I started writing a song or prayer many years ago. It’s very short, only 4 lines, and sometimes one of those lines changes. But it carries the depth of poetry because the meaning of it depends on what is going on at any given moment. In this version of it, I honor the life and death of my friend and teacher, Tracy Maier.
The four directions are acknowledged along with some of the things that they stand for when I think of Tracy. I choose this because the four directions are a compass for my life as an herbalist, a teacher, and a human.
Below my prayer, you will find a video called “The Meaning of Death” from Stephen Jenkinson, who has helped me make room for my grief. Grief for Tracy, Miriam Weisberg, my friend and student, Stephie Rexroth, also a student, and for the animals lost in our barn fire.
[facing north] Have compassion, we are all dying.
To honor Tracy’s indigenous and non-indigenous ancestors, and all the people that came before us. To honor Death, the great equalizer that teaches us to have compassion. To honor Winter, the time of tending to our roots. To honor the element of Earth that brings us nourishment and medicine.
[facing east] Hold gratitude, we are all living.
To honor Tracy’s life and all the joy that he brought his friends and family. To honor those that try to make a difference and give ease to others. To honor Life, the senses, and consciousness. To honor Spring, and the green things emerging from the soil. To honor the element of Air breathing life into us all.
[facing south] In resistance, we are all rising.
To honor Tracy’s work as a nurse and a street medic. To honor those that resist corruption, discrimination, and exploitation. To honor the passion of Youth. To honor the Summer and flowering of our gardens and our lives. To honor the element of Fire that refines our desires into life-long pursuits.
[facing west] Seek forgiveness, we are all learning.
To honor Tracy’s mistakes, he once told me that the stinky hedge nettle was mugwort. To honor the mistakes of those that came before us so that we don’t repeat them. To honor the wisdom of compassionate elders. To honor Old Age as a time of reflection and a forewarning to future generations. To honor the element of Water that flowing force in our blood, rivers, and oceans.
Since the fire, I’ve been having a hard time dealing with electrical objects and have only recently started updating the events at the Trillium Center or other events at other places in our community. So. Here it is. An update. And some photos of a hyper-local current event.
Some classes include a focus on St. John’s wort, herbs to prevent tick bites and to support people who’ve been bitten by those tiny vampires (this Saturday!), and of course, the most exciting class of the year: Herbal Sensing: an herbal field intensive. Details here: https://trilliumcenter.org/calendar/
Back in December, Tracy Maier, a good friend of mine crossed over into whatever follows this life. It was unexpected.
Tracy was a humble easygoing person who laughed long and hard. I learned a lot from him, but if I ever said so, he’d wave his hand at me like he was waving off an annoying insect. Despite his unwillingness to consider himself a teacher, I learned much from him. Even in his death he taught me a lot, which I’ll come back to at some point.
To honor him I’ve been writing about him. I realized in the process of remembering my stories of Tracy is that the longer he is gone, the more I remember, and to allow myself the freedom of remembering, I’ve decided to tell his stories in a series of blogs. Because honoring him is also an exercise in honoring and enduring the seasons.
Right now the story that is fresh in my mind is about a plant called stinging nettles that comes up in the early spring.
OFF WITH THEIR HEADS!
There was a place near the Clackamas River where Tracy liked to visit and gather stinging nettles early in the spring. It was one of those magically green places where mushrooms winked at you in the corner of your eye, then pretended they weren’t there when you looked to see what it was. The kind of place that makes a person want to believe in fairies.
We were there for a couple of hours visiting the tall spiky devil’s club, the cedar, and, of course gathering stinging nettles. He taught me first to sit in the area, watching, listening. Noticing what other plants are there, what birds and creepers and crawlers are about their business. He taught me to ask permission and make an offering to the plants. His offerings were usually the marc left over from tincture making or any dried nettle leaves left over from the year before. Then he taught me to gather nettles by snipping off the top of the plant, leaving enough of the plant there to sprout two more stalks. Late summer he returned to gather the long stalks to make baskets.
I wandered off, filling my bag with the nettle tops, I kept getting a song in my head. “All you need is love;” a goofy relic from my childhood. But it persisted enough that I told Tracy. He grumbled. “Huh?” Mumble, mumble. Then he turned away and I’m pretty sure he said something about “off with their heads.”
I’ll never know if he was talking about the nettles or the Beatles.
Weekend in the Woods: Herbal Sensing
Herbal Field Intensive
June 29-July 1
Feel it in your gut, feel it in your heart, taste it, smell it.
The third Herbal Field Intensive will explore the diverse terrain of the Cuyahoga Valley National Park. The HFI is a 3-day educational retreat in the woods and fields to learn about wild medicinal and edible plants in different parts of Ohio and Pennsylvania. Skills included: identifying plants, foraging ethics, medicine making, and wild food preparation emphasizing what’s in season. Day passes are available if you don’t like to camp (contact us for more info).
This year the theme is herbal sensing, the art of learning about plants through the senses. The scientific word for this is organoleptic, the process of using the senses; usually referring to sight, touch, smell, and taste. In herbal sensing we look to other sources of sensing such as the cat brain and the lizard brain…
… if what I’m saying is suddenly not making sense, then perhaps you really need to take this class.
LOCATION The HFI will camp at Heritage Farms in Peninsula, OH. You can find the farm’s description on hipcamp.com, search for “Camping Among the Pines.”
Saturday Coffee Tea Bar Morning Plant Walk, Leah Wolfe
Developing Awareness Skills with Plants, Leah Wolfe Lunch Foraging – When, How and Where, Leah Wolfe
Organoleptics – How to Learn Herbal Medicine with your Senses, Leah Wolfe Dinner Evening Discussion
Sunday Coffee Tea Bar Taste and Herbal Energetics, Leah Wolfe
The Spaces-in-Between Plant Walk, Nicki Schneider Closing at 12 PM
COST The cost covers camping, firewood, food, supplies, materials, teaching stipends, and instructor’s travel costs. To make this event more accessible, it is offered on a sliding scale between $160-$200.
I was 6 or 7 years old when the fire started. Something ignited in the back of an El Camino or maybe it was a pick-up truck. My 7-year old mind didn’t hold on to such details. But I do remember that the fire started in the bed of this vehicle. I remember voices screaming about the full tank of gas and the gas can in the bed of the truck. I remember having to put a coat on over my pajamas. But the thing I remember the most was that I was sick. Puking sick.
The first lesson my 7-year old self learned: don’t live in a house with only one door. Because what I remember next is that when the fire started we escaped the house by going toward the fire. As I was shuttled to the backyard for cover, I remember the way the flames undulated and licked the trees. Everyone was praying that the fire department might arrive before the trees caught fire. At that time and for many years after, our town had only a volunteer-based fire station and many of them lived in surrounding towns, not in our town. Even though the fire station was a few blocks away, the firefighters were not there and were being dispatched from their homes. Meanwhile time stopped while the fire burned.
Important detail. I grew up in the small town that made national news in 2016 by being desperately threatened and evacuated during the Blue Cut Fire. It burned more than 36,000 acres, destroying 105 homes and 213 outbuildings. Hundreds of fires consume the landscape every year.
Wildfires are a terrifying, natural part of that landscape.
So here we are in the middle of the San Bernardino/Angeles National Forests with a truck on fire in the front yard. My next lesson is that fire is a wild consuming dragon that can zip out of control. Fire runs up and down mountainsides scorching everything in its path. Fire is fast and indifferent. Fire is ravenous and greedy.
And yet, fire is life.
Fire is warm, energetic, and passionate. Fire is communication, zipping through our phones and computers. Fire is in our bodies, enlivening our nervous systems, allowing our muscles to move, and when fire gets blocked it leads to inflammation and disease. With fire comes great risk, death, destruction, pollution of the other elements: earth, water, and air.
But when fire is balanced with the elements of earth, water, and air, there is vitality. These sacred elements are the foundation of many traditions. Herbalism, medicine, religion, politics, and philosophy were understood in relation to the four elements in indigenous societies.
There is a story that I know little about, but it rests on the four elements, the four directions, and the four races that were responsible for protecting the elements. The white race was responsible for fire, the yellow for air, the red for earth, and the black for water. (If you know this story, please contact us. I want to know more.) It is easy to see how fire is exploited; not honored or protected. The pursuit of fire plundered water, earth, and air to the point that many of us wonder how we can survive with all of the pollution.
So here I am considering my own relationship with fire. When I saw the flames shooting out of the barn into the trees I was overtaken with fear and shocked when Charles said “it’s beautiful.” When I finally caught hold of my breath, I remembered that he was a firefighter for ten years in a damp climate where forest fires are uncommon. Standing there watching the core of our personal local food system burn, I was seven years old. I was remembering the glance I had of the fire in the truck, I was remembering the fires that regularly consume southern California, I was remembering the arson in North Dakota, but mostly I was remembering the burn of regurgitated Pepto-Bismol and why I hate the color pink.
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We want to express gratitude to those who have already visited to help and offer support: Will and Gretchen from Cherry Hill Ecological Farm, Patrick and Julia from Octagon Acres, Max and Marilyn from Happy Greens, herbalist Nicki Schneider, herbalist Leslie Alexander from Restoration Herbs, and Jo Feterle from Red Sky Apiary.
Since the fire, we’ve been a bit overwhelmed with text messages and emails. I have allowed myself to set them aside and just say here, that they are appreciated. I understand that many of you want to help and so here are some ways in which you can help depending on your resources and traditions.
Consider your relationship with fire
Burn a traditional incense for prosperity (in the Irish tradition that I feel strongly connected to through ancestry and my practice of herbalism, the plants of prosperity include peppermint, coltsfoot, fir tips, bayberry, comfrey, sage and vervain)
Lay down or burn tobacco or corn meal
Help us rebuild (sign up to get updates through the newsletter icon in the left hand column)
Bring or send food or other comfort items (contact us for the address if you don’t have it)
These are some of my favorite pictures from the four years that I have been teaching the community herbal intensives. I have been so happy to work with all these lovely people as they expand their herbal knowledge. They all brought insight and experience to classes that helped all of us learn more about integrating herbs into daily living.
Join the Community Herbal Intensive 2018!
Here are some of the herbal and foraging skills you will develop by attending this monthly series:
Basic botany and plant identification
From field to apothecary: wild crafting, foraging, and garbling
Medicine making: oils, salves, tinctures, cordials, and more
Materia medica: the study of herbal actions
Constitution and Energetics: how to match the herbal actions in plants to people