Photo: Walking Palm, Amazonian Rainforest. Who says plants can’t move?
After living in Australia for a year, I ventured to South America, following an unplanned route from Buenos Aires to Bogota over a period of nine months. I settled in Bolivia to study Spanish and learn from local herbalistas who sold medicinal Andean plants at the local markets. I also connected with a local couple who lived in La Paz and owned land out in the Amazon, which opened the doors to meeting indigenous communities in the jungle. I was lucky to learn from protégés of the famous healer, Beautiful Painted Arrow, as well as Don Agustin Rivas Vasquez, another South American legend. At times, in exchange for their teachings, I did everything from plowing fields with oxen to repairing thatched roofs.
Spending months steeped in these daily practices, engaging in plant diets where we consumed nothing but one or two plants at a time to fully receive their messages, immersed me in nature’s sacred spaces, in every way.. Through stepping into the jungle, a kingdom of plants that’s been pervasive throughout time, my view of the environment shifted and erupted. I truly recognized my interconnectedness with the Earth, and everything became clear. A rock was no longer a rock, but a billion-year-old teacher of patience. Each breath was an act of participation, taking in molecules that had passed through millions of plants, animals, and people across the globe before reaching me. Growing up in Alaska, we often talked to the trees, but we never heard them talk back to us. In the Amazon, I finally heard them speak. This interconnectedness became a recognized part of my being that I took with me from that point forward.
From there, I went to the south of France, where I was hired as the chief stewardess on a yacht going from Antibes to Hong Kong. It was a five-week journey by sea, during which we sailed through pirate-infested waters, combatted a nine-day period without seeing land or other boats and survived a slew of wicked tropical storms. I worked on the yacht for a year, living primarily in Hong Kong. There, I had the opportunity to see Traditional Chinese Medicine at work. The owner of the yacht had a personal TCM doctor who performed a range of eccentric procedures, including sewing packets of mysterious herbs and animal parts, like scorpion tail and ground rhinoceros horn, into my boss’ chest for enhanced virility. As the doctor continued visiting the boat, I became his accidental apprentice, assisting him with his treatments and sitting down with him afterwards to discuss the philosophy behind TCM. This private time with a renown TCM doctor allowed me to dip into the mindstream of a true Chinese medicine practitioner, a rare and special opportunity, that I drank in like water..
The last stop on my world tour was South Africa, another beautiful part of the world where I learned about their native healing traditions, cuisines and the variations of rooibos teas. It was all very informal training at first (later journeys to Africa would bring me to Lena, the great grandson of witch doctor and an amazing source of wisdom of African plants and trees – another story for another blog), but the threads were starting to come together. I had been exposed to Aboriginal healing plants and Western herbalism in Australia, indigenous forms of medicine in the Andes and Amazon, and then Traditional Chinese Medicine in China. It was time to integrate that knowledge and personal experience into my own passions and begin my journey back home.