Wild Things

To the lonely seas and the sky

(on murky depths and surrender)

We watched him row out from the shore as the sun was setting. He rowed steadily, firmly, like someone who had been doing it for years. He jumped aboard his trimaran, which was moored next to our boat, and we called hello and chatted back and forth across the water. He’d built the boat himself. It was fast, with a max speed of 30 knots, and he has sailed it alone across the Atlantic seven times. When he found the cove we were anchored in, he liked it so much that he set up a mooring and stayed there. He himself looked like the archetypal image of an old sea man: white beard, tanned skin and sinew. He gazed out over the sea as we talked, as if casting stabilising lines into the deep. I thought to myself: This is a man rooted in the sea, which spends all its time moving. This is a man who has made his peace with uncertainty.

Summer holidays when I was little involved stays in rented cottages teetering on the edge of the land along the west coast of Scotland. At the time, I regretted that we weren’t at Disney World, like most of my classmates, who would return for the school year with tans and new clothes and stories about all the cool stuff they’d seen in America. No, we went to Oban, or to Inverness to visit friends. We went to the isle of Staffa to explore the giant’s causeway or have picnics on the cliff overlooking the stormy grey sea. Fingers and noses pink with cold, we took a boat out to see the whirlpool in the gulf or Corryvrechan. The churning of the seas (which can be heard for 20 miles) in the gulf was said to be where the Cailleach Bheur did her washing in the autumn, and was what ushered in the winter every year. Its only as an adult, looking back, that I realise how much these summer holidays affected me— so much more than a trip to Disney World ever could. The stormy seas and rocky cliffs and the stories about them got under my skin, and into my veins and many times throughout the week I find myself gazing into the distance staring not at what is there but out over the churning sea as if it were right in front of me.

I was once given a book of Scottish folk tales and I remember quite clearly that they all scared the crap out of me. Most folk tales are warnings, usually having to do with crossing boundaries, trusting handsome strangers and going near the water. There are no benevolent sea creatures in myth, and if you’ve been to the Scottish coast, you can probably understand why: its cold, its stormy, the wet seeps under your skin and into your bones. Currents are strong and waves appear from nowhere. Depths are both murky and unfathomable. These stories were probably passed on to deter children from running into the sea and being snatched away by the waves because children are drawn to the water like most people are drawn to the water: irresistably.

I recently read ‘The Wave’, by Susan Casey: a brilliant treatise on tsunamis, rogue waves, big wave surfers, and wave science all interconnected in one interesting and well written web. One of the things that struck me through the course of the book was that there are plenty of people who want to classify, capture, understand the sea, but very few who do. The science of waves is constantly changing because there are factors that scientists cannot grasp. Rogue waves happen but we aren’t entirely sure why, though we have a constant stream of ideas. They cannot be predicted. Nor can they be stopped. Numbers, restrictions, charts, classifications and formulae are always outsmarted. Water, it seems, is tricky.

It got me thinking about masculine and feminine principles. Not male and female, mind, as sex or gender, but the basic principles that make up the structure of the universe. We can call them ‘yin’ and ‘yang’ or light and dark, definable and undefinable, or solid and unsolid. Mapped, unmapped; known, unknown; tame, wild. The 'feminine' side of things, the unknown dark places: we all have them, and the more we try to grasp them the harder it is to hold on to them.

In ‘The Wave’, those who seemed to have a deep understanding of the sea and the ways of the water were those who revelled in its mysteries: the surfers who rode it without trying to control it, followed it where it would take them and surrendered themselves to its mercy. The sailors that I know have a similar understanding of the world; one that comes from the bone-deep knowledge that one is very very small indeed. In trying to classify, capture, hold on, you might understand one wave, but will never understand the bigger picture: waves don’t exist in isolation because nothing exists in isolation. The realisation that each wave is connected to another, and that none can actually be predicted is pretty damn disconcerting. Thus lies the feminine principle— something that cannot be fathomed with the rational brain, cannot be held onto, cannot be classified and most definitely cannot be predicted. More than that, in this logic-worshipping world, it is dangerous and yet we are irresistibly attracted to it. It is the source of life and yet we pollute it; we’re pulled towards it as it terrifies us.

Life, to me, is mainly about opposite forces coexisting in the same space (this being a binary universe, and all): light and dark and the play of shadows across landscapes; tension and flexibility and all the combinations of the two; power, or the confidence that comes with great ability, and the understanding that comes at some point that no matter how skilled you are, you are still small. Humility, and sense of purpose. Holding on, and letting go. Doing what you can, and at the same time surrendering oneself to the constant movement that is life.

Sea things have to deal with this constantly, clinging on but letting go: you can’t be rigid if you are a sea plant, or try to direct things. Its got me thinking more about the fluidity of waves and how the only way to truly experience the constant movement of the sea is to let go and not try to hold onto it. Surrender. How to accept the mystery of the unknown, which is so easily represented in the depths and yet exists in all of us. Lately I’ve been immersing myself in sea poetry, sea myths and sea plants for inspiration for the Salt + Water Surprise Box (which is a box of sea salt and seaweed treats, born of this exploration). As a part of this immersion, I’ve been taking seaweed baths. Actually they’re sea salt and seaweed baths, and I warn you they make you smell like I imagine a Kelpie smells— that is, of seaweed. Regardless of whether you want to mind-meld with the sea or not (something, for the record, I highly recommend), they are full of minerals, relaxing, slightly pain-relieving, and slimy. This slime is excellent for your skin, moistening it and making it silky and smooth. And while I don’t necessarily want your company in *my* bath, if you’d like to join me from over there where you are, diving into the mysteries of the deep and surrendering a bit to the unknown, then here’s my favourite way to do it:

Sea-immersion bath. 

2 cups dried bladderwrack

1 cup dried other seaweed (I use kelp)

4 cups sea salt

1 cloth sack of some kind (a clean sock that belongs to someone with very big feet works well)

Fill the biggest pot you have 7/8 of the way with water, then set on the stove on high heat. Throw all the seaweed into the sock/ sack/ muslin tied together, and put this in the water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and let it simmer for 20 minutes to half an hour, stirring occasionally. After this, just pour the whole thing into the bath. You can keep the cloth sack in the bath (it’ll be slimy and great for squeezing, rubbing over skin, etc). Add the sea salt to the bath, light some candles, and get in.

Just add water

(things to do with nettle seeds) In the beginning, there was a seed. A small, unassuming thing, that contained all of the potential in the world. A seed of knowledge, a seed of intention, a seed of change.

I often picture the web of life as a series of movements and pauses-- potentials, probabilities, things reaching their pinnacle and then starting all over again. With seasons, Fall and Spring are seasons of intense movement, whereas Summer and Winter are seasons of pause. There is movement towards the dark, and movement away from the dark, and then there is darkness and the absence of it. Or light and the absence of that; I'm not particular about how you choose to look at it. Then there are plant parts. Roots and seeds contain the movement, the potential, the change. They contain the sex, the creativity, the expression before its been expressed. By the time something is in flower, its potential is being expressed and there is a pause. And then the flower turns to seed, and seed bursts out and settles in the dark earth, and seed meets water, and seed meets sun and then, given the perfect conditions, something extraordinary can happen. The seed as the still point, the seed burning at the centre of the world, the seed that provides everything that is to come.

Of course I think its the same with people. But I compare people and plants a lot. People as cultivated roses and resilient dandelions and echinacea species that won't germinate unless they've been frozen, or manzanita that needs trial by fire to reach its full potential. People as blackberry, or skullcap, or pine. Given the great propensity for diversity in the plant world, and how different we all are, I don't think we could run out of variety when comparing us all. Except then, of course, there's the whole 'ish' thing. You know, how a rose is rose-ish, but most of us try to not be us-ish at all. For some reason people strive to be great but they never strive to be themselves, and personally I think this is a silly oversight because if you're not as yourself as you can be then how can you claim said greatness? But I ramble. Back to the seed. And back to potential.

Seeds contain the blueprint for the potential of the entire plant's life, and its children, and its children's children. If you have something that is a seed but also a trophorestorative (restores function to certain body systems or parts) then you have something very powerful indeed. Seeds, like roots, often nourish the deeper parts of the body, in some way or another. Schizandra seed, for example, which sucks the energy in like a tight corset for someone who is leaking outside themselves. Or milk thistle which nourishes and restores function to the liver. Or oat seed, which nourishes and restores function to the nervous system. Or nettle seed, which I have a massive jar of next to me, that I keep reaching into and nibbling on, which restore kidney function. But they do more than that. They nourish the adrenals, give an energy boost and mental clarity boost, they help with handling stress. They nourish and restore the body on a very basic level.

I gather a lot of nettle seeds every year, because I use the tincture in an exhaustion formula. But I'm always left with a lot too, and one of the things I always make is very simple: nettle seed salt. Because nettle seeds taste green and slightly salty already, having the two mixed together and sitting somewhere I can see it means I use it (whereas if I keep a little jar of nettle seeds that I'm supposed to nibble on, I forget). Sprinkled over scrambled eggs, or onto soups, or even over the top of hummus or other dips. It adds an interesting, green, nettley flavour that I personally am rather fond of. You can mix it with cayenne (if you're a cayenne kind of person) or dried lemon rind (if you're a lemony kind of person). I personally, do both. And then its there, and incredibly good for you (if you're the type of person who tends towards being exhausted, stressed out, dried out, anxiety-prone and like your reserves are desperately in need of reinforcement), and you're taking your medicine without even thinking about it...

For more information on nettle seeds. 

If you can't find nettle seeds to make your own, I make a nettle seed and seaweed salt, and sell it in my shop HERE.

Nettle seed salt

1 cup nettle seed

grated rind of 3 lemons

a few good shakes of cayenne

1/4 cup salt

Those are my general quantities. Put everything in a blender or spice grinder and grind until its a uniform size. Then put in a salt shaker and keep somewhere you'll use it.