Hylde Moer

Elder Mother

It's hard to talk around my big toe. Or maybe it's my heal? Either way, I have my foot firmly lodged in my mouth and the words are as clumsy and as sticky as primordial ooze because it's about that far I’m going back here. Back at least six million years when the salmon swam fresh and young and bright buttoned eyed up the river under the reflection of the dancing triad of elder trees, red, black and blue. And all those other Old Ones. Holding forth. When the salmon spawned and danced for death and the fauns and dryads frolicked about in celebration of growth and the fey wrung mysteries of mischief and the Elder swung open the gates to and fro and looked upon the nature of things and held her stag pipes upwards. I'm going back to when the old magic was the only law and all knew their nature irrelevant of the dance they played around it. It's a different thing to know the laws before you be breaking them, rather than just for the breaking, in of itself. There’s a reverence in that that's far removed from the politics of church and that's what the old magic speaks of and what we’ve long forgotten. And here I find myself, with Elder looming large pushing in the telling, so, while I’m birthing this little offering of something that's lost behind the big mist of my modern mind I have to tell you, it's not a graceful or dignified thing, my language will be flawed. Rather like the time I was six and doing forward rolls on the living room floor in my nightie and my mother gently told me to go and put my knickers on. It doesn’t matter how innocent you are, there is still the nature of the thing and us poor gibbering monkeys, not wanting to look in its wrinkled, brown-rimmed eyeball. And I would like to blame it on our hairless speech or dexterous thumbs or just the fact that we are here to up-end the whole applecart but either way we still have the blessings, we still have this endless love of the wise, these ancient keepers of the lore, these million-year-old sentiment beings, that somehow keep tolerating us, so on I goes with my story of Mother Elder despite feeling like an ant describing the statue of liberty, the perspective being very skewed by what I know and I so full still of I shall and you should in this tale. And Elder, well she just be insisting on what I am.

As a diaphoretic and febrifuge Elder is a master conductor of ending and beginnings. To marry the whole, Elder brings to the surface that which is hidden in the depths of my being, opening up the periphery for release, perspiration and dispersion. I can let go although it often creates a stink.

As I am particularly hard-headed (so good for doing stuff my way!) my first real interaction with Elder was incredibly unpleasant. I was in a room full of folks meditating with the plants and at the end of the morning we did a quick round with Elder and passed around the elderflower tincture. Oafff. As soon as I closed my eyes I saw her righteous annoyance, heard a hurummpff and a verbal yell “ Well Finally!” and I saw her, as if for the first time and then bang, she took me straight to my birth and the incensed rage I was experiencing, right then, as a little baby, a child just born, who somehow fully understood that my mother wouldn’t keep me and that that was what I was entering into. The whole experience took about 30 seconds and I sat, eyes closed, shell-shocked, until we broke thankfully for lunch where I could stumble off, and finding a blessed swing set I rocked back and forth, weeping for that rage and that baby, who, up until then, had a detached recognition of being born, which started with a happy adoption, that I had, my whole life been on peaceful terms with. It began to become a little more complex. A little richer. A little more me.

And I understood that baleful glare that I had encountered from Elder. That angry “well finally” as I finally saw her. For my whole hippy happy nature loving good recycling privileged person life I have been best pals and buddies with elder, knowing the daily gossip, boasting about her european qualities as a newbie herbalist in america and how back in the old country, where we grew up chugging down her cordial (the best!) and tossing fried flower pancakes around like frisbees, how she was, like, a really meaningful part of my life. Even though in my heart I had felt I her sigh as she watched my efforts to harvest her flowers so the kids and I could make herbal soda, felt the endurance as I talked about respecting the plants and saying thank you while breaking branches and not once knowing myself of her, from her. She had witnessed and tolerated me playing at being a part of this earth, my earnest, yet such bloodless shallow gestures - such good intentions -  and now finally, finally I had shown up with just a scent of respect and authenticity and she got to have her say. 

I was devastated and also wholly enlightened. Plant communication is unmistakable, shakes your cellular interceptions and changes you irrecoverably. Talking to the Other in this “only us” world hits you beyond mind. And my early rage revealed just explained so fucking much about the following of my life. In this world of glamour, the truth is such a gift. And believe me I now approach slowly and no she is not my friend. Take this lesson and learn it well says Elder. Staff and rod, severity and mercy, cycles and mystery and I can barely get the nerve to look her in the eye, knickers or not, often preferring to sit small and quiet, eyes closed and body alert and at her bidding. Yes Mam.

Elder opens up all channels of elimination - Matt Wood

Its a glamour that holds my story in place yet when I feel safe enough to reveal my vulnerability, show my heart flesh and bone without expectation it helps the cracks open a little within those masks - the victim mask that shows itself in confusion, the serenity mask that reassures the weeping children that everything will be fine or my personal favorite, the hero's mask that means all the answers are the right ones, however high they reek of the shit they're coming from. As a wounded being I have many masks to cover the hurt but every now and then I can be witnessed for all my flaws and imperfections and dance in the beauty of it and allow myself to sit in the flow as I move the magic through, as it flows from the stars through me and out to all other living light beings curiously clustered in these various lumps and shapes that we call reality. Yes, of course, it helps to be tripping. The revival of Aya and the old messengers is no coincidence. And if we get curious enough, safe enough, the alkaloid crutches can fall away and you can call it into yourself, you can step into the flow of it all, that somehow you can slow down enough to show up to yourself enough and you can be opened to the Other. I feel the breath of the mystery flow through the pipes of the elder tree, the mysterious cycle of the void that is the pool by which Elder resides, the well from which we all fall into and from which we are all birthed, watched by Hylde Moer with her wide, wide arms and scents of ambrosia, honey, piss and musk. 

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Elder has an innate ability to disarm and interrupt the invading nature of viruses, recognising the trojan in the horse, the knowing of what not to invite into yourself. Part of this ability is understanding the nature of concealment.

We live within systems that support and conceal those that never face the consequences of the harm that they have done. The old magic has been hidden behind mountains of comfort, convenience masking a tight grip on control so instead of the Other, we have the other us and our endless scapegoats of judgement and fear. A system that is out of balance, a system driven without regard for the whole or regard for the balance but instead fueled by a driving unquenching thirst for more, a consumption that never ceases and is firmly seated in being separated and cut off from the roots of belonging to whence from it was born. The invaders rifling forth, jihadists raging through the territory, grasping all they can. A system born from great hunger, which, as any lost and forgotten ghost can tell you, a hunger changes all priorities. Without the old magic, that which calls forth the nature of a thing, that which is not meant for humans, we have become a system that is not well seated, not placed or honoured. The trojan is in and the horse has become the house and evil looms large and it is of our flesh, its all there is and we've become so disconnected so much as to elect it, vote for it, so our tenders of the law can act out of the agony of forgetting. It has become too fierce a tenant, bending and stretching the host until that will be reduced to a husk. And the glamour is so large, large enough that as I write the words and you might read them, I will still pull at the handle to drive a car that sucks from the earth and pay my taxes to a system that is an unabashed corruptness reeking of evil. A glamour so large that every day I play part as I bite into the sugar coated cookie that is my fear dressed up as my reward and my worth with an algorithmically logoed label reading "enjoy your poison - made just for you". Just as the constant smoking of marijuana brings the nighttime dreams into the sunlight and reduces the twilight hours empty of mystery, this fierce denial of moving through remembering reeks of the glamour of the now departed faeries, who are transmuted onto the silver screen, Hollywood style, the mirror gaze that has us entrapped, full off the endless dancing and feasting and dancing and feasting where no one is sated or merry, where the putrescence is slick under the heavy perfumes of gauged comparison and curiosity is punished with banishment until the steps are learnt and the motions mastered and most importantly nothing dies while the night goes on and on and on and we can spin around with our fanciful fixes and props while our generosity of spirit becomes as atrophic as the fay folks' once human walked realm. Elder holds the door of transformation, the door that swings back and forth between this world and others and it's that perspective, that tunnel of transformation, that ability to look from there and to here, that entanglement with Other that is how we discern, where the glamour is revealed and truth is felt.

Elder can reset, restore and revitalize the immune system by which it increases the effectiveness of how the whole body works

We are long gone from where we can rely on something other than ourselves to bring back balance. It's the hardest part of my relationship with Elder. She is not here to fix, she is here to remind me that I am the conductor of my well being which relies entirely on how I balance the environment around me. I can barely hold onto my shadow let alone anything that feels effective. What is real in all this glamour? Even as I say that I know instantly in my heart what is richness and I am reminded each time I breathe in the scent of my cat's paws filled with deep forest loam. 

But how to start propping each other up so the ant can look into the eye of liberty? Held up by community rather than buried, or divided or derived? While my instinct screams run or I want to hide with like-minded folk, so my gaze can be reflected and I don't need to know what is beyond the garden. I know such intentions will become its own cancer. I know that integration is life.

There are no “mine” paradigms that are going to matter or really function right now. The wound of one is the wound of the whole, undeniable, as I have felt my strands of being woven into the interplay and so, even overwhelmed I trust. Even disgusted, I trust. Hylde Moer, older than my remembering stands there with me. Allows me to call her in while I trust that we are navigating a new age of listening. We are calling the Other back to aid us in navigating through our Severance and Shame. Calling them in as we pull together to demand that we are accountable to all our peers, to address our balance in our environment. The putrescence requires pressure for it to surface, requires lancing for relief and healing. Requires a good long look at ourselves, an embracing of our shadows, eye to eye contact, the hard long account of feeling ourselves. knowing the nature of who we are.

All parts of the Elder can be used, depending on the kind will depend on what you receive. Flowers, berries, bark, leaves roots and even hosted fungus have found their uses, reminding us of the many supporting the whole. Some elements bring purging and catharsis, some bring nourishment and enlightenment, all bring forth that generosity of spirit to embrace the other.

And so I adhere, let the guidance come through, carry on singing into the mystery, carry on exploring my roots, minding my safety so I can remain curious to be able to see and then maybe recognize patterns. So I can read the environment around and carry on digging deeper into the nature of myself, leaping up on that part of the spiral as I circle round, bringing my ancestors forth while I reach out to the future letting the present flower. Know the land, feel my belonging so I can become the support. Listening, learning, due respect, ridiculous failures, silly stumbles, tangled sex and raucous stories feeling into the nature of things to better know the balance. To know how to interrupt and shift, sometimes with destruction, sometimes with the silent placement of rocks on the shoreline, always to sing the song, give voice to the essence of ourselves and the matrix dance, the mystery, fed by ceremonies and movements that in turn give us story and shape which in turn gives us ceremony. Even on the periphery, I can catch a hint of tone, a glimpse of the shimmer and a whiff of the scent of the Other. “The old magic has a will of its own, it may work to your need but not to your command and again there are memories above the old magic that wake when it moves*" Elder remembers that magic, she holds those memories and can see the stag and rider hunting through the night and hear the call of the horn. It's in her bones and roots and is passed to her offspring and it is not lost to us. And as we explore and share and support each other in our reawakening of this, celebrating the different parts of the story we are given to carry, as we cultivate generosity of spirit we can listen to each other, to the landscape around us, and let it lead us, each of us, into balance.

*Alan Garner, The Moon of Gomrath
Also gratitude for the resonating and inspiring words and work of Matt Wood, Kiva Rose, Ylva Mara Radziszewski, Scott Kloos, Nessa Emrys, Martin Shaw and Daniel Foor that helped shape these thoughts.

The Nettle In Me

I’m surprised that I haven’t been hit in the face by now. That's another aspect of the nettle in me. One that somehow just stands you down. I have Aries in Mercury resulting in communication skills that can be just bloody-minded. Blunt. Bludgeoned. Rude, without asking. Left field, righteous, arrogant, like why don’t you shut the fuck up while I smack you in the gob Natasha. And sooooooo to the point. That's the nettle in me, each little syllable a sting of mind-bending perforation. We demand attention. And so smart about it. You feel it for days. To top it off, just so you remember, while I’m giving you the burn, it's funny to boot so everyone is laughing. It gets harder to give me the decisive fist. You have to really know that that's what you're going to do, smack me left side. And that's exactly what I’m asking for. We demand that we pay mind. My mouth fully armed in every way. The word smart resonates 180. And if you rise up to the call and grab me hard I'll crumple. Grab me hard and I'll disavow my vehement striding thoughts. Grab me hard and I’ll happily show you another point of view, swivel around and attack from a different perspective, grab me hard and hang on for the ride and all of a sudden its a joy, this urtification, the stripping down, the extremes of perception. All of a sudden, muscles of thought and movement of mind wake up, re-arise, revolt. Grab me hard and we might end up being just downright intimate. That's the nettle in me. For a long time its been a totem plant.

I know how to pick a nettle leaf and fold it in on itself and eat it on spot without getting stung. This trick is so cool that it quickly gets taught to others. Then it's in you. Nettle can become cell space.

I grew up with the nettle. When I was a child I remember how plants were. How the earth was. Something that was there always like mother and father. A concept made real. The praxis of family. That minute where we are the tribe. The memory of belonging. And a where to we are belonging. Before the break. Before the Dust settles. I imagine, in the forest, the nettle holds like watchtowers. The math of the forest, the monks in their watchtower.  Hermits. Keeper of the path. Regulating. Tall, rising, keeping mind. I would love to see with other eyes, the communication lines. Golden threads under and overground. Would nettle be the central control switch? At the clusters of the mycelium communication network? The non-synaptic role of the modulator that is garnished up with drops of formic acid, activating the unseen court of histamine reactions, slow trickles of life shifting gossip as well as the fast flame of scandal. The constant play of what we perceive to be dangerous and what actually is. Peace in the present. As I spend the time to drowse in the nettle forests these are the thoughts that wonder. This is the medicine that heals as I otherworld myself and my imagining starts to pushme pullyou invisible atoms to play. The nettle in me.

I use fresh nettle as an alterative to help against allergies and for calming and modulating the immune system. It will build up my discernment in knowing what is harmful and what is not.

That's what I want to see when I close my eyes, the inner workings - as the plant feels, to slip back to my past life where I can again stand tall armed with my swords of reason, waiting for the hesitant being to walk by, the nervous one, the unwinding folk, the careless blunderer, the timed foe and say, nay, stab, point, prick, burn it in, yell with the whole of my being -  Wake up! Pay attention! And then for your own sake, sweet gods and mercy, grasp, grasp with lungs of your mute ancestor's silent chokings, grasp your share of momentum, your shining magic in this particular space in time and with every single breath that's yours, rise up and be. 

Over time nettle will fortify and add vigour to my general well being so I can resist, revolt and rewild. Over time I will gather the strength to step forward and live a life I can believe in.

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It's like Berlin in 1939 I imagine as I go out to lunch with friends and we laugh and in the background starving polar bears trundle across a thousand remote iphone islands on their way to extinction. The satire has become a collective. The matrix has been broken.  And what are we doing as we rampage with our sad, so fucking sad desperation of not having enough? Not being enough? Every time a receipt flies out of a shopping till I get to think of the dying breath of trees. Where is my grounding? How can my adrenals stand another minute of the silent scream called daily life? And that could be the tagline of a fucking commercial selling "natural" adaptogens in a bottle. The only sane left is the mad, honest enough to wear the right expression of aghast disbelief. What to do? What to hold on to and let go? How to discern as the waves of it all as it overwhelms in the inhale and exhale, as I break food out of yet another endless plastic packet. Caressing the curves of plastic bottles instead of basket willow, cedar planks, aspen leaves, the overwhelm of it all and then I’m down in the forest, back to that single layer, the monk in the watchtower. Calling to the nettle in me, looking me down, telling me to pay attention, to what I can. To embrace the fall before the next step rises me up.  

Nettle will help restore and improve kidney function, allowing me to properly filter toxins out of my life, restoring parameters for what serves me.

I long for when we are embracing our medicine again. That's the nettle in me. Wept hot tears over the madness of it all. Seen friends struck down with the confusion of function so departed from the heart. The loss of touching earth mother day to day. How I long to be moving within her embrace, the deep nuzzle of loam, the only currency emotional. Caress, murmur touch through the seasons. My tendrils go deep into the crust and when we stop to embrace, when we have a connection we become changed. We start to belong again and our weeping is more nourishing. We are more nourished. Our blood is calmer, our platelets slip and slide and we can negotiate the twists and turns. In fact, you could almost begin to sense the power of ourselves. The endlessness of us all. We guard the earth. The nettle in me

Nettles may be found by feeling for them in the darkest night  - Culpepper

I should have come up with this. I mean it has everything, witty and deep with that chord of otherworld wisdom. A resonance ringing on truth. And Nettle, like all boundary medicine, makes itself known when you're not looking. Of course, you don’t see the nettle, you feel for it, whether with intention or not. You're not navigating this shit with your mind, your hearts not engaged with the mentally extensive or just downright fecund lie of a story as you tell it to your self over and over. You know when nettle is there coz it reaches out and bites you. Blam - The knowing that can’t be unknowed. Everything felt and nothing learnt. And as you sit in pain, stunned, blinded by the lifting of the veil. And as you sit, frozen in place, for if you move the whole mirror will shatter, or as you crumple to the floor exhausting the groan, the noise that comes from behind yourself, the resurrection begins. The grace. The shifting of tension so now you get to be the thing in between. The very present itself. The pause in the breath, the resting in the break. Resting as something else comes in. The grace space. Don’t ever forget to thank the nettle for giving you that moment. Or anyone else who has, in your life, been brave enough to let you down. Deliver the unasked for truth. There's a reason why more than I have called it the nettles kiss in ages past. That suspended sensation of blinding white, the pause in between where you can regather, regain, re-emerge. And that's what this simple line from Culpepper indicates by placing it in the darkest night. Putting it in the land of the unseeing, the land of feeling. Feeling through. When you are truly lost, your ego surrendered to all that is greater. When the terror has consumed you and you lie in the belly of the beast. That is how I receive the Nettles Kiss, how I hold the nettle in me. We are not alone. Every moment we are all one or another and then we get the pause in-between, bridging alone and forever connected, we get the universe. 

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By consuming fresh nettles I have a source of nutrients and amino acids that help me repair my structure, enliven my muscles and heal after deep internal wounds and trauma.

The medicine works with blood. I like to engage with the histamine aspect. The math of the Monks. The Hermit with the single shining light. Illuminating. It's that fresh formic acid that I crave  - the sting. That readjustment of my overactive immune, my constant companion of unhinged fear. My terror happily recursive by the terror of our times. This year my attention is brought to the difference between relaxing and numbness. Apparently, I have to learn to relax and instead all I  know is how to become numb. I started practising numbness as soon as I could get away with it. As for this relaxing. Well, a forgotten art. Feels like an exercise to be done in distant galaxies. Feels like a nice thought and a good intention. A facebook headline. As I walk through the edges I seek engagement with anger as I nurture my liver so I can let it run through and release. The red line running through the nettle in me. I practice and fall again and again through self-care. The nettle in me pokes me up again and again. "Pull on us" they whisper in fierce determination. Arise with us. I live in the woods so that I can peruse the edges and along with that the nettle fields. They know me. They are not so much loving as having tied me into the parameters of their landscape. I’m the one who comes tromping through with the dog, sometimes cat, often child and who then blabbers and cuts and blabbers and goes all about it in the spring. I’m the one who talks to them. They are slightly amused and steeped in irrelevance. They see the foolishness of our ways, the inevitable weakness of our greed. They are the epitome of enough. When will we trust we have enough? Not only do nettles pack a pharmacopoeia of elements in themselves but try to fill a jar with fresh nettles. You’ll sit there with your quart mason jar, hopefully in class, hopefully with a crowd eagerly watching this folk method of medicine, for I can tell you, like anything smart they like a laugh at others. And there you go, you have 5 or 6 shopping bags full of origami nettle, all small plump little powerhouses of potential, full in their prime and you start to fill the jar, you start to chop the nettle with your scissors, you need to pack the jar you enthusiastically explain and yet 45 minutes in you’re still stuffing. The shopping bags are becoming empty. The Tardis of distraction fully seated in attention magic. Packing them in the still half full jar. As they fold back into themselves traversing another world. Wondering how you can speak about the inter-dimensionality of plant wisdom without sounding mad, best just let everyone have a go. Experience it for your self. That origami. That unfolding folding of potential. That's the soul of nettle. Right there. The wonder of what can. And how you need to so pay attention to turn it into what can be. The praxis of knowing into being. The Who Am. The nettle in me.

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The medicine of the land can become medicine for the people.

This first appeared in Plant Healer Magazine - A great magazine to check out - http://planthealer.org/

Locavore Herbalism  

I was always a city gal. Constrained in my youth by lackluster country amusements I hitchhiked my way out of the barren landscape without a backwards glance. It was the landscapes of peoples’ emotions, pulsing expressions and tricky intent that fascinated me. These were the interplays I observed, tasted and fiddled around in. The backdrop was old, mostly, northern Europe where “wild” was found in the constant peer examination of professional function. Wild was discovered in how you found your way to bed at night, how you could sign into oblivion and stumble, fumbling alone, as one centric individual. It was not the wild of the woods, the wild of the screaming silent territory, the wild that harbors no sense of human, the wild which, as Dr. Martin Shaw says “disables our capacity to devour in the way the West seems so fond of; in the most wonderful way I can describe, we get devoured.” So it has been a returning to the circle, finding myself back in the country, a call from the land, this voice that I’ve heeded, this belonging I’ve needed to stay sane.

“I am the bear,” I say to myself as I move along the undergrowth. Its a big forest I’m walking through. Big enough to get lost in. To lose myself in, to become unknown. To be devoured in in the most wonderful way. Not the constant consumption of human entrapment but something beyond myself. I hear rustling and movement. Everything in me stops, then starts. “I am the bear,” I mutter. As an omnivore I've joked about being part of the circle of life enough to know that I might have called it up in some clumsy moment. For I am the bear, ready to immerse myself into the forest in a way that will open my synaptic gates, those Huxleyesque doors of sense, smell, mind, quiet. More transparent and whole at the same time. I massage the edge of my fear with the mantra, looking around the unknown forest. The unknown landscape of strange principles and order. I don’t want to be afraid.

It’s uncomfortable, trust. Trust that you don’t know the landscape. Trust that you might not be able to cope. It takes a while to get to the place where if I saw “one who knows where the honey is “my first response would be ‘shoo!’ It takes a while to begin greeting the trees, heart-lifting at the familiar sights, everyone in their place, caressed limbs waving in recognition.  It takes a while to step lightly, meandering through, noting friends, new and old.  It takes a while to be familiar in a wild that’s not of you. A while to be able to slip into the mindset that comes about meandering through nature.

Which is why, when I’m thinking about pertinent information for this monograph, when I think about how to impart to you, good reader, reliable facts and solid handles of knowledge, I stumble, mist in my mind as I pull the fluid heart-moments with my grasping hands that simply feel the slippery truth of experience flow through. First, it takes a while.

 

It takes a while

 

I started out from my urban decay far from the woods. My first forays into landscapes and local were through gardening, especially permaculture. It made sense to me, permaculture. how a system’s unspoken entropy is balance. It also made sense that the landscape was the conductor of orchestration. The holder of hot, cold, constriction, lax, damp and dry. How the plants responded to the shifting, the dipping and the draining, The lay of the land, the bones of the earth and the microscopic dance in play between all players. The embedded universality. While looking at where my pattern-recognition could meander and play within this system of observing living principles I got sucked in, noting the perennials of the region and from there on found the medicinals. Laziness was key. I am the epitome of the armchair gardener, for as I glanced at my designated clumps of vibrant green offerings that would soon wilt away and scab the winter gardens like picked at ingrown hairs, my pupils would sideways shift towards the forest, the roadside, the unused lot, because I could see on my periphery, I could see that right there was the land already teaming, overladen, perfectly unweeded, joyously yelling, “We are here!”. I could see beautiful, vibrant, abundant medicinal gardens.

 

 “One of the most important things about permaculture is that it is founded on a series of principles that can be applied to any circumstance. The core of the principles is the working relationships and connections between all things.” - Juliana Birnbaum Fox 

 

Leaving my more premeditated efforts to ‘self organize’ I started to learn what was around me. Simultaneously, I was learning about traditional western medicine, with Matthew Wood’s teaching being a figurative influence, his insight and way of revealing the six tissue states and their definitions slowly awakening my senses as I began to feel the correlation between outside and in. The archway of awareness opening up in my back, letting wispy ancestors walk through as I relaxed into the root of Calamus, the intense shiver of Quaking Aspen and the deep deep call of Devils Club. “March on good soldier”. These feelings correlated with taste and action but they also all had the nuances of personality. Finding the language of plants found sense in their home. Found sense in the sitting in their groves, noting who were their friends and hindrances. Noting what blew them this way and that. Our living functions so similar and yet our knowing worlds apart. What inherent knowledge did they behold? 

I started to have a weird relationship with Teasel. It’s everywhere here. In the grimiest of places. All over refuse and drainage. It’s a just-arrived-at-the-party plant, all seven feet or so, suddenly present, arms waving like Neptune’s trident. It happened that I was getting ready for a forest immersion in the Gorge. “Bring something for the bundle” the initiates said. The pressure! Bring something special/meaningful/doomed! 

I was driving the kids to school, mind meandering about what to bring, what special gift I could place in the special bundle, letting the consciousness float through, seeing if any attachment became caught in the thought-cloud, the kids in the background, radio, traffic lights. As I slid into the mostly empty lot I noticed something large and perfectly parallel to the white lines in the parking space beside me. Watching the kids rumble towards the school door I walked around and saw a tall perfectly intact brown dried teasel with suspicious indentations similar to tire tracks. “Still with all her teasing burrs” I wonder, thinking that she was lucky to hitch a ride - for indeed Cinderella, she was, off to the offering at the Gorge. I let my mind disengage and I didn’t try to understand what my heart felt as I lay her in the station-wagon. Wildness, wildness settled in there and I smelled the skunk of her fox pelt.

Since then she’s crept right up to my door. She’s become a good friend. So overwhelmed by emotion one day I drunkenly lapped at the pools in her chalice-like leaves, laughing at myself when I see all the bugs disintegrating in the bottom. Then after having repeatedly sprained my ankle for the third time in a year and sick of my current fearful shuffle on bumpy paths, I finally reach for the teasel tincture and rub it on. I immediately feel a click as the cool menstrum sinks in and then, in my head, a command: “Jump up and down!” Somewhat startled, I do. Another click and crunch in my ankle and I’m dismissed, ankle readjusted, not to spring out of place again. You can’t help but fall in love, stand in awe, feel blessed to greet her in the doorway with gladness in your heart. Mullein was watching over for a while but now the Teasel’s standing guard. The same two St. John’s Wort hang out by the water faucet come June. The Lemon Balm and Peppermint battle it out while the brambles take on my assaults of rage, for if I was calm to begin with, by the time I'm entrenched in the briar medicine I’m as whipped up as a bobcat in a cage not of its making. Fighting furiously against all my knots of thought and prejudice, wound up with no generosity for the facets of my animism. I make friends with myself as the brambles I negotiate a slow release and let me feel what I do not allow myself to feel, to submit, submit to being in the unruly presence of something vaster. The knowledge that comes with interaction.

 

It takes a while to establish a working relationship

 

I nibble and munch and smell. I sit and meditate, experiment on my own and with groups, sometimes clarity of insight, green-whisperings, sometimes a practice in frustration, despair, self-loathing. I think about the scientific correlation with constituents and regularly observed pathologies. I think about the herbal lore, tidbits passed down, experiences shared, and I try to tuck markers of this information away, to use, verify, experiment and understand. The left brain is a beloved friend unlike my untrusty right side, ready to cave in a second, alive with palpitations when it brushes with the infinite of being. Being there, in the old lot next door that is brimming with pioneer diversity, being there, just still. Being. 

I have a little radio show. It came about when I was stalking some Cottonwood on a cold, crisp, sunny January day, after the storm. Everything about me shivered with clarity. I suddenly slipped into my childhood wonder of watching David Attenborough and his unabashed connectedness to the animal kingdom that he was so avidly reporting on. I giggled to myself at how my “prey” was so stealthy, its movement was barely discernible. More than that, I was reaching back through time, connected by an undivided passion, the vibration of absolute delight in being in the wild and nowhere else. The thought of sharing this joy popped into my mind. The ongoing story of our earthy observations. I recorded a five-minute window of that world into my phone, bashed up an edit and successfully pitched it to my local radio station. Passion honed by discipline, I would go out, go out and wildcraft, make some medicine or not, do a show or two, opening up the windows of my worlds. I would be all eager, jumping out the car, the dog leaping around while I got the phone set to record the show, get it done. This was when I was harvesting rose petals, I stood there, recording the show, talking about the taste, the astringency, the different parts. I felt satisfied. I had imparted the information. I had covered some succinct points, got some good tips in. The Rose vinegar sunburn splash with St John’s for good measure. How wonderful! Something extra for the listeners. 

I set to picking petals. The patch I have always harvested from is large and profound, Dog Rose in great families. Bushes upon bushes set back a little from the ocean inlet, gracefully held in a huge horseshoe embrace of Madrone, Alders and Cedar. Boggy land with dry sandy hillocks, salty with big breaks of Hogweed and Hemlock, Yarrow and Yellow Dock with Wild Carrot to come. So plentiful that I do not have to embrace the thorns, but can pick a years worth of medicine by grazing on the edges. Meandering, grasping the petals, four or five only with each bud. A slow business, grasp, gently pull and place petals into the bag, so hypnotic that there is high danger of missing the open bag on my arm, petals trailing behind me like I’m an angelic Gretel. Hands slightly sticky with the scent, the fragrance becoming more than a cloud of invisible pollen, the scent itself a path to walk through, a realm to embrace. Grasp, pick, place, stop, gaze. Grasp pick place stop gaze. How are the tent caterpillars this year I wonder, noting the flux and ebb. How are the territories this year? Noting the growth and set backs, how is the essence this year? Lots of sun, and there will be sweet nectar, or early bloom, more astringent, slightly drier, off into a flow of being, not needing to think to know, body comparing, registering the slow yearly progression where rose and I meet again. Time reduced to nothing, just us in our conjunction, our act of love. Again wondering abstract thoughts that balloon like baby spiders drifting upwards while my heart slowly starts to aspire and open, to lift and rise, to encompass the whole of my body. 

I pause. I’ve been picking for a few hours. I notice I am extremely enhanced. I am very different. It suddenly occurs to me that now I have to record the show to talk about rose. Five minutes of heartfelt longing on the meaning of trust. My listeners will have to google for the vinegar sunburn rinse. 

 

It takes a while to establish a working relationship you cherish and then revisit, again and again.

 

The very fact that I can experience a general action from a general taste allows me to drift and meander through my neighborhood of plants exploring their possibilities. My young sons complaining. Delicate in his piscerian stomach he is experiencing sudden painfulI cramps. Try some dandelion leaf I say - there is little alternative, no aromatic leaves of yarrow let alone the calming fennel in this rather regulatory neighborhood we’re in. However the cramps stop, the leap from the page into the meeting. This casual acquaintance is key because there is something greater than personal knowing going on here. A reaching in -into something other than my self to bring it to myself. What I seek is somatic. Using the tastes and the observations of the landscapes that the plants grow in allow me to understand where they might be more helpful. Maybe. What inherent intelligence have they gained? Is the Yarrow on the beach different from the one on the mountain? I go off in search and then I have the medicine, neatly labeled “Yarrow, 5000 feet,” and “Yarrow beach”, yet the variables are so contrary and the scientific method that I’m practicing bogus. It isn’t as effective as I want it to be. Or neat. Definitely not as predictable. Rather like I am describing myself.  

I truly appreciate the rigors and observations and gatherings of data, I enjoy reading the blood, understanding physiological process, the endless depth of knowledge I witness in herbalism.  I am constantly  stretching my Self into the realm of language, variables, parameters, process, cause and effect, the delicate multi-play of interactions, the exacting absence of mystery. The delightful depth of knowing.  My understanding is that this perspective is extremely successful in healing. Yet I also know that it’s simply the Practitioner’s Way. If a practitioner remains faithful to what they understand and how they perceive they help transfer the medicine of the land to the people. Remain faithful to how you understand and the patterns will fall into place, the invisible lines of causality will become clear, your moral themes and prudence learned over time will take play. I learned this with my practice as it became my own. I learned this with medicine-making. 

A good friend loves to dry the plants all up, grind them thoroughly and then, there they sit, the clumpy beige or ochre messes seemingly gelatinized in the bottom of oversized jars. This habit not even for the sake of consistency, rather a personal calling; these slavic blocks of grey matter. I was secretly appalled. I would look at my wares, tightly packed to the brim. Fresh, colorful plants squeezed in their mason jars like old fashioned carnival exhibits sitting next to hers like some parody of Oz. Yet her medicine, so different from mine, so different and so effective. Thankfully she follows her path, her way of understanding, as I do, as we compare and take notes. Envy and delight in our successes and learning-mistakes. 

 

It takes a while to establish a working relationship you cherish and then revisit, again and again. As you get to know the land, the land gets to know you and you get to know yourself. 

 

The Madrone is out there on the edge. I can view her from many different points of reference. I can see her in different walks of my life, my ex’s house across the bay where a lifetime ago I would wash the dishes looking out over the bay. The neighborhood beach where I would stand, looking up 200’ to see her there swaying, almost horizontal, ever-reaching; or from the forest edge where she hangs, root-tusks dug in an iron-like grip on the cliff face, beckoning me to really experience her medicine and for once lightly dance up her massive trunk so that I can fully embrace her boughs as we levitate above the crashing surf. I wonder if I will arrive at one of these vantage points to find her transformed. Gone. Sacrificed, Fallen. Our perspective of time is so vastly different from the forest that it hinders me in my judgment. I hug my fellow wildcrafters bemoaning the very pervasive medicine of the blackberries consuming their shrinking patch of diversity, while I hug my fellow wildcrafters celebrating the life-saving honey-bee blossom of the same infamous invasive. Land nurture, Self nurture. I find my true north. 

Madrone light-seeker shows me that for ever she has been there and one day she will never be. If I start to feel frustrated or hurried while wildcrafting or tending in the forest, junk lot, embankment, I stop. It has taken me while in this learning for I am as effective as I’m impatient. Elder was a harsh teacher, breaking off in great branches of exasperation if I started to expedite the flower-gathering, her sweet umbels creamy-white against the splinters of her form. Shame flooding through me, the hypocrisy of my intentions! The rubbish of my medicine yet the knowing that I can grow and move on. Improve and learn about the balance and the nourishment, find the right form, the right fit. 

Some years there are no berries. “What, no Angelica!” I exclaim to one of my favorite medicine-makers. “Damn!” Thinking of my client. “Get over it” she says. “The patch needs a break. What do you want? That we should start tincturing shipped-in herbs? You want that we completely change our modus operandi for your needs?” “No angelica then,” I murmur in agreement. I buy her medicine because of relationship. Not because it’s better or more effective, but it’s just my way. It’s the way that this land has taught me. 

I caress the thin paper bark of fierce Madrone. She who houses eagles for they love to plunge into the Salish Sea from her perfectly-placed branches high above. As for myself I have to lie on my belly and slowly slither to the edge of the cliff reaching out to grasp the offerings of her bark, I have a long way to go before I can gamble out there and collect her leaves. The thought of stewarding the Madrone and her offspring seems ludicrous. Who am I to know? What could I possible know? But the point of contact is everything. The line that is drawn out from one point to another creates a dimension and that is the relationship we have entered into. That is the relationship that I can honor, fail, foul and rise again to improve. The dimension of story, experience, remembrance and hope. 

 

It takes a while to establish a working relationship you cherish and then revisit, again and again.  As you get to know the land, the land gets to know you and you get to know yourself, each providing strength to the others’ existence by entering into story.

 

And so it is into story I go and into story that I share with you. I was tempted to be more precise, but the list of my local herbs seemed to die on the page and how they helped has always been so much more than physiological. I am still just barely getting to know the story’s of the many medicinal plants that I continuously use and visit in my neighborhood but I can bring them to mind in a moment and when I do they are never devoid of the ground, the surrounding landscape. In these parts we are blessed with a sweet alien visiter and I have lived for a long time watching over a couple of stands of Ghost Pipe, the upright folk, perky and bright, looking intensely around in different directions, seemingly delighted by humans, there’s a reason why they are always right there out by the pathways rather than the interior. I have a family of them hanging out on a forest trail right by my dwelling. My son and I great them every year upon their reemergence, we hold them with us as we walk almost daily on that trail and they are in always in the corner of our minds as we pass the spot whether they are under the ground or in full luminescent glory or black shadows of themselves in the bones of winter, skeletal silhouettes barely discernible under the SalaI. One day in mid June I wake up early with the clear image of the Ghost Pipe in my mind, beautiful translucent white with the delicate blue and pink hues caught on the edges, the black tips providing sharp relief. I hear before I hear the weed whacker and then I’m out the door, flying down the path in my pajamas. The state park makes use of a volunteer system -  lovely folks and now and then to be useful they like to “tidy” up the paths by trimming the edges. I reach my stand hoping that it won’t be for an impromptu harvest. It’s not. There they are, still in all their unity. Standing in community. I make a resolve to have a conversation with the park ranger, to find out if the volunteers are informed so that I can have a cup of tea before I go dashing into action.

 

It takes a while to establish a working relationship you cherish and then revisit, again and again.  As you get to know the land, the land gets to know you and you get to know yourself, each providing strength to the others’ existence by entering into story. As your story grows you can begin to share it with community so that the medicine of the land can become medicine for the people.