Taos Valley Sage

Olfactory nirvana calling me home

After seeing and snagging the photo above I was compelled to blabber about it. It is a photo (taken from west to east) of the one bridge across the Taos Canyon Gorge in Taos County, New Mexico. At the bottom of the gorge is the Rio Grande River, which, like the Ganges, is one of the most sacred rivers on the planet. Having lived in Taos County for around three years, I have crossed that bridge many times. I cannot look at the photo without experiencing a volcanic eruption of memories.

The mountains in the background are part of one of the most sacred mountain ranges on Turtle Island; the Sangre de Cristo Mountains. The portion of the mountain range in the photo is only a teeny tiny portion of the overall mountain range which begins southeast of Santa Fe and goes all the way up to central Colorado. It is the longest mountain range in the contiguous 48 states of the U. S. of A.

(The highest point in the photo is Mt. Wheeler which is the highest mountain in the state of New Mexico.)

My little family and I lived in southern Taos County which is located to the right of the photo. The town of Taos is barely even discernable in the photo but sits at the foot of those mountains in the photo. To go shopping we had to cross a high mountain pass and then go down the mountains into Taos Valley pictured above. After a blizzard it would be a few days before we could go shopping.

While we went down into Taos Valley for shopping and most all necessities civilization had to offer we also came down out of the mountains into Taos Valley to cross this bridge to go to western Taos County.

Around 95% of the population of Taos County lives on the east side of the bridge crossing the gorge and only around 5% lives on the west side of the gorge. The west side of the gorge is essentially wild (I can’t think of a better adjective).

The main reason we crossed that bridge once or twice a month was to attend sweat-lodges. At the time I was apprenticing to become a pipe-carrier in the Black Elk lineage of Lakota spirituality. The pipe-carrier I was apprenticed to lived in an old school bus with his wife on a very remote piece of land on the western side of Taos Canyon. He wasn’t just a pipe-carrier, he was also a bona fide hippie. (As an aside, he was also an actor who had a few minor roles in a few western movies.)

But I will try not to digress…

To reach the multi-colored school bus and the sweat-lodge site, we had to drive over many miles of rutted desert dirt roads. Our little orange Volkswagen Rabbit never failed to get us there.

But as soon as we reached this large, wild area the rule in my family was that all car windows had to be rolled down (the VW Rabbit did not have automatic window-rolling capabilities so all the windows had to be rolled down manually — does anyone remember that?).

On the western side of Taos Valley — on the left side of the photo — is the largest population of wild desert sage on Turtle Island (and on the planet!). In my opinion the absolute purest, most divine desert sage is in western Taos County. We not only went there for sweat-lodges but we went there to wild-harvest the very best desert sage to make smudge sticks with. On rides home our VW stunk to high heaven (literally) of freshly harvested desert sage. What a heavenly fragrance!

To most Native American Turtle Islanders there are four sacred herbs. There is cedar (juniper in the desert), which is burned to attract positive vibrations then there is sage, burned to dispel negative vibrations. Then there is sweat-grass, burned for purification and ritual and finally there is tobacco (or kinnick-kinnick) burned for communication with the divine.

Concerning sage, there are two kinds, both of which are considered highly sacred. There is the desert sage as found in the Southwest desert and in Taos County but there is also California sage. Neither of these are the sage used in cooking. California sage has large silvery-gray leaves while desert sage has tiny silvery-green leaves. The smell between these two varieties is very apparently different; both in the wild plant and the burning of the dried plant. As an ingrained desert rat who lived so much of my life in the holy Southwest desert it is no surprise that I have always preferred desert sage over California sage. But I must reiterate that both of them are very, very sacred.

To walk through or drive through the humongous sage fields of western Taos County is nothing short of a religious experience. Simply breathing in that smell immediately changes one’s vibratory frequency. It is like breathing in nirvana through one’s nose.

Just a hint of that fragrance immediately transports me to western Taos County. Amidst those vast sage fields all we had to do is look up and look east and the landscape beyond the bridge in that photo was there in all its glory. Those mountains are forever burned into my soul memory. With just a tiny hint of the smell of desert sage those mountains appear in my mind’s eye and in my heart’s eye. No smell on the planet transports me geographically like the smell of desert sage.

See what happens when you look through photos on Pixabay!

By the way, I never attained the position of pipe-carrier. Why not? Because the pipe-carrier I was apprenticed to abruptly left. His wife suddenly left him and he went chasing after her — all the way to Minnesota. But it did not really matter. Experience is more important than status. And sometimes smell is more empowering than ritual.

And someday that smell will lead me home. I will see those mountains again!

Earthling — Lifelong novelist & essayist —

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