What is a Seawolf?

So what exactly is a "seawolf"? Depending on your age and cultural heritage, you might tell me that a seawolf is

an orca or killer whale.
a voracious marine fish, such as a wolffish or seabass.
an elephant seal or sealion.
a pirate or privateer.
a certain military class of submarine.

However, there is one last definition, which I like the best - a seawolf is a fabulous sea beast, a mysterious mythical creature which can fire up the imagination.

My ancestral and cultural heritage is Celtic, and this heritage is reflected in much of the artwork that I create. Like many other cultures, the Celts also had animal totems and allies. However, in the Celtic system most people were associated with more than one animal. Historical reconstruction has suggested that the Celts had a lunar, 13 month calendar divided into quarters based on the seasons. Each month was assigned a letter from the early Celtic alphabet, referred to as the Ogham. The Ogham is sometimes called the "Celtic Tree Alphabet" as the result of a high medieval tradition of ascribing the names of trees to the individual letters. As a result, each of the 13 months also had a tree association. Based on the gods and legends of the Celts, there would also have been several animals associated with each tree. The tree and its associated animals would have formed the birth totems of a person born in that month. Like the First Nations cultures of northern British Columbia, many Celts also had a clan totem or emblem which they inherited from either their maternal and paternal heritage. Finally, as observed in the Celtic legends, some Celts appeared to have a personal spirit guide that provided protection, guidance and inspiration. Spirit guides were usually animals that appeared to the person at times of need or during important decisions, or were animals to which the person was particularly drawn. Common celtic totems included the deer, bear, badger, raven, eagle, swan, otter, mouse, boar, cat, horse, wolf, hound, eel and salmon. Thus, from my birth month and my family history, my animal clan totem would most likely be a salmon, and my birth totems would be the rowan tree and the crane. Throughout my childhood, I was fascinated by canines, and wolves specifically. They have worked their way into my artwork and my life. Indeed, I have had more than one amusing encounter with real wolves, unlike the terrible fairy tales that tell about big bad wolves eating peoples' grandmothers! It seems to me that the wolf is my spirit guide, and this is why the wolf is present in Ocean Ecology's crest and why I am calling the newest endeavor in my life "Seawolf's Apothecary". The fantastical embellishment of the wolf into a "seawolf" is my own invention, based on my love for the sea.

Background and Experience

For those who have known me best as an oceanographer, it may seem strange that I am heading off in what appears to be an unusual direction - botany, ethnobotany, herbalism, and permaculture. However, I come by these interests quite naturally. My parents were farmers, and I spent about half of my childhood growing up on a cattle ranch, and the remainder of my childhood living and working on a fruit orchard. I have always had a close connection to the land and living, growing things. I started gardening as a child, and have grown gardens in a variety of locations off and on throughout my life. My mother is an Irish-descent Canadian, and she learned both Celtic and North American plant lore from her parents. Fortunately, I inherited an interest in this type of knowledge.

When I graduated from high school, I decided to take a science degree. I have always enjoyed science and nature, so this seemed like a good course of action. I ended up with a B.Sc. in combined chemistry/biochemistry. While I had enjoyed my studies greatly, when I looked at the potential job options available with my new degree, I discovered that most of them were lab jobs working for the big chemical industries. This wasn't what I had hoped for at all.

It was at that point in my life that I realized that what I really wanted to be was a naturalist, a "jack-of-all trades" scientist who went out and did real field work and didn't just work at a lab bench in some huge plant somewhere. Also, I had begun to develop what has become a life-long love of the sea and the creatures that inhabit it. Thus I decided to continue with my education, and enrolled in a graduate degree in oceanography at UBC with a specialization in both chemistry and biology. I became a "chemical ecologist", a person who looks at the chemicals produced by different organisms and how these chemicals allow organisms to communicate, deter predators, and carry out numerous other ecological roles in their environments. While my personal focus was on the chemical ecology of the natural environment, the lab that I was working at had another focus as well - "drugs from the sea". As a result, I became acquainted with the big drug companies and the long and arduous process of drug screening and testing.

Our lives' journeys take us on interesting paths, and mine took me north to the community of Prince Rupert, where I became an instructor at the local community college for 12 years, teaching chemistry, biology, botany, zoology, ecology, and oceanography. I researched and designed components for my courses involving local and Western ethnobotany, plant collection and identification, and proper herbarium techniques. I led many, many botany field trips with community members during those years.

Recently, I completed my Permaculture Design Certificate, and I am now in the process of becoming a Master Herbalist with Demetria Clark as my mentor. These courses are deepening and broadening by knowledge and wisdom as I take this new path.

So, strange as it may seem, I'm an oceanographer with a green thumb and one foot on land!

My Dream

I am hoping to become a consulting herbalist and start a home-based apothecary in Prince Rupert. In this way, I will be able to combine what I will be learning in the Master Herbalist program with my previous experiences in botany, ethnobotany, wildcrafting, farming, chemistry, and biochemistry. As a "community herbalist", I feel that there will be many "jobs" that I can do in our community. These "jobs" will range from education, where I will be teaching community members about the plants, their uses, and the ecology of the planet, to diagnosis and treatment of illness and poor health, where I will be attempting to find the cause of the ailment and provide holistic suggestions and recommendations which would assist the person's body in healing itself. I will also be wildcrafting, growing, harvesting, and processing herbs into products which can be used by the community.

I believe that a herbalist should be a "wise one" for the community - a person that members of the community feel they can consult for wisdom, knowledge, and possible solutions to problems. A herbalist should also be a keeper of community traditions that need to be passed from generation to generation.

Learn More About Seawolf's Apothecary