The Wisdom of My Ancestors

wisdomofancestorsEarlier this week, I read Reclaiming Abuelita Knowledge as a Brown Ecofeminista. The author writes about her frustration with people presenting “new” eco-friendly trends that she’s seen within her own family for years. This got me thinking about my own family and the knowledge that has been passed down to me, a young woman who has my roots in the Southwest.

I grew up traversing the land of my grandmothers and grandfathers- the region between Santa Fe, New Mexico, and Southern Colorado. This is the land of mis antepasados, my ancestors. We’ve been here for centuries, the conquistador and indio blending blood. It only makes sense that this wisdom would carry on, as most wisdom does, without us realizing it.

Unbeknownst to me, I was receiving an informal education in agriculture from a young age. My grandmother taught me about plants. How to harvest champes (rosehips), quelitas (lamb’s quarters), verdolagas (purslane), wild mint, wild onions, and clover. She taught me how to recognize them by sight and smell.

In autumn as the red bulbs of the champes grew fat and vibrant crimson we’d go out and pick them, reaching our arms through the thorns as the wind blew. The juice would stain our fingers and blood would come to the surface of our skin with the slight pricks of the thorns. It was intensive work. After spending hours collecting bags of champes we had to remove the leaves on the top of each pebble-sized berry, dry them in single layers in the sunlight, and then, only then, were we able to make them into sacred champe jam (trust me on this, champe jam is utterly sacred. If you are ever able to taste it, you have been blessed).

Quelitas and verdolagas were summer greens collected and sautéed. Even now I notice verdolagas growing as weeds in abandoned lots, between sidewalk cracks, on school playgrounds, in people’s backyards and all I want to say is “People, you can eat these!”

You could also brew champes, clover flowers, and wild mint into tea. That was always good for colds, general health, and stomach aches.

I was learning about plants before it was “cool.” I was an environmentalist before it was the trendy thing.

I grew up in the desert where water wars were rampant. This is not a dilemma that belongs to foreign nations, the past, and The Milagro Beanfield War. It’s a real thing. When I was about 8-years old, my dad had to talk my great-uncle out of shooting someone who “stole” his water. Water is holy in the desert. Maybe that’s why I used to dance for the rain and dance in the rain… because I knew it was essential to my survival.

Springtime was for irrigation. From a young age, my dad taught my siblings and I how to form ridges and dams in the dirt so we could water our crops consistently. I would spend long hours in the heat running in oversized water boots with my shovel. I learned that the sound of frogs meant the land was thriving. I learned that planting willows on the banks of the river could help prevent erosion.

You don’t always recognize ancestral wisdom in the moment. It becomes part of you, handed down in the day-to-day, the words you hear over and over again, the actions you’re shown year after year and it becomes your wisdom, the collective wisdom of your genealogy.


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