An Adventure with the Wildcraft Forest
By Tamara McLellan
the harvesting of herb, root, flower or inspiration from the wilds
the activity or job of protecting and being responsible for something
an ethic that embodies the responsible planning and management of resources
I spent the last three days at the Wildcraft Forest just outside of Lumby. I connected with Don who is a steward of the land there) last year through finding his website. We were meant to meet earlier and things didn't turn out. So I jumped at the chance to attend the second ever Wildcrafting Basics course, that leads one to the Wildcrafting Bioregional Studies Certificate (WBSC). Last week we were assigned homework to do a report on three plants - two that are native to the interior of BC and one that is "invasive"(what a terrible term). We were also tasked with looking back, like faaaar back into our ancestry, to 5000 years ago. To imagine the life we would have lead back then. Due to how busy I've been lately, I was a tad stressed. I guess I am a bit of a perfectionist in some ways and wanted to be fully prepared.
Nothing could have prepared me for the weekend (and yet everything in my life up to this point has been preparing me). More on that later.
So from the beginning. My friend Lisa and I packed up her camper and took off, with no expectations of who or what this course would be like. We are both drawn to the woods, to sustainability, to philosophical conversations about what life really is about. It just felt right. We knew all of the above would happen. We arrived and immediately met two lovely women around our age, of the same like-minded ideas. It was an instant bond. As other class members arrived, it was apparent that we were indeed a clan of sorts. There was instantaneous connection and an awe and wonder for the Earth and all that her majesty has to offer us (and more, about what we can offer back).
After delightful conversation (where I actually exclaimed, "I love you," to Pam - one of the attendees there. Too soon? Haha) we dove right into spiral harvesting (over foraging) of wild strawberries and wild mint. Don was harvesting the leaves these for his wild teas, so we got to eat a few of the delightful miniature berries. Delicious. Until the roosters on the property came along and helped themselves to the whole field. Fair enough, these roosters (called Lord Voldemort and Panama) well they need to eat too. We also met Wizard, the spiritual dog and faithful companion of Don's. He became a constant for the weekend, as wherever we went, Wizard would follow.
We then learned about the ancient art of dowsing and were able to create our own dowsing sticks. Dowsing is a type of divination used to locate ground water, buried metals or ores, gemstones, oil, gravesites, and many other objects and materials, without the use of scientific apparatus. It is an ancient art and incredibly interesting. It lends itself to the idea of an ancient muscle memory. I won't spend too much time on this as it's something more to be experienced than explained. Following our first foray into the woods, we came back to camp and used Don's pendulum to ask a few questions. We got some interesting answers later that evening around the fire...
Later Friday night, we had a smudging ceremony, and had rich conversation about the reasons why we came around the medicine wheel and the Four Directions. This consisted sitting around a stone monument that's a symbol in North American indigenous culture. Where you sat mattered, as the Four Directions have symbolism in each. There is the deer to the west (gentle spirit), the coyote to the south (trickster), the bear to the west (leader) and the eagle/owl to the north (visionary). Without knowing, I sat between the bear and the eagle. During this ceremony, I had a major moment. I was sharing my story of what led me to that exact moment and as I gazed out over the Sleeping Coyote mountain in front of me, with the sun setting, and heart enriching conversation, something whispered to me that my leap of faith that had me pack up my belongings into a car and move to Kelowna without knowing a soul, was right. That my steps to move towards an agricultural based company was right. That my friendship with Lisa wasn't a coincidence. These were all steps on my journey to this place.
I struggled finding the words to describe this moment of the weekend, so I found this description of a medicine wheel and thought it too perfect to not include:
"a Medicine Wheel can best be described as a mirror within, which everything about the human condition is reflected back. It requires courage to look into the mirror and really see what is being reflected back about an individual's life. It helps us with our creative "Vision", to see exactly where we are in life and which areas we need to work on and develop in order to realize our full potential. It is a tool to be used for the upliftment and betterment of humankind, healing and connecting to the Infinite."
After all of this activity, we still had two days left. So we built a beautiful fire and shared further stories about lucid dreaming, pioneering ideas, about what life really means, about the broken system we find ourselves in. I fell asleep so utterly content and slept for eight hours for the first time in a long time.
Saturday started with enriching conversation based around terroir. Terroir can be loosely translated as "a sense of place," which is embodied in certain characteristic qualities, the sum of the effects that the local environment has had on the production of the product. This includes the soil, the geography, the climate, and best of all, the story of a product. Imagine the wine in France, where terroir comes from. It tells the story of the place where the grapes are grown and why that wine is so special. This lent itself to being a more business-minded conversation about becoming an artisan, or a product designer, and about how to contribute to the economy and tell the story of your products to the marketplace. This isn't all "hippie" stuff people! It's business that comes with a high level of spiritual ethics.
From there it seemed natural that we would jump to the career side of wildcrafting. The categories are loosely divided into six paths:
Designers (product design, community planning)
Healers (making medicine, plant knowledge, ancient arts, healing memory)
Alchemists (transformation of dyes, fibers, medicines and plants into food)
Guides (communicators, counselors, dreamwork, pilgrimage)
Teachers (learning, sharing, mentoring, media, broadcasting, storytelling, communicating)
Navigators (leadership, biosemiotics, negotiating, advocacy)
The vision that Don holds for wildcrafting is truly original and incredible. One of my favourite chats we had from the weekend was this:
"Wildcrafting is what the environmental movement should have become. It's not about going to lawmakers and petitioning them to make change for us. It's about making change in ourselves and the environment we are living in. If we each take that responsibility unto ourselves, we can create a movement bigger than anything that a law or government in it's current state could do."
It's about our obligation as dwellers on the earth, to take care of what we have for future generations. And, as you can see above, there is a way for this to be done, and to make a living from it. It's a new kind of economy, ruled by the nurturing Gaia. And he believes this will be a movement. That every health food store, or grocery store for that matter will need a wildcrafting practitioner. Every restaurant and hospital. It really will become the wave that drives the human race forward in a way that the earth can support.
We spoke this weekend about true permaculture and bioregionalism. About creating a design system which aims to create sustainable human habitats by following nature's patterns. And about creating ecological, political and cultural systems around naturally defined areas. What an inspirational time to be living here in the interior of BC.
The piece that came out of Saturday's morning conversations for me was the Aha moment of why I've spent the past ten years in marketing and communications. I'm here to tell a story. The world is a web of stories. The more we can find people to tell the right ones, the better off we will be.
Then we were off on a field trip to the Shuswap River.
And once the enlightening field trip (where we also discovered beauts like the cottonwood trees, oregon grape, birch trees, streambank buttercup and wild ginger) it was time to head back to camp and collect items for dinner.
With full bellies and happy bodies, we then did our plant presentations over a crackling fire. With nine of us, it was amazing that there was not one overlapping plant that we chose. It was truly incredible learning about the characteristics, spiritual and medicinal values of over twenty different wild plants. To name a few, we had wild mint, skunk cabbage (a light shining in the swampy dark), mugwort (a great plant for women to get to know), wild honeysuckle, heart-leafed arnica and tall bluebells (all related to my favourite thing - LOVE), pine pollen (a testosterone booster for men), giant hogweed (instilling fear in parents everywhere), the tiger lily (to add a little pepper), and Japanese nutweed (the plant that doesn't seem to have much wrong with it - other than minor architectural issues - this guy will grow through walls...but that is so healing that it's perhaps natures way of forcing us to listen). There was great mullein plant (an aphrodisiac), the red columbine (a good luck charm), and skull cap (beware of giddiness and happiness). What. an. education.
After a rich after-fire discussion of boycotts, the book of Enoch and our raison d'être, we retired to bed for another restful slumber.
Upon rising, I realized it was the last day. This created a stir of emotions. I was overwhelmed with information and needed to digest it. I was faced with aha moments of my own skills and talents that I need to share with the world. I was terribly sad to leave the no-cell-service-oh-so-peaceful woods and the clan that we created. But I was ready to face our last day, to soak in what I could, and to come home with a sense of purpose.
And then Robert MacDonald came to speak to us. Robert has a rich past, full of marketing (for great things like the Grateful Dead and household items like the decorated Kleenex box), publishing (worked for Random House - hello hero!) and consulting, all the while keeping his spiritual values and morals in tact. It quickly became clear to me that I am meant to study further under this man whose background has slight similarities to my own that I'm starting. However, the one story that Robert told struck me as something that needed to be told, and it is this:
When he was working for a typography company, he learned the story of the building he worked in. It was built by construction workers that were far ahead of their time. It was a huge, intricate building, built in stone and other sturdy materials. However, there were certain parts that needed the flexibility of wood. So the builders knew that this would have to be replaced about 300 years from then and built the wood in such a way that it would be easy to extract and replace. Then they took things a step further. They planted an oak tree forest surrounding the building, that would grow for 300 years, mature, and then the wood that was needed was right on site.
Do you see the sustainability in that?
Do you realize that that's how we need to be thinking - 300 years out?
We all want to leave a legacy. What can we do, that will be a story, that will inspire future generations, and that will leave them better off?
That's what we need to be thinking about.
I was captivated by his message and am starting to understand that I have to shift my thinking to this way. Not only this, but it's storytelling that will continue that message along. It's the story of Ogopogo (to potentially protect boaters from methane eruptions?) It's the story that we have heard from our parents about who we are and where we come from that shapes our lives.
We have to think about our story. Every generation and culture needs a story. And we have a moral and ethical obligation to set it up right now for 300 years from now.
Sunday afternoon we talked to a man named Matthew Stephens who studied permaculture from the grandfather of permaculture himself: Bill Mollison. Matt is now designing a food forest and community garden in inner city Chicago. He is a guerrilla gardener that is changing lives. These kinds of visionaries are who we need to step forward and blaze the path. We also got into a very animated conversation about the naysayers. Those who may need to see certification in this path in order for it to be credible. Or those that simply look at us and say that we're "hippies." But I ask you this:
And what if my buisness background allows me to understand the economy - and not to simply "check out" of society like many hippies are accused of doing. I think there's a true path that we can follow that takes that which we need to do and makes it accessible to all, still allowing lives of comfort (maybe not luxury like there is now, but comfort nonetheless) and rich conversations and rich spirits and delicious foods? It creates a world of community and rights some of the wrongs that are so clearly, blatantly happening right now around the world.
Deep deep down, somewhere, you must hear the whisper.
And there's tangible things that you can do. Grow your own food or support those that grow yours. Create community with multi-levels of skills that can build an intertwined group that compliments each other rather than berate each other. Choose a piece of land and become a true steward of it. Read about the resources we have at our fingertips. Learn. Act.
Our final assignment of the course was an ancestral mapping. To understand where our blood lines originated. And then to tell a story of what we could imagine of that life. I found this extremely enriching and was surprised to find so many synchronicities of what my life could have been like then and my life now. I found traits of what I believe to have been my indigenous diet that I am partial too today (German diet of dough, breads, cheeses, butters). I found ancient thought patterns like ahimsa (non violence to all living things) that popped up in my studies. I told a story of who I believe I was and it came out to sound exactly like the life that I am currently living.
I believe everyone should try digging back into their ancestry. Uncover the stories. Taste the foods. Who knows what you may find out about yourself.
It's funny, when you start to study a forest. You see how all of the layers and species of it work together to ensure a high-functioning ecosystem. Humans can really become connected like that and mimic nature.
Ultimately, I believe it all comes down to this:
"Do you believe in the good of many over the good of one, or the good of one over the good of many?"
If it's the former, I think we will be okay. If we include the earth as one of the many, we will learn to live within it. And often, if you look at communities, women are the community oriented nurturers. A new need for feminine leadership is happening. Women can blaze this path and right things, if we support each other and let the story of family and community be told through them. This is a very special time in history.
Let's make sure that our time here tells a story from our intertwined hearts.