Memories of Medicine Country
By Sara Carson



David Carson, well-known co-author of “Medicine Cards: The Discovery of Power Through the Ways of Animals”, has recently released his new memoir, “Crossing into Medicine Country”.  It tells the story of his initiation into ancient ceremonial healing practices when he was a young man in his native land of Oklahoma. He studied power plants and animals and how to manipulate the layers of energy surrounding human beings. This book is full of wisdom and deep insight into healing of body, mind, and spirit.

For me, this story is of great importance. David Carson is my father and his account brings to mind so many reflections and dreams of my own.  

Native American medicine springs from the civilizations that lived in cooperation with all of life for millennia on this American continent. An awareness of the sacred informed every aspect of the healing technologies in these societies. Traditions were shaped by deep and abiding connection to the land and its sustenance. Connection to the cosmos determined our health, be it good or ill.   

Native American medicine is not commonly known or understood for many reasons, in part because of the great decimation of life and ethos that occurred on this continent when it was taken over by the settlers from Europe. With their land taken and customs outlawed, broken tribes struggled to survive within an increasingly hostile empire. Many traditional healing methods were fragmented and forgotten. Some knowledge was secreted away.

Some Native practices were explored by Western people. Anthropologists and others who recorded these curing methodologies had their own assumptions and world views that colored their questions and limited their understanding. Trees could not talk. Stones did not carry knowledge. Spirits were figments of the imagination.

In their learned opinion, Native people were less sophisticated and less capable of discerning reality. Even in this presumptuous atmosphere, a vast arsenal of medicinal plants was “discovered” and aspects of their virtues were shared, such as white willow bark from which aspirin was derived.

Despite the tremendous odds against the continuity of tradition, there were those Native American individuals who kept the old ways. I was privileged to grow up around some of these great men and women, torchbearers of light and knowledge carried through dark times.

There were my father’s Aunts, Agnes, Ruby, and Phoebe and my father’s mother, Opal, who belonged to the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes of Oklahoma. Their family had been marched on the Trail of Tears to Oklahoma Indian Territory, and they were some of the first enrollees of their tribes when Oklahoma became a state. They were always proud of their Indian heritage, even in the face of great prejudice, and belonged to women’s societies that kept ancient knowledge and tradition. They traversed the world of the dominant culture with grace and beauty, and also the more hidden one of their ancestors. They taught me the power of woman medicine.

I remember Mary Gardner with awe and love. She was a Choctaw from Louisiana and Oklahoma, my father’s dear friend and his teacher. Mary had a healing gift of great depth and power. When my father was a young man, Mary accepted him as an apprentice of her healing arts.

Some plants were like children to Mary. She often sang to them. Some were grandmothers and grandfathers and she consulted with them. She would sit for hours gazing at a flower. “We sing to them, but they also sing to us. Each plant has a medicine and the Holy One put them here to heal us. All you have to do is find the one plant alive with the right helping spirit and ask it for its blessing.”

Mary had no reliance on manufactured products, preferring instead simplicity and a useful life. She rejected the mainstream but bore no resentment toward anyone or any culture. If anything, she felt pity for the empty lives so many people were destined to live. She told me more than once that the modern world had lost its connection to the helping spirits and other helping powers. She said people had even lost touch with their own bodies. I think Mary knew that any healing of our earth would be a healing of all people.

My father wrote about his time apprenticed to Mary in his new book “Crossing Into Medicine Country”. During his tutelage, Mary walked him away from the indoctrination of so-called civilization into uncustomary ways of perceiving. At the core of her instruction was the restoration of a lost visionary sense. Evidently, this new sight gave one uncanny healing abilities.

This visual incongruity was not simply sight but rather a totality of seeing, a manner of linking with energy fields. “But it’s so simple,” she once said to me. “It’s wonderful to see in this uncluttered manner. The animals can still see. Sadly, most people can’t. Most of humanity is blind and it’s their own doing.”

My father recounts his experiences with Mary and takes us with him on his transformative journey. In the beginning, he is an immature young man with a smug certainty about the nature of his world. That bubble soon burst. My father had to regain his bearings and cross into Mary’s universe, a new way of conceptualizing. He had to do this in order to grasp many of Mary’s teachings.

I believe this conversion is what makes “Crossing Into Medicine Country” such an important document. As readers, we are able to make this healing journey alongside him. All the while, we have a glimpse into Mary’s miraculous world where the ordinary is infused with the supernatural.                                      

David Carson will be sharing his healing story of “Crossing into Medicine Country” at the Just For The Health Of It! Conference on February 3-5 at the Marriott Resort in Marina del Rey. For more information visit:  or call: (888) 777-5981.

Dr. Sara Carson is a health-care practitioner and does private consultations. E-mail her at


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