Real Witches See Possibility

I stood before the old cabin with a stone in one hand and the wind in the other. In winter the trees on this land shiver to bareness and the old structures become visible once more. With so much openness the wind whistles clear through the quiet forests, and the old stories return.

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{{ Loss and Chestnut Trees }}

Once upon a time the slopes of these mountains were covered with American chestnut trees (Castanea dentate). Magnificent giants that sustained entire communities with their good wood and bountiful food. Just over a hundred years ago American chestnuts were the monoliths that defined Southern Appalachian forests. Ecologists say that one out of every four hardwood trees in these mountains were chestnuts. Today, all we have left of these giants are hand-hewn homes and memories.

The woods that the first Europeans walked into were vastly different than the thickets of tulip poplar and oak and undergrowth that cover our ridges now. The hills surrounding most homesteads in Southern Appalachia today are burred with a thick tangle of saplings, shrubs, the leggy heights of first succession trees, and cat briar thorns. But once upon at time, these forests were cathedrals, wide spaces of grace defined by the giant buttresses of ancient trunks. Nurtured, protected, and given domain over these hills— the Chestnuts of the indigenous Appalachians were called the “redwoods of the east.”


For centuries it must have seemed incomprehensible to imagine an Appalachia without her magnificent columns of chestnuts, the open churches of the woods.

But today, only saplings remain.

In 1904 a tiny stowaway arrived from a nursery in Asia. A handful of spores from a fungus called Cryphonectria parasitica, a relatively common parasitic fungus for the Chinese chestnut, that proved fatal to our indigenous Castanea. Entering through wounds to the bark, C. parasiticia slowly kills the cambium of the tree, effectively girdling it. In a span of forty years, almost our entire population of North American Chestnuts, four billion strong, was decimated. Appalachia was irrevocably changed.

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The cabins built on the land where I’m living this winter are a testament to this time of life-altering change. Locked and left for decades, to swing open the door to these old cabins is to rush like a pendulum into another era. The insides of some structures are made from Chestnut boards that are unpocked, over a century old, perennial and strong. Others were crafted from the wood that stood for a long while after the blight struck them down. Wormy chestnut, this kind of wood is called. Chestnuts are so resistant to rot they can remain for years after their death, strong and utile to their core despite these damp, damp woods.

Standing before this cabin, a relic from a time when the Chestnuts once defined this land, with a stone in one hand and wind in the other, it would be easy to fall into the sinking feeling of endings. Of epochs that close, life snatched away, accumulated years of grief. It would be easy to get lost in the gravity of sadness that seems to cling to the hem of time like burrs.

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But there is another way of seeing. One that acknowledges both what was and the mystery of what will be. One that recognizes each fallen tree and also greets the mystery.

The women ancestors of my heritage were persecuted for being Witches. Ones that could work with healing possibilities beyond what was immediately perceived. These women were oppressed, silenced, demonized for their connection to the unseen. But above all, they were feared.

What is at once most threatening, and most powerful, about these witches of our collective ancestry, was their ability to see.

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{{ How Witches See }}

Witch is a term as shifting and volatile as mercury. Over time it has been an accusation, a slur, a fear, a story, a fairytale, and a costume. But in the beginning, a witch was someone who was recognized as working with healing. A person who had a direct relationship to the medicine of those things we cannot immediately see.

The etymological roots of the word witch are mixed, murky and a bit mysterious. But some scholars argue that witch can be traced back to the Indo-European world weid – which means both “to know” and “to see.”

Once upon a time all witches saw that healing is a multidimensional activity. In order to heal the body we must perceive the deeper needs of the spirit. For shamans and witches, or those who were simply called “medicine people” in the old communities, it was understood that illness and injury held important communications about what, in a wider way, was asking to be seen. For a healer, the ultimate goal is not the alleviation of a symptom, but for the deeper message of the imbalance to be recognized, integrated and perceived.

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To be a medicine person is to understand the direct link between perception and healing. Traditional healers knew that the way in which we perceive gives shape to our direct experience of reality. If we wish to change our reality, or the concreteness of loss or devastation that we’ve been handed, we must first begin with what we are open to seeing.

And Real Witches see possibility. They understand that sometimes the most profound healing does not come from the physiology of a specific medicine, but from the life-changing alteration of our core vision and belief. To be a healer of any kind is to recognize possibilities. Where there is pain, there could be relief. Where there is death, regeneration can be leased. When we open our minds to perceive possibility – including the possibly of healing itself – we open our consciousness to an entirely new way of seeing.

At the heart, to be a witch doesn’t mean that you manipulate reality to your liking. It means that you can see and call forth manifold possibilities. It means that your perception of reality goes beyond what has been handed to you. And that you can perceive the presence of freedom, and healing, in all things.

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Real Witches know that anything is possible, and this is why they were persecuted. Possibility itself is inherently decentralizing. It places the power of what can be in the domain of each and every being. It can be very revolutionary, indeed, to nurture a belief in possibility.

We do not need major initiation rites, long periods of pilgrimages, aestheticism, or trials in order to become such magicians in our own lives.

All we must do is open ourselves to the possibilities.

When we can engage with the presence of possibility— that, perhaps, nothing is set is stone, nothing is irreparable, nothing is truly lost— does not all of life become infused with magic? And is not magic, in its essence, the recognition of limitless possibilities?

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{{ Change your Perception, Change the World }}

What happens when the small succession forests that cover our hills now are no longer seen as the seconds of what was, but recognized as a form of perfectly worthy reincarnation? What happens when we can gaze at the precious inner contours of a Chestnut cabin and cease to only see loss, but also recognize the raw and humble blessings of a new beginning?

If we want to change the world, we must first shift our minds to perceive a wider, more fluid reality. One that is steeped in possibility.

Our earth doesn’t know endings. Only change. Only possibility. Every time a tree falls in the forest a raucous growth of understory flowers, shrubs and saplings rises up in its wake. Every time a bird dies, a field floods, a drought strips the leaves from the trees, new life and lifeways are diverted, nourished and invented. In nature, there is no good or bad. Simply different, changing.Processed with VSCOcam with f2 preset


Possibility is the language our very planet speaks. Real witches perform magic because they are so aligned with the earth they cease to see the black and white of death and life— they see possibilities.

Traditional witches were not only emissary of healing within the human community, they were bridges to help bring humans back into balance with the more-than-human world. Historically, the act of healing itself was seen as a process of regenerating ecology. Witches do not lose themselves in what we see as death or endings. They align themselves with the wider truth of an ever-changing world. That every wound, every loss, every illness opens new possibility.

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{{ Possibility is Magic }}

There is a Taoist story that goes like this…

An old farmer who had worked his land for many years has his horse run away. When the neighbors hear the news they cry “What bad luck!” To this he just replies, “maybe…”

The next morning the horse returns with three wild ponies in tow. “What fortune!” the neighbors exclaim! To which the farmer once again says, “maybe…”

The following day the farmer’s son tries to ride one of these new ponies and is thrown, breaking his leg. The neighbors once again come to offer sympathy. “What misfortune,” they say. And the farmer reflects, “maybe…”

The very next day the military comes to the village to conscript all young men into service. Because his leg is broken. the young son is passed over and allowed to remain at home. Everyone in the village congratulations the farmer on what, it seems, was supreme luck. The farmer just replies with a smile, “maybe.”

The beginning of recognizing and invoking magic is being able to question our automatic beliefs. What if we could turn any situation over in our hand like a stone and say… maybe.


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Just last month we had a team of tree cutters show up to fell some of our most majestic and long-lived trees on the property. Ordered by the owners of the land, they set about cutting down a handful of 100 year old tulip poplars and some of the very last enormous Hemlock trees (Hemlocks were yet another giant who used to define these forests, and who are slowly succumbing to a different foreign invasion—the wooly adelgid). Each magnificent limb that came down shook the house, and shook loose an old and worthy grief.

Now their trunks lay beside the gravel driveway. Every time I walk to put my hands to their open places they radiate a loss, but they also hum a deeper tune— one of non-judgment, forgiveness and possibility. Though they are no longer growing trees, but they will become the walls of a home, tables to eat from, mulch to nourish the garden. They will be a nursery for medicinal reishi mushrooms and mycelium. Their bark may tan hides, becomes cordage. When we believe in possibility, life continues on.

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In Chinese medicine it’s said that a person only dies of old age because their heart stops believing in possibilities. As the possible paths one may have taken in life seem to concretize or disappear, our heart slowly looses its elasticity, turning to stone and ceasing to beat.

But what happens when even death, the ultimate ending in our cultural mindset, becomes just another possibility?

The ancient Daoists sought eternal life through the full alignment with their Dao or Tao (which can be loosely defined as their path, ultimate selves, or the underlying principle of the universe). If we can continue to believe in all possibilities, then it becomes possible to live long past our deaths – the small ones, and the large ones as well.

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Inside my own home the old Chestnut paneled walls are warmed by a long-embered fire in the woodstove. Elsewhere on the land old Chestnut china cabinets have become nests for wood mice and squirrels. Window frames slowly dissolve in the rain. Entire structures have fallen and softened into the earth and the vast networks of Chestnut roots, those that ran throughout the entire breadth of these woods, are now composted into good humus. They have given up their previous form to become the soil that nourishes thousands of acres of forestland. They live on.

Living, truly living, is an act of embracing possibility. It is standing in front of the old structures, with a stone in one hand, and the wind in the other. Grounding oneself in the solidity of what is and inviting in the touch of the unseen. Recognizing that life itself exists somewhere in the numinous in-between. And seeing, really seeing, that to believe in possibility is to set yourself free.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetp.s. In the vein of miracles and resurrection, check out the incredible work of the American Chestnut Foundation, an organization that is working on restoring our great American Chestnut through an ingenious belief in possibility

Autumn is the Dying


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Thistle down in Autumn

If Winter means death, then Autumn is the dying.

In our culture, death is often synonymous with dread. Like late blight to tomatoes, it seems devastatingly final and achingly unfair. But the idea that dying is an event to be feared is a very human story, and one we have only recently started telling ourselves. To our ancestors death was an inevitable heartache, and an inevitable liberation as well. For most of our predecessors, death was never considered an ending. Rather, it was a transition into mystery itself.

This Autumn, allow yourself to experience the deep liberation of dying.

Autumn Road Revere

Life itself is a cycle— a circle, a wheel, a constellation turning and fading and appearing once more. Anytime we want to remember the truth, all we need to do is look around us. Turn our gaze to the harsh eloquence of the natural world (which is to say, the entire world), and witness how everything in existence both lives and lets go in the same motion of welcoming. Every day that the sun rises and dies beneath the humus of the horizon, the earth will remind us that even dying is an act of life.

Dying can be exquisite, and every bit as freeing as being born. In autumn the earth shows us just how soul-quakingly beautiful the act of letting go can be. As the sun moves lower and lower into the bed of the sky, the life force of the deciduous world buries itself in the roots. Fruit bursts open and feeds the earth. Seeds are carried away on the rapture of wind. Each leaf, having lived their own lifetime of cupping their faces to the light, flames and in a singular burst of ecstasy, dies.

Autumn canopy

In autumn, the world changes before our eyes. The background blur of green dropping away so that we can no longer sleep walk through the sameness of our days. In hues of sunset and ember, ocher and flame, the earth demands our full attention. The maples set themselves on fire and ask us to find the parts of us that are aching to be alive— and the parts of us that are ready to be thrown on the pyre.

When we let go of everything that is ready to decompose, we make space inside of ourselves for newness to be born. Dying has never been a finale, it is only a brilliant bridge to a new section of life. Like compost turned to rich and seed-ready soil, dying prepares us for a new phase of living itself.

Though our smaller selves might dissolve, dying has never been an ending at all. It is, instead, an ecstatic transformation into a wider self.

Autumn color

Rose Hips and Hills

A time of harvest and longing, celebrations, endings and melancholy, autumn is a potent mixture of all the exquisite fulfillment and color that accompanies the ritual of dying. It reminds us that dying is, in truth, a time of the deepest abundance and celebratory release. Blush-colored apples and pumpkins left glowing like lanterns in vine-withered fields. Gourds and sunflower seeds, cracked black walnuts and hickory nut milk. Hardy chestnut cakes and food literally falling from the sky. As we lose everything from the crown of the trees down to the weeds, our forest floors fill with nourishment. Our tables are heaped, our pantries plentifully lined, and we are left with nothing but thanksgiving and the luxurious space to wean ourselves off of that which actually robs our sustenance. To let the aspects of our life that aren’t feeding us die.

And this, after all, is the beautiful truth of dying. That if we can see beyond the waning and our own fear of ending we will notice that the burial ground itself is one of abundance. And a feast of great fullness is what awaits us on the other side.

Marshall Train tracks

Autumn is often a nostalgic season for many people. A time in which we look back on what was, the moments that have flickered and passed. The different versions of ourselves that were born for an era and then were snuffed out in the winds of time. Nostalgia is a potent draft. It can make your mind spin with just a sip. Sometimes nostalgia can even stretch to include the entire sensation of living itself. As if we are looking back from our elder years to feel that sweet and painful thanksgiving for the very opportunity to be alive. In autumn we experience the nostalgia of a well-seasoned soul in the warm blessings of their death bed. Autumn gives us the permission to simultaneously love it all, and say goodbye.

For if autumn is the dying, then winter is the death. And in autumn we prepare for that space of deep reunion and soul quiet that accompanies the soft banks of winter nights. In autumn we are invited to a unique banquet. A table laid with sassafras tea and pumpkin pie, wild nut butters, acorn pancakes and rich apple tarts. And all we must do to enter such richness is shed our old clothes at the door.

Autumn SIlver and Gold

This Autumn, let something die.

A worry, a relationship, a project that has run its course. Let go of anxiety over the future. Let go of guilt.

Let go of other people’s dreams for you. Let go of the fear that happiness or success or love or joyousness somehow isn’t for you.

Let go of feeling unwanted. Go outside, can you feel how deeply your presence is craved here?

Let go of the small and burdensome things. Gifts never opened. Keys without a lock. Broken earrings, old love letters, the ephemera on your fridge.

As David Whyte writes, “Anything or anyone that does not bring you alive is too small for you.” This Autumn, let go of all the clothes you have outgrown.

Let go of comparison.

Let go of doubt.

Let go of the feeling that you are somehow not good enough.

Because every imperfect apple that lays soft in your hands, and every ray of low Autumn sunlight that warms you through woolens will tell you a different story, a much truer story. The story that you are more, much more, than enough. That you bless this world simply by being alive.

Barn view

Now is the time. In the knobbed hands of the wind, the antique scent of dried leaves and the warm cinnamon feeling of fire in the trees. Now is the time to let the dying enter you as clean and beautiful as the stone that was forgotten and then exposed in the wheat gold of fading weeds.

Allow in the beautiful melancholia and heart-throbbing abundance of life itself. Let every day end like a cello on its last note. And relish. Relish, relish this season of profundity and release. Because, despite what we have grown to fear, dying is a beautiful thing. For then, we can rest. For then, we can embrace the unbelievable joy of what comes next.

<<  Practices for Dying >>

Death Mound

A Death Mound

Autumn is an important season of reflection and ritual for me. It is often a time when I look back and take stock of the year’s harvest. The ways in which I have grown, what has been gathered, and what burdens I am ready to lay down.

A potent ritual for me has been to build a death mound. This time of the year the forest and any wooded areas are filled with a bounty of leaves. They give us the perfect opportunity to create a ritual around enacting a much-needed release.

Take an afternoon this autumn to reflect and write down everything you are ready to let die. Gather this piece of paper and any other earth-friendly items that represent those aspects of your life that you are ready to shed and find a quiet spot with a lot of leaves. Dig a small hole and bury your bundle. Then heap over the spot with the leaves to make a mound. You can get creative with colors or patterns or simply toss them over and let your release be messy and complete. Make this pile as high as you dare. If it is a private space, try burying yourself as well. Close your eyes and imagine all of the heaviness dropping from your body like fruit, eager to be given as good compost to the soil. When you are ready, emerge as if you are truly leaving a layer of yourself behind. Cover over the hole with more leaves and say goodbye.

If you can, take a walk by this place on a later date and when you see that the leaves have scattered in all directions (or been carted away), you will know that what was buried in your mound has been released.


Expose yourself to Wildness

Each season holds its own particular medicine. The best way to imbibe this medicine is simply by getting outside to experience the shift. Go for a walk underneath the changing trees. Jump in your neighbor’s leaf pile (when they aren’t looking, of course). Collect your favorite leaves and hang them temporarily on your wall. Place them back outside when the trees are bare and make a wish with every one.

Eat wild food. Whether its rose hips, or a cracked black walnut, or an apple from a feral tree. Get a bit of autumn’s wildness within you. In the presence of wildness death becomes just another beautiful variant of living itself. Allow the wildness of autumn to teach you how to die.

Ask the season to guide you to new medicine. Autumn is often when I begin to shake up my herbal routines of the summer months. Sometimes dying requires a new medicine, and you will know what you need because you will encounter it and a part of you will spark to flame to say “Yes, I am still alive.” For me, this was a life-altering combination of Ghost Pipe Flower Essence + Carnelian last year. You can read more about their medicine in this story.

Cow Skull

Recognize the Otherworld

Honor the memories. Honor the Ancestors. Honor the ghosts. With Samhain drawing so near, that traditional holiday of influence from the otherworld, autumn is an important time for engaging with the beyond and righting your relationships with the unseen world. Visit more of these potent autumn rituals in this Samhain reflection.

Autumn Road

Above all, give yourself permission, every day, to both die and find the way beyond death. Let yourself live. Spend an afternoon this fall on your back on the forest floor. Make yourself a nest and watch the sky. Follow one leaf from its first brave leap all the way down to the forest floor. Give it time. And one day you will wake up and feel as deep and complete as a maple flame extinguished in the compost of rich soil. You will feel, innately, how very good it is to just let go.


p.s. If you’d like to hear the soundtrack that created this blog piece, take a listen here


Allowing on a Late Summer Day


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There is a specific slant to the late afternoon sun that floods my living room with a cast-iron butter of deeply heated light. It’s always that last stretch of sunshine that seems to glow the hottest. In the downward arch of day, the fever of collected sunshine gathers like a stove coil around the rim of the sky, flooding the world with heat. That glow itself kicks up a kind of exhaustion, the feeling of every hurried project just aching to be complete. Recently, it seems the close of each day comes with a command: find your completion or, for goodness sake, find some release.

Max Patch

In Appalachian summertime each day marks a creation in progress. The basil leafing out in pairs from where it was last snipped. The sunflower rotating like a mandala from pollen to seed. The bees carrying fulfillment from one flower to another, rubbing their bodies against everything soft and petaled in their path. Every morning it as if the rising of the sun turns on the great hearth of the world and each new creation, stirred of dirt and mineral and rain, is placed within the hearth of the earth to ripen.

Flower Essence Bowl

Throughout the summer months there are so many individual projects, visions and collections, tiny destinies awaiting to be fulfilled. I imagine the sun must be like a pâtissier in the great kitchen of kings, sending out emissaries in every direction to tend the grasshoppers and zinnias and bees. Perhaps the clouds take part as well, gentle assistants roaming over the hillsides to check the cobalt beginnings of the blueberries bushes or tend the heavy branches of peaches. Each cumulus a white haired women, trailing cotton aprons and the tracks of great care.

Just as the embered end of a long day in Summer bring forth an almost overwhelming peak of heat, the last stretch of August can, at times, seem almost impossibly bright and big and full of needs.

Group Sit

Sometimes, in the thickest ring of a day, I’m just able to keep up. Matching my pace with the flowers expanding ever-wider, the vines finding new perch, or the grasses that risebefore your eyes like well-leavened bread. But then, just as the sun begins to ease back towards the horizon it is as if someone finally opens the door to the oven of the world, to halt all of creation at its peak. The earth floods with a deep heat and everything living is given the signal that it is okay, okay now, to nod your head like the sunflower. It’s okay to give up creating for a moment. To take oneself out of the furnace and find a peck of shade. To put your feet in the creek, to allow yourself some peace.

Perhaps, all along, summer has been the ripest season for such reprieve.

Altar at Max Patch

We often see high Summer and the dead of Winter as opposite wings on the wheel of the year but the truth is that they have more in common than we might imagine. Like the Yin and Yang, anything that is opposite also holds the other within it. The essence of Winter, and its demand for rest, recuperation and the regathering of vision, is flecked like mica throughout the high summer months. In Winter, we rest because there is nothing to plant but dreams. In high Summer, there is a similar pause. At the hottest peak of the day, there is often nothing to do but take our well-mixed creations out of the oven. Let them cool on the windowsill and give ourselves a moment of quiet regeneration and soulful reprieve.

The Queen 2

Summer as a time of rest is almost unheard of around these parts. For all those that garden or homestead it can feel as though the tasks are never-ending. And even those who don’t tend the land seem to fill their coffers with well-intended parades of vacation, work projects, or pie making, but the end result is often the same. We pray for Autumn to come so we can receive a break from the break.

Like the waterfall buzz of cicadas, the high-whine rush of summer always seems be repeating the need for growth. We see the sunflowers grow twice our height in the span of a month, the grass following quickly behind, and there is some deep internal nudging inside of us that says. You, too, must grow so tall, so quickly, so fast! In high summer, however, there comes a natural time when all our bustling projects fall flat. Like seltzer water left out on a sunlit patio. Try as we might (and, to be sure, we try mightly!) we never get quite enough done as these long sunny days would suggest. And perhaps this is when we should simply it let all fall like the head of a blossom gone to fruit and seed.

Passionflower at Sunset

This Summer I have had dedicated myself to practicing the art of relaxation. At the beginning of this summer I contracted Lyme disease (for the second time in two years) and so, very quickly, my attention to plans, both bold and bland, fell away. Rest became my most important prerogative; I went seeking the mica speck of Yin amongst the overwhelming sunshine of Yang. Most afternoons, when the heat reaches its peak, you can find me lounging in bed (the darkest and coolest room of the house) with a tall glass of chilled tulsi tea and a good book. Some days this Summer this was about all I could manage. And it was enough.

This season, I find myself asking new questions. What if we can find our fulfillment in long tides of rest? What if, going even deeper into the season, means finding stillness in the rush of summersong? What if, the most profound lesson of all is to be able to bask in that mirror of Yin within the Yang? And what happens when our entire structure of To-Do lists collapse in the face of allowing ourselves something the nectar seekers never once deny themselves– good old fashioned contentment.


// Allowing Contentment //

Every day, in every way, we are all trying. Trying to weed the garden, or get dinner on the table, or find the love of our life, or heal our heartbreak. We try to be better, be happy, to take care of ourselves. Some days I think we are the only beings in all of creation who try so hard! The sunflowers in my garden dwarf me, but not once did they ever stop to try to be magnificent. They simply took in their surroundings and grew. The hummingbird tests each fushia flower and never once grows frustrated. Even the ants, those who work to rebuild their colonies with each overturned stone, go about with a dedication that excludes even the option of trying. They are simply doing what they must. It makes me wonder, what would happen if we stopped trying, like the sun in its last sling of heat easing in the horizon, and simply allowed ourselves to move in natural ways of contentment.

Allowing is a difficult concept for most of us to swallow. Allowing doesn’t mean comprising your goals, your dignity even your boundaries. It means making space for what is. And when we allow for exactly what is, doing what needs to be done without telling ourselves that we are trying to do it, we make the space we need to truly live.

Sunflower heights

After I was diagnosed with Lyme disease this summer I was left with one simple goal. How can I enjoy, I mean truly, enjoy myself. How can I be so filled with my own contentment, that spilling fullness of life, that there is room for little else in my body but more own vital vigor, my own zest for life?

On the days when all I can do is lie in bed with my books and watch the fan whirl, I embrace allowing. There is no trying in this moment, only the sense of doing what I must. It has been rough in patches, I won’t lie. But over my time spent in bed this summer I have learned something incredible.

Juliet's Garden Flower basket

Allowing is the gateway to loving what is, yes, but it is also the gateway to embracing exactly who (and where) you are. And when you can love that person, and all her needs for quietude and nourishment and podcasts and comfy pillows then you can accept almost anything. Including the slow tendriled creep of healing back into your life.

Self love is a term that is often thrown around, but not fully embraced. And frankly, it can feel incredibly difficult to try to love oneself. And so I say, stop trying and instead, on this hot and humid day, simply allow yourself the pleasure of finding contentment. Contentment is a gateway to recognizing yourself in your most peaceful form. It is a way of being receptive to oneself and ones destiny. And it feels so damn good.


So, for today, I ask you. What brings you contentment? Can you take yourself away from the To-Dos for an afternoon and let yourself be like summer scones just out of the oven. Sighing, resting, sweetening before your eyes. Because this is the truth that is sung by the hearth and the oven, the fire and the sun itself. Creation never becomes complete until it is taken from the heat and allowed, with time and space and tender breath, to let go of the hubbub of transmutation and find its final shift into peace. After all, this— the cooling, the rest, the reprieve— is what makes any fresh baked delicacy ready to dined upon. And what makes that banquet of being alive so very delicious indeed.


Summer’s Fullness


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Red Clover Blossom

On the other side of the strawberry moon, after the late spring blossoms of Beltane and the thick pulses of Hawthorn blooms arises a season that weaves itself around the helm of a single word – fullness.

At this point in the season the full arrival of summer is undeniable. Roses are spilled like wine over the countryside and the branches of riverside trees are heavy enough to sweep the water’s surface with their wands of green. Light finds its way into every leaf of the day and even our nights are lit by the floating embers of fireflies.

rose wall with stool

Here, the fullness of summer arrives in waves both infinitesimal and quick. Like a jar left open in the rain. Slowly, in swells beneath the perception of our fast moving eyes, everything becomes full. The arrival into summer can be like waking up with a jolt in the bright light of late morning. As your eyes adjust to the fullness of the day you realize that the slow trickle of dawn, with its dispersed moons of early morning fog, have all but disappeared. There is only the high sun and ocean-bright light and insects running like waves through the thigh-high grass.

Daisy Gift

Motherwort Essence

Summer’s fullness is a mantra, known and carried by every species in these hills. For us humans it means planting the last stragglers into our gardens and tending the sudden tangle of weeds, late-night parties and an endless train of events. It means wild harvests of herbs that last only a week and calendars so full of bustle there is barely enough time to keep the floor swept of barefoot dust and weeds. To embrace summer fully is to be like a bee, in constant motion from the lip of one sweetness to another, to exhaust oneself with so much color and opportunity.


We are just a few nights away from the longest day of the year, our Summer Solstice, and the very strand of life has tightened into an almost watertight weave. Open fields are a ticket of thimble flowers, blackberry fruits and rose thorns. The canopy is crowded thick with ropes that wind themselves from forest floor to crown heights in a cordage of grapevine. What was once a wind blown cove is now a cave of green and shadow. Every branch is so full of life, the mountains themselves change from the blue hue of a winter-colored moon to a newborn coat of emerald. In Summer, the entire world of growing beings weaves itself into a kind of container, a place to hold even more than was possible before. The crosscatch of canopy and forest floor braids itself tight as rivercane, the traditional baskets of the Cherokee people of these mountains. The sheer abundance of life works together to create space for more.

Rainsoaked Woods

++ Weaving Yourself into the Basket of the World ++

In Appalachia, life grows upon life. There is no end. As a temperate rainforest with some of the highest biodiversity in the deciduous world, the warmer months can be dizzying. Summer here is an initiation into a world of almost overwhelming life. This year I seem to have taken on more than ever before (Hence my two month delay in getting up another blog post!). My schedule from now until the last sigh of summer is already at its brim and, if I’m to be honest, sometimes I wonder if I have enough hands to hold and plant and tend it all! On those days, I like to walk out into the arms of our forest caves, or find the perfect circle of a deer bed in the high grass, and remind myself that the world can contain it all, and so can I. I must only let the earth weave me into its own way of embracing fullness.

Red Clover Basket

Catbriar on Hemlock

Whenever it seems that I am whittling away my life with To-Do lists and calendar dates, I remember this—we are, in truth, nature creating itself. We are a part of this vast and precious ecology, a spectacularly tiny but unbelievably special node in the consciousness of this entire world. When I feel as if I couldn’t possibly hold it all, I return to my place as co-creator on this earth. I bring my heart back to its roots, at the humble foot of this mountain of growth. I am here to bring the gift of myself to this world and when I allow myself to become a prayful part of the container of life on this earth, I can always hold more. In nature there is always space for growth that benefits the whole. When I connect into the gifts that arise from a consciousness of connection, there will always be space. When I give such soul gifts, the world itself expands, and I end up finding more fulfillment than I ever thought possible before.


In Bill Plotkin’s book Nature and the Human Soul he talks about this idea of widening the circle of your identity to become a part of this basket of the world. In an eco-centric society (a culture based around the ecology in which they live), as a person ages they naturally come to a place where the hoop of their recognized identity includes the more-than human world. As we come to understand ourselves deeper we can find more levels on which we can identify with the earth and through this widening we stretch ourselves into vessels of meaning that can literally hold more.

Valerian Essence

Circle of Identity

What makes busyness so exhausting is its divorce from soul. The problem isn’t that our days are full, it is that we don’t fill our days with that which truly fulfills us. The only reason why we can look at the growing world and feel such dismay at the blackberry bramble that continues to peek up through the steps or the weeds that must be pulled is because it strikes such a low-hearted chord of recognition in us. So many of us are like gardeners, pulling that which grows wild and cultivating perennials that don’t actually bring us joy. So how can we begin to grow gardens that truly sustain us? Find work that, through its fulfillment, we feel deeply soul-full? Perhaps the best place to begin is simply to ask yourself what you truly want to be full of…. Curiosity passion, wonder, trust? Begin here.

Fog in Madison County

++ Into Emptiness ++

In these mountains the stumble into summer means the arrival of near-daily storms, afternoon tempests of thunder and green. After a full day of humid rocking the very mountains themselves seem to creek with the need to release. Soon enough, a dark, wasp-like cloud gathers on the late afternoon horizon and you know relief is just a strong wind away. The fullness reaches it brim, and then it spills over. The gardens are watered, the plants in the meadows drink deep. There is an almost audible sigh as the forest refills its streams. It is one motion, the filling and the spilling. Without reaching such a state of fullness, the rain in the wooly tangle of clouds would never be released. Without this constant emptying, Appalachia wouldn’t be the unbelievably ecological rich place that it is.

Pisgah StreamIf I watch long enough everything in the world seems to tell the same tale. Fullness leads to emptiness, and emptiness to full. In order to experience emptiness (the pause before the inhale, that space in which anything can shift, the nothingness out of which newness can take hold), we must always move through a moment of being unbearably full. Even as I resist the fullness of my schedule I look out upon the world and see a place that relishes such a brimming basket. Waterfalls and the full blown bloom of lupines. An entire ant colony under each rock in my garden and the red clover blossoms that arise every time I neglect a corner of my lawn. The world speaks in such tones of fullness, and so I embrace my own place in creating more. I spend my mornings writing, I prepare for classes until late into the night. I eat honey by the spoonful and tend my garden between bursts of harvest rains. I buzz from flower to flower covered head-to-toe in the sacred paint of this earth’s pollen and, in between, I find moments, if only as brief as the span between a hummingbirds thrum, to empty once more.

Butterfly on Clover

Spring Ephemerals + the Magic of Vulnerability


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I walked through the warm woods barefoot to the cleft of hill overlooking the stream. Following the old worn way through the trees, the thin stitch of footfall over a soft quilt of pine-worn leaves. It was one of the first sun-warmed days of spring and I was opening my heart to finding something ephemeral and unseen.

All winter long I have watched the bare blue mountains behind my home like a card reader, hands scrying the mud and evergreen, imagining what might be rooted, precious as garnet, between the hard knobs of the trees. I studied the enduring leaves of beech like sheaths of papyrus, because I knew that they had lived for many springs and were intimately acquainted with what I was awaiting – the tender arrival of the woodland ephemerals. That rare breed of flora that flowers in the brief span of spring before the trees find their leaves. The plants that bloom, seed and cease before the rest of the world even sets out their green.

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Wild Geranium

Wild Geranium (Geranium maculatum)

In the deciduous belt of the earth, where trees sleep like Persephone and lose the entire crown of their leaves, ephemerals acts as heralds for the return of the growing world. They are akin to the dawn chorus, a kind of songbird that celebrates the re-awakening of a rich hardwood cove. Every spring in Appalachia we experience an eloquent succession of these woodland ephemerals, many of which blossom for the handspan of just a few weeks. Taking advantage of the slowly waking slumber of the trees, these flowering plants occupy a unique niche within the forest’s overall ecology. For most of the year, these plants await as roots. But as soon as the earth warms they begin their quick ascent to supply some of the first food and medicine of spring. In the time it takes for the maples and tulip poplars and basswoods to unfurl their leaves, these soil-dwellers go through the entire cycle of their above-ground existence, dying back to the roots as the canopy finally flushes to fullness.

Showy Orchid

Showy Orchid (Galearis spectabilis)

The first ephemeral always catches you by surprise, as mysterious and discreet as only true denizens of the underworld can be. You must attune yourself to the subtle, the unexpected arising from bare forest floor. Once your eyes catch their contours, however, you will notice that the flowers come in waves, as exotic and earthly as silk flags in the caravanning desert of early spring. Bloodroot, Hepatica, Spring beauties. Anemone, Trout Lily, Trilium. Temporary miracles. Each one, so gentle in petal, seems to be able to break even the hardest heart (and soil) wide open.

Anemone (Anemone quinquefolia)

Anemone (Anemone quinquefolia)

And so I found myself, on a spring-warmed day in April, out wandering with a heart that ached to unfold. I climbed up into the woods, letting my feet find the slopes of forest with the right cove of hardwoods, the perfect slant of light and bare canopy of trees. I had just returned from spending a long weekend with my new sweetheart and I was feeling that particular pang of tenderness and possibility that comes when a heart first decides to stir from a season of soilsafe hibernation. I was holding the tender petals of this inner ache to bloom when I first spotted them: an entire glen of bloodroot, curled in the palms of their own hands, rising to reach the sunspace of early spring.

Here, growing amongst the moss-laden roots of the slumbering trees existed an entire world of flowering beings where once there had only been winter-browned leaves. I couldn’t help but crawl in close, as awkward as a newborn fawn on shaky hands and knees. To be with them was to sip from a thimble-sized dram of spring’s most potent energy. The bourgeoning, the beginning, a blissful shot of sheer bravery.

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)

Bloodroot (Sanguinaria canadensis)

Spring ephemerals are regarded as the lace glove of the flora world. They come and go as swiftly as a spring rain, often dying back to their roots in just a handful of weeks. Some spring ephemerals, like Trillium for example, can take upwards of seven years to even begin to bloom. There is a reason why such ephemerals are so rare. Delicate and scarce, their exquisite gentleness can sometimes be mistook for daintiness until you sit with them and ask them to speak.

Yellow Trillium (Trillium luteum)

Yellow Trillium (Trillium luteum)

In the heart of the forest’s own mythology, the story of spring ephemerals is a far cry from this picture of fragility. It is a tale of root-deep courage, otherworldly patience and the magic of vulnerability. Although the flowers themselves bloom for only a short breath of spring, their colonies flourish for decades. In fact, some Trout Lily communities are so old they predate the surrounding trees. Surviving, thriving and blooming in the short span between earliest spring and the first flush of the canopy, to be a spring ephemeral is to have mastered the art of divine timing and the life-generating strength of such open-blossomed vulnerability.

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Trout lily (Erythronium sp.), Pedicularis (Pedicularis candensis)

In our culture, we have a tendency to mark tenderness as weakness, but when a single bloodroot bloom can rock us back on awe-struck heels, we begin to glimpse the power of such exposed intimacy. Tenderness is perhaps the most potent form of bravery. It is the ability to open oneself, despite (as Anais Nin says) the incredible risk to bloom. To open, despite the danger of unexpected frosts and herbivores, the weather whims of spring’s mood and the negligence of passing boots. It takes unbelievable courage to expose oneself in such vulnerability. To say yes— to blooming, to loving and to living once more. Would it not be so much easer to stay quietly in our roots? In spring, the sun draws closer to earth, almost as if to say how much she believes in us, and we respond with a sweeping show of blossoming trust and the gift of our own transformational vulnerability. We bloom— not knowing if this is the right moment, or how the whole story will unfold— and this is how and where and when true growth begins.

Wild White Violets (Viola sp.)

Wild White Violets (Viola sp.)

There is a part of us that feels, acutely, that first wildflower bloom. That sharp acknowledgement of just how much bravery it takes to open oneself in such a seemingly empty place. How many of us have been protecting our hearts through a long winter’s sleep? How many of us have shrunk our tenderness down deep in the soil, like Catbrair roots in the cold winter sleet? When I sit with such ephemerals I think, perhaps, our hearts never needed to be roots. That’s what the soles of our feet are for. When we allow them to, our hearts can be flowers. Blooms that open in stunning vulnerability to the world, exposing themselves to all the possibilities of pollination and creation, to the sheer joy of radiating.

Pink Lady's Slipper (Cypripedium acaule)

Pink Lady’s Slipper (Cypripedium acaule)

Sometimes messages are simple. Often, the best ones are. Be brave. Be open. Bloom and offer the unbelievable gift of your vulnerability to this world. Say yes to the life that lives through you. Begin again.

This world is full of gifts. We must simply open our eyes and hearts and be willing to receive. Laying amongst the cupped hands of so many ephemerals, on a warm day in early-spring, I was being given the gift of yet another beginning. The opportunity to embrace a new opening. The brazen invitation to fall in love— with a new season, a new person, a new spring. I held my heart, tender from such invitation and felt at once as strong and vulnerable as dicentra leaves. I accepted the bliss of such brave transience and felt truly released.

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Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia)

Squirrel Corn (Dicentra canadensis), Foamflower (Tiarella cordifolia)

We can only love now, bloom now, find ourselves in the now that happens between the first kiss of sunlight and the leafing of the trees. On my belly, a humble student of these most ephemeral blooms, I opened myself up to the daylight and welcomed in the tiny, thimble-sized tears of such ground-breaking gratitude.

Wild Iris (Iris cristata)

Wild Iris (Iris cristata)

Florida Grief + Inner Worlds


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Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetLast week I arrived home from Florida with a heart blown wide open, swamp-leveled and exposed. I have, of course, been down south to this land of tangelo sunshine before, but sometimes places wait until we are truly ready before their inner souls unfold. After a long weekend of sand pines and spring water and the sky boughs of Spanish moss I felt as if I had been initiated into another world. And in many ways, I had.

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Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetEvery time I travel I seem to step out of the heavy patterns of expectations and inertia that settle into the crevices of my day-to-day life. I discard the constriction of outside expectations, and release myself to roam, once more, the hills of my innermost worlds.

At some point in my life I conditioned myself to believe that to be in one’s own world was to be unforgivably self-absorbed. To be completely in one’s experience was to be at a distance from the “real” world. I adopted the belief that, to get lost in your own wave of thoughts, was to be considered out to sea. As an empath who has always been as sensitive as a spider with all eight legs on an ever-branching whorl, I have spent much of my adult life training myself to be so delicately in tune with the experiences of others that I have sometimes forgotten the soil-deep feeling of what it is like to truly just inhabit my own inner terrain. Being in Florida, soaking in a land of such wildness and such decimation as well, the ways in which I have not been allowing myself to sit at the center of my own being hit me like the bright blue of high tide.

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Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetTo be in one’s own world is to acknowledge oneself as a creator. Letting yourself be fully immersed in the weather-whims of your own organic way of seeing and knowing and growing is more than just a luxury of individuality, it is a radical act of reclamation, the first step in the process of re-wilding our world.

Florida, wild Florida, is a place that belongs solely to its own imagination. The evergreen oaks and hidden rivers, sub-tropical flowers and life-soaked everglades. Each ecology in Florida is a rich tableau, a watercolor of wild citrus groves and dolphin-filled coves and mirror-clear springs that sing upwards from underwater caves. There are abalone-colored beaches and ancient shell middens the size of white columned estates. The sheer uniqueness within the diversity of Florida’s ecology sets the heart a’spinning. As the study of the relationship between living beings and the living land, ecology is not just a branch of scientific inquiry, it is the actual observation of a collective consciousness creating itself.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetOnce upon a time, every niche of our earth was a land dreaming itself into being, living in its own world. The desert and loom-patterned sand and stars. The high mountains with its icy howl. The swamplands with its long-legged egrets, and cypress knees and warm-centered storms. Then, one day, humans beings appeared and, as our indigenous ancestors would will tell it, we too became a part of the dreaming of this world.

As dreamers, we are the creators of our existence, we are the progenerative seeds of our world, and all worlds. We live on a planet of such diversity, dreams that are as variant (and symbiotic) as feathers in a flock of southern-tipped parrots, as the songs they sing, as every seed of every fruit they eat…and every fruit, also, that is left to ripen. The sheer multitude of this multiverse of worlds we live in is staggering…and yet so many human beings have forgotten so fully what it feels like to honor the agency and diversity of such worlds because we have forgotten to honor our own. We have ignored, or devalued, that vital ecological relationship between our deepest passions and most uniquely creative soul, between our wildest selves and our unbelievably compassionate hearts. We have dimmed our own inner dreamer, and so we have forgotten how to nurture the dream of this world.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetFor every heartsong in Florida there is a heartache, a grief that is so heavy as to be unbearable. There are two faces to Florida. The wild, the unbelievably beautiful, the un-civilized— the land that owns itself and dreams as fiercely as it always has. And then there is the Florida that comes to most people’s minds: the paved roads through the Evergaldes and Disney worlds and Miami lights.

We all feel such loss, whether we bury it like a shell at the bottom of a midden or let it wake us up in the middle of the night. There were times during this trip— watching the manatees drift with motorboat scars or picking trash from the arms of a pristine shore— that I felt heavy enough to sink like a stone off-shore. To see a wild place drained, paved, forced into someone else’s vision of productivity, engagement, entertainment or even normalcy, is to literally see a world destroyed.

Processed with VSCOcam with f2 presetSo many of us look back with a similar ache to our own childhood. As children we spent the vast majority of our time as wild creators in such inner terrains. We look back with such nostgalia on the joyous times of childhood namely because of how supremely natural it feels to live and inhabit your own particular way of seeing, being, appreciating and creating.

To live in your own world, that innate place of individuality and colorful soul, is to recognize subjectivity everywhere. As a child we make no distinction between a tree and our experience of a tree, the two were one in the same. By being in our own subjective world we literally empower, and allow, for the possibility that everything we interact with its own subject as well. We can acknowledge that every being on earth has their own personal reality, their own consciousness, their own truth, and their own world. It is only as we age that we begin to be asked to draw a distinction, gradually distrusting our own experience as somehow less correct than some objective reality. By exiting our own worlds, we literally leave behind a universe of subjects (conscious beings at the center of their own creation) and enter into a world of objects, unalive entities that we (as the dictionary defines it) can direct our efforts and goals upon.

Is it any wonder that we have drained and paved and built over so many worlds?

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetI hear, in my friend’s voices, so much grief over the collective damage done to this world. But I truly believe that one way to begin to heal what has been done is by reconnecting to the regenerative truth of our own inner worlds. To be in one’s own world is to be closer to the very heart of this world itself. Do you think the cypress trees are constantly fretting about the experience of the crane? Or does the gopher tortoise impress its own view of reality upon the roots in the earth? The manatees, no matter how wounded, continue to swim in their own underwater universe. They are so deeply enmeshed in their own experience that they can ignore the throng of onlookers who come to snap a quick Polaroid, and remain a vital part of the dreaming fabric of this world.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetProcessed with VSCOcam with c1 presetIt has taken me years, this many years in fact, to realize that being in my own world doesn’t mean I won’t feel the feelings of others, or experience heartbreak over the plight of this earth. In fact, it is the opposite. It means I can feel it like the everglades can feel a storm. I can embrace it fully because I have the resources to bear it. I have not drained my swamps or turned my inner terrain into a plantation of sugar cane— all sweetness, and flatness and one-dimensionality for sake of societal demands or the expectations of others. When I allow myself to exist within my own dream of my world, I am complex and internal and whole. I have so many roots and wind breaks and hollows and sheltering coves I can bear any storm. I can be constantly creating, recreating, constantingly giving, grieving, and continually regenerating new worlds.

Asia on winter walk

Photo Credit – John Sinex


Winter Pearl Diving


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Screen shot 2015-02-02 at 1.59.41 PMToday is Imbolc and winter has reached its fullest depths in our blue-hued mountains. Here in Southern Appalachia we don’t get the same thick quilts of winter-hewn snow as our neighbors farther to the north. Instead, we are tucked in by the frost that touches the early chickweed and the amber fountains of summer’s lemongrass still left in garden plots. The earth resumes a subtle wheel, one of silver on gold, glimmer on pewter— a frostshine that disappears with the afternoon sun. Here, we normally get only a dusting of snow, subtle gusts that come through like the tiniest song. A sonatina, quick and small, relished and then released in warmer winds. Here, winter is a fawn-colored mixture of dried beech leaves and muddy raccoon prints. Rivers of grey clouds and frost-covered stones. The white pines sigh and reach upwards through the empty forests, bare armed in the white milk of sunny winter skies. The spruce and fir grow imperceptibly. This is a season that belongs to such evergreen, to winter grasses and standing stones.


Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetScreen shot 2015-02-02 at 2.27.13 PMThere is a mystery to winter days, a fated subtlety. Even in their sameness, each day turns itself over anew, like the dried bones of yarrow stalks, thrown and scryed for imperceptible hexagrams. As the outer world seems to stay stationary, the inner hues change from day to day— from calmness to tumult, interiority and hope. I’ve always cherished the divinatory mystery of winter. It is the only time when the exterior word is allowed to go fallow and the interior worlds, our innermost places, are given permission to take up all of the sky. It is a time for inner wonderings and wanderings, woven blankets and wool gathering, self-study and the smallest sensual delights.

Screen shot 2015-02-02 at 1.59.01 PMI’ve been cultivating these inner depths ever more richly this year. Researching, gathering and mapping for my newest class series (Winter Intuition School) and beginning the journey of writing my very first book. It has been a time of deep self-exploration, of sea depths and unknown spelunking. It has been a time of seeking hidden treasures and swimming in the conscious unconsciousness. This winter I have been practicing the art of pearl diving.

der-wanderer-ueber-dem-nebelmeerA few years ago I traveled to Florida to stay in a house that had been built and then carried, and then built again, along a cold spring fed river. Only a few minutes walk from the spring’s origin source, we would make daily pilgrimages to its depths. Upon my first visit, I had expected to find a sweet bubbling pond, a crystal clear brook that was all invitation and gemstone clarity. Instead, after a couple paces, I found myself on the edge of an actual chasm, an electric blue crater whose sheer depth was fathomable only by the deepening gradients of sapphire, cobalt and navy blue. It took me a little while until I felt comfortable enough to venture beyond the ledge, a kitty pool expanse where one could sit comfortably with both knees on the shallow under-rock. The distance between one edge and another was punctuated by an enormous blue hole, deeper than an iris and wider than a full-grown whale. Finally, gathering my courage, I pushed off the crushed rock edge and let myself sink feet first, knowing I would never touch the bottom. It was a thrill and a fear, a fantasy and a kind of ecstasy of bravery all at once. Over the course of the next week I went everyday, and everyday it took a bit of coaxing, heart in my throat, to re-approach the sharp underwater edge once more and throw myself eagerly overboard.

Screen shot 2015-02-02 at 2.03.09 PMIn many ways, this is how almost every day of my winter has begun. Free diving into one’s own depths requires much courage and bravado. To explore the inner realms often means plunging with naught but your hands and the bellows of your lungs to seek the deepest veins, those that seep warm mineral clouds and hold such surprising life. It requires skill, a practice of patience, and the innate knowing of when to kick and surface. When to return to sunshine and sea waves and rest like a seal on the rise. Such inner explorations is its own kind of pearl dive; what you seek is a rare treasure, one that exists solely within the soft bellied shells of the deep.

Traditional Japanese pearl diving was done by women called the “Ama” – sea women. These women of the ocean often lived independently, many of them diving until their elder years in naught but a single loincloth. You do not need to carry much to find such pearls, and here, age is an asset—for it means wisdom and untold skill. It takes great practice to be a pearl diver. Navigating depths with only quick fingers and seaweed strong lungs.

Pearl_Divers_Girls_insanetwist_1In many traditions, the unconscious (or wider consciousness) of the soul was symbolized by water. Water is an entirely different medium than earth, an entirely different world. In water, our bodies must learn how to move as another type of species. In the waving depths of consciousness expanding meditation, creative work or shamanic journeying, our embodied selves must learn an even deeper fluidity. Exploring one’s deeper self and opening one’s intuition doesn’t happen or unfold all at once. An Ama must sometimes open a thousand mollusks before she finds a pearl. Such exploration is not built as a ship, simply navigated with wheel and star. You must be committed to diving down, over and over, practicing how to keep yourself alive in other worlds. With each dive, frigid and thrilling, we learn how to go deeper and how to sight the glimmer hidden in the centermost folds. Sometimes, it takes pulling open a thousand shells, each one with a kind of learning, to find that absolutely perfect round of pearl. That opalescent build up of years, the gem that results from a single irritation. The desire, first, to know more.

Perfect snowflakeThis winter I have been a sea woman, but I have also been a hearth-tender and earth watcher as well. In the midst of such explorations it is always important, vital really, to return to shore. In water, we can be both weightless and as heavy as an anchor. On earth we must stretch these sea bending bones and reground in our solidity. It can be easy, in wintertime, to float away. Whether to different realms of light-bearing consciousness or even into the dark stagnation of our own personal underworlds. Even in the midst of our deepest mid-winter imaginal navigations, we all must come back to the tangible world— the life-giving practices of fire tending, hearth sweeping, water boiling, bone saving, stock making, tea sipping, drop spinning, nut roasting and reading. Winter exists within the halves of both dark night and dry light. We must keep ourselves balanced and whole.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetThere are many ways to ground in wintertime. Simply getting yourself outside, inspecting ice crystals or the dried heads of winter seeds, can do wonders to re-earth us once more. Often times, on the coldest days, I find that my best grounding happens in the kitchen. Like a sea-farer arriving home to a salt-creaked cottage lit by puffs of woodsmoke, I am often eager to get my fingers in sacks of winter-stored roots or kneaded dough.

In winter, I seek balance within the insides of most things. My home, my heart, the marrow in fresh cooked bones, the sweet blood of oranges that travel hundreds of miles from their Florida homes. I find balance in beginning an evening with a single recipe, working my way from the inside out.Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

Shortly before the holidays I fell in love with a new chocolate stove-top concoction, created from the core of such interior magic. It has been my dark winter companion ever since. After a full day of deep diving, long travels through inner places seeking pearls, I return home to rough-hewn cups of this Chaga Hematite hot coca, sip and rest once more in the nurturing opportunity of this dark and mysterious Winter’s embrace.


Chaga Hematite hot cocoaDark, earthy, and profoundly grounding, this mystical hot cocoa will settle you in to the warm and nourishing delights of wintertime embers and star rich skies. Crafted from the stone that lies at the center of our earth and the mycelium within and underneath every inch of soil, this drink is a hearty root bringing you back to the warm heart of the day-to-day world. Sweetened with maple syrup and lightened with rich sea-foam dollops of coconut milk, to bring in the milky remembrance of diving for the deepest pearls. Warm yourself a cup of Chaga Hematite Hot Cocoa and settle in for a profoundly meditative wintery evening.

Chaga cocoa steaming

Chaga and Hematite rug Chaga cocoa from the top

Chaga Hematite Hot Cocoa

Recipe makes two mugs of hot cocoa

  • (Optional) Vanilla Extract
  • 2 oz maple syrup
  • 2 oz coconut milk
  • ¼ – ½ tsp cinnamon (or to taste)
  • 2 tsp cocoa power
  • 1.5 cups water
  • ½ oz chaga
  • 1 piece of Hematite
  1. Place a piece of hematite in 1.5 cups of water. Let infuse anywhere from one hour to overnight.
  2. Pour the water off your hematite into a separate pot.
  3. Decoct Chaga. Combine chaga with your hematite water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer. Cover and let churn for at least 20 minutes (or until your tea turns to the shade of dark wood). When your decoction is done, strain the tea into a separate container.
  4. Sir in cocoa + cinnamon powder until all lumps are dissolved
  5. Add Coconut milk and Maple syrup
  6. Garnish with a cinnamon stick and make a toast to all rich and nourishing worlds!

Hematite and Chaga

Hematite is what makes up the core of our earth. It is the stone upon which our entire world is balanced. Iron rich and dense, Hematite is like the open arms of a profoundly grounding mother, welcoming us home after a hard day with a warm apron and bone stock bubbling away on the stove. An intensely sturdy stone, Hematite reminds us that we are here, now, and that to live on the earth fully is to recognize that we are unconditionally loved. Hematite helps us to come back to the bedrock of who we are, connecting to the precious anchors of body, embodiment, and our own inner places of self-love. Protective and solid, hematite can provide us with the sturdy container needed for shamanic journeying, creative visualization and explorations in consciousness. Hematite reminds us that we do not need to try to survive, this skill comes as naturally as the sunrise. This raw stone can help to bolster our deepest hearts so we know that we will be able to make it through even the longest winter. Hematite is a wonderful stone ally for the wintertime scholar and student of consciousness; this solid stone helps to concentrate the mind, bringing deep focus and balance to any wintertime pursuits. (To learn more about an ancient Daoist Hematite stone treatment for ghosts, check out my Samhain blog post from this past fall)

Chaga is a medicinal fungus that shows us the literal roots of the world. Often called a mushroom, Chaga is actually an outgrowth of the mycelium (or root system) of the fungus itself. Found most often on black birches in our Appalachian forests, chaga is a nourishing immune tonic. Antiviral, immune modulating, and adatogenic, chaga is an indispensable wintertime decoction in the far northern climbs of Russia. Simmered for half an hour or more, chaga makes a rich but mild tea high in antioxidants. Traditionally used internally for cancer, chaga has been shown to have an antitumor effect in clinical trials. Also called tinder fungus, chaga is renown as an excellent ally for catching coals of fresh drilled hand-fires and holding the spark for a deep amount of time. A vital companion for travelers and those who need to bring the spark of new life with them whenever they go. Chaga has been used in this way for thousands of year, it was even found in the pouches of Otzi, the Copper age man who lived and died in the Alps around 3,300 BCE, and who slept in the alpine glaciers on the border of Austria for thousands of years. Chaga is an ancient medicine of fire and continuance. Bring this nourishing companion into your world of tea kettle and late night inspiration and ignite a spark this winter whose embers will carry you through untold distances, perhaps, even, until the spring.

** Paintings by Caspar David Fredrich. Photograph by Iwase Yoshiyuki

Adaptogenic Snickerdoodles


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Quartz crystalsThe frost is simply dazzling these days. Stretched out across the yard and far hills of moss like a sparkling net of stars. Lately, I’ve been mulling deeply into this time of cold winds and warm cheerful stoves. I recently moved into a new home far out in the hills and hollers of Appalachia and have found myself beginning each new day with such quiet appreciation — of the evergreens and rabbit tracks, silent does and rustic woolen clothes. I love this time of the year. When my breath begins to follow me around in little puffs of smoke and I’m allowed to simply stay inside with my cast irons and concoct. Between the rush of shipping medicine to every corner of the country, packaging blends for family and friends, and preparing for two different holiday classes, I’ve been spending every other waking moment celebrating the season in the best room of any cozy cabin… the kitchen.

Rainbow with spoonThere’s a certain kind of magic hour in my new kitchen. A mid-afternoon faery-spell when the sun pours in and kisses my suncatcher window with light. For an hour every winter-noon my kitchen is lost in a dazzle of winking rainbow-light. Scattered across the bare wood floors and walls, a small flock of color ripples from left to right, anointing every surface with a ethereal crystal, before they simply disappear, take flight. This is my absolute favorite time to create new magic.

Snickerdoodle bowl with rainbowsMy good friend Juliet mentioned the idea of creating an adaptongenic sugar cookie a few months ago. At the time I thought, “By golly! What a fabulous idea!” Needless to say, the idea stuck to me like a burr to a gathering basket and I’ve been waiting until the holidays rolled around (aka. until it’s completely kosher to make…and eat…batch after batch of sugar cookies) to try it out.

Now, I love snickerdoodles. Not just because they are a fun word to throw out at a party and pretend you speak fluent German (despite having some deep German ancestry, I can’t lay claim to knowing much at all of the language! Regardless, I’ve been “snickerdoodling” in a heavy German accent every chance I get), but because they are everything a holiday cookie should be: Soft, chewy, crispy, cinnamon-y and sweet.

Snickerdoodles closeAs much as I adore the holidays– with all their bright lights and white pines, warm cinnamon and cheer– they can also be (a tad) stressful. In the midst of a serious north pole whirlwind of holiday to-do’s,  I was grateful for the chance to sit down and play with some of my favorite stress-relieving herbs (in cookie form, of course). Stress can come in lots of different guises– wintertime bugs and blues, an entire turkey to roast or a whole evening spent in itchy Christmas sweaters with your uncle Lou. Adaptogens, as defined by David Winston, are a kind of deep inner support, helping our bodies “adapt to stress, support normal metabolic processes and restore balance.” (If you are interested in learning more about adaptogens, definitely take a peek at David’s book Adaptogens). Often called rejuvenatives in other traditions, Adaptogens are herbs that help us to feel graceful, strong and energetic… no matter what stresses may be manifesting in our outward environment. In this recipe I’ve included my three favorite adaptogens for coasting through the holiday season: Ginseng, Shatavari and Astragalus. One a sunny day, kitchen-rainbowed day this past weekend I put on my flowery apron, turned up some swinging holiday tunes, and got to creating this truly scrumptious batch of relaxing holiday cookies.

Adaptogenic snickerdoodles with textCrafted with three different adatopgens for stress-release, stamina and overall good cheer this holiday season, these Snickerdoodles are as rejuvenative as a hot evergreen bath at the end of a long day. Paleo, gluten-free, dairy-free, sugar-free and humbug-free, too! These rich cookies, sweetened with coconut sugar and dark amber maple syrup, are simply divine dipped into hot cocoa or paired with warmed apple brandy. Craft a batch for your next cookie swap or take the edge off a frenzied evening of present wrapping with these medicinal treats.

Dosage: 1-2… err 5 ? cookies (Take a load off, Mr. Claus).

Recipe makes about 30 cookies


  • ½ cup butter, softened
  • ½ cup coconut sugar
  • ¼ cup pure maple syrup
  • 1 large egg
  • 1 tsp vanilla extract
  • 2 cups almond flour
  • 1 tsp baking soda
  • ¼ tsp salt
  • 4 tsp Ginseng powder (Panax ginseng or P. quinquefolius. If using P. quinquefolius please make sure the root was organically grown and not wildcrafted! Our precious native ginseng continues to disappear at an alarming rate out of our forests)
  • 4 tsp Shatavari powder (Asparagus racemosus)
  • 4 tsp Astragalus powder (Astragalus membranaceus)
  • 3-4 tsp Cinnamon powder
  • For rolling in:
  • ¼ cup coconut sugar
  • 2 tsp cinnamon

Rolling snickerdoodles


  1. Let butter soften to room temperature. Using a mixer, beat together the butter, coconut sugar and maple syrup until creamy .
  2. Add in your egg, a dash of vanilla, and beat again until well mixed.
  3. Add in almond flour (making sure there are no large lumps), baking soda, salt, cinnamon and adaptogenic powders (Ginseng, Shatavari, Astragalus)
  4. Beat until mixture begins to ball up.
  5. Line your baking sheet with parchment paper. Using a spoon dole out large quarter-size semi-balls of cookie dough. They’ll be a bit sticky at this point.
  6. Place your cookie semi-balls on your baking sheet and refrigerator for at least an hour.
  7. Pull out your snickerdoodle semi-balls when they are thoroughly chilled.
  8. Preheat your oven to 350 depress. Shape your snickerdoodles into orderly balls and finish by rolling them in the cinnamon/coconut sugar mixture.
  9. Place each ball back on your baking sheet and flatten slightly with a spoon.
  10. Bake for 8-10 minutes. They’ll still feel pretty soft when you remove them. Let them cool on the baking sheet for 5 minutes before transferring them to a wire rack to cool.

Processed with VSCOcam with c1 presetSnickerdoodle astragalus squareGinseng (Panax ginseng or P. quinquefolius) – Perhaps the best known adaptogen on earth, Ginseng is a mighty root with a long history of use in both Asia and America. A powerful tonic to increase long-term energy and resiliency, the entire plant was considered sacred by many indigenous people (including our local Cherokee). The forests in our native Appalachia used to be carpeted with Ginseng, but the popularity of this medicine (particularly in the East) has led to the widespread practice of ‘Sang hunting, virtually decimating our native populations. For this reason I highly suggest only buying ethically cultivated ginseng! According to David Winston, both ginseng root and leaf was employed as a ceremonial medicine and called upon to help improve hunting, provide protection, improve the chances of the love-lorn and enhance the power of other herbs. Modern scientific trials have found ginseng to be particularly helpful with those who experience adrenal exhaustion (most outwardly identifiable as dark circles under the eyes) and chronic fatigue. It helps reset our immune system and de-tangle an overly stressed nervous system. Ginseng is also known to be quite stimulating in the bedroom. How’s that for some holiday festivity, Santa baby?

Shatavari (Asparagus racemosus)- An ancient Ayurvedic medicine, Shatavari has been in continuous usage for thousands of years. Known to help enhance physical strength and maintain youthfulness, Shatavari is considered a rasayana herb of longevity in Indian tradition. The name translates as “she who has a hundred husbands,” and thus has been used as an nourishing aphrodisiac and fertility enhancer for millennia. A wonderfully nutritive adatogpen, Shatavari root is particularly supportive for those with low appetite due to stress and chronic fatigue. Most commonly used today as a gentle hormone balancer, as well as mood regulator, Shatavari has a sweet and nutty taste that lends itself quite well to baked sugary goodies.

Astragalus (Astragalus membranaceus)- Sweet, moistening and nourishing, astragalus is a wonderful immune tonic as well as adaptogen. A premier herb in traditional Chinese medicine, astragalus deepens our own roots, giving us a strong foundation of robust health as we enter the winter months. A tonic in all senses of the word, astragalus is best taken on a regular basis (an adaptogenic cookie a day keeps the doctor away!). This nutritive rotos works to strengthen the overall functioning of our immune system, so we are more resilient to all those common wintertime coughs and colds. A mild adaptogen, astragalus is my favorite tonic for nourishing a healthy disposition all winter long.

Seasonal medicine square

Courting Mystery: Tulsi + The Technicolor Moonrise


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Hanging tulsi

The medicine of my world is fed by many streams— plants, flowers, stones, spirit and dreams. The most profound healing in my life has arisen from the ocean-like concurrence of all these streams. This piece is an homage to the whirlpool that it, itself, the healing.

This time last year I was officially diagnosed with Lyme disease. My story, which is long and fated and slated to be a blog post all its own, holds a special brand of medicine…and it is healing, for me, to simply be told.

Originally published in Plant Healer Magazine, this tale is an ode to the deep and multifaceted mystery of plant healing. It is the story of a medicine encounter that truly changed my life. It is a narrative of sacred basil and holy dreams. Unexpected illness and the call to bow my head to mystery. Thank you, dear readers, for reading…

p.s. If the Tulsi of this tale calls to you, I would be so happy to share. I offer this very same, sweet Tulsi from my garden in the shop. It is a blessing. 


// Tulsi + The Beginning //

After several months of traveling I had arrived back home to a new season of profusion and growth. Sprawling honeysuckle and dandelion, squash left on withering vines. There was a fresh crispness to the air, the subtle changes of birdsong and light. Amaranth had sprung up in the tobacco beds and the comfrey splayed out of her niche by the back door. In my absence, the garden had grown wild. What were once rows, now grew over in weed and vine and seed. The Tulsi planted up on the terraces, however, was ever-leggy, fragrant and lithe. I went, as I had gone for so many seasons before, to greet her.

Tulsi with shed

For years Tulsi (Ocimum tenuiflorum) has been my beloved plant ally. She was one of the first medicinal herbs I ever grew. Continually blessed with many early summer seedlings, I often transplant Tulsi to every corner of my yard. The first year I remember placing extra starts in-between the kale and kohlrabi, tucked into overgrown apple mint plots. The next season we found that Tulsi had seeded herself in the most unexpected places: in our fire pit, and the shade gardens, a single ceramic pot left to overwinter on the porch. In the summer I gather leaves in tiny winged fistfuls. I let her get tall and bowed and lay my head between her spines to watch the bees go to and fro, balancing on her willowy curves. By the season’s end the rafters of our mudroom are always hung with thick garlands of the sweet drying herb. We string it up in the kitchen, just above the gaze of our wooden windowsills, and tie bundles to the outside of our bedroom doors. All winter long we drink the last herb of summer, throwing Tulsi leaf and flower into almost every brew.

Basket of TulsiI love Tulsi for the way she makes me feel, and what I know she can do. Tulsi has helped ease me through early seasonal allergies and indigestion after a full meal. During long hours of study, Tulsi has gently picked up my head from the nest of my arms, clearing and focusing my mind. I’ve used Tulsi to help fight off infections, colds and UTIs. Tulsi has been an ally, a familiar friend, a known entity to me for sometime. But, like most stories, this tale follows the paths unknown, straying beyond the characters or qualities we can string up and keep safe for some future era. In truth, this tale speaks to a much older faith: the insistence that no matter how much we think we know, there is always more, so much more, to understand. All beings change. Even rocks, overtime, will metamorphisize, disintegrate and grow. There is a spirit that lurks behind the familiar— and it is this mystery, and medicine, that we so diligently court.

Tulsi deva// The Diagnosis + The Dream //

One year ago this fall, I was diagnosed with Lyme disease. I started showing symptoms of Lyme within days of arriving home from a full season of travels. I had been driving for months— teaching and learning, harvesting wild foods and blazing across long sunlit highways. It began with the typical symptoms: malaise, obscure aches, brain fog. When I heard that several of the friends I’d been camping with had been diagnosed, I immediately recognized the signs.

The morning I was awaiting the call with my final test results, I had a powerful and prophetic dream. In it, I saw myself driving down the long slopes of Eastern Pennsylvania, my childhood home. At the hem of the Pocono Mountains the valleys there are long and slow, like honey poured on a cool autumn evening. If you take the time to lift your eyes, you can often see for miles. I was peacefully coasting down a particularly magnificent slope when a large line of cars came into view. Everyone, it seemed, had stopped in the middle of the road. I had to put on my brakes very suddenly, my easy downhill arrival abruptly interrupted. I wondered, for a moment, if I would even be able to stop quickly enough! With some expert maneuvering I slowed to a creaky, close-shave kind of halt, and straggled out of my vehicle to see what had spurred such a mythic hold-up.

A whole crowd of Northeasterners (who, as you know, are always perennially zooming around from one place to another) had stopped plain in the middle of the road. Why? I followed my curiosity to a crest over the valley. Something had made even these busy-minded people stop, hush, witness and gather…. When I got to the top of the crest I could finally see what event had created such a wondering crowd: It was a technicolor moonrise.

Technicolor moon

The moment was spectacular. They sky itself seemed to catch its breath. The moon rose, full and brimming, threatening to spill over into the entire sky. Like a bowl left out in the rain, the celestial silver waters swelled at the very boundaries of the night. As it rose, it cast the whole land in a halo. We gazed as she reached her fullest height and then began to change colors. From vine green to parakeet blue, hibiscus red and tangelo. I watched as one color fled into another, into the moon, into the sky. It danced on my skin and I knew I was witnessing a big change, the apex of a great cycle that was demanding me to slow down and give up on the plans I had hoped for, the destinations I thought I knew. I was being called to honor, recognize and watch— welcome in the vast arrival of the new.

I was awoken from this vibrant dream moment by the ringing of my phone. My doctor was calling with the long awaited test results. But, she didn’t need to tell me. I had already been told.

// Courting Mystery //

That day I ghosted around the house. I wasn’t sure yet what to do with myself. I knew I would have to make some hard decisions, not only about what medicine or protocols I would chose (this, I assure you, will be it’s own blogpost someday soon), but how to fit this new journey into my life. I would have to slow down. Tremendously. As suddenly as a hundred cars abandoned in the middle of the road. My life, which had been at a cross-country full throttle, would need to be completely shifted and settled. I had been driving, it seemed, at one hundred glorious miles per hour, per year, and suddenly the whole transit had to cease. This was obviously the beginning of a phase that would be both awful and awe-inspiring…and undoubtedly new. But where to start?

Fall hillI went to the hill, as I often do when I’m struggling and lonely, dispirited or low. The Tulsi, so sweet and hardy, had taken care of herself in my absence. I thought, perhaps I would make myself “useful” and harvest a few basketfuls of herb to get some fresh wreathes drying in the eaves. I sat down and closed my eyes. Giving gratitude for any harvest is a comforting practice to me, but can have the possibility of becoming rote—especially when it is an herb I have planted and tended, watered and pruned. Sometimes we become so familiar with the living aspects of our lives, we cease to remember that they breathe and change, they hold their own mysteries. This time I felt called to completely clear my mind. Let go of my normal prayers or supplications and just allow the Tulsi to speak to me. She appeared immediately behind my eyes and said in a voice that sounded like sky, Look— Once again, I was witnessing the technicolor moonrise.

In one moment my understanding of Tulsi seemed to pinch and then explode outward, like the creation of a star. An inextricable link of synchronicity spun out from the center, connecting my body and this new disease, to my dreams, to this plant, to the deeper mystery behind it all.

shamanessShe spoke to me in a language before words and I understood. This moment, this journey itself, would be medicine for me and Tulsi, my beloved ally, would help guide me through the biggest threshold of all. Far beyond the boundaries of what I had previously known and ascribed to this plant, she was, in essence, showing me the vastness of mystery. The beauty that can blossom when you throw away the deadlines or destinations, and approach any illness, plant or dream with a curious eye. The best way to begin is with simple humility, to simply sit and watch the techincolor moonrise.

In this one interaction, my understanding of Tulsi (and my own life) deepened as quickly as an ocean current. I felt, and heard, and was shook. It was like whale song— a transmission that is understood on such vibratory and ancient levels, and yet will never quite be able to be translated in human words.

Craggy gardens view in Autumn square

Tulsi and Maple

It was the beginning, the push I needed, to embark upon this new journey with a deep trust in the mystery, my most important and ever-present guide. The experience spoke, in truth, to the heart of why I am drawn to plants and medicine, healing work and herbs. As herbalists I think we can get stuck in the ruts of what we know. We have our material medicas and our herbal actions. Our constituents, our trials, our patient-proven results. But, for me, the most profound healing and transformation has always come from places unknown. From the beginning I could have railed against my contraction of Lyme disease, investing my energy in bitterness and resistance. Instead, I poured myself into research and herbal experimentation, yes, but I also accepted, once again, my place as an apprentice to the unknown. With the guidance of Tulsi and my own dreams, the synchronicity of plants and prayer, the natural mysticism and heralds of the heart, I placed my trust in the kind of transformation that can only arise from courting such mystery.

fall newsletter header zacThroughout my journey with Lyme disease, I have allowed mystery to be my weft. All else— the plant medicine and antibiotics, yoga, supplements, acupuncture and prayer— is the warp. When I first wrote this piece for Plant Healer I felt, at times, like Penelope, weaving and then unweaving, awaiting the return of Odysseus. Wishing for completion but knowing in my heart that the journey had not yet reached its end— in truth, I think it is a lifelong odyssey. Each time I try new thread, change my vision, tweak the weave until it feels stronger than before. I seek out the diversity of all the medicine in this world— plant stories and whale songs, full moons and unexpected gatherings, the humility to see how much more space there is to grow. I honor Tulsi and I keep her by my side. I remind myself daily that what I know, as Mary Oliver says, is “important and honorable, but so small! While everything else continues, unexplained and unexplainable.” Whenever I get overwhelmed or discouraged, imbalanced or unsure, I simply touch the Tulsi still bundled about my door. I come back to the unbelievable comfort of all that I do not know, and cannot see, and trust in the timely revelation of a technicolor moonrise.


Samhain // Practices + Reflections


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Fog on late edenToday the world is lost to its own thought. This morning found the last russets of maple leaves scattered beneath the trees and tonight we’re expecting our first killing freeze. It is Samhain, and the consciousness of the earth feels as fluid as the shadowy iridescence of a raven’s wing.

Samhain, the ancient Gaelic holiday of harvest and shadows, marks the time of the year when this veil is at it’s thinnest. In some ancient traditions, humans are said to have entered this world as consciously as a bride, wedding ourselves to a new kind of reality. A time for both reflection and revelation, Samhain delineates a moment as thickly fleeting as fog and as subtle as the edge of a knife. During Samhain, the boundaries between what was and what will be are distinctly blurred. The conversation between the worlds, once murmured, becomes distinct. Divisions die and the veins of fate, de-leafed and bare, reveal their patterns.

Like squash, halved, everything is both open and complete.

Dark citrineTraditionally considered a time of both sanctity and liminality, Samhain encourages us to question the slim thread between arrival and descent, a demarcator as fine as when leaf turns golden and when it finally falls. Historically, the eve of Samhain was celebrated as a time to reconnect with the ancestors, to feed the spirits with our remembrance and interact with the unseen. Samhain was held as an open invitaion to commune and come to peace with those we deem “others.” The unseen folk of the ancestral realm, faeries, ghosts, the most outcasted aspects of our own selves. It was an opportunity to take stock of the harvests of our lives— what is ready to be reaped, what is ready to be released— and face the source of our own inner hauntings.

During Samhain we are asked to look into mirror and see new reflections.  It’s a time to put the heavy productivity of the garden to rest and turn our gaze inward, blessing the fertility of starkness and singularity. Samhain is a kind of bacchanal of liminality. Having drunk the sweet wine of both endings and beginnings, we find ourselves tipping into a living world that deals intimately with death. The hillsides blush in rust and flame, and life drops like blood from the veins of the leaves, retreating into the roots of the unseen. In Samhain we see death for what it truly is… deep sleep and opalescent dreams.

Herkimer moodA holiday that I have cherished and beloved my entire life, I now celebrate this day in a much different way than the halcyon days of kit-kats and princess hats. I still invite in the elements of identity bending, sweetness and play, but I also take intentional time to connect into the power emanating from such an open threshold. In celebration of this tipsy time of turning I wanted to open my altars to share some of my favorite Samhain reflections + practices.

Regardless of how you choose to drink in this day, may your Samhain be blessed. Let magic spring from unexpected places and your heart branch in mystery, as brazen and bare as the hawthorn on hallowed hills.

Tree view// Acknowledging the Ancestors //

The thinnest reeds, given breath, create the deepest vibrations. As a time when the distance between the embodied and the un-embodied slims, Samhain is an important opportunity to reflect on and pay homage to your ancestors. Like forming a shape note, initiating such a conversation can create profound resonance, a harmony between all realms. Traditionally, spreads of food and wine were laid out for ones predecessors, which was a way of appeasing as much as entreating the spirits. In this day and age, with so many of us feeling quite disconnected from our cultural heritage, it is more important than ever to embrace a more expanded concept of our ancestory. Your ancestors are not simply those who were born earlier in your genetic bloodline, they are any unembodied forebears who helped define the path you now find yourself on. Ancestors can be found through our spiritual or intellectual lineages, within our wider communities and chosen families at large. Acting as guides, many of our ancestors are connected to us simply because of the way we choose to live our life, what our passion ignites. Ancestors are more than just our genetic predecessors, they are members of a much more fluid soul bloodline.

We, as wider spirits, have lived many lifetimes. Each and every one of us has experienced a diversity of lives in our planet’s historical past. When we look back to embrace these many-faceted aspects of our self, we open the door to interacting with an even deeper diversity of ancestors. In many ways, the seeds of our own selves, those that lived previous lifetimes here on earth, are our closest ancestors and most familiar teachers. You can invite in these personal ancestors to integrate the lessons and learnings you forge through now.

Leaf altar

++ Ancestor Altar ++

My favorite way to honor my ancestors is to create an altar. I like to put the altar in a commonly seen, but generally respected, area of my house. Tops of dresser drawers or bookshelves are perfect for this. To begin I spend some time sitting quietly and reflecting on my ancestors, those who I feel close to, or who I would like to draw closer. Then I gather items that hold the ancestor energy to me: quilts, watch fobs, old silver, wooden heirlooms, dried plants, feathers and stones.

After I have gathered my soulful items and place them as I feel guided, I light a candle in the center. I may make some offerings— bits of food, sweet grass or wine. While the candles burns, I agree to be in a place of respectful prayer and adulation. This is a time to ask for any affirmation you might need and to give thanks. Your ancestors surrounded you at all times, and when you sit in such moments of invocation they come closer. You must only be open to the signs.

feather on embrodiery

This time last year I began the ritual of creating my ancestor altar when I received quite a clear message from the other side. Earlier that day I had spent a totally unexpected sum of money. I was in the midst of a challenging health issue that was asking me to face some pretty overwhelming feelings of aloneness and scarcity. On this evening, I tried my best to simply set my worries aside and breathe. I began by reaching up into a worn wooden box for one of my grandmother’s old handkerchiefs, a delicate and lacy swatch of thin cotton. I was shocked when my hand settles upon a softly folded piece of paper. Nestled in the box was an envelope with my name on it, and inside that envelope was almost the exact amount of money I had spent that day. It was such a moment of unseen assurance; I sank to my knees for a few long minutes to weep.

Many months ago I had kept a small stash of bills in this envelope. But I had since spent every penny, I even had a memory of throwing the empty envelope away. But here it was, full again. Had I forgotten a handful of bills? Was it me who left it here? In the end, it didn’t matter one lick. I knew my Grandmother had created this moment. Signs and signals will always have some thread connecting them to our reality. Most of us will never see a randomly burning bush in our lifetime, but we will see many, many subtle (and not so subtle) indicators of the our loved ones presence on the other side. We must only look, and allow ourselves to recognize such signs by feeling. In a place before words I instinctively felt my Grandmother there, cradling me, supporting me, assuring me that I have never, not once, been alone.

Ghost pipe desat// Clearing Ghosts //

Ghosts are a natural part of living, and not as spooky or malicious as Hollywood might have us believe. There are many worlds of movement beneath and within our own. The energy created, and left, by living beings is the farthest thing from supernatural. In fact, ghosts are as natural as can be. In traditional Chinese medicine ghosts are not simply the energetic residue of the formally living, they can also be the entities that result from a resistance to what is, a tear in our resonance with the universe. In this way of thinking ghosts can actually be aspects of ourselves— unresolved grief, unacknowledged loss, regrets, guilt, and the haunting of old hurts. Most of us feel haunted as some point in our lives. During Samhain, as the separations fade, we can do the deeply repairing work of bringing ourselves back into wholeness, and encouraging any energies that do not belong to us to merge with their own light.

There are many ways to clear ghosts, but anything you pour your intention into will be the strongest. Sage and Palo santo are two aromatic smudges that have traditionally been used in North and South America to clear and purify unwanted energies. Stones, as some of the oldest beings on our earth, can also be invaluable allies for clearing such attachments. Lately I have been in deep relationship (and gratitude to) my most recent Earth Alchemy elixir, Ghost Pipe + Carnelian. In traditional Taoist medicine Carnelian was thought to help move (and thus integrate) the ghosts we have accumulated throughout our lives. This fiery stone works an emissary, or torch, helping energies get to where they ultimately belong. Carnelian can help us mend that original split, enabling us to let go of the grief that has caused us to stagnate in dark places for so long.

Sorghum fieldWhether you use stones, herbs, smudge or just your intention, try to stay acutely connected to your senses during any clearing. As the sense that is most intimately connected to memory, our sense of smell can be one of the finest tools for reckoning and realizing an unseen presence. Recently, after helping a friend smudge a house that had (ahem) distinctly heavy energy, I found myself encountering the stale scent of an ashtray everywhere around me. It took almost a week of having that stench whiff into every room I entered  (and many exclamations of “do you smell that?” to my much bewildered roommate), for me to recognize that what I was dealing with might be beyond the realm of the seen. I decided to address this perceived attachment through an ancient Daoist stone treatment with the mother of all stones— Hematite.

Hematite and teacup

++ Hematite Stone Treatment ++

Hematite is what makes up the core of our earth. It is what our entire world is balanced upon. Iron rich and dense, Hematite is the ultimate mother, grounding us in profound and lasting ways. Hematite helps us be present in the here and now, affirming our earthbound selves and releasing any attached energies that would ultimately feel more comfortable in the spirit realm. This specific treatment was handed down to me through my stone teacher Sarah Thomas, who is herself a student of Jeffery Yuen, an 88th generation Daoist priest from the Jade Purity Lineage. This treatment appears in scroll 1 of the Qian Jin Yi Fang. In this ancient Chinese text Hematite was described as being able to clear six generations of ghosts. The recommended practice was to boil the raw stone for one hour and then drink 2 ounces of the decoction for 3-10 days. This practice is particularly powerful when paired with an ancestor altar. When we release, we often release all at once. So, if a healing crisis occurs you can start or stop as needed. Note of warning—decoctions are intense and not all stones are safe to heat. (In fact, some are wildly unsafe to drink at all). Try this intense treatment at your own risk. I found it to be both effective and liberating for myself, but all people (and energies) move differently. Take some time to recognize what clearing practice would be most nourishing for you.

Hawthorn path

candlelit altar// Invoking the richness of the dark //

Every Samhain I like to do something to honor the darkness. This is, after all, a time of tipping headlong into the longest nights of the year. Darkness doesn’t have to be scary. In fact, darkness is the deepest kind of fertility, known to both seed and human beings. Honoring the darkness is an important aspect of re-membering why we are here, and understanding the full spectrum of the light. However you decide to honor the darkness, be open to whatever feelings come up for you. What sensation does darkness hold for you—fear, excitation, vulnerability or anticipation? Darkness is a kind of beginning. How, in these long nights, would you like to be reborn?

++ The Healing Power of Candlelight++

Candlelight is a vastly important part of my Samhain celebration. Electric light— young, convenient and demanding—blows away the reality of night. Easy and ubiquitous, electric light is graceless in the face of candlelight. In candlelight, the whole world seems to sigh, relieved to be reunited with its shadows. Edges disappear and corners move in-between cascades of shape and shade. In candlelight, we invite in the mystery of the unformed. We are given the space to change and transform.winter bath

This Samhain, try invoking the healing power of natural fire-light. Begin by amassing as many candles as you can and turning off every eclectic outlet. With each candle you light allow your perception to open like a flame. Once the room is lit by candles notice what different feelings or sensations might manifest. Let yourself play with both the shadow and the light. Move from room to room with candles in hand, and watch how the house around you changes shape. This is a good time for inward reflection and outward divination. If you want to experiment with some conscious practices of shifting, candlelight provides the best setting for mirror gazing. Illuminating, surprising, sometimes disturbing, mirror gazing is an incredible way to witness how much can shift when you soften your eyes and let in the unknown.

To try this practice, sit yourself (and a candle) in front a mirror and look with an unfocused gaze into your own eyes. Let the details of your outer face fade away and simply concentrate on the windows of both irises. If you relax your eyes with enough softness, you will see your face begin to shift. This can be a bit of an unsettling experience, as I’ve seen my face change into all sorts of incarnations. Brian Weiss, the founder of Past Life Regression Therapy, posits that the different faces we see are often reflections of ourselves embodied in other lifetimes. I admit to feeling similarly ever since I began gazing as a young child.

Sunset on the parkwayHowever you choose to interact with this practice, know that you always have the power to go deeper or to withdraw. You are the magician of your own experience. Embark upon this time with soft curiosity and acknowledgement of the boundaries you would like to hold. Untold mysteries can be revealed when you settle yourself into the embrace of the unknown. Blessed Samhain everyone!


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