May 112008

Here in the Gila, on the border between mountains and deserts, rivers and grasslands, countries and peoples, we are still very much immersed in the old ways. Hispanic wisdom, hardbitten mountain man sense and Native knowledge retain their hold. Bear fat is a cure-all here, nearly everyone knows how to use at least one plant for medicine and wild meat is valued above all other food. Outsiders sometimes see the landscape here as harsh or extreme while locals can’t understand why anyone would ever live anywhere else but all who pass through the enchanted lands of the Southwest recognize its magic, sensuality and power. The plants here tend to be exceptionally medicinally active, full of the wild energy of an untamed land. The terrain itself is eerily sentient, and often surreal in composition and color. Every morning I wake up amazed that this is where I belong and I revel in the joy of knowing the place I am called to.

There’s nothing quite as satisfying as healing that comes from home. The process of gathering plants by hand, preserving them with fermentation, fat or honey and then applying them in need, celebration or health is one that takes us deeper and deeper into relationship and intimacy with the matrix we belong to. In order to further this relationship, I continually simplify, looking for the vital core of what healing and herbalism is.

For me, this has meant becoming more and more locally based, and at this point there is only one plant in my primary materia medica that doesn’t grow here, although even this one has found its way into my garden this spring. The materials that form the base of my medicine also primarily come from nearby — local desert honey, wild animal fats (and hopefully local farm lard soon too), fermented herbal brews, homemade vinegar, wild teas and other traditional ways of preserving and delivering medicine. Lately I’ve almost completely stopped using oils for medicine simply because I can’t make them or have them made locally. Also, fat based salves appear largely superior in performance to me. They seem to work more quickly, create fewer complications and are simpler to make. I am still using the hardcore magic of Everclear since distilling one’s own alcohol is a no-no under federal law, but more and more I’m utilizing and exploring fermented herbal wines and ales as tonics and remedies, and save tinctures for a necessary convenience or when acute care is needed.

The goal is to become medicinally self-sufficient, for the herbs and preparations to all come straight from this bioregion and my own hands and the hands of my immediate community. This is a very practical stance, considering the soaring price of delivery of supplies to this tiny mountain village. But even if current times didn’t dictate a change, I would still need the intimacy, immediacy and intensity of living up close and personal with my food and medicine. As I grow more and more rooted in this volcanic rock and red clay, I am less and less able to use plants and foods from far away without it hurting my heart. And the simple joy of engaging the living spirit and vital energy of the mountains and forests has become deeper, and infinitely satisfying.

I know the Gila, this canyon, these forests and rivers like my own skin or the body of my love. My medicine is wild tomotillos and canyon grapes, rich green pesto and bone broths, bubbling berry brews and the aromatic flowers of Beebalm steeped in beaver fat. And it is laying in this cold, clear river and flowing with its insistent, healing pull.

Note: On a related line, check out Shawna’s amazing post on the importance of using animal fats for healing.


Photograph of Yucca buds and blossoms (c) 2008 Kiva Rose

  13 Responses to “Rooted in Intimacy: Going Deeper and Working Goals”

  1. Beautiful post Kiva – thank you. My husband and I are also moving towards complete bio-regional self-sufficiency. We are taking steps – letting go of more global products and replacing them with locally abundant sources. This fall my goal is to start using animal fats primarily as well as making my own cider vinegar. This summer my husband is focusing on locally sustainable clothing and footwear. It’s exciting, rewarding, and everything you said. 🙂 Thanks again for posting.

  2. how exciting to be truly living, loving, eating, and healing right off the land. i would love to hear about your experiments with herbal brews and wines (or at least be pointed in the direction of some info/recipes/methods)! 🙂

  3. Hmmmmm – but what if you’re not at “home”.
    I feel at home with the plants that I use and spend time with – but I do not feel like I have found my real home – where I belong, where I’ll stay, and am called to. How do you work with that? I can only feel at home for five months out of the year … the rest of the year the Earth is dormant and my grip is adhesed only by family, habbit, and mortgage.
    How does one even begin to find home? How do you feel at home – if you’re not?

    Just have to ask. So many people do not feel at home, and so cannot get to that depth of experience.


  4. Thanks for all the wonderful comments everyone!

    Ananda, you’re right, many aren’t at home where they are….. If that’s the case, you need to find home and go there, making it a big priority in your life. Finding home is an essential part of personal wholeness, so it’s important in the same sense as breathing good air, eating whole food and being able to be outdoors. It’s a part of who you are. Wolf wrote a whole book on this called Home, if you want to read it I’ll send you an electronic copy 🙂

    Until you find it, you connect as deeply as you can where you are (like you’re already doing) and work towards finding that special place.

  5. Well – I guess that’s the issue – it’s a needle in a haystack! Of course I would love to read “Home”
    There are so many places in the US – in the World – that do not embody any elements of a Home, yet so many people are piled into it. Polluted cities, factory towns, and Moutain ranges raped for oil. Wild beautiful places in Africa and India devoid of their very own resources. Sometimes I feel like there just isn’t enough ‘Home’ to go around – consisting of both a paradigm problem and the real problem of innapropriate living. I think it is synonomous with our Climate crisis.
    Ok – I’m biting off way more than I can chew, but I can’t agree more with you that ‘Home’ is a vital, fundamental infrastructure of the human experience.

  6. What a beautiful post Kiva, brava, brava 🙂
    I love my little chunk of land so much sometimes it makes me just tear up inside and my heart swells in a hurtin sort of way.
    I think the magic in delving more local both in our communities and in our land for medicine and food is just plain and simple the intimacy that manifests itself in all our our actions, our thoughts, and truly just permeates our being with groundedness and love….I think if we could all engage and explore this relationship with home, wherever that may be, I truly think things would change in our world and for the better of not only the health of the planet but our personal selves……
    I hope to someday visit your canyon home- I’ve never been to a desert- some of the photos you post are so achingly beautiful-so different from what I am familiar with, but so stark and powerful and craggly and textured……like fiddle pulls or something…. it must be an amazing place to call home.

    Thank you for your inspiring words~
    and the little props link at the end 🙂

  7. Dear Ananda

    all living things have a vibration rate so when you live in an area you don’t feel home, it is because you have another vibration rate.
    You don’t have to “search” for your home because you will find it anyway on a trip, holiday, on the internet or somewhere else and do you know why? It is pulling you and when you ‘don’t fight’ where you are right now and ‘don’t focus’ on searching you will get this special hint… some how… because we all have our place on this beautiful planet… even when this can change from time to time, depending on your own purpose.
    Try to not focus and trust your own guide to this special place which is meant for you.
    Love Brigitte

    Dear Kiva

    I love the magic of your home and always looking forward to read your posts! This is such an incredible land and I am fascinated from the many for me “exotic” plants

    Love Brigitte

  8. Brigitte, thanks for your sweet comments!

    I do think that for many people finding home certainly does require focus, it definitely did for me. I didn’t get here by simply wandering into it, but was actively seeking my place. The process is often different for each of us, but focus is an important part of life, love and engagement with our selves and the our places. To listen intently for the land that calls us as our deepest love, as the part of ourselves we have been looking for our whole lives usually requires focus, determination and a fierce commitment to not only finding but being there in the way that fulfills us. We are, after all, co-creators of our lives, and are responsible for some some of that creative pro-action.


    If anyone else is interested in reading Wolf’s amazing and lyrical book about the process of coming home to self and place, please let me know.

  9. Dear Kiva Rose:

    I’ve been following your blog a bit, since stumbling upon it either through the susun weed forum, or through the pages of Darcey Blue (I forget which!). I have much appreciated this post on Home, and I would love to read Wolf’s book. Please let me know how I may arrange that.

    Thanks so much for sharing bits of your life in your magical Home,

    -A desert dryad

  10. If you’re still interested in working with oils, have you considered clarified butter? It’s an important healing food in Ayurveda, has many of the properties of a very pure oil and you could probably make some with local butter. Maybe you could even keep a goat or two for butter/oil purposes if that would be useful to you.

  11. hi laura, thanks for your comment, I appreciate your interest. I have worked with ghee as salve but find i greatly prefer lard at this point.

    part of the land covenants here at the sanctuary are that we keep no domesticated animals whatsoever, in order to keep the land as wild as possible. local dairy is hard to get too, because of the shortage of grass for grazing animals and how much damage they do to the land.

    animal fat is easier to come by and is so healing when it comes from wild animals like bear or beaver.

    thanks for reading!

  12. Dear Kiva,

    Thank you so much for your blog – it inspires me tremendously. Like others, I am one of those ‘homeless’ ones (as opposed to houseless), with my compass always pointed toward finding my home even though my life seems to always circle way outside of home’s reach.

    Now, I’m living overseas, in heavy urban places, which I only manage because it is temporary (hopefully, with fingers crossed that DH finds a job back in the US). At least there are plant folks online even if I can’t find them (or the plants) in real life 🙂

    One of the difficulties I have is that though I can take on book learning, in regards to herbs, I’d rather lean heavily on the experiential – but without a place to practice, without knowing if I’m going to return to the place where I feel native and the plants I’m familiar with, that’s hard to accomplish.

    Can I chime in late here in hopes of reading Wolf’s book? Maybe it will help me sort out my own thoughts on this…

    Thanks for all your loving work.


  13. Hello,

    I just found your website and was reading some of your information. I am inspired by your passion for living where we are and getting what we need from the things around us. I have been interested in herbal healing for awhile, I have not really gotten deep into it until a year or so ago. But the endless options of herbs that you can get from all over is overwhelming to me. As I look for answers and let time take its course in my journey, I have found you and many others who are staying right close to home and doing wonderful things with what is around them. So thank you for your very informative and inspirational website. I look forward to reading and learning more.


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