A Sweet and Potent Joy

In this week of global pain and sorrow, with shootings in Paris and bombings in Beirut and around the world, I’ve found refuge not in the forest but in my work. Mostly that’s because I have no choice – an extra heavy workload just arrived and needed to get done, and I found solace in it.  For years the only thing that could heal my spirit was the forest, but this past two weeks has been deer hunting season here in the Hills and I’ve felt compelled to stay indoors more than usual. I suppose you could say, if I have to have an almost unmanageable pile of work, this is the best time of year for it. I don’t really feel safe anyway, in the woods, even with all the neon orange I an find on both me and the dogs. Not all hunters are crazy, but some are, and that minority will shoot at anything that moves. So, I got another humungus article done for Plant Healer magazine, I took on an urgent case on top of an already fully booked week, I coped with the shopping/cleaning/cooking etc that all falls on me, while Alex is away.  I even managed to get through my latest learning adventure, an online Nutrition Intensive with the great Thomas Easley (of the Eclectic School of Herbal Medicine). I’m tired – really bonedeep tired – but I’m doing ok.

Then, the attack in Paris. I have a dear friend in Paris, and the first thought for me was, oh God, Marc and family!! They are safe, but the world is shaken by the depths of evil that masterminded this slaughter of innocents. I put up a French flag in support, and offered my prayers, only to see FB connections slam those of us who posted in support of France, when so many other atrocities  have taken place recently. ..and again, I found myself castigated for praying, as though” religion” was the very thing that caused this situation, not human evil using religion as its vessel. It’s been a tiring week, between my own small struggles and the world at large. I feel as though I can’t take refuge anywhere – well, this past two weeks, I couldn’t, anyway. Once the dust settles in this impossible-to-maintain Old House, I’ll get back in balance, but I’ve felt the weight of the world on me even at the same time I keep reminding myself, how good I really have it. A paradox, but one to  keep in mind and heart together.

So. No forest access, way too much work, heart-wrenching world crises exacerbated by bickering in the Internet.  Night before last, just before dusk (which is, horribly, about 4:30 right now) I was carrying some leftovers out to the field for ravens, head down, watching the path in front of me,  probably muttering away to myself as I went. I headed out the back door and up the path towards the large open back field where this time last year, I fed deer every day, watched them cavort by moonlight, fell in love with the White-tail in such a big way I was ordering books, reading their stories, learning their ways and of course, naming them all.

Here are a few of them, November 2014.

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Sorry about the weird colouring – the one on the left is Goat-doe, and her two fawns Salix and Tilia.

This is another shot, better one, a couple weeks later:P1330470

 

Left to right, that’s Stripey-doe, Goat-doe, Tulsi, Salix and Clarissa.

I love these creatures with an intensity I don’t have the words to describe. They are magical, each one with a unique personality, spirit and presence. I run with them in my dreams, I sing to them in the depth of winter, I keep the link from their wild hearts to mine, strong and alive.
And this autumn just past, they were conspicuously missing, all of them. I would see one doe far up the hill, with her fawn; one magical morning I stepped out of my shower to see another doe with two smaller fawns, foraging in the mist as the sun rose behind my house. I wasn’t sure who it was, maybe Clarissa. But the herd, who slept under my cedars, ate all the herbs and pooped all over the garden, who stamped their feet for bread and apples every twilight – nowhere to be seen this year.
I have missed them, but I understand nature. They died over the winter, were shot by hunters, or taken down by wolves. I get that. I try to keep my heart safe and realistic.
But I missed them – and just a few days ago I was thinking, as I watched the furtive doe on the hill, how sad it was that I would probably never see them again, especially Goat-doe. The unmistakable, broad of head, direct of stare, feisty, and very curious Goat- doe. Of all these deer, the one that held my heart most tightly.  The one I felt most bonded to, most affinity for.. and never to see her again! That is nature – but it’s also hard. I  spent a moment by the rowans, feeling that loss with all of my heart.
And then.  Two nights ago – preoccupied,  marching out the backyard path to the fields, staring at the ground and lost in racing thoughts I suddenly stopped and looked up. And there, not ten feet away from me – standing with that cool and inquisitive stare, there she was. Goat-doe, and her baby, as yet unnamed, last day of hunting season, alive. ALIVE! Standing right in the spot she used to stand, last fall, waiting my arrival. I stood and wept and greeted her, over and over, gratitude spilling out of me like a giddy child. She stared back,  unflinching despite the display and then, after a few moments of this, stamped her foot as if to say – “Ok, I’m back, Where’s the bread,  anyway?”
So now, hunting season is past and we are headed into a mild winter, and she and her baby are fine. As the world outside of this little corner of mine explodes with pain and rage and suffering, I am delighted and comforted by the presence of a doe. My heart SINGS to see them (they are out there feeding now) and when I am weakened, faltering, defeated – they help me stay strong. The “beauty of the green earth, and white moon amongst the stars” shines in them and through them, and I am pulled back from my present-day fear into the child I once was, beyond excitement at the chance to see a wallaby at my  father’s college…or stop and rescue a stray turtle from the road.
No small thing, these beautiful meetings, this  twilight rendezvous, this  sweet and potent – untainted  -joy.

I will take every moment I can get.

my heart

A Simple Walk

Walking in the woods with a dog can have it’s drawbacks, if you are there mostly to listen and attune. Dogs see/sense/smell everything long before we do and they can be a distraction, albeit a lovely one. Other times, they can amaze us with their powerful Sixth Sense, and be sources of wild inspiration. Today I pulled into the lot where I leave my car when Dan and I wander into Faerieland, a common practise – but as soon as he got out every nerve and fiber of his being was just crackling with energy. Silly human, me – I was ambling along feeling just tired and self -focused,eager to embrace the forest’s healing presence – thinking, thinking, thinking. While Dan usually shuffles along a few feet away, sniffing about and thoroughly enjoying the fresh air, today he was  immediately on high alert – RAN out of the car like he’d seen a fox, all his short hair standing up along his back- a sure sign of something afoot – magic? Stoned kids, or deer… all I knew was, something was going on and I perked up a little to take extra note.
I probably walked a few hundred feet before the hawk appeared, swooped down in front of me and sat there a full minute, gazing right into my face. Ok, that’s something to take notice of. I mean this guy was almost close enough to reach up and touch – that just doesn’t happen. I saw he was a Sharp-shinned hawk – and he meant business. Hawks are usually thought of as visionaries, indicating that clear vision is called for – and Ted Andrews reminds us of this –
“The environment in which your hawk is found will tell you much about how its energies are likely to manifest within your life.” Of course, this is true of any encounter!  But today – where are we?  a liminal space, between my mundane life and the depths of the forest, that sometimes dark, sometimes cheery, but always seductive place where everything falls away and a spiderweb can intrigue me for hours, were death is just another entrance and where time has little meaning…the hawk says to me.. what?  Choose? Integrate? Go home and sleep?I never jump to conclusions, but take it in and ruminate a while (the Cow, after all, is my Helper Animal for this challenging year, so I will chew on this a while).
It is a startling and obviously significant event.
Meanwhile, Danny has vanished. So I bid the Hawk adieu (he seemed annoyed) and follow my dog. At once the uneasy stillness of this familiar woodland hits me. It is SILENT, utterly – not a cricket, chickadee or distant automobile, and the silence is all-encompassing and palpably strange. As we go deeper (Danny finally caught up) the stillness grows more intense. Something is speaking, and still don’t know what it was .I’m just honoured to have heard the Voice of Whatever That Actually Was.
And isn’t that ok, really, to be baffled, touched and mystified, to just Ask rather than Know? Isn’t, perhaps, being drawn back to Mystery and Awe the whole point? When a daily jaunt can become a moment of depth and magic, when a common bird can stop you in your tracks, and your regular waking trail transform into a place out of time and space, isn’t wonder and humility the obvious response rather than assumption and immediate “gnosis?” I am thinking about so many things today – where this path takes me next, how to integrate the diverging strands of my life, what needs to be sacrificed and what tended and nurtured. The eerie forest energy, the insistent hawk, the striking canine awareness mirroring my own – all Gateways, not endings. When we look up some meanings on the net or in books and  promptly decide what a thing “meant” we so often get stuck in ego, and in thinking the point is to figure it all out, asap, too.I think that totally misses the point! I think,too –  for what it’s worth – these events and experiences just take us further into the labyrinth, open us to exploration and yes, danger. (but it is equally dangerous to ignore,I believe)  I truly think that all we have to do is pay attention, and carry our questions forward.
Today, quite out of nowhere, I am powerfully reminded of that.

hawk

Seminar in Rupert – Sunday September 27

Nutrition and Herbs – Seminar in Rupert

August 24, 2015 at 9:51 pm

 WHERE: Rupert Community Centre, 24 Shouldice Road, Rupert, Quebec (about 45 minutes north of Ottawa)

WHEN: Sunday, September 27, from 10 am- 5 pm

COST: $75.00 in advance or 90.00$ at the door

TOPICS

This one day seminar will cover a lot of ground! In four parts,  here’s what we’re going to look at.

9:30 am to 11:15 –  The Basics

Nutrition is one of the absolute cornerstones of good health, in terms of disease prevention and management of many conditions common to dog and cats. Today, with all the conflicting information and schools of thought, it can be extremely confusing for the devoted pet lover to know who to trust and how to choose the best diet possible for their beloved dog or cat. My philosophy is both simple and comprehensive; an optimal diet meets the following requirements – all three.

1) Whether home prepared or commercial, a diet must meet all the required nutrients in levels and ratios we know to be essential

2) The best quality foods , preferably from  local/organic sources, should always be used.

3) The macronutrient levels (that’s fat, protein and carbohydrate) and the foods selected should suit the individual  – all dogs are not the same.

Home made diets can, and often do, fall down in one or more of these categories. How is the average person to know if a home made diet is “balanced and complete?”  Lastly, a look at some of the most popular myths – about digestion, veggies, “superfoods” and more.

 

11:30 – 1  pm – Working with Herbs

In this section, we’ll take a look at the most popular herbs in commerce right now and how to use them, but how also to select bioregional herbs (your own backyard!) to help with a range of common complaints (from atopy to UTI). I’ll explain the critically important difference between using herbs as “natural” substitutes for drugs, and the art of selection and individualizing your formulations. We’ll close with my own top 15 (or so) herbs for dogs and cats, herbs  other than the popular and often over-used ones you may already be using.

 

2pm to 3:45 – Putting it All Together

Here we go into the concrete steps you can take to build an optimal home prepared protocol, geared specifically to your own dog or cat?  How do we ensure the Three Steps – meeting requirements, utilizing optimal foods and working with individuality are all addressed?  We’ll take a deeper look at the nutrients dogs require,  which foods provide them – when and how to supplement –  and generally, how to optimize a home made diet. Since not everyone can feed home prepared diet, we can also talk about how to select a commercial food if that’s your preference, and what you can do to enhance it.

Adding herbs and supplements  other than the requirements(vitamins and minerals)  can also be a minefield – we’ll look at categories of herbs and supplements and how to select, dose and administer them.

 

4- 5 pm- Question Period

In the last section of the day, I’ll take questions about the information covered, and about specific cases as well.

There is much opinion masqueraded as fact in the world of natural health, and even hysteria – I present a balanced, informed and choice-centered approach to working with each animal and their human in a respectful way and expansive way. You’ll come away with a   deeper knowledge of the science – and plenty of classnotes –  I hope,too, a vision of natural health as not a strict type of diet  to be slavishly adhered to, but a way of thinking and working with individuals, food and herbs, that is flexible, scientific, and leads to deeper study and understanding.

Vegetarian lunch and refreshments are included.
HOW TO REGISTER: All you do is use this link http://www.thepossiblecanine.com/product/diet-plan-for-a-healthy-dog  and state in your payment form that it is for the seminar.  I will issue your Registration forms right away, and confirm your spot. For any more information, don’t hesitate to email me at catlane@thepossiblecanine.com.

animal-827732_1280

The Tangled Garden – and what emerges

So difficult to believe it’s been 5 or 6 weeks since I posted here. This summer really did get away from me – and my sense of it is, to many others as well. Between the weird weather and my partner’s prolonged absence, I just didn’t have quite the summer I was expecting. Class attendance dropped way off, the walks were cancelled due to weather, mostly, or my intermittent health issues (exhaustion)  – my small but cherished herb garden, despite valiant efforts on my part to get burdock dug and raised beds weeded and mulched, just grew out of hand, to the point where even looking at it left me overwhelmed.
That’s ok. I’m pretty good at switching gears when need be, and there were, as it turned out, some important aspects to focus on in a summer of too much work, and some personal disappointment as well.

First – calendula. Everyone who grows herbs knows how cheerful, generous and incredibly useful calendula is.This summer was no exception – my organic seeds from Horizon Herbs sprang up eagerly and grew into 5 very large, very productive plants. Just yesterday I brought about 200 heads in to dry for winter use, and needless to say I have seeds galore. I planted my calendula too close to the borage this year and so I had these two behemoth species competing with each other, and since I use far more calendula than borage, guess who won out. But I left the massive, sprawling borage up as long as I could for the bees. It always cheered up a tedious afternoon to visit that part of the garden and see it alive, just swarming with bees. I didn’t actually make great use of borage, but I will always grow it, for that reason.

In the wild overgrown sprawl that used to be my garden, several things happened  naturally that I, working literally dawn to dusk 7 days a week, could not address, so I just watched.(The old Serenity Prayer in action!) The first few weeks I did some weeding every day, and then around Week Six I pulled a muscle in my chest wall and had to stop, while it healed (what a  week THAT was!) As the summer wore on, with several calamities (sick dogs, beloved cat killed, falling out with two of the people I considered to be my closest friends, Alex’s absence, household issues) there just was really no time to make significant inroads into the garden at all. I’d go out and snip some hyssop, take in some sage, pop the flowerheads from the calendula and that was about all. I am intensely proud of having got through this summer at all, so the overgrown garden has not bothered me as much as I initially felt it would.

Besides,  there came some interesting ideas, from the tangle.

The first important idea, to me anyway, was a kind of mirroring of much that is going on in my inner life. In addition to the clients I see weekly and the four courses I teach online, I also write for both PlantHealer magazine and herbmentor.com, endeavours that take almost a full work-week out of my monthly work-hours. I try to be available for my various facebook groups, and – here’s the World of Crazy now – I am taking four courses related to herbalism, and one that does not, so five in total. What this basically means is, without any hope of getting everything done, I have a wild garden in my head – filled with much of value but disorganized and out of control. This all stems from a fervent desire to be the best at what I do, to deepen my knowledge and expand the ways in which I can help animals (and humans!) to both heal and to learn about plant medicine and the power of nutrition. Those are fine and honorable goals. But just as my garden grew out of control and  some of my most valued plants were choked out, we humans need to focus on keeping things orderly in our own lives, and when that is impossible, when things become crazy, take some time to assess what went wrong, and just breathe with the reality of what IS. The other thing is, we can benefit from a clear focus on what emerges as bright and strong. In the tangle of my mind this summer, several strands emerged as critical to my future serenity, one of which is limitation (powerfully reinforced in the Heavens as I reach my second Saturn return – Saturn, for those not astrologically inclined, rules over limitations, which sounds pretty bad, but as it leads to refinement of purpose, it’s actually very empowering). I’m weeding my personal life ( I hate the term “toxic people’ but there is a place for it, and several of those have had to go)  weeding my commitments (I could have written BOTH my book and thesis with time I’ve given away for free this year) and last but not least, weeding my tangled garden.A slow and painful process, but overdue, and so through the blur of this summer, the broken friendships and the loss of illusionary hopes and yep, the veritable thicket of Cleaver’s, chicory and goosegrass that took over my garden, there emerge some core truths to be nurtured, some  focal points to be focused on,  some tenacious plants to be listened to and cherished.

Calendula,  the great vulnerary healer of  tissues both inside and out, clearer-out of toxins, restorer of good cheer, heads the list.

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So, going forward, I have quarts of calendula blossoms in various carriers, I have tincture and several liters of dried flowerheads for both internal and external use as needed. I got the idea from Juliet Blankespoor, of adding  calendula flowers to stocks and soups over the winter, so I always make sure I have plenty dried and ready to go. Calendula soothes the surfaces, reminding us that pain which seems superficial and transient, can in fact open gateways into the core of one’s being, so pay attention to those sore places, be they visible, like a rash on the skin, or hidden, like a hyperpermeable  gut. The toxins need strong barriers to keep them out, the system needs to be kept whole and harmonious. Calendula is one of those herbs that is so wellknown, ubiquitous even, that it can be easy to take for granted. I will say that her presence this summer kept my heart light at the darkest times, and her medicine has moved beyond the application of salve to skin and into that mystical realm where the plant is actually teaching me something about myself, about this moment in time. That what is needed is focus…soothing the rough places where old and new pain has rubbed me raw…and building barriers to keep the good stuff inside whole and healthy, and keep that which means me harm, away. Focus! and of course, good cheer, tenacity, and generosity. We should never let adversity make us small and  mean-spirited, or we grant it a double victory.

Thank you, calendula – and thank you, tangled garden. Even in my frustration with you, I have found peace.

macdonald-tangled-garden-northland

Class in Rupert – Sunday July 26

 

A very quick update today – class has been confirmed for this weekend, Sunday July 26, at 1:30 pm. Our theme will be “Actions and Energetics” – such an important topic for the aspiring herbalist. Whether you wish to use herbs and home remedies for your own family, or are looking to deepen your studies and work within the world of herbs professionally, this class is foundational knowledge. In it, we will go through the sometimes confusing world of herbal actions, take a look at the many actions just one plant can provide,  and introduce the idea of synergy and complementary actions in formulation. We’ll look at Energetics – an overview of three systems, and how we in the Western tradition can start experiencing herbal energetics in our own bodies, and come to know the importance of matching the herb’s own  pattern of temperature and moisture with that of an individual.

 

Actions =  a description of what a herb is doing in the body(reducing inflammation, supporting the movement of fluid, relaxing the nervous system, many more)

Energetics = an experiential language that describes both the constitution of the person or animal you’re working with, as well as the properties of the herb – broadly speaking we can think about temperature, moisture, excess/deficiency and relaxation/stimulation
Fluency in this area takes years of work and dedication, but this Introduction will set you on a road of discovery with clarity and purpose. This class will open your way of seeing herbs and people and enhance your selection process with the insights all herbalists use n our process.

 

Plus, we’ll be tasting things and having fun.
Sunday, July 26

1:30 pm – 400

Rupert Community Centre

Shouldice Road, Rupert

$25.00

 

lge-alant

Elecampane (Inula helenium)

Actions: warming and mildly stimulating expectorant, antimicrobial, antitussive

 

 

(Class is taught in English only).

On the Death of the Porcupette

Not a herbal post today… not a happy post. This one can get filed in,a new category called “Tiredness”: I am tired of my empathy, tired of “humanity” and sick in my heart about a sweet faced, unassuming little spiny creature hacked to pieces by a farmer today.

Porcupette, little one. I hate that you had to live in this world. I hate that I knew you were going to die. Most of all, right now, I hate that black hearted farmer. I’m not in a good place. We humans, we have to do better. And, I despair, at the same time I summon all the hope I can.

The farmer started the hay harvest today and he plowed right over the little fellow I was talking with yesterday.

Yesterday: I was sitting out back, talking to Alex on the phone, getting my bit of VitaminD. Watching the birds and sky. Circle of cats,  Ridgeback at my side. The back field was half-cut; on the left, the cut side, a movement of something black and thoughtful. Not a runner, not a cat. Lumbering, a little. Too small for a fisher, and they never come out in mid day. A skunk? “Hold on” I say to my partner “I think there’s a skunk out there. I’ll call you back”.

Danny knows the second I see, or think I see, something moving out back. It’s uncanny how I can raise the binos fifty times to look at a bird, and he never bats an eyelash. The second I see a fox, a coyote, a deer, he’s on his feet with all the fur around his ridge standing up, every muscle and nerve just crackling. He did that yesterday. I had to disappoint him, and head out to the field on my own.
There he was. A young porcupine, a “porcupette”. Ambling, lazily, delighted in the day. He stood up and eyed me, not without consternation, but no evidence of panic. “Hey” I said, affably “Porcupine. I am so pleased to meet you. Can I ask, that you don’t go into that yard there? It never ends well, I have three big canids.” I was struck by how beautiful this fellow was, cute, yes but beautiful too, a wild creature at ease with the world, eating, sniffing, exploring it all. After a few more minutes of a somewhat one-sided conversation, he decided the only way I was going to stop talking, and let him enjoy the day, was if he  headed off in the other direction. Which he did.

I came in, and immediately posted to a forum I run. I wished I’d had my camera, but I didn’t think he would still be there if I ran back out and I didn’t want to chase  or worry him. I found a picture that looked like him. Here it is.

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And then, while I carried his image in my heart all day, I went about my business – working, herbing, the usual. This morning, taking coffee on the porch out back, I saw him again, further up the hill. “Well” I thought, “I best not take the dogs out there for a bit. ”
And then the darkness overtook me and I had such a terrible premonition. I had to shake myself out of it – no no no no no. I was shaken up, but told myself as I sometimes will, not to trust the “irrational” – it’s my fear talking. But, I know those flashes. I know them well.

An hour later the farmer came out to cut the rest of the field and my heart literally shook in my chest. I knew, right then, what was about to happen. And of course, no way to stop it. No way at all. He cut the field, and I tried to calm myself with passionflower and chamomile  and roses, wishing I had some Monotropa. One’s heart can only take so much. It seems we are surrounded with suffering in the animal kingdom, is this a trial by fire I must endure?  As soon as the cutting was over, I went out. I followed the turkey vultures who are quick to land and spread their wings in a show of ownership of the find. It’s ok, they are necessary and important.But I HAD to walk that hill and find it: the pathetic, mutilated body of my little friend, with his unassuming ways, sweet face and abundant delight in life.
What can we do, but weep…

One thing I take away from these observations (I have found groundhogs before, and last year, most horribly for me, a fawn) is that even the elimination of meat from our diets will not ensure that animals do not suffer at our hands. If one small field can beget such suffering, think of the whole agricultural world. Countless millions of small wild animals and ground nesting birds die horribly every year. Limiting or eliminating meat and dairy is great, if you can do it – but so important to grow food, buy locally, support small operations….we humans are doing things wrong, doing things all centered on and geared toward growth and profit and exploitation, and these innocent creatures will suffer. Not *just* in our laboratories and factory farms and in legholds everywhere, but in the fields that produce our grains and hay. A true spiritual species would never allow any of this to occur. And what can we do? well, for today, I will just light a candle and say a prayer – for all the animals slaughtered and suffering at our merciless, blind and selfish hands.

As a  Pagan, I turn to Brigid, often, for solace and support, spiritual guidance and healing. Just yesterday, a writer I admire posted a prayer to Brigid on her blog. And these lines seem especially applicable.

Holy Brigid:
In these times of grief and anger
And these days of stolen lives…
Pour out the quenching waters from your well.
Come, bathe our tear stained faces.

We call to you with voices raised.

http://www.thorncoyle.com/blog/2015/07/03/a-prayer-for-troubling-times/

I think I will adapt this as a prayer to Flidais, in memory of, my porcupette…and all the days he will not know.

Little porcupette, I will never forget you.

porcupine

Class This Sunday

Once again I have the lovely and talented Caroline Citrine to thank for this great poster – which I finally managed to distribute around Wakefield. I am so looking forward to class this weekend, getting together with my core group of students, maybe seeing some new faces, and having fun with the process of creating usable medicines from our beloved wild and cultivated herbs. Medicine-making is a large topic, and I don’t expect everyone to master it in a day, much less a two and a half hour class. But as we get started, there are some things we need to bear in mind – some is a little technical (which plant constituents extract best in which medium, for example) and most is just learning techniques to try at home. I’ve been doing this for a while and still have failures, still learn (endlessly) from others, still find new ways of doing old things, that improve upon the end result. I’m inspired by the creativity of others, inspired to try new combinations – for example, my many elixirs now brewing in the back of the cupbaord which feature combinations I doubt I’d have come up with on my own (tip of the hat to mountainrose herbs!) In this class, we will start by covering the basic terms,  and methods of preparation. This includes – tea, infusion, decoction – what’s the difference? – tinctures, how to measure your plant material and use of alcohol – various approaches – oxymels, elixirs, ointments, salves, compresses, poultices, fomentations, electuaries, capsules, pessaries, syrups,  honeys and vinegars – a look at all of these, how to make and when to use them..and then in the second part of class, we’ll make a few/taste a few, and generally have fun. This will be an Introductory class but very thorough and plenty of handouts(terms, recipes) at the Facebook group for you to download. I’ll be bringing dandelions for tea and dandelion cookies (cuz it’s that time of year!) and have some seedlings to give away mostly  borage, calendula, some monarda and chamomile(German) too. Looking forward to seeing you all – 1:30 pm at the Rupert Community Centre – and to our walk next time ,which we shall all petition the rain gods to stay well away from!! 11208915_10153257374196635_1633978196_n

Dates and Class Topics for Summer 2015

A little later than I’d hoped – here are the class dates and topics.

May 17th – Medicine Making 101 – oils, salves, tinctures and more.
June 21st – Building your Home Apothecary/Basic First Aid
July 19th – Actions and Energetics
August 23rd – Herbs by System – Part One: Skin, Cardiovascular and Respiratory
September 20 – Herbs by System – Part Two: Nervous system and Digestion
October18 – Herbs by System – Part Three: Reproductive and Urinary tract

This is as far as I have booked, and remember there will be plant walks in between.  The likeliest dates for those, are as follows:

May 10

June 14

July 12

August 9

September 13

October 11

These walks will visit the same plants in different  stages of growth, as well as go to various areas to see a range of wild herbs and hone our ID skills. I’ll post a list of what you will need here as well as on the FB group, so everyone can be well prepared. You will need some materials for the medicine making class, and I’ll be sure to post that as well before the date. For the most part, we will meet at the Rupert Community Centre as for the classes.

I’m looking at doing a fullday workshop towards the end of the year where we review all our studies this year, make  medicines with the plants we’ve harvested(roots, in particular) and review our herbal apothecary for the coming winter. More on that TBA.

Please mark these on your calendar, let me know if  you have special concerns and please feel free to add suggestions.  Here comes the summer! I look forward to seeing the regular faces and some new ones as well. :)

A Forest Year

So, I decided to do this a week or so back, both because it’s fun to share, and  because I suspect some of my students might benefit. The idea is, just to take photos of my world here, especially the plants, over a full year, tracing the rhythms of nature and  sharing what I can about the flora and fauna of this much-loved part of the land. Maybe I will weave in a few stories and some magic as I go, we will see. ;)  At the least, I want to document the beauty and bounty of this wild  enchanted region. In pictures, which I am not so skilled at taking – and in words. And so,  I bring you,  A Forest Year.

First, to be clear. I don’t actually live IN a forest, though I hope to someday. I live, more accurately, surrounded by forest, I’m a dot in the centre of a bowl of farmland, rimmed all around by forests and hills. Kind of like the nucleus of a cell, my little house and garden. Just outside the village, just outside the forest – liminal space.  I often visualize my home as a glowing jewel, a New World Avalon, whose energy swirls out into the surrounding area. When I feel blessed and bountiful, I send some of that outwards.  It often seems to me that the ridges of rocky hills to my East and West look like the spinal ridges of sleeping dragons; the magic here is always vivid.

And never more than in the Spring.

I took a little wander today with camera and Ridgeback; it’s so early in the year but there are tantalizing images of what’s to come. So, because I tend to put off blogging until some perfect slot of time arrives-  and it never, ever does-  let me make a start. New Moon in Aries, that’s a good energy!  Here is what I photographed today.

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Before leaving my property, I snipped some lively young Comfrey pushing through the dead stuff, and my cherished Blue-eyed grass already putting out flowers. I love blue-eyed grass(Sisyrinchium spp)  for it’s delicate beauty and the fact it’s almost always the first bloom of spring. It rings the entrance way to the back filed, and now is growing enthusiastically in my  “faerie corner’ under the hawthorn, apple and raspberry cane.  There are medicinal uses: the root was used in decoction for children with diarrhea (Cherokee) but the root was also used by the Iroquois for constipation, suggesting an amphoteric effect. Most uses I could find pertain to gastrointestinal problems although  there were mentions of gynecological application in some bits of the literature (for cramps,injured womb). The leaves were eaten as a vegetable all across the continent, but the root gathered and used mostly for GI disorders.  I plan to investigate this plant more, for now the happy fresh presence of this flower is medicine enough for me.

Next, I wandered out back, off to the East, and found some lovely babies to share.P1340130P1340138P1340140P1340142

Clockwise from the left/top: ramps, trillium,  a straggly but determined little mullein,and trout lily.Give these guys two weeks and they’ll be glorious!

As I wandered around I couldn’t help but visit a very special tree, an ancient Yellow birch (Betula alleghaniensis) who seems to preside over the Southeast corner of the land here, and whom I also associate with that sad incident last summer, where a local doe guarded the body of her dead fawn for three days before finally leaving. This is the tree, and the little “deer grove” the mother took shelter in. I plan to  make a solar cross of some kind to honour that tree and the lost fawn. Meanwhile, I gathered a great bunch of twigs to use in a besom I’m making this year.

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On my way home, I stopped to tie a prayer cloth – a “cloutie” as the old terrn has it – onto a dying hawthorn that hangs over a small spring out back. The hawthorn, like so many wild plants around here, is dying young because of the bombardment of herbicides poured into this sacred place every year. Last year the farmer who does this went nuts on the small springs that feed into Indian creek every spring, and it broke my heart so much. My prayer was for sanity to be restored, for the poisoning to stop, for whatever it takes to bring respect back, please, let it come. I left an offering of conifer shortbread and some herbs I blended for this petition, and a little silver. Here’s the cloutie, and here’s me, with mascara smudges from the tears my prayer brought.

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More on the cloutie tradition here: http://www.cornishwitchcraft.co.uk/clouties.html

One last check around the grounds and I found these youngsters:

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Motherwort, Wild strawberry and Dandelion.

And that, really, was it today. The birds are trickling back – I’ve seen and heard Song sparrows,  Dark-eyed juncos, Starlings, Canada geese and robins, as well as my darling Phoebe (one of the last to leave and first to come back every year). Every day we’ll see and hear new birds, such a big part of the beauty of the season. My deer have arrived too, but that emotional reunion is a topic for another entry.

For now, at least I got started – welcome to A Forest Year.   Let this year ahead be blessed with learning, healing, and joy.

Deep peace, a soft white dove to you;
Deep peace, a quiet rain to you;
Deep peace, an ebbing wave to you!
Deep peace, red wind of the east from you;
Deep peace, grey wind of the west to you;
Deep peace, dark wind of the north from you;
Deep peace, blue wind of the south to you!
Deep peace, pure red of the flame to you;
Deep peace, pure white of the moon to you;
Deep peace, pure green of the grass to you;
Deep peace, pure brown of the earth to you;
Deep peace, pure grey of the dew to you,
Deep peace, pure blue of the sky to you!
Deep peace of the running wave to you,
Deep peace of the flowing air to you,
Deep peace of the quiet earth to you.

From “The Dominion of Dreams. Under the Dark Star
by Fiona Macleod, 1895

White Pine Heaven!

So, while we wait for  the first spring shoots to reach a wee bit more above ground – day lilies and comfrey are heading the pack but still very small – I went out on a white pine adventure, last week, with Danny of course! looking for  beautiful new branches to bring home and make medicine with. I had a stand in mind, a place we need snowshoes to access in winter,  but is easily reached in springtime. I took a thermos of my well-loved “Spring Mold tea” – (doesn’t that sound appetizing? but it’s the best blend ever for  these pesky allergies that plague me  every April) – my favorite gathering basket, and of course, my DanDan – and in about an hour had the most lovely and luscious basket of boughs, ready to process.

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The problem with harvesting anything, these days, is I am so infernally busy with my dayjob I need to squeeze in hours here and there to make sure I can get garbling and making; it’s not the harvesting that takes so much time. Just a couple of weeks ago I was emphasizing in class, the importance of setting aside time to process wildcrafted plants, don’t go to the trouble of picking them and then let them mold in a bag on the back porch! I knew this was going to be a task, but a task I love, so I have been working with the needles and  twigs over a few days, doing a bit here and then yesterday, several hours to finalize the job.
First; I took the boughs and sorted them into two piles, the very best for anything internal and the ones with slightly rusty tips for oils and perfume. With this batch there were more “perfect” boughs than I have ever seen, which was good as the bulk of what I’m making is indeed, for internal use.
Next, I snipped off the boughs I intend to use dried, and placed them in paper bags for drying. These will go into teas and a lovely herbal blend I adapted from a friend’s recipe, to be used as a seasoning for all kinds of culinary delights.
That’s Stage One, separation. Garbling (the process of making sure there’s no bird poop anywhere on your plants) is part of this, with any questionable looking branches set outside to feed the earth.
Stage two is usually  decided by what it is I absolutely cannot wait to make first. In this batch it was shortbread! I’ve made a lot of conifer treats over the years, but I found a recipe in which you actually simmer the butter first, and then strain out the needles – had to try it.  Here’s the end result:

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Yes those are BARBERRIES in there, I am totally obsessed with them this year (and that’s another blog entry) and I did also take a handful of well diced up pine needles and threw them in as well. This is a delicious cookie, if I say so myself, but I found the texture a little too rich, if such a thing can be said about shortbread. I’m doing a second batch today with no simmering of the butter. But, I can attest – there will be barberries. There may be an orange-honey glaze as well. We shall see.

The next projects were tincture, honey, oil and elixir, and just a pint each as I am always making quarts of things and then they don’t get used. I give them away, often to people who squint at the label and say…slowly…”Dandelion and cacao bitters….umm, thank you! Do I, like, drink this?” and so on. Until I set up a little etsy shop, which to be fair will not be soon, I have vowed to make only what I can use –  and possibly, what I know for sure some of my local herb-geek friends can use as well. With these medicines, it’s not going to mean quarts.

Fruits of my labour:

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So, now you’re thinking, wow, a bunch of pine needles in Mason jars! well, true, but I WAS trying to take pictures in some cool outdoorsy settings – photography isn’t my best thing, but it’s fun anyway. Elixir, honey, oil and tincture. That might not sound like a lot, but since I insist on chopping everything by hand, it really is . (Ok, I used a grinder for the shortbread, but just that one). I feel that the process of working plant material by hand contributes to its medicine and bestows a peacefulness on both me and my house, the presence of a healing spirit, so I do the work mindfully and usually with both a special candle burning and the right music playing. (right for me that is, for someone else, Aerosmith or the Rite of Spring might work; for me, it’s Ani Williams, Hildegard von Bingen and the Waterboys). I have finally learned not to make wildcrafting yet another chore that must.get.done, or I lose that extra level of serenity and mystical peace it brings. Seems obvious, but we are all so busy these days, and  when we consider the idea of healing…of folk medicine…the very idea of being overbusy makes no sense at all.
So – today, some treats already made, some medicines brewing (I am doing an oxymel today and then this lovely chai I make with white pine) and much blessing on this house from the beauty and getle strength of Pinus strobus. I plan to do a full monograph on the Pinus spp later this year – you know, when I have time – but for now,  gratitude and appreciation for these magical beings we call trees. And for my beloved ally White Pine, the deepest love.
Now — what are YOU making today?