This is the beginning of series of posts that will act as a guide for living on the land in a way that’s good to you and good to the land.You may ask how this applies to herbalism, but if you’ve ever spent any amount of time in the woods wildcrafting you’ll know just how much it DOES apply.
Skins and Leaves, or What the Wild Woman Wears
Now, synthetic materials certainly have their place for some people, but I strongly prefer the feel and practicality of natural fibers. Wool, silk and cotton are my favorites. Warm in the winter and cool in the summer, they also dry quickly and are easily washed. In river country, like the Gila, you won’t be wanting any leg-hugging, hard to get over your shoes jeans. Nor will you want shorts that leave your legs exposed to a million ravenous horseflies that prefer your juicy legs over any other part of your body. Instead, I recommend a lightweight, durable, nearly ankle length skirt. Not only are they pretty, but they can be easily hiked up to your thighs for river crossings, kept close to your legs for bug protection and can be worn wet in case you get so hot you can’t stand it. Ones with a comfortable, draw-string waist seem to work the best, though eventually the cotton drawstrings will fall apart and need to be replaced. These kind of skirts are simple to hand-wash in the river, and can also be layered for warmth. They’re also available in every imaginable color, weight and size. In the winter, heavier skirts of wool can be layered with silk skirts to insulate you and make for quick temperature adjusting.
Sarongs are amazing, multipurpose garments that can act as skirts, dresses, towels, blankets, headwraps and any number of other useful things. We have lots and we’re always wearing them out. I highly recommend having at least one if you’re coming to the Gila.
Wool stockings or leggings are great if you get cold legs, you can just wear them under your skirts and roll them up if you need to cross the river. Wool socks are lovely too. Underwear is a general waste of time in the wilderness in my opinion, but that’s just me 😉
For tops, I prefer a wide range of stretchy, comfy tank tops in the summer, with a couple of light colored, light-weight long sleeved shirts for sun protection. In the transitional seasons where temps often change with little warning, I like to layer my tank tops with cozy, cotton long-sleeved shirts. In the winter, thermal undershirts can be a blessing, with a tank top at the very bottom and layering up to tightly woven wool sweater and a good sheepskin lined leather coat on top. Shawls can really be incredibly useful too, for cool summer nights when you’re too warm to wear a jacket but too cool to be comfortable. Also nice for cool mornings before you get a fire going. Leather, lined vests are perfect for wood-chopping or other vigorous activities where you need your core to stay warm but your extremities get a bit steamy from the exercise.
Head warmth can be imperative in the winter, especially if you’ve been in and out of the river recently and you don’t like your hair to freeze. I like cotton scarves wrapped around my head, but Loba prefers stretchy little wool hats that keep her ears warm.
Footwear is a common concern among guests and students, and I usually prefer to go barefoot whenever possible myself, but when not practical for the individual, I wholeheartedly recommend Chaco type sandals. These sandals have boot soles for rock climbing and a good grip on slippery river stones but let you feet breath while being pretty damn easy to get on and off one’s foot. The down side is that river gravel inevitably gets trapped under the arch of your foot. I do find that preferable to icky river slippers that give you blisters and slide around on everything or hiking boots that weigh you down and hold water like a pond after one river crossing. In winter, it’s nice to have a pair of solid, insulated leather hiking boots that are easy to get off and on for river crossings. I like buckskin moccasins too, but they’re harder to get off and on, and will eventually fall apart, especially in the Mogollon Rim’s volcanic rock terrain.
In general, you want to do yourself a favor and avoid fabric and seams that fall apart at the first tug. Pretty things really can be durable, you just have to look for them. Also, lace is lovely looking but it gets easily caught in plants and such, so beware. And I think that wearing white is asking for a mud puddle or soot prints, but Loba loves it and just deals with the stains, and resorts to dying things when they get really dingy. I prefer to dress to blend in with the land I’m on, so often wear lots of blues and greens for most of the year.
Gloves are also quite wonderful, get ones that really fit your hands and allow you to feel what you’re doing while still keeping your hands nice and warm. You want ones that Nettles can’t poke through and that protect your hands from wood chopping blisters. And a handcrafted leather belt is invaluable for carrying a knife or tucking your skirt up into when you’re scaling fifteen feet of sheer rock to get the season’s last chunk Alum Root or Wild Valerian. Don’t worry, we’ll get to harvesting tools in another Wild Woman Primer post that’s coming soon.
For outerwear, the above mentioned sheepskin lined leather coat is wonderful for really cold days, as is a good beaver fur coat if you can find one. But what we wear the most is wool ponchos, yes they’re very 70’s but they’re SO useful. They can be layered on top of anything, are super comfy, come in all shapes and sizes, keep out and the rain and snow and cold but won’t suffocate you or steal your movement too much. Just don’t cook over a propane stove while wearing one with a long fringe.
So there you have it, Kiva’s guide to clothes. Who would’ve thought??!! :p
caption: There’s me in my “Artemis outfit” from this year’s Medicine Woman’s Gathering…. a lovely woman named Tania took the picture. The short skirt goes against all bugbiting rules, by it’s so much fun to wear!