The Love & Loss of Ancient Trees

I love summer! It gives me the opportunity to get outside more, to go camping, to explore and discover. I also usually make it to the odd festival or two. Festivals, luckily, are often sited in great locations with rolling hills, rich hedgerows and ancient trees peppering the landscape.

beautiful shady beech in camping area

beautiful shady beech in camping area

A few weekends ago I was at just such a festival, on an incredible site. Lakes and ancient trees punctuated rolling meadows. It was gorgeous, with lovely sunny weather to match. I had found an amazing huge beech to camp under and was grateful all weekend for the deep delicious cooling shade its generous branches offered me. In fact I spent much of the weekend admiring the great ancient trees, some of which were hundreds of years old with trunks that would have taken three four or more people with arms stretched fully to circle their great girth. I was sitting under one of these fabulous trees one evening when I dropped into a vision where these huge wise giants in the landscape were not solitary and isolated, with hundreds of meters between each, but where they were dominant. Where huge tree neighboured huge tree, shoulder to shoulder, across the rolling landscape. It was a strong vision, I felt like I had been transported to Sherwood Forest of old, with Robin Hood making camp not far away. My eyes welled with tears at the beauty of what once was. Once our land was full of ancient forest, strong, rich and green.

As I wiped the tears from my eyes the reality of our modern landscape hit me, that here on this private estate where large ancient trees still lived they were few and far between. What have we done? I thought as the sad sparseness of summer singed grass filled most of my view. I felt sad for the trees who once looked upon something so much more magnificent, I felt sad for the people, myself included, who had never known such strong and vibrant forest flourishing on this land.

After I had digested my realisation I went back to join the festival where between music and art, people were enjoying wild swimming in the lakes, running and foraging on the festival fringes. I enjoyed some music before walking back to my camp. I turned to look back at the stage where the band had now finished and saw very clearly what humankind have become in a land without a real day to day nature connection, without the mentorship of ancient trees to hold us and guide us. A sea of plastic lined the ground, highlighted in the bright beams shining out from the stage.

post festival sea of plastic

post festival sea of plastic

Where are we? What are we doing? If as a collective we can go and enjoy ourselves in the open air, sit in the warm summer sun and enjoy the cooling shade of trees, swim in soft silky smooth lake water, learn which plants we can safely forage for food and medicine and yet still treat the land as a waste dump…

We have some serious unlearning to do. We have some serious rewilding to do. I don’t know how to tackle the ignorance, how to stop people from feeling that it is ok to just throw their unwanted plastic on the ground. It is easy to feel overwhelmed when you look at what we are up against, but if you do so it becomes easy to feel that there is no hope and to do nothing. I know that what I can do is change myself, and through my life and work do the best I can to touch those immediately around me.

I want a world where ancient trees grow shoulder to shoulder with ancient trees. Where we all breathe oxygen rich air in the green shade of towering trees, where we all acknowledge and respect Gaia, nature, and realise that we are forever entangled, there is no separation. What we do to “nature” we do to ourselves.

Time to go plant a few more plants, gather the fruits of the forest for my dinner, and plan some more workshops where I hope to inspire others to see the world the way that I do…

For a list of my upcoming workshops click here…

Wilderness festival UK Wild medicine walks with author Rachel Corby Rewild yourself becoming nature and the medicine garden, England UK

Ancient tree love🙂

Time for a Calming Brew

It has been quite a while since I have posted on this blog. So much has happened and changed for me, personally in my own life, and of course in the recent political landscape here in the UK. It is a time where tempers are continuing to rage and stress and anxiety are touching many people (and that was all before the referendum results!!).

Standing Barefoot

Standing Barefoot

I find that the best medicine for times such as these is of course time spent outside surrounded by nature, by our plant, animal and mineral relations. Just taking the time to walk barefoot on early morning dew laden grass, or to lie back in the park, eyes closed with the sun warming ones face, during lunch break will do wonders for reducing anxiety levels and grounding oneself.

Rose in my garden

Rose in my garden

There are herbal teas that can help too. Rose (Rosa spp.) is great for opening the heart and letting love back in. Lemonbalm (Melissa officinalis) (which grows strong and wildly in my back garden) helps with nervous tension, insomnia and unsettling dreams. It can also help lift one’s spirits and improve one’s sense of wellbeing, combined with rose it works as a wonderfully potent uplifting heart opener. Both teas can be drunk up to three times a day to really benefit from these beneficial qualities. I certainly recommend them both right now. In fact I am off outside right now to smell the roses and collect a few leaves of lemonbalm for a fresh lunchtime brew. Join me and spread the word!🙂

Collecting Fresh Lemonbalm (Melissa officinalis)

Collecting Fresh Lemonbalm (Melissa officinalis)

 

“Bee”sotted with Bees

This post is the third and final guest post from one of the guest tutors on the rewilding apprenticeship I am running this summer. This entry is from the lovely Brigit Strawbridge. I first met Brigit a short while after she wrote a fabulous review for my first book The Medicine Garden back in early 2010. Brigit invited me to give a series of talks on the top deck of her Big Green Bus at the Malvern Spring Gardening show. Despite the rainy windy weather outside it was cosy and fun on the bus. We have been friends ever since and I am really delighted that she will be coming to share her great knowledge with us on the apprenticeship.

Brigit Strawbridge

Brigit Strawbridge, Bee Ambassador

I have to admit to being just a little obsessed with bees. In fact it’s probably fair to say I’m quite ‘bee’sotted. Bees have fascinated and enchanted me since my childhood, but it is only since the media started reporting on bee decline some years back that I fully appreciated the magnitude of their importance as pollinators – and how much I had always taken these amazing little creatures for granted.

Since then, I have been campaigning, talking and writing to raise awareness of the importance of bee diversity, the ways different species access and pollinate different flowering plants and the myriad reasons for the declines in bee diversity, range and population. I firmly believe that if we get it right for bees we will, in turn, get it right for all life on earth.

 

My approach when I first started looking into this issue was to focus on the

A Nitidia Male Bee

A Nitidia Male Bee

 

importance of bees to the human food chain and the pesticides that were contributing, in part, to their decline. I read, watched and digested everything I could get my hands on, learning more and more each year till both my head and my home were full to bursting with information: facts and figures; names of bees; types of pesticides; scientific reports; lists of this and that; and goodness knows what else.

This was all well and good, but in my rush to assimilate the kind of information I thought I needed to help me understand and pass on what exactly was going wrong, I almost missed out on understanding the most important thing of all – i.e. the bees themselves, their beauty, their behaviour and their intrinsic worth.

Once this dawned upon me everything began to change as a whole new and incredible world began to unfold…..

B lapidaries bee in harebell

B lapidaries bee in harebell

 

Instead of reading books and spending time researching on the computer I now started to spend more and more time outside watching and listening to bees. I learned to recognise certain species and individuals by the sounds of their different buzzes; came to know what time of day I might be likely to find certain bees on certain plants; worked out how to tell male bumblebees from female bumblebees; could hear with my eyes closed when bumblebees were collecting pollen from the welsh poppies in my garden rather than aquilegia growing next to them; and began to guess from the shape, colour and size of certain flowers which bee (or other pollinator) I might to expect to collect pollen from that flower. It soon became obvious that I was learning things from the bees that I could never have learned from books.

I became more and more interested in the interaction between bees and flowering plants, which in turn led me to be more curious about the way the two must have co-evolved and adapted, physiologically and behaviourally, over the millennia. This, in its turn, reminded me of the awe and wonder I had felt as a child each and every time I made a connection between one aspect of the natural world and another. I was essentially, through the bees, beginning the process of reconnecting and rewildling.

I still campaign, talk and write about bees and their decline, but my focus has now shifted. I still want to share my newfound knowledge about bees and other pollinators with anyone and everyone who will listen, but more importantly I want to share my love and awe of these fascinating and delightful beings, together with the insights and understandings they have gifted me. My hope is that in doing this I might inspire others to fall in love, as I have, with the bees who visit their gardens… in which case they will start doing whatever they can to help ensure their continued survival for it is in our nature to want to protect that which we love.

I am delighted that Rachel has invited me to be a guest tutor on her wonderful Rewilding Apprenticeship later this year and cannot wait to share my love, knowledge and insights with you.

As you can tell from her writing Brigit has a great passion and I can’t wait to learn more from her on the day she will spend sharing her knowledge with us on the rewilding apprenticeship.

Brigit has her own blog and can be found on twitter @B_Strawbridge

Non-stylised Movement in the Land…

What follows is a guest post by Poh Eng San who will be a guest tutor on the apprenticeship I am running later this year. On the apprenticeship she will be helping us with conscious movement, visceral wakefulness and opening to body wisdom. I met Poh Eng many years ago when I was training in Plant Spirit Medicine with Eliot Cowan; she had been a student in the previous year to me and so our original connection was through the love of communicating with plant spirits and how that opens the world right up. Below she talks about what inspires her to do the work that she does…

Poh Eng San, healer and movement teacher

Poh Eng San, healer and movement teacher

I have two main streams of work/ play/ life: Energy healing, and personal movement practice for self-awakening with the land & the teachings that come through my dance. My teachers have included Dr Shen Hongxun (Lame Fore), Eliot Cowan and Helen Poynor. I have been a movement practitioner and dancer for over 25 years. I cannot separate how the streams inspire as there is a confluenece of experience where one practice informs the other and vice versa.

Helen’s work has been hugely inspirational in deepening my “body body” connection to the ever changing landscape. I am nourished on all levels body, soul, spirit. A spin off from the non-stylised movement in the land is the art and creative writings that emerge. I love the recalling of the ancient memories, where the animal, limbic brain comes forward! For example, I encountered my ancient hag of the sea. She was like an archetypal Kali of Misrule and beyond, with a cackle louder than the crashing waves. Pulling on a part of my feeling, “sensating” body as I moved in wild dark cliff caves. And more recently: “Tons of rock above me. And I, curled up in a space like the gap beneath her crooked toe joint, puts things in perspective. A deep privilege…”

I love the presence demanded when I am with trees and the layers trees, plants, earth reveal to me as I sink into a deeper receptivity. It is a complete creative communion and dialogue – the chi of body and the chi of Nature. It was a relief to realise that as long as I am true to my stream of movement, as well as responding to the environment I do not have to dance with any agendas of what I think a dancer should be like.

“My bones, my sinews, my muscle substance, fluid, cells all moving, flowing like a flock of2016-01-19 16.00.33 birds. A vast body of movement in a cohesive and random leadership group. Shapes shifting in multidimensional aerodynamics. Me, on the ground, my internal landscape moving like this. One part pouring into another, my head pushes my feet away from the South to the sky. My bottom spirals around creating whirlwinds down below.”

I love the intelligence of all my bodies; energetic, physical, emotional, mental and spiritual. The Taijiwuxigong has taught me how to clear blockages in my 5 main energetic pathways.

The fact that it is a lifelong practice with no end goal.

Rather that you journey up your own “mountain exploring every nook and cranny and allowing your wisdom to take centre stage.” This is my invitation. I love the fact that Taijiwuxigong is not separate from spiritual practice, but teaches acceptance of self and love in each moment.

So yes, I love the privilege and honour of the way people take responsibility for their own body care and ultimately their life. I can offer tools and often that key tool can tip the balance to self awakening.

Buqi healing has the extraordinary ability to work with unseen phenomena in a seemingly ordinary and grounded way. I am excited by constantly discovering the magical energetic nuances of the human body.

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I am so excited to have Poh Eng on the apprenticeship team so that we can all learn from her unique perspective and deep practice.

Poh Eng is running a selection of workshops this year: The first two 9-10/04/16 and 28/05/16 are both Taijiwuxigong and being run in Nailsworth, Gloucestershire. Then 7-11/09/16 is a body chi, land chi reconnection retreat being run in Pembrokeshire, West Wales. If you would like further details on any of them please contact Poh Eng directly: pohengsoundbuqi@yahoo.co.uk

 

Rewilding; Why An Apprenticeship Not A Course…

Eight years ago, back in February 2008 I headed stateside to apprentice in Sacred Plant Medicine with  Stephen Harrod Buhner. If you have not heard of him he is a great thinker and prolific nature writer. Julie McIntyre and Trishuwa, Stephens two partners, also took part in teaching us, leading us and holding space for us. Ever since that time I knew that I eventually wanted to evolve my workshops, courses and retreats into a full blown apprenticeship.

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Why, what is the difference? You may well ask. The thing is with a course, even a long one of two weeks or more, is that it works like a retreat in that you retreat from your daily life, go learn something new, then do your best to bring those teachings back into your day to day. That kind of thing works very well when learning a certified set of skills, massage maybe. You have a series of intensive classes for several days in a row until you have covered all the material, then you go home and put those learnings into practice through your work.

An apprenticeship works better for more ethereal subjects, for work that is more about making big changes in your life rather than just learning a new set of skills. By returning again and again over a number of months or seasons, in some circumstances even years, and working between times with the next level, slotting it into your way of being through repetitive practice over a period of time, the subject of the apprenticeship becomes you. You do not learn it, you learn to live it.

The apprenticeship I undertook in 2008 was hugely important to my life and work, it shaped me. Those three, Stephen, Trishuwa and Julie became threaded into me, they, with their teachings, became an inseparable part of the weave of my being. Of course this happens to a degree with all that you meet, all that is, but especially so with those that leave the taste of themselves, of their beauty, within your being and in turn become part of your beauty.

trees in winter

The rewilding apprenticeship I will be leading this summer is something that will trickle through, imbuing every cell of your being with magic, sacredness, with wild. I cannot recreate what I experienced with Stephen, I am not trying to. My teachings are uniquely mine, a product of all my teachers; which includes my upbringing and adult life in this country, the UK. I have a different seed to sow, albeit deeply infused with what I learned on apprenticeship myself. What I am presenting Sacred Ecology: A Rewilding Apprenticeship is Earth magic and immersion, UK style🙂

The main reason I am updating on this subject today is that some changes have taken place over the weekend which has led to a drop in the overall costings of running the apprenticeship – which translates as a drop in the fee for attending the apprenticeship. Good news for those that were interested but were finding it difficult to raise enough funds. So come over to my website and take another look at what the apprenticeship is all about and the updated booking fee

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The search for Wild

We are a reflection of our environment, if we are sick it is a fair indication that the environment we live within is also sick – there is no separation. Even if you feel fine, if you have been reading recent reports on the health of “developed” or “Western” nations you will appreciate that as a whole the population is pretty sick in varying degrees. Whether it is stress, depression or anxiety; arthritis, heart disease or auto-immune conditions, most people have some health issues to deal with, even our children. Our cut off from nature is key to this. Spending time in a natural environment has almost immediate physiological effects including a drop in blood pressure and blood cortisol levels, a boost to the immune system, but also a drop in stress levels and anxiety, feelings of increased vigour, and having a more positive outlook – feeling less depressed.

As we are a mainly urban based world now, with over 50% of the world population living in urban situations, how do we remedy this, where do we find the healing solace of natural environments? Well, perhaps if you live close to a great wilderness, a mountain range or a desert you could head out for a hike every weekend and charge yourself for the week to come with fresh air and wilderness energy. But what about the rest of us?

urban alley way edged with wild hedge garlic

urban alley way edged with wild hedge garlic

The trick is to find the wildness wherever you are. Wildness is hiding around every corner (and in our hearts) you just have to open yourself to noticing it. Small back gardens, urban parks, little woods bordering farmland, urban alley-ways. They are all stuffed with wild plants surging upwards and outwards. Any nook or cranny available will eventually receive a wild plant seed that despite the lack of ideal growing conditions will somehow manage to find a way to grow.

Don’t overlook those little fellas – the buddleia growing along the rail tracks and on niches high up on building walls. The plantain and dandelion growing through cracks in the pavement at our feet. The “weeds” growing in our flower pots and at our allotments. They are the wild, and if you listen to their call, they are inviting you to join them.

 

Find your local park or stand of trees and look up, look out, reach out to them with your heart and embrace them. Recognise them as living, as alive and wild, as part of yourself. For we are all born of stardust and go back to dust once our time in this incarnation has passed. Without knowing it, this is what so many people lack, this connection with life other than humankind, this connection and sparking of our wild inner core. We need it so that we feel not so alone, so that we know we are part of something greater than ourselves.

So seek out the wild wherever you are. When you stumble across it – no matter how small

wild dandelion finding an urban niche

wild dandelion finding an urban niche

– notice it and acknowledge it. Feel love for it and recognise yourself in it. If we all did so we would, no doubt, encourage the wild to grow, we would let in the wild ragged edges, and all feel that much better for doing so.

On February 27th I am running a four hour workshop just outside Stroud, Gloucestershire called Entering the Spirit Forest, where you will learn the skills to connect more deeply with nature while we walk through woods on the urban edge. If you would like to go deeper still I am running an apprenticeship this summer called Sacred Ecology: A Rewilding Apprenticeship, join me…

I have made a facebook page for my business Gateways to Eden if you are interested in my work I invite you to have a look and like my page❤

Tropical Fruit on the Branch

As much as possible I love to grow my own food, that which I do not manage to grow myself I like to at least source from local producers. This leaves me eating fresh fruit and veggies grown within my local climatic conditions. So when I take a trip I always delight in the different fruits that are available and that I never buy at home.

Last year ended for me with a few weeks in Cambodia and I was very happy to not only eat some delicious tropical fruit but also to see many fruits actually growing. Seeing a plant grow gives me an opportunity to learn more, to deepen my relationship with the food it produces. If I get the chance I like to sit with the plants, to talk to them, to listen to them and maybe fall in love with them, even just a little bit.

The following are a few of the tropical fruit plants that I saw growing for the very first time on this trip…

star fruit (Averrhoa carambola)

Star Fruit (Averrhoa carambola). A waxy fruit that is not particularly tasty, in my opinion, but I had to add it as it looks so cool, especially when sliced giving a bright yellow star on your plate

Star fruits are high in fibre, vitamins B complex & C, minerals including potassium, phosphorus, zinc & iron. When vitamin C appears alongside iron the iron is more easily absorbed and so can help treat or prevent the occurrence of anaemia.

 

Jack fruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus)

Jack Fruit (Artocarpus heterophyllus). This is a bit of a crazy looking fruit and huge in size, you certainly wouldn’t want one to fall and land on your head. The yellow flesh inside the rough outer skin is easy to separate into smaller chunks as each piece of flesh covers a stone sized seed. It is very tasty and not as rich or creamy as durian so can be easier to eat in quantity.

Jack fruits are high in fibre, vitamins A, B complex & C, minerals including magnesium, calcium, iron, potassium, phosphorus, copper, zinc, manganese & selenium. The magnesium helps with the absorption of calcium to keep bones strong and healthy.

 

fresh green peppercorns (Piper nigrum)Fresh Green Peppercorns (Piper Nigrum). These pea sized round green fruits when fully mature are left to dry and become the more familiar black peppercorns that sit in pepper mills across the planet. Eaten fresh they are delicious with a much more delicate spicy bite than their older dried brothers. Are they really a fruit? I don’t actually know but I had to add them in here as for one it was great to see some growing on the vine but also because these ones in particular are renowned worldwide for being the best and most tasty peppercorns available, Kampot pepper, they did not disappoint.

Black pepper is well known for it’s medicinal qualities but even these young fruits prove high in vitamin K and iron. In addition they aid digestion and help fight bacterial growth in the intestines.

papaya (Carica papaya)

Papaya (Carica papaya). I enjoy papaya both when it is still green, especially as part of the spicy raw Thai dish som tam, but also when the flesh is soft and ripe and orange. When ripe they are delicious with a little squirt of fresh lime, a perfect start to a day in the tropics.

Papayas are high in fibre, vitamins A, B complex, C & E, minerals including calcium and iron. Eating fresh raw papaya helps replenish the good bacteria in your intestines, helps with digestion, helps maintain the immune system and has anti-inflammatory properties.

 

passion fruit (Passiflora edulis)
Passion Fruit (Passiflora edulis).  I go crazy for the tart insides of this fruit. The little slime covered seeds can be eaten with a spoon straight from the skin or as I discovered on this latest trip blended with a bit of ice to make a somewhat crunchy fresh fruit shake.

Passion fruit is high in fibre, vitamins A & E, minerals including potassium, iron, copper, magnesium & phosphorus. Vitamin E is essential for eye health while potassium helps regulate heart rate and blood pressure.

 

Each one of these fruits will help your body maintain a healthy immune system, keep you fit and strong whilst protecting you against a variety of conditions. Of course each one is unique in its composition and thus its role in your health but as you eat fresh, raw, local fruits (wherever you are) you set your body up with the nutrients it needs to stay strong and avoid the development of many diseases and conditions that are becoming all too familiar to those following a more heavily processed diet.

And now one for fun! Does anyone know what the following “fruit” is? It is not eaten in Cambodia and although it grows there no one I approached seemed to know what it was, even its name – do you? Either way, I’m sure you’ll agree it’s a plant of great beauty🙂

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