By Brittini Gehring, Master Herbalist - Chief Botanical Officer for RidgeCrest Herbals
My path to becoming an Herbalist has been a series of events laid out before me - one step at a time. I recall many hours spent in the mountains, holding my father's hand as he pointed out different plants and explained their uses to me. I was totally enthralled with this information, but was too young to realize just how much these outings would shape my future. As life continued, fate provided me with a way to apply the the things I had learned in nature and led me on a beautiful path to success, peace, fulfillment and service.
The first stepping stone in my journey was placed long before I really knew what career path I would take. It was nearly 30 years ago, I was just a young girl, and it was the 4th of July. This particular year, my family and I were celebrating in a wilderness park when something colorful next to a boulder caught my eye. Always on the lookout for treasure, I curiously strolled over to the large rock, and beneath it was a pair of the most beautiful beaded moccasins I had ever seen. Something about them made my heart pound, and I looked around to see if there was anyone else nearby to claim them, but there was only my family having a picnic in the distance. Something about them resonated with me, and reminded me of my great, great grandmother, who belonged to the Ute tribe. I pondered what to do, and made the decision to pick them up. It may sound odd, but at that moment, I felt they were placed there just for me, although I had no idea why. Such a profound and clear feeling can be overwhelming to a young girl, so I ran to show my parents, who I was sure would tell me to put them back. They didn't! In fact, they assured me that if I didn't keep them, someone else would, so I took them home and loved them. The beading was immaculate, and the colors were so vibrant. For years, the moccasins sat in a box in my closet, and I would open it periodically to admire them, and sometimes try them on - they always fit. It would be a long time full of learning and growth before I would find out just how valuable they would be.
The next stepping stone arrived 8 years later, on another continent. I had moved to Brazil for two years on a service mission. I came to know a family who after inquiring where I lived, asked me to take some books back to a man in my home state once my mission was over. They informed me that he was an herbalist who had lived in Brazil many years before, and that his father, Dr. John Christopher had founded a school for natural medicine. In that instant, I knew what my future would hold. When I got back to my home state, I couldn't wait to take the books to their owner and discuss my future, which is exactly what I did. Unfortunately, after being gone for two years without any income, I was broke and needed to save money to attend the school. Over the next few years, I got married, and had two children. They became my whole world, and my dream of becoming an herbalist was placed behind the responsibilities of being a wife and mother. One day, I met a girl who told me about her own plans of attending Dr. Christopher's School of Natural Healing. It was one of those, “No way! Me too!” moments, and my desire to pursue my career was reignited. I had some obstacles now, but my biggest one was convincing a controlling spouse that attending school would not interfere with me being a good homemaker, or cost us much money. “If I can find the money on my own, can I do it?” I begged. “Yeah, sure,” he said, as he laughed with a certainty that there was no way I could come up with tuition on my own. I applied for, and received a scholarship that covered half of the cost. I still had to come up with the remaining money, but from where? I exhausted every idea I could think of, but none of them would bring enough cash as fast as I needed it.
Ebay was a new concept at the time, but it was my only remaining hope. I began listing any and every valuable item I had, including antique dolls, jewelry, books, gently used baby items, etc. Then I remembered the moccasins... I pulled them out of the box they had been in for so many years, and I admired them again as I did the first time I saw them. I decided it was time to see if they could somehow help me. I listed them on Ebay, without even considering that Native American artifacts were highly sought-after by collectors. My husband laughed and shook his head when he saw me listing them - but he didn't know that destiny was on my side. As soon as the moccasins were listed, bids started going up and questions about their authenticity flooded my inbox. As luck would have it, an outdoor Native American artifact show was taking place just minutes away from my home that same day, and I hurried down to look for a specialist who could tell me if the moccasins were authentic. I located an expert, who examined them and told me that the laces were real sinew and that the tiny beads were handmade and had been delicately sewn on by hand. The leather was most likely deer hide, also authentic. The material lining the back of the heel was still such a vivid red that he felt it may have been restored at some point, but possibly original. He explained to me that these were burial moccasins, and that they were considered sacred.
I returned home, even more intrigued by how these moccasins came to me. I updated the listing to say that they had been verified by an expert to be authentic, and the bids kept coming. For the last hour of the auction, my husband and I watched in awe as the bids continued to climb, right up until the very last minute, and SOLD! The final amount was the EXACT sum, right down to the penny, that I needed to cover the rest of my tuition. My eyes still fill with tears when I recall this moment of definite purpose and realization of why I found those moccasins so many years ago. The new owner had a lot of questions about them, including how they came into my possession.
I told him the whole story, and he too was intrigued. He asked me to write down the story so he could display it with the moccasins in the gallery they were going to. Full of gratitude, I carefully wrapped them in tissue paper with my story. I held them close to me, whispered thank you, and mailed them off. Letting them go was hard, but I knew it was for a greater purpose. I enrolled in school, and wasted no time sharing my education with friends, family, and clients. The week I graduated, my husband decided to trade in his family for a more “exciting” lifestyle (another unforeseen stepping stone), and we divorced. The moccasins were gone, but they gave me the motivation and courage to pursue a career that would bless me, my family, and others indefinitely, even during hard times. They eventually led me to my current position as the Chief Botanical Officer at RidgeCrest Herbals, Inc., a company that truly cares about quality and helping others. I am approaching my 10 year anniversary with RidgeCrest, and at present, I oversee new formulations and Quality Assurance. Just like with the moccasins, my career with RidgeCrest fits. A photo of the moccasins hangs above my desk to this very day, as a reminder of their role in my path to becoming an herbalist.