Healing and Restoration
Balsamroot was used by American Indians in various ways. Although the entire plant is reported to be edible and nutritious, its pine-scented sap makes it bitter to the taste. In former times the sticky sap was used as a topical antiseptic for minor wounds, a natural balm for healing. The plant greens were said to be at their best in spring before the leaves became fibrous. Roasted seeds were eaten or ground into flour. When other edible plants were scarce, the more palatable large taproots were harvested, dried, and ground into a starchy flour. Living off the land was not easy; it was labor intensive, especially with the use of primitive tools. Since digging up the taproot destroyed the plant, it was also essential to know how much could be harvested without wiping out the food source, in short, how to keep the food source sustainable.

I take a break and walk over to stand under the ponderosa pine that throws its shadow my way. The view stretches out across the basin to forest on the far side. These mountains are unique as a transition point geologically, geographically, botanically, and even politically since the range lies in two states. The Warner Mountains are worth National Monument status in my view. Part of the Great Basin topography, the western approach to the Warners is gradual, but the eastern side of the range rises dramatically out of a desert valley. The towering fault block escarpment overlooks Surprise Valley and the Black Rock Desert, a forbidding wilderness. Far from population centers, we encounter few other campers here, mostly locals, or hikers headed for the Wilderness area.

Enjoying these mountains and experiencing the solitude here, I have learned to see nature in a new way. Now I think more in terms of healing the land, restoring it to abundant life. Where can I start? When I return home, I notice that every back yard and open space has its own unique wonders, unique possibilities. Can my own back yard become a sanctuary? A mini–National Monument? How do I go about that? I ponder the thought as I turn back to my drawing.

I sit in the shade of the ponderosa and pull out the Rapidograph pens, two sizes, “0″ and “00″. They have leaked again, a sign they don’t like a change in altitude. I wipe them down and start inking on the right hand side of the paper, working right to left to keep my hand away from wet ink. The pens give tight control over the line and render details clearly, so important to a botanical sketch. As I focus on the beauty of those details, a feeling of pleasure washes over me. The smell of sage, the ponderosa, the life community of this high altitude basin, it all comes down to this clump of flowers. It’s only a small part of the grand landscape, but the Balsamroot holds meaning and purpose vital to the whole community of life here. I’m glad I stopped to take another look.

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