Section: News

On the Record: Paul Strauss, Herbalist

On the Record: Paul Strauss, Herbalist

Photo by Linnea Feldman Emison

Herbalist Paul Strauss visited the Brown Family Environmental Center (BFEC) last Thursday to show the film The Sanctity of Sanctuary and answer questions about his experience reclaiming strip-mined land, which ultimately became a botanical sanctuary in southern Ohio. Strauss currently operates Equinox Botanicals in Ohio’s Meigs County, in addition to teaching about medicinal herbs. Strauss’s visit was sponsored by the BFEC, the American Studies department and the Knox County Park District.

What do you want Kenyon students to take away from your visit?

If you’re in a college situation, so many people are being funneled by the huge capitalist machine … It’s money, it’s the fast life that’s being offered, it’s the inside jobs. I just see that as kind of desolate in some way. There’s other worlds out there, there’s a lot of places to be satisfied and live a wonderful life and still make money. Maybe you should look at it. In the end, that’s what the earth needs.

Do you think that message will resonate with Kenyon students?

It will resonate with some Kenyon students — that’s all you can hope for. I don’t know if anybody will switch their major, but I don’t really care. I would hope everybody would talk to the earth. If you’re being funneled into that world, it’s hard to talk to the earth.

How did you come to your current vision of green living?

I came to that in ways that kids can’t today because I was in the ’60s. My friends were coming back [from Vietnam] and I was being called to war, and there was no way I was going. I was going to Canada if I had to. I dropped out of school and they called me up right away. How powerful is that: to see friends you played ball with coming back in body bags.

At all costs, I wanted to learn the tools of self sufficiency. Give myself what I needed, give a future family what they needed, but also get people on to that. You can grow your own food; land is cheap down here. You can learn so much by living with plants. The whole way, I’ve run into incredible teachers. The greatest teacher is the earth itself, the land; that’s where I learn the most. The whole way it’s like my path has been predestined. Whatever happened, a teacher would make himself available to me, and I would make myself available to them. I’ve been a lucky man that way, and because I’ve been a lucky man, I feel I have a whole lot to give back. I’ve been blessed to find the farm I found, to learn the skills I’ve learned, to meet the teachers I’ve met, to be able to feed myself, to have my own water, my own septic system, my own garbage, to learn how to fertilize soil, now to learn how to pass this green spark out to people. It’s out there.

Explain why creating a botanical sanctuary was important to you.

There’s always been this notion that all the local people just go in the woods to get their herbs. The botanical sanctuary is important because it’s important to have wild land; it’s good for the soul. The earth is the greatest teacher, so to have a botanical sanctuary, we can offer intern programs. It all goes along with what I’m trying to do, which is passing on this green spark. The more I can give to people, I’m paying my dues in the right way; I’m thanking the earth for gifts that I was given. I can be [a] steward and protect and teach.

Since you were active in protesting coal mining, have you been politically active around fracking in Ohio?

I’ll have to go out and talk to the people, talk to the county commissioners, talk to the other politicians, talk to the newspapers, talk to people who don’t want to hear what I have to say. They’re gonna say, ‘I want that job’ [created by fracking] I have to get out there. I’m not alone in this now. It’ll be much the same as the coal issue, trying to get the word out to the people. I don’t know if it’ll work. It’s an uphill battle.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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