herb-babies and magical knives

I’ve been lamenting the stagnant nature of my blog lately, because it’s just *too* easy to whip out a facebook or instagram post with a little story attached to a photo.  Never mind the fact that I haven’t had much time for pleasure writing over the last year due to my full time student status.  Now that I’m all graduated with a pretty certificate and have been released back into the current, I’m finding my new “normal” after such an intense herbal program.  I feel like I’m emerging a new person and figuring out how to integrate

wellspring garden sunrise
sunrise over the garden on Wellspring Mountain

my new knowledge into the world.  Much of what I learned was new to me, but a lot of it is the kind of knowledge that I think has been there all along, deep in our cells and it takes really kickass, in-tune, and dedicated teachers (I’m forever grateful to you, Thomas, Terrie, Lindsey, Brian, Odin, Matthew, Forest- am I forgetting anyone?- and everyone on Wellspring Mountain who make that place so amazing!) to sit you down, make you do some really hard shit, and discover new parts of yourself.  It was no easy task, coming to this new “knowing” of myself.  In the second week of class, I met the Krebs Cycle (cue that record scratch sound effect they use when a main character has an “oh shit” moment).  I liken the experience to being in a crucible over an intense flame.  All the parts of you have to come to a complete meltdown (or two, or three, or seven meltdowns) to sort out what’s going to rise to the top and what’s going to get slagged out.

On my last drive down to Wellspring Mountain (7 hours and 15 minutes of think time down through the Shenandoah Valley), I also found that there are a lot of parallels between herb school and having your first baby.  ***Now, I realize that no two pregnancy/birth/herb school stories are the same, and that not everyone that went to herb school even has a womb, so just know that these are pulled from my own personal narrative, and that I have about 16 times more experience being a parent than I do being an herbalist at this point.***  In the beginning, you’re totally enthralled with the idea of it, imagining all of these romanticized scenes where everything is sunshine and roses (and sometimes, it really is).  At some point early on, you realize that your body and your time (experimental vitamin c flushes and elimination diets just for empathy’s sake) are not your own anymore and won’t be for some time.  You start to question your decision, especially when you realize that this isn’t going to end without a considerable amount of pain and suffering (all those who’ve taken an Easley final know exactly what I mean).  After an uncomfortable and sometimes awkward period of adjustment (your pants are starting to get tight because your computer time just went up 1000% and your center of gravity is shifting), you put your head down, dig in, and settle into a rhythm.  After all, this is only a temporary stage, and there is indeed a light at the end of the tunnel.  Amazing things happen along the way; you get glimpses into what life might be like on the other side and start to think “hey, I might actually be good at this!”  You start to notice that the way you relate to the world is changing.  You feel the quickening of your inner healer and hear the thrumming of a new heartbeat.  As the end draws nearer, the excitement amps up with equal parts anticipation and dread for the unknown.  You can’t wait for it to be done, because parts of you have grown so tired and full that every day tasks have become cumbersome.  Naps are all you think about.  Things like eating and showering are annoyances.  Then, it’s go time (finals week!).  How did this day come so quickly? Holy crap, this is hard! Wait, I’m not ready for this!  Make it stop!  No, just get it over with!  I’M GOING TO DIE.  I’M DYING.  KILL ME NOW.  I HATE ALL OF YOU.  Then, in a twinkling, it’s over and you love everyone again.  You’re handed this huge, beautiful being (how on earth did that come out of ME?) by all these smiling people and your face hurts from smile-crying (ok, I ugly-cried at least twice during finals week- in private), and the world has never felt so utterly perfect.  You take the first real full breath you’ve taken in months, and you feel the deepest recesses of your lungs fill and waken.  Simultaneously, this new creature you’ve created breathes its first and you let out a collective cry.  You look at your enchanting, innocent, sweet-smelling new herb-baby and promise to always do right by it.  Maybe you apologize (or not) for cursing at everyone like a sodden sailor and screaming like a bean sídhe while you were under so much stress.  Euphoria sets in and absinthe flows freely.  There’s dancing, good food, and general merrymaking….until they send you home and you think “Wait, you actually *trust* me with this????  This is too much responsibility for me!  Aren’t all the helpers going to come home with me???”  Then you get home and instinct kicks in and mingles with the things you’ve learned.  You realize that just *maybe* you’ll be ok.

From what I understand, much like being a parent, being an herbalist isn’t something you now own, but rather something with which you’ve been entrusted.  This is a living, breathing, impressionable spirit that will (hopefully) outlive you.  Many people choose this path, but no two people navigate it in the same way.  The more you interact with it, the more it begins to reflect pieces of you, and the more changed you are because of it.

So I’ve been home for a month now with my “Advanced Clinical Herbalist” certificate,

herb school graduation
Thomas handing me my certificate….the actual moment that I graduated!!

and I’m setting to work getting all the behind-the-scenes things together that go along with setting up my own practice like becoming an LLC, setting up a business bank account, building a proper website (wait till you see it!), making business cards, and of course I’ve been able to spend more time in my garden.  Oh, how I’ve missed my babies both plant and human. Last summer, I spent the month of May feverishly getting things in the ground before school started.  Then, I watched the beds get overcome with weeds as I spent hours listening to lectures at double speed (unless Thomas is *really* excited about the rabbit trail he’s on, then it’s 1.5 MAX) and clickety-clacking out monographs in google drive.  It feels really good to have my feet under me again and come up for air.  I can tell my gardens missed me.  My kids and husband missed me.  I’m back.

Another thing every herbalist needs is a proper wildcrafting knife.  I haven’t been really shopping for one, per se, but being open to the right one finding me.  I saw a knife  that caught my eye in one of the witchy pagan feeds that I follow on instagram.  That’s the one. I snapped a screenshot of it and sent it to my talented blacksmithing friend asking him if I could commission him to forge this piece.  It needed more meaning than just something I ordered off the interwebs.  He was more than willing and said he’d do it in trade.  Even better!  Sidenote: So here’s a piece of advice.  When (not “if”, because I *know* this happens to everyone at some point)…when your neighbor calls you at 10pm on the night before you have to make a long drive to take your herb school finals because they have a baby goat that needs a tetanus shot and you’re the one they can think of that can help- DO IT.  I mean, you had me at “baby goat.”  Say no more, my friend.  I will absolutely get out of bed and put my skirt back on and get in the car at 10pm for a baby goat.  Any day of the week.  So as a thank you for being their on-call-baby-goat-tetanus-shot-giver, he said he’d make this knife for me.  A few days later, he delivered this beautiful knife to me and recounted the process of making it and how much of himself he had put into it.  And in keeping with a very old tradition, all he asked in return was a coin (foreign, if you please), aaaaaand maybe some homemade stuffed shells.  You cannot gift a knife to someone without getting a coin in return or it will sever the relationship.  It can’t be just any coin, it has to be of some significance. Something that conjures the same kind of magic that went into that knife.  I picked out a coin I brought back from a class trip I took to Mexico when I was 16.  Swimming in a cenote and climbing Aztec pyramids was pretty damn magical, so I figured it was a fair trade.  What makes this even awesomer is that he used it as a teaching project for his apprentice.  All this teaching and learning and continuing of traditions makes me really happy.

tonys magical wildcrafting knife
My magical knife with his beautiful marks stamped into it.  He tells me these marks are registered with the Library of Congress.  Thank you so much, Tony of Yellowknife Forge in St. Peters Village!!

On this day in 1893, J.H. Keim writes… “We made a fence up the road north of Harmonyville around our pasture field.  Maggie & Hattie(?) Hesser & Mrs. James Hesser went out to John Elliot’s this afternoon.  Lena’s heifer had a calf toady.”

On this day in 1938, Miriam Keim (my Nana) writes… “5 qts berries.  Clear, marvellous day.  I canned three pineapples, picked peas + 5 boxes of strawberries.  After dinner, I did some mending.  Mrs. Krause + Mrs Zollers were here.  Mr. + Mrs Moyer of Kimberton + children.  Mr. Mrs. Frank Yarnall.  12 at church.  Picked peas for church tomorrow + shelled them.”

On this day in 1942, Miriam Keim writes… “Rainy, hot, sultry.  We got up rather late as we were so tired.  Ira + Dora left about 10 for Elverson.  After dinner I went to the church to help clean up after the Lovefeast.  Annie Mc(?), Esther, Ginnie, Ruth, Vane, + I.  Cleaned everything real good, and then after supper planted some plants.  Elizabeth here.”