Salt + Water: a peek behind the scenes

We used to do a design project in art class: starting with a theme, we’d gather information, then start expanding that information— pick a piece of an image here, a colour scheme there, a word or two, and start working through variations of them. From a small amount of information or images, you could expand what you had to a hundred things. And then you’d start the process of piecing these things together: this goes with this, but not with that; these two go with these but not with those. And at the end of it you’d have little groups of things that fit. From there, you’d decide which of these groupings work best with the theme. It’s a process of expansion– of exploring all the possibilities– and then of refinement.

When it comes to surprise boxes, I approach them the same way: from a nugget of a thought, which, in the case of this month was simply ‘the sea’, I started expanding and refining ‘the sea’ until I had the essence of what it is I wanted to capture.

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Analogue life

(on slow living, finding our own pace, and rebellion as the way forward)

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1. 

It started a few thousand years ago when the first foreman realised that he could eke a little more work out of his workers if he could somehow convince them that he had more authority than they over the inner workings of their bodies. A plan was hatched— a god bigger and stronger than the body knowledge of when to be done for the day, more worldly and knowledgeable than the seasons that ebb and flow with hours of productivity and then days of rest. The plan took the shape of a sundial on a wrist; a timepiece owned by the boss letting everyone else know when they could come and go. This god was bright like the sun, for it’s the hours of the sun that it governed. In that bright light there was no time for sleep, no afternoon naps, no explorations of the dark spaces, no time to crawl under a rock and look at beetles or pluck worms from the soil and watch them wriggle around in your hands. No time either to wade in the stream under the shade of the redwoods trying to move as slowly as a banana slug as the dappled light hits your eyelids. The bright sun god, all knowing, shone light into every crevice and with that bright light uttered those first words that changed everything: ‘you’re late’. 

The knowledge of the body was ousted in favour of this all-knowing god, for what is more important or more constant than time? What is more objective than a second hand ticking like a metronome dividing life up into easily digestible chunks. A life you can eat on the go, cut into easily digestible squares, so neat you don’t even need utensils anymore. Would you like a soda with that?  Continue reading

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Porcini + Chaga Black Cocoa

Its dark. Early morning. I’ve taken to waking up as early as I can drag myself out of bed to sit in the black-ness. It feels like a cocoon, the dark quiet, where my mind can wander without feeling over stimulated. And then, because that’s what I do, I started thinking about this whole ‘sensitivity’ thing.

Overstimulation can be a problem. There are some people for whom it feels as though there is no boundary or separation between them and the world. This can be a wonderful thing— the birdsong outside right now, while I type it is playing in my body, warbling over my upper abdomen. Cars drive by and blend into this music, their bassline cutting a diagonal from shoulder to hip. The construction a couple of blocks away is the percussion, an odd, arhythmic rhythm that hits in different areas depending on the note. And while this is going on there’s the electricity, which is a subtle but oh-so-audible ring. That’s the early morning. It gets louder throughout the day, and throughout the year, as the days get longer and the temperature rises. And when it gets to be too much, there is a natural tendency for those of us who are easily over-stressed to want to dampen the noise, provide a safe barrier between us and the world.

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A giveaway

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Consider this a popping up for air from the utter madness that is the holiday season. Because it has been utterly mad, and I’m loving every minute of it, albeit not having that much time to write the last few weeks.

But in the meantime, I have one extra December surprise box that I am going to give away to some lucky person out there. December’s surprise box is my favourite of the year. Partly because I get to spend my time up in the mountains gathering various coniferous treats, and partly because of the way my office smells in the process of experimenting with different recipes. But mostly its just because conifers are and represent something old, something wise, something bigger than our little time as humans, and I love being able to immerse myself in that for a month. Continue reading

cauldrons & crockpots holiday gift guide

(for wild things and lovers of wild thing alike)

gift guide

For the stylish wildcrafter (because aesthetics and practicality are of equal importance):
A custom made hat
or this hat
or this one, which I’m currently coveting

This little knife
or this one
or this one
or this awesome hand-forged one

This backpack (keep an eye on Sheri’s shop– she makes the most *gorgeous* wildcrafting belts)
This block shop scarf (they’re so light, and pretty, and soft, and they double as plant-matter-carriers if you run out of bag space)
these redwood leggings Continue reading

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Cold water: a seaweed gathering adventure

(on wild places, how to gather kelp, and things to do with it)

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When I was growing up in Scotland, our summer holidays were spent on the west coast, staying in little cottages and bed and breakfasts that were out of the way, with plenty of things to explore. The edges of things and places, where wind meets earth and water, have always called to me like a siren’s song, pulled out a deep longing from inside me that expands and grows and bursts outside its bounds until I am so big I just become the world around me: sea crashing on shore, wind whipping up sea spray, shore simultaneously holding strong and giving over time. Needless to say, I’m lucky that I married someone who feels the same draw to stormy and cold seas, so every time we head north for anything, we find a way to get to the coast.

We’d been in San Francisco, hawking my wares at the Renegade Craft Fair. Early on Monday morning, we packed up the car, made ourselves coffees and packed a bag of cheese and apples and headed, from my brother’s house, across to Half Moon Bay, then down highway 1. I spent the drive thinking about how, if I didn’t know that the world was round and that there were other places out there, I’d assume that I was at the end of the world, at the edge of nothing, gazing out over the raging Pacific that even on a calm day feels untamed and enormous. The marine fog rolled in thick around us, as we drove through cypress groves with Spanish moss hanging down over the road and in the fog with the sea smells there were moments where time got lost. I love these moments. I live for these moments. Giant moments where you’re swallowed by the elements. These are good things. Continue reading

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Bitter + sweet (Hawthorn and orange bitters)

Bitterness (serves 1) 

1 cup of anger
a heaping half-cup of powerlessness mixed with
a tablespoon of regret and a
big pinch of stagnation

Method:
Condense, over time, squeezing it hard into a tiny little ball that looks remarkably like a gall stone, then drop into the body and carry around for a long time.


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‘Eat bitter to taste sweetness’ -Chinese proverb.

This proverb, or something like it (I remember something along the lines of ‘eat bitter to avoid a bitter life’), was thrown around a lot when I was at TCM school. Lately, when I’ve been making batches of bitters for the holiday shows I’m doing, I’ve been tossing it around like a hard candy. It’s got me thinking about bitterness and sweetness, and the balance between the two, both in taste and in life. 

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Hawthorn ketchup

(Things to do with hawthorn: on death, time, funny light, and change)

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Paying attention to the seasons and to what I eat is a way of connecting to the cycles of life. The more connections there are in meaning, the richer life feels: there’s a history, a weight, a gravity that only deepens with each layer. These layers can be different things— they can come from your garden, or from the wild; they can be something you connect to your childhood, or maybe your ancestry. In the case of my obsession with hawthorn in the autumn, the layers of connection aren’t local or from my garden or even from the mountains where I gather the majority of my herbs; the connections stretch across a different sort of plane— one of dreams and magic and rings in the grass and mists that sweep in from far away in a matter of seconds, obscuring the path, making things look… different.  Continue reading

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On connection to the earth

(on cities not being evil, stress, connection and slowness)
oco1Early morning light, coffee cup in hand, I walk destination-less, and watch things: the neighbourhood crows as they chatter to each other and keep a lookout. The sycamores with each falling leaf become more stark against the blue sky. The crunch of leaves underfoot. Morning traffic noises get louder, people wake up and walk their dogs, saying hello to each other in their sweats and hastily thrown-on sweaters. A car alarm goes off, a trash truck passes, a few crows swoop down in its wake while their friends keep a look-out, birds crank up their morning song, a passionflower leaf unfurls from its vine with a satisfying pop. 

These walks start my morning off on a reverent note. The way the light hits things, the way the trees in my neighbourhood change, the way plants push up through the cracks of the sidewalk, and the bougainvillea escape their bounds and curl up telephone poles. Its easy to forget, living in a city, that there is nature out there. Unless you get out and see that life follows the same patterns everywhere it goes: plants will always fight to reach for the sun; the sun warms everything in its path; wind moves around obstacles; earth absorbs. Nature patterns are fractal, spiralling, sacred geometry. These patterns are the language of our world, the form earth energy takes as it moves into existence. I believe that seeing these patterns and these things reaches for something inside us, lights up the same areas, nudging us back to something more primal, more connected to nature ourselves. This connection is something you can have anywhere. 
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On ocotillo

The following is a monograph I wrote for Plant Healer Magazine, on one of my all time favourite herbs, ocotillo. Its one of the four herbs I’ll be focusing on in my class next week at the Herbfolk Gathering. I use it so frequently, for such a multitude of issues, and find that the changes it affects in a person are both long-term and profound. These are some of my thoughts on it, organised into monograph format.

If you’re interested in formulas containing ocotillo, check out this antimicrobial gut healing formula and this waterways elixir.

ocotillo1Ocotillo: Fouquieria splendens.

Energetics: warming, drying, moving.

Actions: Liver stimulant, portal stimulant, circulatory stimulant, lymphagogue.

I was hiking with a friend in the desert. It was night time, there was a full moon high in the sky, and we were making our way to a favourite spot of ours to sit and look out over the desert and chat. The wash we were in became a canyon, the cool grey walls climbing higher on either side. The scent of desert lavender and creosote filled the crisp night air. Silence reigned, punctuated by the crunch of desert floor under our feet and the occasional coyote yip in the distance.

Stillness. One of the things that always strikes me about the desert is how still it is. I don’t mean devoid of life, as once you learn to pay attention to small details you notice the life everywhere: a lizard here, a snake camouflaged under a bush there, small pieces of green shooting out between rocks. But deserts are still because they are masters of efficiency. Why move so much when it’s hot? Why waste water when it is scarce? Movement in the desert (as with most things in the desert) is subtle, and interestingly, in such a dry place, this subtle movement is about water. Water conservation, water movement, water storage. Water strikes the surface of the desert in a monsoon and within days the hillsides and washes are ablaze with colour as life springs up from every crack, every crevice. Fluid dynamics, when observed in a dry place, take on an entirely different meaning, as desert plants seize the opportunity to grow as soon as it presents itself.

There’s a narrow path that makes its way up the canyon wall, and at the top, barrel cactus sentinels stand as lookouts. We passed them, carefully, and came out onto a field of ocotillo. We walked in silence, the moon so big and bright that it cast shadows around us, and at one point, when we came into view of one of the biggest and oldest ocotillos in the area, she stopped, grabbed my arm and, staring directly at the big old plant with its bright red blooms ablaze in the night sky, she whispered ‘what. IS. that?’.

But in order to explain why this was such a big deal, I need to explain a little bit about ocotillo itself, and then about my friend’s health history…

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