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Eagle and Bay Leaf


There's a hidden trail, weaving high through the sequoias and pines of the Big Sur coast, where I once met a golden eagle. I was just ambling along, thinking my thoughts, when I found myself face to face with her, less than ten feet away. Perched on a low rock, she slowly turned and looked sharply at me.  As she then leisurely took to wing, I had the distinct impression of what it felt like to be some stable boy cooly dismissed by the queen of the realm. In that next moment, somehow filled with a bright and lifting lightness, I just sat down in the middle of the path. But as the instant rolled along, the lightness changed and I could feel conflicting impulses. One, to simply sit, to be silent, to receive the experience. The other, the pull to put the experience in words, to mentally detail the event, maybe later to regale my friends. I guess both had their allotted time, decided by something within me, but it was sadly apparent - the silence left too soon, the story constructed too quick.

 I continued my walk along the ocean's edge, finding my way to a rocky ridge where black sage and bent grass were working to keep the crumbling ledges intact. Pausing to have a drink and look down at the waves crashing on the rocks below, I poured a little water from my bottle over the edge. I watched the drops tumble down and then, mingling with the wild wind currents below, turn and fly back up past me, disappearing into the clouds above. Mesmerized, my gaze turned back to the ocean and in the distance I could perceive dozens of tall, white spouts randomly spraying upwards from the churning whitecaps. I imagined they, like my water drops, were surging upward to create a stormy alchemical ferment of sea and whale. It came to me that perhaps the grays, following their ancient courses, were keeping all we know and love in a delicate balance.

As the afternoon wound down, I turned to hike back to the parking lot. Passing through several neighborhoods of sugar pine, doug fir and cottonwoods, I entered into a stand of california bay. It smelled of gazpacho and cough drops. Knowing I could crumble the leaf and get a good whiff of the bay essential oil, I picked a leaf, folded it origami style and crushed it between my fingers. I then stuck my little folded bundle up into my nostril, no doubt to get a strong hit of the oil. Right after a vague sensation that maybe I shouldn't have gone that far, I teetered for a second, then dropped to my knees. The power of the essential oil had nearly knocked me out. Dazed, I quickly pulled the leaf from my nose, rose to my feet and stood there until my senses returned. In a heartbeat, it was unquestionably clear to me why bay had so many medicinal qualities and such a long and noble history.

Later, reflecting on my day, I considered the power of the natural world; to inspire me, to convert me to gratitude, to humble me.  And despite these fortuitous encounters with eagle, whale and wind, my mind dwelt on that wacky incident with the bay; I thought that never, in all of time, would science ever create anything as intricate, marvelous and powerful as that modest leaf. This little green sun-transforming, soil-renewing, atmosphere-generating factory of incalculable phytochemical complexity; a solar engine literally breathing life into our planet. These little insights received along the way energize my aim to work with the precious, mysterious plants of our realm. After over 30 years of working with plants and 17 years of making botanical skin care, I find my respect and gratitude only strengthened. Thanks for visiting us . . . keep in touch!

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