Forty Days, Forty Nights

Late 2016 and early 2017 have, for me, been marked by a strange confluence of events—from the recent U.S. presidential election to my own particular set of health issues demanding my attention. I’m not likely alone in this as many people have been “gobsmacked”—as one of my fellow “painters in wool” put it recently—by the outcome of the election. It’s time, I sense, for me to begin to better understand the links between inner and outer, between past and present, with an eye toward where we are going, collectively.

I don’t pretend to be any kind of spiritual guru nor am I much of a political junkie, but unlike in the past, I will probably be writing about both here, at some depth. There is an “art” to this Earth (it’s right there in the name!), and it’s one that I hope I can master and then model and maybe mine will be the kind of model that others can base their own models on—but only because it works for them, not because it’s better, necessarily.

So, for 40 days and 40 nights—one or the other—I intend to post here in word counts in increments or multiples of 40, so from 40 words to 1,600, but probably somewhere in between most days. My intention is to “write through the Divide”—we all know…the one that we Americans apparently are split along. But I call bull on that, because we are not so divided as we think we are. I’ll keep this paragraph of my intro for each post, so if you’re seeing this for what feels like the bazillionth time, sorry, but someone else may be seeing it for the first time.

Day One of Forty

I was as surprised as anyone by the election of Donald Trump—surprised he got as far as he did on the Republican ticket, too. But in the biggest of big schemes, he deserves to be loved, just like everyone, no matter how much his actions offend (his treatment of women and minorities is certainly offensive as is his unwillingness to be transparent in his business dealings and holdings).

I believe we come round and round here on Earth. We who get to come to this beautiful place are lucky. We get sped-up, compressed lessons, and if we’ve chosen to be here now, we are part of the Big Wow—our learning is super accelerated. We have the benefit of having a historical perspective while also being, if we pause to consider it, at the nexus of many frontiers of exploration in the sciences, both biological and physical. Plus, as I see and sense it, we have ever-greater interaction with the nonphysical that we can drawn on. For now, let’s just say the nonphysical is our internal guidance system, our intuition.

Let’s put things in perspective: We don’t live in the era of Genghis Khan (some of us surely did). We are not struggling through the Dark Times brought on by a plague of vast proportions or being killed because we disagree with the Church. And much as comparisons are drawn between our time and that of fascist Germany or Italy, we are not there.

floridasunsetcopyrightleighglenn2017

Florida Sunset, copyright Leigh Glenn 2017

There is something in the makeup of Americans—a willingness, ultimately, to look at, evaluate and reevaluate the stuff we tell ourselves. This is one of those times. Some people are more adept at this than others; some are faster, but in time, many of us come around.

Moreover, for those who are really worried, what power does the U.S. president really have over any of us?

Some will disagree, but I think the president has little power, certainly not the amount we’ve long ascribed to him in that well-worn phrase, “leader of the free world.” Which of our presidents has ever been perfectly suited to lead? The Founders—given how many “owned” brown-skinned peoples and were, at the same time, deciding the fate of those people—had “yuge” conflicts of interest!

And in the very substance of our founding documents—“all men are created equal”—we might find a little clue to our own hypocrisy, something that’s long driven me a bit batty.

But these posts are meant to help find the pony among all the poop. Perhaps awareness of that hypocrisy gives us momentum when we evaluate ourselves, both individually and collectively. Because we need something to bounce off of—to understand first what we don’t want and to feel how icky the “what we don’t want” is in order to push ourselves toward what we do want.

Protect Your Base

Good health is your personal golden-egg-laying goose. Without it, nothing much works. And though it may be some people’s chosen life pattern to live at what others perceive as suboptimal levels of health, most of us aspire to generally feel well.

As a woman in mid-life, I look back in wonder: How did my parents seem to have so much energy when they were my age?

The answer, I think, has to do with how they set their priorities and structured their lives. For them, life was a regular series of weekday work and weekends spent getting things done that they could not otherwise achieve during the week. They allowed themselves a fair amount of exercise, ranging from roller speed skating (Dad), jogging (Mom and sometimes Dad), biking (Dad) and moderately paced walking (Mom). They generally prepared meals at home six out of seven days, though if a week involved more work, they might order a pizza one night or pick up Church’s Fried Chicken another night. Always, we had breakfast together and always, supper. Mom packed lunches the night before school or work.

Rinsing and de-stemming chard can take a while, so I like to prep two or three bunches in advance.

Rinsing and de-stemming chard can take a while, so I like to prep two or three bunches in advance.

I don’t eat the way we did back then. One of my highest priorities is focusing on fresh, whole foods and things made from scratch. Although preparing them does not require much time, getting the food to the stage where it can be cooked or put together does—whether it’s rinsing and de-stemming Swiss chard, prepping lettuce for salads, cooking beets in advance, and chopping potatoes or slicing squash.

Unless I’m terribly harried, I enjoy this work. But I also step back and marvel at what goes into this particular organism’s (my) self-maintenance. Without self-maintenance, by which I mean taking care of all the things you need to take care of you, it’s hard to have good self-regulation—whether in your everyday interactions with people or just day-to-day physical well being.

Food makes a huge difference. Even with somewhat lower energy levels, I’d be far worse off if I ate much the same way I used to, through my late 20s.

Once prepped, the chard keeps in the fridge for easy use, whether you eat it for breakfast, as we do, as for other meals.

Once prepped, the chard keeps in the fridge for easy use, whether you eat it for breakfast, as we do, as for other meals.

The more you eat high-quality food—less processed junk with chemical additives—the more you begin to notice a difference in your attitude toward life and your tolerance of things you may not have tolerated before, because you were running on empty, “didn’t have it to give” and may have been operating on a hair trigger, in terms of your reactions to others.

My beloved noticed this sensation just yesterday, at the summer solstice. We had breakfast out, at a place we enjoy as much for its ambience early on a Sunday as for its food. The difference was, this time, he felt hungrier than usual, so we ordered what we normally have there (quiche for him, eggs for me, and fruit for both of us) and split a side of roasted potatoes along with a side of sausage for him. Toward the middle of the day, he began to feel “off” in his abdomen. I noticed he seemed down and felt somewhat sluggish. The only thing we could peg it to? The thin disks of sausage, which looked to be the sort of product delivered by a large food distributor, not local and not grass-fed.

This increased level of sensitivity is a helpful thing; it helps us to maintain mindfulness about what we eat. I noticed something similar a few months ago when I ate a cheese pizza after years of being off gluten grains. It tasted great, at first. But the day after felt worse than a college-days hangover.

With tomato season coming soon, it's nice to stock up and make tomato soup to freeze for quick meals in the cooler months. All that's needed is a little sour cream!

With tomato season coming soon, it’s nice to stock up and make tomato soup to freeze for quick meals in the cooler months. All that’s needed is a little sour cream!

This is not necessarily because of gluten; it could be the fortified flour used to make the white flour used in the pizza. Given what felt like brain fog after eating the pizza, you can bet I won’t be having anymore unless I make my own at home.

Increasing your physical sensitivity around food is a wonderful gauge. Eating healthful foods will change your palate. Used wisely, your increased sensitivity helps steer your food and drink choices. But you do have to use it—to act on your “gut sense” as well as knowledge about food.

At the same time your physical food sensitivity gets sharpened, your personal tolerances may also change. This is good to experience, too. Eating healthful food grounds you and helps you become better attuned to what you want and don’t want in your life, what you will and will not accept, in terms of others’ behavior and your mutual interactions. Probably because it connects you with your surroundings—even if you buy from local farmers and don’t grow it yourself—eating food grown without chemical sprays and artificial fertilizers boosts your self-awareness. You may be more tolerant of other people generally while also strengthening your personal boundaries and acting on those boundaries in ways that respect both yourself and other people.

Good for you if you choose to grow some of your own food. For ease, it's good to choose low-maintenance perennials, such as this Asian persimmon.

Good for you if you grow some of your own food. For ease, choose low-maintenance perennials, such as this Asian persimmon.

A lot of people want to reach for herbs first to do what the often-long work of changing the diet entails. This is a mistake. Though it can be helpful to use certain herbs, or combinations of herbs, such as digestive bitters, in this process, herbs are not stand-ins for the daily intake of healthful food and they do not comport with the eating of junk.

So, protect your base. Eat foods whose tastes you enjoy. Make liberal use of culinary herbs (coriander, marjoram, basil, oregano, garlic, fennel, dill, ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, turmeric, black pepper, and more). Have some plain water with a squeeze of lemon or a little apple cider vinegar. You can gradually make a shift—not go cold turkey—and eventually replace the things you once ate or drank regularly with new, better-for-you, regulars. You’ll feel better and appreciate life even more.

2014: New Growth on the Horizon

Every autumn when I assess my feelings around what I’ve been doing, I often come to the conclusion that whatever I’ve been doing is “never enough.” Seldom have I felt that wherever I am is exactly where I am supposed to be. Is this feeling of “never enough” a particular—and peculiar—artifact of Western culture or, more specifically, American culture?

Not 2010! Not as much snow...yet, but lots of growth predicted.

Not 2010! Not as much snow…yet, but lots of growth predicted.

In my life, I have found it difficult to step outside of the existing culture, but more and more, I know I need to. The culture at-large does not tend to support anyone who feels content with their life.

Living outside Washington, D.C., I am ever-cognizant of the hustle-bustle involved in “the American way of life,” in which discontentment plays a starring role. I used to participate more fully in that way of life, having had a decent-paying job, having spent about a third of what I earned on rent (many people spend much more than a third). When I moved to Annapolis, I then spent a minimum of an hour, often more, commuting to that job in Virginia. I did not enjoy driving; it seemed like a colossal waste of time, and yet, I felt I had to. I felt caught in a bind and as the months of commuting went on, I grew angrier.

That said, as long as I was learning something new, I enjoyed the work. And I enjoyed other benefits: having money to hear live jazz, money to take whatever classes I wanted to take, paid vacation, money for a painting now and then.

I’ve experienced a see-saw effect between that life and the one I now live: It’s as if when I had more money, I had larger holes to fill and I filled them with incessant activity or spending on things I thought could fill the holes. Now, I work to examine the holes, be with them, shift my patterns into viewing myself as whole and healed—as the way God or Creator sees us humans.

Sandhill cranes...and other animals just are. How can we two-leggeds just be?

Sandhill cranes…and other animals just are. How can we two-leggeds just be?

This is not easy work, but it is the most important. If I still had that job and that commute, I probably wouldn’t be doing this inner work and, moreover, I would not be attempting to find or do work that I enjoy.

Life to me is a continual cracking-open of our hearts, which is meant to soften our hard edges, make us more vulnerable so they we can experience greater intimacy, with ourselves and in turn, with others and with Spirit. The cracking-open happens through our experiencing our own difficulties as well as those of others. It comes through pain and suffering, and yet we, especially Americans, I think, have quite a dualistic view of suffering: It’s horrible or it’s great. Seldom is there a middle way when it comes to suffering. We don’t want to suffer and we don’t want to see others suffer. Or, in some intellectual way, we know we need to suffer, but it remains an exercise of the mind while the heart goes untouched, because we are still protective of our hearts.

At this time, for me, everything is up in the air. It’s like the dry snow outside, swirling on eddies of wind large and small. Lately, I’ve explored a little of farming, something I’ve wanted to do since I was very young. I’ve learned that cheesemaking doesn’t necessarily resonate with me, at least on a commercial scale. I know I’d like to learn more about greenhouses and chickens. I know from what I’ve seen and the stories of friends who farm that it is especially difficult to make any kind of living that way and, maybe even worse for those who concern themselves with inner work as I do, there’s little time. So, I don’t know what will happen in that arena.

When I set out to be an herbalist, I had this idea that I just wanted to practice. Practice. Practice. Practice. They call it a practice because the practitioner never knows everything, everything that can help herself or her clients, but you practice, so you constantly learn. I thought it would be practical enough to build a business around herbalism.joe_pye_composite_icon_final_Web

But what I discovered is that many people don’t necessarily know what an herbalist is or what an herbalist does. Perhaps they believe that we have a particular “plant of choice,” such as marijuana—which, at least for this herbalist, could not be further from the truth. I like weeds—nettles, dandelion, plantain, plants accessible to most everyone, if they know what to look for.

I finish 2013 unsure how I can best help to educate people as to what herbalists do, I guess because for me, herbalism is akin to ecology and akin to permaculture; it’s a way of looking at life and at health, of looking at death and illness, of trying to understand how best to support oneself and others in the most healthful way possible, the most whole/holy way possible.

How can I help people get interested in making their own medicine—especially if the kind of medicine I’m talking about may not have anything at all to do with dandelion root, and everything to do with having an intimate conversation with a friend or family member?

How should I market what I do? How should I charge for it? What I do is energy-intensive, because it’s my goal with every client to be present to that person, to give her or him my full presence. Can anyone put a price on that kind of energy?

As I said, at this time, everything is up in the air. I’ve long viewed my business as an extension of all of the work that I do—the work on myself, the work in the garden, the work with family and friends. In 2014, I’d like to spread the word about herbalism, about the permaculture principles of Earth care/people care/fair share. I want to increase my sense of community where I live—to find people with whom I can garden and wildcraft. I have some new health and plant-medicine activities that I’ll share in the coming weeks. I expect that I’ll write more about health. I am open to what comes. I know whatever comes will be an adventure and, ultimately, fun.

Sometimes medicine is experienced just by being with a plant, such as castor.

Sometimes medicine is experienced just by being with a plant, such as castor, a pet, a place, or a person.

If you live in the Annapolis, Md., area and want to learn more about herbalism or want to focus on what your health means for you, please send me a note by e-mail at artofearth@yahoo.com. If you’d like to hear more about the activities of Art of Earth, you can join my e-mail list. I don’t bombard anyone with e-mail, though I do send out more e-mail if there’s a scheduled event. If you find it’s not for you, you can opt-out anytime.

I wish you a happy, healthy, soulfully prosperous 2014. Most of all, I wish you love and peace.

Good Garden Air: A Visit to Willow Oak Herb Farm

Rather than try to put together all the metrics needed to determine a “National Happiness Quotient” to replace Gross Domestic Product, why not just have a GPC—Gardens Per Capita?

Gardens are just the sort of things humans need for happiness, though you can really only know this by spending time in one and knowing how you feel before, during and after.

When Maria Price-Nowakowski, who, with her family, owns and manages Willow Oak Herb Farm in Severn, Md., visited Victoria, British Columbia, a couple years ago, she was struck by the number of gardens and sheer presence of flowers and how much calmer and happier the people who lived there were. That experience and frequent visitors to Willow Oak confirm the need for green spaces that offer a diversity of plants in a variety of settings. It’s easy enough to drive by Willow Oak and literally have a passing curiosity about what’s there, but if you’ve never been, it’s important to go. Your sanity will thank you and your own personal happiness index will spike.

Willow Oak offers several types of theme gardens, including medicinal, culinary, cutting, scent, and raised-bed vegetable that gives visitors a sense of what they might do in their own yards.

Maria enjoys talking about some of the plants in each one, pointing out different species of roses—all heavenly scented, even if subtle—along with the vitex, the valerian, and the shrubby neem plant whose home is in the medicinal garden.

“The gardens are for teaching and people to heal from,” she says. “I don’t think people realize how good plants are.”

For the full article about Willow Oak Herb Farm, click here.