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Patricia PadillaPatricia Padilla, a ninth-generation curandera, educates people about the practice of natural healing.

Curandera Patricia Padilla speaks on contemporary practice

—Pat Gadban

In March, a standing room only crowd of the Sandoval Historical Society heard Patricia Padilla, a ninth-generation curandera, discuss curanderismo. Padilla, a diminutive, attractive woman stepped up to the podium and began with a prayer. Then she described what curanderismo is and how she had come to be a curandera.

The word in Spanish literally means “one who heals” and includes midwives, mystics, and doctors. However, in curanderismo, it is the Creator who heals and all healing is predicated on the movement of spirit,” said Ms. Padilla. “We serve because of a contract we have with God.”

A curandera is chosen from the family to continue the tradition. “The talent runs in families… [The person chosen] will be responsible for healing and have an obligation to learn as much as she [or he] can…. It is a life of learning and service.”

Prayer is an essential part of the learning and practice. “My mother and grandmother used to rise early to pray… that is where the spirit speaks to us.”

There are different kinds of curanderas: sobradoras, who apply massage; yerbalistas, who specialize in the use of herbs; and maternas, who deliver babies. Then there are the curanderas mejor—“We take everything that comes… [but] curanderas cannot charge for their services.”

When asked whether she works with practitioners of other healing traditions, Padilla said she collaborates with Native American medicine men, Ayurvedic healers, and practitioners of Chinese medicine. There is, she feels, a great deal in common amongst these traditions. She also does work with health professionals who practice in the Western tradition. She gave one particularly stunning example of this integration of practices.

In Colorado, she had worked with heart surgeons. They had noticed that people often appeared to come out of the anesthetic with different personality characteristics. This she called the “flight of the soul.” She spoke of a particular instance where a man who underwent surgery woke up displaying psychotic symptoms and with one leg paralyzed, neither of which was the case before the operation. They discovered that the last patient in the room had had a stroke and had also been diagnosed as psychotic. She prayed for the soul of the first man to return to his own body and the healing began. The patient visited her office where she treated him and he left, non-believing, but with his cane forgotten.

“I usually work in people’s homes,” she told us, “Now a lot of my work is taking people through the door of death.”

Ms. Padilla uses many traditional materials, such as herbs and humate—a special kind of mud—in her practice. Nevertheless, she did agree that there were contraindications between certain pharmaceuticals and more traditional remedies and she emphasized the importance of researching these relationships.

For the most part, there is little opposition in modern times to curanderismo, although that was not always true. Padilla, herself, finds a “lot of respect, love, and acknowledgement in this work.” She has, for example, been invited to discuss curanderismo with medical students. (And readers may be interested to know that the website of the American Cancer Society acknowledges curanderismo as a positive influence in healing.)

For more information, Ms. Padilla referred the audience to the book Woman Who Glows in the Dark by Elena Avila and Joy Parker.

On the same day, Richard Trujillo was the featured artist. His work at this show consisted of acrylic paintings depicting the people and symbols of Mayan, Aztec, and Amazon cultures. The bold faces of Yanomami, Matis, and Kayapo people looked out as if bearing witness. His more symbolic work provided the visual context behind Ms. Padilla’s presentation. She described Trujillo as a “son of the Fifth Sun.” (The world we live in is sometimes called, in the Aztec tradition, the age of the Fifth Sun. See for more information.)

Trujillo’s other art form is “Muerto Art.” Its origins are in Mexico and express the celebration of the dead. He will be showing his work at the Day of the Dead art show at El Zócalo in Bernalillo on April 4 and 5.

My mother’s Easter basket

—Vivian DeLara

My mother was Christina Baros and she was an only child. She was the daughter of Juan Baros, one of the first ministers of the Placitas Presbyterian Church.

My mother’s parents were very strict, as were most of the parents in that era. My mother told me the story that when her grandparents died, my mother’s Aunt Barbarita came to stay with her brother Juan Baros and her sister-in-law Rumaldita (my mother’s parents). Just before Easter, Aunt Barbarita and a friend of hers had a date with their boyfriends. In those days “a date” was a chance meeting somewhere in the village with a boy you wanted to talk to.

In order to get away from the house that Easter, they told the elders that were at their house that they were going to the hills nearby to pick wildflowers for their Easter table. Rumaldita told them they had to take Christina along. So my mother went along to pick flowers.

After their “date” and the two young girls had talked with their boyfriends, they started back home. On the way, they told Christina that if she didn’t tell they had been with their boyfriends, Aunt Barbarita would give her the Easter Basket that had been given to her.

When they were nearing the house my mother ran ahead of them yelling, “Mama, Papa, Auntie Barbarita said she would give me her Easter Basket if I didn’t say they had been with their boyfriends.“

Even though she hadn’t kept her word, Aunt Barbarita was told to give my mother, Christina, her Easter Basket.

Jack London

The call of the tame: Jack London was a sustainable farmer

—Anne Trubek, High Country News

In 1916, Jack London invited a friend to his ranch in California’s Sonoma Valley: “Come to see what I am trying to do with the soil, and with hogs, and with beef-cattle, and dairy-cows, and draft-horses.”

Who knew that the adventurous, womanizing, hard-drinking public celebrity spent the last years of his short life building a humane “Pig Palace” for his livestock and pouring manure down a slope to avoid using chemicals?

London was best known then, as he is now, as a writer. But he wanted his legacy to be in land, not words. He wanted to “leave the land better for my having been,” and so he pioneered what we would call today sustainable agriculture on Beauty Ranch, his 1,400-acre farm in Glen Ellen. The ranch, now home to the Jack London State Historic Park, shatters stereotypes.

By the time he settled at Glen Ellen in 1905, London was sick of writing, tired of editor’s demands to churn out more adventure stories just like those that had made him famous. But writing was his meal ticket, the only way he had to earn money for soil and stone. So he pushed himself to write a thousand words every day. “Do you realize that I devote two hours a day to writing and ten to farming?” he wrote in his journal. “My work on this land, and my message to America, go hand in hand.”

He started small, buying 130 acres of land for $7,000—“130 acres of the most beautiful, primitive land to be found in California,” London said. He built a barn and bought horses, a buggy, a cow, a plow, chickens, and other livestock and equipment. He planted sixty-five thousand eucalyptus trees and went after more acreage, gobbling up struggling ranches nearby.

And he kept cranking out prose, sloppy stories that do not compare to earlier masterpieces such as The Call of the Wild, the book that made him an instant literary celebrity. A friend said he “mortgaged his brain” for the ranch.

When he cleared forty acres to raise hay, he discovered that the land had been depleted by “old-fashioned methods of taking everything off and putting nothing back.” London wanted to succeed where his predecessors had failed, seeing his work as part and parcel of his socialist politics: “In the solution of the great economic problems of the present age, I see a return to the soil.”

In his obsessive way—this is the man who, when he decided he wanted to spend time on a boat, taught himself sailing and navigation and crossed the Pacific—London, who had never farmed before, taught himself everything he could about farming, reading agricultural manuals and scientific tomes. “I adopted the policy of taking nothing off the ranch,” he said. He used techniques he had seen as a war correspondent in Korea: terracing, rotating crops, and using natural fertilizer, “so that instead of one-tenth of one meager crop a year you can grow three rich crops a year.”

He built the first concrete block silo in California and filled it with silage from his and neighboring ranches. He hired Italian stonemasons to build a barn for his horses as well as a manure pit to develop fertilizer.

In 1915, he built his “Pig Palace,” a round structure with feed in the middle and stalls surrounding it. Each sow and her piglets had their own “apartment” with a sun porch in front, which served as their dining room, and an outside run in back. All the troughs were filled by opening a single valve, so one man could care for over two hundred hogs. At first, nearby ranchers laughed, but the design later won awards and drew nationwide attention. Today, many of London’s techniques are standard operating procedure.

London died in 1916 at the early age of forty, either by suicide or the side effects of alcoholism, no one is sure. By then, his ranch was one of the largest in Northern California. But either because he was so far ahead of his time—or because he was a distracted drunkard who was often away on sailing adventures (despite his philosophical commitment to the place, he had a hard time keeping himself down on the farm)—the ranch was an economic failure.

After London’s death, his wife, Charmian, asked his fans to remember what London once called “The Ranch of Good Intentions.” “Have any of you thought what is to become of the great thing he has started up here? … I am begging you now, with all my heart, not to forget that he laid his hand upon the hills of California with the biggest writing of all his writing and imagination and wisdom…”

Today, if you visit the lovely Jack London State Historic Park, you can take a tour of London’s enduring, fertile masterpiece. You can see the silo and the Piggery and walk down paths shaded by the thousands of trees he planted. All the buildings are crumbling a bit, and their stone remains recall European ruins from much earlier ages. But they endure. London’s writing may still overshadow his ranch, but fortunately both legacies are open to the public.






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