Arthur Haines’ story begins with wisdom teeth. 

“Don’t you find it weird that our mouths are not big enough to fit all of our teeth?” the Canton resident asks. “How weird is that?”

“Almost everybody has to have their wisdom teeth pulled,” he said. “No one asks why, because virtually everyone suffers from it.”

Haines did ask why.

“When I was younger, I used to wonder what did the Native Americans do? They had to have their teeth pulled without pain relief,” he said.

“The simple answer is, they didn’t have them pulled.” They did not need to. “Their faces were broader and their mouths were larger with straight teeth,” a result of eating wild, more nutritious foods, Haines said. 

“As soon as we started cultivating food, we shrank 10 to 20 percent. We shrank and one of the places you can see it clearly is our face. It got narrower and we can’t fit our teeth anymore,” Haines said. 

“We should think about the types of cultivated foods that we are eating and try and pull in more wild food because those are the plants that still have all their nutrition,” Haines, a botanist, said.

Wild blueberries, wild apples, fiddleheads and the weed purslane are examples of wild foods that are readily available in Maine, said the graduate of Mt. Abram High School in Salem Township.  

Haines, his wife, Nicole, and their 4-month-old daughter, Samara, live a mile from their nearest neighbor. Childs Brook flows past their home and serves as their water source, while the valley of Thorne Mountain provides their food and medicine.

Haines and his family are gatherers. They drink cranberry juice made from wild cranberries, they ward off illness by taking turkey tail extract, they eat wild rice collected from Midcoast Maine and hunt with arrows made from river cane. 

“Our diet mimics a lot of indigenous and traditional diets,” Haines said.

Why? Because those “are the people who could produce children that have broad faces and fit all their teeth,” he said. “If we can’t produce children that have a full set of straight, uncrowded teeth, then our diet is lacking something. The only way to get that back is to eat more wild food.” 

Most people are very good at one particular thing. “I can’t build my house; I can’t fix my car,” Haines said. 

“Traditional or indigenous people were generalists. They could do all the things that they needed to survive. They were not completely dependent on other people,” he said.

“We are trying to become more generalist because we find there is great amount of health to be found by being able to gather our own medicine, to gather our own food, to make some of our clothing, start our own fires, make our own cordage and make our own containers that we might cook in,” Haines said.

Haines makes water containers out of bark from linden trees. “The bark acts like a plastic bag but it does not damage the world, like plastic unfortunately does,” he said. “We don’t drink liquids out of plastic. Period.”

The wood stove that heats Haines’ home has never been started with a lighter. Instead, he uses a hand drill made from a Canada fleabane plant and Northern white cedar to create an ember. The ember ignites dried ferns.

“I gathered these right here in Maine and when they get used up, I will discard them over there and no one will ever know because they are just organic materials that will just decompose,” he said.

Haines’ “lighter” requires no transportation, no highly refined fuels, no plastic and no expense, only time. 

“A big part of what we do is avoid a lot of what we know will cause harm to people and to eat very differently than most people,” he said.

“I grew up in typical family with a standard American diet, eating lots of white flour, lots of sweetener and caged, grain-fed animals,” he said.

“By the time I was in my mid 30s, I started dealing with chronic health issues just like a lot of people do. I had heart arrhythmias and frequent staph infections,” he said.

Haines was concerned about frequent heart palpitations and his doctor could not identify a cause, so Haines decided, “I’m going to try and do this on my own.”

He took hawthorn berries and the palpitations stopped. He stopped taking hawthorn berries and the abnormal heartbeat returned. “I did that five times because I wanted to prove to myself” the connection, Haines said.

“This is all documented so you don’t think I’m some freak,” he said.

“I look for medicines that were used by indigenous or people of this continent for a specific use. And then I look for scientific articles that document the medicine’s efficacy. So by bringing together tradition and research, I can be confident that it works,”  he said.

“We don’t get sick,” Haines said about his family. The staph infections are gone, the irregular heartbeat is not an issue and Haines has not had a cold in five years. 

“Once I switched my diet, all of those health issues disappeared,” he said.

His wife also changed her diet.

“During my pregnancy, I ate a lot of liver and salmon roe and things that are not necessarily my favorite,” Nicole Leavitt said. She relied on nutrition rather than pre-natal vitamins. No drugs were used during pregnancy or birth, she said. “It was not an easy time,” she admitted.

Samara Leavitt Haines weighed 9 pounds and 9 ounces when she was born at home, and her umbilical cord was cut with a stone tool. Her first blanket was made of buckskin. “She will eat everything the government tells her not to eat,” her father said.

“We are not trying to go back and live as indigenous people,” he said. “What we are trying to do is recognize that the way we live today has a lot of really harmful things about it. We lack community, we lack real food and real medicine in our lives, we lack connection to the wild.

“There is all kinds of research that shows that these things are necessary for health so we are trying to combine the old and the new together,” he said.

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