Shortly after finishing my cancer treatments in theSan Joaquin Valley. I stumbled upon an opportunity to work on an organic herb farm in the foothills of the Sierras. Once a week I puttered in my white VW Bug, named Tess, up the highway to my second home. The noise of the big city gladly left behind in my rearview mirror. This part of the week I lived in an old truck camper shell perched on the back part of the property where I fell asleep to the yelps of the coyotes and awoke to the gobble of wild turkeys. The first work of everyday is to harvest before the sun becomes too intense. Joey the farm dog meets me as I meandered from the ‘back forty,’ as we said back home in Wisconsin, to the gardens near the entrance to the property.
I usually head to the Lady’s Mantle first to sip a bit of the dew gathered in the bowl shaped leaves. It’s a magical feeling to drink a droplet of water gathered in a leaf and steeped with the moon’s aura. I learned these mythical, magical practices from Shatoiya, my teacher. She came into my life at just the perfect time. Once all my treatments ended I sensed a deep craving in myself to learn more about true healing and health. I met Shatoiya at a New Age Expo held in downtown Sacramento, her red hair rolled over her shoulders that held up the white pinafore style dress decorated with flowers. Approaching the booth her energy felt intoxicatingly positive and vibrant as she spoke of the little green teachers (the plants) to other parties looking at her goods. I stopped briefly to pick up a live herb plant and smell it. “That is Chamomile,“ she smiled at me, “on the farm I’ve made a whole bed of it so you can lie down and take a nap,” her eyes twinkled with enticement. In my mind I was intrigued, and overwhelmed by everything offered at the expo. I was on my way out, so I just said thank you without picking up any information. Afterwards her business card ended up in my hands nonetheless. Two of my friends offered me her contact information saying, “I think this is what you are looking for.” I immediately remembered her from the expo and took it as a sign.
For a couple years I lived a split life between the city where I continued my studies to obtain my Bachelor’s Degree at Cal State Sac-ra-tomato (a local saying) and Dry Creek Herb Farm in the then smaller foothill town of Auburn. The farm ended up being just a few miles from a favorite swimming spot along the North Fork of the American river. Before my time on the farm I bravely traversed the river’s steep ravine with my Dead Head friends every chance we got as a remedy for cooling down during the hot months near the end of my treatments. I was happy to rediscover it while working at the farm and retreated on afternoons when it was too hot to do anything. The climb still a bit challenging filled me with gratitude for my regained strength, which I attributed to the healing properties of the herbs I drank and the manual labor of working on a farm.
Now I think often of these experiences when I head out to my little backyard plot where I grow a small array of herbs compared to the farms. My pups now accompany me when they aren’t lounging in their swimming hole, a kiddy pool. Back then the farm grew so many varieties of plants we opened up the gardens for tours. One of my jobs, at the time, was leading and explaining to visitors the mythical lore and traditional healing practices of the plants. I would share my own story of using my little green friends as a counter balance to the toxic drugs used to fight the cancer; I pointed out the chamomile bed (I now laid in often) and, ended the tour near the nasturtium flowers in brilliant hues of orange and yellow.
Today I picked a few of these same flowers from one of the large pots filled with herbs on my current back patio. I pop one in my mouth and savored the slightly peppery and refreshing taste. Tonight a beautiful large bowl painted with botanical drawings and their Latin names scrawled across it, (part of the “Botanical” dish set) a replica of the one we used on the farm, is where I will place the big blossoms of the nasturtiums along with pale yellow arugula flowers , purple spiked chive blossms, rose petals and the cheery, purple and yellow faces of violets. As I do this I am sure to hear Shatoiya’s voice assuring me, “put flowers in your salads and people’ll think you’re groovy.”