Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Profound Ohio Mound

[This writing was inspired by certain events in my life beginning in late October of 2008, coupled with some lucid dreams.  It seems to dovetail well with my current studies from 1491, Cahokia, and Living the Sky: The Cosmos of the American Indian.  I still work with the meaning of this insight, as it’s deep and profound; this writing was intended as a reminder and teacher.  I hope you find it useful.]

I sat atop old Indian mound
Corn stalks growing all around
Huge clouds hovered pink, profound
Wind picked up, made ancient sound
I craved to find meaning of it all
Called Great Spirit without having to crawl
Felt no use for white-eyes malls
Saw sky spit forth lightning balls
Wild wind whipped them into vortex-walls
I felt my spine stretch skyward-tall
As wondered what life was before The Fall
And asked skygod to show me all.

Clean rain bathed me in light-dance
Clouds-code sky was Holy Grail
Leaves and things were all a-sail
As bluster-winds became shout-gale
I deeply breathed so wouldn’t fail
My ardent search for Redpath Trail
I sat firm-fixed an hour more
As storm bore deep into my core
I prayed to see through secret door
That opened to a mystic shore
But no such vision did come-forth
I entered wind, and with it tore
free from my face, into my core,
Then slipped into symbolic 4

As wind-danced free on top of mound
Chief Manitou with me whirled-‘round
Skyscraper-tall he danced profound
As chanted my destiny that I’d never found
Brave-path he laid for me to follow
No more in human-ness was I to wallow
ONLY Honor-code must I now allow
And cease all action moral-hollow.

As sun set golden-red I woke
Felt fired by words Great Chief had spoke
Profound wind-dance had been no joke
New inner-glows of life he’d stoked

I groggy-rose and slow-returned to whence I’d come
Thought deeply ‘bout new name he’d given me with sacred drum
Long drive home gave me much time to think
I felt like child on edge of brand-new brink
Cool pristine waters of new PURPOSE I then had to drink
And NEVERMORE in rude-existence sink

I was astounded how much time elapsed
As I straight-sat on ancient mound enrapt
I knew new lifepath was now laid for me
Though no details I could yet clearly see
Only broad outlines of what was then to be
To follow Redpath Way to pull soul UP and FREE
Including study of the Signatures of all Mortality
And eschew Mammon-pulls to only money see
To honor VIRTUE-TRUTH (and not mere “honesty”).

My mortal mind was unprepared for that Great-Spirit talk
So felt afraid I was not worthy to do such upright walk
But – with return to normal world into which I now felt hurled
I chose hold-tight to what that vision had unfurled
As listened to car-roof being hail-and-raindrops whirled
And careful-drove back towards my humble home
While vowing that my soul I’d not again loose-roam
Decided to begin by this experience revealing
To all who might be similarly-Feeling
And freely-share with those who hungered for The Real 

That TRUTH-pursuit has naught to do with metaphysi-spiel 
But’s lifelong task to make (and eat) each day as spirit-diet meal 
And ARDENT-Seek to differentiate twixt Counterfeit and Real. 

As gratitude then through me flowed, 
I pulled car off to side of road, 
Got out, and humbly towards that Mound did kneel,
And saw the clouds above it slow-congeal
Into horizons-reaching Sacred Wheel.

Learning about Tradescantia

The TRADESCANTIA plant is also known as Spiderwort and Wandering Jew

Various vining plants of the Tradescantia genus are very common throughout the Southern California area.  Sometimes they are called spiderworts, sometimes wandering jew.  They are great survival plants. They can be green or purple, and are sometimes used as ornamentals.  However, more often they are simply the plants that take over an area when nothing else is grown. 

The purple ones are Tradescantia pallida, which are usually house plans or hanging plants.  The ones with purplish leaves with stripes are T. zebrina, also typically an ornamenal. Both of these are occasionally sold at nurseries.

The variety that is widespread, growing in the mountains and backyards, and seeming to need no care, is T. fluminensis, a common vining groundcover with green leaves.  There are a few horticultural varieties that you might encounter. Though the leaves are usually solid green with a smooth margin, some have white stripes in the leaves, and some have wavy margins. And while the flowers are typically blue, some have white flowers.

So is this an edible plant?

I long wondered about this, and yet there were no references to this plant being used for food.  In the mid-1980s, a Phillipino friend told me that he commonly ate the leaves back home, usually in a soup or broth in which chicken and beetles were added.  I tried cooking without the chicken or beetles, and found that it made a spinach-like dish, though somewhat bland, and certainly improved with butter.

I also began trying it in salads, and again, though bland, it is edible. I have had good salads with about two-thirds chopped T. fluminensis leaves, and about a third avocado, with dressing.

I learned that if you eat a little too much, it will have a mild laxative effect. Also, if you pick it and store it in your refrigerator for a few days, the leaves will darken and begin to decompose. They do not have the keeping quality of other greens, like lamb’s quarter for example.

In the early 90s, we used to collect and sell bagged wild salad and wild soup mixes at the local farmers markets and to Wild Oats market. Though we initially added the T. fluminensis leaves, we discontinued that practice because the leaves would turn black in a day or two, whereas all the other wild leaves that we collected and bagged would last for up to two weeks. 

Still, the plant is so widespread that it is worth getting to know.  I don’t use it extremely often, but I do occasionally add some of the green leaves to a fresh salad, and sometimes soups.  I might add the Tradescantia fluminensis leaves to dishes where the other wild leaves are very hot or spicy, as a way to balance out the flavor.

A mentor of mine recently revealed that he’d been using these green wandering jew or spiderwort leaves for over 40 years as one of the ingredients of a wild kim-chee that he makes by soaking various greens in raw apple cider vinegar. 

He has also pickled the purple flowers of Tradescantia pallida and found them delicious.  However, the pickled leaves were described as “palatable,” and the pickled stems as “ok.”  Of course, relative palatability is largely determined by how you prepare any given plant, and  how  you season it.  At least I learned that,  yes, you can also eat the purple wandering jew.

Remember, always eat any new food sparingly to see how your body reacts, and never eat any wild food if you haven’t positively identified it.

I’d love to hear from any readers who try these foods.  And by the way, I’ve been leading Wild Food Outings since 1974.  If you live in the area, you should check the Schedule at and try to join us one time.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Peruvian Mint

At some point in the mid 1980s, we’d acquired a vining succulent plant which we’d never seen before. The seller at the flea market told us the plant was called Peruvian Mint.  We planted it in the yard and it spread and spread. I especially liked where I planted it along paths, and when I walked there, the crushed leaves would perfume the air with its mintiness.

We had so much of it that we began to pot and sell it when we went to farmers markets and flea markets.   
One day in the early 1990s, while selling potted Peruvian mint at the Pasadena City College flea market, we met a man who told us that he was the one who introduced this plant into the United States. (I don’t recall his name). We had no reason to doubt him, and he explained that he’d introduced the plant about 10 or so years earlier. That explained why we’d not seen the plant in earlier years. 

It took us awhile to learn the Latin name for this plant.  Though sometimes called Peruvian mint elsewhere, we also saw people calling it the Vick’s plant, as in the Vick’s cough drops, because of the plant’s strong aroma resembling cough medicine. The Latin name is Plectranthus cylindraceus, and also known as P. marrubioides. It turns out that the plant is originally from South Africa, not from Peru. 

Over the years, we’ve made minty infusions from the leaves and drank it just for flavor.  It’s good with or without sweeteners.  It is strongly-mint flavored, with a touch of eucalyptus flavor. 

We have also taken the leaves, rubbed them between our hands to mush them up, and then applied the mush to minor cuts, wounds, and skin conditions with generally favorable results.

Due to its strong aroma, we’ve found that the mushed-up leaves can also be used as a body deodorant.
It’s also somewhat effective as a “mouthwash” by just chewing a bunch of the leaves and then spitting them out.

In my book, “Til Death Do Us Part?”, I described how my wife stipulated in her will that her body be left undisturbed for 3 days after death.  When she died, several friends worked with me to fulfill this wish.  But how to “preserve” a body that is left in the home for three days?  We were not undertakers, and none of us had done anything like this before. Still, it was winter and cold. 

After a long powwow, we all decided to wash the body. Then we covered the body in a green slurry that we made from equal parts of Peruvian mint, Chinese jade, and aloe leaves, all of which were growing in abundance on the nearby property. We blended all the leaves with some water in a blender, and strained out all the solid material. When we applied the slurry, the body seemed to soak it up.  This did a remarkable job of preserving the body for those three days.  (The details can be read in the book). While it doesn’t seem likely that most people will ever have to use these plants this way, it’s still a good thing to know.

The leaves are somewhat thick, succulent, with prominent veins, which grow in pairs along the long sprawling stems.  The flowers can be white or blue.  As a garden plant, Peruvian mint is superlative. It requires no care, is an evergreen, it flowers, and it exudes a pleasant fragrance into the air when you step on it. It can cover a hillside in a few years, and will cover a bare area without much work.  It grows with sun or with some shade. 
I strongly recommend it as a survival plant in the garden of those with little gardening skills, or with little time to work a garden.

Stems for growing are available from WTI, 5835 Burwood Ave., Los Angeles, CA 90042.  They currently send 3 growing stems for $10, which includes the price of postage.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Roots of St. Valentine's Day

            Every Sunday outdoors under a large banyan tree in Highland Park, there is a spiritual studies presentation on topics of current interest. The outdoor talks are sponsored by WTI (see for details and schedule of upcoming talks.)
Last Sunday the topic was Valentine’s Day, and everyone learned that there was a very real person – and possibly two – that this day is named after.
             February 14 is the day set aside to commemorate a real historical person named Valentinus.  With just a little bit of research, we learn that this Valentinus person was stoned, clubbed, and beheaded in about the year 270 A.D.  He was violently killed by an unruly mob.  That’s the meaning buried there in that word “martyr.”  But why?  And how have we come to associate Valentinus with chocolates and hearts and lovers?
            It turns out that there were at least two people called Valentinus – possibly more – who lived in the 2nd and 3rd Centuries.  One – who the Catholic Church now called Saint Valentine – was beheaded in 270 A.D. 
Another Valentinus lived about a century earlier and founded one of the most important sects of Gnosticism.  He was born in Egypt and educated in Alexandria.  He settled in Rome during the reign of Pope Hyginus and taught there for more than 20 years.  He attracted a large following to his beliefs, due in part to his intelligence, his eloquence of speech, and his impeccable arguments.
But the teachings of this Valentinus differed in some ways from the Christian church of that time, and when the office for the Bishop of Rome opened up, he was not selected.  Valentinus then chose to break off from the Christian church, left Rome, and continued to develop his doctrines as he saw fit.
There are no original surviving documents from the teachings of Valentinus.  So, if you want to discover what he actually believed and taught, you have to study fragmentary quotations found in the writings of his orthodox Christian opponents.      
Through research, we learn that Valentinus was influenced by Plato (the main source of the teachings of Socrates), Zoroastrianism, and Christianity. Valentinus also spoke of a spiritual realm which he called Pleroma, which consisted of “emanations” evolving from an original divine being.  These have been described as the layers of an onion, with each layer being a wholly complete reality.  It’s all very interesting, though it’s all a bit second-hand because whatever Valentinus wrote was apparently “lost” or destroyed by opponents.
The term Gnosticism came from the word “gnosis,” defined as spiritual knowledge.  Those who followed this line of study were called the Gnostics, and many were referred to as Christian Gnostics.  But by the third century, the more orthodox Christian church (and the political power of the day), decided to oppose and persecute the Gnostics.   By the end of the third century, Gnosticism as a distinct movement had largely disapppeared.

            Now, here’s the quiz:  Where in all this did you hear anything about chocolates, hearts, greeting cards, bunnies, jewelry, roses, or lace underwear?  Plus, there doesn’t appear to be any historical connection with any of the individuals named Valentinus with the date of February 14.
It turns out that in the pre-Christian days, there was a celebration in honor of Lupercus, a pastoral god, sometimes identified with Faunus or Pan.  Faunus is depicted as having the body of a man but the horns, pointed ears, tail, and hind legs of a goat.  That is, Faunus is more or less identical with the satyr, who was said to be lecherous, lustful, and always ready to party.
The pre-Christian observance of this day was called Lupercalia, which fell on February 15.  Most of what people do today in the name of  “celebrating St. Valentine’s Day” has its roots in the ancient feast of Lupercalia.  On Lupercalia, cards were given (often with subtle or overt sexual overtones), and men reportedly chased women through the streets (sounds somewhat like Mardi Gras).
            It is difficult to ascertain why the commemoration of Valentinus was used to supplant, uplift, and supercede the already-existing commemoration of Lupercus, but that’s what happened.  Yet, very little of the trappings of modern St. Valentine’s Day have anything to do with the historical Valentinus.
             And that’s really a shame, since Valentinus was as important as perhaps Socrates or Pythagoras, and yet most of us only associate him with the silly commercialism of Lupercalia’s remnants. Certainly it’s possible that the Church engineered this substitution so that people would elevate their practices on this day, though there is no evidence that that has happened.

So rather than waste money and time on chocolates and red cards, why not take the time to study something meaningful about the great teacher Valentinus, or about the real meaning of  that much-used word “love.” One excellent book in this regard is Eric Fromm’s “Art of Loving.”  Once you get into it, you may discover – as I did  -- that  much of what he taught is very relevant today.
The WTI Sunday morning talks are excellent presentations.  For more details, go to their website at

Tuesday, February 05, 2013

Meet Paul Campbell

[Campbell's books are available from the Store at]

Do you all know Paul Campbell?  Paul Campbell, local resident, is the author of “Survival Skills of Native California.”  He has a lifelong interest in the outdoors, and a particular interest in the American Indians who lived here in Southern California.

Paul has also authored “Earth Pigments and Paint of the California Indians.”
What a fantastic book!  Here is a treasure trove of original research whose scope goes far beyond the seemingly-limited title.  Campbell begins with his quest for a blood-red ochre. He shares where all the colors used by Southwestern tribes came from, the binders they used to make pigments into paint, and the storage containers of these pigments.  With color photos throughout, Campbell gives examples of pigments in rock art, body paint, face decorations, bow and arrow paint, and more. The book also includes a portfolio of late 1880s photos of mostly Mohave Indians showing face and body paint.
A must-have addition to any library focused on anthropology, native skills, and art. 

 “The local Indians were so in-tuned with nature,” says Campbell, as he shows me the simple bird trap he made based on local native designs.

“They lived here for at least 10,000 years, and it seemed to me that after they lived here that long using simple technologies, they figured out the best ways to live in this environment.  If I wanted to be in tune with this environment,” he adds, “I realized that I should at least begin where they left off.”

So, about 10 years ago, Campbell decided to begin actually practicing some of the skills and making the tools that were used by aboriginal peoples here for millenia.
“What I read in most books was insufficient,” explains Campbell, and he began his quest with extensive research that included trips to Mexico where he studied with the Indians who still lived and practiced many of the old skills.

“When my research reached what I call a critical mass, I’d go out and make these tools, like bows, and traps, and rabbit sticks, and I found that they worked well.  The more I practiced under difficult conditions, the better I got.  I improved by experience and I was able to refine certain subtleties in these skills and tools.”

Campbell showed me a lightweight willow bow he made using stone tools.  The stones were first collected within a few yards of where the willows grew.  He’d whack the stones together to create sharp edges and he used those sharpened rocks to cut the willow, split the willow, and shape the willow into a bow.  He used smooth rocks to sand the and smooth the bow.

“Each rock tool is slightly different, designed to perform a separate function,” says Campbell.  “My purpose in dong this was to demonstrate the usefulness of the universal tool kit composed of shattered rocks,” he explained as he showed me a river rock with an edge that was nearly as sharp as a metal knife.

Campbell explained that a simple bow became the universal weapon, though the bow probably did not come into California until the 3rd or 4th Century A.D.  “The bow was one of the most important weapons of all the primitive weapons.  It was used to hunt game at a short distance,” says Campbell.

Campbell showed me both a small boy’s bow, about 4 ½ feet long, which he made in about eight hours with stone rasps and stone scrapers.  Large game bows would be about 6 feet long and take a bit longer to make.  Campbell explained that the bow was and is a fairly accurate weapon in the hands of even a novice.  Hunting in the old days involved stalking, and then calling-in the game so that they could be hunted at close range.

Campbell also showed me some simple arrows that he made from the shafts of the mulefat stems.  There was no arrowhead, but just a sharpened, fire-hardened point. And there were no feathers, just a nock cut into the end where it met the bowstring.  Campbell explained that these simple arrows were used for short distance hunting.

Campbell continues to pursue his research for both the historical and survival value, and he teaches at such annual events as RabbitStick and Dirttime.