Every October I sort of lose my mind. I could choose to call it seasonal affective disorder, depression, pieces of shadow I have not eaten. But I am careful not to put it into any of these neat little boxes, because then I would stop extending my most compassionate curiosity toward this strange seasonal storm. I want it to remain a wild thing, an unknown tempest of fury and flying sticks, because every time it shows up it serves a purpose. I’d even go so far as calling it sacred, because each time I allow it to sweep my floor clean, something I have been praying for enters.
There’s a pattern here. A seasonality. Every October, I used to migrate like a swan. As soon as the last of September’s warmth sank over the horizon, I blew up my life, put the pieces in a backpack, and left. Later, when I stopped traveling to far-off countries and instead moved in a series of lunges across the North American continent, October became the month I put everything I owned into my car (or my truck, or a suitcase in the underbelly of a Greyhound bus) and drove until I hit a coast and had to stop.
Now that I’ve rooted myself in the kind of life that contains four horses, one sheep, one pig, one dog, twelve ducks and two roosters, the ferocious energy of THE MIGRATION THAT SHOULD BE HAPPENING no longer blows me across the continent. Instead, it bowls me over. This year, I looked out over the crazy abundance of harvest season, my belly full of squash and roast duck (all the incredible generosity of the natural world!) and was so irrevocably angry that nothing made sense anymore. The anger burnt until there was nothing left but nothingness. While all around me trees dropped their leaves in an incredible display of letting go, I was furious at them for making it look so easy. This is insane, no?
How does this connect to Pemberton food culture, you ask? Well, it doesn’t. But it does. Because a couple of days ago, before this year’s particular loss of mind levelled out and let me think with something akin to clarity, I opened my medicine cabinet and saw this:
“This” is the library of wild-foraged tinctures I’ve created over the past 4 years. (Their labels are double-sided, so the essence of the words can seep into the medicine.) As I read their labels, I realized something: I created each of these medicines in October. Each was created as a support for weathering that particular year’s energetic storm. As I felt into their contents, I realized that looking at the interior of my medicine chest was like looking at the growth rings of my own evolution, as well as my connection to this wild part of the world I call home.
2015: Love, Compassion, Congruence. Usnea longissima: the long, delicate single strands of lichen that hangs from trees like the animate glowing trees in Avatar. Potent antiviral and immune support, grows only where the air is pure and the forests contain old growth.
2016: Changes toward Infinite Potential. Again Usnea longissima, this time with Lungwort Lichen (Lobaria pulmonaria.) I was still working with air beings, still striving for lightness. This one recognized the animus of the invisible transmission of air as connector between the animal and plant realms and between all beings. (If I breathe in air a tree exhaled and then YOU then take in the air I breathed-)
2017: Liberation. Atonement. Unity. This was a graduation ceremony from air to earth, something I created specifically when I moved from Squamish Valley to Pemberton. Devil’s club root and bark (adaptogen), willow bark (for deep pain and calling in receptivity and remediation).
2018: Belonging, Lightness, Radiance, Love. This one I made in secret after hiking up to Tenquille Lake with Pemby herbalist Evelyn Coggins this summer. We were not supposed to take any plants. (Evelyn, I am sorry I am so terrible at obeying rules.) There’s a chance a few flower heads of Valerian and River Fireweed (along with a few hemlock tips, a piece of old man’s beard (another Usnea!), and a piece of quartz may have made their way into my pocket on this hike. (Barely a handful of plant matter, I swear…) Covered in 100 proof vodka and shaken every day for 20 days, this one is light and floral but POTENT. Holy $^%&. The first time I tried it I almost fell asleep in the library. It’s for taking before bed, to encourage new neural connections to form through dreams…
Then I had a conversation with myself that I’m embarrassed to disclose. But I will anyway, because I think we all have these sorts of conversations from time to time. It’s just not something we talk about.
“Well Kera, you should try to remember to take some of these. That was the point of making them.”
“Oh, right. Okay, okay.”
“And you know that St John’s Wort tincture you have in a mason jar under the kitchen sink? You should take that too. Because you made it SPECIFICALLY for coping with Octobers. Remember?”
“Um, yeah. Yeah I did.”
I did. I do. I am. Taking them. Ten drops in the morning of Liberation/Atonement/Unity and 6 drops of Belonging/Lightness/Radiance/Love before bed. Could the prescription be anymore poetic?
Pharmaceutical companies, take note. You could do better.