From the blues of an eclipsing moon
to a long winding road away from cities,
up mountains older than time,
we joined kindred souls on this day
to learn how the Cahuilla lived well in these arid lands for thousands of years.
Agave, so tough, so renewing,
wrested from earth by digging sticks
and the work of the group.
The basal leaves are removed,
the oozing roots wrapped,
and today a child did the carrying out.
The pups readily re-root in the soil,
while the gathered plants will be roasted for all.
And the charcoaled remains of 900-hundred-year old roasting pits nearby bear witness to generations who gathered precisely thus,
as today’s elders teach ancient skills for moderns in need of them,
and women and children prepared a meal beneath a shade tree for us all.
It is a learning and teaching day
When in the presence of the people native to these lands and those who have worked among them for decades, I feel my soul’s feet steadied, my heart buoyed, my mind as irreverent as ever, but quietly so, at peace, and welcome. Most of all, the ‘me’ in which I move through the world most days? Becomes a permeable vessel of trust and an indwelling with the earth itself, and I know that, no matter how assailed I may ever feel, some people have suffered worse, endured far more, and still come out on the other side capable of enormous goodness and compassion and living from lands that so many others still consider hostile and drear.
Agave spikes, when sliced and roasted, have the consistency of pineapple and the taste of yams; the sweet flesh can be chewed raw as a softer form of sugar cane and the quid spat out (very refreshing on a warm day!): digging sticks, so versatile and perfect for this task (and others) could be fashioned on site to make lighter travel and work; roasting pits were dug nearby to process the plant during its seasons; and all parts of the agave were used (for food, making cordage, sandal soles, baskets, and more). More to the point, perhaps, the agave is just one plant alongside myriad others equally edible, equally useful (e.g. yucca flowers, chia, wild mustard, a slew of bushes good for teas and poultices). A veritable cornucopia.
We laughed a lot. We learned a lot. We walked a lot. We stood in wonder a lot. And we met people that I would love to cross paths with again. Soon. In this desert, so healing to those who arrive willing to live on its terms and not our previous own.