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Adopt a Native Plant

Native plants make good neighbors.

I did not always appreciate the beauty of native plants and how integral they are to the wellbeing of the communities in which they reside, but I do now.

A native plant is a plant or tree that is adapted to live in the soil and climate of a particular region (small or large) and that can co-exist with neighboring plants and animals without being killed off or taking over. Native plants are good for the environment because they do not require extra inputs like water, synthetic fertilizers, or pesticides. They help nourish the soil, prevent erosion, maintain biodiversity, and provide habit and food for local wildlife and people.

It was not as if I woke up one morning thinking “Wow, native plants are beautiful. I need to learn more about them.” The appreciation for native plants just sort of crept up on me after several years of living in the Monterey pine forest of the California Central Coast.

I am originally from Southern California where my spouse and I doggedly defied the hot dry climate by maintaining not one, but two turf grass lawns. We also tended two dozen rose bushes, a few hydrangeas, and a bed of azaleas. The venerable old oak tree in the corner of the backyard might have been the only native plant on the property.

As you can imagine, moving from a manicured yard to a wild one took some getting used to. What you might call a weed, we call grass. Plant and tree seedlings volunteer to live wherever the wind blows their seeds or an animal deposits them. Birds visit daily to avail themselves of our birdbaths and deer cruise through in search of food and sometimes to hang out.

By observing the land surrounding our house and nearby open spaces, I saw that some plants seemed to flourish growing with a variety of different plants, while other plants seemed to be trying to hog a whole area just for themselves. I realized that I did not know much about native and invasive plants and that even our tiny piece of land might need a hand to be at its best.

I set out to educate myself by reading, joining the California Native Plant Society, and participating in events that provide me with opportunities to learn about native plants.

In October, my spouse and I attended the fall session of the Chumash Kitchen series being held at the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden. The Chumash people have lived in this area for thousands of years so what could be better than learning about native plants from Violet and Jeanette, two Chumash women who live here now. That day it was all about oaks and acorns. I came away informed and inspired to write Thanksgiving – We are All Connected.

We pick up the thread of the Chumash Kitchen story on a cool February morning that quickly turned into a hot day.

The Chumash Kitchen

The winter session of the Chumash Kitchen began with the group gathering outside and forming a rough circle so that Violet could give us a rundown of the morning including a few hints about the native foods we would be enjoying at breakfast and lunch.

I had left my sweater inside and was feeling a bit chilled but there was no way I was going to break the circle to go get it. I forgot I was cold after Violet introduced her father, Fred, and he began telling stories about growing up in this area. Fred is a good storyteller and I think he could have entertained us indefinitely, but Violet gave him a gentle sign that he needed to wrap things up so we could all go eat breakfast.

Breakfast consisted of tasty rice, egg, and mushroom dishes made with locally harvested and foraged ingredients. I bypassed the coffee urn to try some tea made with cedar and Yerba Buena. The tea was both warm and refreshing with a slightly minty taste and a cedar fragrance.

We Meet a Toyon

After breakfast, the group set out across the grass of the adjacent park to a nearby campground to meet a plant commonly known as Toyon and called Qwe’ by the Chumash people. In the midst of winter, this 12-foot tall Toyon was glorious with evergreen leaves and branches laden with tiny ripe red berries.

Chumash Kitchen Group Photo in Front of a Toyon
Chumash Kitchen Group Photo in Front of a Toyon at El Chorro Regional Campground in San Luis Obispo, CA – Photo Courtesy of San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden

Easily passing the conversation back and forth, Jeanette and Violet shared information about Toyons, which are native to California and especially enjoy growing with oak trees. Besides being beautiful, we learned that Toyons provide habitat and food for a wide variety of wildlife as well as food, medicine, tools, and fuel for people.

Jeanette talked about how the Chumash and other indigenous people have been tending wild native plants and trees for thousands of years by gathering seeds, planting, weeding, pruning, transplanting, harvesting, and sometimes burning. When pruning a plant or harvesting from it, Chumash people give an offering of some sort, which could be a drink of water, a pinch of tobacco, a prayer, or even a piece of hair.

The Three Yerba Sisters

With the sun now bright and hot, we walked back to a cool shady area on the botanical garden grounds to learn about three California native medicinal plants and then go meet them. As Jeanette and Violet talked about the healing properties of Yerba Buena, Yerba Mansa, and Yerba Santa, they stressed that using plants for medicinal purposes is not like taking pills.

Pharmaceutical pills usually address a narrow range of ailments, have specific dosages, and are uniform in size, color, and ingredients. A plant may have many medicinal uses as well as be a source of food for people and wildlife and it is a living being so each plant in the family will have similar traits but none will be exactly alike. It is important to get to know the plant and to help care for it, after all, it is giving a part of itself for your benefit.

Yerba Santa Plant Growing at San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden
Yerba Santa Growing at the San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden

After learning about the Yerba sisters, Lindsey from the botanical garden led us on a joyful walk through the garden to meet the plants.

She also gave us some background about the botanical garden, which showcases plants and trees from five Mediterranean climates like our own.

We headed back to the event center for a sumptuous lunch prepared by Violet and a talented group of volunteers.

Bountiful Lunch

The day before the event, a hardworking group of volunteers had done some of the meal prep work, which included removing two itsy bitsy seeds from each Toyon berry that had previously been picked and dried.

Chumash Kitchen Lunch Plate Full of Delicious Food
Chumash Kitchen Plate Full of Delicious Food – Photo Credit charmainecoimbra.com

After the food was blessed, our plates were filled with delicious looking and smelling food. A creamy gravy with ground bison was poured over rice. This was accompanied by sautéed greens and roasted root vegetables with a Toyon vinaigrette.

Chumash Kitchen Chocolate Crepe with Toyon Berries
Chumash Kitchen Chocolate Crepe with Toyon Berries – Photo Courtesy of San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden

For dessert, we were treated to a chocolate crepe topped with rose hip infused whipped cream and a lovely handcrafted chocolate rosette.

A sweet syrup made with Toyon berries was dotted around the plate and drizzled over the top.

The dessert looked almost too good to eat, but we did eat it and it was scrumptious.

Full of information and replete with delicious food, we were sent off with a tiny Yerba Buena seedling of our own to get to know and tend.

Yerba Buena Seedling from San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden
Yerba Buena Seedling from San Luis Obispo Botanical Garden

Get to Know a Native Plant

Meeting the Toyon was an auspicious occasion for me.

Even though I have seen hundreds of Toyons while living on the Central Coast, I had not met one until last December during my first native plant walk with the California Native Plant Society. Toyon was the very first plant pointed out on the trail. Later in the month, my spouse and I planted two Toyon seedlings in our yard as part of our tradition of planting two trees each year during the Christmas season.

I felt blessed to have had the opportunity to meet a grown-up Toyon that had been living at its location for many years and was obviously thriving. Better yet, was learning about Toyons from two Chumash women whose ancestors have been living with Toyons for centuries.

Over the past couple of months, I have developed a special affinity for Toyons that I cannot explain. When we got home, I filled up a watering can and gave the two small Toyons growing in your yard a drink and a few words of encouragement.

You can help native plants flourish in your community by adopting a native plant or two.

Learn about native plants at your local botanical garden, native plant society, or nursery. Select a native plant that appeals to you. Locate a suitable place for the plant to live in your yard. Get to know your native plant and tend it. Alternately, introduce yourself to a plant or tree living in the wild and adopt it.

Featured Image at Top: Toyon with Ripe Red Berries at El Chorro Regional Park Campground in San Luis Obispo, CA

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Minimalism – Letting Go of Gifts

Love people, not stuff.

Are you trying to minimize the amount stuff you own? Is dealing with gifts making you feel guilty and stressed out? I got over the guilt and you can, too.

The first time I placed a gift item someone had given me into my minimalism donation box I was surprised by the crushing guilt I felt. That gave me pause. I was putting a thing in the box, not a person. I remember thinking, “Wow, getting rid of stuff other people have given me is going to be way more complicated and emotional than I had anticipated.”

If you are serious about living happily with fewer material goods, you are probably going to have to address the gifts you own now and evaluate your philosophy about exchanging gifts in the future. This is not easy, but once you have done it you may be pleasantly surprised by feelings of relief and freedom.

Do not get me wrong, I do enjoy giving and receiving gifts, occasionally. What bothers me, a lot, is the rampant consumerism and the sense of obligation that surrounds exchanging gifts in our society (in my opinion). To me, a gift is something that one person gives to another freely and with no strings attached.

Why Do You Need To Let Go of Gifts?

A reasonable question to ask is “Why do I need to divest myself of gifts I already own?” This is a very personal question that only you can answer. I will share my reasons for letting go of gifts. Then you can ponder your own reasons and decide what you want to do.

Footprint on Earth Globe - Carbon FootprintMinimizing my possessions is a way for me to say no to consumerism and to live more lightly on Earth.

I believe that the constant push for economic growth in the United States and the ever-present message that we need to acquire more stuff to be happy is harming people and Earth.

I want my children, your children, and everyone else’s children to have a habitable planet to live on so I think we need to stop making and buying stuff at our current level. That includes gifts.

For me, an essential part of transforming my relationship with possessions and learning to live happily with less stuff was divesting myself of things that I already owned but that I did not need, use, or want anymore. Items I had received as gifts or inherited were belongings so I decided not to exclude them from evaluation.

Traipsing Down Memory Lane

A gift could be almost anything. A few possible gifts that immediately come to mind are clothes, jewelry, handmade goods, kitchenware, electronics, tools, decorative items, souvenirs, toys, heirlooms, furniture, and books.

A question for minimalists or for anyone for that matter is which gifts contribute the most to your happiness? It could be many things or a just a few. If you say all, then you probably need to revisit the reason you are trying to minimize your possessions.

Different gifts will elicit different feelings. Be prepared for emotional encounters with some or possibly all of your gift items. I tried to keep three thoughts foremost in my mind while I was traipsing down memory lane, “I want to live more lightly on Earth with fewer material belongings.” “These are my things so it is my decision whether to retain them or not.” and “I can keep whatever I want.”

Chances are that handmade gifts and heirlooms will be the most emotionally charged gifts. If you are a “tackle the hard job first” type of person, then start here and the process will get easier and easier. I am a momentum kind of gal, meaning that once I get started I am more apt to continue so I started with the easier stuff first.

How do you define easy? You will know by your willingness to put the item aside without spending a lot of time thinking about it. It could be an ugly coffee mug a coworker gave you for a secret Santa gift exchange, an extra second-hand skillet a friend gave you, or an unused crystal bowl you received as a wedding present. If you find yourself agonizing over a crocheted scarf that you never wore because you just do not like it but you kept it because it was made by your grandmother, then move on and come back to it later.

Take as long as you need to complete this portion of minimizing your possessions. I am fourteen months into my quest to live happily with less stuff and I still have a few gift items awaiting a “keep” or “no keep” decision.

Once you have set aside gift items that you will not be keeping, I suggest removing them from your home sooner rather than later by donating, selling, re-gifting, and in some cases putting them in the trash or recycle bin.

Dealing with Guilt

A person gives you a gift because they like or love you and think you will enjoy it, right? I think so.

Green Christmas Gift Box with Red Ribbon and BowDoes that obligate you to keep the gift even if you do not like it, do not need it, or will not use it? If it was just what you wanted at the time, do you have to keep it forever? If you choose to let go of a gift, regardless of whether you liked it or not, does that mean you do not care about the other person or their feelings?

These are just a few of the feelings I grappled with while evaluating gifts. I kept reminding myself of my reasons for living with less stuff and that a thing is not a person.

This helped me push back on feelings of guilt.

Also, it is likely that my gift givers are probably in the same boat as me having received gifts that they do not like or no longer want, perhaps including gifts I have given them. I believe they are free to do want they want with gifts they have received so that should apply to me, too.

My love and friendship for people in my life do not require exchanging gifts or keeping them.

Every once in a while I still feel a twinge guilt or find myself wanting to justify my actions, but then I remember why I am doing this and I feel at peace.

Future Gift Exchanging

Once you complete your initial divestment of stuff, or even during this time, you will embark on the life-long minimalism phase of living happily with fewer possessions. That means you will need to minimize acquiring stuff in the future. This may or may not mean you need to change your gift exchanging philosophy. It is up to you.

Fortunately, at least for me, I got a head start on minimizing gifts several years ago when my spouse and I decided to opt out of exchanging Christmas gifts and shared our feelings with our family and friends. Happily, I now receive very few material gifts. This feels right for me.

Featured Image at Top: Earth Globe in a Red Gift Box with Gold Ribbon – Photo Credit iStock/adventtr

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