Digging lotus (and lessons on alive-ness)

Most of us spend much of our lives slogging through–head down, heart off, passion quenched. Doing the things we have to do, not the things we want to do.

While I’m sure there are people out there who can find meaning in flossing and laundry, commuting and dinner dishes, bathroom cleaning and lawn mowing, I’m not one of them.

The same can be said for scrolling my social media accounts, indulging in a hand of solitaire at the table, or playing a game of Tetris on my phone. It’s fine, it’s sometimes even a bit satisfying, but it certainly doesn’t make me come alive.

The mundane has its place, but I fear we’ve let it take over.

And then there are the things that make you come alive.

The things that make you grin like an eight-year-old, until your face hearts and your heart glows.

Maybe you get a taste of it when you run outside into the cold when you hear a skein of geese winging overhead or stop mid-stride at the first chords of your favorite song. Maybe you’ve felt it when you’ve pulled over to marvel at a sunset or laughed with friends around a crackling fire.

These are the things to pay attention to.

How often do you feel it, the singing of your heart? The aliveness and awake-ness that comes from doing things that bring you joy?

And so I urge you:

Do more of the the things that make you come alive.

Do more of the things that make you come alive.

Do more of the things that make you come alive.

The active things, that ask you to show up with your body, your mind, and your heart and jump with both feet into the mud (usually figuratively; occasionally literally).

It could be swing dancing or trail running; photography or hiking; bow hunting or watercolor. It doesn’t need to make sense to anyone but you, so paint D&D miniatures or do origami if you want to. It’s yours alone, no need to explain.

These are the active joys that get us out of our heads (and out of the doldrums) and into our bodies–awake, engaged, alive.

This weekend, Lupine and I found such joy deep in the muck of the Mississippi River. We’d been invited on a lotus root foraging excursion by our friend Dwight, something I’d been wanting to do but had never had the chance.

And standing there, waist-deep in frigid water with muck up to my knees, I wasn’t sure when I’d had so much fun, or felt the child-like joy of play so deep in my bones.

It was a day rich with magic and overflowing with joy.

And even though we were numb with cold and plastered with sticky mud when we got home, it was an unparalleled delight. And it was ALIVENESS that I felt. It’s a feeling I don’t often get sitting here behind this screen.

So, friends, here’s my unsolicited advice for the day: figure out what makes you feel awake and alive, then do that. Because life is NOW, not later; not yesterday. It’s today or nothing else.

Go and get it.

Post Script: Have you forgotten the child-like magic and joy of being in love with being alive? Lost on where to find your happy place?

Think back to when you were a child. What active thing brought you the most joy as a kid? Something you’d do for hours without any thought of food or rest. (For me it was playing outside, leaves in my hair and mud on my feet, immersed in nature. And here we are.) What was it for you? Music? Art? Nature? Bike rides? Remember back to Child You, and what you loved most of all.

Your answer is probably related.

(People photos courtesy of Roxanne Martin.)

Time travel

I headed off to the woods yesterday. It was sunny and cool; a perfect September day.

I was alone and appreciating being here for September, a month we’ve missed at home more often than not, as it was always our preferred month to take a roadschooling adventure. Ireland, Iceland, Maine, Vermont, North Carolina… we’ve enjoyed the world in September. Just not this valley very often.

Earlier this month I attended a mushroom walk with my new friend Matt at the Wild Harvest Festival, and it whetted my appetite for learning more about this forest. I was itching to get out and see what’s growing here–hidden in plain sight–on this land that we care for.

To learn more. To have an adventure. To see September before it’s gone.

And the forest didn’t disappoint.

(It never does if we’re paying attention.)

From lots of (I-have-no idea-who-they-are) mushrooms to haunting stands of ghost pipe; seeded wood nettles to peppery watercress; it was magic out there and I kept needing just a little more time to explore.

And then I crested a hill, and found where my heart must have been steering me all along: the fire circle where we spent countless days in the past decade, as the kids grew up before my eyes. Our favorite corner of the forest.

I was taken aback by how overgrown it was, our birch “chairs” sprouting mushrooms and weeds tangling our ring of stones. It had been so long since smoke wove between these trees–three years?–and I wondered where the time had gone.

A small cry got caught in my throat.

It wasn’t regret or sadness, just an awareness of the passage of time; a connection to the ghosts that were and will never be again. It was standing beneath those trees holding hands with the past.

It was remembering; longing. A bittersweetness in the corners of my heart.

Standing there in that clearing I was transported back to days when hungry fires were sparked in the woods at least once a week. Where long, lazy conversations unfolded, lunches were cooked on the flames, and life unfolded when we had nowhere else to be.

Sticks were slowly fed into the dancing flames, forts were built of honeysuckle beneath the gnarled apple trees, spoons were carved from fallen birch.

This is where we came to live and connect as the rest of the world hurried off to school and work and we celebrated the slow life we had crafted. We called it “Woods Wednesday” (though we’d come much more often than that), and it anchored our weeks. We loved it and we lingered here, sometimes not finding our way home until late, laughing as we stumbled across the spring-fed creek long after dark.

And my heart ached a little to remember.

Because it’s been years since we kindled a fire here. And I can’t think of a greater gift that I’ve received than getting to hang out with my kids all-day-every-day as they grew from small to grown.

I miss it.

And I suppose sometimes we grieve the things that have ended, even as we celebrate where we’re going in the very next breath.

So I sat beneath the trees all alone and looked out over our past, reflecting on some of the things we got right. Like Woods Wednesday. And in that moment I felt such a mix of gratitude and grief moving through me, in contrast and in harmony. Life is like that, these two in equal measure, weaving yesterday with today and with tomorrow.

And sitting there, I recalled a homeschooling friend once asking, “If you go to the woods every week, how do you have time for Shakespeare?”

“We don’t,” I replied. “But we do have time for the woods.”

And now more than ever, I’m so glad that we did.

On my walk back home last night, I texted Sage:

“Would you be game for a woods dinner one night soon? I just was up at our fire pit and felt all nostalgic for days gone by.”

Yes,” he replied! “That sounds fun. Let’s do it.

Wild Food Festival

This past weekend, Lupine and I were fortunate enough to make my way to the Midwest Wild Harvest Festival. This gathering of fellow plant people was a full-throated celebration of foraging, food, creativity, and connection.

I came home with my curiosity ablaze and my heart overflowing from the days I spent learning from, with, and alongside this experienced, caring group of foragers.

(Okay, and yes, there were also some serious fan girl moments, like meeting Alexis Nelson (Black Forager) and dining on food prepared by Alan Bergo (Forager Chef) and his team; taking classes from Sam Thayer and Linda Black Elk. Because you can have your Hollywood starlets and music industry crushes. These are my equivalent.

Not to mention hours spent talking with and learning from brilliant other botanists, chefs, mycologists, naturalists, and passionate foragers. What an amazing group of humans. What an incredible weekend.

And for me, the take-away was so much more than the pages of notes and shiny new field guides I brought home, both overflowing with latin names, plant descriptions, and preparation tips.

My take-away was simply this:

Discover what you love. Then seek out others who love it, too. Get out there and make connections, build community, learn from one another.

Because this is where the magic unfolds. This is where life happens. Out here, doing what we love alongside others who love it, too.

A summer finale (or maybe two)

We slipped away twice last week in an effort to savor the last fragile remnants of summer.

Our first of two back-to-back adventures was just Pete, Lupine and me for three days in Northern Minnesota.

It was our first trip in our vintage RV (affectionately known as Nellie) since pre-covid when she developed some catastrophic leaks and the kids and I undertook a full restore and remodel that is only just barely done. We installed new wall and ceiling boards, painted the ugly brown and gold cabinets grey, and covered the 90’s RV beige and brown floral wallboards with white paint and road maps. So fun. (That’s a blog post of its own, perhaps).

It felt so good to be back out on the road in that little rig, taking all the backroads, of course (because she’s happier at 55 than 70 MPH).

Turns out I am, too.

We drove up to the Big Lake (Lake Superior), and even took a swim in those brisk waters. It was delightful. And drying off after our icy plunge I remembered how absolutely vibrantly alive I feel when I take the time to have an adventure, take a risk, jump in.

I don’t want to forget that.

We headed up to a place I worked as a naturalist a lifetime ago, Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center for their 50th reunion.

One of our guides asked what year I taught there, and when I told her she replied, “Oh, cool! That’s the year I was born!” And then I did some quick math and realized that she was the same age as me the year I worked there.

Such lovely reminders of the pace at which life moves.

Being at Wolf Ridge meant time at the lake testing pH and dissolved oxygen and catching crayfish, paddling those quiet waters (while exchanging insults with the French voyagers in the big canoe, as one does), and doing the high ropes course.

So many memories of the year I spent there in my 20’s! It was delightful.

It was a last-minute trip, planned just days before we went, but it was worth it to visit, remember, and play. I’m so glad we did.

We got back home on Sunday afternoon, unpacked, repacked, then turned around and left again on Monday to celebrate Sage’s 20th birthday at my parent’s cabin in northern Wisconsin. (Ya’ll. T W E N T Y. What the.)

We spent a couple of days there together, with ample time to rest, play, forage, and connect. It was so good, and just what this family needed. And then yesterday we were on the road headed home again.

What an end of summer finale! And goodness, what a ride, motherhood. We can’t slow time, but I am grateful when we slow down to savor days like these.

One more project before he goes

This old school bus has been quietly hanging out in our barnyard since Sage and his partner brought it home last August. (The irony of having a school bus parked at our place is not lost on me. I’ve been known to call it the “homeschool bus”, a mom joke that’s either met with exaggerated eye rolls or is thoroughly ignored.)

Its arrival on our farm marked both of my kids’ first ever school bus rides, but for one of them it certainly won’t be the last.

Because this bus will soon be Sage’s home.

The vision? A house on wheels for Sage and his partner Bear, to take them wherever they care to go. A rent-free, mortgage-free start in the world, so they aren’t tied down and have the freedom to explore.

Because rent, if you hadn’t heard, is off the rails and adventures await out there on the open road.

This tiny-house-on-wheels is their ticket to independence.

After a year-long slow start when they both were working full time (or better) to fund their build out, Sage began work on their schoolie in earnest in June, after leaving his job with just this task in mind.

And one bolt, one weld, one sanding pad at a time, slow but steady progress began.

I don’t want to diminish the scope of what they’ve taken on. This bus build is not small task. A DIY job of this scope, tackled by one or two people at a time? “Slow” is the operative word, a challenging, often exhausting, sometimes overwhelming reality for all involved.

And that slow march forward is how I ended up spending the past few days working with Sage down on the bus. It wasn’t much in the grand scheme, but I did my best for 3+ days, and hope to have more time available to contribute soon.

Because of all the projects he’s done, this is the biggest he’s taken on. Bigger than the 12 month project that was our swimming pond, his biggest completed project to date. Indeed, this bus build is a boggling enormous task, building a house from scratch inside of a metal box (a box that they already gutted down to the bones as well as modified, with an ambitious roof raise for more headroom).

So for Sage’s birthday this year, I offered my help, gifting him my time on the bus instead of a traditional gift. He gratefully accepted, and this weekend the two of us got to work.

For me, spending a long weekend out there by Sage’s side felt so reminiscent of every major homeschooling project he’s taken on through the years. It was a familiar role for me, though more goal-oriented this round than in free-form homeschooling projects he took on in the past.

Because growing up, he attempted countless ambitious builds–some to completion, others not. From potato cannons to plate mail, a go-cart to a trebuchet, a blacksmithing forge to our natural swimming pool (I owe you a blog post about that last one, I promise).

And the bus is a familiar repeat of those same ups and downs, starts and stalls, failures and triumphs.

Isn’t that life? We repeat, repeat, repeat, learning the same lessons time and again, year after year.

But the difference this time from those projects of the past is that quitting is not an option. This isn’t another just-for-fun-and-learning-is-a-bonus homeschooling project. And taking a break for a year or two (or forever) to let the passion have time to resurface isn’t a luxury he has.

There’s a deadline, a budget, an investment– a life plan unfolding. There’s a clock ever ticking as these two tackle one phase after another of this build, with little pause.

Like much of adulting, the only way out is through.

So the valley rings with the sound of pounding hammers, humming palm sanders, and the crackle of the welder. From now until school starts in a couple of weeks, it’s a daily grind. After school they’ll move to weekends and school breaks until it’s ready.

And I’m happy to keep leaning in and helping out, anytime I can manage.

As it turns out, I’m doing my own work (of a very different sort) while Sage plugs away at the bus. Because I’m trying to learn how to show up for them, how to listen and trouble shoot with the most supportive and encouraging attitude I can muster, and how to do all this without being annoying, overbearing, opinionated, or judgmental.

Which is, um, harder than it sounds.

And I’m working at not meddling in other people’s process or time management when it differs from mine, because it’s not actually my business (which is often).

So I guess I’m growing up, too, as this project grinds along.

But as a mom, it’s so much more than all of this.

Because my kid isn’t a kid anymore. He’s building his first home. They’re building their first home.

A home with wheels to take them wherever they dream to go; away from this farm where he grew into adulthood; away from our family and into his own.

And whew, if that’s not a big fucking deal, too, in so many ways for this mama’s heart. It’s good, but yeah, it’s also a lot.

But it’s time.

They’re ready, I’m ready. Let the fledging commence.

Because honestly, I’m rooting so hard for them now. And at the same time, I’m savoring the two decades of memories I carry with me from this life that we’ve shared. Because here we are, past the finish line of ‘kid’ and dipping ever so boldly yet cautiously into ‘adulthood’.

Damn, friends. This parenting gig is a whole lot more than I ever expected.

Hold on to your hearts out there.

And in the meantime, I’ll be doing the same over here with one hand, while the other pumps the air as I cheer them on their way.

Follow Sage and Bear’s bus build adventure on Instagram here.

A free repair clinic

Before I begin, a quick note:

Oh, my. Thank you for the warm and open-armed welcome back into this space. It was beyond my expectation. But it seems it’s something that many of us need. A little slow-down, a little reconnection, a little depth. So yes. Thank you, thank you. I’m so glad you’re here.

The state of the world has me anxious more often than not. I’m certain I’m not alone.

Politics, climate crisis, conspiracy theories, war, nationalism, racism, sexism, transphobia, loss of reproductive rights–there’s no shortage of bad news and fear for us to spin out on.

And sometimes I wonder if the small things I’m doing to help tip the world back toward wholeness are nearly enough. From how I’ve raised my kids (a slow, homegrown life with a focus on activism and justice) to the changes I’ve made in my business (biodegradable packaging, planting trees), to our home (buying second-hand, reducing consumption)–does it really make any difference?

And I have to remind myself that every conscious, upstream action is an act of rebellion. Every voice raised, every act of justice/equality/sustainability/kindness does nudge the world toward goodness. I know it does.

Things like how we parent, if we choose to have kids at all, how we spend our money, where we source our food, how we live, how we care for one another–all of these have the power to shape the world for good.

Even the smallest acts, like how we tend–and repair–the things that we own.

With that (and so much much more) in mind, I started meeting up with a small group of people last winter. We shared the common vision of starting a free repair clinic in our community. A place where our neighbors could bring their broken blenders and cantankerous vacuums, moth-chewed sweaters and blown-out blue jeans, and we could divert a small flow from the landfill tract, and guide and help folks to make their broken things function again.

A place where we could remember what communities have always known: how to help and take care of each other, ourselves, and the earth in one singular and joyful act.

And that’s just what we did.

Last weekend our small (but growing) volunteer group gathered with our tools and supplies to offer free repairs for our community. There were benches and bicycles, dresses and food processors, lamps and vegetable peelers, and so much more. We fixed sewing machines and unclogged vacuums, mended torn clothing and rewired frayed cords.

And we built connections and community.

Over a dozen people came to our soft-start, first-ever clinic, and we look forward to offering another busier clinic in October.

And I can hardly wait.

Because our small actions really can make a difference. I truly believe that. And something as simple helping our neighbors repair their belongings to keep them out of landfill for a little bit longer feels simultaneously simple and like a radical revolution to me.

Want to start your own free, community fix-it clinic? You won’t regret it! The book Repair Revolution is a great place to start. Buy your copy used, buy it from your local indie book shop, borrow it from your public library or from a friend. But if you can help it, please don’t buy it from Amazon. Because they’re certainly a part of the overconsumption + exploitation issues that we face in this world. And… stepping off my soap box now. x

Have you participated in a free community repair clinic or cafe? Share your experience below!

Slow Revival

Do you ever feel fatigued by a fast-paced, online world?

While I love staying connected with real-life and virtual friends through social media (and enjoy the opportunity for unexpected inspiration), those channels often feel superficial and leave me depleted.

Not the people but the algorithms–distorting who and what I see, pushing ads and videos, and the soundbite quality of it all.

It’s a look-at-me world where I increasingly feel I can’t compete and don’t belong; a place where we’re meant to battle it out to see who can be the loudest, flashiest, sexiest, funniest, or most beautiful.

To what end?

Because rather than catch your eye with videos of my fairytale life, crack you up with a catchy lip sync, or show off my flash mob-worthy dance moves, I just want to slow down, be real, and connect. Instead of making you envy my perfect home/family/children/job/self-confidence/life, I’d rather be vulnerable with you and share my thoughts in more depth than a 2,200-character caption will allow.

I’m ready to move beyond the soundbites, the wow-factor, and the time-devouring reels and just share these words, reaching for human connection in a virtual world.

Because I’m certain this technology we love can offer us so more than distraction.

So here I am. Back here, in this space I’ve loved for more than a decade. This space where I shared my life and found my voice for so many years. I stopped blogging because I thought it’s day had passed. But maybe it’s just time for a conscious, slow return.

I’d love to settle back in here and share ordinary, authentic snapshots of this normal human existence. Not perfection, no shouting “look at me!”, just this weedy garden, my messy kitchen, and perhaps something that leaves you loving your own imperfect, ordinary life that much more.

Not for viral likes and shares, but simply for us.

Are you interested in slowing down with me? Will you join me here, in this slower corner of the interwebs for an old-school blog experience? I’d love to hear.

Because maybe it’s not the technology that’s an issue, but our shifting relationship with it.

So here I’ll offer you a slower, cozy place in a world of fast pixels; an invitation to sink in, reflect, and go deeper. A place to embrace the beauty in the ordinary, celebrate everyday magic, and embrace the normalcy of our imperfections.

Are you in?

Leave me a note and tell me how you found your way here. Are you an old or new friend? How do you feel about me (and others) dusting off the old blogs again and slowing down, if only for a moment?

Then if you would, kindly sign up for emails through the link below. I promise not to spam you, but simply keep you in the loop when I post here. (Don’t count on seeing me on social media, since most who follow me there don’t see what I share very often.)

I can’t wait to reconnect with you, friend.

Love,
Rachel

Ireland Herbal Retreat registration is now open!

On Thursday morning, I held my breath and hit “send” on an email to my herbal retreat shortlist: those who requested being the first to know when registration opened for the Wild Ireland Herbal Retreat. Yesterday I sent the same information to my general interest herbal retreat mailing list.

And just 48 hours after first hitting send, the upcoming Wild Ireland Herbal Retreat is already half-full!

Oh, my heart. Half-full in just two days!

I’m still trying to process it all.

I guess it’s just a deeply humbling experience to dream something into life (I’ve literally dreamed about this for the past two years), then have so many joyous people show up with a resounding yes to that dream.

Seasoned travels and folks who never have never left the country before; introverts and extroverts; the normally cautious and the unwaveringly bold. People from their teen years to more seasoned folks, some traveling alone and others with a loved one: all of them saying yes to the adventure of a lifetime.

And goodness, ya’ll. My heart is so glad. Because despite how broken things so often seem, we can still take what we love and share it, turning out something truly magical. And there will be people aligned with that vision willing to leap at the opportunity to help breathe it into life.

So thank you. Truly, deeply thank you for joining me in this delicious dream.

For those of you who missed the invitation to travel with me next summer, there’s still time to join! The next step is easy. Just drop me an email, and request that I add you to my herbal retreat mailing list.

I’ll get back to you before the day is out with all the information you need to see if this trip is your dream, too.

The information I send includes an overview of locations, activities, guides, and lodging; a tentative trip itinerary; and current COVID safety protocols. (Being an extremely COVID cautious person, I was relieved by the well-thought out procedures in place on the fall tour I took to preview our trip. And, of course, I’m here to answer any questions that you may have about the trip–COVID or otherwise.)

If you’d like to join me (or are even curious about what the trip will include) don’t hesitate to email! I’d be delighted to loop you in on all the magic that we’re planning for you next summer. It’s the journey of a lifetime, and I can’t wait to share it with you.

Ireland Herbal Retreat

Last September, I posted these words:

New plan. When we can safely travel again, you come to Ireland with me on an herbal retreat. We tour off-the-beaten-path stone circles and burial tombs; connect with and learn from local herbalists, storytellers, and organic farmers; forage wild things; plant some trees; hike to some magical mossy groves; and ground out deeply on the Emerald Isle. Who’s game for this plan? ( She asks, fully lost in the dream/fantasy realm…)

And your reaction was off the charts. You were feeling it, too, and shared my vision of what might be.

And I couldn’t shake this dream.

Day and night it followed me, whispering in my ear. Of how life-changing it could be; how magical; how transformative.

Instead of ignoring that whispering, I set to work breathing it into reality.

The vision: an herbal retreat to Ireland in 2022.

A gathering where we can come together and learn about ourselves and one another, make medicine and magic, connect with the songs of the land, the trees, and our own hearts. A trip where we might journey through portals we’ve only imagined.

I envisioned a small, sacred gathering where we had space to heal what is wounded, find our voices, remember our truths, and hear the songs of the plants, the Earth, and–for some of us–even our ancestors.

I knew this was not a retreat I wanted to craft on my own, so I spent last winter researching local teachers and guides who might take us there. And that was how I stumbled upon Tara and Chris of Wild Routes Ireland.

I knew immediately that I had found my partners for this transformative journey.

The three of us connected through email and Zoom, and then (surprising even myself) I decided to join them this September for their fall Deepening the Roots tour: to meet in person and get a taste for their programming and a feel for their energy, so I could be sure it was a great match.

And that’s how it happened that just a few weeks ago (exactly one year to the day from when I first shared my Ireland Herbal Retreat dream with you) I found myself back in Ireland once more–here to join their tour; to meet, plan, play, connect, and get a taste for what we have in the store for you in 2022.

And oh my, friend. It’s going to be so, so good.

So just a few weeks ago, I embarked on an 11-day adventure with Chris and Tara and 20-some other intrepid souls through western Ireland. And while I attended wearing my ‘retreat-planning hat’, I lost myself again and again in this beautiful, soul-shaping experience in this lush and captivating land.

Day after day, I was utterly captivated by the places we visited, the guides who led us there, and the magic that enveloped us.

Time and again I forgot I was there for work, and slipped deep into the magic of this otherworldly land.

And that told me everything I needed to know about these people, this place, and these plants.

The two dozen of us journeyed together as we forged friendships and foraged mushrooms; wandered amongst ancient yews and lush mosses; tasted wild herbs, flowers, leaves, and fruits; made essences under the moon; and rooted deeply with our backs against trees countless centuries our elders.

We sang songs of gratitude as we encircled prehistoric stone circles and 500-year-old hawthorns, shared stories, and drank from sacred wells.

And though we arrived as a rag-tag group of strangers from four countries, eleven days later we departed as friends.

And now it’s my turn to get to business planning an Ireland Herbal Retreat of my own. An 11-day journey for you and for me.

Want to co-create this journey with me?

I‘d love your input! We are currently deciding between two potential retreat dates: July 12-22 or September 6-16. If you’re serious about joining me, let me know below which dates you prefer.

Dates are locked in! We’ll be journeying July 12-22, 2022.

Who is welcome? Anyone with a budding or blossoming interest in plants, herbalism, history, the sacred, and Ireland. Women, men, and non-binary folks are equally welcome, as are all races, spiritual beliefs, and backgrounds. Come alone or with a family member, partner, or friend.

The trip includes some moderate hikes on uneven ground (in whatever weather Ireland wishes to deliver) and is best suited for those comfortable with a moderate activity level. And while the programming is designed with adult participants in mind, mature, interested teens are welcome to attend along with a parent or guardian.

If your interest is piqued, drop me an email and ask me to put you on the Herbal Retreat mailing list! Then leave a comment below sharing the date you prefer most (July, September, or let us know if both dates work for you) along with one thing you’re excited to see or experience in Ireland.

Feel free to leave questions below as well, and I’ll get you answers just as soon as I have them.

Finally, pop over to follow me on Instagram and Facebook and find lots more photos and a few videos from these past weeks in Ireland. (I’m still there at the moment, traveling with my mom and my daughter for one more week.)

The video below from a past Wild Routes tour should also help get you excited for the trip to come!