Is this true?

Winter is officially over today. A season that will indelibly mark my timeline. A season that I won’t soon forget. One of auspicious beginnings (Asplundh) and devastating endings (barn fire). And all the while, glowing eyes in my peripherals. Coyote dances. Br’er Rabbit laughs. Dionysus drunkenly blurs from form to form.Br'er Rabbit and Tar-Baby.jpg The Tricksters are the most enigmatic characters in human lore. At once reviled and again revered. They, among all the gods and heroes, wielded the power to transgress normative social boundaries in order to expose the underlying truths. Sewing chaos and discord, their lesson are the most profound because they are never simply given. In every case, those lessons are earned in pain suffering blood. I recently heard how Loki, the Norse Trickster, was able to fool even Odin at times, and how in every case, those fooled were better off for it. I was not fooled in order to learn my lessons, but the price was certainly dear. There was no trickery that morning. Nothing but wind, snow and a power surge. There was, perhaps, some level of Cosmic Trickery in getting me to quit my last job as a carpet cleaner. When I put in my notice, I thought that I was heading back into “the Trades.” Not into a whole new line of work. A whole new thought process.

Loki with his mouth sewn shut. 1000 C.E.

Only slightly earlier than the new job, and before winter, if anyone is counting, I dropped out of the activist community. Rather, my tongue got me unceremoniously attacked, slandered and effectively banished, by a mouthy overzealous and overly judgmental vocal minority. That said, I brought it upon myself by saying things that were sure to get a rise out of those same people, even if I didn’t intentionally set out to get that rise out of them. But rise they did. And this was probably the beginning of my latest transformation. I left the Action Medical Community, something which I was part of for almost 20 years. It was my guiding principal for a large portion of those years. It defined me.

Just like Public safety and the Fire Service/EMS defined the first 10 years that I was in Conneaut. Having lost the, once, familiar mooring of that community, I was able to free my mind of the constraints of those same moorings. It gave me the space to transform myself. Then too, leaving the carpet cleaning business allowed me the space and time to reimagine myself as something other than a hammer swinger. It afforded me the room to become a tree trimmer. Just exactly what will come of the barn fire remains to be seen, but I am open to what comes. Whatever shape shifting that is necessary will be welcomed, in spite of the attendant unpleasantness.

It is this shape-shifting that is the hallmark of the Trickster Gods. The ability to transform themselves into whatever character is most pertinent and effective for getting themselves (or others) out of the situation that they have found themselves in. It is in this reimagining of self that the lessons are born; that true growth occurs.

Why I Hate the Color Pink

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Me at 7 with my brother Nate, age 5.

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)
  • Send money to help us recover at our donation page: https://trilliumcenter.org/how-to-help/

Much gratitude to you all and to the element of fire for reminding us of the tenuous nature of life and death.

2:10 Friday morning

This is a story I wish I never had to write. My heart aches. But my eyes are clear and I’ve accepted the lessons.

I awoke unsure of the time. Noticing an orange glow from the bedroom window, I wrongly assumed dawn had come, that my alarm had failed. I was wrong. Looking out I saw an 8′ flame standing in the southern peak of the barn and my heart cracked. I can still feel the bewilderment and anguish as I cried out,” MY GOD, THE BARN’S ON FIRE!!”

My god, the girls, my god, THE GIRLS!!!

Leah’s cries seemed to come from another world, as I bolted from the room. I gave her my phone and told her to call 911. I threw on a coat and boots over my sleeping clothes and sprinted to the barn. The windows were dark, which meant the fire was in the loft. I had little hope. Ann’s body was partially blocking the door. In my effort to push it open, my elbow went through the window. Time stopped as I stared into the darkness. The silence was total, nothing moved except the thick smoke. My decade on the fire department told me that only death awaits inside. I dragged Ann clear, but she, though seemingly uninjured, was lifeless and cold. None of the others came forward. My worst fears confirmed. Time started again and I could hear the hissing crackle above in the loft. The fire, fed by the inrush of air from the open door, leapt from the roof, shooting 20′ into the winter storm that had descended upon us the night before.

So I backed off. And waited an eternity for the first responding unit. This is when I snapped the picture above. In that eternal moment.

By the time they left, around 430, my world had changed. Coyote had come to visit, gleefully sewing mischief to teach me a hard cold lesson I never wanted but obviously needed. Here’s the punchline , I would go from that smoking ruin to work 3 16 hour days helping people who had lost power due to trees on power lines in the very same storm. A storm that brought 50+ mph wind gusts and 8″ of snow. There was nothing I could do about the animals. The fire smoldered until a new 2″ snow fall on the following Wednesday stomped it down. See, there were 40 bales of straw and 25 bales of hay in the loft. It would have taken several thousand more gallons of water to eradicate the fire for good. It was Monday evening after work before we could address removing the bodies. Here is where my most profound lessons lie.

Disseminating the news showed me that we finally have true friends in the area. Folks who truly GET IT when it comes to a loss like this. When I asked for folks to check on Leah, they didn’t hesitate. That embrace was inspiring. When I asked for help dealing with the dead, again, they came without hesitation. I could see in their eyes that sense of loss I felt in my gut. Yes, they likely felt for Leah and I, but I suspect they were thinking of their own farms and their own families. In those quiet moments , as we lifted the dead from the cold ground, wreathed in smoke, my heart was lifted, even as I wept. And as I wept, I knew that I wept not for myself, for the loss of brick and mortar, wood and nails, rather I wept for the loss of life. Such fragile creatures, tentative sparks of life, however limited in their self awareness. I wept for the unborn, never having seen the sun. I wept for having failed them. For not guarding them. Not providing them a place to flourish. Coyote took notice of my tears. I believe Coyote smiled his viscous, knowing smile then, safe in the knowledge of a lesson learned. I feel that he also smiled, knowing of how tragedy can draw people together. While the cost of this lesson was steep, I am grateful.

An awkward moment occurred as the fire raged, I smiled. Even then, I could feel Coyote dancing just out of sight. I even laughed at one point. Laughed out loud in fact. If someone had been standing there with me, they would have thought me mad. “I guess I won’t need to be buying feed for a while. Think of all the money I’ll save.”

There are many more lessons to be learned here. I can suspect, at least, the topic of a few of them. But others will remain a mystery until Coyote decides I’m ready for them.

Life is a big funny thing.

Anyone wishing to help us recoup the costs of what I’m sure will be an extensive, expensive process, can go to our How to Help page, and find the donation button. Thank you in advance.

A note to anyone commenting on Facebook. I, Charles, don’t have FB access, so I can’t see any of your posts. If you want to reach out to me directly, contact me at charles@trilliumcenter.org .

Also, this has been a VERY trying time for both Leah and myself. Sharing the news of this event has been slow, due, mainly, to being forced to relive those terrible hours with every retelling. It was hard enough the first time. If we don’t get back to you quickly, please be patient with us.

Community Herbal Intensive 1

Early Bird Discount is extended until February 15!

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
  • Basic anatomy and physiology
  • Creating herbal projects
  • Basic herb safety

Learn more at: https://trilliumcenter.org/about/trillium-center/community-herbal-intensives/

Or click here to request an application: https://trilliumcenter.org/contact-us/

Early Bird Discount is offered until February 15!

7 Lake Erie Mushrooms

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I’ve been walking in the woods and coming across several common mushrooms. It’s not a gathering time of year, but it’s nice to know where they are if I ever need them. Several medicinal and edible mushrooms are common in NE Ohio and NW Pennsylvania. Some more common than others. Chaga, once common in my area is now on United Plant Savers at-risk list. Partly, because it isn’t easy to grow like oyster or turkey tail mushrooms.

I am offering a short class on seven common mushrooms. It will focus on 7 mushrooms that are common to the area. I have been using these mushrooms for many years as food and medicine. Learn the basic identification skills, ethics of gathering, medicinal uses, energetics, and methods of making teas, broths, and tinctures. Mushrooms include turkey tails, chanterelles, varnished conk (aka reishi), chicken of the woods, artist’s conk, hen of the woods, and boletes. For those who will never pick wild mushrooms, I will offer tips on purchasing growing kits or mushroom powders and other preparations.

Mushrooms offer many nourishing and healing qualities. They are known to make vitamin D even after they’ve been picked. They are high in trace minerals and polysaccharides. Learn more about what they do, how they might work, and what to do with them.

7 Lake Erie Mushrooms

January 27, 2-6 PM

Center for Growth
2049 West Prospect Rd (Rt 20)
Ashtabula, Ohio 44004

Sliding-scale donation $20-40*

 

How to register:

Sign up is requested by Jan. 20 using our contact page with the word “mushrooms” in the comment block: https://trilliumcenter.org/contact-us/

*When a donation range is offered, it is called a sliding-scale donation, meaning pay what you can afford in the range. If you can pay more, it means you are paying it forward. Payment options will be sent to you when you sign up.

 

100_1923This class is taught by herbalist and forager Leah Wolfe. Leah has been studying herbs and philosophies around healing for 25 years and teaching for more than 10 years. She completed a masters degree in public health in 2009. She has been teaching in NE Ohio at the Trillium Center, an educational project she co-founded) since 2013.

 

 

Learning Wild Plants One Month at a Time

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
  • Basic anatomy and physiology
  • Creating herbal projects
  • Basic herb safety

Learn more at: https://trilliumcenter.org/about/trillium-center/community-herbal-intensives/

Or click here to request an application: https://trilliumcenter.org/contact-us/

Early Bird Discount is offered until February 1!

St. John’s Wort Immersion

In the depths of winter, a special workshop and initiation will be held to celebrate the plant…

St. John’s wort.

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January 12-13, 2018
Ashtabula, Ohio

REGISTER HERE

St. John’s wort is known for its ability to “let in the light” and as a healer of wounds. Come learn of the vast physical, emotional, mental and spiritual healing qualities of this common weed.

During this immersion and initiation you will learn about this plant through your senses. You will taste and smell tea, tincture, flower essence, and more. You will feel oil on your skin. We will start with the herbal actions that St. John’s wort has on the body. Then, explore the emotional and mental healing St. John’s wort offers to the mind. Finally, to experience the spiritual aspects of the plant, we will work with visualizations and the dreaming aspects of plant medicines.

Together, we will make an elixir of St. John’s wort and will talk about how to identify it in the field. We will cover the chemistry, history, herbal actions, energetics, folklore, and traditional uses of this herb that is popular today as an antidepressant herb. Come learn how St. John’s wort is much, much more…  and why using it incorrectly may bring you the thing you are trying to avoid.

We will begin in the evening on Jan 12 so we can experience setting of the sun and the morning sun shining on Lake Erie while delving into the healing of St. John’s wort during the darkest days of winter. We will end on the evening of Jan 13 after spending 24 hours learning and sensing and experiencing the vitality of this illuminating herb. The class will be held at a lake side home in the historic harbor district of Ashtabula, Ohio.
SJW tincture
Homeopathic doses and flower essences will be offered for participants concerned about drug interactions.

REGISTER HERE

The cost of the program is $85-100 per person depending on whether you’d like a bed or would like to take a couch. Fees cover lodging, class materials and supplies, and instructor costs.

an educational center for natural arts