A palero who is looking for something more than what is offered in the Botanica may venture into the parkland or forest land to search out palos for use to make powders or to utilize for the Fundamentos or various other purposes. However we always need to seek out the story and know what trees are imports, what trees are native, and the progression of trees that make up Mother Earth's forests. When we see forest land cleared and then "abandoned" we see an amazing progression of plants and trees who move in to rehabilitate the cleared earth. What we may, in our ignorance, view as "weeds" are the first "emergency medicine" of Mother Earth. Then there comes a series of trees, eventually giving way to the old growth forests full of Oaks, Hickories and others.
When we trace the wisdom of the Palero in the Caribbean we have to acknowledge the Indigenous Face of that Wisdom. It should be obvious (but it is not obvious to many) that the trees growing in Bantu lands were different from the trees growing in the Caribbean or Turtle Island (including South, Central and the North- what is misnomered "America"). The Bantu and other Africans coming in conditions of oppression (chains) relied upon the wisdom of the Indigenous People who had been care taking the forests and land for thousands of years. We may intellectually "know" the properties of a certain "palo" or tree, however this is very different from having "hands on experience" and directly working with the Palo.
Every species of tree and plant is unique, some grow easily under adverse conditions, some grow rapidly, some slowly, some transplant very easily, some do not tolerate transplanting at all. Some leaf out early in the Spring, some very late. Some have flamboyant flowers, some miniscule flowers that go virtually unnoticed. Some are edible, most are medicinal, and some are poisonous and some are medicinal and poisonous! Knowing the difference is essential!!! The difference is the difference between success and failure.
When we became caretakers (also known as "land owners" in this society that operates under the assumption that land can be "owned), we became the caretakers of approximately 30 acres, and fortunately about 60% was fairly established forest, 40% was either new growth forest or hay field. As the years have passed we have planted many trees. Some have been planted and worked with as ceremonial trees and also trees belonging to specific Ancestors. Others have been trees planted for the benefit of the land. We have planted and transplanted many Native Trees and have embarked upon a reforestation of most of the Land of which we are caretakers. In the process of this, we have had the opportunity to have much "hands on" experience with these trees, and we have gotten to know them from a different perspective.
Here is our most recent "tree nursery", we get "bare root" trees and put them in a nursery to grow for a couple years before we transplant them to other areas of the Land. This tree nursery has "honey locust", "Redbud", Maples, Paw Paw, Walnut, and Lobolly and White Pines. All of these are Native Trees to this area, and all have medicinal properties and spiritual properties, some are edible. All benefit the fertility of the Soil. They all leaf out at different times, some transplant easily (root lightly) some root deeply. They will soon become large enough to give us Palos which we can use in multiple ways.
In the back ground you can see the Pigeon houses, which are for a specific family Ancestor (egun).
This particular area was previously used as a hay field, and the hayfield was managed using tractors and chemicals. Tractors do a lot of damage to the soil structure and chemicals are poison. We began working in this area very early on, and planted a series of different gardens using a spiral form, at one point we had an abundance of tomatoes here! The story of this particular area is interesting. We began by plowing it using a horse with a simple plow. The horse was an elderly work horse who with great strength and willingness pulled the plow in the spiral. We did not want to continue to oppress this Ntoto (earth) with machinery. Then we planted various crops and finally we transformed it into a tree nursery.
Here we are growing evergreens, both Lobolly pines and White pines (both native to this area). These will be used as a protection against the wind and a screen at certain points on the land that are more exposed. Pines are also important Palos and spiritual baths that we use. We will also, in the future get some non-native Pinon species of evergreen that will provide us with "Pine nuts" to eat (Pesto or Mole anyone?). While we use many native species, we are not dogmatic in our approach, also embracing non-native species that bring important qualities or foods to us- just like Palo in the so called "new world": which embraced both African and Indigenous Practices because the need was both survival and thriving.
We are a far cry away from obsessively manicured lawns and heavily mulched beds of single species in corporate landscaping and farming. Our land is an abundant expression of life force, embracing so called "weeds" alongside more cultivated species. It is just like the Palo that we know that blows in the four directions. Rigidity does not exist in how we play our Palo!!!!
Here a corkscrew Willow has taken root. This was from a bouquet of willow that we purchased and which rooted in the water. We planted it and it thrived. It has amazing twisted limbs that will one day give us important palos! We can also propagate many more willows from this one. Willows have a very strong life force, you can take one branch and put it in water and it will send out roots and become a whole new tree. This is a power of regeneration which is important for us to harness within the Munanso. Trato son trato.
Our six year old daughter's garden was one of the first to be "born" upon this Land seven years ago when she was in her embryonic stage! Her mother dug the compacted soil, planted plants, applied natural ingredients to the soil, made mambos and so on in the garden as she created it. Now this garden is an abundance of herbs, blossoms, medicinals, and a modern day "wishing well", which is used from the perspective of Paleros. Our daughter immediately took to the garden and knows practically every plant in the garden and what it is good for. She followed the trato that was done when she was still in the uterus.
There is oregano, lemon balm, lavender, sage, a weeping beach, irises, thyme, mint, perennial vegetables, and a variety of what people call "weeds" but are really medicinal plants and plants used in spiritual baths and spiritual work!
Here is a close up of the weeping beech, which is a non-native but very mysterious tree!
In the garden we also find a "volunteer" tree which seeded itself, most likely with the help of a bird. It will someday become an important Cemis or part of an Nkisi or what have you which will be for this child. We need to remember that trato son trato and the Spirit speaks for itself, if we are able to listen. The approach to "Earth" in this "american" society tends towards a very limited, fearful approach, whereby "weeds" are feared, almost hated, and everything needs to be in a straight line or at least grouping to be acceptable. In the Palo we play, if the Muerto takes you, you better pay attention. Mother Earth has a more important voice in the landscape than we do, and we need to embrace her wisdom in the same way the Bantu embraced the wisdom of the Taino- Arawak.
Over time our little hedgerow has grown. This is very magical for a number of reasons. One reason is that most of the plants in this hedgerow have been ones destined for "the dump", ones that various people have wanted to "throw away" in the never ending pursuit of "fads". We have gotten forsythia, azaleas, fothergilla, lilacs, flowering pears, elderberries, and so much more. We take what some view as "valueless" and make a value from it. We as Paleros, see the riches in it! Many people chase "riches" but do not know how to work with Mother Earth who is the true owner of all riches and the master of creating riches and abundance. While Palo as practiced today is predominately so called "patriarchal", the source of all riches is our Mother Earth (Ntoto). For example the willow above can be propagated to make a thousand new willow trees from one, each carrying the powerful essence and spirit of the original willow! What power of abundance and amplification of power! The Palo that the Ancestors of the Past knew was the Palo of Common Sense! If you are playing Palo inside of Palo, then the Palo and Egun will take you to understanding and wisdom even in the absence of your physical elder, because facts are facts and many of our elders who initiated us are no longer around or have deeply betrayed us and betrayed the essence of Palo and not only this but have also betrayed the Root of Tradition which is always Nsambi.
Again, our daughters garden has many plants that have been pulled out of places where they became unwanted. There is so much waste in this society that it has become a way of life for many to just be consumers and not cultivators or creators. Whatever is the fad of the moment becomes the next days "trash". We are blessed to have a large space to caretake and we have a place for almost any plant, and we take the blessings that others waste and plant them, and they bring us abundance which is not only physical in nature.
The photos above and below both show sage plants, one is culinary the other is a purple sage plant. Many of us use sage in our spiritual practices, however many of us also are not aware of the amazing variety of sages that are growing on this planet. Varieties of sage grow practically everywhere, in fact we were gifted sage from Alaska not too long ago, that has a beautiful scent. Desert sage is very different than white sage, very different from all the other sages. We use sage not only in the Munanso, but also in the kitchen and also to make teas for the purification lodges that we do.
Paleros always speak about the muertos, and speaking to the "Dead", but we need to never negate the fact that the muerto is skeleton but we ourselves as the physical body cannot move without the skeleton that lives within! In understanding the skeletal structure of our own body, we begin to understand the skeletons the Palero works with. Within our physical skeletal structure various muertos are residing, our leg bones contain different energies than our cranium or metacarsals (finger bones). We could even say they contain different muertos. We need to acknowledge that we have all our ancestors residing within, however different spiritual energies are amplified in specific bones. We know that the leg bones (tibia) are especially important for certain functions that have to do with activity, because of course we move because of our leg bones, that is what propels us one way or another way, to run, walk, jump, hop and so on. Then we have the various bones of the spine which lead to the center of consciousness within the Kiumba our skull. We come to realize that each bone within our body holds a unique emanation of consciousness or a unique Ancestor if we want to think of it in that way. We could even expand to realize that each bone within our body resonates with a specific Mpungo or Power within this Universe. So to understand the Nkisis, we must also understand ourselves as an Nkisi, a walking, fleshy, Nkisi.In understanding this, we can see above Nkisi collecting flowers for Nkisi, Muerto collecting flowers for Muerto! Living flowers are cut to offer the Dead, however even though they "die" at the moment of severing from the plant, the unfurled blossoms continue to unfurl and reveal their beauty, and the willow will even send roots out allowing us to realize that it never actually died! You cannot understand the "Dead" without understanding that you are the Dead in the garments of what appears to be life! Remember as Paleros we understand that the whole Universe is a Spiritual Entity, and that the Mother Earth is just a grain within that Totality, suspended in the air just like many universes and planets that extend to infinity!
Lemon balm and a bird bath. Lemon balm is a medicinal, is an edible, and is a very prolific plant. Once it is planted, just like the spiritual plant Altamisa, it is impossible to remove! Below you can see Altamisa with Thyme which is also a powerful medicinal and culinary plant!
Below there is a large patch of altamisa, which we actually picked up as a single stem from NYC, because altamisa is a herb that will literally grow up through the sidewalk! It is a fragrant "weed" with great spiritual powers. We allow it to spread within reason! You may be able to go into a Botanica to get altamisa however you will not understand its tenacity, its survival instinct and its adaptability. You see it surrounded by buttercups (yellow flowers) which are poisonous and are selectively avoided by the horses who instinctively know it is poisonous. We as Paleros of the modern day have to reclaim our own instincts in how to utilize these various plantas.
Remembering that this is the garden of a six year old, who is well on her way to becoming much more proficient in the world of Ngurufinda and who has had her hands within the planting of many of these plants beginning at the age of two, we have to acknowledge that what we do today is for the benefit of the future generations and to truly benefit the future generations we need to have those future generations directly involved in our spiritual practices and not given over to the parenting of the TV, Video games or the like. This baby Yayi is already learning the energies and uses of the plantas and palos. In this Munanso we never tell the Yayis that they are subordinate to anything because they are the Mothers of Life and they are the first bleeders of Life. It does not matter how powerful a Tata you are, you still came through the womb and pyramid of the Mother! You could let colonialism and christianity psyche you out but this is a fact.
Lavender above, oregano below, neither are native to this region, neither are native to Bantu lands or the Caribbean, however they are both powerful herbs, culinary, spiritual, medicinal. It would take a very rigid mind to reject these herbs simply because they do not come from our homelands, however this rigidity is not productive. As Paleros we play with anything that gives us results!!!
Note: Feel free to dialogue on this topic, because dialogue always challenges us to go deeper into our understandings!