Well, here I am at the delightful Russian River Studios in Guerneville, CA. And it’s 5:24 AM.
I don’t have to be up until 7:30, but I got to bed before midnight last night — unusual for me — and so at this pre-dawn hour, I’m as well-rested as I usually get. Also excited.
One of the reasons I brought my computer and am grateful for Internet access is so that I can relay all the amazingness while it’s still vivid in my mind. Last year, I promised a series of posts from the workshops, but I suffered from coolness overload and it all compressed itself down to one or two blog-squawks.
I’m better prepared this year, — but I forgot my camera. If I get a chance to borrow somebody’s iPad or something, there will be illustrations, but — I’m not much of a cadger.
Today, I’ll be listening to a long lecture on herbs in the morning, and harvesting in the afternoon. Lucky Mojo grows a number of their own herbs right there on the grounds.
Last night, we had a long and chatty dinner at a burger/sushi place here in Guerneville. I’m not a connoisseur of sushi, but the yellowtail nigiri tasted clean and fresh. I had a beer for the first time in ages. The Japanese waitress listed the few brands available, and then decided for me: “You eat sushi: you drink Sapporo.” It was good, but I think I’ll go for the Heineken if we eat there again 🙂
So we got to Lucky Mojo in good time (Miss Cat has a low, low tolerance for lateness). We listened to 4 hours of talk about herbs. Specifically, the history of herbalists and herb books and the “drug trade” — that is, the medicinal herb trade of the 19th century; and why, for instance, it was dominated by German Jews (and she showed us an herb book that had a bilingual glossary of herbs in fraktur writing), and why those German Jewish pharmacists tended to run stores in black neighborhoods; how the authors of herb books built on each other’s work over the decades, nay, centuries; why we should respect Scott Cunningham and why everybody should read Maud Grieve; and a couple tidbits about how her own Hoodoo Herb and Root Magic came to be written. All while showing us two or three dozen other books, most of which I need to read, apparently. My notes for today are mostly bibliography.
So, yes, the four hours flew by like minutes.
After lunch, there followed a tour of the property — I don’t think we’ve seen the farthest reaches — and some explanations of a few simple botanical concepts (the fruit and the flowers will tell you the most about how plants are related to each other; how to recognize monocots and dicots, and what those words mean; and a few scandalous things about Frank Meyer and how he screwed the USDA, and how he died, and why that was probably appropriate.
While she was showing us these baby steps in botany, she began explaining about some growth habits and peculiarities of some of the conjure herbs on the property. You don’t pick sappy growth — tender, juicy plants — for drying, because they just won’t dry. You don’t cut the woody parts of sage or rosemary, for instance, because those are tiny trees — and that’s just careless pruning.
Well, it was when she was being very instructive about the life cycle of the forget-me-not that I took those baby steps down the path that led to my Mistake of the Day. Miss Cat was explaining what a scorpionic raceme is, and also why you do not pluck an entire stem of forget-me-nots; those little buds all up and down the stem are not buds, but seed pods. If you pluck the entire stem, there go all the seeds on it, and there’ll be fewer plants next year.
Well, I thought she meant that when the blooms on those racemes aren’t all open, plucking them will reduce the vitality of the plant and its seeds. So when we were sent to pick forget-me-nots, I was in despair because most of the racemes had only half their little blossoms open.
It was late afternoon before Miss Cat asked why there were so few forget-me-nots harvested, and I explained my trouble. “Those are the flowers you’re supposed to pick,” she said. So at the end of the day I went back and picked some more, lots more, with a fellow-apprentice, Aura LaForest. She’s a plant-maven and explained all about the seed pods and leaving the stem in place.
I’m going to be picking more forget-me-nots tomorrow, I believe, but tomorrow is mostly devoted to candles.