5.19.2015

Pit Firing: the basics


We just pit fired two groups of Two Coyotes Wilderness School students’ pinch pots, almost fifty pots, in a grand fire a few days ago. It was epic. Here’s a brief description for how we did it. I’m writing this mostly for the students and staff who didn’t get to be there for the firing, but it’s also for any interested individuals, who may wish to try it at home. I am here in Connecticut, where it’s a wet climate. Pots fire differently in the desert areas, where I first witnessed this process. This was my first time somewhat spearheading a pit firing, instead of just participating in anothers’ process. The results were really good! There’s always the danger of pots exploding or breaking during a firing. We only had two cracks, in this firing. It felt like somewhat of a rudimentary firing process. These pots won’t hold water, but can do so for short periods of time. They mostly came out pretty charred, with some beautiful color variances. It’s a learning process. I am glad to dance with the elements in this way, and hope to eventually learn about raku, and other more refined ways of working with primitive clay firing techniques. Making pottery already feels deeply connected with all of the elements. Fully participating in the firing process feels even more elemental and connected. I consider these pots sacred works of beautiful and functional art, and lovingly call them our “dragon phoenix children.”

Preparing the pots
1. Make pot/ clay piece (I will henceforth refer to it as just “pot,” from now on.) We added extra sand to temper our terra cotta clay: about a handful of sand, massaged into about a handful of clay. The presence of more sand in the clay helps to keep it together, during the firing.
2. Let pot fully dry. We let them sit in cars, windows, and full sunlight for almost a month, before the firing process. In the desert, we just let them dry for a few days, before firing. This part depends on where you live. But, the drier, the better. Any presence of air pockets or moisture in the pots can lead to exploding/ broken pots (no thanks!)

The Community
Let people know when and where you’re doing this. Ask for help, and turn it into a party. Many hands make light work, and it’s basically creating a huge bonfire... with baby pots birthing, under it.

Preparing the fire
1. Find a good spot that’s in a safe and clear place, away from the forest, or other accidental flammables.
2. Dig a pit. Make it about 8 inches (two hands) deep, and as wide as you might need it to be, for however many pots you are firing, laid out next to each other.
3. Gather lots of wood. We used a full bag of sawdust for the fine tinder, a pile of newspapers, and a truckload of assorted sized sticks from finger sized to solid lumps of firewood.
4. Prepare water. We had about 40 gallons of water and buckets nearby, for emergency usage.
5. Add a layer of sawdust/ fine tinder to the bottom of your pit, about 1-2 inches deep.
6. Arrange sticks around the edge of the pit, that creates a “support structure nest” for the pots, that more sticks can later be piled atop. These will help protect the sticks (Andy and I came up with this idea, in the moment.) Note that this layer is only for the edge, and not for the center of the pit, as the center is for the pots.

While preparing the fire...
Start pre-heating the pots. You can either just do this in the oven, at around 250 F for 30-60 minutes, or:
1. Build a fire. Crowd the pots around the fire, gently rotating them, so that they are evenly heated.
2. Slowly move the pots in, closer and closer around the fire. Let the fire die down into coals.
3. Place the pots on the coals, when they feel hot enough. You can place coals into the pots, too.

The Fire
Once everything is ready,
1. Place the pots on top of the first sawdust layer, facing downwards.
2. Add another layer of sawdust/ fine tinder on top of the pots, again about 1-2 inches deep.
3. Layer with newspapers.
4. Keep building your fire structure. Add sticks, moving from smaller up to to larger sticks. We started off building a log frame fire structure (criss crossing sticks), then placed longer sticks around that in a huge teepee fire structure. The end result looked like a massive teepee. We kept a “door” at the bottom to start the fire.
5. Start the fire. We bow-drilled a coal, blew it into flame, then sang songs as we lit the entire thing on fire.
6. Let it burn. It creates a huge fire that burns for almost an hour, then dies down into fat, bright, hot coals.
7. Once the coals stop smoking, cover with dirt. This keeps the heat in, and prevents oxidation. I just learned about this part from experienced potter John Olsen, who makes beautiful painted (with concentrated plant juices) and clean pots (not black and charred). We’ll try this, next time. And, add more pitchy wood at the beginning of firing (about half, to create a hot and smoky fire), for a reduction fire method.
8. Our coals stayed hot for almost 24 hours, uncovered. I slept next to them, and regularly visited them, the next day. Do not disturb the pots. Let them stay in there, slowly doing their thing: heating, cooling, and waiting. Once it feels cool enough...
9. Unearth the pots. Use leather gloves; they may still be hot.
10. Celebrate.

5.12.2015

Herbal First Aid- Web Resources


Rainbow Medicine 2014 (A list of most of the medicines brought to the 2014 Rainbow Gathering by Sevensong and the Northeast School of Botanical Medicine, with a brief description of their uses. May be more helpful for someone with a pre-existing understanding of individual medicines, and their uses.)

7song’s handouts (go to the “First Aid” section, for related handouts. These are my primary references/ resources. These are also list-like, and potentially more helpful for more herbally experienced folks.)

jim mcdonald’s list of articles

Books
7song’s currently working on an herbal first aid book, and occasionally conducts an “Herbal First Aid” class series with Learning Herbs:

I haven’t read it, but have heard mostly good reviews about Sam Coffman’s books, relating to this topic:

---
(Photo of the Herb Temple that I started setting up in Patagonia, AZ. Preparing for a salve-making workshop. The night before. The red cloth on the table makes me think of the usual red cross symbol that usually signifies first aid, as well as an invitation to bring more to the table. More research, more information, more skill. More intuition to match that, more care, and more importantly than anything else... the willingness to ask more questions, listen more carefully, and just be present with whoever shows up, in whatever ways that they do.) 

5.03.2015

Meditation


My family started meditating regularly when I was 9 years old. We became vegetarian, and attended group meditation four to five days a week. Children under twelve years old were “half initiates” who meditated at least 30 minutes a day, whereas adults meditated at least 2.5 hours a day. We spent our weekends camping at a meditation center in Riverside, CA. We drove there on Saturdays, and camped until Sunday. I spent many happy hours exploring the surrounding desert hills, roaming old trails, creating new trails, dreaming, questioning, and learning from the natural world.

I started rebelling as a teenager, and challenging all that I grew up with. I spent more and more time alone in the mountains, and even started cutting classes to go hiking, instead. After I left home and started traveling, I eagerly started exploring other forms of spirituality, and ways to understand myself, the world, and Spirit.

Meditation formed the foundation of my childhood, and continues to inform my life, regardless of its exact form. It increases self-awareness, cultivates presence, and, when utilized in an appropriately personalized way, can facilitate deepened connections with yourself, and the world. It can bring you more fully to life.

I am fascinated by diverse means of accessing the Divine, especially through Earth-based indigenous traditions. Growing up mesmerized by and enamored with the stones, plants, magic, and mystery of the southern California desert hills and San Gabriel mountains, I’ve carried that passionate curiosity into my adulthood, as a “wild creative spirit” aficionado and aspirant. I’m a seeker, and intend to continue exploring and sharing these sacred ways, for as long as I breathe.

In this article, I’d like to share a few meditation frameworks and possibilities. I try to cover some classic cross-cultural traditions, as well as what resonates most strongly with me, personally. Please remember that there is no “right way” to meditate, or connect with the Divine. There are infinite possibilities. I am spiritual but not religious, and hope the same for all of us. Dogmatism is a doorway to misery and judgmentalism, potentially hurting both ourselves, as well as all those we come into contact with. Stay open-minded and be experimental, but also set clear boundaries for yourself and the spirit realm. Try these techniques, but personalize them according to your own needs and desires, interests and penchants. My suggestions are all pretty general. None of the below meditations come specifically from any set tradition, though many of them are incorporated into more detailed traditions. Follow your intuition, your inner knowing, your heart song. Listen. Feel. See. Know.

In-joy.

Seated Meditation
Seat yourself in a comfortable position with your spine aligned, and both sides of your body balanced, where you can relax into your posture for however long you wish to sit. A cross-legged or kneeling position is commonly used, though lying down in Corpse Pose (Shavasana) or other supine positions is also done. Either gently lower your eyelids, or close your eyes. Draw your awareness to your breathing, heartbeat, and body. Allow your breath and heartbeat to soften, and slow down. Consciously relax all tension in your body, starting from the bottom of your feet, up to the top of your head. As thoughts arise, gently notice and release them without judgment or attachment. Noticing and releasing thoughts is a foundational practice.

Further exploration: yoga, mantra meditations, visualization meditations, affirmations

Breath Meditation
Count the length of your inhales and exhales. You can start with an equal length of both, noticing as your breath slows down. Gradually increase the duration of your inhales and exhales. Breathe in through your nose, and out through your mouth. Begin lengthening your exhale, while maintaining your inhale. Eventually, focus only on the exhale. Notice your body through this exercise, maintaining relaxation, and drawing breath and awareness to any areas of tension. Breath awareness and body relaxation forms the foundational basis of many other practices, or meditation forms.

Further explorations:
Breathing exercises are best learned in person. Yogic pranayama exercises combine different breathing techniques with breath retention, and different postures, to cleanse, relax, and/ or energize the body-mind-spirit being. They require some degree of physical health and stamina, and a dedication to the practice. Sufi elemental breath exercises are simple, and don’t require much time or physical effort. Like a tonic herbal formula, they are more effective over time. They connect different breathing techniques with different elements, engaging with the five elements--- Earth, water, fire, air, ether--- physiologically and otherwise.

Moving Meditation
How can meditation be incorporated into a daily practice? A moving meditation can be any action done in a conscious and intentional manner. This could include yoga, chi-gong, tsalagi, dance, sports, etc. A few more detailed ideas are below.

Walking Meditation
Walk at a place and time where you can be silent and focused. Slow down. Coordinate your breathing and walking. As you inhale, raise your foot. As you exhale, place your foot upon the ground. Notice the areas where your foot comes into contact with the Earth. What kind of relationship does your foot have with Earth? How does that relationship impact you both? How does that impact feel, traveling up your leg, into your hips, extending upwards into your spine, rolling down your shoulders and through your arms, up through the top of your neck and into your head? What’s your walking posture? How do you swing or hold your arms? When you slow down, what is tense? What is relaxed? What is most comfortable? What is most difficult? Just notice. With each conscious step, synced with breath, notice what’s happening in your physical body, breath, and surroundings. What birds are singing? How does the air feel? What’s the quality of light? Keep your vision loose, not focusing on any one point, but looking ahead, with a wide angle vision that takes in as much as possible, more than 180 degrees from side to side, up and down. As thoughts arise, allow them to flow onwards, without engaging them. Keep walking, noticing, breathing, and stepping. Try doing it different ways, in different terrains, times of day, tempos, etc. If in a safe space, try it barefoot. Blind-folded. Naked. Backwards.

Further explorations: Chi-gong walking exercises/ meditations

Dance Improvisation Meditation
Stand in a relaxed yet balanced position, such as Mountain Pose (Tadasana) or a gentle Horse Stance. Feel the alignment of your spine, balanced between Earth and Sky. Feel your connection with both. Bring your awareness to your breath and body, like in previous exercises. As you relax further into your position, allow your breath to begin to move you. Drop your mental chatter, and surrender to this breath, and your movement. Allow your movements to be organic, your body to take on a life of its own. Experiment with moving in tandem with breath. Experiment with or without music. Where are you holding tension? What’s there? How does it feel to move this or that way? Try doing this with no story, or expectations. Try it with an intention, or specified exploration. Eyes closed or open. Vocalizing or silent.

Further explorations: Zifagong (spontaneous qi-gong), body-mind centering, Five Rhythms movement, Ecstatic Dance

Song Improvisation Meditation
While in a relaxed and embodied state, start vocalizing. Allow your voice to rise and fall as it wishes, while releasing your face muscles, opening your jaw, and emptying your thoughts. (You can also try this, with intentions, or as a processing technique). Loosen your spine, and allow yourself to move with your sounds, buoyed by your spine, noticing all sensations stored and released, expressed and explored. Don’t control the sounds that arise. Or, control the sounds. Try sticking to just one tone. Try going all over the place, atonal, melodic, staccato, with or without words, etc. Feel the sounds that you create, and how these vibrations affect you.

Further explorations: Sufi Dances of Universal Peace

Nature Meditation
Go into nature. Go to something that draws you. It could be a plant, a body of water, an anthill... anything. Get into a comfortable position that ideally places you at eye-level with this thing, so that you can really look at it. Allow your eyes to zero in, and really look. Notice as many details as you can, letting the surrounding world, even yourself, fall away. Besides physical observations, notice your breath, heartbeat, emotions, relationship with yourself, relationship with this thing, etc. Allow your thoughts to move on as they arise, and really tune into whatever you are observing. After a while, without changing your position, gradually shift into wide angle vision. Allow yourself to notice what surrounds this thing. What is its relationship with its own environment? How do you fit into that? Don’t think about all this; just experience it. Allow the experience to draw you forward. Allow yourself to meld into this thing, into its environment, into yourself.

Further explorations: Tamarack Song’s “Oneness Meditation,” plant journeys, “Plant Spirit Medicine” by Eliot Cowan

Sit Spot
Find a natural area within short walking distance of your home, where you feel comfortable, and have a connection with. This could be anywhere from a small plot of green, to miles of national forest. Whatever you’ve got works fine. Return here day after day, to just sit here. As you sit, notice what’s happening in the natural world around you, and what changes occur over time. Allow your mind to clear, and open to the natural messages. What plants grow around you? How do they change over time? What are their properties?

Further explorations: “Coyote’s Guide to connecting with nature” by Jon Young

Mirror Gazing
Gaze into your own eyes, in the mirror. Hold that gaze. You can allow your vision to be focused or wide angle, but maintain connection with your own eyes, noting that exchange. You can speak with yourself as you wish, but just notice what happens as you hold your own gaze, over time. This can also be a good time for conversing with yourself, asking questions, releasing pent-up woes, and/ or repeating heartfelt affirmations.

Further explorations: candle gazing, fire gazing, Sufi practices: gazing into the eyes of others

Journaling
Explore free-form stream-of-consciousness writing, not editing your thoughts as they flow, upon the paper. As you write, allow your mind to clear. Let this act of writing be a cleansing process, an imaginative or creative process, a process of allowing, of being completely in that moment.

Further explorations: free drawing, creating mandalas, drawing plants
~

Meditation possibilities are infinite, due to their personal nature. What do you need? What do you enjoy? What practices root you to your body and this earth, while connecting you with your higher dreams, goals, aspirations and inspirations?

Meditation is not a quick fix, but instead cultivates long-term relationships, through the practice. Consider committing for at least 2 months to your daily practice of choice, to allow it to season and sweeten in you, like a well-aged wine. This kind of aged wine not only tastes better, but you can also taste it better, and the effects of that taste continues to leave an impact, further ripening, richening, and evolving over time. 

5.01.2015

Heroes


List the people that you really admire in your life, and your personal heroes (alive or dead) that you look up to. What qualities do these people have? How are those qualities manifest within yourself already? How can you further cultivate those qualities? How can you become your own hero? 

4.15.2015

Sweet Medicine (class handout)


Sweet Menstruums
- Honey
- Glycerine
- Sugar

With Honey (or other sweetener)

Honey Infusion
Fill jar with fresh/ dried plant material. Fill again with honey, covering at least 2 inches over the top. Let sit.
- Can warm the honey (via double boiler method) to 130-140 F, to liquefy and pour over plant material.
- Plant material need not be strained from the honey. Based on personal preference.
- Can let honey infusion sit, or warm in a double boiler, or the sun. If warming with fresh herbs, then leave uncapped to let condensation evaporate.

Glycerite
Made like a tincture, but with glycerine as the menstruum, instead of alcohol. Better with dried plant material, and with undiluted glycerine. The glyerite can go bad easily, if there’s extra water content inside. Useful with nervines, combined with tinctures, or for those who don’t ingest alcohol.

Electuaries
4 fl. Oz honey: 3 T powdered herb
(1 C honey: 6 T powdered herb)
Basically, honey paste.

Pastilles
Electuaries with more powders, to form an even thicker paste-like consistency that remains in a ball, when rolled. Can add demulcent powders as solidifying agents. Can coat/ roll with other powders on the surface, to further solidify, on the surface. Let dry, then store.

Syrups
Simmer (2 oz herb: 32 oz water) down to 16 oz of strong tea. Strain the herbs, then add (8 oz honey: 16 oz strong tea)
- Can add (16 oz honey: 16 oz strong tea), to make a sweeter syrup that will last longer, unrefrigerated.
- Can add 3-4 T brandy (or other alcohol) per cup of syrup, as a preservative.
- Can add a few drops of essential oil, for a stronger flavor/ medicinal effect.

Oxymels
1 part vinegar: 2-4 parts honey

With Alcohol

Cordials
1 C drinking alcohol (ie. Brandy): 1 C sweet syrup/ concentrate (can do 1 tincture: 3 sweet menstruum)
Let sit for a long time. Can be years!

Infused Wine
Infusing herbs into a drinking wine, with the tincture. May be more tasty than a straight tincture. Can add berries and other sweet fruits, to sweeten the medicine

Elixirs
1 part honey: 2-4 parts alcohol
Make with the same technique as making tinctures. Can strain after 2-4 weeks.

Pleasure Elixirs
Add 3 tsp of pre-formulated elixir(s) to 60 oz sparkling water, for a refreshing drink.

Recipes
(All plants listed in parts. Refer to directions/ proportions above, using the parts listed.)

Arabic Honey Electuary
Black pepper 1: Ginger 1: Tumeric 6-8
4 oz. Honey: 3 T herb powder blend

Sore Throat Pastilles
(From Rosemary Gladstar)
- 1 licorice root powder
- 1 comfrey root powder
- 1 elm powder
- 12 echinacea powder
- 1/8 goldenseal powder

Cough and Sore Throat Syrup
(From Rosemary Gladstar)
- 2 elm bark
- 2 valerian
-2 comfrey root
- 1 wild cherry bark
- 2 licorice root
-1 ginger root
-1 cinnamon bark
- 4 fennel seeds
- 1/8 orange peel

Some Northeastern Spring Sweet Medicine to Make Now
- Violet flowers (honey infusion, sugar, syrup)
- Dandelion flowers (honey infusion, oxymel)
- Cinquefoil young leaves (honey infusion, glycerite)
- Dock young leaves (oxymel)
- Chives young leaves (oxymel)
- Garlic Mustard young leaves (oxymel)

Measurements
1 C= 8 oz
1 pint= 16 oz
1 quart= 32 oz
1 oz= 30 mL

Web Resources
Sweet Medicine Overview, by Kiva Rose

Cordial recipes

4.08.2015

"Making Tinctures" class handout


Standard Tincture Ratios
(Herb weight: liquid volume, % alcohol)

Fresh plants
1:2 95%

Dried plants
1:5 50%

Tincturing methods
- Weight-to-volume scientific method
- Folk method
- Percolations

Some plants to tincture now (spring in the Northeast)

Roots:
- Mullein (Verbascum thapsus)
- Dandelion (Taraxacum officinale)
- Burdock (Arctium spp.)
- Docks (Rumex obtusifolius, R. crispus)
- Skunk cabbage (Symplocarpus foetidus)
- Knotweed (Fallopia japonica)
- Barberry (Berberis spp.)

Flowers:
- Hawthorne (Crataegus spp.)
- Elder (Sambucus spp.)

Trees:
- Willow bark (Salix spp.)
- Poplar buds (Populus spp.)

Web Resources

Making tinctures 101, by Kiva Rose

Tincture ratios handout, by 7song

“Solubility Chart,” for scientifically measuring tincture alcohol ratios, by Lisa Ganora

See trusted herb companies for optimal ratios. An example is Herb Pharm.

Tincture Ratios, and so much more by my teacher 7song’s teacher, Michael Moore

On Skunk Cabbage, by Sean Donahue

Five Flavors “Taste of Herbs” Flavor Wheel, from Rosalee de la Foret

4.03.2015

Apprenticing with 7song


Apprenticing with 7song meant spending six days a week working with him, for almost nine months. This revolutionized my perspective on herbalism, healthcare, and even life. Even more important than the hard skills gleaned, are the tools of empowered critical thinking, humor, kind generosity, and a truly holistic approach to healthcare that I observed clinically, and otherwise. 7song’s nonconventional teaching style is humorous, direct, engaging, and filled with clinical gems, botanical details, and almost thirty years of hands-on experience in the field, clinic, and classroom. 7song is skilled in all aspects of western clinical herbalism: wild-crafting, medicine making, field botany, clinical work, first aid, and an intimate understanding of how humans work, how plants work, and how the two work together. I now not only feel confident with the above skills, but also feel empowered to continue learning on my own, and inspired to provide accessible herbal healthcare services and education, wherever I go. Below, I share a bit more about my apprenticeship with 7song, which was a transformational year of my life. I hope that this story provides considering apprentices some perspective on what that experience is like, inspires working herbalists to offer apprenticeships in turn, and allows others a bit more insight into who we herbalists are, what we do, and the backdrop behind what has come to be a huge part of my life.
~

I found him on Facebook. A friend posted an intriguing photo from 7song. It was a beautiful moth on his “moth wall,” which is just a lamp against a white wall that bugs flock to at night, and he photographs, visiting often to observe different insects. I loved this simple image enough that I visited 7song’s personal page, looked through more of his photos, was further intrigued, checked out his webpage, then was blown away by the depth and abundance of herbal information there. “I want to apprentice with 7song one day,” I whispered to myself as sort of a passing thought, that I never dreamed would one day be a life-changing reality.

Fast forward... after studying traditional healing modalities around southeast Asia for three years, I started exploring options for returning back to the USA. I remembered 7song, and got in touch. Talking on the phone, across the ocean, even with the choppy reception, I could tell that I liked him immediately. I did some more research, then formally accepted what I’d already decided on, three years ago: I’m apprenticing with 7song.

“We are healthcare providers first, herbalists second,” said 7song on the first day of class. He would continue emphasizing this point, throughout the apprenticeship. He spoke about it in class, as a way to cultivate open-mindedness in our approach to integrative healthcare. More importantly, I watched this in action, observing 7song in the clinic. We utilize plant medicines in our healing protocols, but are not dogmatically attached to just this form of healthcare. 7song revolutionized the way that I consider and approach botanical medicine, healing arts, and life itself.

“Do you want to go for a walk?” 7song knocked on my door within a few days of my moving to the Ithaca region. I moved there to apprentice with him, which meant working with him intensively six days a week, for almost nine months. I had just landed back in the USA, and we hadn’t officially started the apprenticeship yet. While walking on that cold spring morning, just getting to know each other, we came across a steep embankment of ice. I started walking around it, to avoid slipping. To my surprise, 7song laid his bag at the bottom of the ice slide, ran to the top, and went sliding down, laughing. Whenever times got tough during the year, I would remember that moment, and smile.

7song is courageously nonconventional, and refreshingly “real.” He curses, speaks his mind, and is sarcastic, skeptical, playful, smart, wise, kind, generous, straightforward, sometimes rude, and certainly not for everyone. I love him. 7song’s almost thirty years of hands-on experience in the field, clinic, and classroom is apparent in his skillful teaching. He’s skilled in all aspects of western clinical herbalism: wild-crafting, medicine making, field botany, clinical work, first aid, and an intimate understanding of how humans work, how plants work, and how the two work together. He is constantly questioning, researching, re-evaluating, modifying, and growing. He’s an open-minded skeptic who takes nothing at face value. Everything is up for questioning, and nothing really “works” until actively proven, and consistently works, with continuous observation and querying all along the way. Nothing is ever “set.” 7song is honest about what he knows and doesn’t know. If he doesn’t know the answer to something, then he provides useful pertinent information and queries to continue exploring that direction on your own.

7song has a huge apothecary. It literally became my home, as I spent more time in 7song’s apothecary, classroom, and home than I did in my own sleeping-quarters cabin (a few miles down the road). His apothecary is a converted basement space, with a maze of metal shelving, lined with glass jars filled with diverse wild-crafted plants and medicinal preparations from all over the USA. Most of the medicines are tinctures, though there are also huge bins filled with dried herbs, and a collection of oils, too. Some of the medicines are ancient, back from when he was my age, studying with Micheal Moore, and even before then. There’s a lot of fresh medicine, too.

I loved processing fresh medicines. We went into the field to gather large amounts of plant material, usually making gallons of tinctures at a time, washing the fresh plants in large buckets, chopping them in the sun room, then eventually pressing the tinctures, getting giddy on the scent of alcohol and macerated plant materials, in the cold air of the basement apothecary. We prepared tinctures and other medicines for 7song’s variety of uses: at the Ithaca Free Clinic for clients, selling at the local co-op, and for various sundry uses. At some point, everything was utilized, and we went through large amounts of some medicines. Going through all of the bottles, the succession of years of apprentices becomes apparent, as I start to recognize handwriting, and associate certain handwriting with certain years, and the stories therein. But, before the time of apprentices, there was only 7song’s own handwriting, and sometimes little doodles and notations, that further tracked his history with this medicine, and life way. One could arrange the medicines by year, and get a sense of the abundant amount of traveling that 7song has done in his life, and the diversity of plant knowledge that he’s accumulated through firsthand explorative experience.

The apothecary opens up to the classroom. The classroom is a converted greenhouse, a glass room that we had to cover with ceiling blankets and open all the windows in the summer, to prevent the class from overheating. One of our apprentice projects, before class started, was remodeling the classroom. We ordered a new sofa, made some new pillowcases and curtains, redecorated, and reorganized the space. We continued caretaking this room through the school season, vacuuming before and after class, fluffing pillows, cleaning up after students, preparing demonstrations, and more. The greenhouse was also the perfect place to dry plants quickly, if we weren’t putting them into the dehydrator. The floor was often covered with recently gathered plants laid out to dry, sometimes being bundled together minutes before other students showed up, then spread out again, after the students left in the evening.

7song lives on a beautiful property that has a wildly diverse medicinal garden around the house. 7song has a hands-off approach to his garden. He plants the plants, but they end up mostly taking care of themselves. Apprentices manage a garden a little further from the living space, and plant whatever they like. Before planting season started, 7song fished a big metal can out, from the back of one of his extensive closets. He opened it, revealing one small bag after another of an assortment of seeds: herbs, flowers, foods, and more. “Go for it,” he said. And so, we planted what we wanted, everything grew wild while we were gone for the Rainbow Gathering fieldtrip, and we still had more than enough food and medicine from the wild little garden to feed ourselves while at school, take some foods home, and make medicine, too.

There are always flowers and tea in the classroom. Every morning, regardless of if it was a field day or lecture day, we apprentices brewed three large pots of tea: two different herbal teas that we usually blended on the spot, and a third caffeinated black or green tea. 7song is a skilled artist: he makes music, composes brilliant photographs, and arranges flowers that sing from their vases. 7song’s flower arrangements are like his herbal formulations: he’s done it for long enough that it comes as second nature, and is apparent in the rapidity of arrangement, elegant simplicity, and potency. We had two vases freshly filled with flowers for each week of class, that matched the changing seasons, and oftentimes, botanical information being shared.

The Community Herbal Intensive classes are three days a week, from Monday through Wednesday, May to November. The first part of the program focuses on herbal first aid, to prepare for the Rainbow Gathering at the end of June and into the beginning of July, which is a two week field trip, and the highlight of many students’ experiences. After that, we covered a body system each week: Mondays are anatomy and physiology, Tuesdays are botany field days, and Wednesdays are pathologies and materia medica. We keyed out plants and went on plant walks for field days, visiting different ecosystems, and becoming confident in both field plant identification and medicine making. Mondays and Wednesdays were mostly lecture days, with students piled into the sun room on couches that line the walls, 7song sitting in the center in his rolly chair in the center of the room, with his desk, skeleton, two vases of flowers, and yummy teas.

Apprentices attend all of the Community Herbal Intensive classes, and some of the Weekend Program classes. Weekend classes are three days a month, and are condensed versions of the Intensive program.

Apprentices worked all morning during class days, except for the Tuesday field days, as those were full day ventures. We help prepare lunch and dinner for 7song and each other, make tea for the students, clean up the classroom before and after class, empty the outhouses, process plants for medicine, tend the garden, prepare tinctures to sell at the co-op, and so much more.

Us three apprentices rotated between who accompanied 7song to the Ithaca Free Clinic on Thursdays. During clinic days, two apprentices sat on one side of the small room, while 7song and the client sat on the other side of the room. We took notes, listened, and observed while 7song conducted the client intake and consultation, formulated on the spot, then gave us the formula to fill. Apprentices filled formulas silently and efficiently while 7song continued with the consultation. After the consult, clients went home with their formula, and clear directions for taking it, and when to return. Initial consultations are one hour long, while subsequent consultations are half an hour long. The free clinic is an inspiring model. It’s completely free, with a diversity of healthcare practitioners operating together under the same roof: an herbalist, an MD, two nurses, two massage therapists, an acupuncturist, and a psychologist. One of the directors often brought in delicious food from her restaurant. In between clients and after work, we would crowd around the little table in the back room feasting, and exchanging jokes, stories, and knowledge. If anyone received a client who needed something that someone else could better provide, or if they had questions, then they would refer them to someone else, in the same building. I felt honored to witness, and be part of, an integrative holistic healthcare practice that is effective, accessible, and a generous gift to the community.

Besides the Rainbow Gathering, there are two other field trips during the school year. Apprentices help prepare for these trips, managing some logistics, clean up, student care, and other duties during the trip. Field trips felt like a respite from our usual long hours in the apothecary, and working before and after classes. We visited beautiful areas to learn more about the plants of different ecosystems, meet other herbalists, wildcraft, botanize, and create medicines in the field. Field trips were often luxurious days spent in nature, roaming around with fellow plant aficionados, and late nights around a campfire processing plants, telling stories, laughing, and living with delight. But, there were also long hours of driving around searching for a good area to wildcraft, some days of inclement weather, and the accompanying fatigue. We learned about the realities of wildcrafting, through this process.

Apprentices manage their own room and board, but attend all Community Herbal Intensive classes without an additional fee. Some people wonder if this is just a worktrade arrangement. It’s not. There’s no time to work another job, so apprentices need to have enough financial savings to provide for themselves, for the year. And, apprentices work a lot. Apprentices are an integral working part of 7song’s life. I had some monetary savings that I used, lived frugally, and still created space in my life for personal and social needs, though I didn’t get to know my fellow students as much as I would have liked. After working full mornings, I just felt like taking space during class breaks, instead of socializing. Regardless of how busy we were, almost every week, 7song took us apprentices on a little trip. Sometimes, it was partnered with a gathering expedition. But usually, it was just a walk in the woods where we’d talk, look at plants, and just relax, and enjoy each other’s company, in a non-work atmosphere.

The hands-on aspect of being an apprentice is invaluable experience. I witnessed the ups and downs of being a full-time herbal teacher, clinician, school director, wildcrafter, medicine maker, writer, and more. I observed a skilled clinician in practice with about 500 cases, learned a bit about selling products, filling orders, preparing for classes and events, and more. I learned a lot about myself, healthcare, herbalism, and the natural world.

There’s a certain degree of personal agency that is surrendered during the apprenticeship. After studying for three years in Asia, I was used to the respect that students afford their teachers. Sometimes, teachers have their students do years of mundane labor, before sharing any “real information.” There’s certainly a fair share of mundane labor, as well as more formal training, in this apprenticeship. 7song’s a strong character, and can be difficult to get along with, with clear personal preferences, rules, and needs. But, he’s a clear communicator, and cares. One of his first questions that he asked me, during our initial interview, was, “What do you think you will hate most about me?” Some teachers can be overly idealistic, glazing over the darker, yet real, parts of life. 7song is honest about all of these things, and about himself as well. That can be uncomfortable for some. He directly warned hat he can be difficult to get along with during our interview, and asked some potentially uncomfortable questions about race, gender, and other touchy subjects. So, I entered the apprenticeship prepared to work hard and learn a lot with a tough guy. His classes tend to attract punks and other “fringe” folks, as he is open to the counter culture, and carries a bit of a bad-ass reputation, himself. All three of us apprentices agreed that 7song’s hardcore, but not as tough or difficult to get along with as he made himself sound, in the interview. But, for a person who doesn’t fit 7song’s somewhat specific temperament, I can see how it would be really difficult for both parties concerned.

I lived close to 7song and didn’t have a car (a big no no, for future considering apprentices), so we often carpooled, especially during clinic days. We live slightly out of town, whereas the clinic is in the town of Ithaca. I treasured driving home after a full clinic work day with 7song. “I’ve been talking with people about their health all day,” 7song would say, “let’s talk about something else.” So we got to joke around, and discuss everything from pointless trivia to childhood stories, and more. 7song has the eyes of a skilled wildcrafter and naturalist, one who knows the land, notices small details, and is always looking, and seeing. Even while driving quickly, he noticed animals and plants that I didn’t notice. We would sometimes take detours to his favorite spots to search for peregrines here, scout for certain plants there, etc. He found a fox den down the road from his home. In the spring, he drove there everyday to watch the fox kits grow up, and play. “Grab what you need; let’s go,” he would sometimes announce out of the blue. The first time we visited the foxes was one of those days, where we had just finished our morning meeting, was preparing to kick our day into gear, then got called out for a surprise trip. We sat in the car on the side of the road, ogling the fox kits, while 7song made photo after photo, with his camera that’s always around his neck.

I really appreciate getting to know 7song beyond a teacher, more fully as a person, and dear friend. In some ways, I feel like the apprenticeship isn’t over. With all of the seeds planted during the apprenticeship, I feel both a responsibility and deep desire to continue nourishing those seeds within myself, while sharing that information and inspiration with my community, and further. We still keep in touch. I write down lists of questions, and we go through them, every few weeks. I consider 7song one of the rocks in my life, someone that I could actually go to for anything from personal to professional support. I sometimes feel like he sees something in me that I can’t see clearly yet, and is a cheerleader who dresses all in black and will never actually cheer, but will always be there, answer questions with more questions, and make sarcastic jokes that make me laugh and laugh, and think for myself.

On the last day of class, 7song said to us, “Yesterday, you were my students. Today, you are now my peers. One day, I hope you will be my teachers.”

4.01.2015

Homes




Where did you grow up? Remember the house that you lived in, the people who occupied that space, the area around the house, the town, your school environment, etc. What were some of your favorite places? What did you love about that home? Where do you live, now? How do you feel when you are in different areas of your home? What is your relationship with your home, now? What kind of relationship would you like to have? What is your dream home? How can you cultivate that, within your existing reality?