Yerba Mate, Birds, and Connection
I start every day with a glass, gourd, or can of mate. I used to be a coffee drinker, but being that I have a history of anxiety, coffee and espresso was not good medicine for me. Mate brings focus and awareness to my life; I like to think that it literally activates more of my brain. And, being that I count birds for a living, Mate makes me better at my job.
For the past three summers of my life, I have lived in a van with my dog, traveling Idaho and Montana, conducting bird surveys for different universities around the country.
My work routine is as follows:
– Wake up 30 minutes before sunrise
– Drink Mate
– Hike to a square kilometer survey recorded on a GPS
– Walk around that square kilometer recording all the birds I hear and/or see.
With the data I collect, population estimates for individual species of birds are calculated. With these population estimates, organizations the United States Forest Service can determine which habitats and areas of land should be conserved. It’s an incredible job and I’m very grateful for the lifestyle it offers me.
A quiet mind is essential
For me, Mate makes me feel alert yet focused. I still feel as if I can control my thoughts and mind while drinking Mate, unlike coffee. As a practicing meditator, I find that I can still quiet my mind, whereas with coffee, I cannot. When I am out in the forest conducting my bird surveys, a quiet mind is essential. I must be listening, not thinking. I need to hold a calm awareness, not a rushed anxiety. There’s a certain serenity to nature that can only be experienced through a peaceful mind, an alpha brain state as science would call it. And Yerba allows me to achieve that, not to mention it tastes good and is fun to drink!
How I started to drink Yerba Mate
I was introduced to mate on a trip to Argentina in 2004. I was 14 years old at the time and was not a caffeine drinker. However, seeing all the locals with their gourds and bombillas intrigued me. When I later came across my own gourd, some years later, it brought back good memories of Argentinian culture: the land, food, and people. I have been drinking it ever since. In Argentina, and much of South America, Mate is part of a culture; it’s a shared experience and brings people closer. And I truly feel that in America we have lost our culture and people are growing further apart, so why not bring back something that could help reverse that?
The lifework of connection
When I’m not counting the birds, my life’s work revolves around nature connection. I am the co-founder of the Nature School of Philadelphia, a 4th through 12th grade non-profit school where nature connection is blended into a typical grade school curriculum. Our goal is to awaken young adults to a relationship with the natural world, others, and ultimately themselves. We are striving to bring back a culture, the way all our ancestors used to live. But as culture and community continue to dissolve around us, there is more and more of a disconnect from others and especially the natural world. If you don’t connect with something, you don’t have empathy for it. And if you don’t have empathy for it, you don’t conserve it. Disconnection is what has led us to the environmental crisis we are in now. With my work, I hope to change that. So to me, Yerba Mate is a drink for connection.
All good medicine,
P.S. Follow my journey on Instagram: @rohankensey