One of the many things I love about studying herbal medicine is the way it naturally draws you closer to the earth. I suppose it is possible to become an herbalist and not move any closer in your relationship to the earth...if one were to be very clinical and sterile and only work with the plants in their processed form from suppliers. However, for the most part, nearly any path into herbalism involves some kind of an invitation to meet Nature on a more intimate level than most westerners are used to. It starts with noticing the plants we are studying growing wild around us, and then noticing a bit more about the wild around us. Perhaps we begin an herb garden, and soon we are digging in the earth and meeting the creatures that crawl under our feet. Gardens invite in the birds and toads. The sun begins to warm us and the wind speaks in our ears. If we dare to get lost in the rhythms of nature for too long we may even find ourselves moving into that place of resonance where, even if only for a moment, we realize that we are a part of this mysterious natural world as well, no matter how far we have pretended to be removed from it. From here it is only a short step to the desire to live closer the earth, to organize our daily lives in such a way as to honor and respect this relationship, to cultivate it, to live in alignment with the laws of this beautiful natural world we are so intimately connected to.
When I was in my twenties, I fell in love with Tasha Tudor. I never met her, except through photographs in books. But these photos mesmerized me. So beautiful was this woman to me, who had chosen to live so simply...no electricity, heating with wood, a hand water pump in her sink...yet every aspect of her life was infuse with the simple beauty of her daily life. She lived with the seasons and did the work of living, not complaining about the burden, but embracing the joy to be found in each task. Something in my heart longed for this simple beauty in daily life. Some ancient memory was stirred by these photos of this sweet old woman smiling contentedly like the Buddha in her garden. I just knew there was a very important message for me here. Tasha is now gone from this world and can no longer tend her beautiful garden, but through the example she lived, she has planted seeds of inspiration in the hearts of countless others who recognized the treasure she had found. I wanted some of that treasure, and now, as I approach my fortieth year, I feel like I am beginning to discover the same treasure for myself.
What started with a knowing in my heart, blossomed over the years to a slow and steady tweaking of my life and lifestyle. Making little changes, and at times big changes, but always drawn along by the wisdom awakened in my heart. I wanted to live close to the earth, to ebb and flow with the seasons, to simplify my needs and indeed to nourish and be nourished by natural world around me. I wanted my children to grow up in a garden, to know where food comes from and to eat that vibrant food still warm in the sun. I wanted to grow my own medicines and learn the weeds (and love them). I wanted to live on the same piece of land for many many years, to learn from it, love it, watch it change with the seasons and the years, and give back to it...become a part of it.
As the years moved by and my babies grew along with my garden, my partner and I slowly made the changes that we were able to live more gently on the earth. We switched from heating with oil to wood. Now most of our wood comes from trees on surrounding farms that either fall down or are trimmed. We decided to do away with our clothes dryer and dry everything either outside on the line, or inside by the wood stove. Our simple construction projects are built with local reclaimed lumber and salvaged materials as much as possible. We switched to a composting toilet system that allows us to return nutrients to the land. There is still so much more to do as we consider meeting energy needs more sustainably and continuing to learn more life skills along the way. But we are moving in that direction every day.
As we move further along this path, the rhythm becomes more established. There are tasks to complete each day and these tasks change with the seasons. We are tending the land, cooking our food, maintaining our house, preparing for the winter, and the spring garden... we are taking care of each other within a meaningful relationship with the earth. But at the same time, it doesn't feel like work, it feels like life. And because we have simplified our needs enough to maintain this lifestyle on a very modest income, we are home more than we are elsewhere.
As the trees we planted in reclaimed pastureland become taller, as new birds appear, as the diversity around us increases, my heart becomes filled with joy that is hard to describe. It is like watching someone who was dying come back to life, and realizing you never knew they were dying until you saw what they were like fully vibrant. As the land becomes vibrant, our energy in turn is nourished. How many of us believe that the earth, feeling our love, will then return love to us? How many of us know it, because we have felt it? Once you have a relationship such as this with the land, once you open yourself up to feeling that love, I can tell you that you will also feel pain and suffering of the earth when you visit areas of abuse and destruction. I very rarely go to the city anymore. I just cannot take that energy for long. And when I do, I am filled with gratitude to be back in my earthspace, so much that I often will fall down to kiss the earth.
But we all know it is all connected. There is only one earth we all live on, and she is the same earth in the city as in my garden. She takes in all our energy and does the best she can to support the life on her body. My garden, my way of living as gently as I can on this earth, is my way of helping her in some small way. I suppose, like Tasha Tudor, I am hoping my example will plant the seed in others, so that more people do what they can to love the land they live on, to treat her gently, to nourish her with love and kindness, she does feel it I can tell you. And she will return that love in beautiful ways.
I'm thinking all these thoughts lately, about how we have set up our life, because we recently lost power for two days because of an ice storm. Some folks around here were without power for much longer. And though it is often very difficult to lose power for an extended length of time in this day and age, I can say that we were quite comfortable. At this point we have not become completely independent of the grid, but we have come far enough along to experience these disruptions and minor inconveniences instead of the major ordeals they are to many others. We don't worry about losing heat, we can easily switch to using oil lamps, and although we don't yet have a hand pump for water, we do have drinking water stored in the pantry. We don't even need to flush our toilets. To be honest, the most difficult part of losing power is having three boys who are used to using the computer for so many things, but even they start to appreciate the simplicity of letting go of that last bit of false light that remove us from the environment around us. When we are not worried about meeting our daily survival needs, losing power becomes a beautiful invitation to appreciate the natural beauty around us, yes even after an ice storm.
We are not there yet. And will never simplify to the level of Tasha Tudor. But we are becoming more conscious of how our lifestyle impacts the earth we live on, the earth we are a part of. I am grateful for the distance we have come, and I look forward to moving further along this path. Our daily lives can be lived in artful beauty, in loving give and take with the natural world. Some call it walking the beauty way. For me, it becomes more and more like breathing, like the simple in breath and out breath that just feels right in my heart.
And so, as we ready ourselves for another winter storm this week, I am grateful for the changing seasons, for the sleeping earth beneath the snow, for the medicines in my pantry crafted in my garden, for the wood keeping us warm and the spirits dancing in the empty branches. In a few weeks winter will ebb and the earth will green. It's already beginning, with a stirring as buds swell and sap flows. The same changes occur within ourselves. Can we recognize this connection? Can we honor it?