16 October 2015
Mother Nature showed up at the Herbal Conference!
For nearly a year, we had planned and prepared. Class lists, teachers, tents, audio, electrical, food, entertainment, registration, lodging, parking; everything under control. After all, we’d done this for ten years. More than a thousand women were once again, on the way to Lake Eden to take part in the 11th annual Southeast Wise Women’s Herbal Conference. We were ready.
And then we had a last-minute registrant: Mother Nature showed up . . . in a big way. She was packing a wallop and bearing some unexpected teachings about resilience, resourcefulness and community. She brought rain in abundance—from showers to downpours. As the conference weekend approached, we followed the weather predictions and storm warnings with a mixture of concern and amazement. While setting up the workshop tents and preparing the campus under sodden skies, the staff wondered, “Will this dampen the spirit of the event?"
Fingers and toes may have felt damp at times, but the spirit of this Southeast Wise Woman tribe stayed strong! When the women came, they came wearing brightly colored rain boots, draped in slickers and ponchos and carrying umbrellas. They slogged through the mud and pitched camp in the rain. And they smiled and laughed and carried on, as wise women will—because the conference, and the community we cultivate together, matters so much to them.
I was impressed and humbled by the high level of determination and caring—attendees, volunteers, teachers, and staff alike. It was a true heart connection. We pulled together and were gifted with a real-life lesson in women’s empowerment: how to pull through and make it work, in sisterhood.
When the check-in parking lot became waterlogged, the parking volunteers helped to push over 50 cars out of the muck. The electrical crew made sure that all the wires, cords and outlets were properly insulated, grounded and safe. All crews, all-women.
Something about the weather drew us closer and intensified our connection. As Annabeth Hardcastle wrote in a letter, read at the Opening Ceremony, it was an “invitation into the messier, wetter parts of ourselves. It can transform us. Certainly, we are powerless to stop the storm, but we have all our collective capacity to welcome its blessings.”
Our wise women accepted Nature’s invitation to go deeper into our connections and intentions. This year’s conference honored the grandmothers—the elders—the strong, courageous women who struggled and suffered for the freedoms and opportunities that we now enjoy. It is Herstory: the legacy of feminism and the recognition that we stand on the shoulders of the generations of women that came before us, that we need to continue to work for true equality.
As part of that, we have become keenly aware of the challenges that women of color face. Over the years, the conference set the intention of speaking to the systemic biases and oppressions that have become so deeply ingrained in our society, which directly impact women’s health. This year, we brought these issues into sharp focus. We were honored to have teachers and facilitators like Amikaeyla Gaston of the World Trust Organization, Kifu Faruq, Amy Walker, Meta Commerce, Mother Turtle and Monika Ponton bringing forward the voices of their people and traditions to our gathering. It was meaningful to see the workshops and events that addressed racial equity, such as the Sisters of Many Colors panel discussion, be so well attended and received. It was clear that the entire gathering is enriched by our growing diversity—from lineages of women all around the world.
We’ve opened a dialogue that continues to engage us, beyond the confines of the Herbal Conference. As participant Salix Roots so aptly observed, “Herbs won't heal racism. But listening to people's struggles, specifically people that have been systemically oppressed and marginalized can. Recognizing your privilege can. Activating compassionate communication can. We need to continually rehash these issues until we see progress, because they still linger and deeply permeate our cultural lineage and present-day realities, however blind some of us may choose to be.”
The conference is over for another year. We’ve dried out our socks and returned to our daily lives. I want to express my deep gratitude to all you wild, wonderful wise women for sharing the experience. This was one for the books . . . in so many ways. Let’s keep talking, keep listening, keep exploring and keep on loving until we come together again.
Corinna Wood & the Southeast Wise Women staff