Medicine for the Spirit

As I write this, I’m looking out over a field of gnarled juniper trees, sagebrush, and pinion pine in Abiquiu, New Mexico. The landscape is vastly different from the Appalachian Mountains back East, where I’ve lived nearly all my life. Being out here in the wilderness for days on end reminds me to breathe, stay open, connect. There is magic everywhere.

For the first time in my life, I feel strongly that I’m exactly where I’m meant to be, although where I am changes nearly every day. I’m living on the road. During these first few months, my travels have taken me to the mountains and shores of North Carolina, into the heartland, through the expanse of Texas and the deserts of the southwest, where saguaros more than a hundred years old stand like guardians across the horizon.

Why am I, a thirty-seven-year-old woman, wandering the open road on my own? After thirteen years as an arts writer for newspapers and magazines in Maryland, I got laid off, as many people do in journalism these days. But rather than scurrying to find another nine-to-five, I was determined to support myself as a freelance writer and herbalist and live nomadically. I made ends meet until my lease was up and then set off into the unknown, my car filled with clothes, camping gear, field guides and journals, and other essentials, like bear mace.

Several people asked what the purpose of the trip was. I explained that it’s not so much a vacation as a way of life. I was also secretly hoping that the purpose would be revealed to me along the way. It’s experiential. I still work nearly every day, but my commute, where I eat and sleep, and the people I see change. Once I began to get into a deeper flow of listening to and trusting my intuition, letting something bigger than me determine where to go each day and where to stay each night, life brought an abundance of expansive synchronicities. Supporting myself like this is hard, but the freedom it gives me to follow my own rhythms is sacred.

That said, after two months, I was frazzled, fried, an emotional mess. It was as if I couldn’t possibly squeeze any more life into such a small amount of time because I couldn’t process all of it. It was also eclipse season, but I knew there was more to it. As an empath who experiences nearly all the clair senses, I had to put some new practices into place that would keep me centered and protected. When you’re nomadic, the only thing that stays steady is you. You have to create rituals. For me, it has been daily journaling, prayer, pranayama, carrying protective stones (raw shungite, black tourmaline, obsidian), wearing palo santo and vetiver oils to ground and shield, and taking wild yarrow flower essence (I made a bottle by the seaside one sunny day in June), which strengthens and protects the auric field. I often end the day by smoking mugwort for better sleep and dreams.

Finding wild plants was a huge motivation for traveling, especially to the desert. What a difference to see a living creosote bush, the bush that gives the desert rain its distinct scent, after only reading about it in books or seeing it as dried, processed plant material received via mail order for the past fifteen years. Along the way, I’ve also collected red clover, yarrow, rosemary, prickly pear cactus (put into breakfast tacos), cedar, juniper, sagebrush, mullein, and air plants that grow on live oaks in Texas.

And crystals. In Arkansas, I dug into red mud to unearth quartz points, which I use in my formulas to enhance the potency of the medicine, dropping them into tincture bottles. Pulling these directly from the earth was the surest way for me to know of their purity, since they are carriers of any and all energies they come in contact with. I couldn’t help but think about all the magic that was in the earth beneath me that night as I camped there.

This is the road less traveled for a reason. It’s difficult, a logistical nightmare, and at times truly terrifying. I’ve survived coyotes surrounding my tent and growling at me alone inside, black bears, snakes, days of storms and winds that flooded—and then broke—my tent, and the occasional questionable person met along the way.

But there have also been so many moments when my mouth is agape by such wonderment or great beauty or the kindness of strangers: sitting on an empty beach, watching a pink full moon rising over the ocean; coyotes yipping and howling at the full moon in the desert, where I slept next to a saguaro that towered over me some thirty feet high; bathing in natural springs and rivers and rain. This journey is as much an internal one as it is external, and every step of the way has revealed a little more magic, in the earth and in myself.

Originally published in the fall 2019 “Witch” edition of Enchanted Living Magazine.

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