June 13, 2019

midwifing the future

lately there has been much discussion about eco-despair, and the unavoidable degradation of everything, and the urgency of action to fight---or at least mitigate---the climate disaster. all of which is needed. however, many good people are struggling to hang on to hope, or to find a way forward in its absence. i have said before that i believe in doing the right thing whether one has hope or not. and i have said that i think the most effective way to fight climate change is to act from a place of love and connection. i truly believe that; we got here through a lack of love and connection. but over the past few days i have been pondering if perhaps we also need another metaphor for our struggle, a different prism through which to view it...

we have spoken of fighting a lot: fighting the effects of climate change, slowing its advance, combatting ignorance and apathy, looking to a heroic science to save us from the consequences of our collective actions. i've even read phrases like "science will be the most potent weapon in the war on climate change". intelligent people have pointed out that individual actions will not matter much, and that only the prompt, concerted efforts of sweeping government mandated policy changes in developed and developing nations can have any effect. others, also intelligent and engaged people, have written of the necessity for leveraging scientific advances to invent new ways of sustaining our lifestyles in a changing world.

none of these statements is wrong in itself, but none of them is completely accurate either. i respectfully disagree with any assumption that individual actions do not matter; perhaps a single person's choices do not affect much, but their influence as one of many matters very greatly indeed. it is true that sweeping governmental mandates would massively speed and amplify necessary changes, but there is a peril in relying upon governments to effect change. governments are slow, unwieldy, and often corrupt. most are so deeply intertwined with corporations and maintaining the status quo and the idiotic premise of unlimited growth that it's likely governments will be the last on board with any truly deep, meaningful solutions. i suspect that the only way governments will be useful is if individuals en masse change their own consumption behaviours to transform business and finance and use their own voices and votes en masse to replace most elected officials. and while science will play a huge part in monitoring conditions and creating sustainable energy and other solutions, ultimately it isn't going to "save" us. our current way of life is unsustainable, and if there is to be a future that is decent, we shouldn't be trying to preserve it. science is important, but it needs to be disentangled from the narrative of human privilege, of dominance of and detachment from the rest of nature, of which it has long been a part. no, we really need a new story, a new metaphor. not a heroic quest with slain dragons. not a war, however just or noble. not a fight at all. we need a different way of seeing this struggle---in which every being is involved---one that makes space for new vision, new behaviour, with inspiration and affiliation instead of fear and fighting as its language and goal.

to this end, i propose that we begin to think about human response to climate change as a birth: for the first time, we are being given an opportunity to create consciously a global future. we are the midwives of the future of our world. it's the biggest, most important, and potentially the most beautiful home birth that has ever occurred on planet earth since the beginning of life itself and its wild spiral into rich diversity, and every human being is involved in bringing this new creation into existence.

birthing has many useful lessons for the process in which we must engage as we move forward.

1) trust the process.

childbirth progresses best in a calm, prepared home environment. most births are most sensibly and safely done at home. people and other animals have been giving birth for untold millennia. more often than not, it just works. humans, who have a harder time of it and tend to worry more, benefit from having the support of others who have experience with birthing. we need to look for stories both past and present that describe successful births, and bring the tellers of these tales forward to those preparing for this birth. we need to look at examples of historical humans who lived more harmoniously and reverently with their environments, and invite the wisdom of present-day indigenous people whose life-ways offer lessons in sustainability: these are the doulas and midwives of the past and present successes, and thus the best midwives for our future.

the place of science in birthing is to help with complications. most births don't require science or surgery, but when they do, it's a great gift. we as a species will experience some complications in bringing the future to birth, and scientific thought and innovation will be immensely valuable. but for our everyday actions, for this great home birth as a whole, ordinary people doing ordinary things in the most natural way, day after day, is the midwifery most needed.

2) expect discomfort.

birth hurts. it's unbelievably painful, and it's messy, and raw. it's frightening. it pushes you to the edge of endurance. it's not subject to rules or expectations. you can't and shouldn't control it. there will be many areas and occasions in the transition to the future in which we will suffer pain and grief. we are going to lose our old world, our old selves, our old stories. every birth brings a woman to her knees, and when successful, sees her reborn as a mother as well as ushering a new life into the world. the pain is awful, but it doesn't last forever, and once begun, the only way out is through. we are all in the first stages of labour, and we must be prepared for disruption and discomfort and sorrow.

3) make peace with uncertainty.

no one knows, when labour begins, how that labour will go. the form and duration, the level of pain, the presence or absence of complications, even the survival of mother and child---all are uncertain. any woman who has been through it can tell you that the uncertainty is one of the worst things about it. and still we do this tremendous yet ordinary thing...and it is worth it.

we don't know what the future will look like. we don't have to know much---we just have to focus on the process of bringing it to life.

4) look to nature.

we need to emulate nature in making most of the daily life choices that are integral to transforming human lifestyles into some form that supports what is best in us without destroying our greater home, the earth itself. close observation of natural systems will remind us what we should be aiming for, and help us work toward it with a model of abundance and cooperation rather than fear of scarcity and competition. our homes, whether single dwellings or communities, need to be more self-sufficient, grounded in real productive earth.

as preparing a home for birth requires cleaning house; so too do we need to purify our lives from toxic chemical inputs, unnecessary items, and waste, and commit to clean air, soil, water, and energy for all.

5) go to the root and the heart.

birth happens at the root of the body. it's primal, not cerebral. it tests our heart in the process. our heads got us into the ecocidal mess in which we find ourselves, but our heads aren't likely to get us out.  thinking and words are useful, but they are not the only nor the deepest sources of wisdom. we need to go back to the roots of human life, to the necessary and sustaining. we need to remember what enough is. we need to embrace the freedom of lives that don't rob tomorrow to enrich today, or take the means of life from others to add luxuries to ours. we need to listen again to the quiet but sure knowledge of the animal body---our own and each others'---and to the voice of the heart which feels its own pain and joy and also that of others. the body knows how to give birth, and it knows how to live. the heart knows how to endure, celebrate, and communicate, and it has the intelligence we need to shape life.

6) embrace the shadow.

when we place ourselves in opposition to climate crisis, we are not opposing something external to ourselves---fighting climate change is fighting the dragons that escaped from our own minds, our own severed souls. it is the consequence of our own actions, our carelessness, our disconnection, our lonely arrogance. climate change is the shadow of modern humanity writ large upon the world. as we spread over the globe, ever more numerous, ever more capable, and covered it with harder structures and polluted it and squeezed it insatiably, we told ourselves stories of our own sinfulness and guilt, and also told stories of our separateness and our uniqueness among all life. we forgot how to experience the divine in the world. we exploited each other and tormented each other for gods and for gain. we exploited and tormented other beings far beyond any need. we both felt and fled from our sorrow and guilt. we forgot that life is cyclical and hewed to a linear view of things. we tore ourselves out of the matrix, then tried to distract ourselves from the resulting grief.

when we speak of fighting climate change, what we are really saying is that we are fighting ourselves. we've been doing that for so long, in a variety of ways, and it hasn't done us any good. i say, it's time to put down the words and ways of combat and try words and ways of making whole. let's craft a story in which climate change is the wake-up call for humanity, the call to come home to ourselves as we best can be, and to the earth our first and only home. there is still guilt, still urgency, still sorrow in that, but there is also the chance for redemption and healing. just as the pain and suffering of labour is coming from within and experienced through our own bodies, yet results in something desired and transformative, embracing our shadow and feeling fully the results of our actions is the only way to reclaim our wholeness.

7) celebrate life.

framing the quandary that confronts us in the language of battle is less helpful than framing it in the language of labour. this is a struggle, it is painful and scary, but more than anything it is a work. it is in many ways the only real work before humanity, apart from our daily work of living and rearing good humans, for the foreseeable future. there are millions of us labouring together, and there will be millions more joining in as years go by. we cannot sustain our energy to do the work, and we cannot find the inspiration needed to do it well, if we are continually steeped in outmoded stories of scarcity and greed, war and disconnection. we must rejoin ourselves to the whole fabric of life. we must frame  our work in terms of what is life-affirming and celebrate what we cherish, the greater life of which we are part, and what we are creating for future generations of beings. a labouring woman finds strength to endure it in the thought of the child to be placed in her arms. we too can find strength in remembering that what we endure, we do for Life itself. we are not 'fighting'; we are creating a future and bringing it to birth.

June 12, 2019

tree wisdom

i was delighted to see that Terri Windling's post today (https://www.terriwindling.com/blog/2019/06/among-the-trees.html) was about the book "Overstory", and about trees, and how truly akin we are. i've always had a great reverence for trees, and the more i learn about them, the more convinced i am that they are as much our kindred as other living creatures on this earth...

Windling quotes Barbara Kingsolver's comments on how alike humans and trees are:
"They compete for their livelihoods and take care of their families, sometimes making huge sacrifices for their children. They breathe, eat and have sex. They give gifts, communicate, learn, remember and record the important events of their lives. With relatives and non-kin alike they cooperate, forming neighborhood watch committees -- to name one example -- with rapid response networks to alert others to a threatening intruder. They manage their resources in bank accounts, using past market trends to predict future needs. They mine and farm the land, and sometimes move their families across great distances for better opportunities. Some of this might take centuries, but for a creature with a life span of hundreds or thousands of years, time must surely have a different feel about it."
---Barbara Kingsolver, in a review of "Overstory" by Richard Powers

Powers himself, in an interview also quoted by Windling, reminds us that we are indeed here by the grace of trees: 
"The salvation of humanity -- for it’s us, not the world, who need to be saved -- and our continued lease on this planet depend on our development of tree consciousness. We are here by the grace of trees and forests. They make our atmosphere, clean our water, and sustain the cycles of life that permit us. Just begin to see them. See them up close and personal. See them from far away across great distances. Notice all the million complex beautiful behaviors and forms that have always slipped right past you. Simply see, and the rest will begin to follow. Every other act of preservation depends on that first step."

there is so much wisdom to be found in humility and simple, loving attention...when we look at things from the perspective of Other-ness, from a kind of reductive or mechanistic thinking, we miss so much. we blind ourselves with our hubris, with our illusion of separation. we quite literally fail to see the forest for the trees. if we could re-learn to see with humble eyes, with connected hearts, we would see our way home, i think. recognising the personhood and agency in all life is the first step on that homeward path, for it allows us to learn from the greater intelligence in the fabric of life. it re-establishes us in our correct relation to other beings. there is, to me, no fear---and indeed i find it greatly comforting---in viewing humanity as simply one of a myriad of life forms, all related and necessary.  if we are to do this in a meaningful way, though, it will mean confronting our own behaviour: all the ways in which we have acted destructively and carelessly, and with arrogance. this is necessary. the privilege we have arrogated to ourselves as humans is both artificial and toxic, to us and to all other life. and as in most areas, giving up privilege does not lessen our experience, but rather enriches it. we will find in affiliation and cooperation a far greater sense of being at home in the world than we ever could in ranking and competition. if we were to observe trees, for example, through the eyes of kinship, we might get lessons in relationship, in community, in the value of diversity, in the importance of roots, in communication, in selflessness, in flexibility of thought and behaviour, in patience, in gratitude...and very possibly, in the restoration of hope.

May 28, 2019

free ride

when she was young, and everything seemed too much, she could go out to the paddock and catch the pony, and go riding...it felt as if the horse understood her feeling of needing to get away, to go so swiftly that the wind of their passage blew away all thoughts, and the rocking motion of their galloping was all there was to feel. fields and meadows stretched our before them, fences were left behind, nothing mattered but their united desire to run fast and far and free.

it helped. returning more slowly, they were both calmer. the shared joy of their flight was rounded out by a shared gentling down with the grooming, the handful of sweetcorn or crimped oats given with grateful love; before she returned to the house, to the crumpled school uniform needing to be hung up for tomorrow, the latch-key child's solitary tea, and donning the armour of a decent frock for dinner.

as an adult, with no horse, she pined for a freedom like those childhood rides. she bought a bicycle, with the idea of riding it swiftly down the country roads, but it didn't feel the same. there was no shared flight, no sense of being one with a stronger creature who could carry her away from everything. and there were too many cars on the little roads now, housing estates popping up like great unwholesome fungi in every field and meadow, sometimes men whistling and shouting from their cars as she went by. she came home tired but not made whole. the bicycle gathered dust in the garage, and her dreams were filled with horses, with flight, with unbounded skies.

May 21, 2019

heart in a thorn bush

so, a thing is happening that is causing me some sorrow... my closest friend is about to move to the opposite side of the continent. and although there have been the usual words promising that we will see each other regularly, i know, at least, that it is only words. because there will be too many miles, too many obligations, and too little money and time to do that. even living 10-20 minutes' drive from each other's houses, we got together perhaps once every week or so. often less. still, at all the important moments, we were there with each other. and now, we won't be.

i've only had one other 'best friend" in my life. i met her when she came to my school in fourth grade, and we instantly connected. she and i remained close until her death in a car accident when we were 19 years old. after she died, i had no close friends. i had acquaintances, i had boyfriends, i went through the motions of friendly interaction with people; but i never met anyone else i considered a real friend. i got married, i had a child, i raised that child to the age of five or so all alone...my husband was not my friend, and we lived in a cottage on a farm with no near neighbours. there were no mothers' groups for me to join, even if i was the joining type, no kindred spirits of any kind about. as an introvert, it takes a good bit for me to feel truly lonely, but i was terribly alone, often, for those fourteen years.

then my daughter started school. in her kindergarten class was a boy named thomas who had the same surname as my deceased friend. he and my daughter became friendly, and i met his father one morning and recognised him: he was, in fact, my friend's brother. normally, his son wouldn't have attended this school, as they lived in the next county, across the river, but because thomas's mother and father both worked at the naval base in my county, his parents had picked the school for its proximity to their workplace. i met thomas's mum shortly after this, and we hit it off. we became each other's closest friends over time, seeing each other through our divorces, moves, children's milestones, events happy and sad for seventeen years. in four more days, she is leaving, and i shall be alone again.

we'll keep in touch, of course. maybe once in a blue moon one of us will even manage to swing a visit to the other from our opposite coasts. she's an extravert---she has many friends, old and new, and makes new ones easily. she's also going home, where her family and old school friends are excitedly welcoming her back. she will have a new job, a new house, a new life opening before her.

i'll have a gaping hole in my life and heart.

i've only felt this level of personal grief a few times: when my grandmother died, when my first friend died, maybe somewhat when i realised my husband was unfaithful, when my daughter told me she was raped. this impending loss hurts. it gets added to and mixed up with the sick feelings of horror and impotence evoked daily by the news, by the climate disaster, by the unceasing onslaught of greed and corruption and apathy and ignorance that seems to threaten everything innocent, good, and necessary. i want nothing so much as to pack myself into a suitcase and post it to svalbard. i am a writhing ball of misery and self-pity, and being eaten by a polar bear seems faintly desirable.

well, this is the case some of each day. in between these spasms of self-indulgent grief, i am calm, even mildly optimistic. these more tranquil times are the product of much yoga teaching and personal practice, and reiki, and meditation, and occasional flower essences or oils, and---yes---some wine. i am intensely grateful for my 'toolkit'. i do wonder, though... at times, i feel as if i am being 'lightened' for flight. for change. toughened up for some upcoming difficulty. i feel oddly sorry for my own heart, which loves rarely but deeply and loses much of what it loves. although, really, isn't that every heart? isn't that just life? you love and lose and ultimately you grow old and lose even your own life.

maybe it's just bad timing, my parents moved several states away two years ago, and i rarely see them now. my daughter has finished school, and is looking for jobs, hoping to move to a city. it's natural that a grown child should spread her wings and fly away, and i am happy for that, but i wish it wouldn't be so far that i cannot see her often. the only other person in my life is my poor husband, mired in his own morass of depression and angers, and totally unable to offer comfort to any other living soul. maybe it is that the impending loss has triggered buried feelings of inadequacy or guilt. i felt perhaps that i wasn't what my mother wanted as a child, and that's why she found mothering hard. i didn't appreciate my grandmother enough when she was alive, and i didn't get to say goodbye to her. i felt that i wasn't a good enough friend to my first friend, because i wasn't at the party where she was raped, and thus couldn't protect her. i felt that if she hadn't been coming home for my birthday the day of her accident, perhaps she wouldn't have died. if i had been a better wife, my ex-husband wouldn't have wandered off. i couldn't protect my own child from being raped. if i were better somehow, in some unspecified way, my husband would be in a better place. if i were not me, perhaps my friend wouldn't have accepted a job posting across the country... this is the thing about loss---it's a ladder. one rung connects to the next, until every loss you suffer seems the natural result of your own inadequacies or failings.

there is a proverb: "the earth was made round so that we should not see too far ahead." i know myself well; i know that i would avoid what pain i could. if i had known my first marriage would end as it did, i never would have gone there. if i had known that it wouldn't last a lifetime, i would have held back from this friendship i am about to lose. it would have been a greater loss, though, never to have had the years of friendship. in calmer moments, i know that.

tonight's toast: "to love and loss." in other words, "to life."

May 13, 2019


all around me is green
and it is raining,
and there are even roses
on the one precious bush.
i am trying to let the rain
wash my heart
and do the crying for me.
i hold a wet rose to my face
to remember what hope smells like,
what love feels like.
i was shaped not for faith
perhaps, but for continuing
in its absence.
green is the colour of hope
they say, but i believe
it is the colour of enduring,
of beginning again
and again and again
despite it all.

May 5, 2019

crowning glories: gentle hair care

i have quite long hair. at the moment, and for many years, it has been about calf-length when it is down. braided, it still hits the backs of my knees. people routinely comment on the length of it, and often say wistfully that they wish they could have hair that long, but it is too much work, too expensive, too fussy, too impractical, or too time-consuming. they often say that their hair would never grow so long, anyway. well, i am a very lazy person, have little money to spend, need to be able to clean, cook, do yard work, teach yoga, etc. believe me when i say that if having long hair were a lot of work, expense, or time-consuming, i wouldn't have it! i have had hair every length from nearly shaved to this current length, and i feel that anything other than nearly shaved  is more work than this. and even the super-short hair costs money to maintain unless you can buzz it yourself at home. as for whether any individual's hair would grow to a given length, that depends upon many things, some of which we can control and others which we cannot.

so many people express frustration and dissatisfaction about their hair, saying that it won't grow longer than their shoulders, or that it breaks/splits/frizzes/gets dirty too fast/tangles/has no body/is too fluffy/is dull/won't hold curl/is too curly... a good bit of this is probably down to "the grass is always greener on the other side of the fence" syndrome; we always seem to want the hair that someone else has, which is, inevitably, very different to our own.

genetics definitely plays a big role in our hair, and part of loving our hair is making peace with what nature gave us and learning to work with, rather than against, that gift. see if family members have hair similar to your own, and what blessings or challenges have come with it for them. certain types of thinning or balding patterns are genetic. a family tendency to thyroid issues can have effects on hair. some of our dissatisfaction may come from media images that show way too much of certain kinds of bodies/hair and way too little of many, many others. unpacking any negativity about ourselves and our appearance, as well as flipping the bird to media imagery, can be part of finding hair happiness.

a certain amount of changing expectations can be part of it for some people: straight hair will not be truly, lastingly curly nor textured without damaging chemical treatments; curly or textured hair will not become straight or un-textured without them either. if we want colours other than what nature gave us, that too requires intervention, sometimes natural, but often chemical. so, some mental adjustments and choices may need to be made.

another crucial part is finding a way of caring for our hair that is not damaging to it, and learning styling techniques that work with our own unique hair type. knowledge is power, as they say, so first figure out what type of hair you have---or have now, if it has changed due to illness, hormonal changes, medication or medical treatments, or stage and age-related changes. then assess any particular factors about your environment that may impact hair, such as local dryness versus humidity, or hard versus soft water, or chemically treated versus filtered water types in your home. assess any other factors like frequent swimming in chlorinated water, or excessive sun and wind exposure. finally, take a good look at the diet, as poor nutrition will impact hair.

now, the nitty-gritty: the thing that affects our hair more than anything except our genetics is what we do to it regularly---how we wash, condition, and style it. and for most people i know (including myself until about 7 years ago), the too-frequent use of too-harsh products is what keeps us from being happy with our hair. regular use of most commercial hair products damages hair, and does so in ways that set up a negative feedback loop, a vicious cycle of damage and amelioration that consumes money and time, and makes hair happiness elusive. the simple answer to this very common problem?


what follows is what worked/works best for me. it is a good start for most hair types, actually. i have mixed hair: the top layer is straight to wavy, and underneath it's wavy to curly. it is blond, very fine, and thick. it is not permed, nor coloured, and not curled or straightened or blow-dried normally. i was in my early 40s when i started this regime, and now am menopausal. no hormonal birth control or hormone replacement therapy, no other meds, and a good, clean diet. my thyroid is underactive, my adrenals ditto. i expect to see some change in texture once it turns grey, but that hasn't happened yet. i currently live in a house with mains water supply, so my water is treated/contains some chlorine, but is rather soft.

many of the recommendations below apply most to long hair. people with shorter hair which is cut frequently may not need to worry so much about the protective aspects of hair care. but if you want to grow longer hair, or keep it long, they do help greatly.

if readers who have different hair types and other considerations want advice specific to their hair types, feel free to leave a question and description in a comment, and i will endeavour to post updates that deal with them specifically.

gentle hair care protocol:

1) wash less frequently:

i get it, i do---i used to believe i had to wash my hair daily to have clean hair. and, well, i did need to wash daily, because that itself causes the scalp to produce too much oil in response to excess washing, especially when using commercial shampoos which lather and foam and leave "squeaky clean" hair. (along with dry scalp, dandruff, and roots that are oily within hours or days at most.) once i ditched shampoo, everything got better. yes, there is a transition where the scalp relearns to regulate oil/sebum production, and that can take anywhere from a few weeks to many months. however, there is a cheat for that process...

2a) cheat the transition, part one:
do a hair masque...using rhassoul clay (other clay types works fine, but rhassoul is my favourite and most gentle to hair if damaged or delicate). mix up a mud of clay and water, pack it on (well-brushed/detangled) hair and scalp, and leave for at least 20 minutes to an hour. rinse it out patiently, gently rubbing but don't worry too much about getting every last bit out. any residual clay will brush out later. this clay treatment helps to remove residue from conventional products. silicones are tough to get out; they almost have to wear off over time and with repeated washings or masques. if you have non-chemically treated hair (NO colour, relaxer, perm) that is not damaged or delicate (not many split ends, no breakage or excess shedding, not grey, no chemotherapy or other meds going on), you may do a one-time wash with baking soda/bicarbonate, but ONLY if you have no damage and if you have not been using bicarb on your hair recently.

follow masque or bicarb wash with a vinegar rinse. this is not optional. if you really, really hate the smell of vinegar, use lemon juice (bottled is fine). put vinegar or lemon juice in a bottle with an equal amount of water, shake well, and use in place of conditioner. squeeze onto roots and down hair length, and after a few seconds, rinse out. don't worry about rinsing terribly well. this acidic rinse protects hair and reduces tangling significantly.

this masque and/or the bicarb wash counts as a washing. do not wash again for at least a couple of days. if you feel you must wash, just brush hair well first, use water only and NO shampoo or other cleaning agents. you may apply the acidic rinse again, though.

2b) cheat the transition, part 2:

wash with diluted silicone-free conditioner. this is called "C.O." or "conditioner only" washing. you can use really cheap conditioner for this, but for eco reasons, animal cruelty reasons, and sensitivity reasons, i would prefer to go with a simple and natural conditioner of choice. something not too heavy, preferably. but you'll be diluting the heck out of it, so you can use whatever you like best. what matters most is that it is free of any ingredient ending in 'cone' (silicone, dimethicone, etc). pour/squeeze about a third of a bottle of your chosen conditioner into an old conditioner or shampoo bottle, add two to three times as much water, and shake well before using. just pretend it's shampoo and use it when you wash your hair. it will not lather, and that is ok. you do not need lather to clean hair. your hair and scalp will thank you. massage it into the scalp and roots, and rinse thoroughly. there is no need to wash the length of the hair, just the roots. in the beginning stage, wash your hair when it gets dirty/oily; this will vary for different people, and may vary even for an individual depending upon activity and hormone fluctuations. the key is just to wash when dirty, not on a schedule. you should see, over time, a gradual lengthening of time between washing and hair becoming oily. depending upon hair type and activity, "washing" hair need only occur 1 to 2 times per week, and many can go longer. i wash about every 5 days.

use the acidic rinse after conditioner-washing. just as conditioner is your new 'shampoo', this acidic rinse is your new 'conditioner'.

3a) use better brushes:

replace any nylon/plastic/metal bristle brushes with a new pair of brushes: one in natural bristle or natural and nylon mix bristle (mason-pearson is the gold standard here, but there are many more affordable ones that are perfectly adequate), and one with widely-spaced wooden "bristles". you will use the wooden bristle brush on wet hair instead of a comb, and on dry hair when detangling or styling. the natural bristle brush is used daily to remove dust and shed skin/hairs, and to distribute the natural scalp oils down the hair length for shine and cleanliness. it is used before washing to distribute oils and remove tangles, also.

highly textured hair that is shorter may do well with just a wide-tooth comb made of horn or wood; if longer, or just unbraided, the wooden-bristle brush usually is helpful.

3b) how to comb/brush:

with long hair especially, and with fragile or textured hair, brush/detangle from the ends upward. brush only the ends first, moving up a section at a time. move up only when a section is brushing smoothly---if there is a snarl, gently pull the tangles free, brush it smooth, then move up again. top-down brushing or combing stresses hair tremendously, especially long hair.

4a) heat damage protection:

do not use heat on hair for drying or styling. save the straightening or curling irons for special occasions, and try not to blow-dry hair. instead, wrap it in a soft, thin towel---some people use microfibre hair towels or even old cotton tee shirts for this---and press out excess moisture gently. i wash my hair at night and just go to bed with it wrapped up like this...by morning, it is still wet but not at all dripping, and i can use the wooden brush to detangle it. then i braid it or simply wind it up in a big bun held with a simple claw clip.

4b) friction and weather protection:

if hair is fragile, or if you spend a lot of time in windy, dry conditions, protective styling and covers can save hair from dryness and snarls. keep hair braided or in a bun most of the time. for very dry or windy conditions, a scarf can help protect hair. some people choose to sleep on silk pillowcases as they are gentlest to hair and skin, or sleep in a silk scarf for very fragile hair. i wear my hair up or braided at least most of the time (more practical when hair is very long), and usually sleep with it braided too, except on the nights when i have washed it.

4c) hair accessory protection:

avoid frequent use of metal clips if hair is fragile, and try not to pull hair back too tightly. use care with any elastics; the ones without metal bits are better, and soft fabric loops are gentler still.

4d) chlorine protection:

if you swim regularly in chlorinated water, a swim cap can help protect hair. some people oil their hair and put it up before swimming as well. if not using a cap, always rinse well after swimming, and use the acidic rinse to return hair to healthy Ph level.


this is my basic gentle hair care starter protocol. once healthy, after enough time free of damaging shampoos and conditioners, my hair has not needed any heavier conditioner or other products. i recommend 100% pure aloe applied to the scalp as needed if one experiences dandruff, as well as leaving the acidic rinse on scalp longer when washing. and an oil of choice may be applied to the ends of hair if they ever feel dry or fragile. a mix of aloe and a bit of oil may be used lightly all over hair to give curls/waves more definition, or in between washings if hair seems dry. mine doesn't, but i will sometimes smooth a bit over a braid to help it stay tidier, especially when travelling or in dry winter weather/heated buildings. when i travel, i go back to the C.O. washing because it works so well with any kind of water supply.  for lower waste and more natural considerations, read on...


5) low-waste & natural gentle hair care:

once my hair was healthy, i wanted to move to fully natural hair care that i could make at home with minimal waste or plastic bottles. (i saved a few bottles for mixing and storage purposes.) my 'shampoo' these days is based on soapnut concentrate...i purchase a 13x concentrate made by naturoli, and dilute it with 12-13 parts water to 1 part of soapnut concentrate. i sometimes add a slosh of aloe to this, and one can add essential oils if desired for scent. this makes a very effective shampoo that doesn't strip hair and scalp. it's very economical: one 8 ounce bottle of concentrate at $19 USD lasts us about 11+ months at least, making shampoo for two people, 8-9 washes per week total. i don't need to use it every time i wash, as the acidic rinse alone is good enough often. the conditioner i have used most for washing is "say yes to naturals" brand coconut variety; one bottle currently costs about $5 USD and it lasted me a year when doing the C.O. exclusively. to make the rinse, i buy apple cider vinegar in glass bottles, $5 for 16 ounces. (other vinegars or lemon juice come in glass, too, and all work fine.) so for two people, one washing daily and one washing every 5 days, we use 2 plastic bottles per year, and two to five glass bottles. (both plastic ones and glass ones get recycled, but i try to avoid waste, even recyclable waste, as much as possible.) the argan or camellia oils i use occasionally i have on hand because they go in my home-made facial care oil blend. aloe gel in glass bottles is about $8 USD for 8 ounces. the cost of this hair care is about $35-40 per year for two people, probably about $10-15 of which is used on my long hair as i wash less frequently. my daughter and i trim the ends of each other's hair a couple of times per year with a pair of $8 barber scissors.

6) exploring other natural, low-waste options:

you can use any of the following things to 'wash' your hair, depending upon your personal hair type, your water type, and your lifestyle... i have tested all of these on myself.

* powdered clays
* honey
* coconut milk
* powdered herbal blends
* sifted rye flour
(hard to rinse out, can leave visible dust/film on some hair, drain clogs are possible!)
* water left from cooking rice
* infusions/decoctions of soap nuts
* herbal infusions
(chamomile or rosemary are popular)
* traditional indian herb powders for hair: reetha, shikakai, bringaraj, amla, brahmi, or a blend such as "khadi"
*cassia and/or henna
(henna will deposit colour, and should NOT be used on chemically treated/coloured hair!)
* shampoo bars
(different from using soap!)
* traditional oils, massaged in, rinsed well, followed by acidic rinse.
highly textured hair responds best to this, generally. other hair types may use it as a conditioning treatment occasionally.
* african black soap
these vary greatly in formulation. some are like shampoo bars, and others are ordinary soap bars. there are people who use some black soaps successfully, but i do not suggest regular use unless you wash very infrequently. they can be useful to wash out an oil treatment on occasion, followed by acidic rinse. i tested two; one acted like castile soap (bad) and the other seemed much like a bar shampoo in effect (fine, but build-up is an issue and hard water a contraindication).
* a washing flannel/washcloth with warm water
(best for touch-ups between actual washings unless very short haired. can work well on very young children whose hair rarely gets that dirty.)

a note about bar shampoo: they vary so widely that finding one which works well for you can be quite a lengthy process of trial and error. also, they work badly with hard water. even some city water supplies are too hard/mineral laden for bar shampoos to work well. with rain water, filtered water,  or other very soft water, they tend to work very well IF the formula suits your hair. rinse extra well in any case with these, and do a clay masque occasionally to minimise build-up.

there are two other possibilities which i am loathe to include as they have ruined so many people's hair, but for completeness i will list them... these too, i tested on myself.

*castile soap (liquid or bar forms)
*bicarbonate/baking soda

if you have really dirty hair and nothing else to wash with, and/or you are someone with buzzed hair and no scalp sensitivity, a dab of castile soap might be ok once in a blue moon. for most, regular use will coat the hair, tangle it, dry it, and generally be a pain in the arse. not recommended! one exception: diluted castile is very helpful for babies or the rare toddler with lingering "cradle cap". gently and lightly oil first, then wash with castile. generally a few treatments (no more than once per week) will resolve it.

the bicarb is responsible for ruining hair more than anything except perhaps commercial shampoos and conditioners, such that i never recommend it except as the one-time kick-off to a gentler hair care protocol, for the exact purpose of stripping product residue from hair. it must always, always be followed by an acidic rinse to minimise damage to hair. the only people i have known who can use bicarb somewhat successfully to wash their hair have very short, very robust hair, wash infrequently (no more than once per week, max), and have really impervious skin. everyone else ends up sooner or later with profoundly damaged hair and often inflamed or dandruffy scalp conditions. save the bicarb for cleaning the house and for baking things, and use virtually anything else on your hair.

there you have it...simple, gentle hair care options. the simplest and most universally applicable is just conditioner-only washing. but the others are quite simple too, and inexpensive. all of them are free of the damaging effects and chemical exposure of most commercial products, and much lighter on the earth. learning these new-old ways of managing hair has made my life simpler. no more daily washings, no more multiple bottles of commercial products to treat the damage caused by the products themselves, much less tangling, less expense by far, fewer trips to stores, no irritants or allergy triggers, no salons, no daily fight with a comb on wet hair. my husband, who was very sceptical initially, is a convert and tells other people about it frequently. (very gratifying!) we have been so pleased with the results and ease---and the savings---that it seems like others might benefit from knowing about it as well. so i hope this information helps someone else to have a simpler, happier, healthier hair care routine.

May 2, 2019


beltane has been bittersweet this year. it is hard for me to focus with a fully light heart on the old quarter and cross-quarter days, to celebrate the increasing warmth or go to a bonfire when our world is literally too warm and, often, literally on fire. i am frequently reminded of lines from "the lord of the rings", where it says "in all lands, love is now mingled with grief", and the elves speak of "fighting the long defeat"... 

yet there is beauty and good purpose in keeping the festivals that celebrate the turning of seasons, the liturgy of the land. 

there is a traditional song in gaelic, recently brought back to my mind by sharon blackie's posts... she provided lyrics in both the gaelic and english. her post of it runs like this:

"Summer, Summer, milk of the calves,
We have brought the Summer in.
Yellow summer of clear bright daisies,
We have brought the Summer in.
We brought it in from the leafy woods,
We have brought the Summer in.
Yellow Summer from the time of the sunset,
We have brought the Summer in.
Mayday doll, maiden of Summer
Up every hill and down every glen,
Beautiful girls, radiant and shining,
We have brought the Summer in.
Holly and hazel and elder and rowan,
We have brought the Summer in.
And bright ash-tree at the mouth of the Ford,
We have brought the Summer in.
Summer, Summer, milk of the calves,
We have brought the Summer in.
Yellow summer of clear bright daisies,
We have brought the Summer in.
Mayday doll, maiden of Summer
Up every hill and down every glen,
Beautiful girls, radiant and shining,
We have brought the Summer in.
Summer, summer
Summer, summer
And who'd take it from us?
Summer, summer
And who'd take it from us?
And who'd take it from us?
From the setting of the sun ..."

our european ancestors (and ancestors of us all, all around the globe) were much concerned with "bringing summer in". they felt, quite correctly, that the fertility of the land was tied to them; they felt both dependent upon the earth's bounty, and empowered to assist it by their actions, especially those of the "beautiful girls, radiant and shining" who carried magic in their young bodies as elders carried wisdom in theirs. we left behind such beliefs, and we've made a mess of things. "who'd take it from us?" we, ourselves, and no other. when we lost our reverence for the living waters, the well-loved and valued trees, the hills and valleys lush with green, the bright flowers amongst the cornfields, the generosity of cattle, the whole tapestry of life of which we were---and are---a thread.

and though i am filled with grief, i will still speak of hope. may we turn with love and appreciation back to the land that sustains us even as it suffers from our actions, choosing to live lighter on the earth, to heal where we can, and to raise our voices for her protection going forward. 

midwifing the future

lately there has been much discussion about eco-despair, and the unavoidable degradation of everything, and the urgency of action to fight-...