Journey into herbalism

How did it all begin? Moving away from the world I knew to a life I only dreamed of, romanticized, and idealized was the first step. After more and more faith-led steps, giant leaps and becoming entirely airborne, ungrounded, and not exactly sure how to put one foot in front of the other, I listened to a song in my heart that was calling me toward plant medicine.

I had learned the names of the wild things that grew throughout the woods of Robinwood and beyond. I foraged spring greens, summer berries, fall mushrooms, and I dried wild flowers and drank them as teas. One day in late 2016, I came across the Chestnut School of Herbal Medicine, and took the plunge. It was one of the best decisions I made for myself, and in doing so, I was pulled from the floating clouds of infinite possibilities, down to the ground, the rich soil, the seeds, the medicine of the earth.

Here are some of my favourite photos and memories of this journey.

beginning

I began with a loose and ambitious plan and garden designed around tractor accessibility with long straight rows, and the entire perimeter of the garden tilled up to be turned into beds. (Later, it would become apparent that I should have tilled out under and past the garden fence, as there’s nothing like long, unmowable grass and buttercup to seed endless weeds.

I also got busy and planted about 700 seeds in soil blocks in the hoop house, most of which fell victim to rascal mice. So, re-doing many of the seed trays the seedling count was in the thousands. It was so nice and warm in there.

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I had all the rows sifted and mulched by April, a gaggle of toads had moved in to the hoop house to keep me company, and I planted 25 blueberry plants.

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Summer 2017 was all about the garden. I focused on two rows of vegetables, and the rest was flowers and herbs, mostly perennials.  Every seed I started was loved and became a part of the garden. Most of the perennials, like the echinacea, wild bergamot, valerian didn’t grow more than a few inches high. But the annuals, like California Poppy, Calendula, Borage, and the mints and catnip grew like crazy and I dried so many herbs that summer. I took advantage of the natural abundance in the meadow and harvested rose petals, self heal, red clover, yarrow, plantain, dandelion, cottonwood, burdock….

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You can’t see in the basket, but it was full of Self-heal, (prunelis vulgaris) which grows wild through the meadow.

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Cleaning and cutting up dandelion root down at the office. My apprentice watching and learning. And we found an eagle feather!!!

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Even Doug is intoxicated by the lovely scent of Elderflower!

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Down at the office again, which is also the wild mint garden.

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Earliest of springtime foraging; the sticky resinous cottonwood buds for Balm of Gilead.

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A visit to the Okanagan and a day of harvesting blue elderberry with my nephew.
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And here it is, “The Herb Bus” and it worked pretty well for drying the herbs, although it was very vulnerable to weather and temperature changes… that is; it got very damp in there on cool rainy days, and hot as can be when the sun shone bright. Maybe not the best drying conditions.

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Catnip and yarrow drying in the Herb Bus

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I can’t even describe how lovely this was.

 

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I set up this huge screen in the bus to dry the rose petals, but the bus got way too hot I think and the petals all ended up losing their colour and fragrance. I left them there too long.

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End of summer first year: California Poppy drying in the cabin now, moved from the bus. Because for some reason, this herb takes a long time to dry out! …. my kitchen before the sink was installed. So much counter space!
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A view of my garden; labour of love, great achievement, relationship to the earth, connection, bliss. This photo is end of summer 2017. 

SECOND YEAR, 2018

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Fast forward to the next summer, and the echinacea is beautifully established and it is becoming a garden of gorgeous blooms.
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After 2 failed attempts at propagating echinacea from seed, (ya ya, dang mice) and then waiting a whole year to see these blooms, you can believe I was pretty thrilled! It was the first time growing it, and I had no idea that the cone was so spikey and hard!

Here is a glimpse at the vegetable side of things… And something I had forgotten to mention, was water. Ohhhhh, precious water. Last year, I was still watering everything by hand. This easily took me a few hours per day. But this year, Byron made me a sprinkler system, and my life has changed.
*
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A garden’s best friend. Comfrey! I harvest this a couple times per year. A full morning sitting with the bees, hacking down the comfrey and then cutting the leaves off the stalks for mulch for the other plants in the garden. It is also, as you may know, a potent healing medicine for wounds and injuries. 

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My Happy Place, a jungle of nasturtiums!!! (Where are those tomatoes and cucumbers even???)

 

When you’re pregnant, you gotta relax!!!
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A constant, cycling wheel of abundance.
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I made a ton of this pesto; Wild mint, Lemon Balm, Tulsi, and Calendula. It was pretty great.

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Tea time!
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I did not anticipate the romance with flowers that blossomed with this course!! (Along with my belly 🙂

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Making California Poppy Tincture, which is good for anxiety and sleep. 

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Monarda Fistulosa. First year I planted it they only got at most about 12 inches high, with no blooms. Second year, they are HUGE! You can smell this patch from a long ways off.

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Kind of in love with the Wild Bergamot.

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So, second year, being pregnant, I did not have such a prolific drying operation, I just used my little cabin kitchen. Here is the Wild Bergamot drying.

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So. many. jars.

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Spilanthes and Echinacea tinctures all bottled up, along with Robinwood’s version of Tiger Balm; COUGAR BALM!!
I made the spilanthes tincture into a throat spray and it has become one of my favourite medicines (the other being Usnea). Spilanthes is anti-viral, anti-bacterial, and strengthens the immune system so it’s one I am taking at any sign of  upper respiratory infection/cough.  Robinwood’s own medicine to the rescue!

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Here is a bountiful harvest of Usnea, and liquorice fern root. Can’t go for a walk in the woods without a basket around here! I have a friend who is a naturopath, and she told me that this Usnea tincture was one of the best, and most medicinally potent she’d ever tried. Woohoo!!

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Teach them young! This is my baby Arrowynn; a sweet little soul who will grow up with a herby mumma, a woodsman papa, in a tiny little cabin in a beautiful meadow on the edge of a river surrounded by mossy green woods.
(The last 2 photos of A are from 2019, if not obvious)

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Relaxing after a long day in the herb garden…. 😉

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And here is my certificate…. I hope that all these photos inspire you all. I started out not knowing much at all. And now I have a massive herb garden, and a fully developed passion for getting down and dirty in the garden, nurturing and growing food, herbs, and flowers for the bees, a love of foraging, plant identification, and finding magic in the beautiful earth.

 

I now grow echinacea, lemon balm, valerian, vervain, marshmallow, licorice, witch hazel, arnica, california poppy, wild bergamot, catnip, elderberry, calendula, tulsi, hops, lambsquarters, thyme, sage, rosemary, motherwort, forsythia, elecampane, spilanthes, astragalus, lavender, daylily, fennel, tobacco, comfrey, chamomile.. oh there’s more I’m sure, as well as what grows wild around here. I’m in a state of abundance, and pure joy.

There are way more photos of the garden and life in general out here, in the month by month archives… if you have nothing else to do!

A vacation in Cayman

This March, we got away from Robinwood!! The thick of the winter took its toll, so we snuck away for 10 days to a different kind of paradise. We were lucky enough to be the spoiled guests of my dear high school friends, Dave and Michelle who are both talented designers and down to earth really good humans living in the Caribbean. Lots of laughs, great food, awesome company, fun in the sun (and the shade), and ohhhh it was so nice and warm!!! The ferrel chickens and roosters, the parrots and grackles, the super swift little lizards, and that one night when a scorpion crossed in front of me, as I was taking Arrowynn to bed. (We captured it, honoured it, and decided it’s fate… what else? leave it to wander the suite where little feet were pitter pattering??) and the only thing missing was a chance to take photos of the underwater world that we explored almost every day. We swam with a sea turtle and stingrays and tarpins and parrot fish, needle fish, barracuda, ocean trigger fish, angel fish, cera, box puffers, grouper, barjacks and many more colourful and beautiful fish.

We came home under the wire as the pandemic started to explode, and are all healthy and happy to be home in this secluded paradise of our own. I’ve been since busy expanding our garden, and Byron continues to work away at the house. In these uncertain times, we certainly have a lot to do. Much love.

 

Top photos of 2019

I take so many photos, and some of them capture magic, capture my heart, or capture a moment so perfectly, that they become favourites. In my idea to make a compilation of these, it was going to be a Top 10 list, but it turns out, I have waaay more 2019 favourites than that. I’ve pared it down to Top 25.

1. This tiny little person, climbing into his ‘playroom’.  His wool vest, his wool slippers, his little blue corduroy pants. We are so lucky to have this magic school bus parked so near to the garden, where we can play, nap, and just get out of the cabin once in a while.

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2. Hitching a ride with the garden harvest, two-fisting the tomatoes. This is the greatest gift of gardening. Duggy not missing a moment, waiting for his hand-outs.

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3. The love between these two souls is the strongest kind of love there is.

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4. In black and white, there is something epic about this photo. A mysterious story in the furrowed brow, the blind love in mumma’s kisses.

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5. Before he could walk, this boy wanted to climb. Pulling his tiny lil body up the back of the chair, always moving, exploring, reaching up up up…

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6. He couldn’t quite stand on his own at this point, but this photo says otherwise. He was practicing balance, and the camera clicked at the right moment, we are in our very special spot, the light is magic, the forest so alive and Duggy, always sitting by.

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7. Tri-colour September harvest! Such beauty in abundance, don’t you think? Can’t you just taste the juicy sweetness? The burst of fresh-from-the-garden deliciousness?

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8. And more beauty of summertime. berry picking love forever.

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9. This look, this garden baby with his bonnet… I can’t even…

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10. Maybe this is a biased pick, maybe it’s a photo for a mumma to love best, but this adorable sweet baby, sleeping with his favourite little black piggy clutched in his tiny hand goes straight to my heart. I could stare at his angel face forever.

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11.This one captures not just a moment, but a whole summer of watching Byron build our house, a little nakie bum, blankets and baby toys scattered in the shade.

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12. A pensive consideration of PB&J. This guy has taken slowly, independently, and stubbornly to solid foods. No baby mush for this dude.

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13. Home. Colorful, magical, tiny little home. Simple life, simple pleasures, and laundry.

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14.Oh mother Robin, a nest so low to the ground, a nest I could peer right into, so trusting, and so vulnerable. This made my eyes well up with tears.

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15. A barred owl!! Oh how I love my big camera lens!

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16. Do you think this will embarrass him when he’s older?

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17. A head like a peach, a look that says a thousand uncertain words. And the grass, oh my god.

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18. It’s all about angles with a 4 month old. This sad little monkey-elf blob, is the same boy as the next photo, taken on the same day even!

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19. Life. Happiness. So frickin pure. IMG_2208

 

20. The alders. The misty cool magical alder grove. Looks endless. It’s really not.

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21. And this moment, this snow day scene. These are the cozy moments and the days that are treasured so deeply in all the cells my heart.

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22. There’s a world of magic in every book. Look how the light seems to come right out of the book itself. And the book they are reading?!! I don’t set this stuff up, people! This is real life.

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23. This one could be the winner, for me I think. Out of all of them, this face, this delight, joy, innocence and sweet mischief. This sparkle. This is my boy. This is my heart.

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24. This was Arrowynn’s first Halloween costume, and he was the perfect adorable puppy dog.

 

25. And, this HILARIOUS photo shoot, with my little Gino. I couldn’t pick just one photo from this set, so here are 6. LOL

Thanks for indulging me, and having a look at my faves of this year!!! What are your top picks?

Thanksgiving 2019

Do you know me? Do you know how I’ve waited my whole life for this kind of love? This deep breath, whole heart, so strong, so vulnerable, so interesting and so safe kind of love? This growing, changing, never *really* doubting kind of love? This laughing dancing, hugging, family making love. This is it, you guys, my time has come. Our time has come.

I’ve rested in these loving arms for quite a while now, but I can honestly say this was the happiest of Thanksgivings yet. He cooked a beautiful feast for me, my dad, and Arrowynn. We sat down to dinner, we began our toasts of gratitude.  He said I feel like I’ve loved you my whole life. Everything turned into a blur. He said, this is long over due. I was crying. He said, it’s time to kick it up a notch. Swimming. Rachel, he said,  Will you marry me? I said of course.  Of course. Of course. Of course.

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Wishes for my baby, on his first Birthday

May your childhood be long and glorious
May all your adventures be great
May you do everything your heart desires
Before it gets too late

May you know your true belonging
And never feel alone
May you always love the colour green
May it make you think of home

May you jump in rivers, lakes and seas
And let the sunshine dry your skin
May you know when things don’t work out right,
You can always try again

May your feet be firmly planted
To the earth below
May you live a life of wonder
May you always learn and grow

May you truly be connected
To the stars above
May your heart be brave and unguarded
And open to all kinds of love

May you see the true potential
In every little seed
May you always find abundance
But take only what you need

May you look upon the forest
As if it were your home
And may you feel a deep reverence
For the wild unknown

May you tend a happy garden
And be sure to get a dog
May you know that kind of kinship
May you have that kind of bond

May you see the intrinsic beauty
In the tiniest of things
May you find genuine acceptance
For whatever life may bring

May you look into an animals eyes
And see it’s precious soul
And may you love it’s life so much,
You’ll bravely let it go

May you live a life of passion
Never waste a day
May you work hard at jobs that matter
But make lots of time to play

May you learn the language of birds
And hear the voice of trees
May you know the natural medicine
In all the common weeds

May you trust you’ve got the answers
Deep inside of you
If you listen closely,
You’ll know what to do

May you never live a day
Without knowing how important you are
How much your family loves you
Like the sun and moon and stars

But if there’s only one thing I can wish for you
This is my greatest wish of all,
My darling may you love your life,
May you love your life, if that’s all

 

 

Did You Come Down From The Stars?

Did you come down from the stars, little one?

Did you know the way, was the journey fun?

Did you swim through galaxies and fly past moons?

Did you hear a space guitar play a tune?

Did you come down from the stars?

 

Did you come down from the stars to us,

Did you come by by a fancy intergalactic bus?

Did you see a space dog along the way?

Did you ride a comet, and catch a ray,

When you came down from the stars?

 

Did you come down from the stars above,

Did you follow your heart, were you guided by love?

Did you see a super nova shining bright

Did you travel by day and all through the night,

Did you come down from the stars?

 

How long ago did you decide to come?

Did you always know that I’d be your mum?

Did you fly so fast the stars whizzed past,

Or did you go slowly, so the journey would last?

Did you come down from the stars?

 

Did you come down from the stars up there,

Did you hear my voice, did you hear my prayer?

Did you know your family was waiting for you?

Did you stop for a rest at an alien zoo?

When you came down from the stars?

 

Did you come down from a hole in the sky,

Did you leave someplace, and say goodbye?

Was it beautiful, was it dark?

Were there colours, were there sparks?

Did you come down from the stars?

 

How long will you stay, when will you go?

You probably can’t tell me, we’re not meant to know.

Your life is a mystery about to unfold,

There will be stories to tell, and you’ll surely be old

When you go back to the stars.

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The Chronicles of the Robin Witch

I

I live in secret meadow surrounded by trees.

The branches pull me into their being.

I sleep with my windows open.

The wild air blows into my dreams.

Every night, and

Every morning

I light a cooking fire,

A warming fire,

A medicine fire.

 

I love the earth, and she loves me

I tend the soil and plant her seeds

I gather food and herbs and fire wood

This is our sacred exchange

One promise, shared needs

I am a part of all this –

This everything

Everything magic,

Every thing.

 

I want to tell stories about all that I love

and all I have learned

River mint and toads

Devil’s Club, Nootka rose

Learning the rhythm,

Drumming along

The birdsong,

My heartbeat.

 

The thing is

I was born again as a witch

A robin witch; a good witch

That which is connected to the earth

Honours trees,

Treasures, plays, and always sees

You see, there are these speckles in my eyes,

There’s these dreams….

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II

 

Sometimes with a birth of a being, there is a breaking; a complete shattering ,so that all the fibers of that being are released or rearranged, and set free. And so it was with this being.

Her first incarnation was as a child of intense wonder and imagination. She played alone in her own world; dolls, elves, fairylands. She preferred the wilderness of her imagination to all other realms, and spent most of her time there. And as it happens as children grow older, her precious world began to shrink. The strands that held her, connected her to home slowly weakened as she worked and behaved and assimilated her desires into the collective expectation. Though this disconnection filled her with desolate grief, her dreams held strong to the last remaining strands and on the deepest nights she visited that wild and visceral place of true home. It was never and always the same, and upon awakening her longing to return consumed her. So she put a sacred wish out to the universe, a prayer in her bones.

 

In time, the universe heard her prayer and responded in the most unexpected way; a way that still hurts to think back on, a way that challenged her spirit, shook her up and flung her way up into the clouds, spinning her so fast she couldn’t remember her own dream and she forgot who she was. It was a way of death and rebirth and brokenness and truth. It came as a storm of heartbreak, illusion, unrequited love;  a hurricane of emotional betrayal, a catalyst that exposed her, tricked her, and dissolved her sense of security. It was a long and drawn out agony that rendered her so distorted and small that she no longer resembled a woman at all. But so it was.  And as her prayer’s answer took this traumatic shape, her eyes swallowed the light of the earth and moon and stars, and despite the unbearable pain of it all, she completely surrendered everything she had. And then everything went black.

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When she was able to see again she caught the shadow figure of a man walking away, and she discovered that she had been taken to the woods and left there for dead. As she looked around she noticed mountain and river, spruce and alder, clover and ferns, swamp and moss. There was elk and raven, eagle and bear. She was in a secret river valley meadow, with acres and acres of forest all around. Although there was something familiar about this place, she felt as deeply lost as she had ever been. She felt so alone and cold, and in her head and in her heart she couldn’t see straight, she couldn’t discern beauty, couldn’t find her dreams. She couldn’t find a way past her raw and painful wounds and loneliness.

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Little did she know that someone was watching her. From the alder and cascara branches, the old fence posts and the newly turned earth, the rotting stumps and grassy meadow, the robins were witnessing everything. With dark eyes like ancient pools circled by a bright white ring, the robins saw her with great clarity and wisdom. They understood that the woman needed something only they could teach. They knew that endings were in fact beginnings, and this was the time for her renewal. The robins sensed her desire to feel the simple joys again, saw her buried dream in the dim of her eyes, and they collectively decided to become her guides.

 

Mother Robin took her in, tucked her securely into the fold of her wing, and encased her essence in a protective shell, a bright and hopeful shade of blue. She was placed in a nest woven of all the elements of the meadow and forest, and held within the comfort of a deep deep softness and peace. And from inside this little egg, with the warmth and tenderness of Mother Robin’s love, she was soon reborn.

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With a warm and gentle cracking, and opening of light, and guidance from Mother Robin, she had grown the ability to speak from her heart, see clearly into herself, find her voice again, express her truth, and heal the pains of her past. A light-heartedness had replaced her anxiousness, and hope coloured the core of her thoughts and feelings. It was the very first spring of her new life.

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The meadow nest was a place of many teachings and lessons. Mother Robin spoke often of abundance and love and faith. She taught many songs of joy and gratitude. Dandelions bloomed into galaxies below, and the night was lit by the same stars above. She was given the love and nurturing she had lost, and so needed. When it was time, Mother Robin encouraged her fledgling to take flight and realize her oneness with the air and the earth. To let go of childhood grief, and to open her wings into her very own wholeness. She was home, she was remembered.

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And as she opened into her true self and saw that she was completely at home in that ethereal dream she had so missed, she understood the value of patience. All that she had endured through her transformation she could now look on with compassion and reverence. Her heart was calm, her vision clear. There was a sparkle of magic inside her now, and she was forever changed.

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“This is the Robin Witch,” Mother Robin announced to all the creatures of the forest and meadow in the morning chorus. “She is one with the forest that feeds us, and the land that depends on our love. The earth and moon and stars are there, in her eyes. She is a seer of truth, beholder of wisdom and light. She is ours as we are hers.”

And then in a softer voice meant only for her, Mother Robin turned to her and said, “Your eyes shine differently now, you see. Your life will no longer be ordinary.” And as she watched Mother Robin fly up into the trees, the Robin Witch felt her feet plant firmly into the ground, invisibly rooting to the precious earth below.

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III

 

And so, the young Robin Witch made her home there, a cabin in the trees, a medicine garden in the sun, and claimed her life like she never had before. In doing this, she attracted the very things she needed. One of these things was a handsome woodsman who knew how to hold her heart tight, but in just the right way that made her feel more wild and free than if she were alone.  The Robin Witch had such a big and tender heart, and to let in rest in the arms of another was a beautiful relief. With the woodsman by her side, her magic grew even stronger.

 

As she walked the woods around her cabin, she began to notice and identify all the plants and flowers she met. Before long, she was communing with each of them for they quickly became her dearest friends. The first stars of springtime reflected as speckles in her eyes; the fawn lilies, dandelions, and salmonberry blooms. She inhaled the deliciously soft sweetness of bracken fern and nootka rose, the sharp peppery scent of cottonwood, and the crisp citrus green of cedar and spruce, bonding her to them, and to the earth. Summer brought her sweetness in berries, friendships with toads and choirs of songbirds in the early dawn.  Autumn provided the earthy nourishment of mushrooms and roots, rosehips and rain. The trees turning gold, and the mist creeping in led her to winter, when she huddled up in her cabin wrapped in the arms of her woodsman, and her Mother Robin whispering through her dreams reminders of all the gifts she has been given, and all she has given to this land in return….

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Cottonwood

“Spring is the mischief in me”. This is a quote by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, a writer, storyteller doctor of Jungian psychology, teacher, and reminder to all of us about the beautiful and mystical side of life.  If you haven’t read her work, or listened to her stories, and are into the meaning behind dreams and archetypal symbology in folk tales, I can tell you with enthusiasm that she’s the cream of the crop.

 

I love the simplicity and fun in that quote, and when I go into the woods on any given early spring day, when the sun is coaxing the moisture out of the ground and up into the warming air, tree sap is running and buds are beginning to grow, a green blush moves through the canopy of alders, the cottonwood comes alive with its intoxicating perfume, and I imagine the trees embodied as that quote.

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The aroma of cottonwood wafts gently through the sunbeams and birdsong. It smells of newness and sticky mineral-rich liquid amber both peppery and sweet. I read somewhere that Cottonwood trees have been revered as spiritual conduits to some first peoples. Because they are so very tall, and reach way up high into the sky, they are close enough to touch the heavens, and send messages to the spirit world. If I couldn’t love cottonwood any more for it’s scent, its for this beautiful concept.

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So, at first sign of spring, I go into the woods and under the giants to harvest the resinous buds from cottonwood windfall resulting from the winter storms. You know, it sometimes takes a while for a fallen branch to realize it’s no longer a part of the tree. It still contains the energy of life and will form buds in a glorious final attempt to show appreciation for the warming days, and the very cycle of the seasons. And this is all received graciously, like a gift, by me.

 

But not just me. The bees are also gifted these resinous buds as they wake up from their winter slumbers, and they cleverly use them to make propolis which is basically their own medicine and glue to help protect the hives. It probably goes without saying, “a friend of bees is a friend of me.”

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So, I collect the buds in late March or early April, and my fingers turn brown and sticky. I bring my hands up to my face often to breathe in the invigorating sweet smell of the wetland woods, the fragrance of the sky and breezes of spring.  It smells like my happy childhood out in the bush and the nostalgic energy that comes with days getting longer, and emergent growth all around.  I can spend hours out there, communing with the birds and the bugs, all of us happily saying hello to each other, getting reacquainted after a long winter apart, tucked away each in our own little worlds.

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Cottonwood buds make a really nice topical medicine. The thick red sticky resin in each bud is packed with antimicrobial properties, anti-oxidants, and contains a chemical compound called Salicin which is an anti-inflammatory also found in willow trees, and is the origin of aspirin. Mixed with oils and beeswax, this resin can be made into a salve often called “balm of Gilead”.

 

(I have made some salves which will soon be available for order here)

 

Little Owl

White Owl Flies Into and Out of The Field

Coming down out of the freezing sky
with its depths of light,
like an angel, or a Buddha with wings,
it was beautiful, and accurate,
striking the snow and whatever was there
with a force that left the imprint
of the tips of its wings — five feet apart —
and the grabbing thrust of its feet,
and the indentation of what had been running
through the white valleys of the snow —
and then it rose, gracefully,
and flew back to the frozen marshes
to lurk there, like a little lighthouse,

in the blue shadows —
so I thought:
maybe death isn’t darkness, after all,
but so much light wrapping itself around us —

as soft as feathers —
that we are instantly weary of looking, and looking,
and shut our eyes, not without amazement,
and let ourselves be carried,
as through the translucence of mica,
to the river that is without the least dapple or shadow,
that is nothing but light — scalding, aortal light —
in which we are washed and washed
out of our bones.

-Mary Oliver