White Sage
by Milo Clark

A powdery gray-white set of leaves on scraggy looking stems clustered about a shrub which spends most of its life hanging on in extremely rugged conditions out in desert locations--that's white sage. Some of the southwestern native peoples use white sage in their rituals. Various folks harvest it for the Injun Wannabees among the white eyes. Turns up in health food stores, natural food stores, newage stores of all kinds. Folks buy it to smudge space as means of cleansing and clearing it of negative factors. Smells so good to me. I like it around just about everywhere I am.

My affair with white sage goes back many years and into a few remote areas in which I have found it growing. Those places tend to be desert mountain areas in Arizona, New Mexico, California and Mexico. Great places to meditate on the prajnaparamita sutra and talk with spirit guides about the various theories of indigenous peoples' uses of herbs. Either that or just hang out as far as possible from the noises which are part of civilized living. I like to let my ears search for subtle sounds rather than close down to filter out the cacophony of cars, trucks, railroad, airplanes, gun shots, factories and such. Not much of ear searching quiet in Berkeley, though.

When we go down to the San Diego area, a couple hours driving puts us out where there is a pretty good growing ground. A couple of years back, we brought some home and it rooted. We have a big container with white sage now growing in Berkeley. Brought some more back this year and are propagating it for some more. Goes against nature, I suppose. I think white sage is beautiful.

Mt. Cuchema along the border near Tecate is a place with white sage. Considered a sacred mountain by more than just local native peoples. Years ago, when Lama Govinda came to visit, he wanted to go out there. Without being told, he picked it out as soon as it came in sight. Evans-Wentz owned a big part of it. He was a friend of Lama Govinda. Evans-Wentz wrote a book about Cuchema and Scared Mountains. When he died, he gave his property to UCalifornia for preservation--which they haven't much. The former vision quest sites at the peak are now festooned with myriad antennae and an electromagnetic jungle. Says a lot about UCalifornia and prevailing values about sacred sites, natural beauty, conservatives.

When I lived down there, I would go out to Cuchema now and then on full moon time. Climb up the mountain in the afternoon, wait for sunset/moonrise. After a while, hike down by moonlight. Inspiring.

On the Tecate side of Cuchema, Edmond Bordeaux Szekely founded Rancho La Puerta in 1939. It was long a haven for the very earthy folks who followed his practical ideas of healthful living. His once-upon-a-time wife has megalomaniac tendencies and now runs it as a very, very expensive fat farm for the ultra-rich. Not too many of them hike up Cuchema to find the white sage or see the full moon. Indra Devi had an ashram down there, too. She went to India to die and is still alive.

Most folks are afraid of the border area now. You can look down from the secondary peak of Cuchema on the border areas and the now-festering border town of Tecate. It wasn't that way as few as fifteen years ago. You can see the increased, fortress mind of US Border Patrol and Migra at work. For as long as I can remember, there has been a plowed swath along the border even though the fence was never much. Reminds me of the plowed, cleared, mined areas which used to exist along the Cold War borders in Germany. With the Soviets imploded, we can now make enemies of the victims created by savage capitalism in Mexico trying to feed themselves and their familes with a few dollars earned miserably over here.

Probably better to grow white sage in Berkeley these days. Less opportunity to be outraged at what is going on in the desert mountain areas of southwestern USA.

Published December 19, 1996
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