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Friday, September 6, 2013

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Ash Monday Covenant for Earth Day 2013

Is it not enough to sift among the ashes
When we shall finally say
Once and for all
This is enough--no more
Once and for all

For we are only ever one and all
Once and for all
There is no us and them
no thine and mine

There is only we
the we of you--the we of I
The cosmic star charged,
ion of you and  I
earth bound
air borne
matter of all matter
as leaf
as stone
as iron ore
once and for all

Is it not enough to sift among the ashes
for charred
and shattered bones
Like a phoenix the helix
strands  warp and weft
to weave
and bind
the strands of all beings
fur clad
once and for all
the radiant spectrum
of sunlight 
sparks glance 
the dove’s ascending wing
bearing the flaming branch
the promise that
even among the flood of  ashes
we can hope
that once and for all
this shall be the last catastrophe
that once and for all
we will look into each other’s eyes
with the eyes of all beings 
and see our own eyes looking back
and once and for all
not hold back
not hold back
not hold back
This love so fine that
it wrests from each of us
the truth of who we are
Once and for all


Icons of Hope after the Boston Bombing and North and South of the River Sung by Christy Moore & Declan Sinnott

In my concern this past week, I called my brother and sister-in-law to make sure that they were "Safe" in  "Lockdown".   Sam answered the phone in a cautious voice.  I could hear the news in the background and it only just dawned on me that I was probably distracting him from their only source of what was going on and any alerts that they needed to attend to.  Some places were being evacuated in Watertown and Cambridge.  Everyone was being told to stay home.  

He told me that he was supposed to come up with a sermon for Sunday.  And from the heaviness in his voice I sensed that he would have to work through all that had happened and was continuing to happen in Boston within his own heart in order to speak to the hearts of a bereaved community and to offer something beyond what he was actually able to give in the midst of "lockdown".  He sounded daunted.   

But, I asked him to send it to me when he had it written because I knew I could count on him to find something of Grace in the midst of this; but, not without looking squarely at the mess, the brokenness, the senselessness and his own struggle to keep going.   He sent me the Sermon yesterday.  It was about Icons of Hope--the ones he himself witnessed within the Boston Community this past week.  And here is how it spoke to me.  This is the letter I wrote to him this morning.  And although I am an Agnostic, I  see the  life and work of Jesus as an Icon of Hope. 

Dear Sam,

I've been stuck in denial and  wishful thinking since September 11th

and this has shaken me out of it.  It happened too close to you and

Deb.  And it's dreadful to realize that and dreadful to realize that I

could distance myself as long as it wasn't affecting anyone I

personally care about.

My OCD of the past week has been replaced by a very sobering
acceptance that this is what it means to be an American in the 21st
Century.  Even my last sentence carries an air of exclusivity--that
somehow, we should be set apart from the turmoil that's happening all
over the planet and for which we as American's are largely,  responsible.   
It doesn't matter that there are good Americans or innocent children.  
And this is what it feels like for the people of
Iraq and Afghanistan--the good people and innocent children of these

countries--it doesn't matter-- they will be bombed.  We will be


The machinations of war and violence  are disinterested.
And somehow, for me,  there is no room for judgement about any of it anymore.

We are all caught in the righteous crossfire -- whether it be bullets

or words.  And, I can also see how much I need to remain self-critical

and stay out of the political fray and find some way to stay still so

that I cam be  available to anyone in need of my care.

When I was working in my garden trying to "put my head where my hands
are".  Jesus' words from the cross, "Father, forgive them, for they
know not what they do...."  really got  me thinking about that 19
year-old boy huddled in that boat.   Has he any hope at all that there
is that kind of mercy for him?   Or worse, still, is he beyond his own
caring? I think of the dark corners in my heart where I still point to
"us and them"--hidden even from my self and pray: Father forgive me,
for I know not...  I pray that I want that Mercy more than I want to
be right.  The lie of rightness is so beguiling.  I must remember those
other words of Jesus... "Let him who is without sin, cast the first stone."

So, your sermon has prompted me to seek some  Icons of hope in my
own life and I'd like to share this one with you.

I live a few dozen miles from a country that has lived in this kind of
strife for over 45 years.   One of my friends from "The North" was in
Omagh the day of the bombing there.  She is in her final weeks of
University studying to become a Social Worker.  She is an amazing
young woman and will make a wonderful Social worker.   One of her
final papers is on "Restorative Justice."  She's finding it really
difficult to write her paper.  It isn't an abstract concept to her.
It's personal and it's a deeply precarious process in her community.
But, at this moment,  I see her and this process as an Icon of hope.   

 But, I think this song is what I really wanted to say:  It has been an Icon of Hope for me for years.

I love you, Sam.

*Excerpt from Sam's sermon: About ten years ago I attended a Commencement ceremony at Milton Academy where the featured speaker was former President Bill Clinton. One
of the more memorable quotes from his speech was this: “All of history is a
race between the builders and the wreckers.” Whatever we take away from
the tragic events of this past week here, in Boston, we need to remember that
this race, the race of history, is not yet over.

Later when the speech was transcribed from a recording, this was in the days
before pod casts, in the text this is how the quote appeared: “All of history
is erased between the builders and the wreckers.” The images we carry,
many of them frightening and horrific, cannot be erased. But neither can the
images of hope, and courage. The loving hands that reached out, to stop the
bleeding, to lift up those who have fallen, these are the indelible images of
the healers, the builders. This race goes on. And we are all called to be a part
of it.
YouTube - Videos from this email

Thursday, December 13, 2012

In The Bleak Midwinter... book an herbal course!

A homegrown Christmas

Well, It's been three months since my last post.  The garden is put to bed for the winter except for my parsnips, kale, chard (which has survived three good frosts) jerusalem artichokes and a couple of beets.  All my herbs and perennials are covered with straw in case we get a long hard deep freeze and pretty soon it will be time to prune the apple trees.

I'm ready to join my plant companions (in the words of Clement Moore) in "Just settling down for a Long winter's nap".  I don't see the fading of green and loss of leaf as dying; but, as a sinking down into our roots nestled deep into mother earth.  In the spring, after a blessed dormancy, the sap will rise again.   But, for now, a little R&R and perhaps a little contemplation of some of the experiences this past year has yielded.  

The Herbalist's Apothecary

After being prompted by my friends to ring the number on the sign outside the Herbalist's Apothecary, I signed up for Steffen Jorgensen's  Introduction to Herbalism Course.  And I'm still marveling at how much I've learned and continue to retain and expand upon from that experience. At my age, to  retain anything for more than 20 minutes is a feat.    Steffen is truly a gifted Herbalist and teacher.   It's one of the best gifts I've ever given myself.

I was the kind of girl who loved to read historical fiction.  Often they would include "An old woman who lived at the edge of a wood".  I loved words like "poultice", "carbuncle" and all manner of wild medicines.   I was fascinated that these women were in possession of such knowledge at one time.  In my day, such remedies were referred to as, "folk medicine" or "home remedies", a kind of "back-up" form of treatment, if you can't get your hands on the "real stuff", like a bottle of aspirin.  These books instilled a longing to know what these women once knew.   I remember my Grandfather telling me to use cobwebs to stop bleeding.   And for my teenage years, I converted a ski hut that he had built at the edge of our wood to my summer dwelling and read survival books by the likes of Euell Gibbons.  I was lucky that my best friend's mom was a naturalist and taught us just about every conceivable edible wild plant as well as the ones that were likely to poison us.   But, there was no one around who knew how to make a poultice.   I could eat in the wild; but, if I had a headache or burned myself at the firepit, I'd need a bottle of aspirin and a tube of Lanacane.

Edible Plants

Poisonous Plants

Meanwhile, there was a renaissance taking place in herbalism; but, I had no idea until many years later when books by Rosemary Gladstar and Susun Weed began to appear in the book section of my local health food store.   They were the first books I owned and these pointed me to older sources, like Jethro Kloss and the Eclectic's.  Eventually, I signed up for Rosemary Gladstar's home study course; but, never completed it as I moved to Ireland and had a whole new landscape  to get to know and while most of the herbs are the same or in the same families, (most were introduced to New England from this part of the world) they have their own history and tradition here.  The only herbalists I'd heard of before I moved here, were also blow-ins from other countries, like Germany, England and America.  I didn't know any native herbalists.

Rosemary Gladstar

Steffen was born and raised here in Sligo and bought his first mortar and pestle and the age of 12!  AND he studied with one of Rosemary Gladstar's early students who has her own school and practice here in Ireland.  So, I was thrilled to pick up where I left off--with Rosemary Gladstar's course as interpreted through the lens and experience of a native herbalist.

Steffen and the wonderful women on the course

But, all that being said, this was no ordinary course.  It was an immersion--body, mind and spirit. Our first Sunday began with a steaming cup of nettle and rosemary tea while we introduced ourselves to each other and then off we went with our notebooks and pens on a lively herb-walk.  Steffen lives on the banks of the Bonet River and just down the lane from "The Abbey", A Franciscan Priory and burial ground.   His cottage is surrounded by just about every species of medicinal herb in the Materia Medica of Ireland.

The Abbey -- Dromahaire

At last I was able to ask about many a plant I'd seen poking out of hedgerows--plants I could identify with a guide book; but, wouldn't want to "sample" without a "hands-on" evaluation.  I mean hemlock grows among the Hogweed and Queen Anne's Lace and Angelica and while I think I can tell the difference...when they grow that close together...?    We came back and sampled a tincture of Feverfew that he had made and discussed some of the properties of the plants we'd been introduced to and ate dandelion leaves to prepare our tummys for a scrumptious lunch prepared by Steffen of  Nettle soup, followed by a cheese, onion, pepper and ham Quiche, a salad  of baby lettuces with an array of fresh and wild herbs with a beautiful herbal vinegrette and homemade brown bread and baby potatoes.   After lunch we spent time in his herb garden sheltered by a bank of Rosa Ragosa in intoxicatingly fragrant bloom.   There we harvested the herbs that we would later make into alcohol and Cider Vinegar tinctures.    By the end of the three Sundays, we had learned how to make Tinctures of Dandelion root, Meadowsweet, Cleavers and Nettle.  From infused oils of St. John's Wort and comfrey, we had the bases for salves.  We made heavenly rose water,  and learned recipes for making our own household cleaners from vinegar and essential oils.  We tried out a Fennel eye treatment, and a natural oven cleaning technique with Baking soda and water paste.   All this was accompanied by two more scrumptuous meals, lively questions and loads of fun while the herbs quietly imprinted upon our hearts.   And this is just a wee taste of all that we experienced at Steffens Apothecary.

There is nothing quite like learning through doing.  And it's just beautiful to be able to grow my own food and medicine.  There is a vitality to herbal medicine-- a true transubstantiation.   And this brings me back to Mully.   She finished her two year cycle as a biennial and is now going back into the earth from whence she came; but, her children live on and her spirit is powerfully healing.   Frank had a fierce earache and infection and two doses of mully's flower oil took care of it.  I miss her, though.   The Polytunnel feels diminished without her.  

R.I.P. Mully

Thanks to Steffen, I was inspired to add some medicine to my homegrown gifts this year-- Burn salve, lip balm and Mullein ear oil as well as Rose Hip Cordial for my family and friends.  Here's to a Happy, HEALTHY, New Year and if you want to give or receive the gift of a lifetime.   Sign up for Steffen's Course--this is truly a gift that keeps on giving on a cosmic level.    He also has  perfected a whole line of natural organic cosmetics available at the colooney Round About.   Merry Christmas to all and to all a goodnight!

Monday, September 3, 2012

Trimilawn Farm..."And what you thought you came for.... "

I don't know about you; but, unless something is clearly sign-posted, I get disoriented.  

I don't know if things have gotten less subtle and more obvious as I've gotten older or if things were always pretty obvious and I'm just less dense.  Either way, I should know that when setting intentions, life has a way of honoring them in a very basic and daily way and that my internal compass is naturally attuned to a particular path.  I just get mighty curious about all the other paths and by-ways and sometimes set off in another direction--which isn't to say that it's the wrong direction.  

I just really love to bushwack--A LOT.  Fortunately, the old compass is still working and I've come to trust it to bring me back to "true north".   

So, on this particular Saturday, I went to the Sligo Farmer's Market.  I don't get there as often in the summer because I grow my own vegetables; but, I was between lettuce crops and having guests for dinner and wanted the "good stuff"--organic, freshly picked and laced with colorful edible flowers.  And if you know me, well, you know I hate to shop, run errands, or as they used to say here, in West of Ireland, "go out for the messages."

My basic Motus Operandi when I do have to "go for the messages" is to, harness myself with a pair of blinders and get in and out of town as quickly as possible. I just find aisles of STUFF daunting beyond words.  

But, having an excuse to go to the Farmer's Market is a treat.  First of all, it's outdoors!  AND they form their jauntily colored awnings into an enclosure like a courtyard -- No aisles!  

I always find what I'm looking for; but, I've also come to expect the unexpected. And on this particular Saturday, my attention was drawn to a lovely display of potted herbs.  I confess that I assumed they would be primarily culinary and I grow my own; so, I was "just looking"...  But, on the slate next to their display was such an extensive list, I was stopped in my tracks and then, the Proprietess asked if she could help me...  

This is Ellie and Brian Spellman of Trimilawn Farm Herbs!  They grow herbs for which I can't even find seeds!!!  Not only do they plant these wonderous beauties, they coax them into magnificent vibrantly healthy plants.  They literally have every herb I've ever dreamed of growing.  You'll find everything they grow here:

And I really  enjoyed my conversation with them as much as selecting over a dozen new companions for "Mully" and the rest of the herb gang who've moved into my garden.   Ellie really knows her "stuff"--not processed and preserved STUFF crammed into SUPER-markets--but, the real gritty "stuff" of herbs, of soil, of medicinal properties, of companion planting, of biodynamics...   Brian probably does, too; but, he was busy in the van trying to fill my order as quickly as I was adding to it. 


Of course, in my eagerness to adopt these lovely wee plants, I'd forgotten that I would need a place to plant them.  This meant breaking new ground, adding compost, and manure and making sure they were protected from the winds off the northwest Atlantic (just like the rest of my garden).   This can be an arduous process as the soil here is a thick and compacted clay. But, even in the midst of summer when I'm trying to keep up with harvesting, canning, and freezing vegetables, this became a deeply contemplative process.   

There is nothing more alive and miraculous than a plant that has been handed to you by the hands that turned the soil, planted the seed and observed it breaking out into the light.   There is no other way to honor such a plant than to do the same.

On this particular Saturday, I went to the Farmer's Market for a handful of lettuce and I returned with a garden full of "messages". 

...And what you thought you came for
Is only a shell, a husk
 of meaning
From which the purpose breaks only when it is fulfilled
If at all.   Either you had no purpose
Or the purpose is beyond the end you figured
And is altered in fulfillment.

T.S. Eliot from 

Little Gidding

Friday, August 24, 2012

Pilgrim's Progress...

On Saturday of the Solstice weekend, Siobhan and I headed over to the village of Dromahair to meet Marian at the Demon Festival.  Dromahair actually means: The ridge of two air demons.  It's great craic. 

 If you look at this little video you can see the River Bonet.  Marian took us for an enchanting walk over the bridge and through the trees that line the river and on to the "Abbey".  It's actually the ruin of a Franciscan Priory and is also the village burial grouds.  

Just as the woods came to a clearing, we passed this wee cottage and in the window??? A sign that says: "Herbalists Apothacary"!   And, well, what else could a place like this possibly be?   There was also a notice for an herbal course to take place in this very spot for the first three Sundays in July!   Siobhan and Marian urged me to write down the phone number.   

And just past the cottage is the approach to the priory....

In the photo below, if you look carefully to the right of the window, a Mullein has seeded herself ...


"Well, what are you waiting for?"  I'm here, You're here.  It's time."

Setting out upon a Summer's Solstice...

Solstice Sunrise

Auspicious adventures begin at sunrise, in the company of friends, and with offerings to the ancestors...

Back in June over the weekend of the Summer Solstice I had a visit from my dear friend, Siobhan.  She  moved to Bath in England in early April and this was her first visit to the land of her Ancestors since her mum had died: so, I wanted her welcome to be a homecoming in every way. 

We spent much of the weekend doing what we did when she lived here... sitting about in my kitchen sipping tea and chatting up a storm.   We had a lot to catch up on...  She and her partner are acclimating to a new city, new home, new work, new everything, really.  And now that I've been here for five years I'm feeling pretty nestled in.  But, it being the Solstice, we also wanted to celebrate, set some intentions, build a bonfire, make a pilgrimage and spend time with our other dear friend, Marian...

But, first, one more cup of tea and a slice of Marian's scrumptious  brown bread....

Marian & Siobhan - true Celtic beauties

Split capstone at "The Giant's Grave" in the Deerpark in Calry
(an ideal place to set intentions and make offerings to the ancestors)

My intention was inspired by the huge Mullein plant which had seeded herself in my polytunnel.  Isn't photosynthesis amazing? 

Her form seems to ask:  "What are you waiting for?  I'm here. You're here.  It's time."

This calls for a bit of history.  When I first moved here, I was pretty desperate to start my garden, just to begin to feel planted here.  The first seeds I bought from SeedSavers in Co. Clare, were Mullein seeds. 

I bought them because I didn't see any growing here in Sligo and they have grown everywhere else I've ever called "home".  When they started to germinate, my homesickness began to ease.

Before I moved here, I'd begun to study herbalism.  I've dabbled with it since I was a teenager; but, the course I'd started before I left Newport, was with Rosemary Gladstar-- the (ageless and beautiful) "Grandmother" of the Renaissance of Herbalism in the United States and I knew I needed to get to know the herbs here before I attempted to apply myself to any course in Ireland.   I explored a couple of schools that were offering degrees as a Master Medical Herbalist; but, the more I learned about the courses offered, the more I could see how traditional Herbalism is becoming "institutionalized" and "elitist".  And the deep ethos of traditional herbalism is that it is about the individual relationship between the herb and the herbalist and the herb and the patient.  It is truly the "people's medicine"  And it is meant to be passed on through apprenticeship.    AND, clearly, Mullein is trying to get my attention in a BIG way.  That's what herbs do.   Thrashing around, looking for a teacher, applying to schools wasn't cutting it for me.  So, I sat with Mully for a while or two and realized that I just have to set the intention and the rest will follow.  This is simple enough; but, it's also powerful and effective and  it means I have to mend my ways. Again.  Why should a herb agree to help me when I'm neglecting my own basic nutrition or exercise?   But, even if the mending is in fits and starts,  "It's time."  

Small beginnings ablaze in the firepit...