Eating Nettles, Crossing Rivers: Loba’s 20 Years in Paradise
Eating Nettles, Crossing Rivers: 20 Years in Paradise
Happy 20th anniversary to me!
Holy moley, I can’t believe it’s been 20 years since my arrival! But then, when I think about it, a whole lot has happened…
A Not-so Brief Recollection
On August 19th, 1993, Wolf picked me up at the Greyhound drop off in Socorro, NM. I didn’t have much hair on my head, or much baggage besides a backpack full of old journals, my mountain bike and an ancient Apple computer that must’ve weighed about 20 pounds. I was on my way to follow my dream of being a writer, and I’d bought the computer for 500 bucks, from an ad I saw in the paper back in San Francisco, just a few days before my bus ride out of there. Somehow the bicycle and the computer were both lost in transit, so when Wolf first saw me, I was circling around the bus, oblivious to Wolf leaning against his land partner’s truck, sizing me up with every confused “where did my things go?“ lap I made around the bus.
It was, being August, monsoon season. And on the ride from Socorro to the canyon, there was a giant lightning storm, the likes of which I’d never seen. My heart was already split wide open by the journey I’d undertaken, following what seemed to be a spirit-given message to find a place to caretake in New Mexico. All the way through S. Cal and Nevada I’d had this strange feeling that I was in my way back to what felt like my source, on my way back to the very root of my being. And now, with the thunder and lightning stirring me up, I couldn’t sit very quietly. I shouted to Wolf, over the mayhem, “I feel like screaming! … I’m coming HOME!!!”
It was only ten days later that I came out of the canyon to make some phone calls. I dialed up my parents and told them that I’d found my home, and I would be living here forever. My father asked to speak with Wolf. No hello, or any of those niceties my father is usually very good at. Instead, it was, “Are you able to take over her medical insurance?” Needless to say his reply about how Frank James got the cooperation of doctors to cure a wounded Jesse did nothing to warm my folks up to the idea of me living in such a godforsaken place in the company of a wildman for the rest of my years. “Why can’t you just join the Sierra Club or something?” my father asked me. “Why do you have to waste your life yodeling to the mountains?” It was kind of funny, even then, but still it made me cry.
That very night, we returned home in the almost-dark. We turned off the four wheeler and were about to head back to the cabin when a very loud series of probably four or five flute notes rang through the canyon, from the direction of the ancient Kachina cliffs. We looked at each other with wide eyes and stood there in the dark for a while, listening to the echoes fade. The next morning I climbed up to the cave of the Red Wolf Mother barefoot and pledged my devotion, forever and ever, to the spirits of the canyon. Imagining that I must be a wolf too, I took on the name Loba which means Wolf in Spanish. A little embarrassing to discover, much later, that I was a whole lot more like an elk!
Wolf was just at the point of slowing down and then stopping his music and speech tours, mostly fund raisers for ecological campaigns but also a means for keeping the food bill paid. He was finding it harder to leave this magical canyon at the same time as I was settling into home.
My first several years were full of joy, but not without challenges. Our first Winter we had absolutely no money and no running vehicle. Every so often a check would turn up in the mail, from an old friend of Wolf’s, or from his publisher, just in the nick of time. I sold home canned applesauce in town made from the trees at Saliz Canyon and got really good at working the woodstove even in the warm autumn days, so we didn’t have to buy much propane. I did all our laundry outdoors, in the old clawfoot bathtub or at the river in a basin. Wolf fed me endless plates of giant pancakes to counter my urban anorexia, and taught me huge amounts about the art of cooking, including how to how to bake bread and pies, and cook meat, how to pay attention to the details, like perfecting the texture of biscuits, the not-too-sweetness of cakes, and warming plates before serving. We kept me stocked in hippie essentials (miso and tahini, organic raisins) from the local mail-order buying club whenever possible, and we always had plenty to eat, thanks to having credit at the local grocery store. The raccoons loved my biscuits that turned out more like hockey pucks, and it didn’t take me long to improve.
My lost bicycle was eventually retrieved from Greyhound, and well into the winter that first year I used it to get to town for food and mail, packing everything in and out up the steep mountain, or out through the seven river crossings. Eventually our truck got a new engine, with the last of my waitress money, but often the river would go up and make it impassable, even for the little four-wheeler. I read Euell Gibbons, and got really excited about harvesting acorns. A land partner taught me about harvesting Bee Balm and Watercress, Lamb’s Quarters, wild Mustard greens and Dock. I taught myself how to preserve large quantities of the wild foods, through lots of trial and error. There were good acorn years, and then a string of no-acorn years, which made the bears hungry. One of those skinny bears broke into the house, (well, I admit I left a window open!) and ate 6 loaves of freshly baked bread.
I got so used to being home all the time, it became even harder for me than Wolf to ever leave. Fluorescent lights and loud city noises that I hardly noticed before made me feel distressed, just being around them. Getting stuck anywhere without an open window made me anxious. I’d find myself sticking my head, sometimes even my feet, under the faucets at restrooms, any time I was too far from my river. I was turning into a different sort of creature, more alive, more sensitive, more particular about what I subject myself to in this world!
We had many interesting guests and students due to Wolf’s teachings and alliances, including many famous artists, musicians, dancers, activists, writers, editors, publishers, teachers and school directors, plus lots of young people simply wanting to connect to something wild and real in themselves. We hosted interns and vision questers, retreaters and apprentices.
As a way to empower me, utilize my gifts and share this transformative canyon, Wolf encouraged me to host annual Wild Women’s Gatherings beginning in 2000, as well as the co-ed Wild Foods Gatherings that brought men and women from all over the country and world together to celebrate the bounty of the land, and the abundances of our own wild hearts in relationship with the land. I still hear from participants who tell me how much these events in the canyon changed them or their lives!
I was asked to write a column in Sagewoman magazine by our friend Anne Niven, and wrote for her wonderful quarterly for women for over five years. Wolf and many musician friends including Joanne Rand and Jenny Bird recorded a CD of music and spoken word that I got to sing on, called The Enchantment, using a little digital recorder purchased for us by a supporter. The help of various supporters that believed in our work and mission made a huge amount possible that would have never happened otherwise, and a few of them are still loyally giving to us to this day. We built structures one little piece at a time, whenever the donations would come in specifically for that purpose, with the help of skilled friends, volunteers, and a woman intern that stayed for about two years. Wolf continued to get his articles published in dozens of different magazines every year, though it was mostly to affect and inspire the world as very few of the publications actually paid.
We never knew where the next dollar would come from, so it was quite literally one miracle after another that kept us both afloat and soaring in our own ways, inspiring thousands of readers and seekers. None of it could have happened without Wolf’s constant drive and his standards of excellence. He is quite the role model, whether or not we’d like to admit it. (Ain’t he, people!) With his unflinching, uncanny gift of seeing into the hearts of all of us, he reaches out in ways that can heal as much as they discomfort, rattle and stir. He reminds us, over and over, how the reins are in our hands, and every color in the palette within reach, if we just claim the bravery to truly open our eyes, and every other one of our atrophied senses. To truly see our Earthen reality for all the pain and beauty and craziness that it is, and to claim ourselves still worthy of every valuable experience that we insist on. But never to wallow in the new age neverland of “it’s all good”, where personal response-ability takes a back seat to maintaining all our most comforting illusions.
Wolf’s ability to shift and adapt kept us affecting the world in every way he could see possible, through all the changes; global, and closer to home. Through all the challenges of deaths in the family, health problems and interferon treatments, high water, broken vehicles, help that came and went. There was not a single day, and there is still not a single day that goes by, that I’m not in amazement at so much that he has accomplished, by sharing his gifts, and doing whatever it takes, every single day, no matter how bad his liver is feeling, to keep our life flourishing. It was his dream to affect the world without compromising his needs for solitude, home, and love. By living that dream, he has given us all, especially his family, and any who have experienced Wolf and/or Anima Sanctuary in person, gifts way beyond measure.
In 2004, I began corresponding with a wild-voiced woman poet whose writing I admired above all others, and we began sending her chapters of Wolf’s unpublished novel The Kokopelli Seed. She was stunned to see how much the character was her, even down to the physical description, mannerisms, troubled past, and healing commitment. Even stranger, he’d began writing The Kokopelli Seed the year of Kiva’s birth. After much heartful correspondence we welcomed her and her tiny four year old Rhiannon to this family and mission. It was clear that she had much to give me and to this work and purpose, and much to receive from this life, with the strength and courage to deal with all the many challenges. And Rhiannon proved to be the incredible daughter to us that Wolf had predicted, a loyal and sweet and entertaining child that attached herself to us from the very first moment we met. Together, the four of us have been able to accomplish even more for the world while still attending to our own healing, growth and happiness.
In a short time we renamed our project Anima, Wolf’s word for the vital life force, and the land and restoration effort once called “Duration Ranch” (we’re here for the duration!) got renamed Anima Sanctuary. Kiva’s lifelong love affair with the plant world deepened to an intensive study and obsession with herbs. Wolf bought her piles of the best plant books, and she devoured them. She spent many hours out in the canyon learning what the plants had to teach her themselves, through direct observation and intuition. She began making medicines, trying them out on all of us, taking notes, synthesizing vast amounts of information and experience in a relatively short amount of time. Both Wolf and I experienced profound shifts in our health status with the use of herbs and medicines recommended and made by Kiva. Soon she had clients in town and online, and very quickly became a trusted source of folk medicine to locals that were in-the-know. The town doctor even began speaking about her with respect, and would at times ask her opinion about various usages. She and Wolf developed a new understanding of our diagnostic Medicine Wheel, that led to new understandings of ancient constitutional theories.
Before long, we shifted the focus of Anima to be more focused on teaching practical, plant-related as well as lifeways skills. We started holding plant medicine gatherings, offered online herbal and lifeways courses, and spent less time hosting retreaters, which used to be our main source of income besides the help of our supporters. Kiva’s blog, The Medicine Woman’s Roots, became amazingly popular. She gathered the friendship and support of many well-known herbalists, and both Plant Healer Magazine and conferences were born! The magazines readership just keeps growing, and the events for herbalists and wildcrafters have become a gathering point for an exciting community of folk herbalists, ecological and herbal activists, artists and healers.
And for me, my priority shifted to becoming “Mama Loba” to Rhiannon, homeschooling her and learning all the ways that a child can teach us so much! I learned about setting precedents and dynamics , and how to make my moment-to-moment choices as mindful and honorable as possible. I learned about having some boundaries, and at the same time I couldn’t help but open my heart fully and completely to this amazing child that was, and still is, as loving as she was ever stubborn. As inspiring, sillymaking and otter-like as she is beautiful. And she can be as forgetful and pigeon-toed as me! Wolf and Kiva’s constant guidance helped me through every instance of doubt and confusion, as I’ve gotten the blessed opportunity to experience being a mother, and to feel a daughter’s love!
20 Years of Loba Doin’s:
Cooking and Heating Fires built: 7,000 (approx. one fire/day)
Gallons of rainwater moved from one place to another: approx. 185,000 gallonsGallons of rainwater moved in the middle of the night: approx. 6,000 gallons
Loaves of bread baked in my woodstove/s: 5,000 (approx. 5 loaves/week)
Pots of soup: 2,000
Mason jars washed: 35,000
Flashlights Lost: at least 30
Years I’ve held onto my current flashlight: 3 1/2
Floats in the River: 7,000
Quarts of jam and fruit sauce made & canned: approx. 2,000
Hours spent dancing, mostly in the kitchen: 2,000
Braids I’ve made in our hair: 20,000
Pounds of wild foods gathered, processed, and eaten (not counting half-wild apples): at least 2,000
Years that I processed approx.. 200-500 lbs/ local apples/year: about 10
Years that the apple flowers froze & wrecked the local crops: about 10
Rattlesnakes eaten: 60
Medicine sweats conducted at dawn: at least 40
Minutes I spent submerged in the water one January at dawn (during a medicine sweat): about 5
Hours I’ve spent on the Internet: less than 20
Temperature of the hottest bath water I’ve gotten in: 122 degrees
Half-dead moths saved from drowning in the bathtub: 8,000
Packrat nests dismantled from outbuildings: 100
Pretty handmade aprons amassed (gifted by Wolf): at least 85
Cookbooks amassed (most gifted to me by Wolf and Kiva): at least 85, not counting at least 100 that we sold or gave away
Years I’ve been working on my ever expanding cookbook: 17
Miles I’ve walked or run in the canyon: at least 4,500
Miles I’ve walked or run barefoot: at least 1,000
Hours that I’ve spent searching for some missing thing: too embarrassing to count!
Times I’ve driven all the way to Albuquerque barefoot: Once. When I went to pick up Kiva and Rhiannon at the airport, I forgot my shoes at the first river crossing after hiking out, I was so excited!
Datura flowers I’ve picked for Kiva Rose: 10: one the first day she got here, and then one each year after that, on her birthday
And, still, there’s so much to learn and do, and so much more room for growth!
Still So Much To Learn
Today I’m still learning more about how much there is still for me to develop in myself in relation to others. How to honor people’s real needs and gifts as well as my own can be a tricky balance, especially for someone like me who is not always conscious enough about others’ motivations. Or my own, for that matter. And then, there are the “wants” to figure in! How to be as open hearted as I always want to be, while still maintaining some boundaries.
I’m learning that with becoming more grounded in reality, there are some harder feelings to have to deal with. I spent much of my life floating on a comfy little cloud with my favorite pair of rose-colored glasses firmly secured to my face. Seeing only the best in people, all the hope in the midst of all the pain and despair, and only the best in myself, most of the time. Now I’m coming down to earth, which is where I want to be, but sometimes reality can be tough. Depression runs in my family, and I have to work harder sometimes to keep those tendencies from getting the best of me. I am learning more about taking control of my own mental habits and patterns. It’s amazing to learn how the brain creates its own “wiring” that makes joyfulness or depression, more or less accessible!
I’m still learning how to pay better attention to my surroundings – how to notice when the gutters get full of juniper needles, and act on it right away, or ask for help. The more aware of my world that I become, the more I see that needs tending, and the more I really want to take care of things. But at the same time, I’m also figuring out how to give more energy to the things that are not so essential, the creative fun things that make the chores seem less weighty. How to nourish the practical as well as the playful parts of myself. How to be more whole, every single day, with the not-so-simple magic of time and space management. I will probably always spend too much time running around in circles, chasing my own tail, but I am working on doing less of this, getting more done a bit more efficiently, and having more fun in the process! Kiva and Wolf are my loyal coaches in all my efforts towards this goal, and in so much more!
My dear Kiva has helped me in so many ways, from getting more organized in my daily routines to teaching me special skills. Lately I’ve been managing to fit in more dancing and singing, painting and tea parties. Kiva bought felting materials as a special gift for Rhiannon and I, and we’ve been working on a doll together. Wolf got us a Scrabble set, and we’ve been having a blast playing with it, while learning new words with a giant dictionary. I’m planning creative projects with our wwoofer on-site helpers, and other ways to structure our time together to be more enjoyable and productive. I’m making time, always, for my own renewal, which for me has to include plenty of just-family time, and daily alone time, too. I’m still plugging away at that cookbook of mine, and am realizing that although it may never seem “done” enough to me, I need to find a stopping point, knowing someday I can make a Volume Two!
Goals and other Things I’m committed to getting better at in the next 20 years:
Wolf and Kiva and I have a little joke that when one of us says “I’ll try” another says, “Don’t just try, do it”. Below are the things I’ll probably forever be working on! But I commit myself to doing my very best, every single day!
• Listening and noticing things in the moment, and acting on them
• Seeing the world, and myself, from a more grounded perspective, instead of swinging from rose-colored glasses to the polar opposite
• Balancing work and play, focus and spontaneity
• Tending the land and our structures
• Recording and sharing what seems most valuable, that I learn from this life
• Helping support and honor Wolf and and Kiva’s works in every way possible
• Delegating with clear communication
• Staying open-hearted while having some boundaries
• Managing time and space more efficiently
• Eliminating guilt or obligation as a motivation for anything
• Following through on my goals and dearest inspirations
• Being just a bit more functional when away from home
I feel so blessed to be able to live in this magical place that is the ultimate teacher and inspiration. And to be surrounded by a family that also teaches and inspires me in so many vital ways, as well as supporting, nurturing and helping me. I so appreciate being valued for who I am, even more than for what I do. And yet, it is by doing the things that I want and need to do, oftentimes over and over, that I have become who I am, and will continue to become more myself, as time goes on. I am, after all these years, someone who loves to tend: fires, my home & family, others, and myself. I am a river lover, a devotee of dewdrops and a petter of mosses, a gatherer of greens, a barefoot kitchen dancer, and always, a cook who spins in circles looking for the salt, and a very grateful eater. I am a little girl growing older who will always be about 5 in my heart, a human with the spirit of an elk, a very silly and devoted elk who, once upon a time, named herself Loba.
Thanks to all of you who read with open hearts and minds, and who gain sustenance and inspiration from all our efforts. I hope my words, example and love encourage you in your own becoming and doing, in your choices and commitment to living your dreams! It means a lot to me to share with you my amazing life in paradise, crossing rivers and gathering nettles….