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Meet Bethany Ridenour of Bristle & Stick Handcrafted Brooms

Today we’d like to introduce you to Bethany Ridenour.

Bethany, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
As a young person, I spent much of my life in and out of institutions, juvenile hall/psychiatric hospitals/foster homes/Group homes, etc. When I wasn’t locked up somewhere, I lived on the streets. I hung out with gang members and other street kids and was on and off of drugs most of the time as well. These institutional systems are not set up to support struggling youth or help us in any way, they are set up to keep people caught in it so that it can support itself over time. I know there are many young people that didn’t and may never escape its clutches and they are in my heart and mind every single day. I feel really grateful and lucky that I somehow escaped it. When I look back, there are two important relationships that developed in my teenage years that I believe were foundational in getting me to where I am today.

One is that I started obsessively cleaning. Some would call me a “neat freak” – I spent a lot of time cleaning, I would do this even when I was on the streets – Like I would clean out my backpack a few times a day. When I was in a foster home or group home or back at my parents I would grab a Broom or rearrange the room and clean behind everything, It just made me feel better. In fact, they tried to pathologize this and say I had obsessive-compulsive disorder. I know now that I was trying to create safe space for myself in a world that felt fairly chaotic and unsafe around me. I also know now that I was beginning to clean and sweep away the trauma and pain in order to help myself heal.

At the same time, I developed an intimate relationship with the More-Than-Human world. For me, that means plants, trees, animals, elements, etc… our non – Human Relatives. I guess I would be considered an animist, meaning I believe everything has spirit and is alive. This relationship developed also unconsciously because often when I was running away from the police, group homes, myself, an abusive person, or whatever, The places I would go to hide were wilderness areas. While some kids had a nice home or other safe space, these were mine. I like to think I was raised in part by trees. These are the relatives that held me and cared for me. I never felt judged, pathologized or unwanted, only held, loved and accepted just the way I was. As that relationship deepened and became more conscious for me, a lot of healing happened and I eventually started learning and teaching land-based skills and technology. Some folx call these “primitive skills” or “survival skills” but I don’t like that terminology.

These are the skills that everybody’s ancestors did (and many still do) at some point when they were land-based people. Making fire by friction – building shelters- processing animals – hide tanning- basket weaving, etc. I met a woman named Tamara Wilder – She was my first teacher and I will forever be in gratitude to her for how much this connection helped me heal. I spent many years specializing in hide tanning and also got really into handcraft. I notice and have noticed how much healing happens when we work with natural elements and our hands to create things. This relationship with the natural world around me has literally saved my life. When we sit together in a circle and make the things we will use on an everyday basis, we speak to the oldest parts of our DNA. I have watched so much healing take place sitting in a circle and making with other people.

Thru the years my relationship with cleaning in order to ground and empower myself has never changed tho it has probably become more intentional. I specifically have found the act of sweeping one of the best things I can do to calm myself and create safe space. I spent many years collecting handmade brooms. A handful of years ago, I decided to bridge the gap of making with my hands and my cleaning obsession and began searching for a Broom Making workshop that I could attend. I found such workshop in Washington state on Marrowstone Island at the Cedar Root Folx School – My teacher was Maria Bullock. I have been swept away with Broom Craft ever since. I have a small business called Bristle & Stick and I both make brooms and travel up and down the west coast teaching Broom making and sharing my story with folx.

Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
As far as my broom making business goes it has not been easy to but compared to what I have been thru in my life, it feels like a dream and a privilege to do what I am doing.

Any shoutouts? Who else deserves credit in this story – who has played a meaningful role?
I give all the credit to my more-than-human relatives and my Ancestors who have guided me every step of the way, they have both taught me about strength and resilience.

I have so much gratitude as stated before for Tamara Wilder who was my first human teacher in Ancestral Skills and my Broom teacher Maria Bullock.

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1 Comment

  1. Izzy

    May 14, 2019 at 21:23

    I have had the privilege of taking one of Bethany’s brook making classes and a gathering in Oregon “Echoes in Time”. She is such an inspiration and a beautiful soul! Her classes are AMAZING and so much fun!

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