A Day in the Desert: the Poetics of Larrea
Yesterday I took Wolf to the dentist, and for us, this means a two and a half hour trip to Lordsburg. Bad for the gas tank, and no fun for Wolf’s mouth but definitely an opportunity to explore a different ecosystem for plants. The two hours to Silver City is pretty typical Gila flora, lower elevation than here with lots of dried up Sunflowers, Mexican Poppies, Evening Primrose and Vervain. In the riparian areas huge Cottonwoods tower and Wild Roses clamber. People’s yards are full of weird exotics that might be useful but are still strange and a little sad to see. Once you get past Silver City there’s abundant Oak Woodland interspersed with fields of Cane Cholla and various species of Yucca. When the elevation starts to fall even further, probably down to about 5,000 feet the Oaks disappear and suddenly we’re surrounded by rocky outcrops thickly populated by a native species of very tall Ephedra, mixed with Acacia, Sumach and the occasional Larrea (Creosote Bush).
The clinic was at the edge of town on a dead-end road, open on three sides to wild desert landscape. Well, if not wild, at least pretty damn feral. There were miles of Larrea, Sumach, Ephedra and another amazing Bay/Labrador Tea scented shrub that I have yet to ID. There were also miles of rusted tin cans, PVC piping, plastic bags and other wind-driven desert refugees. Yet the plants were healthy, the soil intact, and the scent of resin was thick in the air.
While Wolf underwent the dubious honor of dentristy I wandered through the desert gathering aromatic medicines. A cold wind whipped through the lowlands and I buttoned the blue wool sweater to my neck. It was a rare cloudy day and the air was thin and sharp in my throat. Although November is not generally considered the optimal month for gathering the leafy parts of any plant, the Larrea was sticky and strong smelling, a good sign of potency. Generally, I like to harvest the flowering tops of this arid adapted shrub in Spring, feeling that the nectar rich gold flowers are a lovely energetic addition to the remedy. Yesterday, the grey fuzzy seeds rattled in the greenery and stuck to my fingers as I gathered, providing a different, deeper kind of medicine. Looking around, I noticed that certain plants wore a far more vibrant shade of green than others, so I searched out the brightest green bushes.
After I’d harvested a few armfuls of Larrea I crouched below a thicket of scrub and a huge Crucifixion Thorn lookalike to watch the wind carry leaves and bags and sand across the horizon. Now and then, a rabbit would dart from one bit of cover to the next and I spotted coyote tracks and scat not far from my resting spot. Far above me a hawk screamed and I smiled to myself.
On the way home we drove up a windy road back into the moutains of the Gila to an old mining town called Pinos Altos on Bear Creek. We stopped at the Saloon/Opera House for a fireplace lit dinner before heading home in the dark. The whole two hours towards home we must have passed maybe a dozen cars and the landscape was lit by brilliant, icy stars.
Back in the Canyon the sky is clear and my hands, hair and clothes are drenched in the rich, strange scent peculiar to the deserts of the Southwest. And to one of the finest medicine plants in the world.
More on the practica of Larrea soon.