Not even two weeks ago I walked with a bucket of fermenting apples in each hand down the dirt road with my friend to feed the pigs. The snow came down in fat soft constellations, the sounds of our boots muffled in the snowpack, the spooning hills curling around each other in contented receding sighs, dotted with tiny lit windows and plumes of blue woodsmoke.
The pigs, to my comfort, are shaggy and brindled beasts who watched our approach with inquisitive gazes and did not wait for their food to freeze but politely snarffled through the snow where the glut of apples had lodged themselves in the drifts. The swine were at least belly-deep in the snow, which on me stopped at my knees.
We fed the chickens as the snow persisted, and my friend, a rose-cheeked example of many generations of Vermont hardiness, explained to me that the more snow we get, the less likely we are to experience the likes of last year’s drought. Of course. Which engendered in me a further tenderness toward the damp crystals encrusting our hoods and weighing in our escaped wisps of hair.
So at home I contentedly re-stuffed the woodstove and hung the wet woolens and made as spicy a curry as I could palate and we plotted an outdoor skating adventure for the following frozen frozen day.
As you might be able to tell: I was finally learning hygge, that intuitive coping with winter which eventually reveals itself as learning to not simply take refuge in but cherish the small snow caves we carve out and curl up in. No small feat for a femme raised in the deep South.
Alas, or perhaps not, this morning I left the house with only one wool sweater, a scarf, and hat. Okay, sure, I had pants on too. But the point is: The air felt kind on my face. Gloves were not a necessity. My toes didn’t go numb from the porch to the car. Now I sit in the studio with the sun shining through the tall windows. The river outside beyond the brace of tall bare maples is still frozen and covered with snow, but the sap lines are running, the pumps buzzing and coaxing the sweetness into the downhill tanks, the roads are wet and muddy and already the human faces look sparkly in ways that I don’t feel ready for yet.
Change, I’m noticing, even when the transition is from a less comfortable situation to a more hopeful one, can be a struggle. Once we’ve gotten used to a sour-faced boss, the cranky teenage offspring, the lonely confines of our daily routines, the brisk about-face of an apology from an unexpected source, a vulnerable moment that explains all of a day in high school, or the friend stopping by the office when we our faces have become one with the computer screen can feel strangely unwelcome. The small dragon inside me that finally succumbed to the lull of hibernation is maybe not ready to peel back layers, expose tender skin, dip a toe in the possibility that warmth is a distinct probability.
At least, I’m not starting seeds in the greenhouse yet.
But I am calling out my own reluctance toward hope, towards joy, both of which have been severely challenged in this political moment. I am taking my Daily Resilience Tonic, bathing in rose petals and chamomile flowers, keeping the Boundaries Potion in my pocket, and writing all the feelings down so I can have a little extra space as I go about my day. I am learning to be mindful when the stubborn little bull inside me wants to keep everything exactly how it is.
Oh yes, and I’m keeping Octavia Butler in one hand and a bit of garnet in the other. You too?
This flower essence is for everyone but especially supportive for teens, peri-menopausal folks, and those of us who make queer magic. Blue cohosh flower essence supports us in sifting through the hesitancy or anxiety we might feel around sex and sexuality, particularly during times of transition, change, and growth, and encourages openness and acceptance of the sacred ways in which we are each made to contribute to the creative and sensual energies of the planet in this body and lifetime.
When the first spring witch hazel flowers waves their soft fringes at you know maybe it’s going to be okay.
The physiological medicine of witch hazel’s astringency serves to draw lax or sagging tissues together, firming and supporting the structures of the body. In the subtle energetic body, the flower essence also acts in this drawing capacity. Whether pulling the soul upward from the darkness of winter or from a stuck or stagnant location where decision-making feels impossible, the flower essence of witch hazel encourages movement supported by grounded self-knowing and the cultivation of internal light which reaches for the external world. In this way, the flowers of Chinese witch hazel are applied to the subtle body for the purposes of composting, transforming, and releasing trauma and trauma-related stress from the cellular levels of the body.
If I was better at handling winter, I’d be moving to Maine.
In mid-July, despairing of finding any sizable quantity of St. John’s wort for my apothecary and feeling restless in what Vermonters call “heat,” I headed to the Maine coast with a companion to find out what my friend Micah has been doing these past four years.
Turns out, he’s been living on a magical island that you can only get to by boat. Micah is the founder of the Atlantic Holdfast Company, a small labor of hand-harvested love, bringing you the loveliest cuts of seaweeds that Neptune is willing to part with. He spends his time harvesting vegetables from ledges awash in salt water with a serrated knife, under the curious gazes of dog-like seals who venture in only occasionally for a nibble.
Micah picked us up from a dock on the southern tip of Deer Isle in a friend’s lobstering boat, which we traded halfway through the Penobscot Bay for a much smaller vessel with an outboard motor. Micah positioned my pal and me just so in the boat, in order to balance the weight in the laden vessel. I learned quickly to tuck my feet under a weighty cooler to prevent myself from being cast overboard in the substantial wind.
After a good half hour of motoring out, we arrived thoroughly goosebumped at a small isle covered in St. John’s wort, and so I was immediately satisfied, notwithstanding the epic kelp harvesting, rock-hopping, beach-combing, and roasted goat and lobster dinner in our immediate futures.
The daily activities of seaweed harvest are of the gutsy gritty romance that characterizes many of Maine’s industries. Several hours before the lowest tide of the month, my friend and I headed down to the barn where the seaweed and wetsuits were hung to dry. My pal and I struggled into our wetsuits as if the suits were actually exercise accoutrements designed to help us achieve and sustain effortful contorted positions. Half an hour later, after accomplishing ten chores in as many minutes, Micah came along and slipped into his suit like an easy second skin over rearrangable limbs.
We piled more equipment into the boat, waded in, and pushed off, the spray upon my glasses offering an impressionist’s view of the sea and sky. After another half hour, we arrived at several exposed ledges that Micah identified as prime seaweed territory. With a serrated knife in my right hand and in my left the rope to an inner tube with a harvesting basket stuffed in it and floating upon the curl, I threw myself overboard into four feet of sucking tides and slippery seaweed-covered rock.
We were after Digitata, the many-fingered kelp, and all the while the spidery Alaria fronds curled raggedly around our waists and thighs as the tides tried their damnedest to swallow me or at least laugh insanely as my tiny human attempt to balance upon two legs. To harvest the Digitata required that I reach into water up to my shoulder and grasp the stipe with an inarticulate gloved hand. The stipe was often as thick around as I could grasp, and without allowing the chaos to interfere with my sawing, I’d cut through the meat of it in order to retrieve 2-4 inches of stipe and all of the frond. Micah had an eye for the amount he wanted to harvest in order to manage the patch sustainably. Just when I was starting to wonder whether I was in control of the bucket full of seaweed or the bucket was in control of me, Micah shouted for us to hoist ourselves back in the boat, a feat which I was able to execute inelegantly thanks only to the quantity of pull-ups required in the study of acrobatics.
This all occurred between 4:30 am and 7:30 am.
Let me be clear, I was inordinately thrilled by every single moment of the harvest and would encourage anyone looking for a foraging adventure to test her sea legs. Pay no mind to the sizable seal nosing at your toe.
Being the smallest of our threesome — I have since learned from a Vermont natural science museum that the smallest animals often don’t survive the winter simply because of mass — I went directly under the covers upon our return to the cabin on the flower-covered isle and shivered for the better part of two hours. When I woke, I ate an enormous quantity of bacon and eggs, feta and cucumbers, walnuts and dates, and squares of dark chocolate.
Around noon, we returned to the boat, which had been pushed in to us by the tide, and we spent the happy part of an hour hauling buckets of wet seaweed up to the barn. My friend and I used a little yellow cart, which I pushed and he pulled, and we’d delivery the slippery vegetables to barn, where Micah had designed several ingenious sets of pullies and racks and ropes to haul the seaweed from the bottom of the barn to the second story.
Seaweeds begin to exude alginates after an hour of so out of the water, and so I had the sensation of having my hands covered in mermaid sneezes as I hung the muppet-like plants on thin wooden sticks in their specially-constructed racks.
Processing plants — shucking corn, pruning garlic, stripping leaves from dried tulsi, pinching golden ground cherries from their papery lantern husks — is one of the most intimate times for human-plant and human-human bonding. The plants slither or crumble or shed all over you according to their natures, and we homo sapiens catch up on all the gossip since we last we met: what its like to find a date in rural New England, the after-hours shenanigans of the neighboring lobstermen, the best way to butcher a goat, farming versus foraging. The usual.
After hanging the Digitata to dry, I had another nap, and then in the late afternoon my comrade and I wandered the perimeter of the island, past a giant elderberry tree covered in soft flowers, over rocky inlets ridden with buoys and lobster crates washed ashore, past Rosa rugosa thickets heavy with green hips, through patches and patches of wild raspberries, and up into the arms of a giant old rowan tree covered in the droppings of a raccoon tucking in to the early raspberries.
Along the shore we gathered the bladderwrack, which lay like the pocketed hair of mermaids, sucked at by the rocks at the water’s edge. We bent amid the tumble of boulders to snip the seaweed and pile it into our buckets. Bladderwrack has an odd mineral butter aroma, strongly of the sea and also sort of animal-ish. Micah recommended that we start to dry the seaweed in the car on the way home, and then grind it, as it was best as an additive or condiment to dishes or smoothies.
So that’s what I did. First on the porch in the sun, then finished it off in my dehydrator. A coffee grinder did the job just fine. What a particular plant this is! Here are some things I’ve learned about it since.
ENERGETICS & USES
Fucus vesiculosis (the species name meaning “little vesicles,” for the sealed air pockets that float the stuff) is the Latin binomial for the brown seaweed bladderwrack, a form of kelp famous for its ability to stimulate sluggish thyroid function. High in a form of iodine which is the immediate precursor to the thyroid hormones T3 and T4, bladderwrack is also highly nutritive, demulcent, and stimulating to cellular metabolism. The specific indications for use of this sea vegetable medicinally include both energetic and constitutional pictures as well as discreet diagnoses.
+ Depeletion: Bladderwrack in dense in micronutrients besides iodine, including calcium, magnesium potassium, sodium, silicon, iron, vitamin D, many B-complex vitamins, as well as essential fatty acids. The powdered sea vegetable is useful in debility, poor digestion, post-surgery, convalescence, postpartum, and other situations where remineralization is necessary. Particularly indicated for lethargy, dry skin and membranes, constipation resulting from dryness, and slow cognitive and physical development in children.
+ Chronic and Systemic Inflammation: Hot baths, compresses, and oral supplementation with bladderwrack is often recommended in rheumatic conditions. Treatments have been documented to relieved sore and achy joints and muscles as well as stimulate cartilage growth.
+ Adrenal and Immune Function: Studies have shown bladderwrack to improve duration and quality of sleep, promote tissue healing, and support anti-viral activity. Fucoidan is a compound found in brown seaweeds which has been shown to interfere with all stages of viral attack as well as will proliferation of human cancer cells. Dr. Drum even points out that all human cells studied have receptors for Fucose, the end-group sugar on the Fucoidan compound.
+ Metabolic and Cardiovascular Function: Bladderwrack added into the diet delays hardening of the arteries, lowers chronically high blood pressure, and stimulates cellular metabolism — all conditions correlated with low thyroid function.
SAVORY MORNING OATS!
This is my chance to share my favorite breakfast recipe, an not-sweet oatmeal recipe that I prefer for its ability to sustain the body through cold and hard-working mornings.
Steel-cut or rolled oats, soaked 2-24 hours, drained
1 tablespoon ground bladderwrack or other seaweed
1 shredded carrot
2 tablespoons sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, and/or walnuts
1-2 pats of butter or coconut oil
1-2 teaspoons fresh-ground black pepper
Nutritional yeast or miso as desired
+ Bring water for oats to a boil, adding an extra half-cup to account for seaweed addition.
+ Upon boil, add oats, ground bladderwrack, and nuts and seeds.
+ Reduce to a simmer until oats are tender, as desired
+ Remove from heat and add remaining ingredients.
+ Easy peasy!
Maude Grieve. Bladderwrack. A Modern Herbal. https://www.botanical.com/botanical/mgmh/b/bladde54.html
Ryan Drum. Sea Vegetables for Food and Medicine. http://www.ryandrum.com/seaxpan1.html
Herbal Riot. The Magickal Uses of Bladderwrack. http://herbalriot.tumblr.com/post/56686839194/the-magickal-uses-of-bladderwrack
Friends, I’m excited to share a guest post I’ve contributed to an awesome blog chronicling surviving and thriving through chronic illness. The article even features my fifth-grade science teacher Mrs. Harrison! You can read the post at the link below, and I encourage you to check out other articles there too.