Walk Around
Walk Around
29 - Heart Lessons from Poison Hemlock

29 - Heart Lessons from Poison Hemlock

About freedom & belonging

Transcript (includes errors)


Welcome to Walk Around.

This is Hudson Gardner.

I am sitting at the edge of a field where the trees come out a little bit into the grass.

And there's a little secret spot surrounded by hawthorn trees, there's an aspen that has a lot of young aspen around it.

And down beneath the willow tree is a place that I come and make a little fire and have tea.

I want to tell you a story today.

Something that happened 10 summers ago, which feels like a different life, completely different time. A different world, a different person who was living and somehow that person was me and it was the same life in the same world.

A hummingbird just landed on a twig of this little snag and he's just watching me.

I almost feel like he's listening.

So I'll tell him the story too.

Ten years ago,

I was living in southeast Nebraska in the town that I more or less grew up in called Lincoln.

And I was getting ready to do something.

I had been there a long time.

My luck was running out.

There was a general feeling of uncertainty, major change coming that I sensed.

I had gotten out of a relationship that was,

had been about three years long and it was a messy breakup and it was a hard time.

My mom was living on a farm outside of town.

And so I was staying in one of the guest rooms as I figured out what I was going to do with my 25-year-old life.

And back then I felt that I didn't really have a conviction yet about who I was or what I had to offer I had the beginnings of it, but it was more like just a question and it's safe to say that I now know what that answer is but how to do it is still elusive.

But back then I'doften go out to this zendo

outside of town on a farm called Branched Oak Farm.

It's a dairy farm with probably 15, 20 Jersey cows, some pigs, chickens.

Pretty sure it's still going.

And it was the best milk I've ever tasted in my life came from that place.

Deep, deep yellow.

I've never had anything like it.

There's something about the pastures in the Great Plains that are just unlike any

other place from all those millions of years of bison and care.

And one time I went out to the Zendo and I was in a strange headspace, I guess.

I mean, who doesn't go to a Zendo in a strange headspace?

And I went out there and before I went to the Zendo that day, I went out to this

little reservoir nearby.

It's the namesake of the farm, Branched Oak Reservoir, Branched Oak Lake.

And below the Branched Oak Lake, there's a series of loess hills that were blown there by the wind over millennia.

And there's grass and trees and little groves of flowers and

I pulled off on the dirt road and in Nebraska you pull off on a dirt road 20 minutes outside of town and you can sit there for an hour and you don't see anybody else.

It's a quiet place.

And it was probably one of those days like today, beautiful, sunny, big puffy cumulonimbus clouds growing on the horizon, some kind of storm forming in the distance—the wind blowing across the grass and I went into this draw and I don't know what drew me there.

I just had a feeling that I should go there and I walked up through the grass and I came to a grove of plants. And I had this intense feeling inside of me this anger at myself for being so old and so incompetent.

I felt like I didn't know anything about the world,

like I'd been wasting my life sitting around putting myself through school and

college that I didn't want to go to,

staying probably too long in a relationship that wasn't good for me or for the other person, unfortunately.

And just being too comfortable.

And so I had all those feelings when I walked into the draw and I knew I was on the brink of change.

It felt that way.

And I felt so angry and there was this plant, there's a big patch of them.

And I thought I'm going to show that I have some competence.

And I know what to do when I'm out in the wild places.

And I took out my knife, which is something I would never do now.

And I used it to dig up the root of one of these plants.

And it was a pale white root.

And it smelled like carrots.

But it was not carrot.

It was hemlock.

And I ate it.

And I didn't die.

I've been thinking about why that happened.

I've never really figured it out for all these years.

And the fact is there's so many things to learn in the world and there's so many ways to learn.

There's such an expansion of possibility, so much beauty.

so much intricacy, so much information.

And then it's also so simple.

And because of that, it's so heartrendingly elegant and it's so beautiful.

And it's taken me 10 years to find out what the simplistic, elegant message from that plant was for me.

And it happened just a few days ago.

I was harvesting hawthorn flowers with a friend.

And there's this kind of back corner of this tree.

pasture I live on and it's all overgrown with roses and blackberries and it's all

brambly and thorny and there's a bunch of hawthorn trees back there and we were

kind of going through this shadowy shady part and as I was going through there with

my orchard ladder and picking bag moving on to the next tree I suddenly realized I

was surrounded by hemlock

And it wasn't even that I saw them.

It was almost that I just sensed that they were there.

And I didn't even pause.

I just thought, well, hello.

Hello again.

It's been about 10 years.

It's definitely been 10 years since that plant showed up that intensely to me.

And there it was again.

And in this case, the hawthorn had led me there.

As the next few days went by, I thought about my discovery of that plant here.

And I thought about that time a long time ago where I nearly could have died and about my encounter with it this

time and what it might be telling me

And I believe that there's a part of life and a part of us that if a person is not

living according to their code or to something that matters to them,

we're really on the process of finding that out or being genuine and honest that

the body itself and maybe our spirit in some way will begin to

a series of self-destructive mechanisms because there's no point in living life without meaning.

And somehow our bodies know that more than our rational minds.

And at that point, 10 years ago, I was led to that plant because my body

My senses, my spirit were saying, no, you cannot stay here anymore.

You can't just live out your life in this little corner of the world.

You can't be comfortable anymore.

You need to go out and find yourself.

And so I did.

I planned to move to Oregon and then two weeks,

maybe even,

I think it was two days before that I decided to move to Vermont and I didn't know

a single person in the state.

I think a friend of mine was traveling through fortunately.

And so I connected with her and somehow I found a place to be.

But that started off this whole chain reaction,

this trajectory of where I am now,

which is someone who has an understanding of themselves and their abilities and who

feels some level of competence in the world.

I've gone from misidentifying hemlock and almost dying to having a relationship

with the plant and to knowing hundreds of plants and to being

on the path of a physician or a healer or someone who helps others.

And that's the type of competency that's hard to achieve.

But I believe that I will achieve it.

And so now I don't even need to

have my spirit endanger me in order to know that I'm at another point of departure.

All I need to do is see that plant and think, oh yes, this guy again.

I just need to pay attention.

As you all know,

or some of you,

or maybe not most,

but a few,

I have been in the process of entering school for acupuncture and Chinese medicine

this fall.

And I recently decided that it was too much.

I don't want to go into debt.

I don't want to compromise my health for three years at a program that's going to run me ragged and

I mean,

if you think about it,

it's going to possibly push me to achieve things I never thought I could,

but not on my own terms.

So I don't know what the point of that is.

I think I'm going to find my own way to practice medicine.

And, um, a friend of mine is starting a cohort that I'm going to join and we'll see where that goes.

But it won't lead to a license.

So it's going to be curious to see how it will work out for me.

But I believe in myself and in my abilities.

I believe in what I see and understand.

And I believe in living a life on my own terms as much as I can.

I believe in freedom.

And I think by living this path, my most genuine path, that I'll be saved from despair and depression.

And I will eventually find belonging.

That's the message that I've learned from Hamlock.

Thank you for listening.

Walk Around
Walk Around
We Are All A Part. Writing and recordings about nature, existence, and wildness—at three miles per hour.
Listen on
Substack App
Apple Podcasts
RSS Feed
Appears in episode
Hudson Gardner