Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference

Another amazing year at the Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference. Here's a few stories/ highlights: excerpts from my journal, and a write-up for Plant Healer magazine.

We arrived just as it got dark, and the sliver of Moon set over the horizon of waving coniferous tree tops, in the little valley that we made home, for the next few nights of the 2015 TWHC. Mating elk sang their love songs into the night. I could hear them walking ever closer to my little bed under the oak tree, where acorns regularly fell above and around me, where I and the acorns lay under a canopy of stars, that blessed reminder of who we are and where we are in the Universe, with the bright white dash of Milky Way magic strewn across the middle of the deliciously dark night sky.

We rose early the next morning, to set up our tables, and give and receive one warm loving hug after another. TWHC feels like a family reunion. I got to embrace, reconnect with, meet, and enjoy the presence of herbalists from all over the country, from a diversity of backgrounds. And, classes hadn’t even started yet.

I’ve been thinking about TWHC for the whole year. Each time I feel tired or lackluster in my struggles as a “new” herbalist, I think about TWHC, and get reinspired. Even though it’s only four days, I made lasting friendships and professional contacts that I regularly reconnect with throughout the year to ask questions, share experiences, and stay connected with, as I grow and help spread our mycelial herbal network of friends and connections wherever I travel, teach, learn, and explore.

Time flew too quickly. This is manifest in the faces of the children. I helped with the new Children’s Camp by teaching a little, but mostly by hanging out with the kids around the gathering. The students from last year remembered me, and I, them. Their families also feel like families, and their moms feel lovingly protective, caring, and somewhat mom-like towards me, too. I accompanied the kids upstairs to look for Rebecca the ghost, ogling the dark landscape from the high vantage point, and then danced with them late into the night. It’s wonderful to see them grow up. I hope to return year after year, and thus be part of their lives. “I don’t want to be an herbalist when I grow up,” said one of the pre-teens in my classes, “my mom’s always talking about herbs, and I’m a little over it.” She stills knows plants though, already confident with her basic plant families. We had fun creating our own plant language, changing the plural form of “petal” from “corolla” into “pet-us,” then “pet-me.” Perhaps it’s an inside joke. It makes my heart sing, these little moments.

TWHC brings together wonderful herbalists from all over the USA, including some of my favorite teachers, role models, inspirations, and beloved people. We shouted at each other above the loud music and laughter on the masquerade ball night, smiling through masks and colorful costumes, bodies grooving to unfamiliar music. The second nights’ dance party had most of us dancing, jumping up and down to the powerful music and clackety drums, soaring flute and vocals, and twanging guitars pulsing through our bloodstream, under the hundred twinkly small white lights, under the old wooden roof beams, under the big Sky Island sky. I danced with the kids, my young friends and students, at the front of the hall, twirling each other and laughing, experimenting with all the different ways to express the music, laughing harder as 7song brought all of us together into a big circle, which eventually snaked around and pulled everyone in the room into a giant circle, which twisted and turned around and into itself, eventually interploding back into a packed room of dancing bodies and uplifted spirits.

(From my journal):
At one moment, looked up while dancing: glittering lights above, an undulating wave of ecstatically dancing herbalist bodies: plant lovers, misfits, oddballs, outsiders. My kids jumping around in front, and I with them. Tears came to my eyes, my body grooving in synchronistic harmony with the music and those around me, feeling completely alive and harmonious in that moment, my heart soaring from every pounding beat my feet sunk into the wooden floor upon sacred Earth, every wild and untamed twirl of my young lithe body getting older, housing this ancient spirit that feels so glad, and so right to be here in this moment, celebrating with a crowd of beautiful, courageous, wild creatures, dancing deep into the night.

I took classes from as many different teachers as possible, to taste different teaching styles, possibilities, and herbal approaches. If I didn’t get a chance to take a class with a teacher, then I made a point to hangout with them.

I notice that most of the teachers were self-taught: highly self motivated, curious, and intelligent people. I’m preparing to embark on Chinese medicine graduate school studies, and question my expensive new journey, especially in the face of all of these skilled practitioners who taught themselves so much, primarily through the practice of living the medicine: starting schools, clinical practices, and apothecaries.

I sidled late into Guido’s class, for my final class of a packed weekend of amazing classes with some of the strongest and most beautiful voices in western herbalism, at the end of this conference. He was mid-story, weaving a story-spell about how the Silvanis helped a young man and the Moon princess live together. He went on to describe various plants of the Alps that are also used in western herbalism, such as Alder, Linden, Nettles, and Elder. His way of combining magic and mythology, science and clinical gems, inspires and excites both the part of me which is still a kid and just wants to hear stories, as well as the “teacher” part of me which is leading classes for both adults and kids. I hope to build such brilliant bridges as these, too.

I found myself drawing little Sylvanis on my plane ride “home,” back to an unknown future: how to continue with my work as an herbalist. Continue onwards to Chinese medicine school, or not. How to best walk in this world. I outlined my hands, filling them with dancing Sylvanis from Guido’s Dolomite Alps stories. Little magical men with red capes who appear out of nowhere in the Alps, and guide people on how to use plants, or gets them in trouble. Like Coyote, but with red capes. And, trees from Juliet’s tree class, Rosaceae family plants from Kiva’s class, inspiration from Sean and Asia’s class, the faces of my friends, children, people and plant herbal family, and more.

I love walking by myself, crunching the red and gold leaves beneath my feet in the frosty late autumn air, geese honking above, turmoiled questions and colorful inspirations swirling within my chest, released with each outbreath. I’m grateful for opportunities to ignite myself in the fires of community, setting fire to my latent passions and budding possibilities and impossibilities. “Where to from here,” becomes less of a question, and “How can I make THIS opportunity NOW and HERE the BEST it can possibility be,” rises, instead.

Small hand in large hand, large hand in wrinkled hand, hand by hand, a roomful of people dance around, under the sky stars in an old room, weaving together a fibrous fabric of time. We are creating our own mythology as the gods of our own lives.

(From my journal): 
After TWHC, I feel powerful, inspired and unwilling to compromise me for my dreams... a mutual movement of me reaching for the world and vice versa, not a solo one way dance.

The elk are mating right now. We got serenaded each morning and night with their haunting songs, plaintive love cries that echoed across the cliffs and canyons, and the sounds of their footsteps, the chattering squirrels, and the falling acorns of autumn. Night sky: bright stars, Milky Way, dramatic sunsets and sunrises, a thin crescent moon that grew to a quarter moon by the time the Gathering ended. Sleeping on the ground warmly ensconced in two sleeping bags, bare face smiling up to a ceiling of stars and fattening moon, wind, elk, squirrel, and acorn songs to sleep, and days filled with herbal speak: inspiration, wisdom, experience, possibility--- didn’t make any photos while here. Fully present and engaged, four days lost to the world, fully present in the world. Now, at the end, flying on to my next adventurous journey--- I realize this is what it feels like to be fully alive. And, I want this (!) in my life.