The Ecological Niche of Creative Expression: Q & A with Sarah Louise

“I believe that using creative expression to communicate with each other and the Earth is one of our core ecological niches as a keystone species.”

We are excited to welcome back Sarah Louise of Spring from Soil to the Annual Firefly Gathering! With a string of albums called “Mystical” by the New York Times and “In tune with the thrust of existence” by NPR, Sarah’s music creates sonic environments for peace, healing, and belonging. As a musician, dancer, facilitator, and herbalist, Sarah’s performances and classes create experiences that connect us with Earth and help us to “remember what kind of animal we are” in the vast web of Life. This year, Sarah joins us for her second year as an instructor and her first year as a performer at Firefly Gathering 2024. 

In this interview, Sarah shares about her journey to this work, and how creativity connects to collaboration, healing, and promoting healthy ecosystems. Read more from Sarah below, and join her at Firefly Gathering this year, July 16-21, 2024 in Green Mountain, NC. 

sarah louise performing
Sarah Louise performs with Arulu at Firefly's 2023 Gala. Photo by Sarah Tew Photography

How does music relate to Earthskills? Or, how do you see music as a pathway to connecting deeper to Earth?

Our bodies are a part of the Earth. Singing tones our nervous systems, releases oxytocin and lowers cortisol, which helps us bond and lower stress. As social mammals, bonding helps us with a number of things, like creative problem-solving and peaceful conflict resolution. By supporting connection and healthy embodiment, music can also help us slow down and tap into creative and intuitive states, which I find are the foundation for communication with the Earth. 

Music can also help us be in reciprocity with plants we harvest, rhythmically guide processes like weaving or carving and even tell the cows when to come home. When we honor our voices as a means to connect, we can learn from the Earth through our own shining expression. This is our birthright. 

What can people expect from a live performance with you?

Participation! I have been remembering how to sing with my body as a part of the Earth, and I love inviting people to sing and dance with me. I hope to share an experience of collectively offering care to the sacred Cherokee land that makes our gathering possible.

What kinds of skills will you be teaching at Firefly, and what do you hope people will walk away with?

I help people tap into their own creativity as a way to collaborate with other-than-human intelligences. When rooted in deep listening, our songs, dances and visual art can teach us so much about the Earth and how to reweave ourselves into healthy ecosystems. My classes this year combine creative expression with herbalism, foraging, ceremony, guided embodiment practices and meditation. 

I hope people will feel the value of their own expression as a means to enjoy each other and the Earth. I hope they will walk away with tools to move through creative blockages, gather with friends to sing, and listen together. I also hope to help people feel more comfortable with experimentation on the imperfect path of growing land-based culture that meets this time. 

I can’t help but feel hopeful. We are incredible animals when we collaborate with each other and the Earth. We know we don’t do so well on our own. But all the blockages, all the wounding we carry – those are also the openings to heal.

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How did you first become interested in your skill?

Well…I was a huge plant nerd growing up! Starting in elementary school, my mom let me tend a small piece of garden. I would sing for hours to the wildflowers I transplanted there. One of my favorite things to do around first grade was to pick leaves and flowers, put them in a bowl and stir, pretending to make medicine. 

By middle school I had memorized latin names and uses of hundreds of plants and started making salves and tinctures. Because I did not have intact plant lineage handed down to me, my own animal body and the plants themselves remain my most important teachers. 

Since then, I have released and toured on 7 albums, which grew out of my journey of healing with the Earth. This experience has trained me how to nurture creative states of consciousness through Earth-connection and to invite others into this practice.

What is it about your skill/teaching that compels you? Why that skill, in particular?

I believe that using creative expression to communicate with each other and the Earth is one of our core ecological niches as a keystone species. It feels important to acknowledge that in my own primarily Western European ancestry, the erosion of culture that supported deeply loving and collaborative relationships with the land and its inhabitants causes ongoing harm. The harm is vast, and I don’t believe any of us, or even all of us as a single species, can figure out how to repair what has been so deeply fractured. 

This, I believe, is where creative expression as a means to communicate and collaborate with the Earth can be so helpful. I am hopeful that if people en masse can understand the value of their expression as a path to rebuilding healthy culture in collaboration with the Earth, we can help life-supporting systems flourish as we simultaneously honor through our grief what we cannot undo. 

Were there any influential folks in your life who helped you find this pathway?

I have been lucky to sit at the feet of British and French folk music lineage holders Shirley Collins, Carole Pegg, and Emmanuelle Parrenin. Jean Ritchie, the late Appalachian folklorist, ballad singer and environmental activist has been a huge inspiration to me as well. Experimental musicians/artists Milford Graves, Hilma Af Klint, Pauline Oliveros and Meredith Monk are also heroes to me who richly explore(d) the connection between expression, body and place. For a time in 2021, I lived with two medicine women and their families. Celestina Hidalgo modeled the deep devotion healers offer their communities and Marcela Pantigozo modeled ways to hold circles that honor everyone’s wisdom. And last but not least, my mother is an amazing artist and gardener, who tends to place and ancestors through her own expression.

Why is the earthskills movement and Earthskills Gatherings important to you now?

Earthskills gatherings exist at a very interesting intersection of subcultures, with a shared understanding that we need to connect with the Earth to hopefully not just survive, but to feel the inherent dignity of belonging to healthy cultural and environmental ecosystems. Everyone has their own wisdom and expression to offer to the healing of our world. When we gather, our voices combine and new solutions emerge.

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What does The Firefly Gathering in particular mean to you? Or, why does this Gathering matter, and how does it stand out to you?

I feel the authentic commitment to cultural healing and Earth connection that drives this labor of love. Environmental and social issues are always linked, and the organization’s understanding that the process of repair is not easy or perfect feels vital to helping Earth reconnection meaningfully grow.

What do you think is the single most important thing folks can do right now to make the world a better place?

Honor your expression no matter how deeply it is buried and invite it to help you listen to other beings.

Beyond the Gathering, how can folks stay connected with your work?

I am starting a nature-based choir called Sing From Soil where we gather to connect with the Earth through our vocal expression. It’s rooted in a practice I have been developing called Music Gardening that helps people use their voices to learn about and offer care to the Earth. We gather in different ecosystems and weave in learning about edible and medicinal plants and mushrooms, using our voices to help us listen for these beings’ consent. With practice, we can even learn their songs. Music Gardening also weaves in elements of soundscape ecology, offering opportunities to explore the human animal’s sonic niche in different environments. 

I also offer donation-based singing trash clean-ups in the Asheville area, 1:1 creative support and relational herbalism sessions. I love working with children, families and adults who want to nurture their inner child. Folks can learn more about these offerings as well as my own creative/herbal practices here: springfromsoil.com

We hope you’ll join us in welcoming Sarah Louise back to the Firefly Gathering this year, and engage with the wisdom and creative energy she brings to our community.  You can see her live performance on Wednesday night of the Gathering. Check out our 2024 Classes List for descriptions of her classes this year, including Song and Dance Plants!,  Music Gardening: Weaving with Life, Ceremonial Medicine Making, and Wailing for Healing.

WRITTEN BY

Firefly Gathering

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Lily Harlin

Bookkeeper

Lily is an artist, creator, and dreamer. Since a very young age, she has been immersed in the natural world and draws heavy inspiration from the wild. Though her medium changes frequently, Lily’s art and expression always incorporate an element of the organic and unpredictable. She got her associate in fine arts in 2023, and now volunteers at her school as a ceramic studio monitor. She hopes to open a studio of her own one day to have a place to teach and inspire others. In addition to doing commission work, Lily has been creating many graphics for The Firefly Gathering since 2019. Lily grew up in the Earthskills community from the time she was eight years old, so having the opportunity to grow and give back in so many ways has been incredibly fulfilling. No matter where she ends up, this group of people and ideas will always hold a special place in her heart.