The grass smell in my hair is wearing off and the adrenaline is starting to dissipate, but my heart is still happy.
Countless hours preparing to attend my first Herbalism conference ever, the Herbal Resurgence Rendezvous: Medicine of the people, and I can’t believe it is already over. So many e-mails, packing, reserving, organizing… And here I am now, a day after the event, sitting at home with a heart full and much more knowledge. And also, saudade.
I arrived at the LAX airport for my 8 a.m. flight only to discover that it was full and I had been moved to the 12 p.m. flight, meaning I was going to be late for the first class. I was pretty upset but decided to make my peace with it and just enjoy the whole experience, getting upset wasn’t worth it. People were waiting for me at the Phoenix airport for our shared ride to the Mormon Lake, the conference’s site, and thankfully all of them were ok with my delay and we all left together, not knowing we were going to build such wonderful friendships during that crazy fun ride to our beautiful destination.
Ponderosa pines and the moon, day 2
The scenery was amazing along the way. Started off with huge saguaro cactuses everywhere (I desperately wanted to take pictures, but I was driving!), opening up to small bushy trees that got larger and larger the higher we were, until we hit the 5000 feet and ponderosa pines started to appear. There were pines everywhere and the open spaces were marvelous! I was absolutely delighted, it reminded me so much of New England where my heart does nothing but smile widely.
First night was slow for us. We arrived pretty late and missed the first class and the night activities. I met my friend and roommate for the weekend Mandy, who got there the day before and was camping with another friend. It was so late that we decided to sleep there again and set up my tent next morning. That never happened 🙂 I guess we’d rather be cozy all together since it was so freaking cold!
The lake bed near our camping site
I woke up at 6 the next day. The sun was just starting to go out and everything looked half yellow, half dark blue, and it was really cold. Since classes started at 8 I just decided to sleep one more hour. Totally worth it. An hour later the sun light was hitting our tent right in the front and I got to appreciate the place we were staying at. It was already dark when we got there and I couldn’t see anything, but I was already expecting it to be beautiful. And boy it was! We were camping in a small field full of pines and flowers, and further away this huge field opened up, covered with all sorts of little plants and bushes. My jaw took a life of it’s own and refused to come up to close my mouth. I was looking at the lake, only that it didn’t have water but low plants, and this huge space was surrounded by more pines and your eye could get lost in the horizon trying to reach it’s end. Mandy and went on a little walk towards the dried lake to wash our teeth in the midst of that beautifulness. The air was cold and filled with morning sounds and smells, people leaving their tents to cook breakfast in bonfires and getting ready for all that was ahead of us that day. What an amazing feeling comes with waking up in nature, away from from permanent structures and industrialized living. Freedom.
While washing our teeth close to the lake bed we heard a distant, quiet music. Someone was playing an harmonica or something alike in a tiny hill ahead of us with the sun behind him. I so wish I had taken a picture of that, now it is just a magic moment to remember.
Matthew Wood’s class on Pulse and Tongue Diagnosis
So, class time! I was absolutely excited to go to Matthew Wood’s two part pulse and tongue diagnosis class, sadly I missed the first part the day before but I wasn’t going to miss the second one! It was pretty packed when we arrived and fun had already started. We spent 2 hours looking at people tongues and taking people’s pulses. I was fighting a cold and had coffee for breakfast which in combination made my blood pressure drop so I volunteered to be examined, and I ended up being a good example for a slow pulse. Matthew was very patient and easygoing, and you could tell he was happy to share his knowledge with us; that always makes learning easier and enjoyable. He reminded me of a big, kind bear. We talked about red tips, bumps, coatings, spots and all sorts of things. This was my first time at tongue diagnosis and I wasn’t expecting to get this excited! And although two hours is indeed a very short time, we learned quite a bit and were encouraged to continue educating ourselves in this matter. I already have a book waiting in my Amazon cart 🙂
Ten minutes later we were sitting down in our second class and it was time to meet Sevensong. The class was about digestive health and was very well structured, according to my taste. We focused in the goal of finding the root of the digestive issue we are working with and treating it directly. Symptoms can be eased up to make our clients comfortable and help them believe in herbs 🙂 After talking about some of the main digestive disorders and it’s causes, we moved to treatment, moving between categories of herbs: antimicrobials, anti-inflammatories, anti-espasmodics, astringents, etc., and learning about a couple of Sevensongs favorite herbs in each category. I really enjoyed his approach to herbalism, very scientific and down to Earth, and of course it was delightful to listen to him and his funny, sarcastic jokes and yiddish stuff 🙂 Besides learning about activated charcoil and it’s cleansing effect, oregon grape root as an awesome antimicrobial and peppermint spirits for nausea, we left with a great tip on callamus tincture to help focus during classes. I wish I had had some for the last day of the conference when my mind started wandering around after three intense days of learning.
Around Mormon Lake Lodge
Lunch time arrived and I decided to skip it and go for a drive. I had no reception in my phone and was missing my hubby 🙂 So I took my phone and my camera and drove around 15 minutes away until I got coverage. I also got to see the area for the first time in day light, I had no idea we had passed such beautiful landscapes on our way there. Happy heart. But time to go! I was 10 minutes late for the next class! I really wanted to go to Kiva Rose’s class on Pines but I thought that, in terms of what I really need to learn for my practice right now, I would benefit more from the Mental health class, with Sevensong once more. Again, a very well structured class focusing on the root of the problem and how mind affects body and the back. What I like the most was learning about pulsatilla and how great it is for panic attacks and kava kava has an effect similar to ethanol but without the stupidity 🙂
After that I headed to the main tent with Mandy for a very particular class: Pee and poo, with Charles Garcia. When we arrived Charles announced he was going to read something from the old testament, and started to read this crazy thing about Adam and Eve and how Adam told Eve she looked fat in her fig leave and they ended up eating from the forbidden fruit. This is probably what I will always remember of Charles Garcia when I think of him: wonderful sense of humor and a big heart. He passed around urine samples in little mason jars so we could appreciate color and density and other details. Everyone was giggling at first, but poo and pee questions started to fly out after a while when everyone got comfortable with the subject. We actually gave full reports to each other while in the bathroom after class 🙂 I noticed I was dehydrated and I might be catching a little infection. The best part of the class, however, was the moment when Charles opened one of the pee jars, put his finger inside and then tasted it. Ew’s and Oh’s everywhere. His assistant did the same and they both made faces. We were all between laughter and shock. Then he asked his assistant: “What do you think?” We all stared in wonder. “Brandy or rum?” “Definitely rum”, she replied. We had been played, what a laugh. Pee and poo with Charles Garcia was in everybody’s mouths for the next couple of days.
Mullein, year one, in our stop on our way to Flagstaff
I convinced Mandy and my new, awesome friend Kandi to head into town (Flagstaff, half an hour away) after class to buy something to eat that night and next day at lunch (so we wouldn’t lose time sitting at the lodge’s restaurant but going to walk around instead) and to get a cheap phone so I could speak to my hubby without having to drive away or be asking people for their phones. Hey, I’m a newly wed, don’t judge 🙂 A girl joined us, I forgot her name, but she was very cool and knew a lot about herbs. We stopped in the way to take a picture of the sunset between the pines and take a look at a couple of plants that were sitting on the side of the road. The ride was full of energy, laughter and intimate conversations, even though we had only met for one or two days. I guess that talking about pee and poo together makes community easier 🙂 And we were all there for the same purpose and with the same love for herbs and healing, so opening our hearts with joy was a very easy thing to do.
We came back to find that there was a huge bonfire in front of our tent and there was a big group sitting around, playing guitar and flute, singing and chatting. We sat down and enjoyed that lovely moment with our new friends, sharing stories and feelings. It was a great night.
Irina’s beautiful flower crown in the making
Next morning I got up early and left with my camera to walk around and take pictures. I can’t even begin to describe how lovely your mind and body feel after waking up in the cold mist of the Ponderosa forest among people in tents. I felt so full, warm and cozy inside, and achy outside for spending the night in a sleeping bag 🙂 It was time for next class and I really didn’t know what to do. This wasn’t the first time, it was hard to pick just one class from all of the amazing classes offered in each block. But I decided to go in a field walk since I don’t really have the opportunity of having someone teach me how to identify plants in the field in a place like this (I live in the desert) and since I’m heading to New England next month, I thought maybe I will find many of these plants in there and I need to be able to recognize them. A girl approached me before class and offered me an organic carrot because she had too many. I gladly accepted and had some carrot for breakfast. The walk was beautiful, leaded by Mike Masek. We walked into a field full of yellow flowers and mullein, surrounded by pines. My new friend Irina showed me how to make flower crowns and we spend most of the way picking and braiding flowers while listening. After class Mena joined us and we had a little photo-shoot with our crowns. Unforgettable moment, I didn’t want to leave, but it was time for the next and last class of the day. I lost my pen between the flowers while taking pictures and from time to time I think about it and imagine it just sitting there, free in the cold ground, looking up the green stems and leaves that burst into beautiful yellow petals against the blue sky. I never thought there would be a time in my life where I would want so badly to be a blue pen.
I was very nervous trying to decide between two classes: Energetics and Hawthorn. I sat at the Hawthorn class with Jim McDonald and Sean Donahue, which was closer, but left after a while because it was outdoors and the cold started to bother my pseudo-cold (I never really got to get sick but I didn’t feel good) so I moved to this little cabin where Caroline Gagnon was giving her Energetics 2 class. We did a small meditation thinking about a number of herbs and the effect they created in our body by just thinking about them. Lavender, chamomile, lemon balm and… I can’t remember. I had a little trouble trying to concentrate in my body and what it felt. I have a mind that works too much and over thinks, so I wasn’t sure if I was feeling or thinking this or that. But I got to pick something up from each plant and after a while it started to become easier and easier as I started to trust myself and letting things flow. The findings were amazing. Someone said lavender made her tense and Caroline asked her how she feels about others touching her and how was the relationship with her mother. The answer to touching was a negative and she said the relationship with her mom wasn’t good. The teacher said that what lavender does, and I’m just paraphrasing here, is almost like a purple cloud that embraces you, is like a protective hug, and if you have trouble with touch you won’t like it. The girls face showed perplexity, she got the message and it touched something that hurt. I felt like crying and my respect for our mind and our strong relationship with herbs grew 200%. Caroline is an amazing person, soft and deeply caring but also full of fun. We had the amazing opportunity to spend time with her after classes only to find a humble, sweet, funny woman that really enjoys life and people. Her class was mind opening.
Mandy in the woods
Lunch time! Mandy and I grabbed our sandwiches and headed to the woods for a walk while eating and taking pictures. More pines and yellow flowers moved by hollowing winds that gave me chills of amazement. After a while we sat down to talk and enjoy and we decided to have another little photo-shoot. Precious moment right there 🙂
Headed back to the Herbal constituents class with Lisa Ganora. Julie James, an awesome Herbalist from Long Beach I study with sometimes, had recommended her. We had an awesome class talking about molecules and atoms in a very digestible and entertaining way. Herbal constituents is a very complicated subject and now I’ll be able to study better thanks to her parameters and introduction to it. Also, her impersonation of dogs smelling stuff was the best I’ve ever seen.
Just a dog traveling in the roof of a truck. Just that.
It was 3 pm. and time for the next class. I was feeling horrible with swollen glands in my neck that hurt like crazy and made my ear buzz. Decided to run to the shops area and look for red root tincture but I couldn’t find any. What I did find was ocotillo which also works on moving the lymphs so I got a bottle, took it internally and applied it externally to the sides of my neck. I started to feel better as soon as 20 minutes later.
We took Kiva and Wolf’s class Our Medicine, our path: Recognizing our unique gifts, carving out a niche. I wanted to see them in action and in 3D, since I’ve known Kiva for a while but only through Facebook. I have to admit that I was very tired at this time. The first 45 minutes were amazing, but after that my mind started to wander. We were in the second day of intense classes and my mind was already saturated, specially considering that I had never studied this much in English before. Wolf quoted some lines from their awesome book that is coming out right now and it was just too much English for me for the day. I was sad because the class was so amazing, everyone was absolutely engaged and when it was over they were all talking about how awesome it had been. Still, being there and feeling their energy and listening to their stories at the beginning was very special for me, these people are amazing and it is thanks to them that we got the opportunity to be there and share. I can’t say Thank you enough.
Elks in the lake
I was so overwhelmed by classes and people (I usually spend my days alone at home, with my husband and my cat, so being with lots of people for three days in a row was too much for me. I understood then how precious is silence and solitude for me sometimes) that I ran to the car and drove away with my camera. The sun was going down and the view of the valley-like lake bed promised to look amazing. And it did, only that it was cloudy and without the sun light the pictures were dull. I decided to wait until the clouds move. It was freaking cold and the wind was blowing like there is no tomorrow, I had to get inside the car and just wait while looking at the Elks in the distance, walking in the patches of water. Finally the sun found it’s way through and the valley lightened up in a beautiful golden yellow. I didn’t know what to do with myself. Took all the pictures I could and headed back with freezing hands. Stopped a couple of times in the way and got some of my favorite pictures of the whole trip. Mullein was my muse during these days.
I went back to the campsite and found my friends sitting together in a table, sharing all kinds of foods and snacks. We had a wonderful time making jokes and laughing until it was time for the highlight of the day: The Medicine Show: Concert and dance! With the group Las Cafeteras. That was crazy fun! The music was great, everyone was dancing and enjoying themselves. That is something I wasn’t expecting 🙂 We danced to modern mexican music, sometimes mixed with afro-rhythms or even asian. Amadea, my new friend Melinda’s seven year-old daughter, danced with us and took pictures. What a blast.
I headed to our tent early and went directly to sleep, so tired I was! Last night of the conference already, time goes by so fast. Next day the first class was Sevensong’s field walk and I couldn’t wait.
Sevensong and mallow
Funny thing that most of the people I encountered next morning were heading to Sevensong’s class. We all wanted a hands on experience in the Ponderosa forest and this was the perfect time for it, although not weather-wise. It was cloudy and cold, and apparently it was going to rain. Still, we all headed to the meeting site and started our trip. I don’t know if it was because we made a long walk among the plants and the beautiful New Hampshire’s like scenery that I so much love or if it was Sevensong’s great talent a teacher or if it was because we were all about to leave, but I think this was probably my favorite class of the conference. We moved at an energetic pace from one place to another and Sevensong was great at giving us details and uses of the plants around us. The class was packed with information that was easy to assimilate, although I took a lot of notes just in case. We ate chickweed, tasted lambsquarters, learned about rabbit tobacco (but no one has seen them smoke yet) and had a lot of fun taking pictures and running around, it even rained a couple of drops and we didn’t even blink. Amadea came with us wearing my wolf hat and she looked just beautiful in the flower field. I didn’t want the class to be over 🙂
Early, rainy field walk
And finally, it was time for the last class: High desert plants, Jewels of the Southwest, with Feather Jones. We took the class inside the shop’s cabin since the weather was cold and learned a lot of great things about chaparral, ocotillo, silk tastle and other plants from the desert. It was also very cool to know that plants in the desert get to be thousands of years old, and there is even a rumor that their root network is so bast that it spreads over hundreds of miles and are all connected to each other. That would be awesome. Feather passed some desert flower essences for us to try. It was my first experience with flower essences and it was quite delightful, like a tingling in my diaphragm, a perfect ending for our 4 day long journey in Mormon Lake.
A little wolf I found
I got to meet Jim McDonald and Howie Brounstein very briefly during lunch before leaving. Awesome people. Howie even showed me his tongue after I showed mine to Caroline for diagnosis, and Jim told me I have a special talent to blend herbs and give names to those blends, and that meant a lot to me.
Now it is all over, but the experiences and emotions remain, as do friendships, and I write this in hope that I won’t forget a single detail as time goes by. This was just my first of many conferences, where I know I will encounter many of my new friends from around the world once again. There is nothing like the feeling of community we can get from gatherings like this ones, spreading around excitement for herbs and herbal medicine, showing us that there are no limits to what we can do and that with some work we can be as skillful as others, learning that we need to trust in our abilities and reach out. There is a couple of people that couldn’t make it this year and that I really missed, like Reagan, Julie, Barbara, Marcia… But I’m greatful that I got to meet so many new friends that went straight to my heart. Special thanks to my ride team: JJ, Melinda, Amadea, Kandi, Irina and the girl that joined us on the way back (ugh, I’m bad with names sometimes) for their love and support during the almost 3 hour ride each way. I’m extremely happy to have ended up meeting you just because we all needed a ride up there, just by coincidence. Except that there are no coincidences.
I hope you enjoyed the humongous (favorite word of my beloved friend Antonella) post and that you might have grabbed a little bit of the joy and magic of being there. And maybe, just maybe, we can meet sometime soon in another beautiful gathering.
Mena, Irina and me