by Jesse Wolf Hardin
A Novel of the Old West - 365 Pages 6x9 B&W Illustrated - 14.95
“To Omen, they were not just wondrous sunshine-eating entities, without whom humans and most of the life on Earth would die. Plants were proof of miracles, and reason for hope. The inspiration for a good and balanced life, and examples of how to live it. They were her ever growing, ever reaching truth. They were the medicine she would need.” (from the text)
Follow the wild-woman herbalist and Omen, the impassioned writer and adventurer Eland and archetypal Medicine Bear through a time of great cultural as well as personal transition, down plant-filled paths of discovery and healing and to the juncture of our own return to wholeness and health, rooted home and true love, meaningful mission and – ultimately – satisfaction and contentment.
Taking place primarily in the mountains and deserts of the American Southwest, we experience the confluence of Indian, Hispanic, and Anglo cultures that was and is New Mexico. Spanning from the birth of Eland in 1892 to 1964 in its closing scene, its central event is a little known retaliatory raid in 1916 by Pancho Villa’s poorly equipped Indian revolutionaries, in what was the sole invasion of the U.S. by a foreign army since the War Of 1812. At the very heart of this story is always Omen, gifted but abused as a child, resilient as a pre-teen studying with the curandera Doña Rosa, determined as an adult to move past her wounds and further her craft, forever experiencing the beauty and complexity of the world through her awakened senses and caring heart.
Over 70 full page, 6x9” illustrations compliment the text, a combination of original drawings by the author Hardin, and antique photographs from the period adapted for this role. Character portraits and regional stills help tell a story Hardin first painted with his descriptive and evocative words, reflecting a vision that is Omen’s, Eland’s and ours to share.
“Eland grew up with two often overriding desires, one being to describe the struggle, truth and beauty of life, to deepen, awaken and inspire... through the magnifying lens of his dear and wild West. The second, contradictorily enough, being to grapple with, embrace and wholly experience a reality that no words could ever describe.”
The Medicine Bear will be appreciated by anyone who values a well told tale with colorful details and deeply developed characters, or the Southwest’s complex multicultural history, mythos and magical allure. And most especially, it may be treasured by current day herbalists and healers, by the lovers of magical realism, and the communicative natural world, by those of you who hear and respond to a calling of any sort, by readers welcoming of the inspiration and affirmation to do whatever it takes to fulfill your purpose and live your dream.
“Jesse Wolf has a depth and breadth of insight, and a true writer's touch for bringing it to life. I hope other people will read this novel and understand the world that he sustains... and hears, in the Medicine Bear's rumble. A book of herbal teaching, healing, loss, love, and love of the land... a remarkable treasure of words... a jewel of a story!”
A Review of
The Medicine Bear
by Charles "Doc" Garcia
Founder, California School of Traditional Hispanic Herbalism
It is difficult, if not impossible, to write a dispassionate review of this work.
The genre is inarguably a work of historical fiction, but Hardin’s book The Medicine Bear is also a love story. And it is a story of beliefs and sacrifice, a book of spirituality and a book of healing. Finally... it is a story of hope.
This is the novel that Isabel Allende might have written if she had been born in New Mexico. It is the novel Charles Frazier would have liked to have composed, had he been a New Mexican. It’s the novel John Nichols should have written if he had been born in New Mexico rather than Berkeley, California. And it is the tale Tony Hillerman might have written, if only he had the soul of painter.
Ostensibly a love story about a young anglo-born Eland Howell and Omen, an Indian girl with the gift for healing, it delves into the cultures of white idealism and capitalism as well as curanderismo, the art of healing as practiced by the hispano Indians of the area. Through peripheral characters and plot lines – the most powerful one being Pancho Villa's invasion of the United States and attack on Columbus, New Mexico – the reader is engulfed (and that is the proper word) in the changing world of the West. Some historians may quibble about Hardin's portrayal of Villa, the bandit revolutionary, but I will not. A great uncle of mine rode with Villa and ironically a distant aunt was in Columbus during the infamous raid. My understanding of the man comes from oral tradition and this Villa comes alive and authentic to me.
What also rings authentic are the healing plants and ceremonies performed by the indigenous healers. Using the common names in Spanish, and a few in Yaqui or Apache, the reader learns of the surprising number of culinary plants also used for serious illness. Most of the titles are named for a plant used or acknowledge in the story. As a practicing herbalist of hispanic heritage, many of the herbs brought back memories of my mother who made medicines on the kitchen stove. I could smell these aromas wafting off the pages. Omen learns her healing craft from a the wise curandera Doña Rosa who imbues in her not only the knowledge of plant healing but also the spiritual necessity of allowing the Bear spirit within her to guide her. The metaphorical Medicine Bear glides through the life of Omen from beginning to end. The rough and tumble healing arts of the time are lyrically if not graphically described when repairing bodies torn asunder by gunshots and military armaments. Omen's love for Eland borders on the supernatural, for even as a young girl, she knows a certain man is coming into her life. And while other men might penetrate her body, only this man would penetrate her soul. Cynics may chuckle at this thought. Lovers will not.
Eland Howell, writer, poet, polemicist, is trying in his own way to document the end of the Wild West he was born into. Son of a good family, he cuts his formal education short to experience a world he knows is coming to an end. Big enterprise, airplanes, development and technology are sweeping away the still vibrant West of legend. Howell is determined to set this on paper. In a real sense, Omen's education in healing herbs and Eland's documentation of a changing society are an attempt to accomplish the same thing: to keep something of their past and culture alive.
The violence in this story is praiseworthy. Yes, I used the word praise. Never does it become gratuitous or morbid. It is the outcome of events, some real, some invented, but always honest. Those who flinch at violence on the written page must ask themselves why they flinch. Is it a sense of guilt? Is it a realization that they themselves would be capable of such actions? Or is it a deeper realization that in a rougher time they would have perished without a fight? I leave that to the reader to decide.
The sprinkling of Spanish throughout the novel is like a spice on a good meal. It highlights the already rich flavor of the story and does not overwhelm it.
Like Charles Frasier's novel Cold Mountain, the dialogue is sparse. This is a tale meant to be heard as a painting is to be seen. Focusing solely on dialogue can distract from the entire book while focusing on one squiggle of paint will distract from a Jackson Pollock. I suggest to the reader to hear this story as if it were being read to you by a favorite aunt or uncle. Make no attempt to give the characters voices from your life, be it family, friends, or movie stars. Find one voice and hold to it.
If you have ever loved, healed or been healed, bemoaned a changing society, and felt the animal spirit within you, this tale is for you.