Chanchka Remedios

Harmonizing Relationships between Plants and People

Valeriana arizonica

I awoke this morning and I was eagerly anticipating a visit with a close friend, one whom I had not seen in awhile. I had not visited this dear friend of mine this time of year, so I was a little concerned that I may not identify her. I was hoping that she would recognize me and would draw me to her. Her name is Valeriana arizonica, and she is a beautiful plant that grows along the creeks of the Gila wilderness. Not far from my home in Gila, there is a creek that I visit often and it has grown to be a very special place to me. She lives here and she welcomes me when I come, like an old friend.

Arriving at the trail head I was relieved to see that I was alone.  I love arriving at the trail to discover that there are no other cars indicating that other humans may be ahead of me. Sometimes I feel that my expectations and desires to want to be alone in the wild are a little selfish. Today I needed a day off from talking with humans, from discussing things, and instead I needed a day of listening and conversing with the wild. I need it to feel alive.

She lives a little way up the creek and the farther that you walk you will discover that she grows more abundantly. You need to give a little to see her.  She will not reveal herself if you are not ready and you fail to approach her with the right intentions. She knows. I kept walking and I felt that she was near. It is winter, so I questioned whether any part of her would be visible above ground. Then, I recognized her beside the creek on a shadowy, moist hillside where she loves to make her home. Her leaves were still green, but were not vibrant like they are in the spring and summer, but rather tired and wilted. I still was a little unsure of her identity because of the condition of her leaves. I then remembered something important that the plants and the animals had taught me. They remind me to speak to them because they are alive. I asked her to show herself to me and to give me the assurance that I needed. I sat. I felt her leaves. They were the right shape and they grew in the right way. I pulled back the dried and fallen leaves from the ground around her. I need not mistaken her for somebody else. I dug back the moist soil to expose her roots. It was clear then that it was she. She has a main root that grows along the top of the soil, with many long smaller roots extending downward from the main root. She has this scent that identifies her. The aroma that she exudes has become so familiar to me.

One of the reasons for venturing up the creek to visit her today was to ask for her help as I always do.  She is medicine. I ask and she offers herself so graciously. I sit on the damp earth, the creek singing to me, and carefully and respectfully collect what I feel is right. She lets me know when I have gathered enough. It is a cold day in the canyon and I hear no birds joining the creek in its song. Time is not a factor when you sit like this. Eventually, I knew that I had collected the perfect amount for that time and day and moment. I needed to say goodbye and offer my thanks.

I bundled up for my walk back to the car. Canyons in the Gila during the winter can be shadowy and cold, but wonderfully quiet and still. I arrived at my car about fifteen minutes before sunset, so naturally I needed to stay to watch the sun settle down behind the horizon in the west. Colors danced in the sky and I gave thanks.

By Riley Olsen