I love the desert. For countless generations my family has lived in this desert, in Chihuahua, in Durango, in Zacatecas, in Texas. I grew up at the foot of the mountains surrounded by creosote and nopal, visited by horned toads and the desert turtles.
When my granddaughter was three, I took her to the desert to harvest sage for the first time. When we got home, we wrapped it with red string and dried it to smudge in the future. I wanted her to love the desert like I do.
If you don’t know the Chihuahuan desert, it looks brown and barren. But once you get to know it, you see the life that thrives there, from the small striped lizards that dash from rock to rock to the miniscule white flowers that bloom close to the ground.
Once you get to know the desert, the plants call you. Twice a year, I go to the desert to harvest creosote, called jediondilla (smelly one) in colloquial northern Mexican Spanish because of its pungent smell. The Raramuri women in Ciudad Juárez just across the river sell small dried bags of it. It is called “the pharmacy of the desert” because of its healing properties. Using a recipe I learned from a Raramuri man from the Sierra Tarahumara, from a curandera from South Texas, and a midwife from Veracruz,I make a pomada, a salve, of creosote and petroleum jelly. It works on arthritis and rashes. It is a working-class recipe; petroleum jelly is sold in bulk in Mexico. No bees wax here.
All the plants in the desert have two things in common: they are survivors and they are healers. Some are hard with sharp thorns that keep away animals seeking food. Others are soft like the golden desert grasses that move effortlessly with the breeze.
Stories are like the desert plants. Some make you bleed when you touch them. Their edges are sharp. They are filled with pain. Others are like the sweet desert grass that looks like golden waves in the sunlight. They invite you in with their softness and light.
We are the mud that cracks
Deep in drought.
Mountain laurel, lizard, and rock.
We are the maroon fruit of the
And the yellow bursting buds
Of the dark green chaparral.
We blow with the wind
Through canyons of limestone
And gather grain by grain
In dunes of sparkling gypsum.
We are the sound of the coyotes
We are the hummingbird, rabbit,
Snake and great horned owl.
Somos la gente del desierto.