A look at the 2012 Midwestern Herbal Conference!
Written by Rebekah Dawn and Kristine Brown
The First Annual Midwestern Herbal Conference was held in Willard, Wisconsin the last weekend in June. It was held at the beautiful Christine Center: a “natural sanctuary for spiritual deepening and global transformation” whose core group hold silent meditation twice daily in exploration of this mission and it seemed that their practice permeated the grounds. There was such a spirit of recuperation and rest there. You could feel that you were being held if you would but take a moment of quiet for yourself. Aside from the amazing ladies who ran the Center, the Conference itself shook out some big talent in the Heart Land. Classes covered tincture making, foraging, wild kitchens, fermentation, plant drawing, permaculture, tissue states, plant dyes, sexual health, herbal wisdom for pregnant and childbearing women, and many more classes covering a wide range of interesting topics. While the gathering was on the small side it led to a most nourishing intimacy and I found it charming and encouraging to be sitting next to someone in one class and then going to the next class finding my new friend to be the presenter. There was a feeling of sisterhood that was almost tangible. Every person I talked to was so energetic and involved in something amazing, each of these women blooming where they are planted, many of us without a large peer or support group in our sometimes conservative mid-western communities, but here we found a tribe and proof that though the path may be lonely at home we are part of a great family working to enliven the folk medicine tradition.
As the program director of the children’s camp, I was honored to spend time with the children while allowing their mothers to attend classes and focus fully knowing their children were having a great time too. The children were all a treat to be around and we had a lot of fun discovering herbs on our herb walk, making a pocket herbarium for them to store their discoveries in, making dream pillows, playing herbal bingo and much more. A few of the moms chose to volunteer a session of their time to help us with the children and we were treated with a yoga session, a henna tattoo session and a rainstick making session which the children got to use during the evening’s performance with Magic Mama.
Yes, this group was small but had no lack of powerhouse presenters: Isla Burgess and Susun Weed both gave inspiring and deeply nourishing teachings. To sit in intimate groups with these two amazing ladies was an unforgettable experience, something that my life and my herbal practice are richer for. Both Susun’s uncanny way of weaving words that continue to teach long after the class and conference are over, and Isla’s gentle beckoning to direct experience as the foundation of a living science gave us access to these ladies and their wisdom of herbal ways. These key note speakers were a great duo creating the foundation on which the fledgling conference could securely stand, and take its first rather confident steps.
Other wonderful herbalists included Juliette Abigail Carr who packed the house for her class “Making Herbal Infused Honey, Syrups and Elixirs,” Linda Dee with her vast knowledge of plant dyes which she demonstrated in her class “Dyeing with Wild Plants,” Kate Heiber-Cobb who spoke on a topic dear to me “Observing Land and Social Culture from a Permaculture Perspective,” Leslie Williams and a topic most people overlook “Happy Feet: Herbal Foot Care” and Leah Wolfe who gave two great presentations: “Integrating Herbal Medicine and Community Health Projects” and “Experiential Medicine: Learning Herbs through the Senses.” Along with Mary Bue, Linda Conroy, Rebekah Dawn, Robin DiPasquale, Kathy Eich, Trilby Sedlacek, Jane Hawley Stevens, Elizabeth Heck, Carol Jacobs, Jess Krueger, Katherine Krumwiede, Marguerite Ramlow and Kathleen Wildwood, all these teachers made up an unforgettable experience.
As if all this wasn’t enough (and it definitely would have been) there was entertainment too! I was totally blown away by the musical talents of Mary Bue and Magic Mama (Kjersten Hallin) which had us dancing and stomping our bare feet in a rain dance till late in the evening when we split to attend a number of late night activities which included a movie screening, a bonfire and drumming circle where songs and stories were shared.
Sunday morning during brunch, we were alerted to a rare gift by the director of the Christine Center, Sister Cecilia Corcoran, FSPA: a white dove. The white dove circled over our dining tent during brunch then proceeded to land on top of the meditation room roof. Cecilia told us there had never been any doves or pigeons on the grounds before that moment. It was quite a moving moment.
All in all this was an amazing conference. In the beginning I was a bit saddened that it was a women’s only conference, (I mean…HELLO! Jim McDonald, Matt Wood, and others…these are Midwestern herbalists and important ones, at least very influential to me personally). But I have to admit, there is something special about women gathering together and giving one another encouragement. I am already looking forward to next years gathering as a homecoming. Thank you to Linda Conroy and Moonwise Herbs for making this gathering happen and for surging forward to next years planning. I cannot wait to look into the eyes of these women again and hear how their gardens are growing.
Visit the Herbal Roots Zine website to discover projects from one of the writers of this post, Kristine Brown!