Gratitude for Time and Knowledge
April 15, 2015 / The Farm
It is not often in life that you find a bona fide mentor, in my case it was a soap mentor that I was in need of, and sure enough eventually I found one. Suzanne would describe soap making as being “just the same as making a cake,” but then she swears she can’t bake a cake! She can sure make soap though. I had always heard of the Wooly Queen as she is known, and had always heard the best things, I had always hoped to run into her, but never sought her out. Well it turns out that we are (for farm country anyway) fairly literally neighbors. It was ironically because of missed connections with other soap makers that I ended up giving Suzanne a call. I was really pleased that she had heard great things about me and the farm and had been told she should come see the farm.
I needed a mentor because here we are growing and harvesting lavender by hand, distilling it into an incredible, local, single source essential oil. We are creating a thing of great beauty and purity, a rare thing, and then I was adding it to soap that I was just not proud of. It was like using the best wine to cook up in pasta sauce, just a waste even if everyone was happy eating that sauce!
Suzanne came out to see the farm to get a feel for the place and what we do, and then I made a visit to her studio, just being in any creative space or studio is a great privilege, for creative people these spaces can be more particularly personal than a bed room and they are not always easily shared with others. In this case the studio, which had been a large apartment over a horse barn, is now a large open kitchen, and a weaving room. Just the words “Studio over a barn,” “weaving room,” and “soap kitchen” these words hold great magic for me and a romance linked directly to the projects and productivity they suggest.
The studio kitchen is noteworthy because it really literally has become a soap kitchen, a soap ONLY kitchen, which is what you need if you have a soap business. Racks from floor to ceiling filled with bars of soap, great quantities of materials and molds.
The lavender oil from Soleado Lavender Farm is a blend of several varieties of lavender distilled together, it has a sweetness, the floral freshness you would expect and a clear, bright evergreen or almost citrus quality. It was very important to develop a soap, where none of the ingredients competed or interfered with the lavender, Suzanne helped me develop a recipe that lets the lavender really shine through, and also has all the other qualities of a great handmade soap, it has rich hydrating lather, and is a really nice long lasting hard bar.
After covering the nuts and bolts there was a moment standing in the soap kitchen when the practical kitchen science side of soap making was displaced by alchemy and a hint of white magic, I peered over Suzanne’s shoulder into a cupboard full of dark glass bottles containing a large collection of essential oils. Essential oils are so intense, so purely an essential force of the plant they were made from, there is no doubt that they have a strong energetic profile and can affect us on any number of levels. What really affects me when I see a large selection of oils is that they are often not just provocative and vivacious flowers, but also substances that have historically been seen as sacred, Frankincense, Myrrh, Sandalwood, Rose, I cannot help but feel a certain resonance. It is easy for the mind to see significance wherever we are told to look for it; here is a biblical substance it must be important, but for whatever reason these substances do have a very interesting presence or charge. They represent the globe, the spice trade and traditions both lost and continued.
That excitement around organic compounds carries over into the use of local plants and I have only just begun to scratch the surface of that bunch of ingredients. There is a supreme and simple pleasure even in discussing jewel weed, how to collect and process it for a poison ivy soap, and to remember how my mother would pick the leaves for me when we crossed a stream and hold them under water to show me their silver shine, she would crush the leaves for us when we got poison ivy. 30 years later, I’ll go back to those same spots on the farm that she showed me, only this time it’s to make soap.
A person’s knowledge and their time are two of the most precious things they can give to another person and I do not take either lightly. With help, I’m now making a really high quality soap to mirror the incredible scent mixed into it!
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