lists and pictures

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.

Adventures in sailing

(thoughts on fear, on adventure, on doing it regardless and tips on how to float like a jellyfish)

Jam and I raised our anchor in Ibiza and cast off at 2am, in the pitch black of a night when the moon had already set. The outline of Ibiza rock hung heavy on the horizon, outlined as black nothingness set against the backdrop of the milky way. A backdrop without disturbance, blotched with nebulae. Shooting stars shot by overhead every minute and the sea around us was dead, silky calm, save the drone of our engine. A couple of miles out, a mist arose from the warm sea, entirely covering horizon line, hanging low all around us.

There is no reaction to this more suitable than awe, and awe often comes accompanied with its BFF terror. Awe and terror: the terrible twosome of the ineffible. Eyes wide (mine were goggling about all over the place as I was sleep deprived and finding it hard to stay awake), we ploughed forwards. Nights like this, you can understand where the myths come from. Its easy, stuck in our little box houses in our safe little cities, to read about these things and think ‘oh, that’s nice, a mist rising up from the sea making it impossible to see anything except the dead calm around you and the milky way overhead and then a monster emerges from the depths and swallows the boat whole. Cool. Great imagination.’ but then its another thing entirely when its you slicing through the calm warm air that parts eerily in front of you and closes up behind you. Believe me when I say this: this is the stuff that underworld journeys of old were made of. Horror is the only suitable response. In the face of this, naturally, I went back to sleep and let Jam deal with it alone. My sleep was riddled with nightmares of giant octopi (most likely fueled by the giant octopus I’d seen devouring a crab the day before) emerging from the mists to wrap themselves around the engine as the boat screamed for help and Jam and I sunk to our doom, swallowed into the mists that [obviously] guarded the entrance to the underworld. I awoke just before dawn, and padded up on deck, coffee in hand, to relieve Jam of his watch. He went belowdecks to sleep, and I carried on our journey as the sun rose behind me. The wind picked up slightly. I raised the sails. And I thought about fear.

Sailing, to me, is an exercise in fear management. Sometimes I succeed at said management, and sometimes my body goes into a full blown fight-or-flight response that is so overwhelming all I can do is curl up in a ball and shake. This response is, for the record, entirely new to me on this trip. I think my adrenals hate me. There are so many hair-raising experiences, even in three weeks... there was that time we tried to drop a stern anchor so that we were facing into the swell (if you’re side-on then the nights sleep can be horribly rocky) and the anchor rope got wrapped simultaneously around our prop (which my brother had stupidly left in reverse) and around my pinkie finger, then the anchor dropped and everything got tightened. My screams that night pierced the night for miles around us. As the boat bobbed and the engine made screeching noises and the rope (more like a thick string, really) around my finger got tighter and tighter with each second. As it happened, I remained somewhat calm: asking Gina to switch off the engine and retrieve a sharp knife, asking Alex to help give some slack to the ever tightening rope so that it didn’t chop my finger straight off, pointing to Gina exactly where to saw away and to please not chop my finger in the process. Finger released, everyone back on board, we surveyed the situation, figured we'd wait till dawn to untangle the anchor rope from the prop. And then, crisis averted, I started shaking. This lasted four hours.

There was the time we motored into a pretty little anchorage that was so busy there was barely ten feet between boats. We didn’t realise that there was no space until we were already in, and let’s just say that steering a big heavy boat is not like steering a car. you can’t reverse out, and you can’t really do tight little turns. We pin-balled our way through that mooring field, while a nice friendly Dutch man gave us a running commentary of the reasons we weren’t welcome there (Ok I admit it I lost my temper and unleashed a string of profanities and insults so horrific I’d lose all my readership if I wrote it down, and if I'd had jellyfish on board to fling at him, I would have used them). We got through it, found a new anchorage (a prettier one, and much quieter) and then I started shaking, and curled up in a ball on my bed and spent the next hour asking myself why I do this (masochism hovered near the top of the list).

There was the time we ran aground trying to get into our favourite little anchorage. Its 1 metre deep in most of the entrance channel, and there's a very narrow secret spot where it gets to about 1.5, and we can sneak in. Of course, it was our dad's secret, not ours, and we forgot the right way, hence running aground and having Jam jump in to push us free then guide us in like an intrepid tug-boat-human. The stress of running aground, and all the images of horrific things in my head (seeing two shipwrecked and sinking boats in the couple of days prior hadn't helped), yes, once again, I went into shock.

But its not all hair-raising terrifying moments (see pictures-- these moments alone make it worth it). And there's something to gain from these terrifying moments. I think that life is often a complex dance of things you can act on and things that are outside your control. And those people who manage to navigate through it without being reduced to blubbering stress cases are often the ones who have a high estimation of their ability to handle things. But they're also people who can let go and accept where the realm of their control ends. Most of the time I feel like Piglet-- you know, scared of everything around me, unsure of my ability to handle things. And almost all my 'outside my comfort zone' endeavours are met with a wall of sheer panic at some point in the process.

My sister Louise and I were discussing this a few weeks ago, sitting on the deck of the boat with our feet dangling into the water. Life is terrifying: there are just so many things that can happen and it all gets a bit overwhelming at times, and incapacitating at others. In my times of curling into a ball and crying, I thought 'Why do I do this? Why don't I just stay home and not do anything this stressful and scary? This can't be healthy!' but then I thought of the alternative: staying at home, doing the same things every day, watching other people live adventurous lives and wishing I could do it too, and I realise that its not masochism, but a deep desire to see and experience the unknown, even if it does terrify me, and even if I take every step with my entire body shaking in fear. The consequences of not doing it are greater than those of acting. This is what Lou and I discussed, while sitting there. I can't tell you what a relief it was to hear that my big sister was also scared of things-- for some reason I'd just assumed that everyone else who I respected in life was fearless.

And then I looked around me and realised that no, the rest of the world isn't fearless at all, that I was just too caught up in my own fear and inadequacies to see that fear affects everyone who isn't a psychopath. And I don't think that's a bad thing, as long as it doesn't stop you. As long as we press on regardless.

We dropped anchor on our last day, off the West coast of Tabarca island, on our sail back to Torrevieja, where Gatablanca is based. I dove off the boat and swam a ways out, to where the swell was a couple of feet high, and there, I turned my head to the swell, lay on my back and spread my arms and legs like a starfish. Panic. At first its just panic, because you don’t know what’s under you, you don’t know what’s around you, you can feel yourself being tugged by the current, and you know there are really big ships out there, not too far away, as well as rocks to be dashed against without mercy, and waves that can crash over your head. And then at some point the fear gives way to something else: its as if the floodgates separating self from outside self are all of a sudden gone, and all that is ‘me’ can spread out into the sea around me. I am self and sea. I am fish and seaweed. My arms and legs start moving with the current, and I am simultaneously kelp, fucus, jellyfish, octopus, medusa, eel. The waves pick me up and drop me down and break dangerously close to my head and I am plankton, I am algae, I am minnow, boquerone, sardina, salt. That is what I've decided that fear should be like: hovering on the surface of the sea, with limbs that can kick into action and being aware of what could happen but also surrendering to the flow of things enough to feel the sun on your face, the cool of the water at your back, the world around you dipping, ducking, diving, dancing, wriggling, crying and laughing together in the big web that is life.


Exciting news (a giveaway post!)

Well it finally happened. Cauldrons and Crockpots reached over 2000 fans on Facebook, and as I've promised, in thanks to all you lovely people who like, comment, read and send me the loveliest emails, its time for a giveaway. As you all know, I have a shop where I sell my hand-crafted herbal goodies. Different potions for different ailments and some for pleasure too. One of the things I love doing the most is my Monthly Herbal Surprise box, in which I make whatever I want from the things I've been gathering and send it to subscribers. And that's what I'm giving away this month, to one lucky reader: A herbal surprise box ($50 value!). Previous months have included things like hand made incense, decadent fir-scented body cream, lymphatic boosting breast massage oil, sparkly lip balm, heat-relief tea, wildcrafted herbal blends. The giveaway box will be a surprise, but it'll be a good one, full of delicious, decadent and useful things. (If, by the way, one of you lucky winners is already a subscriber I'll just add you to another month). So, in order to enter, all you have to do is one of the following: 

1. Like Cauldrons and Crockpots on Facebook

2. Like Kings Road Apothecary on Facebook

3. Sign up for the Kings Road Apothecary newsletter

4. Share this giveaway on Facebook or Twitter

5. Go to the Kings Road Apothecary shop, have a look around, and tell me which your favourite product is Any one of the above will do, and you can do as many as you want for multiple entries.

6. Subscribe to Cauldrons and Crockpots via email or reader.

Afterwards, just leave a comment (one comment per entry, so if you do more than one, just leave an extra comment). If you've already liked either just leave a comment- easy peasy. Keep in mind you must leave a comment to have your entry be noted! Winner will be randomly selected on the morning of Wednesday Feb 13th, and the box will go out in a few weeks' time :). Ready... Go!


Ginger Ivey, you are the lucky winner! Congratulations :) :).