The Traveling Medicine Show || On Moonlight + Friendship


New Mexico + West Texas
e   d   i   t   i   o   n

Life does not truly begin until you've lost everything you once thought was yours; until all that is solid in your world dissolves and you are left with nothing to stand upon, nothing to grasp at it.  And then your real Life starts, just like that. And that is what happened to me this Summer. And thank God for that -- though it hurt worse than anything while I traversed the mire of this heart-wrenching initiation. In this moment though, I sense that I have crossed a mighty threshold that I could never have conceived of just months before. I am living in Austin Texas--the place I was born; the place I have spent most of my life; the place I thought I would never  e v e r  call Home again.  And yet -- here I am. And everything is new, because I am new. And this is the story of why. And it is a story of Moonlight and Friendship.

Asia + Me

It is -- paradoxically, to this introvert at least -- through others that we can come to know ourselves more fully.  It is through relationship that we begin to understand the precious part that is ours to play in the teeming, trembling, and tremendous unfolding story that is this World.  When Asia came to visit, she brought with her a gift I could not have anticipated.  Or maybe she opened a door.  Either way, when this bright light of a woman showed up at my home and stayed with me for a few short days, I remembered something essential which I had forgotten and lived without for longer than any human Heart should have to bear.  What I remembered was the easy banter of familiarity, the feeling of being at Home in the presence in another.  The laughter and stories and dreams that we shared during our time together set the stage for the weeks of journeying that would follow.  The tone was imbued with a childlike curiosity, a sacred longing for truth, and a profoundly healing acceptance of all that each moment held within its fold.

Visiting with Asia--a seriously sweet Sister and real peach of a Wise Woman--reminded me how vital it is to carve out time and space for late night laughter, sincere and solemn storytelling, dream sharing and talking shop, and generally laying around with your gal pals talking about everything and nothing. May we all have such people in our lives, who bring out the best and brightest in us, and yet always remind us that we are already enough. What a fine medicine friendship is.

So anyhow, just a day or two after Asia departed, I set out with three other women -- little known to me at the time -- for the Traditions In Western Herbalism Conference in Cloudcroft, New Mexico. It was the first time I had returned to New Mexico since leaving, tearful and untethered, only three months previous. It was a powerful healing act to feel myself once more upon that desert earth and beneath the wide sky which had sung to me of Freedom for so many Moons.

The first thing I learned on the journey,
about both Moonlight and Friendship, was

how to make friends fast //  This is how. Take a thirteen hour road trip with someone you've just met, then try to set up a very complicated tent in total darkness in the middle of nowhere in the woods. Then fall into a fit of laughter and instead sleep in a one person tent.  All of this at the bottom of a forbidding and rocky canyon road.  Voila.  I will never forget the first night I knew and loved Anna Derengowski.  Both the tent and Anna are pictured below.

After our night spent [in close quarters] beneath the magnificence of the pitch dark and starlit sky, we woke to a reward of Nettles and Mullein, wild Strawberries and Usnea, tiny pink Geraniums and downy patches of first-year Yarrow.  A canyon of medicine all about us in the early morning mist.

We eventually reunited with the other half of our Girl Gang and found a more suitable place to set up camp for the conference. Working together, we erected the tent and prepared for the weekend of workshops which lay ahead. Lincoln National Forest proved a truly sweet spot to spend a few days with my newfound friends. We slept each night surrounded by Nettle, Yarrow, Roses, Mugwort, Mullein, Vervain, Self Heal, Usnea, Purple Asters, Solomon's Plume, and so many more.

telling saucy tales of   S m i l a c i n a

Wildness nourishes the human spirit like nothing else, for it is the wild places, singing and praying in a language all their own, which ceaselessly dream the world into Being, day after day, year after year, and onward through all Time. Let us cherish and protect these wild places which exist both within the boundaries of our own small hearts as well as in the wide wide world in which we are blessed to walk.

l e p i d o p t e r a

plants are not the only life forms with the miraculous ability to heal; in fact, far from it. this butterfly had something to ask of me and I in return received a healing favor of my own on behalf of an ailing friend. when we are in a receptive state within our own being, animals can sense when and where their specific medicine is needed, and will they share will often share it readily, embodying all of the grace and power that is theirs to bestow.

 Asia Suler, sharing her precious teachings
on the Medicine which sits in Places

P I N E • W O V E N

During much of the conference, my hands and heart were kept busy weaving a tiny basket of Loblolly Pine.   There is, perhaps, no other tree or plant with which my life has become as interwoven than the Pine. Her changing gifts mark the turning of the wheel of the year--wood harvested in Spring and cured in Summer, burns through Winter in my hearth. Nuts fallen and gathered by the basketful in Autumn are a nightly treat the season long. Always, her essence teaches self-forgiveness and gentle compassion when I find myself dwelling on mistakes I've made in the past. Abundant aromatic resin, gathered here and there year-round soothes both my muscles and my mind. And of course, an infusion of her green Spring needles, piquant and antioxidant rich, heralds the coming snowmelt and impending burst of Spring.

g r i n d e l i a

Breakfast At 9,000 ft.


[And Mineral Rich]

photo by Asia Suler

I have attended the Traditions In Western Herbalism Conference since its inception six years ago (what?!).  I had barely made it through the first month of Herb School when my teacher, Paul Bergner, encouraged the class to join him on a trip to New Mexico to attend. While the incredibly unique classes are what draw me back, time after time, their appeal is easily matched by the draw I feel to the incredible community which gathers for the occasion each year.  The warmth, familiarity, and inclusiveness of the plantfolk that come together for the TWHC is uncontested.  I am so grateful for each and every person I got to connect with, this year and in all years previous.  I could never fully express what these interactions have meant to me.  Thank you.

Above, I am pictured with with one of my favorite long-time presenters at the conference, Sean Donahue -- poet, teacher, mystic, friend, and muse.  Many moments spent in his company over the course of the weekend exemplified the two themes I set out to explore in this post -- the medicine of Moonlight and Friendship.  Through the time we shared beneath the crystalline constellations of a high altitude evening, I can safely conclude that the two are most potent when combined.

Oh, and there was a    M A S Q U E R A D E .

[in case you were unawares -- we plantfolk know how to par-tay]

      g r e a t • t h a n k s

The days spent atop the sky island that is Cloudcroft NM left my heart full to overflowing. Wandering solo at daybreak the wild forest paths, gathering untamed and in-tune medicines for my self and my companions; sitting rapt, enchanted, and putting the pieces together as my most cherished teachers tell their stories and speak of their ways; late night mead circles filled with tales more than words could tell; stargazing into the wee hours embraced by the Ancient Earth's surface. Laughter, intensity, dreams, poetry, beginnings.

I am so glad I came. Thank you to the Spirits of this Land, to the community of herbalists and plantfolk who who've found their way here, despite all odds. And thank you thank you thank you Kiva and Jesse for welcoming me, for seeing me, and for making so many things possible through this gathering which you nurture with such fierce tenderness and unwavering belief--it is a gift to us all.

A • F O N D • F A R E W E L L

gift giving to the Land is a very important part of my practice. whether it is a bit of hair, a prayer for its continued vitality, or a ceremony suggested by the Earth herself, I always find it essential to show my gratitude and offer thanks for the gifts and the mystery each place holds and shares with such generosity. above is a sweet ritual offering we made upon our departure to the meadow that held us in its dewy embrace through the full and joyful week spent immersed in the ‪ ‎Traditions In Western Herbalism‬ Conference.

sotol + ocotillo cliffsides

From the high-altitude wonderland of Cloudcroft, we descended and made our way toward the White Sands and Hot Springs which awaited us.

Brandi Jo, fierce and beautiful as any wild thing ought be

W H I T E  •  S A N D S

G  I  R  L  •  G  A   N  G

+   +   +

After too short a time spent luxuriating in the healing waters of Truth or Consequences, post-conference, I parted with the darling ladies I'd spent a week feeling so at home beside. Striking out on my own once more, I headed for West Texas.  A place at once familiar, and yet unknown to me, I returned to Marfa TX to teach two workshops at this year's Trans-Pecos Music Festival.

I do not think it would be crazy to say that
West Texas seemed real happy to see me again...

As I rolled into El Cosmico at dusk, the wide desert sky welcomed me with whiskey and Moonlight, gilded tales of great escapes and friendships, greater still.  The first evening brought with it a soaking rain and Thunder so seismic I felt frightened. When sleep found me at last, I dove deep into its fold.

Morning laid a scene filled with many of the finest folks I know, far-flung from Austin TX and elsewhere, and having landed in the strange high desert paradise that is West Texas. Magic makers and musicians, artists and visionaries, chefs and seers, treasure hunters and wild artists of of every sort -- the whole crew had arrived in their finery, ready for the weekend of wonder that lay ahead.

photo by Cecilia Alejandra

T h i n g s   g o t
p r e t t y   f a s t .

A n d    d r e a m y . . .

Olivia Pepper, folks.
Can we get a round of applause?

m e l i s s a e

Invoking the magic of the Apis with fellow Sister of the Hive,
Angeliskain preparation for the evening's Honey Flight.

T h e    T r a v e l i n g    M e d i c i n e    S h o w

[ in full effect ]

:: Angeliska ::

Our darling friend, Shari, all set up with her Charms and treasures, and of course -- La Abeja's apothecary line to soothe and enchant the folks of the Trans-Pecos

d e s e r t • g l o b e • m a l l o w

The pink Desert Globe Mallow, pictured above, was one of the plants we were most excited to share with the crowd that joined us for Friday's workshop, Wild Plants Of The High Desert at El Cosmico. This widespread and widely applicable little flower is one of the most useful and elegant remedies of the Southwest. Rich in cooling mucilage, all parts of the plant can be used to soothe inflamed tissues and help the body to retain life-giving moisture.

On the drive from New Mexico to West Texas, I found myself feeling run down and sensed an ominous tingling in the back of my throat. I pulled off at a rest stop and found delighted to find a stand of Scarlett Globe Mallow growing nearly five feet tall. After offering a prayer of thanks for her presence, I gathered a generous handful of her flowers, eating them as I went, and finding myself immediately soothed. The power and versatility of demulcents is not to be underestimated. From mitigating systemic inflammation, to nourishing the essential flora which live in our gut, to drawing heat from burns and infections, the applications of a "simple demulcent" are countless--especially in the desert where they thrive.

The medicines most relevant to us and our communities are often growing just outside our homes or in the fields and waysides we pass on the daily. Today, I hope you'll notice which plants pique your interest and hold your gaze for just a moment longer than the others, for tomorrow they may be the medicine you need most.

photo by Mari Contreras

W I L D    P L A N T S

O F    T H E

H I G H     D E S E R T

Wandering the grounds of El Cosmico, and a bit beyond the fray, we got to know a handful of the loveliest rogues -- those edible and medicinal plants that you've perhaps lived with all your life but never taken notice of.  We nibbled sweet mesquite pods and sipped Ocotillo tea.  For each plant we stopped to appreciate and identify, the central focus was on cultivating a nourishing relationship with all things wild and carrying this practice with you through the world.

photo by Mari Contreras


photo by Mari Contreras

photo by Mari Contreras 


photo by Mari Contreras

A   G   A   V   E

A favorite high desert dweller used in making fiber and cordage as well as the tequila and mescal that proved so popular all weekend long. With edible flowers and roasted root, this sugar rich plant offers near endless possibilities for preparation and consumption. 

photo by Mari Contreras


The morning Plant Walk was followed by a late night Honey Flight -- a decadent evening spent partaking of the divine nectar of the flowers. The flight served as an initiation into the magic and mystery of the Honeybee and an introduction to the healing and alchemical properties of Honey itself. We sampled honeys both varietal and infused with herbs gathered on my cross-country travels. Favorites included Buckwheat, Magnolia, Passionflower, and Rose.

photo by Mari Contreras

T h e    T r a v e l i n g    M e d i c i n e    S h o w

[ after hours ]

photo by Mari Contreras

After the festival wound down, I set out to travel East along with the rest of the Austin faction.  We headed for Balmorhea -- cool water Spring, a paradise in the desert.  It was there that we beheld the mystical moment of the total Lunar eclipse, watching it from start to finish from the lawn of the roadside Inn where we'd chosen to spend the night.  The peachy glow of Her changing face ferried us through silence and laughter, equally reverent, by turn.   Morning found me reluctant to return to the city.  I found solace in the knowing that there was a brand new moonlit gift of Pearly beauty and wisdom which I now carried within me.  A dewy promise of presence and sovereignty and the fortifying nature of both solitude and communion in the right doses.  With this in mind, I set out to return.

w  i  t  c  h  e  s

i n     t h e 

d e s e r  t

The journey left me feeling grateful for the Wide and the Wild, for the Ten Thousand Things which can never be known. And beneath all of the stories, what I am most grateful for is a hunger for all Life which I'd forgotten but now recall.

I spent a long time -- too long -- forgoing the essential nourishment that true community and companionship provide. Introvert that I am, I barely noticed their absence at the time, but now that these deeply human needs have been reawakened within me I feel a newfound sense of peace and safety that I had lost for too long a time.

All of this is to say -- to you specifically -- that if something in your life is not working for you, or is truly hurting you, you can walk away and you don't have to apologize to anyone. You can leave, even though it seems like you can't. And I promise you that there is a more beautiful world waiting for you on the other side of whatever murky waters you must wade through, whatever rocky terrains you must traverse. I promise that there is sunshine and there are friends, there are flowers and there is Moonlight, there are countless gifts too many to name which await you on the other side of that which it is time to leave behind. What good medicine they are, both friendship and Moonlight. Find them now, and they will heal those parts of you that need it most.

open in full screen + turn up the volume
music by Asliani

May you walk in Love

May you walk in Trust

May you walk in Beauty

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  1. What a Beauty Way way to begin this first full week of delicious October! This is the best morning paper I could have read... a mellifluent monday morning meditation and connection to our larger CRaZY BeauTiFuL PLaNeT EaRTH world and community! Know the blessing you are as you know the blessings of our beloved plant kindred! xoxo, Julie

  2. Beautifully written....thank you for sharing

  3. You are my inspiration!!!