Friday, September 25, 2015

Gathering the Wild Herbalists

When I was a teenager growing up in suburban Massachusetts, the Earth First! Journal brought me news of struggles to protecting old growth ecosystems from the Redwoods of California to the Cedars of Alaska, and I dreamed that someday I would be part of giving voice to those ancient forests.  Among my greatest inspirations was Lone Wolf Circles, and the Earth First! Warrior Poets Society that he founded.  

After a decade and half on the frontlines of opposition to the violence of late capitalism -- visiting war zones, blockading weapons factories, planting sunflowers at nuclear power plants -- I left the city for the woods, and eventually found myself teaching and practicing herbal medicine in the Pacific rainforest, a few hours' drive south of Clayoquot Sound, where forest defenders made their stand in the '80's and '90's, and the Walbran where friends and students of mine will soon prepare to put their bodies on the line in defense of some of this island's last old growth.   I venture from my forest home to come into Victoria to teach and work in the clinic at Pacific Rim College, to buy groceries, and to lift weights late at night when I am the only person in the gym.    And every summer and fall I find myself on the road, teaching at herb conferences.

Plant people are some of the best people I have met, and they make me feel welcome everywhere I go.   But, I have to admit, among all the amazing gatherings I attend, one has a very special place in my heart:  The Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference, where, a few years ago, Lone Wolf Circles (now known as Jesse Wolf Hardin)  and Kiva Rose took the risk of inviting an unknown herbalist with no formal training and a strange, poetic manner of speaking in spirals to come talk about my relationships with wild plants.    They earned my eternal gratitude then by making room for a new voice, and I have watched them continue to do the same for others, as brilliant people who sat in some of my first workshops have begun to emerge as new, clear, strong, creative voices in our community.   This year I had the special privilege of co-teaching with one of those still newer voices, Asia Suler, whose love and reverence for the land serve as weet but powerful medicine for the re-enchantment of the world.

Wolf and Kiva invite people like me to teach not in spite of our strangeness, but because of it.  They recognize that, as Albert Einstein may or may not have said, the problems we face will not be solved by the same thinking that gave rise to them.  I was particularly moved by the amount of space consciously and deliberately created for neurodivergent voices at this year's gathering.

 But that doesn't mean the conference is a free for all.   The strange truths spoken in the high desert are grounded in lived experience and must pass through the finely tuned bullshit detectors of those willing to challenge what passes for wisdom, be it conventional or unconventional.   The same rollicking spirit that inspired me when I first encountered Earth First! lives on in a conference that grew out of the movement of deep ecology from road blockades into medicine.    I am already counting down the days until next September.


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fauxbois said...

Your session on phytochemical conversations was the highlight of TWHC, for me. I still think about it! I came to your blog looking for herbs to clear trauma; it made me so happy to remember the conference last fall.

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