The first time I ever opened a book about flower essences I cried. Tears just sprang out of my eyes— not out of sadness per say, but out of a deep well of recognition. I remember I was sitting in the near darkness in my room in Brooklyn, a long boxcar of a space called a “railroad” without windows or proper doors, and suddenly it was like I was in the mist of an out-of-the-blue baptism.
I call tears like this “truth cries.” When something just hits you as so irrevocably true, so deeply in tune with your being, that part of you just weeps. Often these tears take me by surprise, like finding a precious heirloom that has been lost for a long time. In that moment, the dam that was blocking you from remembering a piece of who you are, simply dissolves. And suddenly, you feel more yourself than you were just a moment ago.
Often you can’t even put into words why you feel so deeply— but you know, in a place before words, you’ve made a connection that you will never lose again.
In moments like these, we find our essence once more.
And the amazing thing is, the more we make these connections to medicines that can help us to re-member ourselves, the more truth literally cries out to us.
Once the world of flower essences opened for me these experiences of profound self-revelation began to happen all the time. The flowers tugged lovingly at the hem of my pants, and now I knew why they were whispering to me — they wanted to help me come back home to my own being. And with the art of flower essence, I knew how to open to their medicine.
Every spring I make a flower essence that is my “core essence” for that new season. I work with the essence for the duration of the spring and every year that flower helps me to open up, bloom, discover more of my core essence. My journey becomes increasingly graceful, I learn more about who I truly am. And yes, truth cries happen often, in the best and most medicinal ways.
Each spring a flower will call out to you, too. When it blooms you might feel an untethered joy, a stirring, maybe even a few tears. Or maybe it’ll come in as a simple sense of curiosity, intrigue, or the awe or suddenly seeing a flower as if it were the first time.
The blooms that are waving to you now, the ones that have shown up in your yard with a delight of color, piquing your imagination, are wanting to work with you this spring. Trust me. This is how it all begins.
Right now, there is a flower that wants to help you touch into the core essence of your own being.
And you opened this missive today because you are ready to receive its medicine.
When I first started making flower essences there were very few resources online (I remember I literally bookmarked a geosites website from the early 2000s to reference). Of course, today there are many more guides, but I wanted to create one directly from my own experience to share with all of you here.
Keep reading for my video guide to making a flower essence, and create your own “core essence” to help you bloom into a whole new era of self-knowledge this spring.
And if you are ready to dive even deeper into plant communication— cultivating the ability to access your own medicine, and working with the healing of the natural world— come join me for Intuitive Plant Medicine!
In this eight-week online course we explore how to embody the blooms of who we are, and become like an essence (full of so much medicine) for this world. We also go into even more richer flower essence practice with information about attunement, dosaging, formulation, essence acupuncture and so much more.
The gateway for registration closes this Saturday April 28th!
I hope to bloom with you there.
Learning how to see the world is a precious experience indeed. To be able to pick out the plants by name, to notice the dandelions and the chickweed, to delight in the specific history of things. For so long in the western world our human narrative has been distanced from that of the landscape’s. Like a play with an elaborate backdrop, everything beyond our own storylines was just background. Healing this blind spot has been a vital correction— one that is helping us to regain the kind of “second sight” that only comes when we can recognize the aliveness of the earth.
But sometimes we spend so much time trying to see clearly again that we forget the most basic and unbelievably heartwarming truth of all— that we are also being seen
For as much of a revelation as it is for us to take off the blindfold and once again recognize the natural world as our kin, the living denizens of the earth never stopped seeing us as part of everything.
In their eyes, we have always been a character in the wider narrative arc of things.
A few mornings ago, this all came knocking at my window.
I had just woken up and was taking my sweet time, like a cat savoring the milklight of morning. In no hurry to get up, I was ruminating about what I wanted to write for this post (yes, I spend long mornings thinking about these missives! Writing them is a true joy in my life). Sometimes the muse stacks up and there is a veritable catalogue of things I’m feeling drawn to talk about. This particular morning however, I couldn’t get over this one thought—what would be different if we all walked about the world knowing that we were truly seen?
I was turning over the wonder of this idea when I heard a tap at the window. I ignored it as a play from the wind, until I heard the tap again. I sat up in bed. There, perched on the window sill and peering directly in at me was a saffron-colored Goldfinch. Warm as copper in the morning light, she looked at me, directly into me, and then tapped the glass one more. Softly, like a fingertip knocking on the door of a loved one who is expecting you. I gazed right back and said with wide eyes “Thank you.” And then she turned and flew off.
The need to be seen isn’t an act of ego or self-centered solipsism, it’s a natural part of becoming in this world. Without being seen, how will the flower attract the bee? Without being recognized by those that surround you, how can you give your gifts to the wider community?
To be seen means to belong once more to everything.
I remember the first birding class I ever took. The instructors told us that one of the most common misconceptions of the beginning birder is to assume that the forests are always alive with loud calls, when what they are actually hearing is the birds passing on the message that there is a human in the midst. Those same calls are then picked up and spread from one end of the forest to another, traveling from bird to fox to deer.
So often we go about the world thinking that we are invisible, irredeemable or simply alone— meanwhile the whole forest is responding to us being there. We assume that what we are hearing is the ongoing hub of a world that doesn’t see us, meanwhile, what we are tuning into is the world continually responding to our presence.
It’s a hard thing, a vulnerable thing to let yourself be really seen. To realize that you are an intricate part of things. To peel back our layers of professionalism or status and just be as we are— a human being, goofy, loving, learning, fallible. But this is also where all true connection and healing begins.
At some point in time I started moving past the sometimes manic need to see (name, categorize, ID), and just let myself be seen— in all my tender foibles and my earnestness. And when I did my whole understanding, of myself and the earth, got so much richer.
What would happen if you walked through the world and could know that you were being seen by the trees, the creeks, the hawk high up and circling in the sky? That you are not alone? That the part of you that aches to rejoin the wider ecology of the world is being recognized as the unique and important being that you are?
When we are seen, everything changes.
We become free to truly just be ourselves, in their entirety.
There is, right now, a whole community in the green and growing world that is not only ready to see you, but to show yourself to you again.
Are you ready to meet them?
Then, come join me for Intuitive Plant Medicine, an eight-week online program that will guide you in developing deep relationships with the natural world. Registration closes April 28th and won’t open again until next year.
Come, learn, join us and welcome in the magic that is waiting to embrace you again. I would love to see you there.
The heart is not just a mindless muscle. Nor is it the simple stuff of greeting cards or blockbuster movies or even cardiology exams. In truth, the heart is a gate. And what lies beyond, and within, is the ability to access real magic.
Many different medicine systems around the world have long recognized what western science is now only beginning to discover— that our hearts are not just an anatomical function of our body, they are the enchanted center from which we were meant to think, interact and live.
Thinking with the heart means becoming indigenous to your own body once again. It means returning home to yourself and your belonging. When you come into coherence with your heart, you can recognize the truth, your truth, in any situation.
Living from the heartspace allows you to experience the full-textured rainbow of existence— including that which normally lies below your brain’s field of perception.
When we tune into our heart’s frequency, we invite the possibility of a divine and daily harmony.
This time of the year we’re handed a pretty watered-down version of what it means to live from the heartspace. Boxed chocolate and declarations written in the snow. Pre-packaged self-love or prescriptive romance. Sometimes it’s enough to want to toss the whole holiday in the bin. But, this moment in mid-winter can also carry a truly potent call to step back into the diverse power of our hearts. To reconnect to a life that is wondrous, and worthwhile.
All great magic, myth, meditation and realization first spins out from here— our ability to drop into our heart. It is the secret that the ancient mystery schools taught their initiates and the force that drives us to seek love again and again. A heart-based life is one that involves truly falling, not just in love, but into resonance with the world around you and your own destiny. In today’s world, we tend to spend most of our time in brain-based thinking (and all the stress and dissonance that can bring). But life, real life, begins when we learn how to think with heartspace.
The heart is fed most fully by two things: truth and possibility. When we learn how to reconnect to our heartspace, our world becomes filled with the healing of these two medicines and all the irrefutable self-knowledge and miraculous opportunity they can bring.
So come step into your heart. Entrain with your truth. And experience the magic of a life lived in deep union with your own being.
If you are ready to work with the powerful portal that is your own heart— to heal from heartbreak, anchor into deep states of self-love, call in a soul companion or simply to experience more of the magic available to you in this world— come join me for a new online class: Herbs for the Heartgate.
In the class we explore current science, as well as Chinese medicine traditions, to begin to understand the truly numinous gateways that are our hearts. We meet the plants who are deep experts in helping us to tend these gates and learn how to connect into their medicine with recipes, exercises and guided meditations.
Keep scrolling to learn more, and get a small taste of the course with my new video guide to Herbs + Stones for the Heartgate.
>> Herbs for the Heartgate <<
A new online audio class that explores the true nature of our hearts as organs of perception, awareness, and magic.
Explore the herbal allies who can help us tend our hearts, learning how to nurture, protect, open and understand these most potent portals. Inlaid with recipes, exercises and meditations, this course is a gateway unto itself. When we learn how to tend our hearts, we can swing open the door to whole new eras of serenity, self-love, and healing.
Enter the gateway and learn…
* How shifting from brain into heart can literally save your life (and massively reduce your stress levels)
* Tools and allies for empaths, sensitives, and those navigating this grief-laden epoch
* Methods for connecting into your truth and perceiving clarity in relationships
* Ways to open a deep and direct connection to the plants
* Grounded information based on current scientific research as well as the ancient system of Chinese medicine
* How to experience more magic, possibility and connection in the world through healing our hearts
* Herbal recipes for opening psychedelic heart space and nourishing joy
The class includes a 70 minute audio lesson, a PDF with five in-depth materia medica and accompanying plant medicine recipes, a vocal exercise for plant connection, and two guided meditations. Sign up now and listen at your leisure for only $29.
Want a taste of the class material? Check out this new guide to my favorite plants and stones for oiling the hinges on the Heartgate
As a culture we prize all things brightly illuminated. We cherish the summer and grow bitter in the cold. We electrify our homes to be white as daylight and build with the biggest windows pointing south. But here in the mountains, where old homesteads are short and dark as shiitakes and often set into the north end of things (leaving the scant scraps of southern exposure for fields of tobacco or grain) there is an old standing appreciation of northlight and the particular brand of diffuse illumination it can bring.
Every shade of light has its own gifts and abilities to help us see. If southlight is fluorescent— direct, overhead and uncompromising— then northlight is phosphorescence itself. A gentling force that can coax up the surface the light that lives within the bones of things. Northlight is the muted green of lichen on a quiet tree. It is unglazed porcelain. Northlight is the diffuse incandescence coming through your blankets in the morning— and it is a cocoon for creativity.
A Gathering of Bloodroots by luminous local artist Stephanie Thomas Berry
In our mountains, it is the north-facing coves that birth the most diverse profusion of spring ephemerals and medicinals. They need the gentle indirectness of the north in order to thrive. Artists, like our rare flowers, are also devotees of northlight. Studios with northfacing windows are often the most esteemed spaces for creating as northlight is so ideal for capturing the nuances of color, texture and tone. Southern light may be bright, but it is a volatile pour— ever shifting, casting shadows and contrast with every turn. Northlight, in comparison, is as consistent and gently illuminating as the ambiance of a forest floor.
In the milkglow of northlight we can experience a wider, quieter gradient of life. We can touch the texture of things, tend to the subtle. Northlight helps us to appreciate what often goes unnoticed, to attune ourselves to feeling tones. In the north we are given time and space to come into our realizations. Like a chai steamed with milk and sipped over a long morning, revelations can come in slow.
In winter we are invited to bath in the gentle dilution of all northlight. To step away from the harsh spotlight of major life overhauls, the big harvests of beginnings or reapings. And to experience a bit of consistency, simplicity. Northlight nurtures an appreciation of the littlest things. Warm china and soft hands. Well-worn flannel and the tiny echo of the stars.
We all move through times of winter and its northlight. Winters of the land, winters within our relationships or emotional lives, the wintering of our bodies into elderhood. In our culture we are conditioned to resist this wintering with every resource available. But what happens when we can embrace the light that lives there? When we can see such times of round-about illumination, of quieting and survival, not as condemnations of dimness or lack, but as spacious stretches where we can explore the texture of our own beings. To appreciate the full gradients of our feelings, without judgement and without despair. To hold our lives like a palm of moonstone, gentle, opalescent and full of their own meaning.
Try this season to immerse yourself in northlight and all the gentle creativity it can bring. Sit in a room with north facing windows or go for a walk on the north end of your street. See what feelings arise when you allow this diffusion to enter the pores of your being.
Interested in invoking and embodying your own pole star of creativity this winter? Check out my new youtube video: Stones for Creative Flow
A quiet has settled over these hills in the past few weeks. A hush that rises from the fading amber of the landscape and its open-limbed winds. The ebb of everything speaking to a deep need to withdraw and rest; an ache to refind one’s inner space.
For the Celts, the time following Samhain marked the waning of work, and the waxing of winter’s magics. Traditionally, harvesting ceased after Samhain. The squashes in the field left as food for the unseen. As life drains back to the roots, many of us are feeling this call to cease the ceaseless doing and reclaim the quietude of our inner terrain. And at the center of our ache to create this space is the desire for something that looks so very much like sovereignty.
I’ve been having a bit of a love affair with this word recently. Samhain, in the Celtic calendar, marks the beginning of the new year. With each new turn of the wheel, I like to choose a word as my personal emblem and yearly theme. For this new year my word is: Sovereignty.
Wikipedia defines sovereignty as “the full right and power of a governing body over itself, without any interference from outside sources or bodies.” To be sovereign means that you imbue yourself with the full right to take care of yourself, your energy, your needs. It means crowning yourself as the maker and maintainer of your own destiny. Claiming your power as well as your responsibility, and acknowledging that the two are one in the same.
Sovereignty creates boundaries where there were none, marking the outlines of where everything else ends and you begin. Sovereignty is about tending the borders of your own fields. Curating what you welcome into your space (including news and social media) and deciding, once and for all, that you are willing to take care of your own inner landscape. Sovereignty gives you back to yourself in a time when you feel scattered to the winds.
It reminds me of a historical truth I heard long ago about Celtic peoples and their governance. Traditional Celtic male rulers were very literally wedded to the land in a ceremony called banais ríghi. In their crowning, they agreed to uphold a sacred covenant between human culture and the more-than human world. And it was from the land, the bride who contained all the powers of the fertile and feminine unseen, that they were given their sovereignty. Their right to protect, guard, rule, govern and decide all came from their ability to commit themselves to the power, potency and desires of the unseen.
Our personal sovereignty lies within our ability to connect to our own inner landscapes, the fertility of what lies in the terrain of our personal unseen. When we take a step away from the outer world, we can access the regenerative soil of our connection to Otherworlds and sow the seeds of our own sovereignty.
So how does it feel to put on the crown of your own being? To know that you have the ability to claim the throne at the center of your own existence? That you can chose yes or no? That you can decide how to feel, or where you want to give your energy? That you are the ruler of your own destiny? This is self-sovereignty. And it is how we protect the chalice of our days.
In a time where the subtle come in quick as dusk the land itself is asking us to reclaim our own sovereignty by connecting to the unseen. To learn how to listen to the terrain inside of our own being and recommit ourselves in a sacred marriage to our inner fields.
So, take this time before we enter into the holidays to ground, center, and become sovereign. Decide where your boundaries lie. Mark the corners of your fields, with time spent in quiet solace and warm solitude. Take time to listen to your deeper needs. Time in the bath or with your hands in well-kneaded dough. Time to brush out your hair or massage your feet with sesame oil. Time to realize what you truly crave, so that you can stand strong in your own crowning, and be at peace.
At some point growing up I adopted the belief that to be spiritual was to be un-intellectual. That intuition, even though it sounded lovely, wasn’t grounded or practical. And even though I was always a sensitive and dreamy kid, at a young age I was set to prove that I too could be smart, rational, based in physical reality, and above all, “realistic.”
And so it wasn’t until I was in my early twenties that I started to believe in faeries. It wasn’t until I become an adult that I started talking to trees in earnest. It wasn’t until I experienced chronic illness and understood, for the first time, that I existed on many levels (and that healing, true healing, happened on every single one of those levels) that I accessed a layer of magic within the world that is real, tangible. It wasn’t until this point in my life that I realized— the world, this world that I live in, is animated by sentience and consciousness. And so anything is possible.
Continue reading “Opening Earth Intuition”
Belief in reincarnation was common throughout the ancient world. It is found in the oral tradition of many tribal societies, including the cultures of Siberia, Greece, the Celtic Druids as well as many peoples in Western Africa, North America and Australia. Reincarnation is a central tenant to many world religions including Hinduism, Jainisim, Buddhism, Taoism, ancient Kabbalistic Judaism, and certain sects of early Christianity. Take joy in exploring your multi-hued self!
Interested in going deeper? Check out light-hearted video guide to exploring the lake of time. Connect with the herbal realm to access other lifetimes + imaginative aspects of your inner self.
The rugged and fog-softened beauty of the California coast. Myths, mysticism and re-wilding. Warm pots of tea and delightful trails through time-warn fables. This month I am delighted to be sharing an interview with one of my favorite authors alive– Sylvia Victor Linsteadt. Sylvia is both shamaness and wordsmith, a creator and collector of gorgeously spun tales and deeper states of mystery. Each one of Sylvia’s stories is as glitteringly unique as a songbird’s nest. Woven from ancient folklore, ecological exploration, land-based knowledge and the enduring webs of mythology, Sylvia’s tales are nurturing portals to a new world. Almost a year ago Sylvia and I stumbled across each other’s work at the same time (fated re-meetings seems to work like that, I find!).
The first time I read one of Sylvia’s stories it felt like climbing back into the great tree of who I was… that ancient, standing, growing being who was intricately connected to the living world around me. I am forever grateful to Sylvia and her tales– not only for their sweeping vistas and sensuous detail, endless inspiration and intricacies– but for what they incite in me. Within her stories is the flicker of the ancient, the glimmer of a thoughtfully re-imagined destiny. Through her tales I can see, once more, the cradling mystery of everyday being, the endurance of this beautiful world existing, always, around me. I am so thankful for Sylvia and her story medicine, her Wild Talewort.
Drink deep from the following interview and enjoy. If you find you are thirsty (and I think you might just be) head over to Sylvia’s gorgeous blog and website to find out about how you can receive tidings from her brand new project, Elk Lines, hand-stamped and sent to your very own postbox.
Your stories are such a jaw-droppingly vibrant mixture of ecology, naturalism, mysticism, and myth. You are, in my esteemed estimation, a truly exciting boundary bender! If you had to define your writing style (or that stories that most want to come through you) what would you say?
This question has always been a challenge for me, because in this world of ours we so enjoy making boxes around genres, severing the bonds between poetry and prose; we delight in calling a thing “Nature-writing” or “Romantic Poetry” or “Literary Fiction,” but have trouble when Literary Fiction becomes streaked with the fantastic, a lyric voice, and the wild lives of trees. Is it fantasy? Is it nature-writing? I’ve always felt that writing is the loom upon which I can weave the many strands of wonder, sorrow, beauty and story I see in the world—poetic, ecological, folkloric, downright magical, whatever it may be. So my writing style is all of it at once. Sometimes I think I’m really a poet wearing the patched and furred coat of a storyteller, so even “fiction” can be tricky for me as a category to place myself in. Anyhow, I’m rambling on here, but in a nutshell I’d say this style of mine is some wild country where poetry, magical realism, myth, animism and ecology meet.
The easiest. The hardest question… Why do you write?
Indeed. And it is a long and a short story. Writing is my way into the heart of the world—its wildness, its strange magic, its beauty, its terrors, its sadness, its joy. Metaphor (a favorite of mine) is an act of shape-shifting, of remembering that each thing is hitched to the next in the great cyclical transformation of energy, from sun to seed to doe to cougar and back to worm; the line between ourselves and the wild world is thin indeed. Writing (thick with metaphor) is the means through which I can praise the wild mystery of this world, and also explore its unseen realms—the realms inside the hearts of bears and granite stones and buckeye trees; the lands just the other side of the moon and the fog, the lives of men and women long ago or just around the corner. If I were buckeye tree, then writing would be the buckeyes that fruit at the ends of my limbs come late August. In other words, writing is the thing made in me from all the waters and winds and soils and stories that come through my five senses (or six), and it feels very inevitable, like the buckeyes at the end of summer.
Also, I have always been an avid reader; especially as a child I devoured books that told of magical worlds and lands, lady-knights and healers, the everyday peasant life of Old Europe (especially Scotland & Ireland), talking animals, caravans of camel nomads, druids, long adventures on horseback. Such books literally shaped and changed my life. They informed the way I see the world today—as a place much more mysterious and full of wild magics than we tend to believe, where everything is alive and everything speaks. So I write because writing is even better than reading in the sense that you really get to go to those places in your imagination, and give them to other people. The stories we tell ourselves and each other form the world in which we live, and so I write both selfishly—shaping my own way of seeing the world—and because if I can give single ember to another like the tales I have read have given to me, then I am happy.
So many people dream of supporting themselves through their craft, but in our culture it’s assumed that making a living through ones arts is not only daunting, but entirely unattainable for all but an inspired few! What has been your relationship with such commonly culturally held beliefs? How have you been able to cast aside such (if any) doubts?
Stubbornness, a dreamer’s heart, fierce love. These are the three things that keep my feet on this path, this wild and difficult and beautiful way. I think that especially in the age of this great strange internet, it is much more possible for independent artists to make their way, because we can circumvent the usual channels and reach out ourselves to our readers, our listeners, our viewers. This also means that we have to be creator, secretary, office assistant, publicist and marketing specialist all in one, but when you are doing what you love, and the thing you love is touching the hearts of other people, somehow you can just manage it all, juggling five different work-hats. (Though sometimes this means that things like weekends or work hours stop existing, and you may find yourself working Sunday morning, Tuesday night at eleven, etc.) In the end, it is actually very simple, in the sense that you must simply decide for yourself that this is just what you’re going to do, and then stubbornly, doggedly, hold to that promise with all of your heart and soul, because it is what you love, because this is your life, your path, your chance to be here, and the world deserves what it is you are best able to give. This is not always an easy thing to believe, or to hold to, but it can be done. Personally, I’m simply stubborn as a mule. Once I got the taste of this path, I knew there was no going back. Oh—and that dreamer’s heart. You have to believe in it, despite all the voices; you have to believe in the way that dreamers and children believe, your heart a balloon of hope. It’s hard to believe like this all the time, but if your heart is a balloon of dreams and hopes at least once every day, it sure smoothes the way.
Tell us a bit about your new project: Elk Lines!
Elk Lines, my newest Wild Tales By Mail project for adults, is a rewilding of the old Hungarian version of “The Handless Maiden” tale, set on the Point Reyes Peninsula of Northern California. Each of its eight installments make up one continuous novel, and are mailed to my subscribers—wax-sealed, in lovingly hand-stamped envelopes!— to arrive upon the eight seasonal festivals of the year, in the old Celtic tradition: the Autumn Equinox (September 21st); Samhain (November 1st); the Winter Solstice (December 21st); Imbolc (February 1st); the Spring Equinox (March 21st); Beltane (May 1st); the Summer Solstice (June 21st), and Lughnasadh (August 1st). My own hand-drawn “map” or “songline” of the season accompanies each installment, to further root readers into the landscape of Point Reyes and the lives of the plants and animals who dwell there.
Elk Lines is a roving, ambling novel about the power of our walking feet and our story-making hands. At it’s core, it is the tale of Eda Crost and the re-growing of her lost hands, but it is also the tale of the mythic Elk People, who roam Point Reyes with herds of tule elk, emerging from the Peninsula’s sudden fogs, and who show Eda how to follow the songlines, the hooflines, the feral palmistry of the land: the way to dig a root, trail an elk, gather a bulb, tend a seed to blooming, and to laugh long and loud into the ragged, airplane plumed night. Elk Lines is set in the world we know, with its highways and telephone wires and lightbulbs and gas-stations, but it is also set in the mythtime that has always, and will always, interfuse our every moment: in the place bare-foot touches dirt, the place just the other side of the fog-bank, the place inside the eyes of elk, who have known us longer than we have known ourselves. And don’t worry—amidst all the elk and the foot-prints, the wandering and sparrow song and summer-gold dawns, there is a love story, there is the birth of a little boy, there is an orchard full of pears, there is a childhood, and violin music, and the ringing, laughing kindness of strangers.
As it happens, now is a perfect time to come and subscribe in time for the autumn equinox, September 21st, when the next mailing arrives in post boxes all around the world! Please sign-up by September 12th to receive your Elk Lines by the equinox. All subscriptions begin with the first installment, of course!
What are five things/places/people that always inspire you?
Besides you, dear and wonderful Asia, Mistress of One Willow? (Seriously, you would be one of my five if you weren’t doing this interview!) Okay…
The Point Reyes Peninsula—I’ve been visiting this “Island In Time,” since I was a little girl, and it has thoroughly stolen my heart. Land of fir and alder, oak and bay, land of great wild beaches and coastal prairies, tule elk and pelican. If I could call one place my muse, it would undoubtedly be Point Reyes. It seems to have claimed me, in a sense; I find I must write about it. Nettle, mountain lion, bobcat, fence lizard, woodrat, coyotebrush, lupine, seal; muses, all. (That’s more than five right there!)
Rima Staines— I blame Rima for inspiring me to leave the realm of office work two years ago in order to whole-heartedly pursue my own art. The first time I came across her work and her writings about her life and the world, my heart flipped up and then down and then up again with such relief, I think I might have cried—because she reminded me that yes, it can be done. Your feet can follow the wild path you most love. You simply have to start walking. Rima is an extraordinary artist of paint, wood, puppet, wheel, song. She lives in Devon, England, where she paints the most earthen and otherworldly beings—human, animal, outcast, wanderer, jester, tree. Of all wondrous things, we are at this very minute working to get a book we created together out into the world (my words “illustrating” Rima’s paintings)! Stay tuned!
Nao Sims— beekeeper, dancer, tender of the wild homestead land of Honey Grove, on Vancouver Island, Nao is a very dear friend of mine and also one of the most extraordinary people I know. She was one of my early subscribers to the Gray Fox Epistles, but I had known of her previously because of a beautiful book she wrote called Moon Mysteries about reclaiming women’s menstrual wisdom, and because of a very wise and wonderful blog of hers called The Teatime Traveller, which lifted me up during a rough patch and reminded me of the bounty of beauty in every moment. So of course, when I found she was a subscriber, I was overjoyed! We got to emailing, and found a very old & uncanny sense of familiarity. I went to visit last fall, and the rest, as they say, is history. To me, Nao embodies the character of Juniper in Monica Furlong’s Wise Child, a favorite book of mine—keeper of the wisdom of land, woman, bee, flower. I am inspired by Nao every day! Oh, and as it happens, she and her husband Mark have a very wonderful vacation cottage on Honey Grove Farm, so if you are in need of a good steep in beauty, I recommend it highly!
Juliette de Bairacli-Levy— I daresay this wonderful woman needs little explanation from me, considered as she is the mother of modern herbalism. Born in the 1930s to a wealthy British family, she cast Veterinary School and aristocratic life aside in favor of learning from the gypsies and peasants of the world all they knew about the healing herbs. What an independent, joyous, wild spirit this woman was! For a taste of her voice, her knowledge, her adventures and her spirit, I recommend her book Traveller’s Joy. And it was a small and beautiful film about her called Juliette of the Herbs that inspired me a year ago to finally embark on a dream I’ve had since I was a small girl—to learn the medicine of plants. Oh, and as an aside, Juliette de Bairacli Levy is a partial model for the character of Eda Crost in Elk Lines.
Gary Snyder — the deep-rooted, muscular, wildly Californian poetry of Gary Snyder was the first true piece of inspiration in my adult life as an artist. When I found his work, I felt all of these little old locks and keys and wheels clicking and turning and what have you in my heart and my soul. I finally felt that my writing had found its voice. In particular, his philosophies about wildness, bioregionalism and rooting in a place—choosing a place and learning it deeply, deeply, as just as valuable a life pursuit as this incessant need for change we seem to have acquired as modern humans—changed my life. Somehow Gary Snyder led to animal-tracking, which to me has become my own “Practice of the Wild,” both spiritual and intellectual; I trace my writing “lineage” directly back to him. I’ve been known to call him “my hero,” which has garnered more than a few laughs, but I do mean it!
You’ve recently been sharing visual maps of the shifting seasons around you in your gorgeously hand-drawn “Feral Palm readings.” If you could draw us a palmistry map of your inner season right now, what would it look like?
I decided to go ahead and paint one for you! There is a rabbit and a grizzly bear and a mountain range at once Carpathian and Sierra Nevada, for I just visited the latter, and the former has been strong in my imagination and my writings these past weeks. There are hawthorn berries, ripe, and juniper berries, just turning dusty blue up in the mountains. There is a teapot the color of a hawthorn berry, because there is always a teapot in my inner season, I believe! There are aspen trunks, white-dusted, which grow up in the mountains to the east and bring me great calm, and a stag I dreamt of, with a buckeye tree growing like a third antler. The buckeyes are dropping their leaves now, at the end of summer, because our summers here are so dry— this is their defense against drought. All that’s left are the planets of their buckeyes. This is a sign of autumn to me—the bare buckeyes like planetariums. There seems to be a movement toward fall in my heart, though the sun is still strong, the days dry and long. My painting looks positively wintry! I love winter, so all the threads of its coming fill me with joy. The plants love winter here too—it means rain. It is, unlike the seasons of the East Coast, the time of flourishing.
What is one mystery you are aching to explore?
There are so many ways I would like to answer this question! But for some reason, one thing keeps floating to the top of my mind—nettle processing! I would love to really dive into the mystery of turning stinging nettle stalks into the flax-like material I know my Northern and Eastern European ancestors used for many millennia in place of linen. I’m a spinner, felter & knitter on the side, and ever since I wrote a story last spring called “Our Lady of Nettles,” a retelling of the Seven Swans fairytale, I’ve been itching to really delve into this process from start to finish. Nettle is my favorite medicinal plant (if I had to pick)—I drink her almost every day, and I love that she was also such an important textile plant for so many thousands of years. I think this qualifies as a mystery—because I am sure the process of retting and scutching and all the rest of those arcane words used to describe flax-processing (not to mention the spinning, the weaving, etc) would take me into a place of very deep connection with both the nettle and the ways of my ancestors long, long ago. I also believe that this process might be a very useful thing to know, down the line, when the world is no longer this crazy overseas network of sweatshop labor-commerce. (All empires must fall, after all…)
Stories have power, words create worlds. When I read your writing I often feel the burgeoning of a new earth underfoot. In your heart of hearts, hopes of hopes…what do you feel is being birthed through your work?
Above all things I hope that through my work a renewed sense of the tenets of deep ecology and animistic thought can be re-infused into the world of contemporary human literature. The stories we tell shape the world we see, and the world we see is one of terrible environmental and humanitarian catastrophe, degradation, and extinction, both of animals and plants, and of human cultures and languages. I hope for my writing to convey a sense of the animism of all beings; that elk and alder and lichen and stone, bear and lizard and fog and oatgrass, are all subjects, characters, integral players in the stories of our lives and this world, not the objects we have made them into with our cultural narratives. For when a deer or a tree is a subject and not an object, it is not as easy to destroy it without a care. I also hope to keep the old human magics and beliefs surrounding this wise old world of ours alive in my writing—the ways of weedwife and hunter, wandering jester and gypsy and shaman and witch. And if my tales can be wild woodrat nests which lead to the other worlds inside this world, all the better. If they can somehow gesture at the weedier, wilder, dustier footpath which leads us back into what it really means to be human (and not the big tar roads)—well, that would be grand indeed.
As someone who works for herself (doing what she loves!) what does a typical “work day” look like for you?
Rise early. Feed Hawthorn the rabbit. Gather flowers and leaves for a little wild art left in my garden patch to greet the day—its birds, its soils, its winds, its sun, its four-leggeds. Tea, breakfast, an hour of writing (often my favorite hour of the day). I go to a dance class almost every morning, and when I come back I write again until noon in my little loft office. A quick break for lunch, which often involves gathering Hawthorn various greens and herbs and letting him have an adventure through the garden. Then I write again until about 3, at which point I generally experience an afternoon slump (the hours of 3 to 5 are really not my strongpoint). I try to work on non-creative things during this time—emails, various social media updating, queries, etc. If I can’t stand to do so (or don’t need to), I like to spend some time making with my hands in a different way—felting, embroidering, gardening, medicine-making. Around 5, I may have a last surge of creativity and write a bit more, or I might spend the time until about 7 editing or reading for research. At 7 or thereabouts, my love returns home from work, and this is the signal that my own work-day is over, thank goodness. Having him home, I feel I have an excuse to stop and savor the evening. Otherwise, I will work off and on until bed! I try to spend every Wednesday out on the land of Point Reyes, tracking (alone or with friends) the lives of plant and animal, tracing the songlines of that beloved wild place, so that my work remains infused with its many voices. This isn’t a schedule I always hold to—sometimes it’s more fluid, for better or for worse, because things come up, sudden deadlines arise, the creativity just isn’t flowing. But I find that keeping a bare-bones schedule is a life-saver. We can flourish better, it seems to me, with a few boundaries, markers up to help us find the way.
The obligatory question: what books are on your night stand?
This is a bit embarrassing, as it shows how indecisive and eclectic my reading has been these past few weeks, on top of the fact that I tend to hoard books by my bed for a while. I think they must comfort me.
The Reindeer People- Piers Vitebsky
The Others: How Animals Made Us Human- Paul Shepherd
The Steppe & other stories- Anton Chekov
Marcovaldo- Italo Calvino
Momo- Michael Ende
The Short Works of Leo Tolstoy
What is some advice you can give to anyone who is thinking about launching further into their creative flow/work?
This doesn’t sound immediately romantic, but the first thing that comes to my mind is—give yourself a schedule. I don’t mean this in a boring way; I like to think of it more like bones. An animal without bones cannot stand or walk. Similarly, it feels to me that the creative flow requires structure to flourish. So I love deadlines and scheduled tea-breaks and that sort of thing. At the same time, of course, too much structure can kill inspiration. One thing that really helps to start my own work in the morning is a sense of ritual, which is structured into my day. If you’re just starting out, make the time and space for your creative work sacred. I like to burn rosemary and light a candle when I start. Give yourself an hour every morning for a week, candle lit, tea at hand. It’s not so long as to intimidate, and not so short as to be useless. Get your computer and phone away from yourself, by god! (These can be the great killers of flow.) If you tell yourself, “I will write/paint/sing for this set amount of time every morning, for seven days, and see how it goes,” instead of “I am now a working artist and I must work 8 hours a day and be extraordinarily brilliant and productive for all eight hours, etc. etc.,” you will feel as though your goals are actually manageable. With the latter attitude, I daresay one might never begin. Another very important piece for me every day is to get out of my own way—don’t think of your reader, your viewer, your editor, as you let the work come out. This is why I am adamant about writing by hand. I hardly look back as I go. I just go. There is always time to edit, but you can destroy your flow by going back over too early with critical eyes. After all, it needs to come from a place of joy and passion, or it won’t really be your true voice.
All of your words are such a blessing. Would you mind leaving us with a wee prayer?
For some reason, what immediately came to mind was the very first poem I was ever proud of, the first poem that really seemed to come from this place of flow — “Order of the Machine.” I wrote it when I was sixteen, sitting on the back steps in the garden of my childhood home. It came down through my pen as if from elsewhere. I’ve changed it to second person here, for it feels more prayer-like, thus. Here’s the very last stanza.
Even as our futures buckle straight
do not let the woods
relinquish your heart
nor the fog your soul.
Do not let the Order of the Machine
steal the waves, crush the wildflowers
starve the river stones.
There is yet hope
in the foam of the full moon
in the green of apple leaves
in the light between two palms.
Sylvia Victor Linsteadt is a writer and a student of local ecology and ancient myth. She likes to follow gray fox tracks through the brush, gather wild plants for dye and medicine, dream up and write down poems and stories, short and novel-length, all in one way or another concerned with the relationship between human beings and the more than human world (bay laurel, barn owl, bobcat). She is the creatrix of Elk Lines, the Gray Fox Epistles, the Leveret Letters, and all projects associated with Wild Talewort.
She is a wanderer of the wild spaces of the Bay Area (where she was born and raised at the base of Mt. Tamalpais), a spinner of yarns (literally and figuratively), a felter of felts, and an animal-tracker. Good strong black tea with milk and a little honey is her fuel. Pennywhistle music, a hearty fire in the hearth, fog, fairytales and myths, all the voices of the birds in the morning in the black walnut out her window bring her joy.
For her official blog of musings, scraps of tale, track, dye, myth and wander, please visit The Indigo Vat.
This Fall I am delighted to be offering a fresh workshop at the HerbFolk Gathering. This herbal rendezvous, which takes place in the wilds of Northern Arizona, is one of the most inspired plant gatherings in our country. (Read my review of last year’s enchantment here). This year the gathering is stepping into a brand new incarnation of classes focused on folk tradition, mysticism and lore. In celebration, I debuted a short piece in the Plant Healer newsletter to unveil the themes and dreams, stories and scholarship that has ignited my workshop this year. I invite you to explore, The Woodland Within.
In the old stories, whether you be girl or goose, goblin or goddess, the forest was a place of profound encounters. At the edge of town, beyond the thickets of heather and ivy dark vines, stretched a limitless space, a mystery that was asking to be experienced. Once upon a time the boundaries of the mapped world ended at the edge of the woods. After that, stretched the unknown.
Throughout history the space of enchantment created by forest narratives has served to expand the very possibilities of our reality Within the woods you can transform—from man to doe, mortal to faerie. Meet with elders and find guides amongst the trees. In the forest, anything is possible. Gods and goddesses live here, monsters and Kali-like creationists, too.
As a people, we are forever enchanted with spaces of the unknown. Over and over again we reenter the woods for answers, profundity and connection. We are creatures who originate from a kind of woodland within. At the borders of our conscious minds lies a vast and often uncharted land. This is the realm of the unseen— spirit, soul, intuition, and the unconscious. We may live in a comfortable and cottaged physical world, a place of brilliant stories and community. But when night falls, like the twelve dancing princesses, each and every one of us slips the bounds of our physical world to explore places of deeper consciousness, spirit and dreams. Often times we may not even remember such travels, but our well-worn shoes will always tell the tale.
To leave the comforts of our homes and venture into the unknown can be exhilarating, confusing and profound. When we enter the woodland within, we give up the security and the trappings of our day-to-day minds. The consciousness of the woods works in modes of twilight. It is a space that is neither here nor there. Traditional shamans knew easily how to travel between such realms, as did the ancient mystics of Daoist meditation, eyes slightly closed. When we travel, we chase experiences, transformation and remembrance. But, above all, it is guidance we seek.
|| Intuition and the Knowing Unknown ||
Intuition, like dark mushrooms on a nurse-log, is a part of our very being. Mysterious and yet familiar – intuition has been creatively defined for centuries as instinct, gut feeling, magic or memory. Intuition comes from a place that can be only be described as the “knowing unknown.” In truth, intuition is a kind of revelation— a word that, by definition, means to glimpse and then be re-veiled. A vital shepherd through even the darkest wood, intuition is a form of guidance that comes directly from such uncharted places of mystery, and it is available to us every time we part the veil and enter our inner woods.
In my workshops, I like to bring people into direct encounters with their own places of intuition, guidance and mystery. As earth lovers and flower gatherers, blue jay singers and botanists—medicine makers of all kinds— developing an interaction with your own knowing unknown is as vital as watering the hidden roots of a newly planted willow. As healers, we have a sacred responsibility to venture into such places of forgotten remembrance, and we can begin to bring such inspiration back into our worlds through magnificent power of myth.
|| Mythology and Maps ||
In our country, herbalists are some of the few that make it their business to enter the woods, not only to dig roots or simmer cups of pine needle tea, but to venture beyond the limitations of what we’ve been given and explore the mysteries inherent to healing. Traditional herbalists knew the magic of a well-told tale; they were often their own mythologists. When asked, each and every herbalist I know will give you the story of how they first arrived and fell-to-their-knees in love with the growing world. The more we share these stories and connect to our inner unseen sources of guidance, the more, as a whole, we can heal.
Stories are one of the most powerful forces on earth. In many indigenous religions, the entire world began with a word. As some storytellers recount, there was a time when the distance between our thoughts and our creations was much thinner. The stories we spoke, were the stories we lived.
Whether you lose yourself in Tolkien or find conversation around a cup of tea, stories continue to inform our daily reality. They can help us define who we are, where we are, and why we are. Human beings have lived with mythology as a bedfellow since we first looked to the rising sun and wondered what it might mean. The purpose of mythology, as Joseph Campbell so famously popularized, is the practice of creating maps. Through our stories we can invoke an invisible universe, a vanishing atlas of the treasures just beneath our feet, so that we may more confidently move through this visible world.
In traditional folklore the best stories were replete with many creatures and beings of consciousness. Plants, as some of human’s closest allies, are also some of our most powerful story keepers. Often, when we fall for a plant, we are seduced by a kind of storyteller. When you become enchanted by a particular plant, are you not eager to go shouting their praises from every hilltop? In their deepest power, plants can act as traditional psychopomps, or guides of the soul, helping us to re-enter our own stories once more.
|| The Story that is Waiting to be Told ||
Like Scheherazade, stories are what keeps us alive. Every day we tell ourselves tales about our lives. Some of these stories are invoked from the popular mythologies of our time— whether that be the tales of the Buddha or Martin Prechtel, the free-spirited Juliette de Baïracli Levy or our own mama’s yarns. And within, beneath, inherent to all of this, is the story of your lifetime. At the center of your existence, lives a story that is waiting to be told. As the Aborigine’s of Australia say, the biggest stories are hunting us. We can begin to live more richly, more directly from our passions and purpose, by learning the stories that yearn to be brought back from these places of the unknown.
(To read more about the important alchemy of story hunting I highly recommend the dreamy work of Robert Moss)
This coming Fall I’ll be teaching a workshop at the HerbFolk conference with the intention of leading a group of such travelers into this woodland within. We’ll explore concepts of intuition and the richness of myth, approach the guiding role of traditional folktales and how they can help counsel us through the perils, possibilities and magic of plant-based intuitive work. As a group we’ll undertake a guided meditation/conscious dream journey to our own woodland within to meet a plant spirit ally who is waiting to help us tell our biggest story. Together, we’ll visit these inner places of fable, mystery and myth, and return to translate our deep encounters into our own personal folktales.
When you enter your woodland within, what will you find? A frog who has been waiting to become a prince or a white witch in disguise? A welcoming wolf clan or dwarves who can tell you your real name? Perhaps you’ll run into a friend of mine, an elder who has built her thatch cottage in an old deer bed. She is a woman with river lines in her face, and an apron faded to soft threads. Her house is an apothecary, cabinets lined with bottles and medicines of all kinds– not just willow bark or Solomon’s seal, but dragon scales, and discarded chrysalises, stones from the far-off veils of waterfalls. If you encounter her, she will most likely invite you in, share a drink as pink as mimosa flowers, and hand you a mortar and pestle so you can create your own brew. When you explore your inner woodland, what medicine will you find there?
Today is one of those days that will stick out, alive and vibrant, in my mind forever. After over a year of writing, developing, photographing, and exploring I have pushed my small boat out into the harbor– One Willow Apothecaries has launched!
One Willow Apothecaries is a small herbal business based out of Asheville, NC. My online shop is replete with tintures, teas, flower essences, honeys, smoking blends, and more love than I can express. One Willow Apothecaries is, plain and simple, the realization of a dream.
Over a year ago, the idea first appeared in the high meadows of my imagination. From the beginning it seemed like an exotic seed drifted from some unknown place. It felt, quite plainly, like something that came from somewhere else– a divine insistence to sit up and chase a fast flicker on the horizon. I never thought I would start an herbal business. My love of plants grew from long hours of solitary sifting of garden soil and scaling tall trees to examine their lichens. But One Willow was insistent. The idea, at first just a single wave far out in the ocean– soon delivered itself in a veritable tidal wave of inspiration. I was simply swept away.
What does fate look like when it comes knocking your door? To be honest with you, I’m not sure. But I can tell you what it feels like: One Willow has been like a small bee, escaping into the walls of my mind and setting up an incredibly intricate residence. Since it arrived it has filled these walls, quickly, tirelessly, with ever more of itself. Ideas upon ideas, whole nests of intention and purpose that literally shake me at times. Over this past year I could hear One Willow‘s demand for existence like you can hear a whole hive of hornets thriving in your roof. I could hear it, but still…I knew I was the one that had to give it shape.
It’s a tall order– trying to fulfill one’s dreams, continue the natural path of your life, and keep one ear, always, to the unknown ground of destiny. But it’s been a common theme in my life that when the time comes for a big life change, I arrive at the crossroads and the decision seems to have already been made. I feel lucky to have had such paths cleared so early, so unmistakably.
I am proud to have given this dream, something I honor and respect as an entity unto itself, a space to exist in the world. I welcome One Willow Apothecaries into existence and am so excited to see how it continues to blossom.