(this is the first in a recurring series of five question interviews with awesome humans who continue to inspire my own heart to rewild.)
I met james wood when we both worked at an organic food co-op here in san diego. we ended up briefly sharing space in a communal house a ways up north, on four acres that hosted a strangely beautiful melange of pines, riparian wilderness and overgrown apricot and avocado orchards. he left town shortly after I moved in, but his knowledge of plant medicine and healing struck a chord whose resonance began to shape my own path. on a brief visit recently, I was honored to catch up with james on a day hike into one of the breathtaking slot canyons of our nearest desert.
I was inspired anew by his wealth of knowledge, his depth of experience with the wild world, and his wise and beautiful approach to life. james was kind enough to sit down to answer these questions and share some of his gems of insight & information with this wild heart and with yours.
1. where did you grow up and what was your relationship to the wild earth in this place?
My youth was spent in a small town at the base of the Sierra Nevada Mountain Range called Shingle Springs. There was quite a lot of open space to roam around with a landscape scattered with oak and pine trees, Manzanita bushes, mountain lions, rabbits, and many more wild plants and creatures. My family lived on 6 acres, which gave me a safe space to get in touch with the land. On this land I developed, and have carried ever since, a connection to the natural world that influences my thoughts, actions, and feelings to this very day. I feel blessed to have been exposed to such a raw connection with the earth at such a young age. I spent most of my time outside climbing trees, exploring trails around the neighborhood, and shooting off the occasional round on my BB gun. I feel that a raw connection to nature is essential for any child to grow into a healthy and caring steward of the planet.
2. what is your relationship to the wilderness around you now like?
Currently, I am living on Fidalgo Island, Washington, in the San Juan Island chain. The nature here is quite different than anywhere else I’ve lived, and is what intitially attracted me to move to the area. I am surrounded by enormous cedar trees, large Jurassic Park-like ferns, giant nettles, moss covered maple trees, and more blackberry bushes than your grandma would dream of (that is, if your grandma likes making pies). Everything here is extremely soft. There is quite a lot of rain, which keeps everything very green all year round. The softness here fosters a deep level of comfort, which allows me to feel safe walking barefoot everywhere in the forest. Bald eagles are an everyday sight around the island as well.
I have connected with the ecosystem here in a few different ways. First, I have incorporated a lot of wild foods into my diet. Nettles, self-heal, salmonberries, huckleberries, blackberries, wild rose, red-belted polypore mushrooms, usnea, and more. I also collect all of my drinking water from a spring not too far away, which has been an integral part of my life for the last three years. Making my body out of wild food and water has been a life altering practice, and I highly recommend it to anyone looking to deepen their connection to the wild world of nature. Building your body out of your local ecosystem through wild food and water allows you to get in touch with the heart of the place you reside. You become it. You then begin to act out the evolution of that very place, and line up with the life cycles of the area.
3. on our trip out to the slot canyon, you talked a lot about plant medicine and even wildcrafted some ocotillo and chaparral. can you describe your connection to the plant world and what drew you to it?
I love this question. Plant medicine has been an incredible part of my life for the last few years. My introduction to plant medicine (herbalism) began with my number one plant ally, reishi mushroom. After drinking a few cups of some strong reishi tea, I was overwhelmed by a sense of inner calm, spiritual upliftment, and a centered state of being. After this experience with reishi, I knew that herbs had an incredible ability to influence our thoughts, actions, moods, goals, dharma, and many more aspects of our lives. I then got into many other plants to use as medicine, which led me into an even deeper connection with our earth mother.
I believe that plant medicine is something that every human being should be in touch with to some degree. We eat plants on a regular basis, but the plants that make up the bulk of our diet are actually quite genetically altered. All of the plants that you see in the supermarket used to, long ago, be a wild plant. The difference between the wild plant and the supermarket plant is that selective breeding has removed many of the original wild plant’s alkaloids. The supermarket plant has now become bigger/more aesthetically pleasing (matter of opinion), and has lost its bitterness. Well, that bitterness is actually what’s medicinal about the plant in the first place! So in a nutshell, we are eating a diet of plants that have no more medicinal qualities to them.
I believe, and know, that incorporating plant medicine into your life is the first step on the path to supreme health and a deeper connection with the wild planet. There are plants out there that can uplift your consciousness, heal your broken immune system, balance your hormones, make you think clearer, the list goes on and on…
My top plant allies would be (in no specific order): Reishi Mushroom and the Pine Tree.
Reishi is the most widely studied herb on the planet, and has been used by emporers and daoist monks in China for well over 2,000 years for spiritual development. Reishi has helped me to understand the spiritual and non-physical essence of the universe. A connection to the divine. It really sparked my own spiritual development from my first interaction with it. When I started taking heavy doses of reishi, a few things happened. I began to feel a sense of inner calm and peace of mind, I felt an intense and beautiful opening of my heart, and could feel that I was being led to my highest purpose. How many herbs would you say can do that?
The Pine Tree has been an ally of mine for longer than I realized before answering this question. I grew up around many pines, and was also fascinated with their presence. They stand tall and proud, oozing with yellow sap at their wounds and dusting the forest floor with a birght yellow layer of pollen in the spring time. More recently, I have discovered the amazing medicine that the pine tree provides.
-the sap can be collected and used to make a healing salve that is antibacterial
-the nuts can be collected and eaten as an amazing source of wild calories
-the pollen can be collected, and contains a wide array of minerals, hormones, vitamins, and more. The most amazing thing about pine pollen, is that it contains a high level of bio-available testosterone that can help restore and promote balanced levels of sex hormones in the human body.
-the needles can be infused in a tea for vitamin C
-the inner bark contains an antioxidant compound that can protect your cells from free radical damage, and also protect your DNA from environmental mutagens (Oligomeric proanthocyanidins or OPC’s).
These plants have played an important role in my health and spiritual development. After these two, I would have to go with guayusa, mugwort, devil’s club, white sage, tobacco, and chaga mushroom.
5. you’ve done a lot of work that engages the wild world, tell me about the projects you’re working on now and what your wild heart is called towards next!
Currently, I am working with a business called Moxa Northwest, that processes wild crafted mugwort into ‘moxa’, that can then be burned in acupuncture use. I am also working with a good friend for a business called Evolution Gardens, which designs, constructs and builds raised-bed gardens for health, survival, and security purposes.
I have also been working on a project for the last 10 months, that I am finally about to launch called Ascended Grounds. This is a business that combines the health and spiritual benefits of reishi mushroom with coffee. I feel compelled to bring the benefits of reishi to a mass amount of people, and coffee is a great way to do that! Have a look at my website at www.ascendedgrounds.com.
As for my next adventures into the wild, I would like to spend a week or two traveling through the Okanogan National Forest in Washington, Glacier National Park in Montana, and do some serious hot spring-hopping in Idaho this summer!
I will leave you with a quote that sums up my connection to the wild: “The body is your temple. Keep it pure and clean for the soul to reside in.” – B.K.S. Lyengar
Thank you so much for this interview Jen, you are doing some wonderful things to encourage the wild in all of us to blossom!