Sunday, August 23, 2009

A Student's Tribute to Frank Cook

The passing of Frank Cook has been on my mind very much these last few days. When you meet someone like Frank, so vital, strong, and wise, it is difficult to accept that they too are mortal and can succumb to disease or accident.
I remember meeting him for the first time in May of 2007, up at Soulflower, Ceara Foley’s magic home and Herb Sanctuary, where we, as students of Appalachia School of Holistic Herbalism would meet for long Saturdays filled with herbal lessons and fun.
Such a presence! He was there that weekend to talk to us about fermentation, and the values of fermented foods as both food and medicine. Highly educated, well spoken, and earthy at the same time, Frank was unique among men. I remember sitting in a circle in the back yard, talking about dreds and plant spirits and the Five Tibetans. To me he was the Green Man personified.
I remember taking copious notes, trying to get onto the pages of my notebook the very important things he had to share that could change my life, make me healthier, and in turn enrich the lives of my future students and clients. So very many things I wrote down in quotes, feeling they would be important to me as I looked through and organized my notes later. As I went through these notes the past few days I clearly heard that wonderful deep voice as if hearing him that day two years ago.
Together with Joshua Reeves he taught me how to make my first batches of Kombucha and Mead. Together we, students, Ceara, Frank, and Joshua sampled and tasted many different Kombuchas. That was my first introduction to fermentation and the magic of it. Of course I went right out and purchased Sandor Katz’ “Wild Fermentation” and Sally Fallon’s “Nourishing Traditions” and explored what was a whole new world for me. I learned new habits I use today and I wonder how I managed without those skills.
Later that month Frank taught us on his Materia Medica for the Urinary System, something I paid close attention to, as I, being a typical Libra, have some kidney issues. I remember Frank saying “”Kidneys have consciousness, are sensitive beings prone to fears, stress, worry, doubt, loneliness, and fear of rejection.” If that didn’t hit the nail on the head I’ll hush.
One thing about Frank, he didn’t limit himself to teaching us about plants; he focused on the Spiritual as well. He taught us that every organ, every system of the body, was part of the whole and had individual personalities that blended and became the whole of us. One way to heal kidney issues he recommended was to “Have conversations with people who make you angry, even if they are dead or unapproachable. Talk to their higher self.” I’ve had several rather meaningful conversations with my own grandmother since then, and I have to say they have been profound. “We must honor our kidneys, become better at expression, as our kidneys hold all this if we don’t”. And “Do not burden them”, “Become creative with the stress in your life”.
When I had a frightening experience with kidney stones last year Frank was one of the teachers I turned to for wisdom. He was generous with his help, emailing me with advice and helping to calm my fears. As a result I managed to pass on my own a very large and “unpassable” (ha!) stone with a minimum of discomfort, largely due to remaining calm and somewhat fearless. Between the advice of Frank and Michael Moore (another great loss to the world) I accomplished the almost impossible, and am healthy today because of their teachings.
Frank encouraged us most of all to “Know your plant families”. I admit this is a weakness for me.  For so many years I’d turn to my guidebooks and look in the section with the yellow flowers in order to identify some plant with yellow flowers, bypassing altogether the family.  Still today I realize that I don’t focus on the family, but am still stuck on individual identification. If I can do one thing, take one action to honor Frank as my teacher I believe learning my families to be that thing. After all, here was a man who resolved to learn all the plant families of the WORLD. Surely I can focus on my beloved Appalachian plants and learn those! So, that is my resolution, to honor Frank and to improve my own knowledge and understanding of the plant world.
Yesterday on a walk with neighbors on their land hunting for Elderberries and Boneset my friend Deborah pointed out a plant and asked me what it was. Unknown to me, but I touched it, found opposite leaves and square stem and knew it to belong to the mint family.  Frank’s face appeared before me, smiling. I smiled back inside and thanked him for his wisdom.
And finally, as I turn through the pages of my notebook, I find these last quotes from Frank;
“Our greatest healer is the wise and ancient being inside our core. Gain confidence to face the fears that come with illness.”
“Remember....everybody dies.”