Chokecherry Medicine Journey – tmish – Part I

chokecherry - tmish
chokecherry – tmish

Chokecherry and Huckleberry are considered as sisters by our elder nations here in Cascadia. Huckleberry or wiwnu (in Sahaptin – Yakama dialect) is the “chief” of all berries and exercises her power in the high mountains. She has an older sister – tmish – or chokecherry – who holds great power in lower country.

In the ancient ways of being all living ones are experienced as relatives and are approached in reverence. We are to prepare ourselves to encounter their power and ask permissions to receive the gift of their medicine. Foods are medicines and wild foods have powers that cannot journey the pathways of domesticated stores of commercial farming produced food. This is part of why we all who inhabit Turtle Island were asked to enter into agreement by the elders of our first nations to recognize rights to gather traditional foods in traditional places – “…as long as the sun rises and the rivers flow…” Such covenants between place, plant and people are as irreplaceable as light, warmth and water for a thriving land and peoples. This is a medicine wisdom elder peoples have been trying to clue new comers into for over 500 years now.

It is our custom at the end of summer to travel into the high mountains for a time. For the last several summers it has been another of these sisters – chcháya – Saskatoon or serviceberry – who has anchored the journey. This year tmish has come forward with her medicine along the journey. In 4 places she emerged – each with a different message – and in a different watershed – that feeds into the Great River – the CheeAwana – the Columbia – central River to the southern end of Cascadia. Here is a sharing from the first of these crossings.

Morning light with Mist on Kintla
Morning light with Mist on Kintla

“The Wildest River in America”

During the early days of wolf recovery on a traverse of the country a ranger in Glacier National Park was asked where one was most likely to hear the song of wolves. He pointed to Kintla Lake in the Northwestern corner of Glacier. The road at the time was unmaintained with ruts 3 feet deep on the steepest sections from the erosions of melts and rains. At the end of the road is a camp – which according to the archeological evidence has been in use for over 6000 years. One lone wolf call that I still don’t know whether to be an actual wolf or a human imitation was all we heard. That first night will never be forgotten however, as the color in the stars was more diverse and pulsing than I could ever remember experiencing. Star light is a breathing living thing in those high isolated mountains. It was a still night and the whole of our galaxy and beyond was reflected into the waters of the lake giving one a feeling of truly floating in the heavens… The high peaks reflected too giving themselves a feeling of a mountain island floating through heaven… And then there was the water.

It is our practice to bathe in the wild waters wherever we are traveling – to greet the day with the land and it’s great cycles… This is a practice followed from coast to coast and one that can be quite challenging where chemical agriculture or massive stock populations exist. North Fork Flathead is protected Wild & Scenic these days – relatively protected from these modern plagues. The vitalities of pure mountain water are such that I have heard tell of those who have survived months in prayer with simply wild waters to nourish… Cold water brings out human warmth that always encourages our humanity and it’s connectedness to universal mysteries… In traditions around the world it is water that is used to baptize the youngest among us into the energies of spirit. The waters of northern Montana are among the clearest and strongest that exist anywhere. Star fed waters.

Bear Greeting at the  morning bath
Bear Greeting at the morning bath – taking a break from working the red osier dogwood berries along the lake edge

Lake Kintla is snow / glacier fed and Kintla Creek flows into the North Fork of the Flathead River whose origins are in British Columbia, Canada. In 2004, under the imminent threat of devastation by open pit coal mining in Canada, the Flathead was declared by the New York Times to be “The Wildest River in America”. Its origins are in what is called the “Crown of the Continent” from which water flows to all 3 oceans. Parks Canada has proposed adding major sections of the river to Waterton / Glacier International Peace Park without success. Thankfully a 1909 Boundary Waters Treaty delayed much of this development until…

“On February 10, 
2010 the BC Liberal government announced plans to ban all
 mining and oil and gas development in the Flathead Valley, located in the southeastern corner of the Province.
Following years of protests, international campaigning and opposition by environmentalists, Lt.-Governor Steven Point stated that the BC government would stop all mining, including two large coal mine project proposals by Cline Mining Corp.
Some logging, along with hunting and recreation, will still be allowed.”

From the Dogwood Initiative’s Report – BC’s Dirty Secret: Big Coal & the Export of Global – Warming Pollution

North Fork Flathead River
North Fork Flathead River

For now the headwaters are relatively protected although in 2012 the federal government in Canada removed significant protections for waters in their blinding support of all energy development under bills C-38 and C-45.

Interestingly the Flathead flows out of Canada into Flathead Lake and then feeds the Clark Fork, which feeds into the Pend Oreille River. The Pend Oreille is a relatively short and yet amazingly vibrant river in Northern Idaho and the Northeastern tip of Washington. It flows north into British Columbia where it joins the Columbia River before flowing back into Washington as a part of the Big River.

Click the pics for some of the better historical road signs we’ve encountered… along the Clark Fork

Cedar Waxwings and Chokecherry

Morning in the Flathead valley
Morning in the Flathead valley

This year’s journey began in a state of illness with a prayer for strength from the mountains. The second day of the journey brought me into Clark Fork country where I took a fine wild water bath. In my road gypsy tradition of finding home for the night – after dusk I took a side road off of the main road and found a flat near water. Under a big tree is another of the gypsy guides but big trees are rare in the area – 10 years ago almost a 1/3 of a million acres burned including 10% of Glacier National Park. Nights rest was above Kletomus Creek, which flows out of Moose Lake into the North Fork within Flathead National Forest. I awoke in the night very ill feeling ready to die, some kind of food poisoning I suppose. Morning came filled with the song of large flocks of birds mixing with the sounds of water and the mysterious forms of mist wandering its ways in the valleys.

Click the pics for close ups of cedar waxwings feasting among the chokecherry…

It was the first day of chokecherry medicine. 10 years and a month in from the burn.

Heading into the North Fork from a Moose Lake Wander
Heading into the North Fork from a Moose Lake Wander



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  1. I enjoyed your reflections on water and spirit. Thank you.

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