Further meditations on WInter

How often I hear that Winter is death, is desolation. And in a way that is true–rest is a pulling back and a shrinking of all our energy. But it is giving, too. In winter WE can be the main attraction, the excitement, the energy. We aren’t competing with the rest of nature, the distractions are asleep. The bareness and sparseness can be scary because they are so revelatory. Our loneliness, our humanity, our weakness are all obvious, winter does not give us depression but reveals that which was already there. It also gives us the time to mourn, to feel, to listen, to simmer our own bones in themystical crockpot of our heart. 

Maybe it is within that desolation when we can best hear the voices of our own ancestors and our own inner self-where we can best see the beauty of the earth just as it is–radically unadorned.The movements of light and sound through cold thin air, unencumbered by leaf and plant, unslowed by humidity or insects. I see a long, long way off into the wispy distance. I hear an owl hoot miles away, the lone crack of an axe from down the hill. I almost hear the snow fall…

Because the beauty of the earth is not just flowers and greenery.  It is not just perfect days and starry nights. The grey, the clouds, the snow contain an equal beauty and importance. Much is bare and spare, reduced to a raw form, a skeleton, a structure completely unadorned. All is a meditation, all is distilled and clarified, broken down to the pieces and all bullshit frozen out, all clamor stilled. Nothing is juicy or robust now and I slide down hills, I struggle back up and struggle has meaning for me. Difficulty has meaning and energy. It brings me a sense of accomplishment.Much that has been obscured is now revealed to me within the context of this struggle. 

I see a lack of support in our culture for weathering discomfort with dignity and pride, for understanding patterns and seasons, rythyms and cycles. We are still expected to produce the same amount of units, to dress the same and act the same and be on time. We are expected to keep up on our suntans and ignore our melancholy, our recovery and introspection and our wintry shadow sides. But I look to the philosphizing, the simmering, the clarity and the longing as healing and as a balance to the outwardness and overstimulation of summer.

I’ll be taking my bitter rooty tonics, delving into mythology and scribbling in my notebook, loving on some lichens and meandering through the snowy woods, searching for the voices that I can’t or won;t hear amidst the sheer green joys of all other seasons, bundled up in my wooly wonders and hooting back at all who dare to venture out.



Obstacle Racing and why it matters: a review.

Mud and Obstacle #1
Mud and Obstacle #1

I have received the very first issue of Obstacle Racing in the mail for the purpose of writing a review.

Those who read this blog know that I value overcoming obstacles. I view physical obstacles as a metaphor for our inner conflicts and I am excited about the idea of obstacle courses for that reason. Though I am not a huge “race” person I foresee obstacle course running and mud/trail hiking as a sport which is about to get big–not just in a competitive way but in playgrounds, in backyards and as a good mind/body workout. Imagine if obstacle courses were the new “Chuck e. Cheese’s” or shopping malls-a place to go with friends or family, to be outside, to work together on something and move our bodies–instead of staring at beeping bullshit while pounding beers or buying a bunch of crap. Yes, please.

I feel like a lot of what we work on in this culture has no beginning and no end, I mean our actual jobs, they give us no closure, no sense of accomplishment or sense of personal power. When I run up a slippery muddy hill, jump over creeks with my dog, climb up and over a boulder or just plain keep going until I’ve done what I set out to do I feel my sense of self building up, feel the long-buried realization that my body is important to me and it wants and needs to do this.

This is functional fitness! This is problem-solving! This has power!

So now we have a magazine devoted to mud and obstacles. And it’s pretty good! I do have a few suggestions…

Why, oh why, do SO many fitness magazines-including crossfit-based mags–feature prominent ads for weight loss products? agh. As an herbalist, as a Mom, as a critical thinker I am just fed up with the endless flood of supplements which appear to make outrageous claims. I do NOT like mud or obstacles because I want to lose weight. I know, I know–someone needs to pay for this stuff. But, hell, they wanted a review.

I want to mention that we all benefit by a focus on diversity. They do a good job here featuring a lot of females-and not all appear overly sexualized. I like to see they’re using female writers too! I want something my whole family can use, and while I have no problem with bodies–OK, I love bodies– I’ve noticed some magazines have an excessive  “sex sells” approach. Eh. It is also important to me to see different types of people in fitness magazines, including people of color, LGBT people and differently-abled people. So I think they are making progress on this, and, going forth, I hope to see even more diversity!

I especially liked the article Bury Me There and Use Me as an Obstacle by Mark Jacobs. It is inspiring and well-written, and to me it reflects the ways that obstacle courses can change or culture for the better.

I look forward to seeing both this magazine and Mud run culture expand and grow here, and I will be sweating right along with y’all.





Houston, we have a trademark.

So, fire cider. It’s causing a  micro-controversy in the world of herbalists right now–as a small business in my area has trademarked the words “fire cider” as their own property. A lot of people are pretty mad. And I say: great! I think one reason it has hurt us herbalists is that we tend to live in a fantasy world where we don’t fuck each other over, much, where “it’s all good” and we share everything. “Herbalists don’t have lawyers!” we might say. But maybe we are wrong. Maybe we are a bit naive, eh?

In some ways herbalism is very big business indeed. An inclusive definition of herbalist is very nice and feels great. But is it right? Have we been cast out of a paradise of hugs and nourishing infusions into the cold cruel world of capitalism and copyright law? And if so, is it being revealed to us, in an uncomfortable way, how our illusions have not set us up to fight back properly?

In a way I am thrilled about this controversy–not just because I enjoy debate and exploration, though I do, but because how do we know what we stand for until it is threatened? How do we know what others are like, for real, underneath, if these controversies don’t come up? How do we know if our inclusive vibes are really the right way if they are never challenged?

To me, this issue is asking a lot of questions of us and that questioning can propel us forward into the reality of 2014, into the reality of what we value and where we will choose to go next. The conversations this is starting are very important and would not be happening without the trademark issue. So for that, I say thank you to Shire City herbals and their legal counsel. 

Did they underestimate the power of a large community of radical  herbalists to organize against them, underestimate the power of the people’s long-standing home remedies and the power of commonly held intellectual property? I believe so. Do I feel for them, sitting in front of their computer feeling the weight of this massive outcry? I do. Will I offer them a nervine and a second chance? Most likely, yes. And do I hope this brings about substantial conversation and change, not just a big ol’ facebook bitchfest? Darn tooting I do.

My friends, this is our moment. The outcome will contribute to the shape of community herbalism of the future, and it is important that we form coherent arguments for and against business models, trademarks, intellectual property and other legal issues which can affect herbalism as a whole. Before we make comments, let’s ask ourselves, deep down, what side are we on here? and why? I have no desire to speak for the entire “herbalist community” but I do, indeed desire to ask questions of this community and it is my wish that, through this debate, we will come to know ourselves and each other better. 


Let it happen.

Meet my foster dog, Meo. He grew up in Jersey and one day his family just dumped him in the shelter. “Do. Not. Want.” He hadn’t been well cared for and he was suffering from depression and poor muscle tone in a North Jersey animal shelter. A kind rescue representative noticed his sorry state and, long story short, I ended up with him in my foster care.
Depressed and/or anxious dogs have a lot to teach us about ourselves and the world. Walking this weird line between domestication and wildness they are clearly animals yet submit to wearing idiotic outfits to gain our affection. Sometimes they end up slumped in cement cages with no opposable thumbs, dependent on us to see their inner light and help it emerge.
And we do–but sometimes it is not just about humans “doing everything right”–we also need to get outside of our thinking, processing humanity and let things happen.
When I was a kid the wise characters I knew would say “If it don’t fit, force it.” Slightly more crafty types changed that to “If it don’t fit, fabricate it.” And you know, that is great advice in many ways. It is a motto of those who refuse to depend on having all the “right” parts, those working class alchemists who get very old cars running, who suit up and dig out, make a pie from wild apples and pantry dust, who stick it all together with gum and screwdrivers and heat and hope. There is so much value in those skills, but it is only half the story.
Because mechanics are nothing without the spark.
Sometimes we just need to get out of the way and let nature itself heal our selves, our animals and our world. We can use force and fabrication to jump our ’54 Cadillac or to understand our foot’s best mechanical position and that is some gooooood shit. Important. But we can’t force our way into a healed heart or a whole body.
Humans, other animals and the earth all have both mechanics AND emotions and sometimes we need to just allow it. If it don’t fit, LET it fit. Let it expand, let it contract. Give it all space and get out of the damn way. Gently file it, feed it or lube it up and just wait, just observe, just see what happens. Watch for patterns. Breathe deeply and un-attach yourself from the outcome.
There is something about just being outside, just letting the force of nature imbue the body, putting our body parts into wild water, letting wind into our hair and taking a crap miles away from any man-made structure. Something about running with the pack, digging a hole, our spotty fur flying by like a vital flash of reality.
Add some oil and some fresh air and you just may see things turn around without much meddling. A run through the wild woods, a piece of meat, a hug and suddenly we see a re-vitalization. Because Vitality WAS there–no matter who you are or what you’ve done since, vitality, the vital force, underlies everything and it merely needs space and support to re-appear.
So Meo. I met this dog in a hotel parking lot in Southern NY and my first thought was “Oh, dear God”. He looked like crap and there was a certain desperation surrounding him, a pattern which I recognize from so many beings before. But he’s turned it around!
I have, over and over, seen those who were knocked down get up. I have seen plants spring back to life, animals re-inhabit themselves, humans regain vital force like a rebirth, like wild things, like a sunrise, like NEVER. GIVE. UP. And this awesome dog is just one more on a continuum of lifeforce which had gone un-shiny, flabby and weak and confused. He is a force of nature embodied and I am in awe of watching this process yet again, I am filled with hope and proud to take my place in this wacky-ass circle of life.



Meo with Aster
Meo with Aster