly Wiggly is looking for a part-time meat cutter and that there is a “Milking position in a double 10 parlor.” There are roosters, dogs, and fishing equipment to buy and houses to rent.  “FOR RENT: Renovated church converted to 3 bedroom, 1.5 bath home.  Vaulted ceilings.”   I guess they would be vaulted, ay?

It’s the letters of thanks that make me realize that we all need ways to show our appreciation.  A farmer writes, “I would like to thank our daughter for milking the cows Sunday, August 9 so we could go to the state fair.”  Lorraine writes to thank the fire and police departments “who helped me through a critical time of my life.  I will never forget your thoughtfulness.”  There seem to be messages for the saints in every issue.  August 25 has an anonymous writer declaring “Thank you Jesus, Mary, Joseph, St. Jude, and St. Anthony for prayers answered.”

So they read that paper,too?  Good to know.  And good to know that an attitude of gratitude still lives in the heartland.  It could also be called an ALTitude of gratitude, because it elevates your life condition when you give thanks, don’t you think?  It gets you out of the valley and onto the top of the hill where you get a perspective on where you’ve been–and how many have helped along the way.