Notes from the New England Women’s Herbal Conference 2016

WHC 2016Last year I wrote, “I’ve only been to three years of this 28-year-old conference, but each year I’ve attended has been more nourishing, more inspiring, and also more fun than the last.”  Now I’ve made it to my fourth year at the WHC, and the trend has continued.  What really moved me this year was the conference’s commitment to both courage and compassion in facing the awfulness that has boiled up in the US over the last year or so (which is not to say it wasn’t there already, but that it’s become more evident).

Emily Ruff, who founded the Orlando Grief Care Project in response to the Pulse nightclub shooting, taught Herbalism in Action, in which she and Lupo Passero discussed their experiences running crisis-response herbal projects in Orlando and Sandy Hook, respectively.  This class was valuable both for its practical teachings – how we can respond to a crisis effectively and compassionately through herbalism – and as an opportunity to check in in person regarding these tragedies.  The news and social media can be overwhelming to the point of seeming abstract, but talking to real people who have been directly working with those affected by a tragedy is a reminder of how real these happenings are.

Sobande Moss Greer taught “Herbs, Slavery, and America.”  It’s easy, as herbalists, to think of ourselves as countercultural and so as not falling into the same mistakes that mainstream culture makes.  This class was an intriguing and important introduction to herbalism practiced by enslaved Africans in the US, and by their descendants – and to Western herbalism’s failure to engage with this school of healing.

Melissa Morrison taught on Medicine For the Warrior: Alternative Healing Therapies for Veterans, a detailed and practical class borne out of extensive personal experience (as was her Taking Care of the Caregiver class).  Both Melissa and Emily had valuable lessons about meeting people where they are: Flower essences or alcohol-based tinctures may not be up everyone’s alley, but there are a plethora of ways to deliver herbs that can make them more accessible, and it’s as important to respect the needs of the individual in delivery method as in choosing the herbs themselves.

In addition, there were donations being collected for Standing Rock; classes on compassionate herbalism based on Health Justice principles, on health freedom, on herbalists and the FDA, and on how to stock your apothecary via foraging and food stamps; an update on the Free Fire Cider campaign (as well as fire cider tastings and awards – congrats to the winners!); and, as part of ‘Saturday Night Live at the WHC,’ a piece on celebrating diversity.

There can sometimes be, in liberal circles, a lot of emphasis on what we say.  While I wholeheartedly agree that language is important, I appreciated the emphasis on practical, robust actions we can take to help support and to express respect for those whom our society has failed to properly respect or support.

I have to mention one last class, Tiffany Robbins’ Wild Food Cooking, which I took as a bit of indulgence among the other, more weighty, classes.  Tiffany – a persuasive advocate for including wild foods in your diet – was so generous with her samples that, after the class, I found I’d been so well nourished I wasn’t hungry for lunch!  There was wild rice salad with wonderfully weedy greens from the conference grounds, cocoa tulsi seed pudding, a beautiful and refreshing hibiscus seaweed drink, and lots more deliciousness.

The class was inspiring both in small ways (definitely making apple sugar this fall) and in big ones: This was a robust reminder of the abundance surrounding us.  Scarcity is so often of our own making, not necessarily as an individual, but as a culture.  If we can reroute our culture to value a basket of wild greens more than a bag of chips, gatherings with friends more than unlimited streaming, clean water flowing down a river more than oil flowing through a pipeline, exchange of ideas more than headlines that confirm our own biases, mindful changemaking more than politics as usual – and, importantly, make sure these things are accessible to everyone – we may still manage to live well in this world.


The Dream We Dream Together: Bringing Pennsic Home

I was told, early on, that I would either love Pennsic or I’d hate it.  Not true.  I love this event – the biggest yearly festival put on by the Society for Creative Anachronism – to distraction, but I have a laundry list of things that trouble me, turn me off, or just plain tick me off.  And yet…

They say that once you start going to this event, you’ll spend the rest of the year looking around (at camping equipment, pottery, projects, fabric) and thinking, “That would be great at Pennsic!”  I find that it’s the other way around:  Pennsic is an inspiration for the rest of the year.

IMG_1153My first Pennsic was my first time camping.  I’d spent plenty of time outdoors, but never spent several days without being indoors.  My little orange tent, the swaying trees, the walls of the pavilions, the sheetwalls, and the ubiquitous tapestries and draperies all made quite an impression.  That fall, I hung my walls with scarves and other hangings, which, in my attic-level apartment, swayed from the angled walls and rippled in the breeze from an open window.

One day this year, a campmate walked into camp spinning on a drop spindle.  It reminded me of contact juggling.  I used to walk from class to class on my college campus doing simple contact juggling moves until they became second nature.  Here was someone practicing a form of object manipulation that not only was mesmerizing, but made a practical and enjoyable product.  She was kind enough to answer my somewhat manically excited questions and give me a demo, showing me how you could spin and ply yarn by hand, even without a spindle.  Of course, I had known that people managed to spin and weave and sew before factories were around, and I’d done a bit of the latter two myself, but the moment when I saw her ply the yarn, the moment when it went from wool to yarn in my eyes, I admit was a realization.  “Who needs the industrial revolution?” I asked.  Granted, technology makes things easier, and makes greater production possible, but it’s powerful to realize that you can take fiber all the way from sheep to shirt, just as it’s powerful to realize that food grows on trees and medicine can be dug out of the earth.

IMG_1695I visited the vendor Minerva’s Spindle, and brought home a lovely, modestly priced spindle with a rectangular whorl, as well as a couple ounces each of several different fibers to experiment with.  I’m a baby beginner, but I love practicing spinning, and find it as meditative as contact juggling.  My big realization so far was to discover that I could really thin out the wool and, not only would the spun yarn not break, but my spindle actually hit its stride.

I was as grateful as ever for my time at Pennsic this year, but—since it fell on the heels of a death in the family and some other challenging news—I found that the things that trouble me about the event stood out in even greater relief:  Pennsic, like Game of Thrones or World of Warcraft, can cross the line from good-natured recreation into consuming escapism.  Pennsic seems to become more and more commercial, with more and more factory-made kitsch alongside the classic SCA handcrafters.  It often suffers from the “Christmas must be perfect” syndrome, which happens when a holiday has been anticipated as being so wonderful that any disappointment feels mammoth.  The event cultivates (melo)drama as scads of no-matter-how-awesome people get dehydrated and depleted in this indulgent, outdoor environment.  With more and more smartphones in use, it’s is not the escape from glowing screens that it used to be.

S5003367And yet…

At Pennsic, 10,000 people, mostly adults, gather to wear strange garb, practice skills that are regarded as having been made redundant, and spend most of their time talking face to face with each other.  While crunchy bohos like myself are represented, this is not, predominantly, an “airy fairy” group.  There are lots of attendees with military backgrounds, people who work at box stores, doctors and lawyers, desk jockeys, truck drivers, academics, restaurant owners, and more.  And they all gather, once a year, to pretend the world is different than it is.

That fact is remarkable:  Here, 10,000 people gather each year and pretend the world is different – and they succeed.  They make that different world appear for two weeks.  There is suspension of disbelief involved, but mostly the world is created by showing up, digging ditches, building walls and villas, crafting garb, and sharing meals.  This strikes me as deeply hopeful.  We all want the world to be better.  As Yoko Ono said, “A dream you dream alone is only a dream. A dream you dream together is reality.”  Pennsic is an example of just how concrete, how tangible, how real that dream can be, if we can only commit to actively pretend, actively imagine, build, and craft that dream into being.  We don’t have to limit that to just two weeks a year.  What shall we dream together?


Notes from the 2015 International Herb Symposium

Wheaton College’s beautiful campus during the International Herb Symposium.

I arrived at the International Herb Symposium somewhat flustered and awkwardly carrying my luggage in my arms since the handle on my suitcase had broken.  Not for the first time in my life, I thought that I ought to have packed lighter.  Nevertheless, I couldn’t fail to notice how lovely the setting was:  Wheaton College, with its beautiful quad, reminded my of my own time at college and made me feel right at home, as did the folks who welcomed me in at registration.  I was pretty psyched to be there, as this was my first time attending the IHS, and the list of teachers and classes made me wish for Hermione Granger’s Time Turner:  Should I take “Stress Resiliency with Plants” with Mindy Green, “Medicinal Mushrooms” with Christopher Hobbs, or “Herbal Treasures of Morocco” with Chris Kilham?  “All of them” would have been my preferred answer! Having settled my gear into the sweet little dorm room that was my home base for the weekend, I set about taking all the classes I could.

One highlight was the panel on Good Manufacturing Practices and other FDA regulations around manufacturing herbal products.  Mary Blue of Farmacy Herbs was the excellent moderator while Jovial King and Guido Mase of Urban Moonshine, Deb Soule and another herbalist from Avena Botanicals, and Cris Amarillas and Zoë Gardner of Traditional Medicinals discussed their experiences with the FDA.  All involved were generous in their discussions, and were doing their best to help and not dissuade herbal entrepreneurs.  Still, I was struck by how onerous the FDA’s requirements are for small- and medium-sized businesses and how nonsensical some of those requirements are.

This is one of multiple legal/regulatory issues in herbalism, since herbal supplements have become big business and are attracting more regulations.  One of the first things I did at the IHS was to enter into the raffle being held as a fundraiser for the Fire Cider Three, a trio of herbalists bravely facing up to a company that has trademarked the generic term “fire cider.”  Saturday evening at the IHS, Diane Miller of the National Health Freedom Coalition spoke persuasively on the importance of health freedom.  Among other things, she talked about one of her first cases as an attorney, when she defended a farmer who had been accused of practicing medicine without a license.  (There’s more about that in this interview with Diane, and here’s the website for the NHFC.)

One of my takeaways from this conference was that there are, as I see it, three or four main legal issues facing the herbal community.  (Disclaimer:  The following is my understanding of the issues.  I’m no legal expert, and you should talk to one – and do your own research – if you’re directly affected by any of these.)

  1. FDA Regulations
    Good Manufacturing Practices
    It goes without saying that quality control is essential, but the testing requirements on many herbal products are a heavy burden on small and medium-sized herbal companies.  The cost of these tests encourages large batches and mass production (and, it arguably follows, mediocrity).  It sounds like the FDA is essentially assuming everyone is guilty (of neglect or deceit) until tests prove the product is actually what they say it is – even if common sense could have proven that without expensive lab tests.  While lots of companies in this country care more about the bottom line than about quality and even safety, it’s shameful and counterproductive to hobble those manufacturers who are genuinely trying to make the best product possible.
    All herbal product companies – no matter how tiny – are subject to these requirements.  Compare this to food production companies which, in the state of Vermont, don’t need to get a health & safety inspection if they’re bringing in under $10,000 gross per year.  Herbal products are regulated comparably to pharmaceuticals, when they’re overwhelmingly closer to food than to drugs, and many herbs are food.  While companies do need to be held responsible for the quality of their products, regulations should be clear and reasonable.
    Structure/Function Claims
    Language on the labels, websites, etc. of a company producing herbal products may only describe the way in which a product supports normal health as defined by the FDA – and must not say that the product treats a given condition.  Companies are, in many cases, forced to talk around the actual effects of the herbs.  For an example, check out Traditional Medicinals’ description of Throat Coat tea.  It’s a great description, but nowhere do they say that this tea relieves a sore throat and – in my experience – it does, in a jiffy.  I haven’t talked to Traditional Medicinals about this, but I’m betting that the reason they dance around the phrase “relieves a sore throat” is that they’re not allowed to say that.  If so, this is a great example of this FDA regulation hindering clear language.  For more information on structure/function claims and how insidiously they effect clear communication, I recommend this talk by David Hoffmann.
  2. Trademarking and Patent Issues
    There’s a real danger of large companies trademarking the names of and even patenting the recipes for traditional herbal remedies.
    A while back, a company called Shire City Herbals trademarked the name “Fire Cider”.  What’s wrong with that?  Rosemary Gladstar has been sharing this remedy widely under the name fire cider since the 1970s, and the use of the name prior to Shire City’s trademark is well-documented.  Herbalists, therefore, regard “fire cider” as a generic/traditional term.  It’s as though someone tried to trademark the term “chicken noodle soup”.  You can find out more about the campaign to Free Fire Cider hereTrademarking generic terms limits other producers’ ability to communicate clearly with customers in an industry that is already severely limited in the language that’s allowed on labels.
    Recently, the New Yorker reported on the patenting of traditional recipes.  While a trademark reserves the use of marketing language, the patent-holder actually “owns” the recipe itself.  Accordingly, patents are only meant to be issued for genuinely unique recipes.  The fact that patents have been issued for traditional recipes is, frankly, pretty scary, since it costs a lot to fight those patents.
  3. Not Practicing Medicine without a License
    While it’s legal for herbalists to educate clients about the use of herbs, the language a clinical herbalist can use is limited due to restrictions on practicing medicine without a license.  Herbalists must strictly avoid diagnosing, treating, or preventing diseases or prescribing remedies.  This is, in many ways, just fine:  Conventional medicine has brilliant diagnostic tools available.  Generally herbalists don’t want to “treat” people so much as they want to empower people to care for themselves.  But sometimes this issue comes down to semantics and hinders clarity.  There are plenty of herbs that will, essentially, cure (read: give your body the tools it needs to heal from) plenty of conditions, and herbs can treat all kinds of symptoms.  We should be able to talk about that without worrying that a slip of the tongue will render us vulnerable to prosecution.
    While it’s imperative that each and every health practitioner be completely transparent about his or her training and experience, I think it’s important to question why conventional medicine is given such a privileged position.  Self care is a personal responsibility and individuals should be able to consult with whomever we think is best qualified to help us.  There are ongoing efforts to give individuals to choose their health practitioners.  You can find out more at the NHFC website.

During the last class period of the conference, David Hoffmann taught “Veriditas, the Green Man, and Herb Hugging.” This was a moving but not warm and fuzzy talk that I wish you all could have joined me at, because I don’t feel like I could do it justice with a quick explanation.  I’m just going to pull out a couple of quotes here.  I should say that these are, obviously, pulled from a larger context.

“I think product issues are the door through which capitalism is trying to take over herbalism.”

“Luckily they’re not burning us any more.  They’re just bankrupting us.  And in a capitalist culture that’s almost as bad.”

I’d like to just take a moment to emphasize that last one, in light of the above issues:

bankrupting ws

I am deeply grateful to the folks who are, despite the frustrations and challenges, fighting the good fight to keep high quality herbs accessible.  I especially admire herbal companies that provide opportunities for education:  You know that people aren’t just in it for profit when they sell bitters – and also teach people to make their own bitters.  It’s vitally important to keep teaching people to make their own herbal products, to make herbal products so ubiquitous that it’s as impossible to legislate them into inaccessibility as it is to legislate chicken soup.  Herbalists absolutely deserve fair compensation for the time, effort, and energy (as well as expenses) that go into crafting herbal products and making them available for purchase.  On the other hand, we mustn’t forget that, if we’re willing to put in our own time, effort, and energy, the plants will gift us with the rest.  Herbalism can exist outside of capitalism.

On an herb walk. You can see Edna Lou in the background.

That’s easy to say and nice to think about, but even better to experience:  A year or two ago, I came across a post about a bus named Edna Lou.  Edna Lou and Guisepi of the Free Tea Party travel around serving free tea to people at festivals, farmers’ markets, city streets, and so on.  I was, of course, intrigued – and I was pretty psyched when I saw that the tea bus would be at the IHS.  Despite this, my New England reserve reared its head, and I didn’t head straight to the tea bus:  My topsy turvy logic was that I didn’t want to bother the folks on the bus by asking for tea.  (A more sensical thought might have been that, if people have traveled so far to gift tea, they’re probably excited to share it.)  It wasn’t until Saturday night when – after a lovely time over at the Herbalist’s Ball and some excellent conversations – I was wandering back to my dorm room, perfectly satisfied to be heading to bed.  And yet, as I walked past the tea bus, I felt myself sort of leaning toward it, pulled in by the lovely thought of folks having tea.  “There’s free tea,” one of the people who was wise enough to be already hanging out at the tea bus said, and that was all I needed:  I spent the rest of the evening and some time between classes on Sunday sitting on cushions outside the tea bus, enjoying brilliant company and delicious tea courtesy of the wonderful people who had brought Edna Lou to the IHS.  Afterwards, I wished I had another week at the IHS – not necessarily to take more classes, because my brain was already bursting – but to drink tea at the tea bus, sitting on cushions and discussing classes and unpacking them with other attendees.  You can bet that – whenever, wherever – I next spot Edna Lou, I’ll make a beeline for that tea bus, because that little space of free tea and awesome people was a huge part of what I loved about attending the IHS.

Heading home both smarter and wiser, I made three trips to the car with my luggage:  One with the troublesome suitcase, one with most everything else, and one with my arms full of seedlings to plant in my garden.

Free tea! Hospitality at its best.

 

The view from the tea bus’s outdoor seating area.

 

Closing circle at the International Herb Symposium.


Notes from the 2015 New England Women’s Herbal Conference

The New England Women’s Herbal Conference is, in many ways, a demulcent* conference.  Rosemary Gladstar spoke this year about how, from the beginning, she wanted the conference to be nourishing and have a sweetness to it.  It’s a replenishing event, and a soothing one – not in the sense of tranquilizing, but of healing.  The WHC is an inspiring weekend full of engaging teachers and classes, but being an attendee somehow also feels like wrapping oneself up in a nice soft blanket that smells of linden and marshmallow.

Betzy Bancroft showing off the sliminess of marshmallow.

Betzy Bancroft showing off the sliminess of marshmallow.

You might not be surprised to learn that one of the classes I attended this year was on demulcents, “the slimaceous herbs.”  It was taught by Betzy Bancroft of the Vermont Center for Integrative Herbalism and United Plant Savers.  I’ve gotten to take a few of Betzy’s botany classes in the past, and loved them.  This was even better.  Structuring the class around an herbal action was fascinating, and kept us focused on how these herbs work and the generous ways they can help us.  The big takeaways for me?  First, I should be taking demulcents.  Why haven’t I been taking demulcents lately?  Second, quoting from Betzy’s handout, “When we ingest [demulcents], the moistening and protective qualities…have a cooling and soothing effect on the surfaces of our GI tract, which is a huge area…  Considering also that there is an enormous amount of nervous and immune activity in the GI tract, these benefits can impact not only our gut but other systems as well.  I have particularly seen that soothing the gut will in turn soothe the nerves and hypersensitivities.”  This was an “ah ha!” moment for me.  Soothing the gut as a way to sooth the nerves.  Of course, considering all the nerves that give us “gut feelings” and “butterflies” in our stomachs.

Third, marshmallow apple sauce tastes really good.  I can’t speak highly enough of having samples to try in class.  I’ve always functioned well in lecture-style academia, but I take in more and find it easier to stay present in classes when there are herbs to taste, smell, touch.  From Betzy’s marshmallow apple sauce and chia pudding to Robin Rose Bennett’s rose-infused honey to Lupo Passero’s grounding spritzer and Jenn Allen’s chunk of pinon pine resin, there were so many good scents and tastes, even before entering the dining hall.

The view from my "home" at the WHC.

The view from my “home” at the WHC.

All that is not to mention getting to camp out in the New Hampshire woods in my sweet little two-person tent that goes up as easy as making your bed.  I camped right up against the trees, and in the mornings I woke up to acorns dropping down from above and rolling off the dome of my tent.

Even that’s not to mention the people:  Running into friends from previous “herb camps” and chatting with herbalists and students of herbalism from all over.  Learning from teachers’ experiences, insights, and stories.  Witnessing performances by folks like singer/songwriter Guadalupe Urbina (whose songs have been known to work their way into your dreams), drummer Mz. Imani (who will get you up out of your seat), and silk aerialist Amy Glasser (who has superpowers).

Gorgeous people and decor in the big tent at the WHC's closing circle.

Gorgeous people and decor in the big tent at the WHC’s closing circle.

And I’ve hardly touched on the variety of activities:  Walking the labyrinth at night.  Opportunities to learn about everything from insulin resistance to sacred beekeeping.  Hot cups of chai in the morning from Tulsi Tea and gorgeous artwork and herbwork in the emporium.  All this in a venue that is set up to protect you from the elements as necessary but is fundamentally outdoors.

I must mention the class that I was, perhaps, most excited about this year: Robin Rose Bennett’s talk on wild carrot.  As a woman who has made a conscious choice not to have children, birth control is near and dear to me.  At the same time, it can be a frustrating subject:  The options are limited and none of them are ideal…but that’s a whole other blog post.  I have sometimes thought that I’d love to hear more talk about birth control in herbal circles:  How could herbs be used to support one’s body when on hormonal birth control?  How can we look at birth control options from a wholistic perspective?  Are there any non-mainstream methods of birth control that are viable options?  And so on.  So, when I saw that Robin would be teaching a class on using wild carrot for birth control, I may have actually cheered, and it was the first class to go on my schedule.  I was impressed by Robin’s up front but generous manner in teaching this class, and in sharing the advantages as well as contraindications of this method, as well as by her obvious love for this plant.  (If this is something you’re interested in finding out more about, read Robin’s book The Gift of Healing Herbs.  There is a section specifically on wild carrot, but I’ll bet you end up reading the whole book.)

One of the most nourishing aspects of this conference is the teachers’ and participants’ willingness to speak so compassionately and passionately on such a range of issues, from prickly ones like contraception to the knock-you-down hard ones like grief, trauma, pain, to the things that mainstream society often dismisses as extracurricular, like fragrance, ritual, dance, drums, song.  Considering how safe and comforting this conference feels, it can be surprising to reflect on the ways in which it continues to gently but firmly push aside the status quo.  I’ve only been to three years of this 28-year-old conference, but each year I’ve attended has been more nourishing, more inspiring, and also more fun than the last.  Here’s to next year!

 

*“Demulcent” herbs are soothing, nourishing, and protecting, also mucilaginous, emollient, “slimy.”


Marking the Darkest Days

Hans Gude--Vinterettermiddag--1847Here in the northern hemisphere, we are closing in on the darkest day of the year.  In my neck of the woods, the cold gray months are only beginning, and may last through April – but on the 21st, the sun will start returning to us (or, more objectively, we will start returning to the sun).

There are all sorts of mythological renditions of the sun’s yearly return.  I admit my favorite is Terry Pratchett’s Hogfather, a book I adore and a film I watch every year.  This story of deities adjusting to a changing world, of the importance of believing in things (like justice and perhaps Santa Claus) that exist only if we believe in them, is my favorite Christmas story.

And what of “the” Christmas story?  The story I grew up with?  Despite that I no longer practice Christianity, I still love this, too.  It strikes me as the most hopeful, joyous story of the New Testament.  The moment of birth is one of sheer potential.  The image that speaks most emphatically to me is the simplest: A star in the darkness.  Light that shows us hope.  Light that shines at the start of (a) life.

For me now, this holiday is about light in the darkness, about hope in the face of winter’s long dark days, and the potential of the new year and the returning sun.  At or near the solstice, we bring light and brightness and greens into our home.  At the darkest time of year, we stage a holiday full of jollity and firelight and promise.  We shake our fist at the long black night – not to provoke it or exert any influence whatsoever over the night itself, which was here long before we came onto the scene – but to show that we are still alive and hale and whole, though the snow is deep and the sunlight scarce.  We gather together and feast and exchange gifts to show that we have put enough by and will share our goods and sustain each other while the plants that nourish us are resting as seed and roots.  We bring greenery into our homes to remind ourselves of the scent of the forest and the sight of leaves, of all the growth that will take place as the days warm.  And lo, we tilt toward the sun, the days lengthen, and – though there might yet be a long journey before spring – we find that we have, together, made it through the dark days.  We find that our faith – in the wheel of the year, the return of light to the world – has carried us through.

For herbal support this time of the year, I recommend listening to “Joyful Herbs for Darker Days” by Guido Masé.  You can also find written notes here, on his blog.


Perfect Health

“Mother Earth,” by Jonathan E. Russell

I feel in perfect health whenever the ocean breeze catches me by surprise – especially in Ireland, where that breeze has traveled over thousands of miles of ocean, and there’s something especially clear about it. I feel in perfect health whenever I’m really, honestly laughing. I feel in perfect health the first many times I smell dirt in the spring (after all that crisp, almost-scentless winter air). I feel in perfect health when I act spontaneously. I feel in perfect health when I first catch sight of a good friend. I feel in perfect health when I fall asleep easily after a long day of fresh air. I felt in perfect health every day I can remember waking up in my grandmother’s house by the ocean (where we spent summers during my childhood, where we spent long days outside, and where we didn’t worry about money or schoolwork or logistics).

I feel that perfect health has both a sense of connection and flow: Connection to the moment, to the environment I’m in, to the people around me. Flow, because in all these times I feel that I can respond fluently to the situation, whether that means physically (being fit and balanced enough to jump down to that rock that’s closer to the waves), mentally (to take part in the banter and make my friend laugh in turn), emotionally (to run with the conversation wherever it’s going), or logistically (to give up the day’s plans for something better).

In most of these situations, being outdoors in the environment figures strongly, too – I know that being near the ocean or at least in a beautiful setting helps me stay in the moment and feel physically stronger. I also feel more nourished (physically and mentally) by the patterns/sounds/smells/textures in nature (light through tree leaves, mountains on the horizon, running water) than by all of the square angles in contemporary architecture and the humming from appliances and gadgets.

(This was originally written in response to a question on Rosemary Gladstar‘s Science and Art of Herbalism course.)


There and Back Again (or, Ireland is More Considerate than Pennsic)

Help!  The Vikings are coming!

I’m back!  I can’t cover the month I just spent in Ireland in one post, so I’ll offer you bits and pieces over the next several blog posts.  For the time being, I’ll say that I had brilliant conversations with people from all over the world, tons of tea, gorgeous walks through breathtaking land (sprinkled with historic and prehistoric sites, not to mention an astounding variety of wildflowers – many medicinal), and a generally rockin’ time.

I’ve become spoiled:  I seem to have these sorts of experiences every time I go to Ireland.  When I’m not there, I enjoy knowing that Ireland is going about its business – experiencing challenges for sure, but going on being an extraordinary place year in and year out.

I’m going to miss Pennsic* this year, but (since I just spent a month traveling) I’m determined not to feel sorry for myself.  I still can’t help but watch the calendar to see when Pennsic starts, and I’m debating whether I could get away with wearing some garb each day in solidarity.  (No debate, really.  Vermont’s a safe haven for hippie skirts and peasant shirts.)  Because Pennsic, unlike Ireland, only exists in the real world for two weeks every year.  Something I’m finding bleeding inconsiderate this summer.

When you’re there, though, that’s part of Pennsic’s charm.  Come July 30th, my consolation will be knowing that Pennsic is going about its business, and that the combined imaginations of all the people there are making it an extraordinary, if ephemeral, place.

*a.k.a. the strange festival where I met my boyfriend.


Inciting Change through Intention: Prayers, Lovingkindness, Rituals, etc for the Gulf

MeetUsAtTheWaterHello friends, and welcome ’round the campfire.  Please pour yourself a long drought of water and drink deep.

I’ve tried not to follow news about the oil spill in the Gulf.  It’s too heartbreaking.  When, for example, @nprnews twittered “BP spill=months of sad animal photos ahead”, I just couldn’t click through.  The thing about this one is – even if you and I went all out, trucked down there and volunteered, it wouldn’t make it all better.  This isn’t a hole in the bucket, dear Liza, it’s a hole in the ocean.  But you know that.

Bill McKibbon recalls, “When a well started spewing oil off Santa Barbara in 1969, it spurred the first Earth Day, which in turn launched the environmental movement and a fundamental questioning of the balance between humans and the rest of nature. It turned out, in other words, to be a real Moment.”  Whether such a fundamental evaluation will happen in 2010 remains to be seen.

But I read over at Mrs. B‘s about the June 12th event you see in the vid below.  Divining Women has asked folks all over to go to water (a beach, lake, stream, or just a bowl of tap water) and pray, chant, perform a ritual, meditate, dedicate a yoga practice, or do whatever works for you to help heal this damage.  In short, perhaps, to incite a Moment.  Here’s hoping.