Reclaim Your Wild: Recognize Poison

We have lost our wild, natural ability to recognize poison.

Our eyes were trained to catch movement, to hunt, to kill and survive. Our nose was trained to smell when meat was “off” and when fruit was ripe. Our fingers were trained to know the heat under the flesh of a fresh kill. Our senses triggered our brain – yes – safe or no – not safe.

In our domestication, we have lost our wild abilities.

We traded the hunt for the 9-5. Seasonal foraging of mushrooms and berries for grocery store shelves and certainty of buying any fruit in any month. Sensation of fingertips for the ability to swipe left or right on our touchscreens. We no longer use the wild senses of our ancestors.

Once upon a time, we were one with the changing of the seasons. We paid attention to what herbs, vegetables and fruits grew when. We knew what was safe and good to eat in any month.

Late September, at a nature center in Michigan, I watched parents let their child play with poison.

“But moooooooom, I want the red berries!” shrieked the five year old.

“Ugh, here, look, there are more red berries over there, look up on that vine, you can have those”, said Mom.

“I want THOSE ones!”, said the five year old, pointing to small red berries on a tall bush.

“OK, OK fine you can have those ones, just stop yelling, no one wants to hear that”, said Dad.

As Dad reached toward the red berries, my brain and body did a double take. Red berries? In the Fall in Michigan? I thought about intervening, and instead, I observed. I watched the parents pacify their child by giving her poisonous berries to hold onto. Poison, neither parent nor child recognized.

I grew up on fifty acres of woods in Northern Michigan. My parents taught me that good red, wild fruits happen in Summer; strawberries and raspberries. Small, wild red berries in Fall usually meant poison. Inedible. Not even the birds or chipmunks eat them.

Even our fairy tales tell us to beware of red, shiny fruit. Snow White’s red apple = poison.

Bright colors in the wild generally indicate poison or danger. Bright colored butterflies with eye-like coloring patterns signal to birds that they are poison. Tropical poison dart frogs are decorated in bright blues, oranges and reds. Other animals know not to eat them. Bright red berries in particular clusters on trees announce their poison to the wide, wild world.

In our domestication, we have learned the exact opposite of what we need to survive.

Loud, bright things are desired. We have been told that we want bright, red shiny things. A red sports car. A red dress. Red high heeled shoes. Bright and flashy and NOW pacify our domesticated brains and bodies. Bright and flashy and NOW are poison.

We can reclaim our wild.

We can train our senses, brains and bodies to tune back in. We can once again recognize poison. Recognizing poison is key in a world full of toxicity, manipulation, fear and danger. If we can recognize the simple threat of a red berry, we can recognize greater dangerous in our world.

Watch the animals. See what they eat and do not eat. Observe the wind blowing through the leaves of a tree. Bear witness to the eroding sand on the seashore. Notice the slow creeping growth of ferns. Watch, learn, listen, practice.

Reclaim your wild birthright. Recognize poison. Do not eat the red berries.

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