Summer's slip into fall was subtle until the past week or so; it
got cool here, the leaves are falling more rapidly. I am sitting on
my porch in a sweatshirt with a cup of tea as I type this and
except for the barking dog playing in the park next door, it is
quite peaceful here in the wind. Fall is blowing in. Monday the
22nd was the fall Equinox; day and night were equal lengths, and
from here on out, the days get shorter. It was the first official
day of fall; the season changes.
I like to think I'm good at changes. I identify as someone who
desires to be outside of her comfort zone. Here in Chicagoland, I
often pine for change. Usually it happens when I'm sitting at my
desk on a beautiful Saturday afternoon staring out the window, or
when I'm inching along in traffic to or from campus. The med school
routine starts to feel monotonous. So, when the earth does her
thing and the land around me transforms, I am thrilled! I found
orange leaves on the ground outside the front door this morning.
This obvious sign that fall is here made me reflect on how much
change really does take place in the midst of my regular routine. I
am evolving as a doctor in training, learning to see the world
around me with the eyes of a Naturopath.
I see a man limp down the street and speculate on which muscles
or nerves are not functioning properly. I listen to another man
with a lifeless arm order sandwiches in a low, nasal voice with
little enunciation and I speculate on which part of his brain
suffered a stroke. I watch the guy in line ahead of me at the
grocery store as he blinks and twitches his head repeatedly and I
can identify the part of his brain that might be disinhibited, by
medications I wonder? Two years ago, I would see only a limp, hear
only a funny voice, and notice only a man who blinks a lot.
In naturopathic medicine, we consider the experience of the
change of seasons a determinant of health under the category of
light and cycles. Cycles that last longer than a day, and are
therefore not linked to our circadian cycle, are called infradian
rhythms. Annual cycles of the seasons are infradian rhythms, and
can affect our metabolism, appetite, and weight gain. It is healthy
and vital to experience these changes that indicate the passage of
time. The days get shorter and our bodies respond in kind. The
temperature changes and our systems acclimate. We learn that spring
and fall are ideal times to cleanse as we prepare for the
inevitable hot summer or cold winter.
As I meditate on summer's bow to the arrival of fall, I remember
that every trimester brings change, too. I have a new set of
professors, new expectations, and new information to throw into
that fragrant soup of knowledge I keep cooking up there. I suppose
my task is to recognize the small changes happening every day and
find solace in them. I will also revel in fall while it lasts, and
try to notice all of its colors and smells while in the thick of my
busy academic life.
I think I'll leave you with this, written by Stephen King, about
the change of seasons:
"But then fall comes, kicking
summer out on its treacherous ass as it always does one day
sometime after the midpoint of September, it stays awhile like an
old friend that you have missed. It settles in the way an old
friend will settle into your favorite chair and take out his pipe
and light it and then fill the afternoon with stories of places he
has been and things he has done since last he saw you."
One morning when I was 18, I went out for a run in the
Adirondack woods and after I rounded a corner, I stopped dead on
the narrow trail and looked up to see a buck standing in my way. I
stood stock still for half a minute as we made eye contact. I think
I took one or two steps back, which made him hesitate and glance
over his shoulder, then stamp once. He was brownish grey with dark
brown eyes and a small-ish rack of antlers that made me think he
was fairly young. Another shift in my posture was all it took for
him to turn abruptly and bound off into the woods to my right.
(This was before smart phones, and there was no power plug within 2
miles of me to power it anyways, so I didn't catch a picture, but
the image stays remarkably clear in my mind.)
This experience was one of several encounters with wild things I
had over the summers I spent at Tanager Lodge, a summer camp in the Northern
Adirondack Park in upstate New York (the same place I traveled to
for that wedding mentioned in last week's post.) That wedding trip
has inspired this meditation on what Tanager fostered in me that
made me gravitate towards naturopathy more than any other school of
the healing arts.
Old Map of Tanager Lodge
Tanager is a self-proclaimed wilderness camp that engages
"campers and staff in a small, non-competitive community dedicated
to wilderness appreciation, life skills, and individual growth."
This is its 90th summer in operation.
A day in the life of a camper or staff member (I was both)
starts with waking to the sound of a flute (a real one, played from
atop a cliff...I'm not kidding), followed by a dip in the lake,
then breakfast on open porches, cleaning and prepping camp for the
day by bailing boats, peeling carrots, sweeping docks, cleaning our
tents, etc., and then choosing an activity for the morning.
My favorite activity was making herbal teas. We would hike out a
mile or so into the woods on a rainy day and carefully harvest all
kinds of edible leaves, berries, flowers and bark. Once back in
main camp, we steeped them in varying combinations. After a while,
we tasted all the different teas we'd made and they helped to warm
us after a morning of tromping around in the rain. The steeping of
teas is pretty darn naturopathic; there's even an elective class
here at National called Special Topics in Botanical Medicine in
which we learn to make medicinal herbal teas (and many other things
like salves, tinctures, and elderflower fritters!)
Looking south from Indian Point (a photo I took at Tanager
If you are just beginning to explore naturopathic medicine,
please do not feel that you need to come with a past full of jaunts
in the woods and time spent identifying plants. I have many
exceptional peers here at NUHS who came right out of the heart of
cities like New York and Detroit. Not every naturopathic student
loves to get their hands dirty in the garden or yearns for a hike
in the woods like I do, but I am pretty sure we all have a deep
respect for the natural world.
The Tanager Lodge community I grew up with strives to live by 12
Woodcraft Laws that will likely resonate with naturopathic students
in some way. These laws generally parallel the community, spiritual
and ethical aspects of our
Determinants of Health (listen to Dr. Louise Edwards speak on
the topic). I'll leave you with the list and hope that you have
learned a little more about what draws me to study Naturopathic
I'm deciding whether or not to study Massage Therapy while I'm here at
National in addition to getting my ND. Many of my peers get dual
degrees, whether it be ND/DC or ND/AOM because the modalities and
philosophies run in parallel and allow us to expand our scope to
meet our interests and passions, especially in unlicensed states.
Part of the adventure of studying naturopathic medicine is learning
what aspects of our vast toolbox suit you best, and then exploring
ways to pursue those interests.
I struggled for a few weeks last fall with whether or not to
enroll in the AOM program, because Chinese medicine
is so wise and its application is so broad and increasingly
accepted by mainstream medicine. It serves as an excellent adjunct
to naturopathic medicine. Many of our professors use it. Ultimately
though, I realized I do not absolutely, definitely, no question,
want to be a master of Chinese medicine in the kind of way I know I want to be a
naturopathic doctor. And, I am not willing to invest all the
time and money in something that doesn't feel quite right for
In E&M Extremities class, Meg demonstrates a gait anomaly
as the rest of us analyze it.
Over the past few trimesters, I have gravitated towards physical
medicine in application with naturopathic medicine. I was totally
surprised when I enjoyed E&M
class and found that I was actually pretty good at adjusting. I
realized that I know my body and its relationship to weight-bearing
and careful maneuvering through my experience of being a
competitive athlete. It's been years since I gave up competitive
sports in college, but I still have that knack for acquiring muscle
memory and fluidity in movement, and it pays off in understanding
how the body should, or wants to, move.
Cranial Sacral Massage elective class with our
Patricia Coe and Dr. Heather Wisniewski
Also, having never taken any kinesiology classes, I figured I
was doomed when it came to grasping biomechanics. As it turns out,
knowing my body and its movements has made learning biomechanics
and adjusting a lot easier. Inspired by my propensity for
understanding and applying physical medicine, I asked for a
recommendation of who to talk to or what other avenues to explore
beyond the classroom. Dr. Pearson, one of the family practice
interns, directed me to Dr. Coe, massage program supervisor and
instructor (and totally awesome
ND/DC/MT/photographer/character/mentor). I signed up for her massage
elective class on Cranial Sacral technique and discovered this
awesome new dimension to add to my ND toolbox. By using what I
learned in Dr. Coe's class, I continue to study through experience
on my friends and fellow classmates. I am learning how to listen
with my hands, follow what I find, and make people feel better.
"Inside/Outside: Muscle/Hand" San Francisco, 1994.
U.S. National Library of Medicine. Katherine Du
Tiel (b. 1961) [artist]
So, in an effort to distract myself from the stress of 3 exams
and 2 assignments due in the upcoming days, I've tracked down Dr.
Coe and picked her brain on my options for adding the Massage
I also reached out to a recent NUHS grad who tutored me through
Phase 1 and studied in the massage, chiropractic and naturopathic
programs during her time here at National. She offered some solid
advice. (Even after they're gone from campus, NUHS folks are still
accessible and willing to help you!) Now I have to make some
decisions. It's probably time to make a pros and cons list and a
phone call to Mom and Dad, who always offer pretty good advice.
Part of what makes naturopathic medicine so strong is this great
big toolbox we're given. It also presents a fun challenge to us
students: to discover our strengths and trust the process!
To catch a fish on a fly rod, you first assemble all the parts
of the rod. Next, you select a fly appropriate for the fish you are
trying to catch. Practice your cast in order to land the fly where
you want it on the water in the vicinity of a curious fish. Tug on
your line so that fly moves over or through the water like it was
alive. Watch carefully as the fish goes for the fly and right as
she takes it, pull up on your line to set the hook! When I caught
my first fish (a bluegill) on my very own fly rod (a Christmas
gift) on Friday after class, the hardest part was figuring out what
to do once I'd hooked the fish. It wriggled around in my hands; I
even dropped it twice before asking for advice.
On Tuesday, Dr. Sheppard told us a story in Homeopathy class. A
man walks down a beach strewn with stranded starfish. He encounters
another man on the beach who is tossing the starfish back into the
ocean, one at a time. The first man asks him why he bothers, "There
are so many doomed starfish here! You can never possibly save them
"At least I can help a few of them," the other says.
In casting about for our fish, after assembling our rods and
choosing the right flies, my peers and I watch, work and wait to
set the hook for the completion of our naturopathic studies. We can
see the fish under the surface, and mind you, she always looks
bigger underwater than she is in reality. The thrill of the catch
is preceded by the calculated maneuvering of our fly across the
water, pulling it back and taking another cast, trying to land the
fly closer to our target to make it look more appealing. The more
practice, the more accurate our casts, the more realistic our fly,
the closer we come to catching the end of school. We are thankful
for the challenge, for what would fly-fishing be if all we had to
do was cast once and the fish would come all of its own accord?
Where is the fun in that? How do we improve if we must never send
out another cast?
Those who are less familiar with our medicine come across us,
tossing starfish back into the ocean, one at a time. What's the
point? There are so many sick, over-medicated, complicated patients
with no knowledge of what real food looks and tastes like, no
memory of what a good night sleep feels like. Well, we'll go out
into the world of the sick and help put a few starfish back in the
water. I read once that only 20% of scientists, but 80% of doctors,
have some form of belief in a higher power, some spirituality.
Perhaps this is because we can throw back only a few starfish, even
after setting that cast so carefully on the water and watching with
our full attention as the fish takes the fly.
I cannot be sure, but I imagine fulfillment comes from the
joyous response of those starfish that do make it back into the
ocean. I do know for sure that if you do not keep practicing your
cast, you lose some of the finesse. It becomes harder to catch the
fish, less intuitive. So, let a few happy starfish motivate you to
keep practicing your cast, all the while keeping your eye on that
fish, the one that looks bigger underwater than she is in real life
-- the one you're not quite sure how to handle once you catch
I suppose the best way to start my tenure on this naturopathic
student blog is to tell you how I got here. Naturopathic medicine
found me during my senior year at St. Lawrence University in
upstate New York as I sat in a course called Cross-Cultural
Healing. Our professor told us we would not, in fact, be having a
lecture on the topic of naturopathic medicine. We could cross it
off the syllabus. Somehow, the phrase "naturopathic medicine"
stayed with me, floating on my conscience over the next 3 years
while I carried on about wanting to be a writer or a marine
scientist (or both) and buried that intimidating notion that I
really was supposed to be a doctor.
In the years between graduating from St. Lawrence and starting
at NUHS, I moved from home in Newton, Massachusetts, to Dubois,
Wyoming, to Seattle, Washington, to Truckee, California, and
finally to Oak Park, Illinois, where I live now. Along the way I
have been influenced by my experiences working for my mother's
Integrative Dermatology practice, a dude ranch, an MD who
specialized in exercise science and metabolic conditions, a yoga
studio, a chiropractor, an acupuncturist, an environmental
conservation group, a wellness spa, a ski resort, and finally, an
actual naturopathic doctor.
Finally, my decision to pursue naturopathic medicine came about
one breezy, sunny California day as I sat struggling to articulate
to my boyfriend why I wanted to go live on a remote tropical island
to study fish, and why he should come with me. In the middle of my
treatise, my wise friend told me, "But you love people, Mackie. Do
you really want to live on a remote island and study things that
can't talk back?" Stunned, I conceded right then and there that
this was true; I was just going to have to become a naturopathic
My very first class at NUHS at 8am on a Monday morning was
practically heaven. Our professor, Dr. Louise Edwards,
welcomed our class by describing naturopathic doctors and students
of the medicine as "intelligent, powerful, eclectic black sheep
with big hearts." This introduction and the rest of Foundations of
Naturopathic Medicine class erased any doubts I had about leaving
the easy life of a ski bum and moving to this big city to
So, here I am, studying away! I may be far from the mountains,
woods, rocks, and rivers that help make me feel most whole, but I
have found my purpose and look forward to sharing more of this
experience with you through this blog! Please do come again.
• Leaves, Flowers, Berries, and Bark
• Farmer's Market
• Should I Study Massage Therapy, Too?
To read older blog posts, scroll to the bottom and click the "Older Posts" button.