“Old buddy, we’re dinosaurs, you know,” he would often say. “When we’re gone, they won’t be making any more like us. So watch your back now, you hear?” These were the words I included in an epitaph for my old friend, survival expert Chris Janowsky, some years ago.
To watch your back can mean a lot of things to a lot of people. For me, it has always been a constant reminder to stay consciously alert to my surroundings. But in our fast-paced modern lifestyles, filled with multitasking and attending to countless daily obligations, goals, and desires, the mind can become overwhelmed and dulled. When it does, stress hormones soar. Some years ago, the National Institutes of Health funded a study conducted by McGill University and the University of Montreal that predicted decreases in memory and cognitive function when the stress hormone cortisol increased. It was also found that this seriously impeded awareness, as the neurotransmitters in the brain became negatively affected by the release of such hormones.
Our ability to read our environment, whether driving on the interstate or hiking deep in a wilderness, requires an alertness to our surroundings. Human survival also requires a certain level of mental and physical toughness. Chris was like a tough old pine tree, blasted by arctic winds, snow, and ice. His toughness didn’t happen without training. First, he was able to override the mind’s tendency to drift off into daydreaming when he was tired but knew he needed to perform. And second, he mentally trained himself to overcome the basic human tendency to avoid physical activity. Stress can just wear us out and steal the very motivation we need to stay alive and go on when we need to. Chris told me there’s nothing more stressful than coming face-to-face with a momma grizzly bear with her cubs or being lost in the wilderness as the temperatures are plummeting. I might add getting lost late at night in the wrong neighborhood of a decaying city.
“So watch your back now, you hear?”
Here’s something everyone can do to unburden the mind: set aside time to get out into the living book of nature. It’s amazing what such quiet time can teach us and how it removes stress. It’s also amazing what we can learn in nature when the mind has stopped racing around. Just the other day, I was examining an old pine tree when I thought of Chris, and it sparked the idea for this newsletter that you’re reading right now. It also reminded me of the poetry of Robert Service: “A pine by arctic tempest torn, snow-scourged, wind-savaged, and forlorn; a Viking trunk, a warrior tree, a hostage to dark destiny of iron earth and icy sky that valiantly disdains to die.”
Chris was in an elite military combat unit in Vietnam and had been shot numerous times. When he finally got back to the United States, he found a remote location in Alaska where he vowed to teach people how to survive just about anything and live off the land. If there was one thing I certainly knew about Chris, it was that he was strong and resilient. He was much like that tree, gnarled and tough, that gave its tender needles and buds for nourishment to those who knew how to harvest such gems.
One of those treasures I learned about was pine pollen. The best pollen comes from storm-tested trees, just like some of my best survival knowledge came from Chris. As an example, pine needles make an extremely healing tea, which is rich in vitamin C and other nutrients. Pine nuts or pine seeds are a great survival food, and are loaded with healthy fats and protein. Pine pollen is one of the most amazing superfoods to be found anywhere, and it’s free for the harvesting. The male pine cone or catkin abundantly provides this precious yellow dust that’s rich in SOD, or super oxide dismutase (one of the most powerful antioxidants known). Pine pollen is also rich in testosterone. Pollen balances and harmonizes the ratio of the body’s other hormones and is good for both males and females. Additionally, it is an anti-inflammatory that is said to exhibit potent anti-tumor ability. Pine pollen gives amazing survival protection against the dangers of radioactive cesium, cobalt-60, and strontium-90, now found in trace amounts in milk, dairy, fish, and other foods. “Watch your back now, you hear?”
The old sages of the Han Dynasty knew about the pharmacology 2,400 years ago and advocated the daily consumption of pine pollen. Many hermits and recluses used pine pollen as a staple food and medicine. I personally take pine pollen every day. When I think about the pine tree, I’m often reminded of how tough the cones of a jack pine can be. They’re as strong as steel, yet if you know how to get them open, they reveal the most potent of seeds. Much like my late, great Alaskan friend Chris, who was as tough as a jack pine, but shared so many rich kernels with me that I now get to pass on to you.
“Old buddy, we’re dinosaurs, you know,” he would often say. “When we’re gone, they won’t be making any more like us. So watch your back now, you hear?” Yes, I still hear you, Chris!
Musings from Turtle Lake.