As kids during the summer we used to spend most our time doing the tadpole thing, meaning that we spent as much time in the water as we possibly could. I am proud to say that my children are gladly following in that tradition. In feet, if I didn’t know better, I’d swear that my youngest daughter, who is two, is part frog she is so at home in the water, whether it’s her bath or a lake.
However, spending time in whatever body of water we’d find was not the only activity with participated in. Summertime was also the time of year our Elders took the time to show us some of the finer things in life.
Knowledge of plants was on the top of the list when it came to learning about the outdoors at this time of year. I was fortunate at times in my young life to have Elders who felt that being tutoured in the special uses of different plants was important. They used to tell me, “Someday you might need this plant to save your life.”
I have to confess, however, that in my youthful ignorance I didn’t spend a whole lot of time listening to what they were saying and trying to teach me. I was a bit of a dreamer and, most of the time, my mind was fer away planning some sort of adventure in some strange land. Needless to say, sometimes the Elder instructing me, often one of my grandmothers or my grandfather, would bring me sharply back to reality using a variety of embarrassing ways. Nothing that hurt my skin. Instead they found ways that did a number on my pride. Mostly they’d spring a surprise test on me by asking me to tell them what they had just told me. More times than not, I couldn’t.
We didn’t just get a teaching on what plant was used for what. Our excursions were more often like a royal tour, in that we never just went straight to the plant source and back. Instead, my teacher would treat our outing like an adventure, which in a way I realize now it was. We sometimes packed a lunch and my job, other than to pay attention, was to carry the backpack and tea pail (which always came along) to wherever the plant was that we were searching for. It was fun in a way because we were off on safari in our own backyard.
My Algonquin and Ojibway grandfather and grandmothers more often than not made my learning fun by providing a unique sense of humour. The older folks in the community had and still have a way of keeping you in stitches while at the same time instilling in you lessons about the finer things in life. This was and still is a good combination of tutoring. It is also the Native way of teaching. It made it easy and fun for us to learn lifesaving teachings about what plant life was readily available in the bush at any given time of the year.
A plant is more than a plant and a tree is more than tree. And every plant and tree have a use, at least that’s what I was taught. As a child, teachings come to you in all sorts of different ways and most of the time from the hands of experience. Books were not the number one way to be educated, at least not for anyone living in remote, semi-isolated locations. Learning to survive on what ever was of a your disposal was a rule of thumb.
The bush and its caretakers, our grandparents, are great teachers of the healing properties of plant and trees. Non-Native nations are now realizing and utilizing the healing properties found in our natural world that have been known and used for centuries by Native peoples. My grandfather used to tell me that we didn’t have a pharmacy to go to and we didn’t need one as the bush was our drugstore.
If you know someone who is knowledgeable in the healing properties of plants and trees, find the time to learn from them; the gifts they share with you are invaluable. Don’t ask me too many questions about plants and trees and their medicinal uses. Remember I was the one dreaming through the lessons. Besides, I’m still a few plants shy of a bush. Until next time, enjoy the hidden treasures of our great outdoors.