Michael Moore

Living in China keeps me somewhat insulated from some of the goings on in the US. But the day before yesterday I got news of a great loss, the death of one of the greatest American herbalists of the 20th Century, Michael Moore.
I first met Michael when I went to visit (with a friend) his school in 1993. One of my friend’s past teachers and good friend (7Song) was teaching botany there and we made the long drive from the Bay Area to Albuquerque, NM to spend about a week there. I had seen Michael teach once before and was thrilled to have the opportunity to listen to him in his school setting.
Michael was a large man with a larger beard. He was irreverent and could be darn-right grumpy. When I asked if I could record the classes he asked, “Why on earth would you want to do that?” I was a bit taken aback, stammering, and before I could say anything he simply said, “If you must.” During one of the classes I attended on materia medica I asked a question. At the time it seemed like a reasonable question and I was more or less happy with his answer, although it did take 15 minutes for him to filter through everything he thought was relevant to the question, but I liked the way he addressed the question from seemingly incongruent perspective….but that is me. After the class I got a tongue lashing from a number of students who explained to me that they mostly refrained from asking questions because Michael would go off for long periods of time with what seemed to them to be irrelevant information.
I didn’t see Michael again until 1999 when we were both teaching at Brietenbush Hot Springs in Oregon. He was the center of a lot of attention and we only spoke briefly. But in 2001 or 2002 we both again were teaching, this time in Montana at the Montana Herb Gathering. By this time I had done a little writing and was active on an online professional herbalists group and, well I guess I had made a bit of a name for myself. It was also apparent that I hadn’t made much of an impression on Michael the previous times I had met him because when I finished teaching a class the first day I was told by someone that he wanted to meet me. Well for those of you who didn’t know Michael, let me tell you that I was honored that he would want to make a point to meet me. Of course I also realized that perhaps I had not been all that impressive the first couple times but never-the-less when I found him sitting at the picnic table and introduced myself he did, in fact, remember me, he just hadn’t put the face with the name….one of the problems with online groups.
For the next couple hours we chatted about various plants and other herbal related stuff. He poked fun at me for being a Chinese herbalist and I spouted on about the greatness of Chinese medicine. He gave me his CD collections that had everything he had produced and gathered to that point and I promised him a copy of my book when it got published, sadly I never fulfilled that promise.
The last time I saw Michael was two years ago in Bow Willow Springs (Southern California) where myself and my good friend Ben Zappin where leading a group. Michael was meandering on one of the many desert tours with an entourage of students from his school, then located in Bisbee, Arizona. We chatted briefly and he again poked fun at me for studying Chinese medicine, saying something about what a complicated and convoluted system it is. We chuckled together and I could see that his health had deteriorated a good deal from the last time I saw him.
Michael retired from teaching last year, he just couldn’t do it any more. His health was poor and the strain of teaching was more that he could handle. There are many herbalists that have been touched by him, many inspired, and many more who have read his books with intense hunger. All of my copies of his books are dog-eared and worn, in fact the cover of my copy of Medicinal Plants of the Pacific West is covered with clear packing tape both because it was getting tattered and because it was constantly getting wet when I took it into the field with me. I quoted him in my book, and I am sure I will again. His writing was fresh, humorous at times, and always straight to the point, well sort of….
Michael, you are missed, but more importantly I wrote this to celebrate you and who you are, and how much I appreciate how you impacted both me and nearly all the herbalists in North America. THANK YOU!
As you sore through the sky,
You can look down,
to see all that was your
stomping grounds.
You can see the Arnica,
and the Anemopsis,
the Immortal,
the Pasque Flower,
and the Ocotillo.
May your flight be clear,
and you journey free.
Peace be with you Brother Bear.

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