The Promise of the Cloutie Branch, Part One

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so many clouties

Southeast Wise Women Herbal Conference

This will be in a few more parts–maybe two, maybe three, maybe more.

Three Hours

I like to arrive on Thursday before the conference so I can settle in. I was pretty proud of myself this time that I wasn’t also dragging three bags of show-and-tell for my classes, as is my wont. I had a couple of clouties branches and two bunches of drying herbs. And a small basket filled with clouties—and all the other clothes, bedding, et all that one must have to make the time comfortable.

I unpacked almost everything. My roommate, Monika, had already unpacked but was not in the room, so I had a while to make my bed and hang up my clothes and get the lay of the land. Good. Very good.

I didn’t have any evening obligations and most of my friends hadn’t arrived yet so I ate some of the food I brought, went upstairs to the teachers’ kitchen and made some tea and prepared to settle in for the evening.

My world is very time-crunchy and never more so than when a new book is coming out and I am looking down the long tunnel of Samhain tide. So the notion that I could stay inside for a whole evening, with no social media, no email, no phone calls—that was a beautiful prospect to consider.

I do these things that are cut-outs of small hands and a copy of my business card or a strip of paper with info on a new book or workshop is glued into the center. I call it my “hand-out” and people like the joke and often take the little hand with them when they might not take a business card. I had traced a bunch of those onto heavy paper and they needed to be cut out and their little message taped on. I had three lovely hours of mostly silence, hot tea and the peaceful and mindless work of trimming, cutting and taping. It became a meditation as my mind cleared and I kept breathing deeply, deeply. The little hands all got finished, ready for the next day’s class.

Meeting Monika

Monika arrived as I was getting ready for an early night and we hit it off instantly. She is Taino and German, and I was delighted to hear the former. I asked her to repeat it when she said she was Taino. She started explaining what that meant but I smiled and said—I’m just so relieved. I didn’t think there were Taino people left, that slavery and disease had all but wiped them out. She said she gets that sometimes and went on to tell me about her people and her family, and we discovered we had some mutual friends in the Cherokee Nation. Her husband is Cherokee and they spend lots of time up on Qualla Boundary. It didn’t hurt that she also looks a lot like my cousin Dena, whom I adore.

We wished each other a good night, hoped we didn’t snore, laughed when we both said we’d get up in the night to go pee and we went to sleep.

Not Patty but Mz Amy

First thing the next morning was the Teacher Mingle. The rain had been heavy in the night but lightened up for the walk across the site to the Round House (which I often call the Stone House—and I may have those backwards even now).

I immediately saw a dear face that I knew and I threw my hand up in the air and smiled. Patty Grant! The woman looked at me in a friendly blank way and even as she did I realized she looked like Patty but was older. Turns out she was Patty’s sister Amy Walker and I introduced myself and apologized for mistaking her. Then I saw Monika on the couch and we all chatted as other folks arrived. Turned out Patty was not going to be at the conference this year and Amy—I called her Mz Amy—was going to be part of the Opening Ceremony.

There was hot tea and snacks and comfy seats and benches. Teachers and staff kept flowing in and our circle got wider and wider. Corinna welcomed everyone and we stood together holding hands, making an intentional circle of support as we wove in our community.

Meeting Crystal

As is the usual thing, we went round in a circle and spoke our names and said which classes or events we were doing. I always like to hear people’s voices as they identify themselves and talk about their work. You can tell an awful lot about people in those few moments. Some are shy but proud of their work. Some are nervous and not sure what to say. Some have a lot of big talk. Some make everyone feel at ease with a little story. A little bit of all that was there.

Across the circle from me was a woman named Crystal and as soon as I heard her accent, my ears perked up. She said she was going to try not to cry and she introduced her daughter. She told us her mother had died five months before and this was her first time at this conference. And then she did cry and we loved her up. And then she said something about being a proud Appalachian woman (or maybe she said native to the mountains, I can’t quite remember) and then I burst into tears and I waved at her and pointed at her and did the gesture that means me-and-you at her. When the meeting was finished I was supposed to run into the dining hall and leave my little bento box so I could have lunch and then run off to the opening fire ceremony.

But first I had to hug Crystal’s neck and introduce myself. And we both hugged hard and cried like little babies and her daughter just shook her head like it wasn’t even a thing. We promised to scratch out some time to talk over the weekend and we talked about corn liquor and then I ran into the dining hall and gave my lunch box to the Amazing Paula (who has people in West Virginia) and told her she had to meet Crystal. Then I squished through the rain to the tent for the ceremony. I was already 15 minutes late and NikiAnne had already sent me a text to get my butt over there (really she was very polite and nice about it) and so I did.

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