A spell for the year


I need to put this spell into the world. 

For myself, for others. The spell of surveying a set time. Today, it is surveying my past year, from the place of dark winter coming up on the light return of Candlemas, Imbolc. A time I have historically been deep in reflection, and often don't have an easy time of it in the depths of winter.

I sit here looking out the window, with my typewriter next to me, my books and papers scattered about, covered in writings and maps of ideas and projects, goals and research. My coffee in a handmade mug, half written letters waiting to be finished, packages waiting to be sealed and sent. The pages of books are marked and folded for me to go back and reflect on chosen information, directed at writing projects and ideas unfolding. I reflect on the past year, and where I have gone what I have accomplished. I think about where I was last year at this time, which in some ways is right back in the same cyclical psychological and emotional patterns.  They swirl through me sometimes sending out side shoots that show me a different way of thinking about it all. I literally am in the same small northern California town as last winter, but having seen and done so much away from here in the last 12 months.


I notice how it feels to be in the winter season and instead of DEEP rest like the short cold days call for, I find myself in bouts of deep anxiety and occasional depression cycles, because I have not been honoring my body's demand for extreme internal work and self care. Our society doesn't allow that for us too much, we are expected to keep on keeping on as to not fall behind, lost our health insurance, home or savings. To keep on manifesting, focusing on self-actualization sometimes at the cost of self-care. I find myself at this place sometimes when I am at split crossroads, or the expanding point of a once joined river. That hamster on a wheel feeling of spinning ideas, and possibilities and realities, and Aquarian-over-the-top-save-the-world big picture goals intertwined with regrets about the past and what I 'should' have done. Worries about the future, some legitimate- like the state of our current world and what I should do now to mediate its direction. It feels so overwhelming sometimes to have a commitment to the land and how that pushes me along a certain path. Also, navigating how our choices intersect the lives of other living beings, human and non. But to stew too much, the stew can sour, the ideas and turn gray and stagnant, the what if's become constant variables that will ALWAYS be there.

I have realized that my stewing turns stagnant when I don't allow time to look deep within to hear what my heart is really speaking. I'm still battling with this, with the old patterns of not feeling sure in my decisions and which direction to take in the midst of a crowd of possibility. There's strength in owning the power of a decision and direction. 


So a day like this where the presence of old patterns run deep, its good to think about what I DID accomplish this past year which was A LOT.

First of all, I launched this web space one year ago. I decided to revisit my presence in the online world, and try blogging again and putting my work and ideas out there despite many years off grid and mostly off line focusing on tangible skills for living lightly on the earth. (I used to blog a lot back in the day! Here and here are two examples) I have sometimes questioned the ultimate importance of prioritizing putting work online, and how it will help up work towards doing good for our world in a real way. Sometimes, I get sick of being on a computer, it is much more than I ever was during my years of farming and living off grid. My mind melts a little at all the stimulus online, and I am learning to find a balance with it now that I am revisiting this way of sharing and doing work. Through launching this project, I have learned a lot about what it means to put yourself out there, to be open to positive and negative feedback, to make like-minded friends via sharing work, and the opportunities that arise from showing oneself. It has provided a platform for me to record experiences, keep a digital scrapbook of my ideas, learn the potential of an online presence, and the possibilities of creative collaboration. It has taught me to push through the discomfort of sharing.

I bought a camper I worked hard to get. After reluctantly turning down a farm manager job on a non-profit educational farm last Spring, I decided to go for it and purchase a turtle shell of my own to make my special space. It launched me into a summer of travel across the west, mostly alone which is a feat that I had always wanted to accomplish, having traveled a lot with others over the year. Sometimes I was reluctant to take the LEAP even though I was already in it, and doing it.

Pentax k2 film shot of the camper/turtle shell.

Pentax k2 film shot of the camper/turtle shell.

I carried that turtle shell from Nevada City, California to Austin, Nevada, to Durango, Colorado, to Moab, Utah, to Canyonlands, to the Bitterroots in Montana, to northern Idaho for a month to study with a medieval bookbinder, to Hood River, Oregon. I got flat tires during heat waves, I figured out how to fix and patch things, I slept in beautiful forests and vast desert landscapes. I had to think quick and often and drive a lot. I had to plan my trip carefully as to not run out of gas with my diesel truck. I awed at the experience of being alone on the open road, sometimes the fear took a hold of me, sometimes I faced it and moved through trusting something out there to protect me.

I went to the Traditions in Western Herbalism Conference in Durango, CO, for the first time since 2012, and it was a welcome community of plant folk. 


Before that I drove the turtle shell up the coast solo from Point Reyes to Fort Bragg, and took in the flowers and the land in full bloom as I moved through a still rainy Spring landscape.

I attended the Buckeye Gathering, and spent lots of time attending plant walks and trying to gain a better understanding of the native ecology of the Sierra Foothills.

I taught a kids nature camp for the first time in Marin county, with a friend and I enjoyed it more than I thought I would.

Pentax K2 film shot from kids camp!

Pentax K2 film shot from kids camp!

I studied with a medieval bookbinder in Idaho, whom taught me a lot about how one can live a life un-rushed and dedicated to process. It made me realize how much I don't know about bookbinding, but how much I actually do know about hide tanning and paper making and processing raw organic materials. I observed the plants in northern Idaho at the Croft homestead, how they resembled plants from the Pacific Northwest, and also North Carolina, and the Great Plains. I felt tucked away from the hub-bub and focused on making bone tools and buttons and tanning hides. I learned a lot through the intense and sometimes frustrating process of medieval bookbinding. I watched the small towns and libraries in northern Idaho, the kinds of people that lived there, where the shopped, what they ate, the signs they put in their front yard. Think, a mix of rural white mostly Trump voters mixed with prepper-style hippie back to the landers of many generations. 


I spent time in Oregon in Hood River, and dedicated many weeks to working on a zine and spoons, to being alone with myself, to watching the eclipse in my own personal prayer, to making friends with folks at Rahane, a secret beautiful community spot above the Columbia River. I took trips to swim amongst the smoke and dryness, I haunted the coffee shops for internet, walked the touristy streets, watched the blackberries come and go. Occasionally visited friends in Portland to see the sights and take hot showers and talk about art and harvest plums. 

I spent a month with Signal Fire during their Wide Open Studios summer immersion, hiking and doing a lot of reading and writing projects, and talking about important issues relating to the intersection of social and environmental justice while also staying away from the internet and tech-things and generally being outside all the time. I pushed through variables I tend to focus on: not have the 'perfect' gear set up, 'running out of food in the backcountry' and solo wilderness time. My solo experience was the height of my year, and when I feel stressed I try to bring myself back there to the knoll I perched myself on, with a lake view through the trees in the distance, the thoughts that moved through my mind during those days alone out there, I cherish and miss. I pushed though the fears that I had had about a solo, that I would panic, or that I would get eaten by a bear, or a tree would somehow be more likely to fall on me over any other time out in the world. It brought me an extreme sense of clarity and safety in my own body and my own trust in my core. Yet, I sit here and feel all the distractions of the world and try to bring this state closer to me as I write about that experience right here. So, I hiked some of the most amazing mountain ranges in the west, a life long dream, while also taking in the stories of those places humbly, the history of displacement of native peoples, the complexity of designating land 'wild' and protected from humans. I felt the extreme possibility of falling to my death at one point as our Signal Fire group traversed glacial moraine covered in snow in the Wallowas, a high elevation practically plant-less zone. 

trip exposure film shot from Signal Fire's Wide Open Studios trip. Pentax k2.

trip exposure film shot from Signal Fire's Wide Open Studios trip. Pentax k2.

WIde Open Studios- Shae, Christie and me. Photo Credit- Ryan Pierce or Kerri Rosenstein.

WIde Open Studios- Shae, Christie and me. Photo Credit- Ryan Pierce or Kerri Rosenstein.

I harvested or observed abundant medicine across the west, finding Yarrow, Red Root, various Conifer medicines, Sagebrush, Elderflowers, Yerba Santa, and more. Ate the wild berries in season along the dry hills, thimbleberries, serviceberries, raspberries, huckleberries, blueberries and more. I think I ate so many serviceberries that I might have practically turned into a service berry. I learned a lot about the dynamic ecology of the West, witnessing places, taking in their smells, terrain, particularities.  


I made new friends, some unexpected, like a rural Idaho Mormon family. I met for the most part, nice and helpful people. I got to hang out with Emily of Sundial Medicinals in her home town of Moab, Ut, got to hang out with a blacksmith, Ian at Jim Crofts and learn how to carve spoons better. I was able to see old college friends in Portland I hadn't seen in over five years, and it was like not a day had passed. I had a lot of days of extreme joy and many days of extreme exhaustion and intense longing for grounding and alone time. I imposed sometimes unnecessary stressors on myself, like hiking the Bitterroots in duck taped tennis shoes rather than spend money on buying new hiking boots ahead of time to break them in.

I chose to NOT go harvest wild rice with my friends in northern Idaho. It's hard to say no to things sometimes. Especially opportunities to make camp with friends. After driving across northern Idaho three times in one summer, I just couldn't again. I found solace in hunkering down in a friend's cabin and using the quiet space to process my summer, my year, my past few years, with civilization just down below. 

I decided to take some of my writings and make a zine out of it that I called Ground Shots. It is meant to be an evolving study of people and place. To actually launch such a thing is a feat for me, a step in making real ethereal ideas, and being okay with the magic of how things evolve over time. 

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I started selling some things on my web store, which for me, is a very new thing. I've tried my hand at ETSY, back in the days when I was glued to a sewing machine and was popping out intricate recycled/up-cycled vintage fabric bags, more like beaded silk-art pieces. To put out there a possibility of exchange for some of my work to be possessed by others, feels like an accomplishment. 

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I started a Patreon to support my evolving work, from the Ground Shots zine project, to a long term book project called Oil & Rust documenting rural decay and social stagnancy in my home county of southern Virginia.  As it grows and evolves, I realized that starting a Patreon has taught me to trust that my work is worth support, and that there is a way to do our work in the world and be supported in a multitude of ways. It has been a big thing to me to get over fears of public failure, or the stress I feel around 'self-promotion,' but at the same time it is a healthy exercise in communicating work and ideas and projects and how to keep it going. It is a platform that has allowed me to let my wildest Aquarian-big-pictures dreams feel possible. It has taught me patience, perseverance and consistency even when my life feels like it is in constant flux. It has shown me that some things work and some things don't. That the time is right for some ideas and other things should wait and rest.

I spent a lot of time this fall in northern California encouraging friends to put their projects out there and to not feel afraid of being seen. To observing the possibilities of collaboration everywhere, and the need for the spirit of working together rather than working in competition. To feeling the urge to create projects that brings quiet makers and doers and thinkers together and in the light for making change in the world. 

Realizing that I have barely spent six consecutive months in one place for quite some time now. To noticing how I get sucked into my current reality and sometimes can't seem to move myself out of it, even it is time to go. To noticing that sometimes it is best to stay put, too. 

I've gone home twice to see my family in Virginia, and both times it was incredibly emotionally hard. With my grandpa getting up in his years and pretty homebound now, to the family farm and homeplace needing energy and tending. Revisiting yet again the complexity of how moving back home to tend the land there would be incredibly grounding and incredibly un-grounding at the same time. A constant work for me to move through past traumas, ancestral trauma, the trauma of others in that place and the possibility for renewal there that might be too big for me to do alone. And being okay with the fact that the chance to do it may not come in my lifetime.

To learning lessons on letting go. Because to hold to all the possibilities, all the ideas you had about your life or the paths that can be taken can drive one mad. It drives me mad sometimes. It also reminds me to appreciate how lucky I am to have choices in front of me to do my work in the world in a lot of different ways.

To teaching more this past year, and deciding to put myself out there in that way more because it comes natural to me to share what I have learned with others.

Learning new things! How to work with wood. How to make a medieval book. How to properly hang a bear bag. Getting better at botanical drawing through practice. How to keep my expenses recorded on Quickbooks. Expanding my knowledge on how to properly run a business from beginning to end. How to make websites. How to set up a solar panel with 12v electricity! TO changing a tire on an old rusty monsterous Ford F-250. 

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I've learned, done, a lot this year. I've been all across the West. I still crave both stillness for some time, and more movement, and connecting people and their projects and ideas. Yet, I am realizing that self-care is important before all else.

Sometimes our work is fulfilling. Sometimes, we have to do unfulfilling work to get us where we want to be, to propel us towards our goals on the other side. Sometimes the best goals are not lofty, but simple. Having the capacity to sit and listen and witness a place in its current state is infinitely valuable. 

TO realizing that things never turn out the way you think they would. To wondering what it would be like to tend the same land year after year. To the wonder of what it would be like to have a small hand built home, somewhere, somehow, with safe clean space to work and take care. TO learning more about what I need, what others need, to feel good and safe and met.

I wish for myself and others a year ahead of good work. Of fighting for the changes that need to be made. To not accepting injustices and humbly trying to learn about how others experience the world. To deepening my understanding of the natural world, and how humans are not actually separate from it as the narrative has us believe. To finding a sense of home base, and grounding, and feel reassured in my path. For others to find the courage to bring forth their ideas and put them on the table.

We don't have time to wait. Life is moving on. Things in the world aren't always looking so good. We can't let our fears keep us back. It's okay to mess up or have some things work and some things not work. Here's to riding the waves of sureness and uncertainty in the next year, and sticking to our visions for the world we want to see. 


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