Mishewah Wappo descendent Alyx Howell said that his people call poison oak “guardian oak” and, as a result, have a better relationship with the plant. When you call it guardian oak, you are less likely to get an itchy rash. Alyx knows stories about the oaks that I have not heard from any other source. 

But I remember this about guardian plants from biodynamics too. Thistles and prickly plants are plants that come in when soils are disturbed and need to rest. “Thistle is inherently discriminating,” a commentary on ARAS (Archives for Research in Archetypal Symbols) states. “ Evoking one who is barbed but has a soft heart, the thistle’s prickliness is associated with self-protection, impenetrability, austerity, and resilience.” Starthistle is an example, invasive as it also is. If we listen, the message is to stay away! I never thought of this with poison oak, a plant of great abundance on our property.  Who among us would argue with such a plant? I won’t. But as is so often true, I also know this poisonous plant is also healing. Homeopathic medicinal poison oak, or rhus toxicodendron, is characterized by impatience and irritableness. Stay back! It is used for inflammation and to cure the rash of poison oak itself. 

On our ranch, Guardian oak is also one of the first plants to lose all color but red. This year it happened in early July. By the beginning of August, many of the leaves will have faded to brown, then crinkled and dropped from most of the stalks. I thought again of its guardianship functions. Without leaves, is it less flammable? That would be important this year. Elizabeth says plants have 30% of their normal moisture. The giant valley oak in the pioneer cemetery has curled its leaves for the second year in a row. They do this to conserve moisture, an early fallowness. In the 2017 fires, the lemon tree in our courtyard lost all its leaves. Is the guardian oak doing this, prematurely dropping leaves to preserve the moisture it has and also offer less fuel in the case of fire?

Fire is on our minds these days. Fire and Water. Both teach us about living more respectfully within earth resources.