California to Connecticut, spring 2015 road trip

“Where are you from?”
“Okay, most recently.”

I don’t know when or where the “most recent” bout of travels began or ended. After a while, everything blends together, blanket statements are impossible, and I don’t even know who, where, when, or what, let alone why or how. It just happens.

I like to plan. I brooded over returning to Connecticut to work with Two Coyotes Wilderness School (among other things) for a few years. I started brooding more seriously after finishing 1.5 years of formal herb school training, and meeting the empty abyss afterwards of, “What now?” I started looking at maps and getting in contact with people a few months ago. Now, I’m here.

Perhaps I “started” in New Mexico, for this journey. I over-wintered in the Gila wilderness, caught a ride to California with a neighbor at the first sign of spring, drove around California visiting friends, hiking, and interviewing Chinese Medicine graduate schools and acupuncturists, caught a different ride to...

Well, let’s begin the story here.

I caught a ride with herbalist Aaron to Wintercount, a wilderness skills gathering that takes place in the Sonoran desert every spring. At what point does one go from “plant geek” to “herbalist”? Aaron has been attending herbal gatherings and studying plants part-time for longer than I, but never went through formal training. He helps his friends and family with simple herbal protocols and remedies, and is what I’d call an “unofficial herbalist”: no credentials, but walks the talk. We carried on a conversation that I’ve been having with many herbalists: students fresh out of school, seasoned clinical herbalists, product makers, etc. How do we make a living doing what we love, while positively contributing to the world... and making a living, too?

There’s no easy answer. Herbalism is gaining interest in the USA, but there’s still huge public misconceptions about what we do, and who we are. We don’t really know, ourselves. Some herbalists make and sell products, some see clients, some grow and sell plants, some teach, some write, some wildcraft for restaurants and herb suppliers... the list goes on. I’m currently doing a smattering of all of the above, except for growing and selling (which I’d like to do, too). Most herbalists work another side job, which is sometimes related, but oftentimes not. Being a “working herbalist” becomes the other part-time job.

I tried working “just jobs” part-time while in school, and then while beginning my practice... and frankly, it’s a depressing way of life that I refuse. So, what now?

I’m considering complementary traditional healing modalities, to partner with my existing herbal skills. Possibilities include massage therapy, psychology, and perhaps most seriously: Chinese medicine. I informally studied Chinese medicine while in Taiwan: weekly acupuncture folk classes, and observing and assisting at a variety of clinics. I love the ancient poetry of the medicine, feel deep cultural ties with this tradition, and know its power and potential. I don’t want to go into debt.

Chinese medicine schools

Chinese medicine studies at most schools in the USA are at least a four year commitment, and cost around $50,000 to $100,000 in tuition and fees. I would be studying something I’m genuinely interested in, complements my existing western herbalism understandings and practices, and is a powerful healing modality that can help many people with everything some physical to psycho-spiritual imbalances. Is it worth it?

I visited six Chinese medicine schools during my three week sojourn through California, my home state, and the state with the “highest standards” of Chinese medicine education. USA acupuncturists must pass a series of board exams from the NCCAOM. California has its own test, and its own set of rules.

I interviewed a variety of schools, students, and practitioners. I started taking pre-requisite Western science courses online. I’m on my way. And, I’m still questioning the whole thing.

I sat in on as many herbal classes as I could, while visiting different Chinese medicine campuses. My favorite teachers were animated, visibly passionate about plants, and shared useful clinical stories relating to Chinese herbalism. I enjoyed the Herbs II class at the Acupuncture and Integrative Medicine College in Berkeley. The teacher talked animatedly about each plant, while showing a Powerpoint image, and passing a dried sample around the class. She grows some medicine plants, and uses some of them in her personal practice, as well. Her students create food with Chinese medicinal herbs, and share it with the class for a weekly potluck, with recipes shared both online and in class. I love the hands-on approach!

I visited a formulations class at Five Branches University in Santa Cruz. The teacher varied between talking about formulas, glancing at and discussing over notes, and sharing clinical stories. He started off his career as a western herbalist, and then decided to study Chinese medicine, to explore a more ancient and comprehensive medicinal tradition, and a more “solid” career. I particularly enjoyed walking with him during break, discussing plants, clinic, healing, and life, while smelling the ocean, seeing the waves, and feeling the sea- breeze. What a beautiful sea-side location, that school.

Another formulations class, at the Southern California University of Health Sciences (SCU) in Los Angeles, had a teacher from China with a strong accent, who hails from a strong lineage of Chinese medicine herbal pharmacists. Her class was similar to the Five Branches University formulations class: a loosely followed Powerpoint, list of plants and formulas that needed to be covered rather quickly, and some clinical gems. I love Chinese and am grateful to know the language already. It will make learning Chinese herb names and formulas much easier. But, I also appreciate knowing the scientific (usually Latin) names of plants, their families, botany, identification, growth, habitat, collection, etc. I appreciate being a western herbalist, and the hands- on relationship- based approach that that entails. I loved learning about plants in all the ways that I have, usually in the field, muddy, dirty, and happy. In a sterile classroom environment, I’m unsure just how much I can learn. I think all this, as I visit school after school, sit in on class after class, combating fatigue and boredom, for a topic that I am truly interested in, but having trouble finding a fitting way to learn, that matches my spirit: hands-on, in-nature, and... wild.

I just sat in on another formulations class at what should be my final school that I visit, at the Southwest Acupuncture College (SWAC), in Santa Fe. I also visited their herbal clinic. The intake style is similar to the herbal intake that I learned with both 7song and at the Colorado School: clinicians ask lots of questions, and the client answers them. They used tongue and pulse diagnosis, along with taking blood pressure as part of intake. I observed them filling the formula. There’s something joyous and satisfying, even just watching people bustling around, handling herbs, measuring weights, powders flying into the air. SWAC was the most beautiful campus that I’ve visited thus far: old Asian art bedecking the walls, a koi pond with soothing running water as you enter the building, natural light, spacious rooms and halls that are still cozy, small classes, and what feels like personable staff. If I could find an off-grid or for-trade type living situation around Santa Fe for four years, I’d seriously consider coming to this school. The formulations teacher also came from China, with an even stronger accent than the SCU teacher, and even more animated than all of the other teachers I’ve visited. Her words tumbled over each other, sometimes accidentally sneaking in a word or two of colloquial Chinese, much to my surprised delight.

The Chinese medicine schools that I’ve visited seem to pride themselves on the diversity of their faculty, especially if there are people who hail from Asian countries such as Taiwan, China, Korea, and Japan. I found an abundance of schools around the Los Angeles area run by people from Asia, offering the entire course in English, Chinese, or Korean. These schools, besides being multi-lingual and attracting more overseas students, also tend to have cheaper tuition, are more informal, and seem to be located in areas with a heavy Asian population, which tend to be more urban, and crowded. I visited one of these schools, the Alhambra Medical University (AMU). I sat in on a tuina class. Of the seven schools, this was the only class that I joined, that was taught in Chinese. My friends who study in China and Taiwan say that most of the Chinese medicine curriculum is actually just colloquial Chinese (which I am comfortable with), with Chinese medical terminology thrown in. Much to my surprise, I understood most of what the tuina teacher said. Listening to a class taught in Chinese felt strangely familiar, and comforting. The Chinese medicine schools filled with Asian students in Los Angeles have an abundance of Asian students who were typically younger, more serious, more awkward, and seemingly less experienced with life. Older students also come from abroad, to find a better life here. Studying Chinese medicine in Taiwan or China is a more selective, competitive, and time-intensive program. Studying it here in the USA can be more expensive, perhaps more diluted, and allow for more potential prestige, and flexibility within the practice, afterwards. During tuina class, the younger students were awkward about touching each other, and exposing skin. The teacher reminded me of various other strong women I’ve met, especially in the mountains of Taiwan: she speaks loudly, moves big, and holds an aura of almost bombastic confidence, for someone with such a small, graceful, and beautiful frame.

I particularly enjoy speaking with the Chinese-speaking teachers in English, broken and choppy, then asking, a little under my breath, “Can you speak Mandarin?” The sense of relief that comes over their faces is almost comical, except that it feels like home. Visiting AMU and SCU, in that sense, felt like coming home. But, the more Chinese- filled schools also tend to be more Western sciences oriented, which is daunting, and frankly, a little nauseating...


I last came to Wintercount in 2008. I was in a phase of my life where I only lived outdoors. I had just overwintered in Boulder, CO camping in a poorly constructed freezing debris hut shelter, that was barely large enough to sit up in. I got sick close to spring, moved indoors into town, got depressed, and was freshly on the road again, relieved to be out of town and in the sun, in Arizona. Some things have changed, some have not. Returning to Wintercount seven years later, this year I was delighted to see many fresh faces, but even more ecstatic to see old friends. My favorite teacher from 2008 was still my favorite teacher, this year: David Holladay. I went to every activity that he led: a navigational walk, and a teen survival overnight.

We started the navigational walk before dawn, around 5 AM. Dave wanted to get to our starting location, so that we could walk, while the sun rose. We all piled into a truck, and rumbled off, about 10 miles away, on the other side of the mountains surrounding camp, to begin our day-long journey. I won’t go into specifics about the walk, because there’s too much to encapsulate. Nothing really “happened,” and so everything happened. (Come for a walk with me, and maybe you’ll understand. Maybe you understand already. Yes, you do.) Our walk culminated atop the ridge, overlooking camp. The group dispersed at this point, as the way down was overtly visible from such a vantage point. I walked the last few miles back with Dave. I admire how he can take the simplest activity, and make it profound. I asked him how he plans for classes. “I don’t do anything,” he said. He creates a skeleton outline of the class, knocking out some logistical details, then allows for a dance to organically ensue, between what arises, and how he responds. Dancers include the landscape, participants, and himself as the “leader.” “People come to me, thinking I know everything,” he laughs, “then they are surprised when I tell them I don’t know anything at all.”

I was “adult support” for the teen survival overnight, but felt like a participant. We all gathered at the campfire an hour after dinner, then set off into the dark with nothing, besides the clothes on our backs, and the shoes on (some of) our feet. Dave introduced some rules and safety protocols, then we walked. Arriving at the location that Dave had scouted out beforehand, we stopped. “Okay, you know what to do,” said Dave. The teens got to work. Within a few hours, they had selected a camp for the girls, and two boys’ camps, along a dry sandy wash. Students were allowed to bring a primitive fire tool, but only if they had made it earlier that day, with material gathered from the land that same day. The girls had teamed up, and procured a hand-drill set, and tinder bundle. The boys brought a flint stone from the knapping pit, to strike on another rock. It took a while, but eventually the girls got a fire, tag-teaming the hand drill. The teens carried a coal to each of the other fires, and the wash came to life. The teens went and gathered firewood and bedding, while we “instructors” laid down in a cuddle line to just watch, keep each other warm... and fall asleep. Near midnight, we separated the girls’ and boys’ groups, with clear instructions to not go visiting each other through the night. Starting to get cold, we instructors went and gathered firewood, and started a fire with a coal from the other fire, at the end of the line of fires, down the wash. We gathered fluffy aromatic chaparral boughs to sleep on, to provide insulation from the cold early spring Earth. Most groups slept huddled around the fire, though there was a group of girls who found a clump of trees, created a windbreak out of sticks, and slept in a cuddle line. They stayed the warmest, and slept the most comfortably. The rest of us varied between coldness, and the excitement of sleeping around a fire with “nothing,” and created from “nothing,” sharing stories until the sun, literally, came out. We stood facing the sun, silent to the dawn chorus of birds, faces and bodies arced towards the sun, arms open. I cried during the sunrise, and cried again, when we gathered all of the teens back together, and I saw their bright eyes, that reflected the light of the sun, and the line of five fires in the wash that night, created through teamwork, self sufficiency, and a growing understanding of how to live with the Earth, creating something out of nothing through teamwork. It cultivated a deepened sense of self knowing, and empowerment. And, cold and hunger. We sprinted back to camp, laughing and howling, to warm ourselves by the large campfire in camp center, to the clapping and cheering of parents, and others who were awake early enough to see us racing across the desert landscape, barefoot and triumphant across the cold Earth, breath and smiles clearly visible against the frosty morning sky, back into the center of our community.

Gila Wilderness, NM

(Now, I’m writing again a week after landing in Connecticut. There’s too many stories to encapsulate in one essay. For the sake of time, rather, the lack thereof, I will write more briefly about the rest of this journey, focusing on highlights from my time in each community that I passed through.)

Julie conducts long distance herbalist consults from the comfort of her beautiful cabin home, tucked into a hillside, and backed up against the Gila Wilderness. I found my winter house-sitting gig through her, and was her neighbor for a month. Julie works intensively with as many as four consults a day, all backed up to each other, sometimes several days in a row, then takes a few days off for herself. She sculpts her own schedule, and seems to have a nice balance between personal time and work time. Work is fulfilling and necessary: she guides people with chronic conditions, such as Lyme or cancers, to ways of restoring balance and health on all levels. Julie has a magical way about her, and seems to notice, well, everything. I appreciate that, and admire her ability to live the life of her dreams, be of service to the global community, and create beauty all around her.

Isabel was another neighbor in the Gila. She’s the community matriarch, the woman who knows everyone in the community, and how everyone’s doing. During my house-sitting stint, I would receive frequent check-in phone-calls from Isabel, and eventually we drove together all the way to California, and back again. Like many other retirees in the area, Isabel came from the medical field, and lived in another state for most of her adult life, before retiring here. Unlike most other folks, Isabel grew up here, with her dad working in the mine.

I hitchhiked up to the wild hot springs, just a few miles away, but a whole hour’s journey, due to the curvaceous mountain roads. An ex-miner picked me up. Here, it’s common to bump into people of the mining community, or affiliated with it. It’s the biggest job around, and pays well, compared to the other barely existent local job possibilities. “If you’re in the mining community long enough,” said the ex-miner, “Then eventually you’ll meet a casualty. Or, you’ll be the casualty.” He was present when a few co-workers literally caught on fire, from something that came down the chute in the copper mine, incorrectly. His eyes hollowed out a little bit when he spoke of this, “And so I stopped working there. But, you got to eat. And, I have a family to take care of.” I wonder if it’s really worth it, and what other options are out there for these people, and the ecological ramifications of mining, and so much more.

The retired community is interesting. People seemingly do whatever they want, whenever they want, with no time constraints, and minimal financial constraints. Many worked long jobs with differing degrees of satisfaction for most of their lives, with the accompanying exhaustion. I wonder if it’s actually necessary to wait until retirement to live the life of one’s dreams. I wonder if an unfulfilling overworked life is actually worth it, to “earn” old age, rest, and retirement.

The focus of this trip was people. For my spring cross country road trip, I hoped to find a good balance between meeting new friends, visiting old friends, exploring beautiful wild places known and unknown, and wild-crafting. Little did I know that I started my journey during a snowstorm, spring comes late this year, and most of my trip would be spent riding through storms, with my eyes peeled on the road, and heart racing. Thus, I only camped once on this trip: my final night in the Gila, curled around a campfire, singing and praying. The river had flooded, so that the hot-springs that I had hoped to visit were covered over by fresh rain and snow melt. Walking through the freezing cold rivers, my fire was imperative. I wrapped myself around my fire, and tended it through the night, listening to owls and coyotes, and wind moving through trees. I felt myself spiraling deeper and deeper in love with this land.

I’m seeking Home. I ask questions about the cost of living, quality of life, job opportunities, etc everywhere I go to know, compare, and weigh options. Visiting homesteaders (my dream), I ask people how they started their homesteads logistically and otherwise. This fire my imagination: hard work, and skills developed through community, self-sufficiency, and straight up courage and perseverance.

Black Mountains, NM

Andy is homesteading a property that he grew up on... and he’s doing it mostly solo. There’s goats, chickens, dogs, gardens, buildings, and so many different projects. He envisions more herbal classes and gatherings here in the future, and is renovating buildings to create living spaces for work-traders, and people to stay during events. It’s inspiring to see how much he can do on his own, but it also further underlines that I do not want to do this alone.

Albuquerque, NM

An unplanned stop, as the night was running late, and I needed a last minute place to sleep for the night, as road conditions were terrifying. I called around for leads, and found Ben and Stacy via another friend, Marvin, who paralleled my cross country trip at the same time. Both engineers, Ben and Stacy live a life that seems so different from the world I’m immersed in, and reminds me of Taiwan city life: day jobs, night lives, and a balancing dance that emerges from therein.

Santa Fe, NM

Sarah, Axel, and baby Seven live on the edge of town. She finishes Chinese medicine schooling in a few month, and dreams of creating a roving free clinic, traveling the world in a little converted bus. We spent hours investigating the intersections between dreams and realities, logistics and possibilities.

United World Community College Hot Springs (Las Vegas, NM)

Sarah mentioned a few nearby hot springs. None of them were on my route. While beginning my journey towards Texas, I felt reluctant to leave NM, and decided on a last minute whim, right before turning south, to go north instead, and take an hour long detour up to Las Vegas, NM. This hot springs sits next to a river, next to train tracks, across the river from United World Community College. It was the most exposed hot springs that I’ve yet been to, with many people, lots of trash, and small hot springs scattered across an area, all of them lined by concrete. Lithium hot springs, every part of my body that touched the water quickly became dry, while feeling exceedingly comfortable and relaxed. I started alone in my own concrete tub, that was large enough for me to extend all of my limbs fully out in each direction, and still have some space to move around, starfish like, avoiding cigarette butts on the periphery of my tub, mixed into melting snow, and mud. Eventually, an older man and woman joined my tub. Both hitchhiked around the country during their younger days, and we regaled tales back and forth across the human sized concrete tub in the middle of the semi-developed roadside hot-springs, electrical lines whirring to the music of the melting river, red rock mountains ringing us, cliff-side, the community college across the waters.

Palo Duro State Park, TX

I slept in my car that night, shivering under my old down sleeping bag, and smiling to the sounds of coyotes yipping in the surrounding sagebrush. The cliffs are red, orange, and majestic, reminding me of the Gila Wilderness.

Clinton, AR

I spent a few nights with Sean and Jackie of the Dirty Farmers’ Cooperative. After driving all night through terrifying snow and ice in barely visible conditions, I landed at their home, shaken and exhausted. “Welcome home,” said Jackie, giving me a big hug. Grassroots entrepreneurs and community builders, they started a by-donation cafe that not only feeds people regardless of how much they can pay, but also unites the community everyday at lunch. They seek to source their food from local farmers, and also organize a weekly farmers’ market that connects local farmers, craftspeople, and community. Sean built the cabin that they live in with his parents, who live a few minutes walk away. They built it in 5 months, with under $10,000 of materials fees. It’s a beautiful property, that backs up against national forest (my dream). Besides their idealistic visions and hard work, Sean and Jackie also impress me with their ability, as a couple, to work together, live together, and be beautiful, more-than functional, and filled with heart.

Dcoda is a recent addition to Sean and Jackie’s land. She lives in a modified shed at the entrance to the land. She spent 10 years living mostly off grid in an area of national forest, just south of where we were, and was still integrating back into society. We spent many hours discussing potential collaborations.

Competition, MO

Meeting Jamie and Jeffrey reminded me that living a life of my dreams is not only possible, but is imperative for a full life. And, that dream has intricate twists and turns that sometimes don’t reveal themselves, until one begins the journey. Expect the unexpected. No matter the fullness of ones’ life and how much it resembles the dream, life is still life, and challenges are to be expected. Expect perfect imperfection, and be prepared to dance, thusly, with it all.

After working a diversity of jobs, living in different places, and dating different people, Jamie and Jeffrey found each other, this land, and created fulfilling work that satisfies their needs, while lovingly weaving themselves into the inner matrix of their community, thus tying them into the global whole of a back-to-the-land movement that shudders as it breathes, in its monstrosity, its depth, its necessity in these times, and the triumphs and challenges that come with the territory.

These two triumph through and over adversity. They started off homesteading in upstate New York, which got to be prohibitively expensive... and cold. They packed their lives into their trailer, and found their way down to Missouri. They’ve been homesteading here, ever since. They started off living in the trailer, while preparing the rest of the 30 acre property: with diverse forest, streams, fields, hills, and springs. The landscape was full of potential, but covered in brambles, and with no living structures or farmable land on it. They lived in the trailer for two years, outfitting the small space with an outhouse, woodstove, and external roof. During that time, they cleared many brambles, started a garden, and built the house that they now live in, a south-facing home set into the hillside, a beautiful, well-insulated, cozy, and lovingly built and lived in hobbit home.

Their land backs up against state land. It’s a magical property that fits their dreams, and they are further sculpting into being. They host farm volunteers (WWOOFers) and community events, that brings people together, shares their process with the community, and also garners them support with their various processes: building cabins, tending gardens, etc.

Jamie is mostly a self taught herbalist. She went through no formal training, but somehow got on the path, got hooked, and is now growing herbs, and turning them into luscious body products, which she sells at various festivals through the summer and autumn season. She also conducts plant walks and classes, and is a vibrant well spring of information, inspiration, and exuberant first hand experience.

St. Louis, IL

Friends of friends introduced me to him. He’s one of a healthy handful of foreigners who go to Taiwan, are deeply interested in the culture, spend a number of years there teaching English and immersing themselves in various elements of the traditional culture, then return to the USA. He returned to the USA to study Chinese medicine, and has now been in practice for longer than I’ve been alive, and exudes a peace and groundedness, with eyes that see, and questions that deepen, while opening, safely. With less than an hour to talk, I felt such space to share, and realized that I feel so much heartache around my search for further schooling, and the frustrations woven, therein. “Slow down,” said Michael, navigating between my jumbled and emotional words, “Breathe.” He caught up to me right before I drove away, handing me a book about constitutional analysis, from a Chinese medicine perspective, with Chinese medicinal plants, written by a Chinese man, in Chinese. Earlier, we’d discussed the book a little bit. He’d slipped it into my hands, “Try reading it.” I brokenly edged my way around the medicinal terms, but easily read through more simple colloquial words... and was surprised at how many characters I recognized and gained a general meaning from, even if I didn’t know the exact word, or meaning. “I think you should brush up on your medical Chinese,” said Michael, gifting me the book with a smile and nod. I was speechless.

Little actions create huge ripples.

You never know when you might change someone’s life.

Mulberry, IL

Rebekah grows plants, creates and sells herbal products, and teaches classes. She’s also a homeschool mother of three, homesteading family land with huge acreage that includes forest, fields, waterways, a pond, and more. We played music until late into the night, hands clapping against clay udus that she sculpted, instruments that came to her in dreams, and now gift the hands of many herbalists, and other plant lovers, Earth people. I watched her and her husband locking eyes, rhythms, and melodies during our little jam session. “If you can jam like that with someone,” he said afterwards, “then that’s Love.” We wove our way through the golden plant skeletons and muddy spring-time blessings the next morning, discussing death and life, dreams and possibilities. “I want this place to be for everyone,” said Rebekah, sharing her vision for the land, and her role in helping birth that into reality. Her basement studio is filled with her artwork, with a kiln, paintings, clay works, and a staggering amount of peace and joy, a certain intensity, sculpted into the air.

One day, I want to create art again, in a grounded fashion.

I love sculpting clay, too. And, gardens. And...?

I love this moment too, of climbing back into the car, albeit reluctantly, and with exhaustion. I’m grateful for the singsong strength of my engine purring, the solidity of rubber against road, this little metal house on wheels that encases me and all of my current belongings, zooming across the country, 1500 miles over lands that I know and don’t know, encountering people and places that hold up a mirror, sending back reflections brilliant, mind-shattering, and heart-opening, and send me reeling back into myself, to explode outward again in various threads of song, that weave a basket of understanding.



I spent too long reluctantly leaving New Mexico then slowly enjoying my way through AR and MO. I started speeding after IL, and the rest of the trip passed by in a blur.

The sun just rose over a frosty landscape, with woodpeckers and the morning chorus gently chirping the sun into being. My window is perfectly located, where I can watch the sunrise every morning. It’s good to stop driving, and to see the same people over and over again, day in and day out. I’m developing more solid and stable relationships, some new, some old. I’ve been here before, and it’s good to be back.

Meeting the rooted homesteaders along my trip greatly impacted my thoughts, as I sped down one windy icy road after another, lost in thought, foot poised between gas pedal, brakes, and gear shifter. Do I need graduate school? Do I want graduate school? Where do I want to live? How do I want to sculpt my life, dreams, and being? Where do I go from here?

This sun has risen and fallen on so many other questioning faces.

We kneeled on the icy and muddy earth. I rolled my tears onto my fingers, and gently mingled them with the sap, still bubbling over, like blood, from the inner bark of the 100-200 year old maple who, freshly cut, still stood, sentry like in its awkward new stumpliness, in front of the barn where so many children gather every week, to play games, sing songs, and share gratitude, then howl off into the distance, to explore all the possibilities of being wild, innocent, and free, in a complicated world.

Some things are still very simple.

I fold my bed back into the closet. I brew my morning tea, and sip and write, watching the sunrise, eyes closed to take in the sun, against hooded lids, feeling that ancient heat bathing my body, through the window.

A red tailed hawk loves sitting in the tree across from my window viewpoint. I watched its silhouette, right before the sunrise, as it soared up to the top branches, shaking its tail feathers, head pointed in the direction of the sun.

I breathe.


"Creating Teas" class handout

Teas, Internally

1-2 T dried plants : 1 C hot water
Steep 3-10 minutes

1 oz dried plants : 1 L hot water
Steep 20 minutes (standard) to overnight (for nutritive food-like herbs, only)

1 oz dried plants : 1 L water
Start on stovetop, bring to a boil, simmer on low together for 20+ minutes

Note: If the plants are fresh, then more plant material is needed.

Teas, Externally

Soak, with strong infusion/ decoction

Cover, with steaming infusion/ decoction

Cloth soaked with warm infusion/ decoction, replaced as needed

Poultice/ fomentation
Mashed up plants, direct application

Steeping Styles
- Steep’n’Strain
- Cold infusion
- Hot infusion
- Overnight infusion
- Solar/ lunar infusion

The triangle: primary, secondary/ supportive, tertiary/ corrigent herbs

Nourishing Infusions
- Nettles (Urtica dioica)
- Red Clover (Trifolium pratense)
- Oatstraw (Avena sativa)
- Marshmallow (Althaea spp.; cold infusion only)
- Linden leaf (Tilia spp.)
- Violets (Viola spp.)
- Roses (Rosa spp.)
- Elm bark (Ulmus spp.; cold infusion only)
- Raspberry leaf (Rubus spp.)

Chai: basic recipe
- Cinnamon 4
- Ginger 3
- Cardamon 2
- Nutmeg 1
- Black Pepper 1
- Cloves 0.5
- Black tea/ nourishing infusion
- Milk/ other fat

Articles from Other Resources


“Wildcrafting for the Practicing Herbalist,” by 7song

“Wildcrafting Checklist,” by Howie Brounstein

Herbal Actions and Energetics

“Herbal Actions and Energetics,” by jim mcdonald


“How to Develop your Tea-Tasting Palate,” by Mark Falkowitz (focusing on Taiwanese/ Chinese teas)


“Nourishing Infusions,” by Susun Weed


Making Moon Water

Full moon nights may inspire lunacy. How do you celebrate? Do you like full moon hikes? Naked moon howling? Werewolf parties? Song circles? Dance circles? Orgies? Moon bathing, anyone?

I like to make moon water. It’s simple yet profound, and fun for kids, too. Here’s how:

1. Fill a clear glass jar with drinking water. (I use a 1 liter Mason jar, with a cap).
2. Go outside. Place your water-filled jar in a bright moonlit clearing, where it will likely get moon exposure for most of the night.
3. Lightly cap your water, or place a mesh or cloth screen on top, to keep bugs out.
4. Let sit overnight.
5. Retrieve it in the morning, before the sun hits it.
6. Do this for all three nights of the full moon: the night before the “official” calender date full moon, the “actual” full moon night, and the night after. (Or, if you’re time crunched, then just do the “actual” full moon night.)
7. That’s it! Store your moon water in a cool place, where it can stay fresh for up to a month.

I place my moon water next to my array of flower essences, tinctures, vitamins, and/ or supplements that I ingest each day. I start off my mornings drinking warm water with a splash of lemon juice. I add a small glass of moon water into my morning cocktail, along with whatever flower essences I’m experimenting with, drinking a little everyday. This helps reinforce my connection with the moon, bringing its essence into my body gradually, as a vibrational, or energetic medicine. But, it can also be drunk all at once. It can be used ceremonially, taking internally, spritzed on, or anointed externally. I was part of a full moon women’s circle for a while, where we anointed each other with moon water, like a witch’s baptismal. Some women incorporate moon water into moon time (menses) rituals, drinking it only during that time, to align themselves with the moon’s cycles, as they also wax and wane, ebb and flow, internal fluids rising and falling, drawn like tides towards and away from the moon. There are infinite possibilities! Experiment, and have fun.

This moon water making technique may be used for making moon tea, or other infusions. Just add whatever plants you want into the water, then let it all infuse overnight, in the moonlight. Consider making other infusions in the moonlight: flower or plant essences, tinctures, oil infusions, etc. What do you associate with the moon? How about the full moon? How can you creatively incorporate that full moon energy into your food, medicine, and life?

Moonlight is said to help clear stored energy in stones, particularly crystals. You can place your favorite stones around or near the infusing moon water, for a shared moon bath. Sometimes, I surround my infusing moon water jar with special stones, to infuse some of their energy into the water. Make a total ritual out of it. Create the bare bones of the ritual: just making moon water. Then, modify that structure moon to moon, depending on your needs and desires of the moment.

I lived with two girls for a few months, ages 5 and 7. They noticed me padding out into the night barefoot for three nights every full moon, and wanted to join. So, we created a little ceremony out of it, and they joined my full moon rituals. I eventually left the USA for three years of Asiatic travels. I visited them again, upon my return. Three years later, now ages 8 and 10, they still remembered. “Do you still make moon water?” They ask. Laughing, they say, “I remember dancing and singing in the full moon, and it was so cold, and, and, and...!” It’s a simple yet memorable, fun and beautiful ritual that helps to connect young girls and women with the cycles of the moon, and rhythms of the sky. How can we imbue a sense of sacredness and magic into the lives of our youth?

Here’s some extra ideas to add to your moon water making:
- Song
- Prayer
- Incense
- Candles
- Dance
- Journaling
- ...whatever you like!

After so many years of constant change--- home, community, work, everything, week to week, month to month--- I find solace in the sky. The earth is solid beneath my feet, but the landscape looks different everywhere I go. The sky looks different too, but not as drastically so. It’s different shades of blue, but it’s still the great blue blanket that covers us all, regardless of where we live, walk, and dream. The night sky looks similar, with differing amounts of visibility. I always look for the Great Bear, Polaris, Orion, and Venus, and notice where the moon is, in her cycle. Connecting with the moon’s phases helps me connect with my personal moon cycle, or menses. It helps increase my awareness of, and track the flow of my physical, emotional, and spiritual journey, and the patterns therein.

I love ritual. Ritual feels as grounding and anchoring as the pure sky and earth. It helps me return to myself, regardless of where I am, remembering that Home lies within, not without. Ritual is a symbolic action imbued with intention, that is repeated at certain times of importance. It can be personal or communal, and personalized to each individual.

Every month, I fill a 1 liter clear glass jar with drinking water. I walk to an area where the full moon will shine on my jar for as long as possible. I do a little ceremony. The full moon inspires lunacy, for she is fat, pregnant with all the seeds sowed during the new moon. I start projects on the full moon, such as planting seeds, starting tinctures or other macerations, etc. On the full moon, I’ll evaluate where I am in my projects, harvest what is ready, and give thanks for all of the gifts received along the way. I’ll recalibrate my inner compass by updating my original intentions and visions, then continue walking forward with renewed visions, clarity, and inner strength received through this process. I speak with the moon and stars, plants and earth. I light a candle to waken the spirits, then burn aromatic plant incenses as smoky offerings, to cleanse, and send my prayers skywards. My prayers begin with gratitude, and include both what I’m releasing, and what I’m manifesting. Action and intention, prayer and ritual. The moon, stars, and night sky have heard my voice since childhood. We are after all, made of the same materials as the stars, planets, and entire Universe. Imbuing moon water with the energetic essence of the ripe fat moon, I drink that energy into my body, realigning myself with the Universe, helping me remember who I am, where I come from, and what I’m doing here.

(A special thanks to herbalist and wise woman Lucy Mitchella, for sharing these traditions with me!)


Backpacking Packing List (Especially for long-term travelers)

“You’re carrying such a big pack!” People often exclaim, when they see me schlepping my 50 pound backpack home around on my back, which carries all of my worldly possessions of the traveling moment, which has been my life for much of the past eight years. After I explain, people change their tune to, “That’s it?”

How does one be a long-term traveler? How does one live life out of a backpack? What’s in there? What do you bring?

After enough questions aimed in this direction, it’s time for this article. I hope that this article is helpful for you who are preparing for a long journey, you who are preparing for a short journey, you who are just curious, and you who are already well-traveled. This article is for... you.

I’m no longer in the always-on-the-road-and-ready-for-anything phase of my life... Well, sometimes I am. Like, right now. But it doesn’t feel like this-is-forever, any more. I’m just coming out of it. I think. I just got a car again, and am looking into grad schools. Times are a-changin’. But, I will still write this article in present tense, just to keep things active. Because, even though I’m becoming more stable in my life, I am still a wild ol’ nomad, in my heart.

When traveling long term and carrying my life on my back, I try to minimize my life down to the essentials. Some call us “ounce-cutters.” I agree. But, it’s more like “micro-ounce-cutters.” I like to cut the tags off of all of my clothing, take off stickers... I go to extremes to lighten my pack. I traveled for a while with a tarp pack, instead of an actual backpack, to reduce the weight of even having a backpack. How comfortable do you need to be? How comfortable do you want to be?

Even in my most “extreme” times, I still carried my leather journal. Leather is durable and wonderful... but, heavy. And, my home-made journals are 120 pages. The whole thing fits in the palm of my hand, but is extra weight. As is my pouch of special stones, my books, earrings, an extra pretty thing or too that I don’t really need, but really like... and thus choose to travel with, for a small degree of comfort. What are you willing to live without? What can’t you live without? What do you absolutely need?

I’ve experimented with a variety of ways of doing things. I used to be much more “hardcore” than I am now. As I get older, I tend to value comfort more. I carry a larger towel than I used to, by a few inches. Those few inches of cotton comfort make me so much happier after a shower, even though it’s a few more ounces of weight. As is the ease of carrying a pack: ergonomic comfort, pockets, accessibility, etc. It’s heavier than a tarp pack, but by now, I don’t mind.

I pack differently for different circumstances. What form of transportation are you taking? Where are you going? Are you staying urban? Are you going into the back-country? Are you doing both? When are you traveling? What are the weather conditions? I’ve mostly hitchhiked and taken public transport, and am prepared to go between both urban and wild environments, as I don’t know exactly where I am going, much of the time. I resupply once a year, if I’m lucky. So, I’m prepared for anything. Regardless of within the USA or abroad, I am always prepared to camp with a few basic items:

Camping equipment: basics
- Sleeping bag (temperature rating to match wherever you are going. I didn’t know where I was going, so I brought the warmest bag that was as light as possible: a 0 F down bag)
- Tarp and rope (This is in case it rains. Know how to rig up a tarp shelter, in a variety of ways. There are ultralight tarps, and your general tarp. Ultralight tarps are handy for quick emergencies, but not conducive to multi-day usage. I prefer the general tarp.)
- Sleeping pad (I prefer the solid foam pad, instead of the blow-up sleeping pads. The blow-up pads take up less room and are more comfortable, but can pop, depending on where you are traveling. I often land in more rugged desert-type environments, thus the inclination towards a non-inflatable pad.)
- Stove (Optional. I still don’t own a backpacking stove, since I usually make cooking fires. A lightweight stove can be expensive, but very handy to have, especially in areas where fires are not allowed.)
- Matches or a lighter, in a plastic ziplock sack
- Water purifier (water pump, or iodine tablets)
- Water bottle or water bag
- Metal container to cook food and water in (I love lightweight and durable titanium cookwear.)
- Eating utensils (I carry around 1 titanium spork and 1 pair of bamboo chopsticks)
- Knife (I carry a pocket-knife on my hip, at all times. Just make sure that you dress yourself appropriately, before boarding airplanes, as airport security frowns upon knife-laden hips.)

What clothes you bring depends on the type of environment you are in. I like layers for all environments. What you bring also depends on how long you plan to be “out” for. I will list my suggestions for long-term travelers. I bring my favorite clothing, which is comfortable, aesthetic, usually natural fibers, and can be used in many ways. I travel with my favorite clothes, as I know I will wear them over and over again. I like to have different colors, patterns, and textures, so I can mix and match, to make life more interesting. (The same clothes all the time gets boring, after a while.) I love darker earth tone colors, so things can get dirty without looking dirty, and I can easily blend into a natural environment. You can buy synthetic lightweight quick-drying clothes, but I find those to be noisy, uncomfortable, and get sweaty and stinky easily. I prefer natural clothing, even though they’re generally more heavy.

If I have the opportunity to resupply, then I will pack what I need seasonally. Asking friends for their extra clothing that they would otherwise donate, digging around in free boxes and thrift stores, and leaving behind what I don’t need, in exchange for what I do need, works well, if I can’t resupply.

For colder climates, I love wool for its insular ability, even when wet. Synthetic fleece is wonderful for its warmth and lightweight nature, but melts if you get too close to your campfire.

Warmer climates vary. The desert has cool nights, so I prepare for that. The tropics are hot and muggy, and feel unbearable in the summer seasons. If resupplying, I would bring nothing but just a sheet, and the lightest cotton clothing that I have, for those kinds of conditions. Ask the locals what to prepare, and notice how they dress! If in a foreign country, it’s good to dress like those around you, anyhow.

Instead of making two different lists for warmer or colder climates, I just made one list. Adjust as you need, via the clothing material, and quantity (more and heavier for cold weather, less and lighter for warm weather. Layers, always). I wash my clothes by hand, more often if it’s hot, and less often if it’s cold.

Here’s some clothing ideas/ possibilities:

Clothes list
- 2-3 pairs of underwear (cotton’s great, but dries slowly, and chafes if you’re sweaty. I invest in more expensive synthetic traveler undies, to expedite the daily washing and drying process. I’d like to try hemp or bamboo undies, next.)
- 2-3 tank tops (or other base layer cotton/ natural fiber shirt)
- 1-2 inner long-sleeve shirts (cotton for warm weather, wool for cold weather)
- Lightweight outer jacket
- Rain jacket (doubles as a windbreaker. Make sure that it’s waterproof, not just water resistant, if you will actually be in a wet environment)
- 2-3 pairs of socks (wool for cold weather, cotton for warm)
- Leggings
- 1-2 skirts and/ or 1-2 pairs of pants (light yet durable cotton, or other natural breathable material for summer. Wool for winter)
- Long-johns (1 pair for warmer places, 2 pairs for colder places. Wool, always.)
- Hat (sun hat for sunny environment, wool cap for cold environment)
- Sunglasses (optional, for snow or sun)
- Other cold weather gear (down jacket, gloves/ mittens, scarf, etc)
- Other warm weather gear (swimming suit if you need it... and not much else at all. Mosquito net, perhaps)
- Shoes (sandals and moccasins for warm weather, just boots for cool weather. I travel with sandals and boots, to be prepared for any weather)

I tend to carry around too much food, as past travel partners can attest to, with cringes on their faces. Instead of storing food in my backpack, I tend to carry it around in an external “food bag,” because it’s too heavy and bulky to backpack with. I dumpster-dove for many years for food, instead of purchasing it from the store, which made procured food more valuable. Thus, schlepping it around. These days, I am more picky with my eating habits. I eat mostly organic, so carry around healthy foods, and foods that I like. This food list is more for the back-country connoisseur, rather than the urban traveler, who can easily resupply. I bring food that lasts for a long time, even without refrigeration. I prefer storing food in paper or cloth sacks, so that they can breathe, instead of plastic bags, where they can get damp then moldy, from their own sweat. I usually don’t carry all of these foods. It really depends. If you really want to get fancy, you can dehydrate everything ahead of time. But, I prefer fresh. Here’s some suggestions:

My food list
- Onions
- Purple cabbage
- Carrots
- Garlic
- Ginger
- Broccoli
- Sweet potato
- Fruit (ie Apples, oranges, pears, dried fruits)
- Spices (ie. Salt, pepper, curry powder, cayenne)
- Grains (ie. bread, oats, quinoa)
- Protein (ie. nuts, seeds, beans)
- Oil (I don’t usually backpack with oil, but it’s really lovely to have around.)

The sundries list
- Money (and money/ passport belt, if in an area where folks often get mugged)
- Pepper spray (optional. I used to carry this, while hitchhiking, just in case.)
- Extra bags (I carry extra cotton bags for collecting plants, foods, etc. I carry extra plastic bags for trash, waterproofing needs, etc.)
- Toiletries (toothbrush, toothpaste, floss, soap if you need it, menstruation equipment, etc)
- Small towel (I prefer cotton, instead of the quick-dry synthetic stuff. Cotton just feels and smells better, after a while.)
- Any medicines you may need (I tend to just carry a Tiger Balm style first aid salve that has mint, menthol, and other aromatics that are helpful for everything from aches and sprains, to minor cuts, to bug bites and nauseousness. I also carry Chapparal salve for sun protection and general skin nourishment, and always chapstick.)
- Sewing kit (just 1 ball of string, and 1-3 needles)
- Extra rope, rubber bands, tape (and scissors, if you’re really fancy. I like to carry hemp or jute rope for its durability, compostability, and potential to shred into small pieces to make a tinder bundle nest, for fire-starting)

I carry my large pack on my back, and my smaller grab bag on my front. My grab bag is usually a shoulder bag, but is sometimes a backpack. I put all of my valuables and immediate-usage items in the grab bag. When traveling in public areas, I sometimes ask a stranger to watch my large pack while I go elsewhere. But, I never leave my grab bag. I sleep with my grab bag next to my head, to this day. The grab bag can sometimes get bulky on long trips, especially wilderness backpacking journeys. If I don’t have a grab bag, then I’ll make sure that I have a strong cotton bag that I can easily sling over my shoulder, to use as a grab bag, if needed. A friend gave me a roll-up synthetic ultralight backpack that rolls into the size of a large wallet, that fits at the top of my pack. I carry it around as an emergency grab bag, when I’m not carrying one. When on multi-day backpacking trips, I like to set up a base camp. I leave all of my stuff at camp, unroll my emergency grab bag, and turn it into a daypack. Some backpacks have a detachable “brain” at the top. I’ve seen fellow travelers store grab bag type items in their backpack brain, and detach it as a fanny-pack, when they’re on the move. Fanny-packs seem ergonomically friendly, though I’ve never used one for long, before. I like hip pouches too (just more stylish than fanny packs, and hanging on the side, instead of protruding from the belly), which are like mini grab bags that stay put.

What’s in my grab bag
- Headlamp
- Knife
- Journal
- Camera
- Matches/ lighter
- Money/ passport/ ID
- Snacks
- Phone
- Spork/ chopsticks
- First aid salve
- Chapstick
- 1-3 lightweight cloth/ plastic bags, rolled up

Now with my car, I have a diversity of travel choices/ possibilities. Ensconced within my packed car, I have a smaller backpacking pack for shorter trips, and a large one for longer trips. I have a small suitcase with wheels, with the same carrying capacity as my large backpacking pack, but the convenience of being able to open my suitcase to view its contents, instead of digging through my pack. And, the wheels help to save my aging spine, for more urbane adventures. I have a small day pack, for day hikes. And finally, my grab bag forms my day-to-day purse-like sack, that still comes with me everywhere, and guards my dreams at night.

I’d like to finish this article with one of my favorite quotes, that my best friend in college, and instigator for what has turned into a lifetime of travelsome adventures, once shared with me. I tape this quote onto my wall when I have walls, write it in my journal, and travel with it in my heart. May it inspire you on your journey, as well. And, may you prepare well, pack simply, trust yourself and this beautiful massive world, and... enjoy.

“Benedicto: May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds. May your rivers flow without end, meandering through pastoral valleys tinkling with bells, past temples and castles and poets towers into a dark primeval forest where tigers belch and monkeys howl, through miasmal and mysterious swamps and down into a desert of red rock, blue mesas, domes and pinnacles and grottos of endless stone, and down again into a deep vast ancient unknown chasm where bars of sunlight blaze on profiled cliffs, where deer walk across the white sand beaches, where storms come and go as lightning clangs upon the high crags, where something strange and more beautiful and more full of wonder than your deepest dreams waits for you -- beyond that next turning of the canyon walls.”
- Edward Abbey

~ Addendum ~
Here's some extra insights/ experiential suggestions from my friend and fellow traveler on a similar journey of a different style, Marvin Warren: 

Tarp: You can take my ultralight backpacking tarp from my cold, dead hands. I used to have an 8x10 silnylon job that took me from Georgia to Maine in 2001--still have it, in fact--but now I have a slightly smaller tarp made of spinnaker fabric, which sails are often made of. It's lighter and at least as durable as the silnylon. Cost more, but I've had it for 8 years now and it shows no sign of wearing out, even with a small hole burned in it by a careless neighbor camping in Tennessee some years ago. Anyway, it weighs about 8 ounces; there's no way I'm going back to the enormous and heavy standard tarps of my youth. Also, this means I can use lightweight cord for guylines, saving even more weight (though not so useful for tying up kinky friends and errant children). My sleeping bag, tarp,  lines, pad and ground cloth all together weigh just about 2 pounds. It's hard to get a sleeping bag as light as the quilt I made, but I've seen ones right around 2 lbs/10° that looked very nice.

Stove: I made my 1/4-ounce alcohol-burning stove out of two soda cans and some aluminum tape from an auto parts store. Cost: the tape, a few bucks. I could show you how in under an hour. Fuel is denatured alcohol, available at any hardware store, though I can only seem to find quart-sized and above these days, no more pints. You can burn everclear, too, but why would you? ;-)
I've also used what people call a hobo stove, which is simply a coffee can or some such with some notches cut in it to allow for some air flow. More efficient than an open fire, and easier to rest a pot on. Weighs a little more than the alcohol stove, but if you're confident that you'll have fuel (bits of wood), you don't have to carry any. Both work great, though there's no 'simmer' option, at least on the alcohol.

I put everything in ziplock bags. This is probably less needful in the desert--though it still helps keep things organized--but on the wet sides of the country, it's invaluable. In particularly wet weather, I line the inside of my pack with a trash bag as well.

Clothes: Less of them, all quick-drying except for wool/synthetic socks, of which 3 pair is a minimum, and usually just the right amount. I will never go to sleep in wet socks again. No no no no no.
I invested in silk long-johns, and find them more comfortable and lighter than wool. It's my hands that tend to get cold, though, so I'm less worried about my legs. Might change if I wore skirts outdoors in winter. (Extra socks double as gloves, too, of course)
No cotton, except on car-trips. Synthetic, silk, wool, bamboo fibre, but no cotton.



What's happening around you right now? Which sensory impressions are most noticeable to you? What is your strongest sense? Which of your senses are less awake and aware? Bring consciousness to those senses now, noticing what enters your awareness.