by Peter Twitchell
I was a boy of 7 to 8 years old when I was visiting with my cousin Joe Woods Jr. at Grandma Hannah’s fish camp up the “Straight Slough” upriver from Bethel but directly across from our fish camp just on the other side of the Kuskokwim River.
Cousin Joe, his dad Capen’aq, and I were walking in cottonwood trees looking for a “Y” to make slingshots. After a lot of looking and not finding any good “Y”s, Joe’s dad cut some branches, then peeled the tree bark.
He gave Joe and I a peeled branch, which Cousin Joe began gnawing on. His dad laughed as I watched them sucking the cottonwood sap. I tasted my branch and it was sweet.
I thought to myself – this is good and sweet white candy, ha ha ha ha ha!
Joe’s dad laughed and said we’re like beavers.
After that day in my experience with a naturally sweet branch I started carrying a pocketknife. Little did I know that there were going to be consequences.
That summer I started waking up in the middle of the night with a nosebleed. I never made the connection that when I suck the sap of the cottonwood trees I’d have the nosebleeds.
Oh my poor mom “Aiyanguq”. Mom always seemed like she was in a panic and prayed out loud to the Creator God for my healing.
As mom got the washbasin filled with rain water and washcloth she would wipe my nose and put the washcloth over my face. We were 3 miles upriver on the other side of the Kuskokwim River from the hospital or Dr. Jackson’s clinic.
I never panicked as my nose ran blood because I didn’t know anything about panicking. But I know it was always an unpleasant experience for Mom.
It was not until I was an adult in the 70s when I was working at the KYUK radio station interviewing Dr. George Brenneman one morning when a caller to the station asked about natural herbs and healing medicines that natives used.
When the caller talked about natural aspirin in cottonwood I made the connection to my nosebleeds when I was a boy. I told myself I just had too much aspirin, it was a scary thought.
Later when I saw my Mom I talked to her about my nosebleeds and why I probably had them.
I’m very thankful for the radio call, the doctor program we had, and the people who called in and made these comments. Quyana.