This is just beautiful, and brought tears to my eyes, Kiva. You are such a blessing to the canyon and its work. I am so glad you found your calling with the plants.You are a blessing to all [of] us.
I have been writing since I was a small child, fascinated and drawn even then to fairy tales, naturalism and poetry, Over and over again, I read the stories of healing women, of powerful plants, intricate ecosystems, personal challenges, hard won bliss and the inherent enchantment that wove in and out of everything and everyone. These books gave me the gift of noticing my surroundings, of dreams, of imagining the impossible and pursuing the seemingly unreachable. And through them, I learned the elusive rhythm and lyricism that words can achieve. As a little girl, I wanted more than anything to write to evoke the primordial forests and the wild heart of the natural world in a way that brought it alive on the page, that compelled the reader to follow me into the ancestral woodlands, to be touched by its spirit, and to emerge changed forever.
As I approach my third decade, I find myself now more than ever committed to illuminating a path into dirt and flowers, into the magic of the tangible, material world that lies just underneath our feet. I have realized that the faery tales are not lost in the distant and dusty past, or relegated to the escapist realms of modern fantasy. They are right here before and within us, waiting for our awareness and recognition. In every blooming orchid, fruiting lichen, birthing woman, free-roaming wolf and rotting leaf lies the path to faery. When we come to our senses, when we awaken into our forever home here on earth -- then we remember the path back into the ancient forest where we born, and that calls us still.
What follows is a very small selection of my more personal writings, in the form of poetry and essay. If you enjoy it, you can subscribe to the Anima Lifeways & Herbal School Blog, where I regularly post more work in a similar vein. Thank you for reading.
Table of Contents
by Kiva Rose
One of the ways I first came to herbalism was through stories, and especially fairy tales. The many volumes of such stories I owned as a child were read so often that eventually most of them completely fell apart, their spines broken, pages creased and worn cover beginning to crumble. Many of these tales did not present the plants and trees as benign, friendly assistants but as powerful entities capable of both generosity and what could sometimes be considered cruelty. I still remember of some of the horrifying images from a few of the oldest stories, of corpses hanging on Briar thorns, babies tortured to screaming by a cradle made of Elder wood and of ancient forests obscuring a young girl's safe passage back to her village.
In other, or even the same, books, the plants cured blindness, provided shelter and food, or created transformational magic. Sometimes the plants were metaphors or representations of goddesses, monsters or giants. Whatever perspective the narrative took, it was clear that the plants, and especially medicinal plants were complex, varied with a life and language that is the root of our own. The European forest, still a powerful living force when these stories were first birthed, represented a complex organism that permeated human consciousness and had to be dealt with by rural people and travelers, and touched even those tucked safely away in walled cities and cozy agricultural towns.
These days, children's books and movies tend to show cheerful woodland scenes with singing animals and helpful flowers. This is an easier approach to take now that many of the great archetypal forests of the world have become but mere shadows of their previous selves, and some have disappeared altogether. We've reduced our understanding of these places to whitewashed animation and culturally censored fables. Yet there's a special power to old growth areas, a palpable presence of the spirit of the place that is far fainter in fourth growth woodlands, mined mountains, plains stripped of their great migrating herds and whole continents deprived of their predators. This isn't to say that there's not magic in every area where the natural world is still present and pulsing up through sidewalks, burned out wastelands, clearcut strips and oil slicked beaches. These places are still important, beautiful and capable of healing. In fact, I feel that wounded land holds special gifts for us humans, we who are so often wounded ourselves. Yet no matter how lovely they may appear or how quickly they grow, they lack the intensity and complexity of the vital force that is present in places where the ecosystem has been allowed to grow, spread and bloom without radical interference for millenia.
The heart of the forest has long held special significance for humans as a magical place that few human ever have the courage or skills to navigate. From the lyrical tales of Tolkien to the enchanted forests of Miyazaki's movies, we find remnants of this powerful place that still holds a profound sentience, and also the great mystery once so central to the human experience. This is the place at the very center of oldest trees, a place where it is still easy, even unavoidable, to feel and hear the forceful personalities of some of the world's most ancient beings. How many of us have been there? More importantly, how many of our children have wandered with us through the primal wildness of a place unaltered by development, chainsaws and roads. Not just unaltered for the last fifty years, but for the last five thousand years? Will our little ones grow up to know, recognize and honor the power of these special places?
For most of us, experiencing these places will require conscious action, a pilgrimage of sorts. This is an effort, but it is only through personal relationship with these places that we will remember their importance, their magic and the necessity of preserving them, both for our benefit as living parts of the land and for the diversity of other life that depends on their existence. No matter how far we retreat into concrete, insulated particle board and reinforced steel, we are still a part of the ancient wild places, connected at the roots and bound by the very breath we breathe. The Heart of the forest is our own.
by Kiva Rose
Carry the knife
Carry the dress
Between your teeth
This cold water
You may never
The other side
This is the myth
This is the story
No one tells
I am the girl
Who will kiss
And be gone
Back to never
Not so long
Peel this calico skin
Can you see who I am
Can you taste
Taste the sweet
Bite of tree sap
And the tang
Of running blood
I’ll take you back
To the trees
To the first forest
The myth held
and the liquid
of the human
to every edge
Down to earth
to the mystery
Rising to cover
Listen to me
Bring you back
to the first
from the earth
Ache of fire
Stone and water
Until I turn away
Only a mound
of leaf mould
and a million
of new decay
that all these
by Kiva Rose
It was hard for an Apache-raised girl to understand, how some could see the planet as but a lifeless rock, upon whose surface a bounty was distributed for the good of man. Who saw animals not as spirits but as steaks, fur and wool, pet or threat. Who saw trees only as lumber to be turned into buildings or offer shade from the sun, who judged plants as being decorative or itchy, weeds or crops.
To Omen, they were not just wondrous sunshine-eating entities, without whom humans and most of the life on Earth would die. They were proof of miracles, and reason for hope. The inspiration for a good and balanced life, and examples of how to live it.
They were her ever growing, ever reaching truth.
They were the medicine she would need.
- Jesse Wolf Hardin, from The Medicine Bear
Something about the summer — something in the hot scald of sand underfoot, the full body touch of brilliant light and the erupting waves of botanical color — always reminds me of my first moments of falling in love with this place.
I arrived in August, flying into Albuquerque from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia. And although I’d lived previously in southern Arizona, I’d never before experienced the signature pink and red stone, the perfect white faces of thorny flowers and the sheer luminosity of the sky that is New Mexico. Loba arrived to pick us up, and promptly burst from the truck barefoot with armfuls of pollen-dusted Sunflowers and the exquisitely beautiful blooms of the Sacred Datura.
On the long drive from the city down into the southwest corner of the state, I rode with my head out the open window and my red hair whipping around my face. The monsoons were in full swing and the flowers crowded the roadsides with a brilliant display of scarlet, ivory, gold and lavender that stretched for miles across grasslands and wound up into the mountains. I wanted to know the names and scents of every single little green plant that waved in the afternoon winds. I begged Loba to pull over, and somewhere near Horse Springs, we sat in the wet dirt and smelled Coneflowers and Prickly Poppies while Loba told me the names and ways of each plant she knew.
The many colored swaths of flowers expanded and interwove as we traveled south, deep into the Gila. By the time we reached the sanctuary, it seemed as if we’d driven right through the veil into fairyland. Castle-shaped cliffs jutted from Juniper clad mountains and the river curved wildly through the center of the narrow canyon.
Rhiannon was so little then, only a toddler, and she gazed out at her new home with sleepy but wide eyes. On our walk in, she and I gathered flowers to wear in our hair and stopped to sniff the little yellow faced beauties that grew from the sides of the river banks. Back then, the identities and histories of the plants were mostly a mystery to me. Many of my first conversations with Wolf and Loba revolved around me pointing to any and all plants and asking “what’s that?” and “what’s it for, can you eat it?” kind of things. Loba happily showed me all the edible plants she knew and told me the names she knew for each one. In some cases, she had no idea what the plant’s botanical name might be and referred to it with the personal title she’d given it from her experience with and feelings for it.
I’ve had an abiding love for all green things since my earliest memories of picking Strawberries and playing with Peppergrass as a child. Somehow though, the canyon plants seemed to call me even more loudly than any I’d previously met. Their colors and scents, their flowers and thorns all spoke to me of magic and medicine. I couldn’t have known back then, how the plants would become an integral piece of my work and growth, of my own sense of self and personal mission. Wolf saw it early on though, and bought me my first plant books, and Loba brought me flowers at every occasion and has picked Datura blossoms for every single birthday I’ve had since I arrived in the canyon.
It’s only grown since then, and every summer I stand back and feel the bodily memory wash over me. Each afternoon when the monsoon clouds start moving in and the flowers turn their brightly colored faces towards the spiraling sun, I fall in love all over again.
by Kiva Rose
In the night
Curl inside themselves
Give death to autumn
Stand beside the river
Slide from the sky
To shiver against my skin
October falls asleep
Her mute mouth
Roots and dust
She dreams the dark
Beds of elk mothers
Among willow and
The wind as it pulls
At yellowing mistletoe
And the red brambles
Of my hair
Among the nettles
She dreams a green birth
Under a blessed snow
The rocks are red
Wet with icy rain
Slick as a beating heart
In the hunt
The hollow click
Of empty chambers
Troubles the sleep
Of a she-bear
Blanketed in red leaves
Roots and a slow rain
Rife with tired men
The elk mother
Leaps on unshaking legs
She clears barbed wire
Leaves clumsy hunters
Fumbling in their own fences
And turns over
In her bed
Of dust, wood-smoke
And darkening sky
by Kiva Rose
Thanks to unexpected April rains (and snow!) the Canyon is a lovely shade of green just now. The Beebalm is knee high and preparing to flower while the Saskatoon berries are just beginning to show their first blush. Another blessing from the rains has been that the Nettle hasn’t gone to flower yet, so we’re still joyfully eating them at nearly every meal.
Rhiannon and I took a long walk downriver earlier this week, to gather Wild Roses, and to soak up the incredible lush beauty of the fully leafed out Gila. The day was Summertime warm, but with a cool breeze skipping along the river, brushing back our hair and keeping us comfortable. We walked down the center of the calf deep river, so as to better see the flowers and butterflies on every side. We were both delighted by the thousands of Horsetail plants gracing the banks and by the plethora of Wild Mint and Silverweed at every turn. We even found the first ripe Red Currant berries, which Rhiannon happily gathered and sat upon a smooth rock to eat one by juicy one.
There’s something about these long rambling walks that teaches me more about ecology, herbalism and poetry than any book ever could. It’s life close up, magnified by the senses and intensified by the immersion of self into place. The wandering here and there with my face in the plants while listening to the Cliff Swallows sweep by helps me to fully understand and experience each season, each natural transition and every possible nuance of the land I live with and from. Every flower, bit of wind or colorful bug gives me yet another source of gratitude and wonder.
Rhiannon approached each fragrant hedge of Wild Rose with a joyful cry of “oh, you pink sweeties!” and spun wildly around them, plucking petals to nibble and sniffing every thorn guarded blossom she could reach. Under the outstretched boughs of the silver-barked Alders, she danced upon the dry rocks protruding above the water’s surface. She thanked each tree for its shade and ran back and forth along the bank, proclaiming the tree sheltered path to be “the most dream-like tunnel in the world”.
These slow moments of delving fully into the present moment — caught up completely in the smells and tastes and sounds and touches of the world all around are truly when I feel most alive, most fulfilled and most myself. This is the simple, and completely profound existence that all wild things are made for. Every walk is a portal into a more primal, and primary, place. Every moment brings me more and more home… To here. To myself. To the whole.
So go outside… take a little ramble, and find some flowers to immerse yourself in.
by Kiva Rose
Wet yellow flowers
woven into watercress
the ground cool
and damp enough
that puddles form
around my bare feet
gold petals slick with sundots
late season survivors
of a quick coming winter
on this island of lush life
among the red skinned dogwood
and let the sun
warm my cold toes
watching the light turn to gold
as it passes over willows
and the wild hills of the Gila
gathering up summer in my hands
I eat monkeyflowers and watercress
tasting all the spice
and sweetness of heat
as the ice forms along the river
by Kiva Rose
As much as I love all local foods, there's something truly special about wild, totally uncultivated food growing right at my feet, and in the case of the Wild Grapes, dangling right above my head. There's a vitality to be had in wild river-grown Watercress that the best cultivated varieties can't even compete with. The sharp bite of Mustard, the sweet crunch of Wild Lima flowers and the fine flavor of fresh Cottontail brings me back to my body, and closer to this particular stretch of enlivened land.
Late afternoon often finds me waiting out the heat down by the river. After floating on my back down the cool current I usually gather greens for dinner in the shade of the Cottonwoods and Alders. Come summer, I'll be able to curl up in the shadow of Red Currants, Gooseberries and Wild Mulberry trees to gather the juicy, tart fruits at my leisure.
Foraging draws me into the woods, gets me up close and personal with my source of energy, with my personal connection to vitality and life. In the eye of the deer in the heat of the hunt, or in the spiny folds of the Cholla bud, I see the gifting cycle spinning full circle. To eat and be eaten, to live and to die, only to become yet more life.
These plants and animals here are tough and willful. While the mountains of the Gila are usually fertile and rich in diversity, they're also dry and nearly barren for months at a time. The strongly cyclical nature of the Southwestern seasons makes for especially resilient and insistent creatures. Every life I take, every morsel I eat, I honor it with prayers and a deep respect for its primal desire to live. Whether animal or plant, I give thanks for the magic that grew it, the breath that animated it, the land that sustained it. This is the sacrament of the ordinary, of the exrtra-ordinary, of the daily transformation of food to flesh, life to life.
Connection to what is wild spirals me deeper into my own wildness. The thorns and hard edges inspire me to grow stronger. The soft underbelly of the running Elk and the sensual curves of the Rose open me up to my own vulnerable side. We are what eat: physically, energetically, completely.
May what we eat always be beautiful, wild and full of the vital mystery of life.
by Kiva Rose
Nature was my first mother.
I memorized the forest floor as I would
my mother’s body. This forest skin
smelled like pine sap and sweet rot, and
it stained my diapers green and
perfumed my hair, which was always
tangled with bits of leaves, small sticks,
- Brenda Peterson, Nature and Other Mothers
Two days ago we were caught in an afternoon storm that came rumbling through the mountains on dark heavy clouds. We were downriver when the rain started, beginning with just a light sprinkle then a pounding symphony that made the river dance and Rhiannon shiver. At first, we clutched our clothes around us and hurried to get home but then we slowed to admire the shifting colors of the cliff face in the changing light and the sparkling droplets on the flowering Silverweed. The young man who was with us remarked on how being soaking wet made him so much more aware of his body and every muscle contained therein. We stopped to gather armfulls of the near-flowering Wild Mint that flourishes in the cliff-side seeps. All around us the the canyon hummed with proliferating life, the Beeweed rampant alongside delicate white Yarrow flowers and a few birds sung through the pouring rain.
I call monsoon season our second spring and this is when the greatest diversity of plant and animal and fungal life express themselves most intensely. Lichen plumps and fruits on the damp rocks while Elk sing and whistle from the riverside. I take my longest walks in these months, searching out otherwise elusive water dependent herbs and the taking in the sparkle and gleam of rain kissed quartz crystals growing from the arroyo walls. Loba and I venture time and time again up the wash searching out wild foods and medicines, and stopping to enjoy the multitude of butterflies that sweep through on mountain winds.
In every season the canyon invites a different kind of intimacy, from the delicate fierceness of ice jutting across the river in January to the harsh beauty of gold grasses and distant smoke in June. In the lushness of this season we lay in the soft grass and press our faces up against fragrant flowers and smooth, sun warmed rock. I feel the weight of the humidity against my skin and smile up at the brooding clouds overhead. They may mean a limitation in our solar power but they also mean the Purslane will thrive, the river swell and the bears eat well this year.
Not long ago, in the deep shade of thick Willows I found a new friend. The soft white flowers reminded me at first of tiny Datura flowers and I cocked my head at the three foot tall plant in wonder. And then I realized! A Coyote Tobacco in bloom, a close relative to the Datura and the many other seductive members of the Nightshade family that make their home here.
I sat down in the wet sand and gazed up into the trumpet shaped flowers, watching the sun filter and change through its velvety folds and breathing in the powerful and strange scent of its medicine. Colorful insects whose names I’ve never learned emerged from wilted blooms and hummed around my head. I leaned back against a Willow and looked out at the world from down low, from the perspective of children and rabbits, creeping plants and coiling snakes.
When I am quiet enough I forget that I ever imagined myself separate from this world of color and magic. I forget I am anything but wind and dirt, dappled light and wings caught by sky. In this intimacy, this primal magic of becoming small I find my own pulse and rhythm. The thrum and dance of the blue dragonfly on the river’s skin teaches me my song, and the clouds moving overhead mirror my own seasons shifting from lost little girl to medicine woman.
In the dirt and rain, we find ourselves. Over and over again, spiraling always deeper.
by Kiva Rose
With light frosts coming every few nights now, I’ve been gathering the last of the herbs from my little weedpatch. This time of year, I take special delight in the lingering aroma of Sage and Rosemary on my fingers as the sun warms the mesa in the otherwise cool afternoon. These warm aromas bring a comforting sweetness to the growing chill. The jeep trail that winds through the canyon is covered over in fallen leaves and the cottonwoods are beginning to look bare, though their remaining foliage still whispers to me as I walk by the river.
There’s a music to the river heard only now, in this ephemeral, blessed season. A quiet clarity that runs through every turn and twist of the water tumbling over rock, sand and earth. If I’m quiet enough while sitting on the bank, I can hear the primal melodies that run through this place. While the music is always present and ready to be heard, it seems to me that in Autumn, it is even more clear. Made louder, perhaps, by the absence of distraction. It’s haunting tones reverberating among the dry stalks of cocklebur and echoing off of the cliff faces. Even Rhiannon has been climbing the Alders to play her pennywhistle from up high, her own awkward yet beautiful music a reflection of the larger music of this place.
In retrospect, I think the subtleties of each turning season has taught me more this year than any other. I suspect this is due at least in part to the fact that I have now lived here longer than any other one place in my whole life. While moving all over the country was both fun and instructive on many accounts, it also kept me from the intimacy with the land I now cherish and thrive on. What would seem almost mundane for many who have lived in one spot for the majority of their years, is a special kind of magic for me. The scars on the bark of beloved trees call me to certain corners of the woods, and baby shrubs I’ve been nourishing for the last few years mark time for my own growth.
Now that I have it, I don’t know how I ever lived without it. I love my roots, and the wisdom that comes with them - I love seeing the same plants unfurl from the same warm earth each spring and then watching them fade back into that same dirt come winter. I understand now how much I missed in the whirlwind of my previous migrations, and how little of the song of each place I really heard. Even when I listened most attentively, I realize that I only heard fragments of the whole in places where I visited but never settled.
Certainly I’ve only begun to hear and feel and see the spirit and song of the canyon, but the depth and wonder of my connection is as I’ve never had before. Like a well-matched marriage, it grows fuller and sweeter with each passing moment, month, season and decade. I mark my life by before and after coming to the canyon, before and after my roots began to sink into this riverbed. Before and after I found the me that existed only here, in the place that has always been calling to me as home.