“Walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet,” Vietnamese Buddhist Monk, Author and Peace Activist, Thich Nhat Hanh, has said. I did just that, with intention to move like a gardener, at Avena Botanicals Herbal Apothecary and Biodynamic Garden in Rockport, Maine. The Avena Team, some fellow visitors, and even Herbalist Deb Soule herself, welcomed me to their oasis of peace and purpose.
On the fringes of autumn, the garden beckoned from the moment of arrival. Whimsical signs greet you, their partnered stars of the garden themselves—the plants—swaying gently, as if to sing,” Hello! We are Abundance!” enchanting in unison. The introduction would not be complete without meeting the pollinators, however, contributors to this bountiful harvest. Bees, bumblebees and butterflies were everywhere, presenting a buzz of contentment that rivaled any monk’s chanting (see video).
A budding herbalist, this visit was part of my Maine Sabbatical, to immerse myself in herbal wisdom and creative expression, in being true to living my true nature, of Nature being my steadfast companion and inspiration. I corresponded with the lovely Erda at Avena, to confirm they would still be open to the public the week of Labor Day. Her energy and genuine kindness were tangible through the emails. The journey was indeed a “go,” and I was off on my nearly three-hour trek from Downeast Maine, the eastern-most point of the U.S., to the Rockport region.
At Avena Botanicals, the outbuildings and the shop and apothecary are shingle style, with most trimmed in a beautiful lilac. Buddhist touches are evident, as are herbal examples to live by, such as the giant, aqua, antique-style water dispenser, filled with colorful herbal goodness to hydrate and thrive with.
The formal garden is where mindful intention is organized into a circular study of herbsong. It was as if the “alto section” of Tulsi was harmonizing with the “soprano section” of Arnica for the prelude, then the entire chorus of all the herbs holistically crescendoed. The Maestro of this epic concert? Many might honor the pollinators with that title, deservedly so, but we would all agree that music has many musicians, coming together in orchestration, which would include the soil, the compost, the seeds, the sun, the moon, the rain, the gardeners and harvesters, as well as the pollinators. In Deb Soule’s book, How to Move Like a Gardener: Planting and Preparing Medicines from Plants, each of these aspects are blended together into the most nourishing tonic for the soul.
While the “plant music” elevated and resonated, their existence and surrounding paths of gravel, grounded me. Even the grassy path to the compost privy was an adventure in life on an herbal farm. The meandering walkways circumventing the pond were enriched with a lightness in surprise, “lighting my way,” such as the vibrant orange Chinese Lantern, which reminded me of tomatillos. Plants reached out to me to shake my hand in encouragement, even pat me on the back, as if to say, “You’re on the right path, Lori,” in Herbalism being a fruitful one. I also found not one, but two different caterpillars had affixed themselves onto my shirt and arm, another loving welcome to this clarity in living.
Despite a very busy schedule preparing for her Biodynamic Training Program and several other engagements, plus working the farm itself, Deb Soule graciously took time to sit and be with me, Stephanie and Zoe (members of her staff), and two other visitors to Avena. We talked about herbal education, particularly with children, as myself, and several others are working to promote that awareness. We spoke of the upcoming Common Ground Country Fair in Unity, Maine, put on year after year by volunteers and the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association/MOFGA, with Avena Staff’s invitation to visit their booth. Music, including acoustic accompaniment on the Handpan by a talented man named Shoe, visiting from the South, as well as my recent visit to Japan and its herbal wonders were shared, among much more.
Encouraged by Deb to articulate how I came upon my herbal journey, I referenced my inaugural article on Botaniscape.com, where I had recently rediscovered I was a budding herbalist as a young child, and this re-blossoming. When Deb, author of Healing Herbs for Women: A Guide to Natural Remedies and How to Move Like a Gardener, asked about my books, I related what inspires me as an author and artist. I can only imagine how inspirational walking the Avena Garden on a daily basis can be for a creative.
With farm life and Maine as subjects I was fully immersed in and enthralled with, the conversation led to E.B. White, famed author of the book-for-the-ages, Charlotte’s Web, and how his farm in Brooklin, Maine, is recently on the market. I had posted an article about the property on my author Facebook.com/LorettaBoyerMcClellan page, mostly because for me as an avid reader and as an author, that real-life property was substantial. It lent itself as a primary character in Charlotte’s Web, right down to the barn doorway where Charlotte herself spun intricate conversations about a beloved pig named Wilbur, who was most notably, “Some Pig” to readers everywhere. Maine was his refuge, as well as his muse. I can relate.
This conversation led Deb to share about a celebrated author who, according to Deb, was a friend of E.B. White, namely Rachel Carson. “Rachel is my heroine,” Deb said, which made me take pause, because when an esteemed Herbal Teacher speaks of her heroine, you listen.
I was not familiar with Rachel Carson, but I took notes to learn more about this Marine Biologist, Conservationist and Author of several books, including Silent Spring, about harmful pesticides, more accurately termed, “biocides,” such as DDT, wreaking havoc on the environment. Carson, who lived in Maine, is credited with initiating the environmental movement.
During this visit, after purchasing some herbal supplements, I was asked in the shop if I was studying to become a clinical herbalist. I was quite frankly, surprised, and honored to be considered in a future role such as that. As a budding herbalist, my studies are centered currently on self-healing and family support, as well as community herbal awareness. As the afternoon waned at Avena, there were comments, observations and moments that reminded me how I facilitate care in-the-now most deeply: with my voice, in being a herald—a messenger not a marketer—for good.
The entire afternoon’s experience, in the cradle of nurturing herbs dancing with bees and butterflies along Maine’s coast, reminded me of my own commitment to recognizing the role of pollinators, of the all-encompassing importance in moving like a gardener—mindfully, with intention, while honoring the earthly gifts—and learning more about these vital contributions in being a purposeful person. It also solidified in my heart that expression, which is part of my three-word mantra as a human BE-ing, of Expression, Connection, Inspiration, is my most useful extension in helping the world BEE a better place. The connection and inspiration I received at Avena will be indelibly etched upon my heart, to the tune of life!
Avena Botanicals Herbal Apothecary and Biodynamic Garden is open to the public at 219 Mill St, Rockport, ME 04856. As of September 2017, their schedule is, Gardens: Open to the public May – September, Monday – Friday, 12 – 5 pm. Closed Weekends. Shop: Monday – Friday, 12 – 5 pm. Closed Weekends. If you’re lucky, you’ll see Deb and her team out and about, tending to their fellow musicians in this grand scape of a resonant masterpiece!
The heart of Botaniscape™ and budding Herbalist/Wildcrafter, Lori McClellan sees the Art of Herbalism as her lifelong connection to Nature and wonder manifested most fully—another exciting medium and source of abundant joy. A daily meditator, Lori is a career Journalist, Author, Artist and Poet, creating as Loretta Boyer McClellan. Her works as a writer of fiction, nonfiction and poetry; conscious PR, brand, graphic design, and communications; and as an Arts instructor, journalist and artist, “sized the canvas,” so to speak, for a fruitful life of expression, connection and inspiration. Author of The Nature of BEing: A Healing Journey, The Misthaven of Maine Series, and Dodging Raindrops: Poems and Prose of Beauty, Peace and Healing, Lori creates from a place of Oneness. Writing, meditating, painting, and her relationship with Nature and all beings, most tangibly through Herbalism, are her connection to the Infinite.