I recently learned of the passing away of Cecilia Garcia, Chumash Medicine Woman. Her book, Healing With Medicinal Plants of the West, influenced me greatly. I was fortunate enough to attend a two-day workshop on native healing with Cecilia, and am reminded of the lessons that I learned from her in that short time. I am grateful for the way Cecilia influenced me, but sad that I can no longer learn more from her.
I can still smell the pungent scent of sage laid out on display upon the table inside that little Theodore Payne Foundation house where our lessons began. I remember turtle shells and deer antlers. Gourds were filled with sun-fermented Momoy plants for the purpose of foot baths, which made the patient feel massaged from head to toe. Cecilia began with a Chumash prayer, singing loudly with rattles. She prayed each time before collecting plants. God worked through her. She had an unshakable faith in the power of God healing through her plant medicines. It was a faith that I knew I could never possess. She had a cackling laugh that I have heard described as almost like that of a witch! Some students took notes. Cecilia did not admonish them, but stated that in the old days, the knowledge that touched your soul and stuck with you was the true knowledge that you gained. I took no notes, but there are so many things that I will never forget. A leaf of White Sage put in a gourd of water "will clean up the dirtiest L.A. water!" said Cecilia, as she laughed her distinctive laugh. "Some day, this knowledge will be as good as a Ph.D" she said.
What truly touched my soul from Cecilia's teachings was the spirituality and connection to the land that was expressed through the use of native plants. I have long felt tied to my indigenous roots on this continent. Though I have lost my connection to any specific native culture of my ancestors, I have always known that I lived upon Gabrielino land. When I was very young and would stay with my Nana in San Gabriel, I would gaze out of her second story window over the city and wonder where it was that the native people were taken. My mom had told me that the Spanish gathered them up into the Mission, but as a child I didn't know exactly where the Mission was! I would wonder, "Is this building or that building the place where they took the people from my neighborhood?" I knew that there was once a Gabrielino village on the grounds of my elementary school down the street.
I have always felt a connection to this land of Southern California and of the San Gabriel Valley. I have always felt that it is my homeland, too. The older I've become, the more the mountains feel like the very air I breath and the blood in my veins. Cecilia Garcia's class made me feel like I was finally learning what I had been missing for all of those years living here in my homeland of California. My native blood is not Chumash. I am not Gabrielino. In fact, I only know that I have indigenous roots in Mexico. My spirit, however, is here. And now, as I travel North across the Tehachapi Mountains into the Central Valley, East or West along the San Gabriels, or in any other direction, I feel the spirit of the land through the teachings of Cecilia Garcia. I have climbed to the peak of the sacred Mt. Pinos and travelled through the valley of 'Antap. And now I know truly where I am.
I don't use the native plants as much as I should or would like to, but I have felt their power. There are still so many questions that I wish I could ask Cecilia. I suppose all who learned from her were touched in different ways. Now it is for us to teach each other how best to live in balance in this world. As Cecilia said, the Chumash are the gatekeepers of California, but we're all here now on the same boat together. We all have to work together to make it work. I hope that I can do my part well enough.
The last day of our class I chatted with Cecilia about old trade routes and Chumash canteens. She seemed amazed that I had read that tar from the La Brea Tar Pits had been found as far East as the Mississippi. She thought it would have been nasty to waterproof a woven water bottle with asphaltum, as opposed to using a dried gourd. And when I asked for her to autograph my copy of her book, she wrote
"Learn and share. Thanks."
Thank you, Cecilia.