This summer in our coastal community of Muir Beach, dharma friends and neighbors are planting a medicine garden of wild and cultivated sage. The summer soil is alive and hungry. The planting proceeds freely, without a thought-out pattern or design.
With more than 900 members in its august family, sage, or salvia, from the Latin salvere, “to be well,” serves as both an herb of the hearth and home pantry, and a potent medicine in the pharmacopeia of old Europe and the Mediterranean region. Sage has long been held in the highest esteem of the ancients: the saying “Why should a man die whilst sage grows in his garden?” goes back to Anglo-Saxon times.
I first thought of planting a medicine garden in January, around the time of the 2017 presidential inauguration. The weather in the Bay Area was tempestuous, the West Coast submerged under an atmospheric river of torrential rain. Still, more than 80 activists, artists, and meditators convened at Point Reyes National Seashore to convene for an alternative inauguration in the eye of the storm.
We walked along the San Andreas fault line to Kule Loklo, a recreated Native Coast Miwok village. There, we stood in a sodden circle as ceremonial leaders started a fire the traditional way, using a fire drill. The drill’s hollow center, packed with dried plant fiber, leaped to flame once an ember from the friction met it.
We circled around this fire for over an hour, offering white sage, or Salvia apiana, to the flames to strengthen our resolve and resilience. At one point the winter sun emerged briefly from behind the storm curtain to illuminate a full rainbow spanning the sky. Then, just as suddenly, a volley of icy sleet pelted down from the heavens, ending the festivities. “All hail to the Chief!” someone yelled out irreverently as we scurried for shelter.
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